That Time Fox's Fat tit* Saved The Galaxy - Amity_Ax - Star Wars (2024)

Chapter Text

Fox could confidently say that his life was currently the best it had ever been.

An amendment: Fox’s life was the best it had ever been, relatively.

The Senate was still vile. He still had to fight for the lives of his Vod’ike on a daily basis. He still had to exist on the same planet as the Chancellor.

He still had to deal with kriffing Vos.

A singular grain of sand pinged off Fox’s helmet.

Fox stopped writing. Corrie HQ was made entirely of cold, utilitarian metal. Not a single thing in the building was made of stone, let alone sand.

Slowly, slowly, he turned from his datapad to look at the ceiling.

A pair of gleaming brown eyes shone through the slats of the vent in his office.

The disembodied eyes smiled at him. “Whatchya doing?”

Fox was trying to swallow his heart back down into his chest after the organ’s spontaneous leap to his throat. That was what he was doing. But such a response would provide the menace with too much satisfaction.

“I’m putting in a request to move offices,” Fox replied instead. “The one I have is detrimental to my health.”

“Oh?” The eyes crinkled in polite concern, “that’s not good. How so?”

“It’s too large,” Fox grit, on the edge of hysterical. “This one has enough room to fit madmen in the ceiling. I’m used to tighter spaces.”

“Mmm.” Vos’ eyes nodded sympathetically. “That’s understandable. Nice pistol, by the way. Is that a slug thrower?”

Oh, look at that. Fox had a gun in his hand. How convenient.

“It is. Built it myself, actually.”

The first rule of gun safety was to never point a blaster at something you weren’t willing to shoot. Fox did not lower his slug thrower from the glinting eyes.

“It’s beautiful,” Vos observed. “You’re very quick with it.”

“Yes,” Fox agreed easily enough. His aim did not waver.

The eyes smirked. “Would you show me how it fires sometime?”

Fox stared. Vos definitely knew he was asking for it. Did he think Fox wouldn’t?

A challenge, then. There was only one appropriate response.

“Sure. Here you go, sir.” Fox pulled the trigger.

When Fox’s Corries burst through the door, the incredible bang of the slug thrower had only just finished reverberating around the room. The only sound left by then was Vos’ impish laughter echoing distantly, darting away through the vents.

Vos had been a headache since Fox first threw the “General” in a maximum-security cell. It felt like the somehow-a-real-Jedi Master had made it his mission to pop up in Fox’s path at the most inconvenient opportunities. He always appeared when Fox was in the middle of work, going on about some random, inane bullsh*t and trying to butt in on Fox’s missions. No, Fox didn’t care they technically had the same job of investigating Separatist activity. The karker should stay in his lane.

Fox wanted to say Vos was taking revenge on him for stunning his di’kut ass all that time ago—and so he had, right to the menace’s face.

Vos had only winked obnoxiously at the accusation. “Vengeance isn’t the Jedi Way, Stabby.”

Yeah, right. Fox had a full case file with Vos’ name on it proving that statement decidedly false.

On a random weekday shortly after the Swishy-Stabby Incident, as Fox had taken to calling it, he set one foot outside of Guard HQ and nearly stepped on an infamously elusive, high-ranking member of the Black Sun syndicate. They were beaten to hell, hog-tied, and still flopping like a displaced fish on the Guard’s doorstep.

Fox recognized the bound man on sight. They had, after all, targeted Fox personally on multiple occasions.

Supposedly, Fox had arrested the gang member’s lover, and the lover had been sentenced to death by the courts for treason. The Black Sun member had decided it was Fox’s fault Coruscant’s judicial branch was hog-wild for killing people over treason and made it his mission to take it out on the Marshal Commander.

The gang member had committed everything from multiple public assaults on Fox’s person, mailed him severed body parts paired with aggressive statements of intent to torture him, attempted kidnappings during Fox’s patrols, and had even set up one very memorable trip-wire bomb in his office. The bomb incident had almost gotten Thire killed—Fox had to literally tackle the other Commander to keep him from unknowingly setting it off.

(On an unrelated note, Thire—totally voluntarily with no blackmail involved at all—started taking part in the now infamous One Hundred Years of Awareness Training drills along with two of Fox’s now equally infamous personal squads. Yes, Fox was really making them do one hundred years of it. No, he would not let up when they had “learned their lesson.” He said one hundred years, and he meant one hundred kriffing years.)

The numerous attempts on Fox’s life, combined with the break-in to Corrie HQ, had the Coruscant Guard riled up like a horde of hungry Gundarks gunning for the being who had intruded on their home.

His Commanders especially had flipped their lids over his safety for reasons Fox was unclear on until that fateful Sabacc game where he’d won them as roommates. Fox couldn’t make any of his Commanders confess which of them had assigned at least two Vod’e to “secretly” shadow him at all times while the gang member was still at large. (It was all of them. Fox knew it was all of them. Fox knew that they knew that Fox knew it was all of them. They simply didn’t care and did it anyway. Fox was almost proud.)

And after all the bantha osik the Guard had gone through—trying and failing to get permission from the idiot nat-borns in charge to bring the Black Sun member in, the corpses of promising leads going cold after being gutted by bureaucratic nonsense—there the gang member was. Trussed and battered, wrists and ankles cuffed to the building itself, gagged with what looked like a Corrie-red gift ribbon stuffed in his mouth.

Strung around the man’s neck—also with a red ribbon—was a generic, credit-store “Congratulations” card containing damningly familiar handwriting. It confirmed the perp’s identity, conveniently provided the location of several of his and his associates’ bases, and, just as a cherry on top, claimed he was a gift to Fox, specifically.

Despite leaving no name, Fox knew for certain it was Vos because the note capped off with a cheeky, ‘Just making ur life a little easier, Stabby! Wanted you to get to see him beaten and on the ground first. Lots of love! ;) XOXO

It was so aggravating Fox wanted to slam his head against his desk until he passed out, his medic’s wrath be damned.

Unlike his forensic unit, Fox didn’t bother freaking out over how their ‘mysterious benefactor’ had known the Black Sun member was targeting him or how they made sure Fox was the first one to stumble over their “gift.” It was a question with a stupidly obvious answer: Kriffing Jedi Force Magic.

Fox fumed because the Guard had been chomping at the bit to take the Black Sun member down themselves. The gang member was in the Guard’s territory, harassing the Guard’s members, and thus was for the Guard to take care of. It was a matter of pride, Force dammit. They totally could have bagged that guy if it wasn’t for the di’kut Senate sticking their whole ass into everything and gumming up the works with their nonsensical osik. Who was Vos to sweep in uninvited and steal their prey out from under them? A dinii chakaar asshole, that’s who.

But Fox wasn’t quite prideful enough to release the Black Sun member and let the Guard have a shot at hunting the karker down themselves. Nor was he too proud to dismiss any other infuriatingly helpful tip-offs the Kiffar sent them in the following months. Nor could Fox resist how his eyes lingered on the Jedi’s contact information whenever an investigation got artificially clogged by the politicking of busybodies and selfish pricks.

“Hiya, Stabby!” Vos had cheerfully answered his comm after just two rings. “What can I do ya for?”

Fox had ignored the idiotic greeting. Time was of the essence. “What’s your stance on non-sentient trafficking rings?”

“Hate ‘em,” Vos’ geniality was as immovable as his obnoxiousness, but he nonetheless sharpened to match Fox’s fervor. “Why do you ask?”

The Commander almost commented about hate not being the ‘Jedi Way,’ but Fox wasn’t in a position to point fingers. He wasn’t supposed to be doing any of this, either.

Senator Greyshade had been very clear in his orders to leave the traffickers alone—it would eat into his cut of the profits, you see. And Greyshade got a lot of the profits. It came with the privilege of having near-unrestricted access to hot-selling non-sentients like clones.

Fox proceeded to bombard the Jedi’s comm with an itemized list of hideouts and ‘business sites’ of the shabuir hut’uun co*cksuckers trying to sell his Siblings on the black market. Conveniently organized in order of where his siblings were most likely to be kept, obviously.

“Let’s make a deal,” Fox swallowed around a dry throat. “If you can kriff these bastards’ operation before their next ‘shipment’ off-planet, I’ll make it worth your while.”

Fox had been ready to offer insider information, access to the mouse droid spy network Fox had tapped in the Senate, and pretty much anything else the Kiffar asked for, really. It had to work. This was Fox’s last chance to save them.

But before Fox could continue, Vos had laughed.

“Oh babe, you’re always worth my while.”

Vos had not demanded payment, and Fox wasn’t foolish enough to offer any unprompted.

Fox had his Shinies back by the end of the day.

No, Fox couldn’t quite bring himself to turn down the boon provided by having a real Master Jedi on his call list ready to f*ck sh*t up, minimal questions asked. The Commander came to realize nothing greased the wheels of justice quite like pointing a psychic, intermittently law-abiding, lightsaber-wielding monk-magician in the general direction of the problem and setting them loose. No wonder the Senate used the little f*ckers for literally everything!

(Not that Fox was also going to use Vos for literally everything. He still had some sense of pride, after all. It would be a cold day in hell before Fox got as lazy as the karking Senate.)

To make matters worse, the capture of that Black Sun member had firmly placed Vos in the other Corrie Commanders’ good books, so Fox didn’t even have anyone to complain to about it.

“We just want you safe, Thorn had said to Fox, sickeningly genuine. “This guy is an efficient means of reaching that end goal.” Thorn had a maniacally protective look in their eye that had Fox physically leaning away from its intensity. “You get it, right Vod?

Then Thire chimed in, “If Yoda is cool with him, then he’s probably at least sort of alright!”

“Grizzer likes him,” Hound commented while lovingly staring into the aforementioned mastiff’s eyes. He then scratched under the animal’s chin with both hands and baby-talked the kriffing thing. “Yes you do, yes you do!” Dog people, honestly.

And Stone, Fox’s last hope for commiseration, had nodded right along with them.

Terrible. Awful. Disgusting. What was life without someone to bitch to about the osik going on in it? In Fox’s (correct) opinion, it was no life at all.

However.

As much of a blow to his pride as it was… having a couple of the more illegally obtainable criminals piled up in Fox’s lap also tended to put sour looks on more than a few Senators’ faces who had been oh-so covertly utilizing their services. (That entitled Black Sun leader thought they were untouchable for a reason, after all. Fox wondered how different the gang member and his Senator cousin’s childhoods could have possibly been for one to end up making a career embodying the scum of the galaxy and for the other to become part of the Black Sun.) Fox's vindicated glee over screwing Senators commonly made up for whatever aggravation Vos inflicted upon the Marshal Commander by romping about in the Guard’s jurisdiction uninvited.

Furthermore, when Vos dropped off Cad karking Bane of all people at HQ, Fox thought he could kiss the Jedi square on the mouth just for getting to see the apoplectic fury that darkened Chancellor Palpatine’s face. Fox even got to witness it in person when giving the report. Perfection.

Even though Bane had predictably “escaped” incarceration shortly afterward, the knowledge that the Chancellor was embroiled with a bounty hunter so infamously beneficial to the Separatists… well. That was certainly one for the blackmail folders.

The feeling of nearly doubling his dirt on an influential, mostly-beloved, suspiciously clean political figure had Fox sailing so high he didn’t even get mad the following two times Vos was annoying in his presence. The third time was the incident where Vos had gotten arrested for the dozenth-or-so time and taught his Shiny minders how to construct glitter bombs out of trash. After that, all bets were off on the anger front.

But Vos, for all his unprofessional demeanor, was both competent and useful to Fox. A true rarity in nat-borns. So, Fox had to suck it up and let the obnoxious wildcard that was Vos run amuck in his city, occasionally being a bad influence for Fox’s Vod’ike and leaving perps on the steps of Guard HQ like a tooka dropping off dead rats as ‘gifts’ for its owner. The benefits, tragically, outclassed the downsides—for now.

To show that Fox acknowledged Vos’ meddling as tolerable, he decided not to tell anyone beyond his commanders and Hound that the Kiffar was actually a Jedi. General Vos was clearly some kind of undercover intelligence officer, and far be it from Fox to expose him. It was only practical, really. A courtesy between colleagues.

Serendipitously, this decision also led to some truly joyous moments for Fox.

Once, Fox tracked down a possible Separatist associate who was also a high-profile Spice dealer. Vos had been there performing what Fox assumed to be a sting operation of some kind (and was hopefully not actually buying Spice; otherwise, Fox would need to do the paperwork to arrest a Jedi General for real, which was as much of a nightmare to do as it sounded).

After the Corries busted the trade and cuffed everyone, one of Fox’s Vod’ike had done a double take at Vos and exclaimed, “Holy Kark, it’s that guy Yoda f*cks!”

Vos’ smug, amused facade had actually broken at that, curling into shocked revulsion for a few glorious seconds.

Fox had been grinning like a loon the whole way back up to the station as he let the younger troopers pester the Jedi about whether or not the cryptic green gremlin actually f*cked. By the end of it, the Kiffar looked like he was genuinely regretting every choice he’d made in his life to bring him to that point.

(Fox, of course, made sure to be the most obnoxious offender of the lot. Enough to draw any potential ire from the Vod’ike. Just in case.)

And so, to the majority of the Guard, Vos became “That Guy Yoda f*cks.” Fox liked to watch the Jedi’s face twitch in fun new ways and struggle not to scream every time somevod introduced him as such to another Corrie.

When Fox’s troops thought he wasn’t looking (which was wrong because Fox, in general, saw everything), they snuck down to Vos’ holding cell while he was there to experience the novelty of regular contact with a nat-born that didn’t actively want the Guard to suffer and die.

Vos seemed to delight in the uncomplicated pleasure of helping the Corries who visited him. The Jedi was more than willing to explain confusing nat-born things to the clones. He would “sneak” the Shinies little nat-born sweets to try out. Fox pretended the Vod’ike were “getting away with it” so he wouldn’t need to start drug-screening their candy. Fox knew there were much easier and more legal ways for the Jedi to kill them all if he really wanted. No-cause decommissioning was still a thing, after all. But Vos loved to cheer up stressed Vod’e, usually with exciting, often raunchy tales about him and his “childhood friend Ben,” who Fox was both horrified and fiendishly delighted to learn was actually High General Obi-Wan Kenobi, Cody’s direct superior.

His Corries knew talking with Vos was a chance to ask someone who had definitely interacted with at least one Jedi on a “personal” basis what the peacekeepers were really like. On an entirely unrelated note, Fox currently had a folder on his personal datapad loaded with 5 gigabytes of video where the Corrie Guard slowly Pavloved Vos into reflexively cringing anytime anyone merely mentioned Yoda’s name.

The best part? Vos couldn’t even clarify to anyone he didn’t f*ck Yoda.

The fact was, being a known Yoda-f*cker was a good cover that allowed the Kiffar to investigate the more unsavory parts of Coruscant and still be seen around and in the Jedi temple. It could feasibly put his cover identity on reasonably pleasant terms with the Jedi—which by extension put him on mildly pleasant terms with the GAR, which by even more extended extension put him on non-hostile enough terms with the Coruscant Guard to slip the Corrie Shinies candy and teach them how to make genuinely awful-smelling glitter bombs. (The karker. Vos deserved to be known as a Yoda-f*cker.)

Vos was just as unwilling to put his pride above an advantage as Fox was. Thus, the cover story stayed.

Vos was visibly in hell, and Fox was savoring every second of it.

“This can’t get back to the temple, Stabby.” Vos despaired, hands fisted in his dreads and pulling. “My life is over if Obi-Wan hears about this. That’s, like, his great-grandad. I can’t f*ck my best friend’s great-grandad!”

The knowledge that Fox had been the root cause of the Kiffar’s Yoda-related hardships kept the Marshal Commander going on his worst days. At least the General had decided he apparently “liked his company” (an actual quote) enough to not decommission Fox for his disrespect.

And, oh boy, did Fox dish out the disrespect.

Fox made it a point to insult Vos every time he saw him. After all, Fox had already assailed the Jedi with some of his most condescending, disparaging commentary the very first time they’d met and had gotten him a reputation as “the Guy who f*cks Yoda,” and the General hadn’t once threatened his life. So, why not? It’s not like Fox could do any worse than he already had.

He was morbidly curious how much it would take to make the Jedi crack.

“—Stabby, I heard you missed me!”

“Someone’s been lying to you. And if you ever call me that again, I will punt you down to level five thousand.”

“So, you’ll tell me your real name, then?”

“Yeah, sure. Whatever.”

“I—wait, really?”

“Yes. I need you to do a bit of soul-searching for me first, though.”

“Ok, yeah, sure. I’d love to see where this goes.”

“To answer your question, you’ll need to look deep inside yourself. Deeper than you’ve ever looked before in your entire life. …Now, is my name up your ass?”

“Hmm… No, not at the moment, but maybe—”

“Then I guess you don’t get to know, you nosey, nerf-herding, dick-nippled, annoying-as-sin di’kut piece of clanker-bait!”

“I’ll have you know you could cover my nipples with a dime, you motherless bastard—!”

So far, nothing had gotten Vos to crack and reveal any enmity for the Clone Commander. All he did was laugh. He seemed to be under the impression that Fox was funny.

It should have gone against his instincts to constantly, deliberately antagonize a superior officer who could kill him on a whim. But something about interactions with Vos made Fox want to forget his anxieties and dive headlong into feral banter. And Vos, the smug, unhinged sha’buir, gave back as good as he got.

It was honestly the most fun Fox had had in his pathetic life, and it was because of a nat-born. What was the world coming to?

So yes, Fox had somehow attracted the attention of the most unorthodox Jedi General on this side of the Galaxy. He didn’t know how. Or why. It probably should have scared him. (Maybe it did, a little.)

But things… they were better.

And, yeah. That didn’t mean his life was perfect or even okay most of the time, but Fox felt coming this far was still an achievement to be proud of.

Vos wasn’t the sole reason for his life turning around. Fox, obviously, had non-work-related sh*t going on besides Vos. (On the flip side, whether or not Vos had anything going on besides bothering Fox and doing his Jedi-spy work was questionable. Based on how Vos’ “funny stories” were all set in pre-war periods and with how much time the Jedi spent haunting the Coruscant Guard, Fox thought that perhaps he didn’t. Fox tried not to think about it too hard, lest his chest start tightening inexplicably.)

Fox’s social life had blossomed into something much less pathetic, expanding to include four more people who would not only tolerate him but also speak with him on a daily basis.

On a purely practical level, it wasn’t too big of an adjustment to start sharing his space again. Fox’s roommates usually all had different shifts anyway. Hence, the dorms were usually only partially full, or even empty, when Fox went to sleep. On the rare occasions they were all in the room together for a cycle, they made it into a whole event. Sabacc with his Commanders and Hound became a regular fixture in Fox’s life, and these game nights weren’t half-taken up by mood-strangling awkwardness. Now, they could miraculously pick up the energy from where they’d left off from the end of the first game, finishing the night in a vod-pile almost every time.

(Gods, Fox had f*cking missed the vod-piles.)

They wanted to be around him. They insisted on being around him and included him in their jokes and gatherings. Their active pursuit of his company made it impossible for Fox to argue, even to himself, that it was all out of pity or obligation. As far as Fox could discern, they just liked him. As a person. Fox was still lost in a haze of wonder about it all.

Interacting with his roommates was like nothing he’d experienced before. Thorn, Thire, Stone, and Hound… were just consistently, strangely pleasant. They ribbed each other, sure, but not too hard. Or, at least, not as hard as Fox’s batch ribbed each other, and definitely not as hard as Fox went with Vos.

With Vos, being bastards to one another was merely a source of amusem*nt that appealed to both of their (admittedly equally deranged) senses of humor. On Kamino, Fox’s batch taking the piss out of each other doubled as how they showed affection and as a form of stress relief.

But Fox’s Coruscant roommates seemed content to just be… nice. It was weird. But… a good weird. Fox thought he might really trust his Commanders and Sergeant on a personal level, not just on a professional one. Fox found himself thinking of them as his friends, not just distant relations or coworkers or acquaintances or contacts. They were his vod’e, and Fox adored knowing them.

Fox’s relationship with his Commanders and Hound was going great.

(Fox should come up with a group name so he didn’t have to think “his Commanders and Hound” every time he referred to his roommates. It seemed a little unfair to Hound. Fox’s batch (deservedly) had Shebs Squad, so maybe Fox and his new roommates could be… Cod Squad? No. No, that was somehow worse than Shebs Squad. He’d think of something else eventually.)

Unfortunately, despite Fox’s much-improved interactions with his brand-new, poorly-named friend group, his relationship with the rest of his Corries remained as harrowing as ever.

In the past, it wasn’t unprecedented for Vod’e to bring Fox caf. Granted, it was usually Thorn (a mother hen) or Stone (a blessing to have and be around) with an extra cup for him, but occasionally, a trembling Shiny would loiter in his doorway with an offering. Judging by the way the Vod’ike would treat the beverage like a sacrifice to be placed on the unholy altar of Fox’s desk and then abscond from the room as if chased by a wicked, soul-eating demon, Fox figured they were probably told to interact with him on a dare, or as part of a bizarre hazing ritual.

But after that first fateful game of Sabacc with his roommates, something had inexplicably shifted in Fox’s relationship with his troops.

Somehow, it got even karking worse.

The terrified, caf-wielding underlings suddenly appeared more frequently, with visitors to Fox’s office practically quadrupling overnight. They were, some-karking-how, even more afraid of entering his office than before. In multiple instances, Shinies couldn’t even force themselves to enter the same room as him, instead knocking, running away, and leaving the caf on the floor outside his door.

“They can sense it’s open season,” Hound had muttered cryptically into his own caf about it. “The hunt for the coveted Friendship has begun.”

Now, Fox had no idea what any of that was about. And frankly, for the sake of his own sanity, he chose to ignore the panicky Shinies nearly pissing themselves with fear at the sight of Fox and focused on the blessed, caffeinated goodness placed in his lap.

Fox received up to nine extra cups daily from Vod’ike practically dropping them on him and then bolting like bats out of hell. Not that Fox was entirely unpleased with this arrangement. He could do without feeling like a savage beast his troopers were tossing slabs of meat to keep complacent, yes. But as far as Fox was concerned, a free caf was a free caf.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end on Coruscant. ‘Quito, Fox’s primary medic and CMO, was incensed by Fox’s caffeine-induced twitching, and proceeded to issue the highest of betrayals by banning non-Commanders from delivering Fox caf.

Thorn had accosted him in their shared dorm while Fox was trying to mourn the loss of his infinite caffeine exploit in peace.

“You’re already halfway to overdosing on Stims, Fox.” Thorn had raised a brow at the Marshal Commander petulantly flopped on his bunk. “I don’t understand why you would want caffeine poisoning thrown into the mix.”

“M’ not overdosing,” Fox muttered into the bunk, face down. “N’ I’m not poisoned. Medics are cruel and unusual creatures who eat fun for firstmeal and don’t leave nuthin’ for no one else.”

“‘Quito is just looking out for you,” Thorn reminded gently. “He wants you to be healthy, same as the rest of us.”

Fox jerked his head up to glare at Thorn, irritated. “I am healthy, and ‘Quito knows it. My levels are perfectly in range.”

Thorn pursed his lips unhappily, skeptically remarking, “I see your Stim usage—you have to be taking twice as much as the rest of us! It has to be close to the max allowance level already. That’s not a long-term solution, Vod.”

Fox rolled his eyes. “I’ve been at max-level since I got to this hellhole, and my bio-scans are always normal. ‘Quito’s pissed because I’m a freak of modern medicine, and he can’t figure out why.” The Commander let his head drop back down, miserably smushing his face into the bed once more. “There was no need to take it out on my caf. He’s tryin’ to do me in…”

Fox suddenly felt two hands wedge underneath his body and flip him onto his back like a pancake. The terrible, sh*tty bed squealed in outraged protest, neatly covering Fox’s own squeal of outraged protest. Quicker than Fox could say, ‘What the kriff,’ Thorn was in his face with that aggressive smile they liked to wear when defending Fox’s health and safety.

“So, a couple things,” Thorn bit out, three inches from his face, “I don’t give a kriff what the numbers say. That kind of Stim usage is what gives Brothers cardiac arrest, and I know you know it. That’s not the kind of thing you chance.” Fox saw the whites of Thorn’s eyes grow just a bit larger. It made their irises look like pinpoint lasers fit to incinerate him. “We don’t play gambling games with your health when it’s so, so very preventable. Do you understand, Vod?

Fox nodded quickly. Although he had never once lost at gambling, he dared not undeceive Thorn. It would be a good way to start losing at gambling—at least regarding Fox’s health. Thorn looked halfway over the edge as it was.

“Here’s the next thing, and I really need you to be listening to me on this one, alright?” Thorn waited expectantly for Fox’s affirmative—which Fox immediately gave—before barreling on. “You are not a freak.”

“Eh,” Fox replied doubtfully, not meeting Thorn’s assertive gaze. “I’ll have to check with my medic on that one. I'm not sure he’d agree.”

No one thinks you’re a freak,” Thorn hissed with enviable certainty. “Has anyone told you that? Or anything similar?”

Fox considered the question, reaching back into his memory. After a bit, Thorn’s face started to look like a crumpled piece of flimsy, so Fox figured he’d taken too long to respond.

“No, not recently…”

Thorn’s incandescent rage flared so strongly that Fox’s teeth ached with the phantom urge to bite something. That was definitely the wrong answer, then.

“Not since Kamino, anyway,” Fox continued, hoping to soften the Commander’s anger before he started demanding names and locations.

Thorn’s anger remained present but became slightly less cloying. Fox’s teeth stopped itching. He’d count it as a win.

“I see,” Thorn said, deceptively calm. They backed out from Fox’s space, sitting up on the bed. “Fox, the long necks were full of osik—”

Fox scoffed. “As far as the long necks are concerned, I’m a premier product.”

“They don’t have to say it directly to you for it to affect you,” Thorn reasoned. Fox admitted they had a point there.

But still, Fox thought, exasperated. He obviously hadn’t been referring to the long necks. Fox would never in a million years care what a long neck thought (on a personal level, anyway. He had to care on a survival level. Fox was no fool). Honestly, it was as if Thorn didn’t know why Fox had been so shunned by Vod’e for the majority of his life. Playing dumb wasn’t a good look on his Commander.

“No one needs to say anything at all,” Fox muttered. He rolled onto his side, curling around and behind Thorn so he wouldn’t have to look them in the face. “Nobody wants to be around me.”

“What?” Thorn looked at Fox like he had just publicly declared he was a Sith and secretly controlling the Senate. “No! What are you talking about?”

“You remember Kamino,” Fox shrugged. “How everyone was about stuff.”

“Fox, I’m not a Jedi. I can’t read your mind,” Thorn sighed. “I’m gonna need more than that. Who was ‘everyone,’ and how ‘were they’ about ‘stuff?’”

“You know how I am,” Fox whispered. “Why Brothers were afraid of me on Kamino. I’m just—” too different. Able to lie too easily. Too willing to threaten Vod’e into silence via blackmail. Too ready to admit the crushing reality that he and his Vod’e were slaves. Incapable of being a regular Vod. “—not nice to be around. I collect secrets that could damage Vod’e. Everyone knew the only thing worth risking being around me for was my supplies. My batch were the only ones who would even speak to me.” And even that was because they were stuck with Fox as a roommate. With batches on Kamino, it was either sink or find a way to fit together and swim. And they were all too good to sink.

“That was on Kamino,” Thorn stressed, upset. “Everybody was a bit of a jackass on Kamino.”

Also true. In general, human teenage hormones, plus the punishing pressure to achieve perfection, plus the long necks and trainers frothing at the mouth to execute them, equaled a bunch of stressed-out Brothers liable to lash out at the only people they could get away with snapping at: each other. Fox would know; he did his own fair share of getting short with his Vod’e as a cadet—and with being the one people got short with.

“I guess,” Fox acknowledged half-heartedly. But it doesn’t really change what I did.”

Thorn squinted at Fox, disbelieving. “What you did?”

Fox shrugged. “I had to threaten a lot of people.”

“—Into not getting themselves or other Vod’e killed,” Thorn pointed out.

“Were they wrong to be afraid?” Fox challenged. “Their damning secrets in the hands of me, an unknown. An untrustworthy unknown. They couldn’t exactly count on me to behave like a normal Vod. I could have gotten people killed if I’d really wanted to.”

“But you didn’t get people killed,” Thorn reasoned. “Being able to lie doesn’t make you untrustworthy. You saved them—you saved us! And you’re not an ‘unknown,’ Fox; you’re our Vod. You are more than worthy of trust.”

Was he really? If that was the case, then why did so few of Fox’s Brothers give him their trust? Why was it that the only ones who could stand to act normal around Fox were his roommates, who were all very clear exceptions to the rule?

Poor Thorn, Fox couldn’t help but think. His Commander meant well, but their earnest desire to believe everyone esteemed Fox like their insular group blinded him to the obvious. Objectivity concerning personal matters could be a real struggle for some Vod’e.

“That still doesn’t make people want to spend time around me,” Fox groused. “It didn’t make me any more likable. Or more normal.” Or more like a real Vod.

Thorn pursed their lips, unsatisfied. “Fox, on Kamino, was 1875 a freak?”

“No,” Fox replied immediately, the truth welling from a place deep in his soul. CC-1875, the first clone to be decommissioned for stretch marks. “No, they just got too big, too quick. They were an early bloomer.”

Thorn nodded. This was the truth that every Vod knew. CC-1875 had been unlucky enough to reach a growth milestone every clone would eventually hit first. When the long necks had finally removed stretch marks from the decommissioning-level offenses list, plenty of clones were furious over 1875’s needless death. It was the start of a cultural shift away from en-mass dogmatic loyalty and towards the understanding that every cadet’s decommissioning had been needless. It was the start of what pushed them all to claim each other as Vod’e.

Thorn placed a firm, warm hand on Fox’s head, slowly ruffling his hair. Comforting, Fox noted.

“Well, so are you.” When Fox blinked up at the Commander, incredulous, Thorn elaborated. “Fox, we got a lot of reinforcement from a young age telling us to always follow the regs, to not question our superiors, that we were incapable of deceit and a lot of other normal stuff sentients can do. You broke out of that mindset on Kamino. But most everyone else started chipping away at it after deployment.”

“That doesn’t make you a freak, Fox. You got there early and suffered for it, the way anyvod would’ve.” Thorn snorted bitterly. “That’s just the Clone Experience.”

Fox looked askance, feeling the edge of Thorn’s grief like a blade in his core. Fox suspected being able to sense things like that wasn’t a milestone every Vod would eventually reach. He had similar suspicions about the red hair and gold eyes and the likelihood of every Vod gleefully building a blackmail empire. Those things didn’t seem like cases of ‘early blooming.’ He thought those particular items might stay Fox Exclusives.

“I make Brothers nervous,” Fox countered instead. “If things are supposed to be different off Kamino, now that Vod’e are growing wise, then why do I still scare everyone?”

“That’s not true,” Thorn insisted. “We all like you! Everybody likes you!”

“It is true,” Fox argued. “The Vod’ike use me for hazing. Not even me—just being in my presence is a challenge to them.”

Thorn’s hand paused in ruffling his hair. “What are you talking about,” they asked flatly.

“You should have seen those Shinies when they were bringing me caf,” Fox lamented, throat constricting just a bit, “they were rattling in their kriffing armor. You’d think I was a Senator or something. They were all so scared, Thorn.”

Thorn’s hand tightened in his hair, but Fox didn’t have the emotional energy to acknowledge it.

“Don’t tell ‘Quito this, but… I’m kinda glad he banned them from bringing me more caf. I’ll miss the free caffeine, don’t get me wrong!” Fox hurried to explain when Thorn snapped to look at him in shock. “But watching them all run away from me right after… I guess it wasn’t really worth it. Feeling like a monster.”

Thorn was quiet after that. And strangely numb to Fox’s senses. Fox stayed curled up around Thorn with the hand in his hair. It made him feel, strangely, like some kind of large tooka. It was nice.

Thorn was nice, and so were all of Fox’s current roommates. But they were also very strange. They were strangely nice. Or maybe they were nicely strange. He supposed they had to have a large amount of both qualities to invite Fox into their lives—to live with him, to want him around so badly. To choose him.

The Hair Ruffles started back up, and Fox closed his eyes. He should devise a system to get more of these…

Fox snapped out of imagining what it would be like to be a cat instead of a clone (or perhaps a fox, to keep with his Theme) when he heard Thorn end a call on his comm. Embarrassingly, the Marshal Commander had been so caught up in his thoughts (and the Ruffles) that he hadn’t even noticed Thorn grabbing their comm in the first place.

“What was that?” Fox asked, suspicious.

“I called Stone,” Thorn supplied. “They’re coming here.”

“Oh,” Fox blinked, “okay. Why?”

“They’re gonna take over for a second,” Thorn answered vaguely.

Take over what? Fox thought skeptically. Ruffling Fox’s hair?

Actually, that might be nice, admitted Fox internally. Stone gave good haircuts and probably gave even better Hair Ruffles. It would be unacceptable for Fox not to test this theory.

Operation: Get Stone to Ruffle his Hair was a go.

As soon as Fox had cemented his new mission in his list of goals, Stone walked into the Commander dorms. They had arrived suspiciously quickly, Fox observed. How long had Fox been spaced out thinking about being a small fuzzy creature?

Thorn and Stone nodded at each other, and as smoothly as a shift change, Stone took Thorn’s position sitting on the bed. Stone placed a hand in Fox’s hair in greeting and promptly ruffled it. The Ruffles were excellent.

Ha! Another master plan complete, perfectly executed by the brilliant Marshal Commander Fox of the Coruscant Guard.

Thorn grabbed their helmet and moved to exit the dorms. Thorn’s odd numbness from earlier buckled under the weight of something ferocious.

“Where are you going?” Fox asked, slightly distracted.

Thorn smiled that terrifying smile of his. “I just have to take care of some things. Don’t worry about it, Vod.”

Thorn left the room like a storm disappearing from the horizon. Fox wondered what had gotten the Commander so riled. He resolved to figure it out after the Hair Ruffles.

Fox tilted his head to give Stone a better vantage point. Thorn truly worried about the strangest things.

The ban on caf-wielding Shinies at Fox’s door was highly effective. On one hand, Fox was sad to lose out on the free caffeine. On the other hand, no more terrified troopers showed up in Fox’s office, and he was not at all sad to see the hazing tactic go. On the third, slightly mutated hand, there was definitely something weird going on between Thorn and the Vod’ike.

If Fox had thought the Shinies were terrified of him, then it was nothing compared to the kute-soiling fear Thorn had begun to inspire in the troops. They would just appear behind startled clones with a smile just this side of too friendly and ask them to “come with him” to an unknown secondary location for “just one moment, please.” The Vod’e Thorn spoke with seemed irrevocably changed in a way that frightened Fox.

Fox questioningly side-eyed his Commander about it, but Thorn only smiled warmly in response and brushed it off.

Honestly, Fox was far too swamped to try and figure out what was going on there. The work on Coruscant never stopped. What did stop, however, was Fox’s ability to give a sh*t about it—or at least about doing it entirely by the book.

Fox had paperwork coming out of every orifice in his body. That hadn’t changed. There was even a good reason why: all official requests, forms, and other correspondence exchanged between the Coruscant Guard and any nat-born authority had to come from a Commander, if not the Marshal Commander himself. (The other Corries had paperwork, too, but since their forms were strictly internal and Fox wasn’t actually a monster, they had a mostly normal amount of flimsy to fill out.)

It was hyper-inefficient, considering they were four Commanders having to keep up with a planet’s worth of nat-borns, but so long as the Senate insisted their unreasonable demands were only handled by “quality clones,” the system would remain.

Fox preferred to do the majority of the Commander-level paperwork himself, but then Fox became roommates with one Commander Thorn. Thorn treasonously held Fox’s caf hostage until he spread the workload evenly across his fellow Commanders and reduced his Stim usage by half. Sacrilege. Truly barbaric. Fox dedicated his life to the Vod’e, and this was the thanks he got? Horrible!

But no matter how much he delegated to his other Commanders, it wasn’t enough. There was simply too much for four people to reasonably accomplish in a workday. If Fox attempted to do it all solely at his desk, he would never have been able to complete his other duties. In the past, Fox was never seen without a datapad in one hand and a cup of sh*tty, clone-grade caf in the other, constantly chipping away at personnel requests, incident reports, and other such forms. It was barely enough then, with Fox hopped up on Stims in a desperate attempt to fit more hours into the day, and it was still barely enough now, even between Fox and all his Commanders.

When he spotted Thire plagiarizing a Fox OriginalTM—the younger Commander tucked away in a corner, head in hands, surrounded by discarded caf cups, drawing on his Kamino training just to not cry over requisition forms—Fox decided enough was enough. A second galaxy-rattling war was cresting over the horizon: Fox’s War On Paperwork (or his W.A.P. for short).

The dilemma was this: even with his considerable multitasking ability, Fox only had two hands. At least one hand was necessary to write, and Fox needed both his hands to do most other, non-paperwork-related things. These facts had been inexorable until Fox had an utterly brilliant and slightly illegal idea.

Messaging channels for the clone network had fancy text-to-speech and eye-tracking functions for use in helmets. It would be a shame if somevod… stole government code for their own personal use.

So, Fox rigged up a custom text-to-speech program in his bucket that let him dictate his reports on the go. Fox had two hands again, and he was ready to use them for bastardly actions as the gods had intended.

The first time Fox used his program, he blew out his vocal cords, dictating his truly monstrous number of reports. ‘Quito had quarantined him for two days when Fox tried to play it off as a sore throat. But unlike his template in literally all aspects except fighting and revenge, Fox was no quitter. The war wasn’t lost yet. He would make this work, and the gods would fear him for it.

Once Fox sliced the TTS program so it let him place signatures with little electronic stamps (including the Chancellor’s because the man was a lazy f*ck) and added some convenient little shortcuts (such as filling in uber-repetitive forms automatically with a certain number of tongue-clicks) he was unstoppable. Not only did this save Fox’s voice, but it also saved him literal hours daily. He flew through reports at speeds unmatched by mortal men. Fox could fill out a requisition form in seconds simply by staring at it hard enough, and he had never felt more powerful.

(Was it pathetic to go on a power trip over being able to get reports done early? Fox looked at his calendar, stuffed with more free time than he had ever had in his life, even on Kamino, and decided, no. No, it was not.)

Because Fox was such a good Ori’vod, he handed out the completed TTS program to his Vod’ike. Via his black market, of course. Why waste a perfectly good illegal distribution system when it was already in place? It was only efficient.

His Commanders got the program for free, obviously.

(Take that, Thorn. Fox had reduced his Commanders’ workload through sheer stubbornness once again, and this time, Thorn couldn’t do sh*t to Fox’s caf about it. The workload was even across the Commanders. No, Fox was not counting the work he did to code the program in the shared workload, that would be stupid. Fine, Hound could have a free copy, too. Yeah, Fox would show them how to use it. It goes like that and the form is done. Yes, really, it’s already done. Eat Fox’s entire shebs and cry about it. Ha ha ha! No, wait, sh*t—his Commanders were actually crying about itthis was not part of the plan—!)

To Fox’s guilt and mortification, his TTS program had been such a big hit among his poor, overworked Commanders that they’d broken down in actual tears of relief. See, this was why Fox took most of the workload, before: to avoid watching his Brothers cry more than unavoidably necessary. Paperwork was indeed the root of all evil.

Fox decided to end his war by grinding paperwork even further into the dust, ensuring it would never again rise up to enact vengeance. It wholly deserved it for making his vod’e upset enough to cry.

Fox commandeered a few non-combatant Corries from his Secret Squads that the Senate didn’t know about. He promised them free copies of the TTS program in exchange for occasionally providing backup with Command-level paperwork. He’d even thrown in one free item off the black market of their choice per shift spent filling extra reports to make it worth their while. The Vod’e had been surprisingly eager to agree, even before the promise of contraband. But unlike the Senate, Fox was more than willing to at least try to pay the people he got to do his work for him.

(And, really, why did the Senate find it so difficult to pay the Vod’e? Now that Fox had tried it for himself, it turned out this ‘paying people to do work’ sh*t was dead easy, and Fox didn’t even have any real money!)

While this was technically against protocol, since only Commanders were supposed to have access to Command-level paperwork (and it also paid people via a black market, but that was so whatever at this point), Fox didn’t particularly give a flying fierfek about that.

Fox had his brand-new secretaries sign off on everything in his name with an electronic stamp so that only he would get in trouble if they got caught. And suppose someone did have a problem with Fox’s “delegation” of flimsywork. In that case, they’d have to go after the Chancellor first because the karker was still sending Fox his gods damned paperwork to do when the Chancellor was the Chancellor and Fox was a clone.

Now, there were at least ten additional Vod’e flying through the nat-borns’ egregious flimsywork at any given moment. For the first time since arriving on the hellhole also known as Coruscant there were stretches of time when Fox had no paperwork to do.

Fox had successfully pulled a fast one on the dipsh*t nat-borns by inventing the most powerful paperwork tool the galaxy had ever seen and sharing it amongst his Brothers. His Corrie Commanders were flooding their shared space with happiness and relief, leaving Fox with a warm, mushy feeling inside his chest.

Hour by non-paperwork-filled hour, unbeknownst to the mothers and f*ckers of the general public, Fox grew more powerful. With his newfound free time, Fox could finally catch up on a few… personal projects he’d let fall to the wayside.

Fox could finally expand his black market the way he’d always longed to back on Kamino.

Ever since Fox had the misfortune of being stationed on the nat-born-infested planet of Coruscant, he’d made the most of it and fully fleshed out his black market stock with real nat-born dyes, paints, and makeup to his trade network (along with some weaponry and equipment that packed a bit more punch than vibro-knives and handguns. Force but Fox loved having access to both military requisition forms and the Chancellor’s signature). Fox had also included things like alcohol and the few non-perishable nat-born foods they could lay hands on into the fold. No longer did Fox solely deal in DIY cosmetics and small-time weaponry, that was for certain.

However, access to Fox’s new market items had been sadly limited to mostly Corries since working out a way around Coruscant’s security checks had been a secondary concern in the face of his Destroyer-sized workload. But now, Fox could focus on smuggling his improved stock out to non-Guard Vod’e for a wider pool of buyers.

With the expansion of his black market came more Vod’e who needed to pay Fox back. The blackmail-as-payment system was still going strong, and it always filled Fox’s cold, dead heart with joy when he could grow his Special Folders™ by a couple terabytes. Recently, Fox had even been partial to a new form of payment for… bigger purchases: joining Fox’s spy network. And reporting back to Fox with what they learned. Forever.

Joining Fox’s spy network was a subscription-based model for access to the black market, similar to what he’d set up for the Corries helping out with paperwork. Fox had to admit that the concept of “subscriptions” hadn’t crossed his mind until he’d witnessed nat-borns implementing it for most of their socially necessary goods and services. If Fox acknowledged his limitations, he could admit the whole idea was a bit too evil for even him to think up on his own. Never let it be said that Fox was so resentful of nat-borns that he couldn’t admit when they had their moments of terrible, awful genius.

(If anyone saw Fox making the version of the subscription his own Corries got a bit less punishing than the one offered to the rest of the Vod’e, then f*ck them, no they didn’t.)

But on the bright side, at least more Vod’e were getting paid to work, sort of. Not many in the GAR were as eager to get tucked into Fox’s network as his own Corries, but hey, at least Fox wasn’t blackmailing people into spying for him (much, anymore).

Fox almost felt bad about how easy it was to wrack up minions with the subscription model. But not too bad. Fox believed that when people asked for risky osik like extra tanks to be requisitioned to their battalion, it was only fair that they fork over their souls as payment. (Admittedly, a black market dealing like the Tank Incident had only happened once so far, and it was an emergency brought about by The Senate’s Bureaucratic Nonsense that Fox would have wanted to get involved in anyway, but getting a battalion’s-worth of loyal-to-the-bone spies out of a single deal was a bonus he wouldn’t pass up.)

Fox was delighted to expand his spy network just that much further. It felt like Fox knew what was happening in the Galaxy from Coruscant to every Front and beyond. He knew the location and condition of batchmates at all times. Sometimes, during moments of alarming poeticism, it felt like he could feel them all, could see them shining from the distant reaches of space like stars.

And perhaps best of all, Fox finally had time to start going to the gym again regularly.

Fox had been obsessed with exercise since he was a cadet. Unlike his brothers, who just quietly endured the immense amount of physical training they were forced to do and left it at that, Fox actively sought out more gym time. On more than one occasion, he’d impersonated other Vod’e to access the exercise equipment more than he was technically supposed to.

He found it easy to lose himself in the sensation of burning muscles and rhythmic breathing. Back then, it was one of the only things that could quiet his mind. Running and doing pushups until his arms were numb and it felt like the only thing keeping him going was sheer willpower rebalanced him, somehow. It made him feel like the only thing on the whole planet was him and the track, instead of everyone else’s loose emotions crowding in on his own and threatening to take over.

Thanks to his TTS slicing wizardry, Fox had long since replaced the time he used to spend writing out reports by hand with even more gym time. In a strange twist of fate, “report filing” was now Fox’s favorite time of the day.

Fox and his Commanders had even more free time together than before, which meant even more Sabacc nights. Fox could banter with Vos without getting distracted by busy work, which drastically improved his performance. Fox was sleeping for more than four hours at once for the first time since Kamino.

Fox had been certain that this was the best his life would get. If Fox could change one thing, he’d kill everyone in the Senate and fly his Vod’e into Wild Space to become asteroid farmers or some osik. But since that was far too unlikely to really hope for, Fox would instead wish he was on speaking terms with his batch, or with any of his Vod’ike.

But this? This was still pretty good.

Fox had been the one to witness the Shiny’s collapse in the hall outside his office. But then again, ‘witnessed’ was probably too disingenuous of a descriptor for somevod nearly knocking Fox out of his office chair with a wave of anguish and pain. After righting himself, he reached out his senses to scan the nearby halls for other Vod’e. He sighed when it appeared no one else was available to console the Vod’ika.

Fox was not cut out for ‘comforting’.

Between his status as Marshal Commander, reputation for favoring blackmail, and inability to not scare the utter osik out of every Shiny he came across, Fox always felt his presence would pressure Vod’e into pretending to be fine instead of genuinely helping them. When he could, he would simply direct other emotionally available Brothers to the right place. But this time, the option simply wasn’t there—Fox knew this was the kind of breakdown that needed company, fast.

Fox pinpointed the source of the miasma of fear to a storage closet by his office. The door slid open, spilling light onto a crumpled, Vod-shaped form. They were crying in the way that Shinies fresh off Kamino tended to: terrified and silent.

Strangely, they were armor-less, which made the kid—and they were still a kid, certainly no more than eighteen and fresh off of regulation growth therapy—look impossibly small. Their breathing was shallow and fast and almost too quiet to hear. Fox crouched down near the Shiny, within reach but not touching them just yet, and tried his damndest to project an aura of calm-safe-calm.

“Hey, hey, udesii. Just breathe,” Fox murmured, pulling as many calming phrases out of his shebs as possible and hoping one stuck. “It’s okay. You’re alright…”

The Shiny twitched at Fox’s voice and curled away. They weren’t completely out of it, which was good. Hopefully, Fox could hold their attention long enough to try to talk them through it.

Fox decided to use the methods ‘Quito had shown him (and by ‘had shown him,’ Fox meant ‘had used on him in the past’) to help the Vod come down from their panic attack. “Vod’ika, if you can hear me, tell me three things you can see.”

The kid peered up through wet lashes, instinctively following instructions before their eyes landed on Fox. Or, more specifically, Fox’s Command-branded armor.

The Vod froze up. Fox’s heart sank. Kark.

Fox cursed himself. This was why he was a bad choice for comfort. He should have just called someone else. Now he’d gone and made it worse.

Fox leaned out of the kid’s space, preparing to call Thire, who would have to call the barracks guard, who would have to call an off-duty Vod who could actually comfort crying kids worth a damn—

—But as soon as Fox had backed away an inch, the Vod’ika surged upward like an ocean wave, locking their arms around Fox. Not expecting that little maneuver, Fox was pulled out of his crouch, all the way off his feet, and nearly went tumbling directly onto the crying clone.

The Vod proceeded to latch on to Fox’s prone form like a space barnacle and bury their face in his shoulder. Fox felt the tense ball of terror the kid was emitting implode, collapsing under the heavy weight of grief. Then, the ad started to sob. Loud, gasping, messy sobs that wracked their whole body.

Don’t get him wrong, Fox was relieved the kid had exchanged their Shiny Crying for something more cathartic. Honestly, good for them. Fox knew from experience it took a long while to reclaim that level of emotional expression from the long necks.

However. Fox hated it when his Siblings cried. Somehow, it always made him feel like he’d failed them.

Since the Vod was clearly alright with physical affection, Fox figured he’d apply some grounding pressure. He wrapped his arms around the kid. The kid squeezed back even tighter. It couldn’t be comfortable with Fox’s armor in the way, but the Shiny didn’t complain. At least Fox was confident the kid wasn’t repressing his emotions to appear presentable in front of a superior officer.

They laid there for a long time. The Vod’ika wailed miserably in Fox’s arms. Fox semi-awkwardly rubbed soothing circles into the kid’s back, occasionally throwing in a ‘there, there’ at what he hoped was an optimal frequency.

Eventually, the trooper’s breathing evened out, and their choked tears trailed off into silence. Their sorrow sapped from their form, leaving the ad numb and so, so exhausted. The need to see this kid unwearied, to fix it fix it fix it scrapped painfully on the inside of Fox’s skull.

Fox wasn’t good with comfort, or crying, or kids. But he had to at least try.

“Do you… want to talk about it?” Fox immediately cringed at himself. Prime’s five-finger-forehead, this kid wouldn’t want to talk to someone they didn’t know about what led them to break down alone in a storage closet. And they for sure wouldn’t want to talk to Fox, resident King of Blackmail, about it—especially not directly after wrapping up the aforementioned breakdown, terrifyingly vulnerable and still with a kriffing tearstained face to boot. Could he be any less smooth?

The trooper, perhaps predictably, just shrugged in response to Fox’s witless question.

Right, time to course correct. “Is there… someone I can call that you would like to have with you?”

“No!” Croaked the Vod’ika, their voice thick from crying. They coughed a bit to clear their throat, but it came out sounding like another sob. “No.”

Fox nodded before remembering the trooper couldn’t see him with their face squished into his shoulder.

“That’s alright,” Fox assured the Vod. Gods, the kid was just so tired. Just watching them made Fox feel thin and threadbare.

“I can help you to your barracks,” Fox offered. “Some sleep would do you good, I think.”

“I—” the Vod’ika sniffed, “I don’t want them to see me like this.”

Ah. Fox’s heart ached.

“Okay,” Fox whispered. “That’s okay.”

And it was okay and understandable. However, it did leave the issue of how Fox would get his kid to rest without access to a bed or another sleep-enabling surface.

…Except Fox did have access to a private sleeping surface.

“Would you… like to use the cot in my office? You don’t have to,” Fox rushed to assure when he felt the kid jerk underneath him, “but you could sleep it off before going back…”

Fox held his breath. Slowly, the trooper nodded.

Fox let the kid hide their face in his shoulder all the way back to Fox’s office. They encountered no one, thank the little gods. If one more person added their eyes to the situation, Fox thought his vod’ika would shatter all over again.

Fox ushered the kid over to his old cot. It was hard to say if the kid had laid down themselves or if Fox had gently lowered them. There was a good chance it had been a mix of both. The ad pulled their face from Fox, and the Commander caught a glimpse of their visage—bare-faced and clean-cut in a way that suggested they were still so painfully young—before they pushed their wet face into the cot.

A hand caught his wrist before he could move away. “Please stay.”

Well. How in the hell was Fox supposed to say no to that?

The cot was small, but clones were used to small things. They made room so that his vod’ika could curl up on it and Fox could sit beside them.

The ad refused to relinquish Fox’s hand. Instead, they pulled and tucked it underneath their chin, holding it in a grip that Fox found both feeble and utterly inconceivable to break. Fox suppressed a sigh that would have emptied his heart before his lungs, grabbed a spare datapad from under the cot, and let one of his hands get back to work.

Fox desperately wished he had a blanket to wrap the kid up in, or a pillow to place under their head. Unfortunately, the couple dozen blankets the Corries had access to were all in the barracks and most likely occupied, consoling all the other Shinies who had been traumatized that day. Even if Fox could abandon his current position to retrieve one, he doubted the barracks had a blanket to spare—they had yet to not run short, actually. If only fabric was easier to salvage and less liable to be choked full of horrific diseases.

So, in lieu of action, Fox was forced to wait.

Time ticked by, and the Shiny got more and more tired. The trooper was motionless, and if Fox’s senses had been any lesser, he would have thought the other clone was asleep. But the Commander could tell something was chewing at the kid’s mind, leaving them in too much turmoil to truly drift off.

Eventually, the kid managed a whisper.

“They left me.”

Fox turned to his vod. The ad stared blankly out into the room, numb to Fox’s eyes on them.

“My batch left me,” the Shiny elaborated. They started to choke up, the admission reigniting their sorrow.

Icy dread crept down Fox’s spine. Oh, gods. He knew where this story ended.

“We—we went to meet up—at 79’s—” the kid swallowed the sobs welling up in their throat, “—I just wanted to see them. We hadn’t talked since deployment day.”

What a coincidence, Fox noted, on the brink of hysteria. Fox hadn’t spoken to his own batch since deployment, either. Fox teetered on the dizzying edge just before panic, desperately trying to repress his awareness of why he was so scared. For the kid’s sake—and his own—he begged the gods not to let this tale go as he thought it would.

“We said—we were gonna convene at oh-eight-hundred, but—but they all got there early to… play a trick on me.” His vod clung to Fox’s hand tighter, like they’d fall 100 levels if they let go. “I got to their room, and they—they set up a bucket to fall on me. They covered my armor in white paint.”

Ah, Fox thought with a calmness that surprised even himself. Someone was going to die.

A clone’s equipment was literally the only thing they owned. They relied on it to keep them alive—during training and on the field. One does not simply f*ck with somevod’s meager possessions unless they’d done something especially deserving of retribution. And this wasn’t just filling someone’s left boot with unidentifiable slime out of revenge. Messing with armor paint was the highest insult a trooper could deliver to one of their own.

In the GAR, far from Coruscant, Fox knew Vod’e used paint to personalize their armor. It was sacred—or the closest thing clones had to the word. Paint could be as important as a Vod’s name. It reflected who they were as a person and a bold statement declaring they were a person, period.

Covering someone’s armor in white paint, specifically, was the worst thing you could do to a Vod without outright declaring them dar’vode. Painting another trooper’s armor white was saying to them that their achievements and rank didn’t matter, their personalities didn’t matter, they didn’t matter. It was saying they weren’t one of them. It was stripping them and declaring them less than a Shiny—merely a factory-ordered, mass-produced army drone.

With all that in mind, perhaps it was not calmness that had snuck up on Fox like a cold ocean wave, but numbness. Fox felt like he might have fallen off a precipice of some kind, but he was still too dazed to determine exactly what edge he’d been pushed over.

“They said—they said I shouldn’t be so upset—because I’m a Guard. We all—we all have identical armor paint anyway, so it’s not like they were really—taking anything from me.”

Fox sucked in a sharp breath, the lungful of air promptly feeding the flame of his rage, burning away numbness and terror alike. How f*cking dare they.

In the Coruscant Guard, no one could paint the exterior of their armor, or else the Senators would be able to identify individual clones—an unacceptable safety risk, clearly—but that didn’t make their red and white uniform any less important than GAR designs. Corrie paint was another layer of armor. It protected them all. It symbolized that each Corrie was one of the Guard’s, from the greenest Shiny to the most grizzled veteran. It showed the lengths they would all go to keep one another as safe as possible—it showed what they were willing to sacrifice for one another, for their Siblings.

And, like any difference between the Guard and other Vod’e, the GAR just loved to sh*t all over it.

Those… ge’hutuun—aruetii—osi’yaim—f*cking, kriffing bantha-f*ckers. Fox couldn’t even land on an appropriate cuss to describe the kid’s horrid, dogsh*t batchmates.

“I tried to explain it to them—what our paint meant to us, why we did it,” the kid sniffed, fresh tears sliding down their face and soaking Fox’s wrist, “but they wouldn’t let me. They didn’t care. They said—they said we couldn’t have important paint stuff because Corries aren’t real Vod’e because all we do here at the Core is run paperwork and—and kiss shebs to make the Senate feel better about themselves, while the GAR is out fighting for the Republic, doing the actual work.”

Fox’s anger and fear swirled together in a sickening blend. The kid’s words were like a slug thrower to his gut. Whispers, rumors, and accusations Fox had tried for years to suppress in his mind came bubbling to the surface like toxic fumes.

Real Vod’e, something Corries weren’t.

Actual work, something Corries didn’t do.

Their traditions, their Brotherhood, their family. Something Fox didn’t deserve.

“I said—I tried to tell them we did work hard—and Farside, he said, he said we probably did, since there’s more than ten-thousand Senators, and the Corries are a q-quarter of that, so each of us would have to—have to suck at least four co*cks a day—”

Fox’s datapad shattered. Odd, he thought he’d been gripping the sides, not the screen. Oh well, the Commander admitted it was slightly hard to tell what he was doing when his vision had whited out from pure, unadulterated rage. The kid didn’t notice, too busy drowning in their own anguish.

“And then—” The kid made a sound like their throat finally collapsed on them, and started outright sobbing again “—and then they said if I liked the Coruscant drones so much, they could be my batch instead—and they left me. They called me a fake Vod, kicked me out of the batch and left me.”

Fox was burning. He was on fire. His flesh was mere kindling, and his veins were filled with lighter fluid. Hell was a real place, and it was in Fox.

“Do you think—” Fox’s vod’ika choked around their hitching lungs, “do you think deep down, they could just—tell I was broken? Why else would they—would they say that about the Senators if they didn’t—”

And Fox just knew this was one of the many kids those f*cking Senators had hurt. It wasn’t enough that the kid’s batch abandoned them, oh no, they’d abandoned them when Fox’s ad had needed them most. Because of course it would be the case that the worst possible thing that could have been said to the ad had come from their f*cking ex-batchmates. It was Coruscant, after all, and a clone’s place there was to suffer.

He grabbed his deepest fears—the ones that whispered that he wasn’t Vod enough, that one day Fox too would be crying a story like this, of his batch leaving him, that his Brothers would laugh at his weakness or think him disgusting—and chucked them in the fire, too. His fear disappeared into the flame, and in turn, the flames burned twice as hot. He’d need the fuel.

Fox was going to unleash hell on this kid’s batch.

“Your ‘batchmates,’” Fox interrupted, boiling, “are f*cking morons. They couldn’t tell a bantha’s ass from their own helmets.

The kid jerked in surprise, staring up at Fox with wide, watery eyes. They might have tried to say something in response, but Fox wasn’t quite done.

“—Actually, no.No, Fox realized, because this level of grievance went beyond the bounds of mere idiocy. “Your batchmates are worse than di’kute. They are dar’vode.”

Dar’vode,” whispered his vod’ika, aghast at the heavy word. “N-no, not dar’vode, not my batch—”

“Yes, dar’vode,” Fox steamrolled right over the kid’s protests. “Why should they get to say it about you if I can’t say it about them?”

The kid frantically shook their head, trying to deny it. “They never said—”

“Didn’t they?” Fox hissed. “The f*cking cowards might not have dared to utter the word dar’vode out loud, but their actions say enough. They called you a fake Vod! They insulted your work, said your pain wasn’t real enough for them! They used white paint on you! Over a posting!”

…sh*t. That was way too much, realized Fox, as the kid started to bawl even harder than before.

Apparently, informing the Vod’ika that their batch had, in essence, declared them dar’vode when the kid themselves had yet to process it whilst also recapping the traumatizing offenses done against them during the aforementioned disownment was Not A Good Thing To Do and was additionally Liable To Incite Tears. Damn, he was bad at this.

Fox tried to pull his inner inferno back under his skin. He wanted so badly to be angry, to storm off and kick the osik out of those dar’vode for daring to harm one of his, but he needed to reign it in for the sake of the kid. His anger simmered just under the surface, turning his skin fiercely hot, but Fox forced himself to take calming breaths, letting the brisk outside air cool his lungs until he was less likely to open his mouth and breathe fire.

Fox hugged the kid’s shoulders again, since that had worked the first time. “…I’m sorry Vod’ika. I shouldn’t have… thrown it all in your face like that. I’m pissed at your batch for being cruel to you—” Fox was well beyond pissed, actually. He was holding the righteous anger of one million red suns in his chest, but incinerating his enemies needed to wait until after he’d consoled this crying Vod, so his exact rage level was currently irrelevant. “—but that’s no reason to make you feel worse about it. That wasn’t very nice of me to do.”

“No, you—” the kid hiccuped, “you have been nice. You held me when I was a crybaby and let me stay in your office, and you didn’t leave me. I’m sorry for bothering you so much when you’re so busy with work. I shouldn’t have made you waste your time on all my—my batch drama.”

“It’s not a waste of time to ensure the wellbeing of my Vod’e,” scolded Fox sternly. “Let me tell you something, Vod’ika: if I could, I would spend every second of the day making sure you were all safe instead of slogging through whatever asinine poodoo the Senate wants done.”

The kid sniffed and clutched Fox’s hand tighter, but the Commander sensed a bit of the kid’s misery lift from their shoulders at his words, so Fox figured he was finally on the right track as far as ‘comforting’ went.

“And what they did to you isn’t ‘batch drama,’” Fox quoted incredulously, “it was a premeditated assault on your person designed to make you feel like osik. Crying over that does not make you a ‘crybaby,’ it just means you’re crying when you’re meant to cry.”

“But—but they had to have a reason to call me dar—” the kid couldn’t even finish the word, trailing off into a wounded whine. “They had to have—a reason to leave me.”

“Listen to me, kid,” Fox nearly begged. You have done nothing to deserve what they did to you. Nothing. The reason I got so mad is that they aren’t acting like true Brothers. You reached out to them in good faith, and they abused your trust. It’s their job as your Vod’e to help pick you up. They’re supposed to be there for you, and look what they did instead!” To emphasize his point, Fox gestured to all of the kid, who was still crying in his arms.

“And for what? Being stationed in a different place? Needing to use a survival strategy different from theirs in different terrain?” Fox snorted derisively. “I can’t kriffing believe they completed the Intermediate Tactics Module with that level of logic at their disposal.”

The kid sniffed, a ghost of amusem*nt on their face. “They always were right on the cusp of not passing the Strategy Assessments…”

The kid chuckled wetly, and Fox internally pumped his fist. Maybe this comforting sh*t wasn’t as hard as Fox made it out to be.

Fox nodded encouragingly, thanking the Force the kid was finally starting to cheer up. “Exactly. Don’t listen to a word they say. It’s obvious they’re the kind of people who are just dead wrong about everything. I know plenty of people like that.” Fox could, in fact, name a multi-digit number of Senators who were exactly like that off the top of his head.

“But…” the ad murmured, their small smile slipping. “They were right about the Senators, though. …Maybe, subconsciously, they recognized—”

Maybe Fox didn’t actually want to be so good at this comforting sh*t, because listening to osik like this all the time might actually kill him from angst.

“Those Senators,” Fox spat ‘Senators’ like the worst of curses, “are the scum of the galaxy. If your batch was ‘subconsciously recognizing’ anything, it was that. Being caught up in those nat-borns’ horsesh*t does not make you broken, and it absolutely does not make you dar’vode, alright vod’ika?”

“I don’t feel unbroken,” whispered the kid, “I don’t even feel like a Vod.”

“Your batch not supporting their Vod when they're hurt makes them dar’vode. Not you.”

“If I’d just messaged them more,” the Vod’ika sniffed, “if I’d just been better at explaining—”

“Messages go both ways,” Fox pointed out, “and you had good reasons for not wanting to explain. They shouldn’t need an explanation to love you.”

The kid went quiet. The Commander closed his eyes and knew it wasn’t enough. If it had been him, it wouldn’t have been enough. Deep down, Fox wasn’t sure if anything he could say would convince the kid he was a real Vod. (He had yet to convince himself, after all.)

“You are a Vod,” Fox insisted, reaching for something, anything, to escape his own doubts, to make this kid’s heart whole again. “You’re my vod’ika, so that makes you a Vod.”

It was flimsy reasoning, but it was all Fox had.

The kid looked up at Fox, eyes growing round with hope. “…Really?”

Yes,” Fox hoped he didn’t sound as desperate as he felt. “Yes. If your batch is too idiotic to hold on to you, then you’re welcome in my batch.” If Cody could abduct some random CT he just met for their batch, then Force dammit, so could Fox.

Finally, the stain of grief on his kid’s soul lightened, a chunk of its darkness washed out and dulled. The kid’s eyes welled up with tears once again, but this time, it was accompanied by a wobbly smile stretched across their face.

The kid surged up for another embrace, but this time, they managed to stay upright during it. Fox hugged back because after that conversation, he needed one, too.

Please,” his vod begged—ha. Fox’s vod. How long had Fox been internally referring to the kid as his, already? “I want to be your vod.”

“Of course,” Fox said, blinking the tears out of his own eyes. Hey, how had those gotten there without Fox’s permission? “Anything you want, vod’ika.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“None of that, kid! We’re batchmates now,” the Commander chuckled. “Just call me Fox.”

Oh my Force,” The kid gasped, comically horrified, “I never even told you my f*cking name!”

And Fox laughed. He laughed until tears ran down his face.

(On a starship several hyperjumps away from Coruscant, a batch minus one made their way into the mess hall for firstmeal. Each Vod they passed paused, then swiftly scooted away.

By the time the group made it to their usual seats in the mess, the room was silent. They looked around for the cause of the disturbance, and found the shocked and horrified gazes of every clone in the mess on them.

The trooper named Farside rubbed at his chin. “Is something on my face?”

“On your backs, actually.”

And on each of their backs was a mark. A terrible, awful, no-good, very-bad mark. A mark that everyone who had shared Kamino with the Command Class clones knew like the back of their hand. A mark they all knew spelled doom.

It was the mark of someone on Commander Fox’s Ultimate sh*t List.

Several Vod’e from adjacent tables got up and moved away from the group. Some even abandoned their food to get out of range quicker.

“Oh my gods,” the batch’s commanding officer loudly groaned from their own seat, “what the f*ck did you idiots do now?”)

(Later, a small figurine found its way into Fox's office. It was a Geonosian fox miniature, painstakingly refurbished, painted in a mirror of the Corrie armor pattern. In the middle of the fox’s chest proudly sat the symbol of Coruscant Guard Command, carefully and lovingly etched onto the small surface.

The figurine came with a note.

I found this and it reminded me of you, ori’vod! I hope you like it! :D

—Your batchmate, Stacy

It was adorable, and he loved it. Fox kept it in a place of pride on his desk where everyone could see.)

Here’s the thing. Fox, truly and genuinely, had thought that his reputation amongst his Corrie Vod’ike was in the sh*tter. All the signs had pointed to his conclusion being true. Their past sacrificial caf offerings, the little squeaks of fright Shinies let out when they saw him round a corner, the way they clammed up when he spoke to them, how all their wide doe-eyes tracked him whenever he entered a room, the way they were too scared to ever question his decisions even once, the way they—

—Well. It painted a clear picture, was all.

But apparently, the picture it painted was less of a still life and more of a Rorschach test, and what Fox thought the painting looked like said all kinds of embarrassing things about his self-perception.

Quite recently, Fox had come to a startling revelation about his Corries. It went something like this:

Every single one of Fox’s troops was utterly, indivisibly strange.

Something about Coruscant just changed a Vod; there was no other explanation for all of them being just as strange—or even stranger—than Fox. And Fox would kill everything and then himself if anything threatened that wonderful strangeness in his Corries (even if that threat was other Vod’e).

Fox had once been of a mind to think that Stacy was an oddity among his Corries. After all, he did strange things like hangout with Fox, show Fox physical affection, and want to be Fox’s vod. Fox had been reasonably certain this was an uncommon mindset, especially amongst the rest of the Guard’s Shinies. He was so sure that Stacy was a rare gem that he’d only been gifted because his ex-batch had been the sh*ttiest jewel appraisers in the history of the galaxy.

Yes, Fox was sure he had gotten lucky with his new vod’ika. In the vast majority of cases, the Marshal Commander counted himself lucky if a Vod’ike managed something in his presence beyond ‘yes sir,’ ‘no sir,’ and severe trembling.

Long ago on Kamino, when Fox started his Contraband Empire, he knew that ruling by fear was the only viable option to prevent his Brothers from exposing his illicit, life-preserving activities. Clones were raised to revere authority, and it was not conducive to one’s local black market if some well-meaning cadet ran off and tattled to the nearest trainer at the first whiff of rule-breaking. Collecting copious amounts of blackmail and threatening troopers into compliance was unfortunately very necessary to prevent such an outcome. Fox didn’t regret setting himself up in the eyes of his Siblings as a ruthless bastard if it ensured the survival of the Vod’e who depended on the black market.

However, as much as Fox valued his reputation, he could do without making the majority of his Vod’ike nearly sh*t themselves every time he walked into a room.

f*cking apparently, “doing without it” had been an actual option for way longer than Fox thought.

About a week after his TTS paperwork solution (or the tit* program, as people around HQ were starting to call it) finally gave Fox the space to hear his own thoughts again, he realized the absence of piss-scared troopers didn’t just extend to his office. Fox hadn’t spotted a Shiny with so much as a tremor since that conversation with Thorn about Fox’s caf-ban and his inadvisable Stim usage (and other, less important topics).

Fox’s Corries had been acting that way for a while, now. Ever since that caf-ban… or perhaps ever since the conversation in the Commander dorms directly after it.

Fox suspected Thorn’s influence, but for the longest time, no one would fess up to what exactly the Commander had done to them. His troopers straight up pretended not to know what Fox was talking about. Hound merely gained a thousand-yard stare when pressed.

Stacy was infinitely more helpful, as per usual, averting his eyes and admitting Thorn had politely reminded certain groups of people to “be mindful that their actions matched their intentions” and then politely kicked the sh*t out of everyone in training.

“You can’t just force people to like me, Thorn.” Fox had lectured after learning that little tidbit, utterly furious. “It’s not, I don’t know, ethical?”

Fox and Thorn paused. Shared a good laugh about “ethics” even remotely affiliated with their lives at any point. And then got back to business.

Thorn just leaned back in his seat, smug. “I’m not forcing anyone to do anything they don’t want to do, vod.”

Thorn’s words rang with truth. Fox didn’t know what to do about it.

Nor did he know what to do about his trooper’s new attitudes. Fox warily eyed a group of Shinies who smiled at Fox and waved to him as they passed in the hall. Fox gave a stiff nod back, not knowing how else to respond to that.

To replace the trembling Shinies forcing themselves to stand his presence, a strange new breed of Vod’ike began to crawl out of the works. One which Fox found utterly baffling.

“Good morning, sir!”

Fox glanced warily between the two troopers. They looked around the same age—they might have just turned twenty. Not unusual—the average Vod’ike sent to Fox’s office tended to be on the more experienced side, these days.

They grinned sunnily. Fox squinted in the face of it.

It always started like this.

“I’m Lovely,” introduced the Vod on the left. “He/they.”

“And I’m Corpse Kriffer 3000,” said the other Vod, “but you can call me Corpse. She/it.”

“…Okay.” Fox eyed Corpse Kriffer 3000 skeptically. Kids these days picked the most interesting names for themselves. It made Fox feel old. “Please tell me you work somewhere that isn’t the morgue.”

Corpse’s grin grew suspiciously wide. It did not answer.

“Are you busy?” Lovely asked. To their credit, he managed to at least sound impressively innocent.

Fox sighed. Introductions, then an inquiry into Fox’s schedule. Statistically, there were two ways the conversation could go from there. Fox could say he didn’t have time to talk and the Vod’ike would leave without fuss.

Or—

“No more than usual,” Fox admitted, which wasn’t technically a lie. “What did you need?”

The two damn near began vibrating.

Fox was tempted to lean away from their excited buzzing, but doing so would be a sign of weakness. He refused to be cowed by two strangely happy Vod’ike.

“We have something for you!” Corpse sang. She pulled a datapad from behind her back and held it out to Fox.

And there it was. A gift. A unique, thoughtful, non-caf gift designed specifically designed for Fox.

What the kriff.

All the Vod’ike that came to Fox’s door seemed to run off a script. Greetings, introductions, a question about Fox himself, gifts. There was a series of checkboxes the troopers were ticking off and it nagged at him that he didn’t know what those boxes were.

The Corries who followed this pattern appeared less frequently than the teary-eyed caf-Shinies of old. Thankfully, they also all felt significantly less likely to keel over from a heart attack.

Fox looked down at the data pad. It was a government pad that had been… uniquely programmed (hacked to hell and back) to display a holo book concerning the history of Dejarik. For some reason—probably cosmic irony—many of the Corries’ gifts consisted of books about games Fox had never played.

Not all of the presents were (undoubtedly illegally downloaded) books. Fox had been delivered, in no particular order, nat-born candies, cool-looking rocks and fragments of metal, little gadgets and trinkets that somevod had put time and effort into salvaging, even abstract things like the latest Senate/GAR gossip, and for what?

Fox never received the same gift twice. Fox never had a gift delivered by the same person twice. Considering the sheer number of games he had been made aware existed recently, Fox suspected the Corries conspired together to ensure there were no repeats.

But why? Fox mused. Why gifts? Why the all the conspiracy? Why now? Why Fox?

This was the part where Fox was supposed to say ‘thank you,’ thus completing the gift-exchanging ritual and sending the Vod’ike on their way.

Fox drummed fingers on his desk in a staccato rhythm. “Why though?”

Their grins fell.

Lovely’s eyes grew round and shiny. “Do you… not like it, sir?”

“No!” Fox backpedaled hard at his Vod’s sad little face. “No, I do! It’s great!”

Their happiness returned like it had never left. “Great!”

Corpse clapped its hands together in glee and then exchanged a victorious fist bump with Lovely. “Whoo! Mission accomplished!”

“Look,” Fox said, wanting to rub his temples through his helmet, “I just want to know what’s going on. Why are people bringing me gifts?”

Lovely blinked innocently. Too innocently. “Are other people bringing you gifts, sir?”

Fox’s eye twitched. These bantha kriffers…

“Don’t give me that osik,” Fox growled.Everyone and their mastiff has been coming into my office and having the exact same kriffing conversation with me. And it always ends in a gift.” Fox threw his hands up. “Am I being pranked? Is that what’s happening here? Who put you up to this?”

The two stared at Fox. They looked at each other. Nodded once.

They turned back to Fox in eerie synchronization.

Corpse smiled menacingly. For some reason, Fox was reminded of Thorn. “We knew this day would come.”

And thus began the most surreal hour of Fox’s life, on record.

Ignoring Fox’s increasingly confused questioning, troopers Lovely and Corpse Kriffer 3000 proceeded to stage a sithdamn PowerPoint presentation in Fox’s office. They set up the projection equipment so efficiently—even by clone standards—that Fox was certain they had been drilled to do it.

‘Fox, You Are Not Being Tricked/Pranked/Made Fun Of, We All Just Like You’ was a rather long title for a presentation, but at least it got the point across.

Fox had initially assumed the signature of ‘By, All The Corries’ just below the title was an embellishment. It was not.

Apparently, Fox had triggered the PowerPoint event by saying a key phrase in front of a “Gift Deployment Squad”—the phrase being anything out of the Marshal Commander’s mouth accusing the Corries of treating him well for any non-positive reason. The slide where this was explained came with a few example phrases, such as: “I’m not worth all these gifts,” “You don’t have to bribe me to make sure I protect you,” and “Are you making fun of me?” Fox would have protested if those exact thoughts hadn’t crossed his mind at least once during previous gifting rituals. He was slightly embarrassed by his predictability.

The Vod’ike continued their presentation with a helpful summary of events leading to the creation of the aforementioned PowerPoint. The slides claimed that each Guard individually “kriffing loved the osik out of Fox” because he was “so cool” and “super strong” and “good at everything” and they wanted to thank him for keeping them all safe and “telling the Corries’ decommissioning orders to eat a dick.”

Apparently, the whole situation that led to the ban on bringing Fox caffeinated drinks was not the result of some bizarre hazing ritual as he had suspected. Apparently, the Vod’ike just wanted to show that they cared about Fox in return, but didn’t know how to show it besides bringing him the one thing they always saw him drinking: caf. Apparently, the Shinies weren’t shaking because they thought Fox would eat them for breakfast, oh no, they were just intimidated by his “coolness.” They were worried about “bothering him” and “taking up his limited free time” and “making Fox think that his Vod’ike were the uncool ones.”

Then—then, the kids f*cking apologized to Fox. For making him feel bad. They’d only wanted to thank him, and impress him. Him!

Apparently, his Corries collectively decided to make an effort to correct the Caf Misunderstanding—with prejudice.

At this point in the presentation, Fox had stopped making a sarcastic remark every other bullet point. He was starting to feel a bit overwhelmed. And slightly dizzy. This was either a very elaborate prank or—or it meant something that had blood rushing to Fox’s head, as if he’d been gripped by the ankles, flipped upside down, and told that this was how the world looked to everyone else.

The Galaxy’s Most Mind-Boggling PowerPoint Presentation featured segments titled ridiculous things like ‘An Itemized List of Things About Fox That Made Him Awesome’ which consisted of densely packed bullet points and went on for a solid twenty-four slides.

Another slide boldly declaring ‘You Are NOT WORSE THAN A SENATOR, What The Actual Kriff Fox, You Are Literally Worth A Million Of Them’ had Fox realizing that Thorn and his other Commanders were definitely in on the presentation, drastically reducing the possibility of it being a prank.

Fox’s eyes started watering around the time they got to the part that read, ‘We Made This Presentation Not Because We Think You’re Dumb, But So We Can Make Absolutely Sure You Know How Much We Care About You.’ That was nice of them to say, but Fox was already strongly suspecting he might be the dumbest motherf*cker in the galaxy for being an idiot about his Vod’ike for so long.

Despite Fox’s troopers’ love of extremely long titles, the final section had no titles, letting the images speak for themselves.

Hundreds of slides—hundreds of them—were dedicated solely to different photos of people who contributed to the presentation, which seemed to be every damn Vod in the Guard.

Corries on duty giving a thumbs up to the photographer, crowds of Corries in the barracks dressed down in their blacks, Corries on their backs in the medbay grinning ruefully into the camera. The only theme tying the Brothers together were the datapads in their hands, reading in big, bold letters:

‘We love you, Fox!’

‘You’re the best, Vod!’

‘Thank you Fox!’

‘You Saved Me, Fox!’ a Corrie in the slicing division’s sign read. They had two prosthetic legs visible in the frame—an injury that would have gotten the Vod decommissioned to “save on resources” had Fox not squirreled them away to one of his Super Secret Squads, safe from the condemning gaze of nat-borns and long necks alike.

Fox’s throat hurt.

Vod’e Fox knew personally, Thorn, Thire, Stone, Hound, even Brothers from the squads he made drill the One-Hundred Years of Awareness Training, all featured in the presentation.

Fox’s breathing started to come irregularly.

Stacy made a guest appearance halfway through the photo reel. He was surrounded by a group of Shinies his age, each of them stretching goofily to place one hand on his vod’ika’s sign. ‘We love you, ori’vod!’ He looked happy to be there. They all did.

Fox had to wait until much later to see the second half of the photos. Lovely and Corpse needed to stop the slides and call the closest Commander to his office on account of Fox bursting into loud, ugly tears right then and there. Stone relieved the Vod’ike of their duty and pulled Fox’s head under their chin, radiating reassurance.

Just an hour ago, Fox would have been mortified if he had devolved into such a display in front of his subordinates. But when Fox looked for that familiar burning ball of shame in his chest, he couldn’t sense it. It was as if it had been lifted off him, stolen away by his Corries and punted into oncoming traffic.

Together with Stone, they rocked in Fox’s office, weeping openly, more unburdened than ever.

Fox didn’t speak for days afterward, too overwhelmed by his shaken worldview to communicate beyond written orders. It worried his Commanders, since historically Fox had only gone non-verbal in times of distress. But this time, Fox was happy. So happy. He was literally happy beyond words. He tried to reassure them he was fine—more than fine—with increased physical affection. Fox basically pinned his Commanders in place via a vod-pile until he was sure they got the message. They seemed to appreciate it, at least.

Now when troopers greeted Fox cheerfully in the hallways, or brought him a new book or the latest gossip, he engaged with them fully, matching their energy. It was like a blindfold was pried from Fox’s eyes, letting him see the pure devoted love that fueled each of his Corries. Fox couldn’t believe he’d allowed his own insecurities to smother what was now so obvious.

Thorn radiated contented smugness whenever they saw Fox chatting with yet another Vod’ika for the first time. Fox couldn’t even be mad about it—he was too kriffing happy about it to be mad about it.

All his Corries—every single one of them—were complete weirdos. How could they not be? Fox was loved.

On a personal level, Fox was starting to find that most of his mutations didn’t actually bother him anymore. He’d always known that that genetic superiority stuff the long necks went on about was bullsh*t. But some days—not every day, no, but sometimes—when he looked in the mirror, he found that he liked what he saw.

His Commanders and Hound were the only ones so far to know even a portion of his mutations. When Fox occasionally had his helmet off (an event escalating in frequency), they acted normal around him, but they didn’t treat his odd hair and eyes like they didn’t exist, either. Thank the Force for that—Fox thought he would have snapped and lost his mind if people went back to tip-toeing around him.

It’s not like Fox's hair and eye color stopped him from being a badass at his job, which he supposed was what it came down to in the end. (Thire dying his hair red to match Fox’s may have also helped—just a little bit. Gods, Fox really had to stop crying so much.)

Fox could hardly believe it, but he was also considering letting his Vod’ike see his face, too. Fox was certain they wouldn’t rat him out. When Fox looked inward, he found he wasn’t all that concerned about his troops treating him differently because of the stigma around Muties, either. They already loved him for his psychological deviations from the template, and Fox had once thought those were much harder to look past than red hair.

Fox had just… grown used to physically hiding himself whenever he could. It was a hard habit to break, considering he’d started it to save his own life.

(Fox also desperately wanted to tell Stacy, to show him his face. Stacy was such an emotionally open Vod, and Fox wanted to give him something beyond a blank visor back. His vod’ika would be the first to know what he looked like since his roommates, Fox swore it.)

Fox thought he might even let his Corries in on his other secrets, one day soon. Like whatever the weird extra-sensory osik he had going on was. He still didn’t completely know what the deal with that was himself.

He’d tried looking up ‘why is everything and everyone so loud all the time even when no one is talking’ on the holonet, and the only useful search result had been an article about various kinds of sensory processing disorders and something called “neurodiversity” in human brains.

(It was normal! After years of confusion, he now knew his first ever detectable difference from his Brothers was normal. Having a different brain type was a normal human thing, just like having different hair and eye type was normal. Because Fox was a normal human person.

Fox felt something profound inside himself, something intrinsic to his being, settle.)

The Article contained surprisingly practical advice for easing sensory strain in his day-to-day life. Despite not being able to follow any of the suggestions that cost money or needed access to a civilian doctor or required him to have basic sentient rights, some of the other tips were actually kind of helpful. Fox could scarcely believe how much emotional and mental aggravation he could alleviate just by developing some new habits and installing a few article-recommended filters in his HUD. Nat-borns really did get all the good sh*t.

Plus, the Sensory Bullsh*t™ gave him more advantages than disadvantages in Fox’s humble (correct) opinion. For example, Fox realized one of the things he was experiencing was probably what the article called “hyper-empathy,” which made him overly in-tune with people’s moods. Sure, he got overwhelmed and anxious and all that because of it, and sometimes he had to stop talking for a while until he was slightly less overcome with the emotions of everyone in the building. It had supremely f*cked over his social life when he’d ascribed any negative emotions he’d detected to be a result of his own presence until his Corries literally sat him down with an actual PowerPoint presentation proving to him that wasn’t the case. Still, it was also an invaluable tool for keeping his Vod’e safe. (If it were necessary, Fox would accept having an emotional breakdown in his office every day if it meant his Siblings would live.)

Fox could know when one of his Siblings was having a rough time and react accordingly. He could check on the physical well-being of all his Vod’ike without needing to talk to or even see them. He could chase a perp through a maze, blind and with his ear-drums blown out, without losing the trail.

Fox had just finished with that last example. Unfortunately, the maze in question was Coruscant’s utterly cursed, multi-layered, definitely not-to-code, rank-as-hell sewer system.

The mission was to apprehend the main suspect for a recent string of civilian bombings. Fox felt the little, icy spike of terror that always happened before a bomb went off at close range and tackled two of his Brothers to the floor of the perp’s apartment building. Sure enough, the lobby had been blasted to hell and back not two seconds later. It was loud enough Fox’s ears retained a constant ringing tinnitus for the rest of the day. Thank f*ck the Guard called ahead with a bomb threat, because not five minutes later, the building collapsed in on itself. The casualties would have been immense.

Fortunately, Fox’s helmet had protected him from a piece of rebar impaling his skull, the metal stopping just before going into his eyeball. Unfortunately, the rebar had been caught by his visor and shattered the front of his helmet, completely destroying his HUD.

Consequently, Fox needed to ditch his helmet when chasing the perp into the dark, dank sewers. Without the protection of his helmet, it smelled utterly vile. It was too dark to see jacksh*t without night vision, and his ringing ears left him with a lingering dazedness. If it wasn’t for Fox’s Gut FeelingsTM, the suspect would have gotten away to bomb another day. It had honestly been one of Fox’s more impressive catches, but he couldn’t enjoy it properly when he emerged covered in whatever horrors existed in Coruscant’s waste treatment pipes.

Fox would need to replace his entire helmet, which was a pain. You literally had to submit a whole-ass ten-page series of forms to replace each individual piece of armor, so Force forbid you lose an entire kit at once. Plus, replaced armor was never as good as what you started off with. Something about manufacturing budget cuts over time, blah blah blah whatever. It was annoying, but he couldn’t really do anything about it.

To recap: Fox’s hair and eyes? Fine. His probable neurodivergency? Cool, nice to know, he guessed. His wicked tracking powers? Genuinely awesome.

However. There was one mutation Fox possessed that genuinely irked him still. It was neither a neutral departure from the norm nor something he could use to his advantage. It was… inconvenient. Irritating. Literally physically challenging to work around. Which for someone of Fox’s high standards, was frankly unacceptable.

Fox’s stupid f*cking chest.

“Just—come the f*ck on—”

Fox wrestled with the front zipper of the spare CT blacks. No matter how much he yanked and pressed and pulled the zipper up, it stubbornly refused to close over his pecs.

Fun fact about CT Class clones. They had about 7.5% less muscle mass than the average CC, and were approximately 1.32 centimeters shorter. It wasn’t a huge difference, but when everyone looked exactly the same, little deviances had a way of standing out. The Kaminoans claimed putting less effort and resources into the CTs exemplified the clones’ most prized trait: their enormous, mind-boggling number. The easier a clone was to make, the more of them could be produced. Quantity over quality, baby!

Skimping on costs was the name of the game in the later stages of clone production. It was a trend followed by not only the Kaminoans but also the Senate when budgeting for the war. They preferred to throw money at bigger tanks and more ships and cut corners on insignificant details, like food, medicine, and clothing for the Vod’e.

Whenever tiny, meaningless luxuries like armor and rations were nerfed from the budget, the Corries always took a hit, supply-wise. They weren’t experiencing any actual fighting, after all, and they were stationed on a safe, civilized Core World. They obviously didn’t need to eat as badly as a frontline battalion. Because the richest government in the galaxy couldn’t scrounge up the spare pocket change to properly feed Fox’s Vod’ike. Of course not.

(All Fox wanted to sink his teeth into the committee in charge of budgeting. Just once, full jaw-strength. Was that really too much to ask?)

Anyway, the budgeting committee was the reason the Coruscant Guard had exactly zero spare CC-specific armor kits. The Republic didn’t deem them worth the cost of having on hand, given the small number of clones that needed them. There were only standard, mass-produced CT kits available.

The Guard’s Department of Health was still holding on to Fox’s armor and blacks after his jog through unprocessed sewage, probably trying to ensure it wasn’t infected with space hepatitis or something like that. They’d graciously given him a temporary set of CT apparel to use so he wouldn’t be stuck bucketless.

Blacks were supposed to fit like a thick second skin around a clone and provide secure fastenings for their armor to clip on. The advantage of using a clone army, besides not having to pay them, was that you could get away with making everything one-size-fits-all. But even still, there was a subtle, almost unnoticeable difference between CC and CT apparel due to the difference listed in their specs.

Specs that Fox didn’t share with his clone brethren.

Just after Fox turned 19cyo, wearing regular CC blacks began making it hard for Fox to breathe. As soon as he refined his sewing skills to an acceptable level, he’d taken a needle and thread to an alpha-sized set of blacks and went to town. The end result looked blessedly normal and felt like a godsend to Fox’s poor lungs. Fox had guarded his secretly altered set of blacks viciously, refusing to let anyone else even touch them on Kamino.

What could Fox say? He liked to breathe.

Fox prayed to the Force he got his old set of blacks back from the Health Department, because he was struggling more with the spare CT-issued clothing than he did with chasing his perp through the sewers the other day.

Ok, new strategy, Fox decided. He got his elbows involved, trying to use them to squish his pecs and make them take up less space. The heels of his palms shoved the two halves of the top together, while his fingers twisted in knots to pull the zipper handle up his body.

Slowly, segment by segment, Fox bullied the zipper over his infuriating speed-bump of a chest. A couple times, his bulging flesh got pinched in the zipper, and Fox would need to backtrack his progress and try again.

Finally, the zipper handle settled at the top of his neckline with a click, and the Commander stepped back to inspect his work.

…Fox looked completely ridiculous.

He felt like a nearly empty tube of toothpaste from which someone was trying to squeeze the last dregs of tooth cleansing solution. He couldn’t even move his arms up past his shoulders, the blacks were so restrictive. There was a whole-ass, three-inch gap between the top of Fox’s bottoms and the bottom of Fox’s shirt, making it very obvious the top was not made to fit someone like him.

And why would it? Blacks were designed with Vod’e in mind. Not Fox.

Fox shook his head. Not again. Be positive, Fox. Think of how sad your Corries would be. Imagine their sad little faces, damn you!

The Fox in the mirror might have looked like an unmitigated disaster, but that didn’t matter provided the setup was functional. Perhaps it wasn’t as unsalvageable as he initially assumed.

Fox attempted to test his range of mobility by moving his elbows further past his back—

—f*cking sh*t—!

—and managed to reverse all his hard work when the cheap-ass zipper burst open over his chest, bringing the count of blacks Fox had ruined in the past 48 hours to two.

The decorated, competent Marshal Commander Fox, defeated by a zipper. His eye twitched. Great. Awesome. Perfect.

All this, just for something to wear to the gym.

Fox, discouraged and furious with himself, ripped off the busted blacks, fitfully throwing them to the ground. Now what?

Fox loved his gym time. He didn’t want to miss it because of something as silly as a wardrobe malfunction. The Fox in the mirror narrowed his eyes. He wasn’t giving up his favorite time of the day without a fight.

Fox had half a mind to just storm into the gym shirtless and go about his day regardless of what anyone else thought.

…Wait.

Fox didn’t care what anyone else thought.

He was such an idiot.

Fox walked at a normal pace to the gym. Like a normal Vod’e, about to go do a normal workout. Not like a man who was shirtless in public for the first time in over a literal (clone) decade. No sir-ee. A theoretical bystander would look at him think, No, this very regular Vod could never be secretly full of turbulent panic and rampaging insecurities. Everything sure is all good with that guy! Yup!

The air was cold as it breezed past Fox’s exposed chest. The sensation was foreign, but the gym wouldn’t be. The gym was filled with Fox’s Corrie Guard, who would never give a Brother sh*t over something as silly as being too muscular. Fox’s Vod’ike weren’t the Kaminoans. Fox’s Vod’ike kriffing loved him. It would be foolish for Fox to be nervous about being out of uniform around them. Which. Was why. He wasn’t. Nervous. Nope!

…Fox discretely tried to pull up his ill-fitting bottoms as he walked. The CT pants were also tighter than their CC counterparts. Shorter, too. The waistband sat just a tad lower on Fox’s hips than what he was used to. Just enough to throw him off. But the CT bottoms were nowhere near as restrictive as the uppers had been, so it was really not a big deal.

Everything was fine.

At least Fox still had a helmet with his tit* program uploaded. Even if it was a Shiny helmet.

…Was the shirtless-plus-helmet combo weird? Was Fox doing something weird and off-putting and uncool right now—?

No, Fox asserted to himself. Plenty of Vod’e went to the gym shirtless. Some did their routines in just their undershorts! And they weren’t weird! Plus, people used their helmets to play music and osik while they worked out all the time. It was not weird, and Fox was not a freak!

Yes, thought Fox, as he stood in front of the entrance to the gym for a very reasonable amount of time. There was absolutely no reason for anybody to be looking at him weirdly. And if they did? f*ck ‘em. Maybe they were the weird ones. For being nosey.

Before Fox could freak himself out more than he already had, he pushed open the doors and walked inside.

Of course there was some f*cking Bullsh*t Event in Fox’s gym.

That day, the gym was not full of only Fox’s Corries. Instead, a riot of different battalion colors littered the space. Fox even thought he spotted some 501st blue in the mix. Rex’s battalion.

Most of the troops were clustered around the training mats, watching the aforementioned f*cking Bullsh*t Event go down. A sudden burst of gleeful, riled-up cheering exploded from the crowd that nearly had Fox leaping out of his blacks. On an elevated holoboard, a Vod on a high stool crossed off a name and moved the opposing designation up to the next bracket.

That was right. A sparring tournament. Some promotional, morale-raising bantha-osik for the Republic. Fox vaguely remembered approving it a long time ago. Sort of. He wasn’t sure. He might have been high off his gourd on Stims and sleep deprivation at the time.

Fox forced his legs to keep walking into the gym. Fine, it wasn’t just Fox’s Corries there that day. It was also some other Vod’e, too. Whatever. Not a big deal. They were all still Brothers, right? (Fox deliberately blocked the debacle with Stacy’s batch and how his own batch wasn’t talking to him and the screaming matches he’d had with the Frontline Battalion Commanders over his cushy posting out of his mind.) At least there weren’t any f*cking nat-borns present.

Fox would not be scared away from his own gods-damn gym.

Fox power-walked to the jogging track and started his warm-ups. He couldn’t help but assess the scene. Most of the Vod’e not involved in the f*cking Bullsh*t Event were his Corries. They were scattered around the edges of the gym, using the equipment normally. The majority of the non-Guard clones had their attention focused on the sparring mats. Not that it mattered to Fox, or anything.

Warmups complete, Fox began to jog around the track. He idly narrated reports that he could do (and had done) in his sleep to his tit* program.

Mercifully, the rest of the world fell away from Fox as he ran. No more other people or others’ high-strung emotions to tangle with Fox’s own. No more thoughts. Only run.

He did cardio for longer than usual. By the time Fox came back to himself, feeling much less anxious than he had when he first walked in, his legs were warm and numb, indicating that he’d be feeling the muscle burn tomorrow. He was sweating buckets, to the point that if he flicked his arm, water would fly off. He’d finished his reports, too, which was always nice.

Honestly, Fox felt great. He was glad he didn’t chicken out the way he admittedly wanted to earlier.

Fox headed over to the weight rack, feeling light. A pair of Vod’e hung around the press bench, no weights in sight, and Fox eyed them to discern whether they were wrapping up.

Funnily enough, the troopers seemed to be watching him right back, seemingly stunned in place.

Fox made eye contact through his visor with the Vod sitting on the bench. The trooper’s shoulders immediately hiked up and turned their gaze away, pretending like they hadn’t just been staring at him. The pair of Vod’e began to radiate nerves… and embarrassment? Fox tensed, but refused to redirect his stride.

He was not weird, he was not being weird, he was not doing anything embarrassing for Force’s sake—

“Is this bench occupied?” Fox asked, steadier than he could have hoped for.

“Uh!” The trooper on the bench squeaked. Their hair was non-regulation, long enough to brush the tops of their shoulders. The Vod was actually pretty young. A Shiny. The Shiniest Shiny Fox had ever seen off Kamino. As in maybe eighteen clone years old, possibly younger. Kark, they really were sending kids out too soon these days.

“No!” Shouted the other kid, also a karking Shiny. The standing Vod, in contrast, had shaved their head down to stubble. It almost looked like the second trooper had donated their hair to the first.

These kids definitely weren’t Fox’s troops—he would have remembered if literal babies were toddling around his HQ. Fox felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up. These were a pair of unknowns.

The stubbled Shiny swiftly shoved the sitting one out of their seat. The first Vod nearly tripped and fell on their face, but pinwheeled enough to recover with only minor embarrassment.

“All yours!” The bald trooper exclaimed, still too loud.

Then, the both of them stood stiff on either side of the bench, making no move to wander off to another machine.

Fox glanced between them, bewildered. “…Thanks.”

When Fox went for the weights, it snapped the two out of whatever anxiety-induced stupor they were trapped in. Both troopers scurried a more reasonable distance away from the bench, but still hesitated to leave.

As Fox loaded up the weights with his usual fare, the two Shinies engaged in a whispered argument with each other that Fox tried to block out for the sake of his own declining sanity.

Ask,” the shaven clone hissed.

No!” The long-haired one whispered back, “it would be weird.”

“Then I’ll ask,” they insisted. Louder, they called to Fox. “Hey—!”

The long-haired kid tried to slam their hands over the other’s mouth, but Fox was just about done with being anxious and confused.

“Did you need something?” Fox asked, defensive.

Just say it already, Fox begged internally, hardly able to stand the suspense. Just ask: ‘are you really a Vo—’

“You need a spotter, Vod?”

Fox blinked, his dread ejected out of his head by sheer surprise. Too startled to utter a denial, he let slip a “…Sure.”

The shaved Vod then shoved the squeaking long-haired one into the spotter’s position. Okay?

“I’m Nebula,” the stubbled trooper introduced themselves, “they/them.”

“Ch—Cherry.” Said the anxious trooper. “She/her.”

“Nice to meet you,” said Fox, still reeling a bit from his own nightmares not coming to pass. He felt an odd complacency settle over him like a blanket. It was as if a hole had been punched in the bottom of his skull that was draining out his self-doubts before they could be formed. Maybe it was the shock of not getting called out by the first person he spoke to, or perhaps it was the chagrin of thinking he would have ever gotten called out by a Vod in the first place.

He laid down and started his reps.

Cherry was a dutiful spotter. She seemed laser-focused, trying extra hard to not embarrass herself. Overcompensating, determined Fox. She remained anxiously silent.

Nebula hung around the edges, making casual conversation.

“So…” Nebula began. “You sure can sprint for a long time.”

“I know,” agreed Fox.

Nebula nodded along, eyebrows raised. “You come here a lot?”

“I’m stationed here,” Fox admitted regretfully. He wished nobody had to be stationed on Coruscant, but life was cruel.

“Huh,” said Nebula, brows creeping higher. They exchanged a glance with Cherry. “I meant do you come to the gym.”

“Oh,” Fox replied eloquently. “Yeah, whenever I can.”

“We can tell.” Mumbled Cherry. She shot an envy-filled glance down at Fox’s chest.

Fox was officially lost on what was happening here.

The two spotted him, and even helped add and remove weight when Fox asked for it. They were good kids, if confusing ones. At least Cherry’s anxiety decreased the longer she spent in the orbit of Nebula and Fox’s conversation.

“S-so…” Cherry stuttered, during one of Fox’s breaks. “Do you… can I…” The sister took a deep breath.

“Can I have a copy of your workout routine?” Cherry blurted awkwardly.

Nebula nodded along in agreement, managing to at least act significantly more normal about the question. “Yeah! You’ve got some great gains, Vod!

Fox stared at the two Shinies incredulously. That’s what all this kriffing waffling was about? They wanted Fox’s workout routine?

Fox carefully did not let his exasperation show. Kids.

However… the Commander couldn’t help but be endeared by their awkward earnestness.

What the hell, why not?

“Sure.” Fox shrugged casually. “Is there anything in particular you want to work on? Running maybe?”

“I’d like to know more about the running,” said Nebula. Nebula looked at Cherry imploringly. Cherry sighed wistfully.

“I would give literally anything to have tit* like yours.” Then she froze, eyes wide, realizing what she’d just admitted.

Immediately, her whole face, including her ears and neck, flushed bright, cherry red—ah, so that’s what the name was about.

Fox wasn’t in a position to judge, however. He didn’t think he was doing too much better himself.

“I—I’m so sorry!” Cherry babbled. “Oh my gods that was so rude. Oh kark, this is the worst f*cking thing ever—”

Nebula had a death grip on Cherry’s bicep, preventing the girl from running away. They didn’t say anything, but only because their jaw was shaking from the strain of not laughing in Cherry’s face.

Fox was glad he had a helmet, because he was sure his expression was on the unflattering side of ‘gobsmacked.’ He was too shaken to put a stop to Cherry’s embarrassed rambling.

Fox looked down at his… tit*? tit*.

They’d brought him nothing but grief over the course of his life. It was the first mutation that he’d been truly afraid of. It was a constant, physical reminder of his differences—a literal pressure under his armor that never let up until he was completely alone, and sometimes not even then. It made him look ridiculous in anything he hadn’t hacked at with a sewing kit for two hours. It made fitting in the one-size-fits-all world of the clones a hassle and a nightmare.

Somebody wanted what Fox had?

Why?

The question made Cherry stumble in her horrified spiraling.

“Why what?” Asked Cherry, thrown off.

“Why would you want…” Fox raised a hand to gesture limply at his chest, “…this?”

Cherry and Nebula stared at him. Then, they both exploded at the same time.

“What do you mean, ‘why?’” Nebula spluttered.

You look amazing?” Cherry phrased it like it was a question, even though it really wasn’t.

Huh?

“You’re joking, right?” Cherry had completely forgotten about her embarrassment in the face of her vehemence. “You look great! I want to kriffing be you! It’s like—”

Cherry flapped her hands around, desperate to explain and have Fox understand.

“—I’ve always had—problems. With the way I look,” Cherry admitted. “I’d look at my body and just get sad all the time. I just—” Cherry sniffed, “I just wanted something different than what the Clone Experience had to offer, you know?” She chuckled wetly. “There’s not a lot of variety allowed on Kamino, if you know what I mean.”

Fox did know.

“But you—” Cherry choked a little, her awe and frustration bleeding through. “—I saw you, and it was like. I finally saw a Vod that I wanted to look like. That I felt like I could look like, one day.”

“I don’t understand how any Vod wouldn’t want to look the way you do. And—and now you’re asking me ‘why’ like that, and I just karking know it’s because the long-necks are absolute nerf-herders who stamp out cool and unique sh*t like they’re all getting fed to a black hole if they don’t—”

Cherry sobbed a little, and hid her face in her hands. Nebula rubbed her back soothingly. Fox just sat there, stunned. Another cheer roared through the gym, the tournament goers oblivious to the group’s plight. It matched the roaring of blood in Fox’s ears.

Fox didn’t know what to do.

I’m sorry,” Cherry whispered, rubbing her red eyes. She sucked in a shaky breath. “I just karking met you and unloaded all this osik for no reason. I’m sorry I ruined your time at the gym with all my garbage.”

She started to move away, pulling Nebula with her. “I’ll just… leave you alone, now. I’m really sorry, again.”

No. Fox could not let this Vod’ika walk away in tears over a f*cking workout routine.

Fox looked down at himself again, begging anything he could think of—gods, the Force—to let him see what Cherry saw. He’d always seen his chest as the first death flag of Fox’s life as a normal Vod, a constant reminder of how little he had in common with his clone brethren.

He just didn’t fit right the way everyone in his batch had. Not mentally, with his lies and his blackmail and his constant, creeping awareness that he and the Vod’e were slaves. And certainly not physically, with his struggle to even breathe right while stuffed in the same cookie-cutter shell as all his brothers.

The things that made a Vod a Vod were well-defined and well-documented. It was known down to their weights in tenths of a pound. It was known to the average accuracy they had with a DC-16 handheld blaster. To their rigorously assessed, uniform, obedient physiological profiles. Even down to the expected hex color of each clone’s iris.

Fox just couldn’t seem to live up to that definition of what a real Vod truly was. In any way.

‘I want to kriffing be you!’

‘I finally saw a Vod that I wanted to look like.’

But, Fox thought, staring at Cherry’s back, maybe there was no fitting right in a world like the clones’. Maybe there could just be fitting.

‘You are my Vod, and that makes you Vod’e.’ It echoed through his mind, loud and clear and light, like a single strike of a bell in an auditorium. It was understanding.

Fox wanted to laugh until he cried. It turned out, he’d gotten this ‘being a Vod’ sh*t right a long time ago. The clarity should have shocked him, but all he could feel was joy.

“I’m about ten years ahead of you.”

Cherry stopped walking.

Fox stood up from the bench. “I won’t lie. It probably won’t be as easy for you as it was for me to get here. I’m a CC, so they built me a little different.”

Fox clapped a hand on Cherry’s shoulder. “But you definitely have time to get there, if you put in the work.” Cherry’s teary eyes peered up into Fox’s visor, full of hope.

What is a Vod?

Vod. Vod’e. Vod’ika and Ori’Vod. All words snatched from the mouths of their Mandalorian trainers and made their own. If the clones’ makers had had their way, they would each have popped out exact copies of Jango Fett, down to the male pronouns and the inability to recognize when they were being played for a fool.

Thankfully, the Vod’e were more than a list of pre-determined specs on a data terminal somewhere. The Vod’e, simply by existing as real people, had already surpassed their origins by lightyears.

If they were all what the long necks defined them to be, then never in a million years would they have named each other their Siblings.

Fox let his smile leak into his voice. “I’d say the prognosis on the tit* is looking positive.”

Fox left the gym that day much later than usual. He’d also left with two new numbers in his comm, a promise to forward a written workout plan to help with running endurance and torso sculpting, respectively, and a warm, light feeling in his chest that left him practically walking on air back to his room.

It was only hours later that Fox had realized he’d never given the two Shinies his name.

Oops.

A week later, Fox was in the Commander dorm, spying on—ahem. Observing Thire.

Thire’s eyes were glued to his datapad, fingers scrolling at the speed of light. He radiated a feeling of increasing disbelief, with an edge of hysterical humor.

Hmm. Curious and curiouser.

Fox swooped down from the top bunk, butting his grinning, upside-down face into his youngest Commander’s line of sight.

What’chu got there?

Thire screamed in terror and snapped the tablet to his chest. “Nothing!

“Real convincing, Thire.” Fox made grabby hands at the tablet. “Give.”

“There’s nothing to give,” Thire said, shrinking back onto the bottom bunk to escape from Fox, “because there’s nothing to see.”

Fox pitied Thire. The young Commander still thought he had a choice.

Fox fully slipped off the top bunk, simply letting his armored body flop freely down and crush Thire.

Augh, you tit—!” Thire tried to shove Fox off of him, and in doing so, released his grip on Fox’s prize.

Fox snatched it up, never once letting his weight off of Thire. Thire ineffectively punched at Fox’s armor, “Fox, no! You’ll regret this—”

Shhh,” Fox said, powering up the tablet to reveal the comment section of popular video streaming holosite. “This is for your own good.”

How?” Exclaimed Thire.

“It’ll make me happy,” Fox said, sickly-sweet, “and it makes you happy when I’m happy, right Thire?

Thire’s eye twitched. “Go to hell.”

“Already there!” Fox scrolled up to the video and immediately hit play.

‘The Clone Fights But It’s Only The Parts People Actually Care About’ was an exceptionally long name for a holo, but Fox happened to be a fan of overly long titles. The video title was also followed by an overheating-sweating face emoji, a sparkle emoji, and the water drops emoji.

The video consisted of a series of very short clips of—huh. Fox didn’t know they recorded the f*cking Bullsh*t Event he’d seen in the gym, but he supposed it made sense. How else would it work as propaganda if no one else could see the clones showing off during spars?

In the first clip, Fox recognized himself in the background of the video, running the track. He was unrecognizable in his shiny CT helmet and blacks, but Fox knew he was the only one on the track at that time. The video was high resolution, so Fox could see himself pretty clearly, but only if one decided to not pay attention to the battling clones in the foreground.

For the next five cuts, the clips jumped around with no rhyme or reason. Strangely, clips would start and end mid-announcement, or in the middle of Vod’e executing takedowns. The only consistency between them was that Fox would be making a pass on the track in the background. But that couldn’t be right. Why would he be the focus of a video about an event he wasn’t even participating in? Fox dismissed the thought as self-absorbed and waited for the video’s punchline.

Fox passed by on the track many times. A lot more times than Fox expected. He’d been lost in his own little world at the time, not counting laps, but it was evidently a very impressive number. Fox was full-on sprinting for about half the laps he did in the video, too. The Commander hadn’t even realized he’d gotten to that level of speed, then. He’d just been enjoying himself.

Fox knew he was good at running. But he hadn’t understood why Nebula had been so obsessed with learning how to do it themselves until he saw that even for a Clone Commander, that level of sustained sprinting was kind of wild.

At the end of the video, the final clip was of Fox passing by immediately in front of the camera to get to the weight rack. He had walked so close to the camera that his helmet and knees were cut off in the video, and Fox was a little embarrassed to realize he had gotten so close to the recording device without noticing. Talk about a skill issue.

Fox was forced to confront the reality that the video had indeed been about him. He guessed he couldn’t blame the nat-borns too much for compiling clips of his cardio. It had been a pretty good showing, even for notorious gym-rat Fox. Based on the emojis in the title of the video, they were probably impressed by Fox’s form and endurance, since the clones’ level of fitness wasn’t common for humans throughout the galaxy.

“What were you freaking out over,” Fox tsked, peering down at Thire, who still hadn’t managed to push Fox off of him. “So the nat-borns are stoked a Vod can run real good. Big deal.”

Thire stared at Fox, eyes wide. He laid limply under where Fox sat on him, incredulous.

Fox scrolled down to the comments section.

CleverUserName420:
not to be a freak but oh my f*cking gods. oh my gods. karking f*cking sh*t. oh my gods. kriffing sh*t oh my karking gods in f*cking heaven. holy f*cki ng sh*t

jack_the_tooka_:
OWO WHAT’S THIS

InvaderFunk:
( • )( • ) ԅ(—‿—ԅ)

grimestgearhead:
I want to lick the sweat off his tit*

Fox slammed the tablet down.

Kark.

That Time Fox's Fat tit* Saved The Galaxy - Amity_Ax - Star Wars (2024)
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Name: Twana Towne Ret

Birthday: 1994-03-19

Address: Apt. 990 97439 Corwin Motorway, Port Eliseoburgh, NM 99144-2618

Phone: +5958753152963

Job: National Specialist

Hobby: Kayaking, Photography, Skydiving, Embroidery, Leather crafting, Orienteering, Cooking

Introduction: My name is Twana Towne Ret, I am a famous, talented, joyous, perfect, powerful, inquisitive, lovely person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.