Chapter Twenty One: You're Alive

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Fives couldn't believe that Rex was still alive.  And Echo, his little brother...Fives had thought that his vod'ika was dead. That was what he'd been told, though. The cloners said that those unfit to live died so that the strong could win. If you couldn't fight, if you were defective, then you didn't deserve to live. Severely injured? Destroyed. Brain dead? Destroyed. Missing limbs? Parted out to repair other clones or even Jedi. Those clones were said to die in agony. But who would want a clone with no arms or a clone with no legs? Certainly no one that Fives knew. A clone injured like that was beyond useless.

He held little Ferris in his lap, trying to read over the words. The little boy was wiggling around, but that was okay. Hardcase had done that. Hardcase, who Fives had loved. He loved all his vode, but some were closer to his heart than others. It was a clone thing. They loved their brothers to a fault, even if they drove each other half mad. He smiled and tickled the little boy's ear. Ferris twisted in his lap, eyes sparkling with laughter. He turned around and kissed Fives' cheek before turning the pages.

"Wead to me?" Ferris asked. He snuggled back in the older man's lap, his little baby claws just barely skittering over the top of his hands. If Ferris had the claws Drake had, Fives would have been worried that his hands were about to get ripped up. "Pwease?" He gave Fives a pitiful look. "Mama's tired. Miss Melia is busy talking to someone named Ashwa. I'm wonewy."

Fives smiled a little and flipped the look open to a story about a great man who chopped down a cherry tree and then lied about it. It was a morality story, but Ferris seemed to love these. "Once upon a time, in a planet far off in the Outer Rim, there lived a boy named George. Now George lived in the days before speeders and starfighters and he rode a beast called a horse to go to school. In those days, every student had to contribute to the school woodpile or everyone in the building would freeze.

"Little George forgot to get his, one day, and he was almost late to class. So he took his bright eyed bay, his father's old hatchet, and he chopped down a slender little tree on the edge of his buir'ika and buir's farm. George dragged the tree to the school, dressed it, and forgot all about the incident. What he forgot was this was a sort of magic tree that made brilliant pink blossoms and fruits that tasted sweeter than a jogan. Day after day, his school used the wood from the magic tree and the woodpile never dwindled. They always had just enough wood to keep the school toasty warm. Nothing less and nothing more.

"But then Spring rolled around and his buir'ika went walking around her farm. She was looking for the magic tree because she wanted to see the magic blossoms and taste its sweet fruit." That was when Fives looked down and saw that Ferris was completely asleep, his thumb jammed in his mouth. The older clone sighed and put the book aside He picked the little boy up before sitting down on the couch. Ferris smiled a little in his sleep before curling up, under the blanket. Fives smiled and rubbed his little horns. He loved this kid. Ferris was so innocent and sweet, despite his fiery origins. Fives dreaded the days when he asked about his other siblings, though. Drake only had two of nine babies with him.

"Fives?" Melia walked into the common room before looking down. "Someone wants to see you."

"Can they come in here?" Fives asked. He gestured to the little boy in his lap. Melia nodded and left to go get whoever it was. Fives smiled down at the boy in his lap. He loved Ferris. The boy was everything he had always wanted in a family.

"Vod?"

Fives looked up, into the pained eyes of his vod'ika. Echo looked thin and drawn, his face blasted with more scars than he'd ever seen before. The other clone wore an eye patch over half his face. He settled down beside Fives on the couch, his gaze wanting. Fives moved so Echo could cuddle with him. Fives swallowed past the lump in his throat. He could feel the tears burning in his eyes. His vod'ika was alive. And Fives had left him to die on some cold, lonely planet.

"I'm sorry," Fives whispered. He grabbed Echo in a hug, trying not to cry. But it couldn't be stopped. Tears, white hot and pained, fell into Echo's dark hair and glittered like stars in the night sky. Fives held his vod'ika close, trying to protect him from every bad thing in the galaxy. "I'm so sorry. I'm so, so sorry."

"I missed you," Echo softly said. He reached up with shaky hands and Fives was shocked to see how skinny his little brother was now. He wrapped Echo up closely in his arms, almost trying to crush him. He'd lost his little brother once. He'd never let Echo go again. The smaller clone looked up, clearly surprised. "Are you okay? You're crying, vod. Please don't cry..."

Fives shook his head and held his little brother close to him. What else could he do? He had Echo  back. He had his little brother, safe and sound, in his lap. He just wanted to hold the younger clone close and never let him go. Fives might have left Echo once. He was never letting him go again. He closed his eyes after a few minutes. Fives didn't think he could really explain explain  what had happened beyond the fact that he had his little brother back.

And now he understood why Melia had gone off alone. She had been trying to give Fives his little brother back.

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