"Kali," Stonewall's voice was rough and grating. "Kali. Get the general and get out of here. I'll be okay." His eyes met hers. "Don't worry about me."
Kalinda made no reply, instead looking at Ventress. "Why are you doing this? He has nothing to do with you," she gestured to Stone. "Let him go. Your fight is with me and Obi-wan. Let him go."
"Haven't you been listening?" Ventress replied as she held up the release. "Besides, it's not fair to Ob-wan, is it? Your attention being divided between two lovers? And I thought that all the Jedi were chaste." She sighed dramatically. "Another perception blown." She held up Obi-wan's lightsaber, which she had also taken while the Jedi was unconscious. "Do you know what tibanna poisoning does to a person? The longer you are in here, the worse it will be for everyone. But I'm not a monster," she added. "I'm giving you the chance to save one of them. Perhaps I am going soft, after all."
Kalinda felt numb as she looked from Ben to Stone. She sent out a tendril of Force energy to Obi-wan, hoping to wake him up, but he was still out cold. That's not good, she thought. He might have a concussion. She looked at Stonewall again, trying not to notice his battered face. How can I choose? How can I choose?
Suddenly, she felt her soldier's thoughts as if they were her own, as she had done before the clones set off on their mission. You won't have to, Kali. I won't make you choose.
"No!" She cried, turning to him, watching with horror as he affixed his gaze to the device in Ventress' hand while the ties that held him to the pulley began to unclench; she felt the Force gather around the clone captain like water being drawn back before a wave. His eyes were locked onto Ventress' hand, while the assassin regarded him with surprise as the device clattered to the floor; however, as Kalinda made to grab it she called it back to her hand, looking at Stonewall with a wide, feral smile. Kalinda called on the Force and her saber shot from Ventress' belt to her hand, igniting in an instant. "You will not do this," she shouted. "I won't let you do this."
She knew that the fight would be quick, she knew that it was most likely a hopeless case, but she had to try. As long as they're alive, there is hope...I can't let her kill either of them, Kali thought as she whirled away from the dual red blades that missed her by inches. When she had a moment she tried to extend her shield to Stone and Obi-wan, but she was too far away to reach them. Sensing her frustration, Ventress gave her a feral smile before she leaped away from Kalinda and towards the device.
It was the touch of Kalinda's shield that finally woke Obi-wan, his eyes opening to see her and Ventress engaged in a fierce battle in the center of the room, a small device on the floor in front of Stonewall, who was staring at it as though...
It's not possible, Obi-wan thought, watching in amazement as the device moved fractionally towards the clone, feeling the Force rippling around them. He's using the Force. Obi-wan closed his eyes, sensing his own weakness as he reached out to the clone captain. Release me, Stonewall. I can't do it on my own. He tried, but the device shuddered. The air was thick and warm with tibanna gas and all that Obi-wan could taste was metal.
The clone turned his head towards the Jedi. "No, General," he said. "My life isn't worth yours." Beyond them, the two women continued their fight, heedless of the Jedi or the clone. Kalinda used the Force to push Ventress back, but the other woman sprang to her feet, launching herself at Kali with a cry.
Obi-wan shook his head. "I can help her, but I can't do it alone. Use that thing to free me." His head swam and he wondered how much good he'd be able to do in his present condition, though he tamped the doubt down. "We can do it, but we have to work together. If you can release us, I think I can get a hold of that railing." He nodded to a slender bar that rested about a meter below their feet. Beyond them, Kalinda cried out as Ventress landed a blow to her upper thigh, though she was able to get away without losing her leg.
He felt Stonewall nod. "I'll try, General." Obi-wan took a deep breath, gathering the Force around him, offering what strength he could to the clone.
"I think..." Stonewall's voice was pained, as though he was using every bit of his effort. "I've almost got it..." Obi-wan felt the pulley above them release just as he used the Force to push them towards the railing. For a moment they were weightless, until he managed to swing his knee around and catch the railing, Stonewall suspended below him, tugging them both towards the void. This is not good. "Can you swing up?" Obi-wan called to the clone, who nodded.
"I think so." He felt other man swing around, though he was nearly pulled down with the movement. It was no good. They were both weakened and dizzy with the effusive gas. Stonewall looked up at him. "If I can get my bonds undone, you should be able to get up there and help her."
Obi-wan felt a stab of remorse as he heard Kalinda and Ventress continue to fight; Kali's footsteps were growing more erratic and he knew that she was going to lose the battle without him. The clone was already trying to work out of his bonds, his face determined. She'll never forgive me, he thought.
"She'll be dead, sir," Stonewall replied without looking at him. "And if that happens, then I may as well be, too. The least I can do now is let you help her."
"No," Obi-wan said. "No man will be left behind, Stonewall." He reached inside himself and found a hidden pocket of strength, feeling the Force ripple around them. "Help me, Stonewall," he said. "We can do this."
Kali was losing. She knew with certainty that it would be over in a matter of moments, as her wounded leg was aching badly and she was unable to defend against Asajj's attacks much longer. Though she was exhausted, she reached inside of herself and drew on her shield, hoping to delay the inevitable a bit longer, though for what reason, she was not sure. Suddenly, out of the corner of her eye she caught a glimpse of Obi-wan and Stonewall, who were dangling upside-down over a railing at the edge of the room. In that moment, she realized what she had to do.
Using the last bit of energy she could muster, she sent a ripple of Force energy towards Ben and Stone, helping them swing upright, off of the railing and onto solid ground. She called Obi-wan's lightsaber, clipped to Ventress' belt, to her hand and tossed it towards him without looking to see if he was nearby, as the assassin was already coming for her again. Her arms felt heavy, her leg and knee ached and the gas was making her dizzier by the minute.
And then Obi-wan was beside her, his blue saber brilliant in the darkness as his attack swept Ventress away from Kali, who glanced behind her once, only to see Stonewall collapsing to the floor, though she could feel a pulse of life emanating from him-though weakly. He's alive, she thought, relief flooding her. They're both alive. The thought filled her with strength and she ran to Obi-wan's side, feeling the Force flow around them. They fought side by side; a lifetime of sparring meant that they each knew the other's moves as well as their own. We always did make a good team.
Suddenly, there was the familiar snap-hiss of another lightsaber being ignited, then another. Luminara and Barriss, followed by several clones, entered the room. "Asajj Ventress," Luminara's voice rang out with clarity in the stifling room. "You are under arrest. Lay down your weapons and surrender."
Asajj was no match for four Jedi, though two of them were weakened by the noxious fumes, so she attempted to leap out of the room, to escape. "Your ship is lost, my dear," Obi-wan called. "You are mine at last." He glanced at Luminara, who nodded, though she frowned at the innuendo in his voice. The Jedi surrounded her, the clones behind them, blasters trained on her. After a long moment, Ventress raised her hands and her sabers slipped from her grasp, landing neatly in Obi-wan's hands. "Now," he said, crossing his arms and regarding the darksider. "We can get out of here."
Later on the ship, as Kalinda was about to enter Stonewall's room, she ran into the Miralan Jedi Master. "I spoke to Barriss," Luminara said as Kali paused at the door to the medical bay. "I think we should talk."
Kalinda crossed her arms and regarded the Miralan woman wordlessly for a moment before she sighed and nodded; they slipped into an empty room and waited for the door to slide shut behind them. "Before you say anything," Kalinda said, holding up her hand. "I want to thank you, Luminara. You and Barriss saved my life, as well as Obi-wan's and Captain Stonewall's, and made it possible for us to capture Ventress at last. Thank you, truly." She grimaced. "Now...fire at will."
Luminara narrowed her eyes. "I did not come here to berate you, Kalinda, or to lecture you. You are an adult and are clearly capable of making your own decisions." She gave a small sigh. "But I would be remiss if I did not at least mention the fact that you have very obviously formed an attachment to that clone, which is a very, very dangerous thing. However," she paused and looked uncertain. "I read all of the accounts of Mundali, Kalinda, and I have to say...I feel the Force at work here. Perhaps you were drawn to one another for a reason. If he is truly Force-sensitive, then..." she spread her hands. "Perhaps you were meant to find each other. I know of few other Jedi who would be as...open to such a thing that has clearly formed between you."
"Are you saying what I think you're saying?"
The Miralan woman frowned. "Perhaps. I am not sure; it is for the Council to decide. However, I wanted to mention it, in case it had not occurred to you." She smiled at Kalinda's look of shock. "Suddenly I'm not so annoying, am I?"
Kalinda felt her cheeks redden. "I have never called you that, Luminara. We don't agree on a lot of things, but we're both Jedi, after all."
"Indeed," the other woman replied with a nod. "Well. Barriss and I must be on our way-the Council sent word that we are to rendezvous with Master Plo Koon's fleet. I look forward to working with you again, Kalinda." She gave a slight bow and exited the room, leaving Kali on her own.
If this was death, it was a lot better than he'd ever imagined.
Kali was beside him, humming softly while she stroked his cheek, pausing every so often to glance at something beyond his field of vision, which was blurred and fuzzy. He wanted to speak, but his voice didn't work, so he tried to send her a thought, just to see if he still could. Are you okay?
Her laughter bubbled up in his mind and he felt her face close to his. "I am now," she replied, her breath against his skin. "How do you feel?"
At this he winced. "Pretty terrible for being dead."
He felt her hand against the side of his face, cool. "And for being alive?"
"The mission...did you get the kids?"
She nodded. "They're all fine. Though, the Senate is going to have to find a new location for them-after they hold a trial for Asajj. That should be interesting to watch."
"I'm not dead." The realization struck him dimly, as though he had just remembered that he'd forgotten to charge his blaster rifle.
"No," she replied. "Though it was a close call. You don't do anything half-assed, do you?"
He chuckled and tried to open his eyes all the way. They were in a medical room aboard the Intrepid, he guessed, and he was hooked up to all manner of blinking lights and devices. Kalinda was sitting beside him, watching him with an expression he did not recognize. "What is it?"
"How did you do it, Stone?" she asked, taking his right hand in her own. "How did you help Obi-wan?"
It hurt to think, but he tried. "I...I'm not sure, exactly," he said after a moment. "I just knew that you needed help. I did what I had to do." He shrugged, ignoring the pain that blossomed in his torso with the movement. "What happened?"
She raised her eyebrow. "You accessed the Force."
"Apparently not," she replied. "Ben and I both felt you do it. And you spoke to me through the Force, before," she added, running her fingertips over his hand. "Do you remember?"
"I remember everything about you, Kalinda," he answered, then he frowned. "I'm sorry. I...don't feel right. I can't feel my legs." He leaned up as if to look and heard her chuckle.
"That's probably the morphine," she said. "I promise, your legs are still there."
They were silent for a moment before he looked at her again, his lids drooping. "What's going to happen now?"
"We're going to Coruscant," she answered. "You have a date with the Jedi Council." He sighed, then turned his head at the soft noise of her laughter.
She kissed his forehead; the next moment he felt his eyelids growing heavier. "Just happy to see you, is all," she murmured. "Sleep now, my brave soldier. I'll be here when you wake up."
After checking to make sure that Stone was really asleep, she called to Obi-wan, who was in his quarters. He stood as she entered, though neither of them said anything for a moment until he gestured to a chair and asked her to sit.
They smiled at one another before he nodded for her to speak first. "Obi-wan," she said again. "I...I don't really understand what has happened lately, but I know that I can't push Stone away from my mind as easily as I should." She met his eyes, though it was difficult. "I think that I was meant to find him, as silly as it may sound. He's not a savant, by any means, but he has some Force sensitivity that I think I can hone. With a little training..." she shrugged. "Who knows what he'll be capable of?" She inhaled deeply. "I love you, you know that, right?" He nodded and she continued. "But...I care for him too. A lot. It isn't right or fair, but there it is. I'm sorry." Her arms hugged her sides. "I understand if you never want to see me or speak to me again, Ben." After a moment, she slid off the silver ring from her right hand and held it out to him.
Looking at her outstretched hand, Obi-wan took a deep breath and rubbed at his forehead. "Kali...you are at once my greatest frustration and my greatest joy."
He continued. "Whoever said that the Force has no sense of humor has obviously never been in love. Do you remember what you said to me, when we first realized what it was that is between us?" She shook her head and he sighed again. "You said that love doesn't have to be selfish; that it and the Force are one and the same, and that one day I would understand."
She nodded, smiling faintly at the memory. "Ah yes. I fancied myself a philosopher back then, didn't I?"
"I didn't understand, then" he said, reaching for her hand. He took the ring and toyed with it for a moment, turning it so that it would catch the light. "Nor do I entirely, now. But I am trying. I am. You were always braver than I."
At this she looked at him in confusion. "Me? Braver than you?" She laughed out loud at the notion. "Are you feeling alright?"
"You always trust yourself, even against overwhelming odds," he continued as he studied her hand in his own. "Do you remember our first kiss?" he asked after a moment.
She smiled. "It was in the Archives, wasn't it?"
"You just leaned forward and kissed me," he said after a moment. "Just like that. You said that you wanted to know what it would be like." He met her eyes. "That never would have occurred to me, in a thousand years, you know. I could never be that brave."
They were silent for a moment before she cleared her throat. "So where does this leave us, now?"
"I was hoping that you would know."
"I never wanted to hurt you, Ben," she said. "Matter of fact, that was pretty much the last thing I ever wanted to do. But I can't turn away from him. I just can't."
After a moment he nodded. "Very well. I'll go with you before the Council; I think they will grant your request to train your new Commander."
Her eyes lit up. "Commander?"
"He's earned it, and then some."
She shook her head and looked away from him, feeling her eyes prick. "I don't deserve you, you know?"
He shook his head and reached for her right hand, slipping the ring back on her finger before he took her in his arms and kissed her. "I find that I love you, anyway."
Stonewall had never been inside the Jedi Temple before; it was huge, more massive than he had ever imagined, and filled with a heavy kind of expectation that seemed to press down on him as he followed General Kenobi and Kalinda through the quiet halls. He was wearing his new, yellow-striped armor, along with his familiar pauldron and kama-both of which he had spent the hours of his convalescence cleaning along with the rest of his kit-and he carried his helmet in his hand while trying not to stare too obviously at the huge corridors. Despite the fact that every inch of his armor was spotless, he still felt like he had mud on his boots, and the noise that his armor made when he moved was enough to echo through the empty chambers.
As if sensing his unease, Kalinda turned to him once they had entered the turbolift that would take them to the Council chambers. "I still get nervous, coming up here," she admitted, glancing at General Kenobi. "When I was younger, it was because I was usually in trouble."
"Which was fairly often," the General added in a wry voice.
"And now every time I get in this turbolift, I feel like I'm sixteen years old again." She frowned. "This probably isn't helping you, is it?"
Fighting back a smile, Stonewall shrugged. "I'll be alright."
General Kenobi glanced at him. "I agree."
The lift stopped at last and they stepped into a cool marbled hallway; ahead of them were the massive doors that held the Council. Kalinda looked at him again, flashing him a grin. "You'll be brilliant." She stood outside while he entered, taking a deep breath just before he did so as he followed General Kenobi inside.
He had never met General Yoda or General Windu, though they were both legendary in their own right. Indeed, the air in this room seemed...different, somehow. Weighty. Powerful. He gave a slight bow to each of the Jedi Masters who were seated before him, regarding him with interest. "CC-3077 reporting as requested, Generals," he said while General Kenobi took a seat beside Yoda.
"Commander Stonewall," General Windu nodded. "Thank you for coming. It seems like I've been hearing your name a lot, recently. My former Padawan speaks very highly of you, as does General Kenobi. But the same could be said for any number of troopers; you are here because we are told that you can access the Force."
"To a small degree, from what I understand, sir," Stone replied. "Though it doesn't feel like...like I'd imagined."
"Not as grand to you, as you would think?" Master Yoda asked.
Stonewall frowned. "I'm not sure, sir. When you watch a Jedi use the Force, well," he shrugged. "It seems like magic...like something that you could never understand, let alone achieve. But when I...when I used it to help General Kenobi, or to contact General Halcyon...it felt natural. Like breathing or speaking." He sighed. I've gone and put my foot in it but good.
What was your designation again, trooper?
"CC-3077, sir," Stone replied, nodding to General Windu, who raised his brow and looked at General Kenobi who remained expressionless.
"Impressive." The dark-skinned Jedi nodded as Stone realized what had just happened. "Have you ever known any of your brothers to be able to access the Force?"
"No, sir," he replied with a frown. "And General Halcyon did that blood-test on me...she said that my count was not at all what a Jedi's would be." He smiled at the memory of her confusion as she looked up at him. You're a mystery to me, you know that? she had said as she put a hand on his arm.
General Windu nodded again. "Yes, she sent us the findings. Very unusual, indeed. She has requested to train you."
His eyes widened. "Train me? I don't understand...not as a Jedi?"
"A Jedi, you will never be," Yoda's voice was gentle. "But unique, your situation is. Curious to see what you will become, we all are." He met Stonewall's gaze. "Much potential, I see in you."
"Kalinda will see that you are given the basic instruction in the ways of the Force, to help hone whatever talents that you possess," General Kenobi said, leaning back in his chair. "She will keep us up to date on your progress. Normally, we would want you both to remain at the Temple, however..." he spread his hands to indicate the wars that were present on everyone's mind. "Much of your training will have to be done in the field."
Stonewall nodded. "I think that would suit me better anyway, sirs."
Yoda looked at the door. "Stop eavesdropping now, you can, Kalinda. Come in here, you should."
A moment later, Kalinda entered; her face was flushed though she was smiling faintly. "So he is to be trained?" she said as she glanced at Stone.
"For now," General Windu replied. "Perhaps when the war is over we can see if any other clones share his abilities. I also want you to look into how he came by these abilities to begin with, Kalinda," he added, his glance giving the disconcerting impression that he missed nothing at all.
Stonewall felt her tense beside him as she replied. "Of course, Master." He wanted to look at her, but she had warned him to keep his thoughts carefully schooled when in the presence of the Jedi Council and it was easier for him if he didn't look at her.
General Windu looked at General Kenobi, who was watching Kalinda intently. "Did you have anything to add, Master Kenobi?"
"As a matter of fact, I do," he said, getting to his feet, the others following suite. "Kalinda Halcyon," he said, coming to stand before her. "You have demonstrated a profound connection to the Living Force that few other Jedi Knights can claim. You have proven your commitment to the Jedi Order as well as to your brothers and sisters in combat. You have helped pass on your knowledge to another generation of Jedi Knights." He drew his saber and held it before him. "Kneel."
As Stone watched, she knelt, her eyes wide and her mouth agape as General Kenobi briefly touched the space above her shoulders with the saber, first the right side, then the left. "By the will of the Force, I grant the role of Master upon you." He smiled down at her and offered her his hand, which she took after a moment before she stood. They shared a look before she turned to General Windu and Yoda. "Thank you, Masters," she said, her voice shaking. "I...thank you," she said again.
"You have done well, my old Padawan," General Windu said, his voice quiet. "See that you keep it up."
Several minutes later, when he and Kalinda had left the Council chambers, he looked at her. "Congratulations, Kali...or should I say 'Master Halcyon?'"
At this she laughed and put her hand on his arm; he felt a ripple of energy from her touch. "It sounds so strange. I think it will take a long time to adjust to." She smiled at him. "How about you, Commander?"
He sighed. "I know what you mean. So, what now? They didn't say anything about another mission."
"It's kind of a tradition for a newly appointed Master to have a day off, to meditate on their past, as well as their future," she explained as they stood in the lift. "What about newly-made Commanders?"
He frowned. "I'll need to re-arrange my team a bit, get with Cody and hash out some details that we didn't get to...what?" She was studying him. "What is it?"
"Lesson one, Commander Stonewall," she replied. "Learn to relax."
He bent to kiss her. "As you wish, Master Halcyon."
"Stone," she said, turning from him and reaching for the controls to pause the lift. "We need to talk."
Nothing good ever comes out whenever someone says that, he thought.
"I've thought about our...our situation," she began. "And I've come to a conclusion."
She smiled, not at him, but more to herself. "The Force lead us to each other, Stone. It all makes sense now...It's a relief, you know?" Her face was alight with joy. "I was confused for so long, but I realize now that it was the Force joining our paths, that it wasn't love or lust, but something deeper and more profound." She looked at him then, and he felt her happiness breaking over him like a wave. "We can never go back, but now, for the first time, I'm not afraid of the future; whatever it was that was between us, I think we should just continue on as friends and colleagues. What do you think?"
His mouth was dry. "I...I don't know much about the Force," he said after a moment. "But I guess that will change, soon enough." Keep your thoughts to yourself, soldier, he thought as he looked at her. "I look forward to working with you, though." She studied him for a moment before activating the lift again. They began their descent once more, in silence.
He was breaking, he was broken: the pieces of his heart were scattered before him and he knew that he could never go back.