They said they would always be there. They never went away, no matter what happened, or how much time passed. You just have to deal, they had told him when he was young. You'll never stop seeing them, but it'll get easier.
RC-2197 now fully understood what they had meant.
Ever since Geonosis, he had operated without fully thinking about it. His body compensated for his lack of thoughts, and got him through each day. But he hadn't stopped seeing them; he knew he never would. They would fade somewhat, but they would always be there to haunt his thoughts.
No Jedi would ever understand. Much as he liked Salia, it was impossible for the Padawan to grasp the concept. They weren't truly there, but he could almost feel them, shadowing his every step. Salia had asked before, but he hadn't even attempted to explain it. It was different for her, a Force-user, a Jedi. Jedi didn't see ghosts; he was certain about that. Clones did. It made a difference.
When had she ever lost three brothers she'd been with since birth, or whatever process that had replaced it? When had she gone through training like the commandos had? And he had yet to see the moment when she was faced with an impossible decision.
She was naïve, and that was why. She was older, yes, but still innocent and untouched by the war. Therefore she couldn't understand the pain of losing some of the few people you trusted.
Sumar. Keto knew he was there in a way. You never could leave me alone. Or you, Tuar. He could almost see the cocky grins on their faces, with Niner's half-smile in the background. Niner would've acted like he was annoyed even if he really wasn't. It hurt to know what they would've been doing. No, it just hurt in general, not because of that.
The ghosts were here to stay, and Keto was terrified that he couldn't cope with that. How long would he be able to handle knowing that he was the sole survivor? How long until he began losing his sanity? When would he have to realize that he would never be free?
He wasn't ever going to be free anyways. There was no way out of the GAR except if he was killed or deserted. Both, at the moment, were out of the question. He had no place to go, and he had sworn not to rest until his brothers were avenged.
During training, they'd never even given a thought to losing each other. Death crossed their minds constantly, but they'd never really thought about it in the way that Keto now had. They'd seen, but never really understood, what it meant to lose a brother. Sure, it's awful, they'd thought. But it won't happen to us. They'd just assumed, foolishly, that death would pass them by, that they would be left intact no matter what the war threw at them.
They had been stupid.
Now Keto was learning, all too fast, what it truly meant to be alone. Except for the shadows. Those wouldn't leave, no matter how he silently pleaded and begged to be released from their burden. He was alone, because those weren't real, and he was, however pointless he felt his life was. Salia, too, was real; but at the moment, he didn't care. Salia wasn't a brother. She was a Jedi, just like the others that had cost his brothers - his brothers - their lives.
Keto couldn't bring himself to care that she'd never shown the same lack of understanding towards her men. The Jedi had caused this, all of this. He definitely wasn't the only commando who was silently suffering through grief. He knew, like the rest of the commandos, that nearly five thousand of them alone had died on Geonosis, on that nightmare of a planet.
And now he was trapped with nothing but the shadows of his brothers for company.
No one was here to reassure him that, despite everything, he would be okay. Not that he would take it from anyone; in his mind, the being had taken the form of Mij Gilamar. Now he wished, almost as much as he was wishing for his brothers back, that Gilamar was here, even for a moment, to promise that he wouldn't lose his mind, wouldn't crumble under the weight of the demands pressed on him, wouldn't stumble when he was caught off guard. Shab, even just a "It'll work out" would be better than nothing.
But this was the Republic, and they didn't care what went on with their soldiers as long as they got the job done. No one ever listened to a clone. Then Keto wondered if people would understand if they did take the few seconds to listen. The chances were that they would nod, looking somber, but struggle to grasp the point.
Keto rolled over to face the empty room. It was the squad's private space, but now it had only one occupant. It was night on Coruscant. There was still activity outside, but it held no interest for Keto. He supposed the one thing that would be on his mind for a while to come was his squad. Not the one he was going to be reassigned to, but the one that had fallen in a single day on Geonosis.
Something burned in his chest. He wasn't sure whether it was grief or desire for vengeance or a combination of both, but whatever it was, it made his heart race until it was hammering a hot rhythm that was urging him to act. It kept him awake, and as he lay contemplating what he should do, he was driven to his feet by the sheer longing to strike back for his brothers, although he wasn't sure who he would be countering. The Jedi, for forcing the commandos into a battle that had badly dented their forces? Or the Separatists, who had ripped brothers apart without a backwards glance?
As he paced the silent room, he wasn't sure who his anger was directed at. All he knew that he was going to ensure that the Jedi realized the price of that one battle, and that the Separatists wouldn't be able to tear any squad apart again.
The satisfaction of having a goal slowed his heart somewhat, and he settled on the bunk again. For a while longer his eyes remained open; finally he turned over and closed his eyes, feeling a searing heat swell in his throat as thoughts of his brothers crowded his mind. As he drifted into an uneasy sleep, something hot slipped down his face and onto the bunk. The tears surprised him, but he thought that their presence summed everything up pretty well.
The ghosts saw the tears roll down his face as sleep overtook the commando. They saw, and yearned to bring light to their brother, but could not. They were condemned to watch him struggle and stumble his way through his life. It wasn't fair to him or any human being, but that was a word a galaxy at war could not understand.
The ghosts stood by, keeping silent watch as the soldier, barely more than a child, faced with the reality of a life of war, dreamed. Dreamed of a life when they were together, not mercilessly rent apart. Dreamed of a time when he would be certain about his life, and why they had lost theirs.
Most of all, he dreamed of a time when the war would release him from its icy, unfeeling grasp.