Beta: A huge thank you to cariel for beta reading this for me! *glomps*
Author's Notes: This is loosely based on the same universe as my tale High Hopes only in this story Cody clearly does not commit suicide.
It was the first time Cody had ever properly spoken to a civilian female and he could not have been more ashamed about it. He was drunk again, that was nothing new, and his face was hidden in the sanctity of a fresher bowl, reliving everything he had drank earlier in reverse. He always had a weakness for the potent Corellian spirits. It was only after the Bellassa massacre that Cody's weakness for the amber drink threaten to become an addiction.
"This should help a little."
The soft voice emerging from the haze of his sickened state was followed by the welcoming sensation of a cold cloth being placed against his brow. Though he was finished for now, Cody did not dare steal a glance back to learn who was responsible for this unexpected act of kindness. This was not at all how he imagined his first real encounter with a woman would be like.
In the past, Cody's brothers often spoke of their brief interactions with the fairer sex. Even the slightest gesture of affection, a sincere smile, a kind word, the brushing of fingers held a great weight when one knew only a life of violence and sacrifice. Those select few who had been given the chance to explore a relationship with another were especially envied. It gave others hope that one day they too could have someone special waiting for them back home. The Republic's demise, the Empire's birth, and the ever-increasing amounts of pointlessly violent missions had long since rid Cody of such fanciful daydreams. After Order 37, the massacre at Bellassa, Cody lost all hope of even having a future.
That was until, in a drunken haze, he sent out a desperate message to the encrypted commchannel he had just procured from a tortured, now dead, rebel. Cody had no memory of ever sending the message, but he never forgot the timely reply he received.
The laser pistol had been heavy in his hand with its cold barrel firmly planted against his fevered temple when his private commlink activated. The message contained within it a string of numbers that both saved and changed his life forever. Had it been sent a moment later, it would have been too late.
It had been a little over a month since he had received the message, about two weeks since he had arrived to the make shift compound that may or may not have been at one time a rebel base. No one ever explained what this location was and Cody knew better than to ask. What he did know was that there were other clones here and that Slick was one of them.
Cool hands gently rubbed his back as he struggled to both clear and pull his thoughts out from the past. Whoever this woman was, it was clear to the former commander that she did not intend to leave him to recover alone.
Another rush of humiliation poured over him to the discovery while his stomach churned violently; it was another silent reminder that the night was not through with him yet. Desperately, he struggled to find the right words that might amount to a half-decent apology. None came to him. A moment later, the clone was once more ridding his body of the vast amounts of liqueur he consumed earlier. There would be no bragging of this night to anyone, least of all to his brothers.
She continued to remain by his side one hand stroking his back the other brushing the cold cloth against his neck and fevered brow as soft whispers of calming words filled his ears. Overwhelmed by the kindness, Cody felt his cheeks burn as he murmured a curse before stammering out an apology. His attempts to beg her to leave were ignored.
"It is better to endure this with another, than to face it alone," she smoothly replied before adding, "Don't worry; I won't speak of it to anyone."
It was too late; anyone who knew him already knew the truth. The war had made even the strongest of his brother's desire vices of one sort or another, anything to cope with the harsh reality that was their existence. Cody once believed he was above such things; now he was not so sure anymore.
The woman silently took the cloth and rose to her feet with the intent of soaking it in cold water from the sink. It bought him time to pull himself together and to steal a look at the stranger who had come to his aid. She was petite with long, dark hair half twisted into a bun while the other half rested smoothly against her shoulders. Her features were chiselled yet exotic. Beautiful did not begin to describe what he saw and Cody was swift to look away. What he would have given for the strange power that General Kenobi wielded, if only to erase this entire shameful moment from both of their minds.
Sensing his embarrassment, the young woman kept her eyes focussed on the soaking cloth in her hand. When Cody glanced back, he could see her dark eyes watching his reflection through the mirror. They were compassionate and honest, perhaps a little too honest. He could see the concern in her eyes as well as determination. Cody was not sure how much of it was imagined and how much of it was real. It was disconcerting to see another studying him with such scrutiny. Only one other in his life saw him as a human and Cody had tried to kill him over a year ago.
"Will you be all right if I helped you back to your quarters?" The question was sincere, and filled with concern. Cody could not recall of a time when anyone outside of General Kenobi actually cared.
Weakly nodding, Cody suddenly felt exhausted. He had to keep it together at least until she left. A moment later, the cold cloth in her hands were pressed against his brow, cheek, and the back of his neck. Closing his eyes, he breathed in the strangely familiar earthy scent of sweet grass and wild wood. As she hooked his arm over her shoulder and helped him to his feet, Cody recalled where he had smelled these flowers before.
Memories of past missions flooded his mind, of dead bodies strewn about like rag dolls, of the overpowering stench of oil mingled with blood, and the choking smoke that covered the sky. In his minds eye, he could see the phantom faces of his fallen brothers, of younglings and their mothers, staring at him with empty eyes, their mouths agape as silent screams flooded his senses. The strange eerie wails had been nothing more than the wind blowing through the tress, yet he never forgot the sound. Neither did he forget the strange scent of sweet grass and wild wood that had accosted his senses when they were forced to fumigate the bodies.
Frozen in position, he stared ahead, unable to move as his eyes snapped open and stared ahead to phantoms only he could see. It only took a moment for the young woman to register what was happening. Her hand slipped into his and gave it a squeeze. There was assurance to be found in her touch and comfort heard in her voice.
"Cody--it's not real, none of it is, you are home now. The war will not find you here--"
He could only shake his head in reply as the room spun slightly in response. There was so much he wanted to say, needed to say, if only to help her understand. The sincerity he saw in her expression and in her eyes gave him the courage to speak.
"I do not need to be on the frontlines for it to find me--to find my brothers--I came here because I have nowhere left to go. I have no where to hide--and this--" he shook his head. Weakness was not something he was ever comfortable revealing, not even in this inebriated state; yet in her eyes, he saw someone who understood, someone he could trust and so for the first time he spoke.
With steady hands used to assist unsteady feet the young woman who introduced herself as Sheltay guided Cody back to his temporary quarters. Because the building had once been an old storage facility, the rooms were small and Spartan. Cody's room was in reality, little different from the one he had aboard the star destroyer he had been stationed on. However, it was not its similarities to the life he had known that brought him comfort rather the young woman's silent presence.
Seated side by side on his cot, Cody began to speak about everything that had happened since the war's end. He spoke of General Kenobi, the kindness the old man had shown his brothers and himself. He spoke of Order 66 and the effect it had on all of the clones.
As her hand slipped into his own, Cody softly spoke of Order 37, his voice a mix of sorrow, shame, and terror. With eyes filled with unshed tears, he stared at the wall in front of them and spoke of the nameless, faceless younglings that lay strewn about on the roads, of the mothers who had used their bodies to shield them. He told Sheltay of the old woman's words that haunted his every waking moment, mocking his decisions and his every action with the empty promise that somehow none of this was his fault. Cody even spoke of his darkest moments, when the hopelessness and desperation had consumed him, when even liquid courage could not drown the harsh reality that they were all enslaved to a life of monstrosity.
Finally, he spoke of the message he could not recall ever sending and the timely response received.
Throughout it all, Sheltay spoke not a word as her fingers gently caressed the hand that she held it made all the difference. She did not judge him for his actions or the struggles he now faced within himself. Instead, she wrapped her arms around his shoulders and gave him a tight embrace, the first he had ever received in his short life.
"Rest now, Cody. Things will look better in the morning."
Cody weakly nodded at her words as she drew back from her embrace. He did not believe her, but he could not refuse the kindness he saw in her eyes either. After a failed attempt to remove his boots, he fell back on his cot, feeling grateful for blessed unconsciousness that was rapidly taking over his senses. As he began his descent into sleep, Cody could almost feel the young woman's strong hands removing his boots. His final memories were that of her cool lips lightly brushing against his fevered brow while her gentle voice whispered promises of hope.
Tomorrow his life would truly begin and this time he would not face it alone.