Chapter Eleven

There is no death, there is the Force...

Her thoughts were addled, roiling around in her head like an ion storm; shapeless, formless, without beginning or end. Memory and dream coalesced, and she could not be sure if she was awake or asleep. Eventually, she became aware of voices around her; though she couldn't make any of them out, she tried to listen, to figure out why she felt so...strange. As she listened, her focus sharpened, and her thoughts became more orderly, and the dreams faded while the memories resurfaced.

Asajj Ventress held me captive, she thought, and she nearly killed me. I, we escaped, Stonewall and I. But how? She tried to open her eyes, but they wouldn't respond to her brain's commands, which she found frustrating. Finally, she gave up, and focused again on the voices that were above her.

" she?"

"Still unconscious."

"Her Force presence is strong."

"Yes. That's the only thing in this situation that doesn't have me concerned."

She recognized the voices, though she couldn't quite match them to any of the faces that she'd seen in her dreams or memories. I must try to open my eyes, she thought. I need to know what is happening, and what has happened.



"She's waking?"

There was suddenly a presence, very close to her, and a voice so familiar that it might have been her own. It spoke quietly, and she felt warm breath on her cheek. "Kalinda? Kali? It's Obi-Wan."

Obi-Wan? The name struck a chord within her. The other name...her name. It was a rope, thrown down to her in the darkness; Obi-Wan's voice was the light shining down, showing her the way. She swallowed. Her eyelids fluttered, then opened.

She was in a small room, a cabin on a ship, perhaps, and two men were standing over her. Well, one was standing - she recognized Anakin Skywalker - and the other, Obi-Wan, was kneeling beside her. He looked terrified.

A faint smile crept onto her face at his expression. "What's wrong?" The words were barely a whisper, and her voice sounded foreign in her ears.

"I'm just...going to tell Stonewall that she's okay." Anakin's voice faded as he left the room, but she hardly noticed.

"Are are you?" Obi-Wan asked, peering at her anxiously.

She managed a shrug, then winced at the pain that blossomed in her shoulders. "Okay. Though I feel like I lost a fight with a gang of Hutts." She lifted a hand, and ran her fingers through his beard. "I didn't mean that about the animal," she added. He looked confused, and she sighed. "When I said that your beard looked like a small animal was attached to your face...I didn't mean it. It's quite attractive, actually."

He chuckled. "Forgiven and forgotten, Kali."

Nodding, she glanced around the room. "Where are we?"

"Aboard the Resolute," Obi-Wan replied, leaning back a little. "Heading for Coruscant. We should be there by tomorrow evening. You have an appointment with one of the Healers."

Something Anakin had said jolted her memory. "Stonewall! Is he...?"

"He's fine. He was a little chilly when I picked you two up, but there was hardly a scratch on his armor." Obi-Wan paused. "He will be glad to know that you are awake at last."

"He's one of the good ones," she replied. "He saved my life. I'm not sure what I would have done without him."

"I would have come for you, anyway." Obi-Wan's voice was soft, serious; she looked at him curiously. "I will always come for you."

She made no response for a moment, only looked away again. Finally, she turned back to him. "And what happened to Asajj?"

Obi-Wan let out a sigh. "She managed to escape-again. She had a third escape pod, as well as a contact nearby that we didn't notice. They jumped to hyperspace while we were rescuing you and Stonewall."

Kali nodded slowly. "She is an interesting woman. Brutal, but fascinating."

"If you say so."

She smiled at him. "Thank you for coming to my rescue. Though I must admit, I'm surprised that they let you-it seems like they would have preferred that you stayed out of anything that involved me." His eyes shifted to one side, and she felt a broad grin split her face. "You didn't?"

"What else was I supposed to do?"

"You disobeyed the Jedi Council? For me?" She laughed outright. "Are you crazy?"

"I certainly hope not," he replied, his voice gruff. "Though I'm sure that Master Windu will think otherwise."

"What Mace Windu thinks about anything is a mystery to me," she replied. "And I was his Padawan for years."

He made no reply, instead he put his hand over hers. "How are you, really?"

"Fine," she answered, looking at him curiously. "I'm fine." There was a pregnant pause, then she raised her brow at him. "How are you?"

"Not so well."

She made no response, only waited for him to elaborate.

"I had the strangest dream the other night," he continued, his free hand absently stroking his beard. "Qui-Gon gave me some advice. And got me very, very drunk."

Kali let out a chuckle. "Did he really? What did he say?"

"He said that I was cruel to you, that I had been so for a very long time, and that I was-am-foolish for not...for hurting you like I have." Obi-Wan studied her; at his words, Kali's face had turned to smooth, impassive stone, and she was staring at their hands intertwined atop the sheet. He swallowed thickly and continued. "He told me that his only regret with Tahl was that he didn't admit his love for her sooner, and that the time they had together was so short."

"He was a wise man," she said, her voice quiet.

"It was just a dream," he went on. "But...have I?"

"Have you what?"

"Been cruel to you?" His eyes sought hers, and she looked at him for a moment.

"I'm not sure." She smiled faintly as he exhaled in annoyance, and put her other hand on top of his. "What I mean is, I have loved you unconditionally for as long as I've known you. If anyone had ever asked, I would have said no. You've never been cruel, only honest, in your own way. It is your nature to be changeable, and I love you for it."

"Qui-Gon seemed to feel differently."

"From a certain point of view," she replied. "I guess one might say that you haven't treated me fairly. But I'm just as much at fault; I know what you think, and what the Code dictates, and I continue to care for you, regardless." She gave a wry smile. "Neither one of us has been very fair to the other, I suppose-"

"Kalinda," he said suddenly, gripping her hands, his eyes fixed on hers. "What I'm getting at is that I've been blind. I've wasted so much of our were right. You were always right. I feel like a fool for not seeing it, and I want to make it right. I want to spend as much time by your side as you'll allow. If you'll have me, that is, if it's not too late."

Her head tilted down, her face was shadowed as she freed one of her hands and wiped at her eyes. Then she looked back at him, and in that moment, he looked to her so much like the gentle, clumsy boy she had fallen in love with so many years ago. A sense of absolute joy flooded her, and the Force filled her entire body, her heart, her mind, until she was certain that she would shatter. She smiled at him, put her hand on his face. "It's never too late, Ben."

"You failed in your mission, then?"

Asajj lowered her eyes, her cheeks burning. "Yes, Master. The Jedi escaped, and I was unable to learn about her shielding technique." She braced herself for the sharp reprimand that was coming, but Dooku's image only flickered as he regarded her. Surely he will punish me, she thought. I failed in a most important task...punishment is inevitable. Sith do not fail.

Finally, he seemed to shrug. "It matters not. We have other ways of extracting information. I am sending you the coordinates for your next assignment-"

"But Master," she interrupted. "Sith do not fail. I failed...are you going to punish me?"

"You are no Sith, child," was his casual rebuff. "And never interrupt me again, or it will be the last thing that you do...Now, your mission." He continued to speak, but Asajj barely heard him, her thoughts dwelling instead on the words of her former prisoner.

I'd bet anything that you like that your beloved Masters would just as soon toss you into a lava pit than keep you as a true apprentice.

Anger filled her, and she made a silent vow to herself: I will make her pay for casting doubt upon my purpose with her Jedi tricks.

It was late – or early – and the Resolute was quiet. After a few inquiries, Kalinda had learned Stonewall's location, and as soon as she was able, she sought him out in the mess hall.

At first she didn't see the clone, so she took a moment to stand by the row of wide windows that looked onto space, and tried to remember what she could about her and Stone's spacewalk. Cold, she recalled, and more than a little terrifying, but she was thankful that they'd gotten to safety in the end.

"I'm glad to see you on your feet, General." Stonewall's voice startled her out of her thoughts; turning, she saw the trooper standing at attention, saluting her from the far corner of the room.

She bit back the urge to roll her eyes at his formality. I think we've moved past that point, anyway. Instead, she chuckled and waved him over. "Thank you, Stone. And at ease, for goodness' sake."

After a moment of hesitation he stepped across the floor to her; when he reached her side, he removed his helmet to mop some of the sweat off of his brow, cutting his eyes to her again in the manner of someone who wanted to speak, but was unable to find the words. She wondered if he was still concerned about her, so she smiled at him again.

"I see you've gotten some...additional duties." She nodded to the minuscule brush that he was using to scrub the mess hall floor.

The trooper shrugged. "Nothing too bad. Mostly cleaning...and lots of drills. Sir."

"Never a dull moment?"

"Not really," he answered, meeting her eyes briefly before he added: "How are you feeling?"

Kali paused, considering. Of course, he meant physically. There was no way that he was aware of the emotional turmoil she'd undergone during the mission; he was asking after her health, only. Finally she nodded. "Well enough," she said. "A little tired, but nothing too bad. No lasting damage was done."

She thought that she saw relief in his eyes, thus confirming her suspicions. In any case, his concern was touching "Glad to hear it, sir."

"Tomorrow, I'm going to speak with Commander Cody," she added, lifting a brow at him. "And when we reach Coruscant, I'm going to speak with the Council. I think that you deserve a promotion. After all, I'm not sure I'd be alive if it weren't for you, Stone."

His brow furrowed. "I was reckless and could have - should have, more likely - gotten killed."

Kali put a hand on his arm. "But it was thanks to you that the other Jedi were able to find me," she replied. "And you destroyed Asajj's means of holding me captive, and managed to strike a blow on her, which is no mean feat." Her dark eyes met his. "I wouldn't be standing here if it weren't for your bravery, Stone. Thank you."

He didn't speak for a moment, but after taking a breath, he nodded curtly.

She removed her hand and turned to go, pausing at the door to the mess hall to glance back at him. "I was thinking...I think that I'd like to take on other missions, when I'm fully healed. But I'll need someone by my side that I can trust. Someone brave, and a bit reckless...what do you say, Stone? Would you be up for it?"

"Absolutely, General," he said, standing at attention. "It would be a great honor to serve at your side again."

In response, she nodded once and slipped out of the room silently.

The trip back to Coruscant was delayed several days, due to an unexpected shipment of bacta that they were asked to pick up and drop off, but they made it, eventually. And once more, Kalinda found herself standing in the Council chambers, though this time, Obi-Wan was at her side. Again, only Yoda and Mace Windu were present.

Kali's old Master spoke first, after regarding them for a several, long minutes. "Kalinda, your report said that Ventress was unable to extract any information from you. This is correct?"

She nodded.

Mace paused as though waiting for her to elaborate, but she said nothing, merely waited for him to speak again. After a moment, he did. "And you are still able to perform this, shielding technique?"

Again, she nodded, but made no comment. With you, Master, she thought pointedly. The less I say, the better. His eyebrow raised a fraction of an inch, but he let it pass, instead turning to Obi-Wan.

"General Kenobi; you disobeyed a direct order from this Council, and we are issuing a formal reprimand for your behavior. What have you to say for yourself?"

"Masters," Obi-Wan said. "I take full responsibility for my actions; I recognize that I acted against your orders, but I feel that my actions were the will of the Force, and that the Force guided me to rescue Kalinda." He had already told Yoda, privately, of his dream, though the wizened Master had merely listened without comment. Even now, the diminutive Jedi was watching him carefully.

Mace glanced at Yoda, then back to the two Jedi who stood before him. Sensing an opportunity, Kalinda cleared her throat.

"You have something to add, Kalinda?"

"I do. Masters, the shielding technique could be a game-changer for the Jedi. The potential is boundless...I think that I should teach this method to other Jedi in the field," her tone was even, though it was not difficult to discern the hopeful tinge to her words.

"I meant in regards to General Kenobi's actions."

"He did what he felt was right," Kali replied, meeting Mace's eyes. "As he always does. As, I'm sure, he will continue to do. Quite frankly, I find it difficult to agree with the idea of a reprimand when I probably wouldn't be standing here without his 'reckless' actions."

She and Mace shared a look that was equally frustrated and respectful, until Master Yoda spoke. "Defied the Council, you have before, Obi-Wan, though sound, your judgment usually is. But an urgency, I sensed in you, yes? A desire? Hmmm? Too long at war, have you been. Need rest, you do. Your counsel, needed here for a time, I think."

He ignored Mace's incredulous glance and continued, his eyes on Kalinda. "Train the others, you shall, in this tactic. Begin here, you should. One pebble thrown into a pool, many ripples it makes." He nodded to Master Windu, who sighed.

"Very well. Obi-Wan, you are requested by the Council to remain on Coruscant on rest leave for a period of one month. And Kalinda, once you are fully healed, you are to begin training others in this shielding technique. Start with some of the older Padawans; we'll bring them in from the field so they can learn in a controlled environment here, and then, perhaps, if you are successful, you can begin training other Knights who are in the field." He nodded to them, which was their signal to leave. Obi-Wan turned to go, but Kalinda remained.

"Another question, have you?" Yoda's voice was curious.

"The trooper that...accompanied me to Ventress' ship," she began, hesitating. "Well, if I'm going to be in the field-eventually-and if I'm going to be assigned a group of soldiers...I formally request Stonewall to be promoted to the rank of Captain, and assigned to me when I'm given further missions. He has proven himself capable and a fast learner."

Mace raised his eyebrows. "You presume a great deal in that statement, my former Padawan."

She nodded. "And I accept that things might not work out so. But I think they will. And in any case, it doesn't hurt to try and think ahead, does it?"

"Very well." Mace's voice was punctuated by a sigh. "You were going to be put on field duty, anyway, so you may as well have a soldier that has worked with you at your side."

Kalinda grinned, gave a bow, and slipped out of the room beside Obi-Wan.

The moment the door closed behind them she nudged his arm affectionately. "Sorry to steal one of your men, but I think that life has just gotten a lot more interesting for Stonewall."

"What was that all about?" Obi-Wan replied after a chuckle. "It seemed like you and Mace were having a silent debate."

She shrugged. "I may not understand why he does anything, but I did learn that sometimes, if the time is right, you can get him to agree to something he doesn't really care about, if only to shut you up."

Obi-Wan shook his head and smiled down at her. "Remind me never to underestimate you again."

The End

Like Stonewall? Check out Warning Signs to see this fic told from his POV.

Following that, it's choose your own adventure time:

If you like Kali/Obi, jump on over to Bomb In A Birdcage.

If you think that Stonewall's a pretty cool guy, and like clone/Jedi pairings, take a gander at All Or Nothing.

Either way, thanks for reading! May the Force be with you!