I am here.
Flames flickered and danced on the walls of the cave, they danced across the dry dirt floor, and they danced across Commander Grees' bare skin.
She had stripped him of his broken armour in order to deal with his various wounds. The worst one was a side wound that ran down his hip and then snaked off to his inner thigh. The bleeding had eased and she had cleaned the wound. With no proper supplies she had done the best she could.
Parts of her torn robe had made good bandages under the circumstances, the remains of her robe she had draped over him to offer him some warmth. Ideally she would have liked to return to the clearing where the scattered bodies of her men lay. She would have liked to bury them and retrieve Grees' helmet; it had been undamaged and no doubt had a working com. Her immediate concern however lay with treating Commander Gree and finding them shelter for the night, besides she dare not risk leaving Gree alone and he was in no fit state to move.
She wondered again where Bariss was. Surely she would have sent a squad to look for them by now. General Unduli sighed and turned her attention back to her own damaged com in her hands, with no proper tools it was proving hard to repair but she attempted to anyway with a couple of small basic tools she had found in the remains of Grees' utility belt.
He stirred and she immediately moved over to him kneeling at his side. His eyes were shut but he seemed troubled by a dream, his hand waved loosely in front of his face a few times as if trying to swat something away. Not knowing what else to do to settle him, she took his hand in hers.
I will not let you down.
"Commander?" she laid her other hand on his forehead, noting that he had a slight temperature. "Commander Gree?"
His eyes opened a fraction, she could tell he was unable to focus at first, but his gaze finally fell upon her face.
"You are badly injured Commander, please try to remain still." Without thinking she rested a hand on his shoulder. He grunted and then started to cough; the movement causing him to grimace with pain.
"Please, be still." She said urgently.
Sweat glistened on his face and he looked around his surroundings in an almost dream state. His drunken like gaze found her face again and he smiled at her.
"I heard you" His voice was soft and he studied her face through uncertain eyes as he spoke.
"You heard me?" She frowned leaning forward to support the back of his head with her hand as he coughed again.
"I heard you question yourself . . . question what being a Jedi is really about" he said in a dry whisper.
She pulled back slightly, her expression grew dark.
"Are you saying Commander, that you can read my thoughts?"
In his weakened state he had no choice but to rest his head upon her supportive hand.
"You read mine . . . yes?"
Her expression was one of puzzlement before a wry smile lit her face.
"I try to. But you have walls"
"Ah yes . . . sorry about those General."
They held each others gaze for some time, and then Luminara's features softened.
"You cried." Her statement took him aback but her grip was firm, he didn't feel he could look away from her even if he wanted to. "Why did you cry?" she asked.
He closed his eyes. His words when they came made sense to him, and he hoped she would understand.
"I am clone" he whispered, and with that he was overwhelmed by the comfort of sleep.
She studied his face for some time before gently resting his head back down and sliding her fingers from the softness of his hair.
She spent the next few minutes just watching the rise and fall of his chest, eventually she sighed and went back to her work.
The night passed slowly. Occasionally Gree would stir; his pain evident in every movement. Luminara Unduli kept vigil, checking his wounds periodically for any sign of infection. On one occasion, in the small hours of the morning he awoke, she moved over to him and he looked at her with a frown on his face, the flames reflected and danced in his soft brown eyes.
"Commander?" she enquired. He bit his bottom lip gently and several moments passed before he spoke.
"I need to . . . go General"
"Go Commander?" she looked shocked but his sheepish expression suddenly gave her understanding. "Yes. Of course. You should not move yet though. You will have to go here I'm afraid.
"No. Just outside. Please"
She looked at him gravely for a few moments assessing his determination. She then nodded and conceded to give him the chance.
"But you must be careful. I will assist you."
He looked reluctant at first but a quick experimental effort to raise himself up on his elbows proved too painful and he gave her a defeated look. Under her prompting he managed to shift his body into a position that made it easier for her to reach around him.
She slid her arm around his back and under his arm, supporting him as best she could without hurting his side. She raised him up with care, the remains of her robe that she had used to cover him slid gently to the floor.
She felt him ease his body weight willingly onto her and then he froze, his whole body going rigid.
"Commander?" She enquired. His gaze was fixed on the far wall of the cave and he did not speak.
"Is there something wrong? The wound?" She searched his now pensive expression glancing worriedly from his face to his injured side. He eventually acknowledged her by tilting his head slightly toward her but still made no eye contact. He pursed his lips.
"Yes." She unintentionally glanced own.
"Yes, well accept for some of my clothes."
"I used some of my robe to bandage your wounds."
"Oh . . . I . . . see" he still did not look down at himself but showed the cave wall extreme interest.
"Is there a problem?" she enquired
"No General." His voice was strained.
"Very well Commander." She smiled despite her best efforts not to.
He was unsteady on his feet and the going was slow, but she had to admire his grim determination to carry out this basic act with some level of dignity.
The few remaining hours till morning passed without incident. He had settled back down into a deep sleep, holding the remains of the robe to himself as if it was some sort of shield. His wound if treated soon would not be serious, but without such treatment the risk of infection would be his greatest enemy.
Luminara kept her senses alert to any nearby predators but found much to her own curiosity that she spent a great deal of time just watching him sleep.
This war was putting her and her fellow Jedi in an unusual position. She had been on missions before certainly; it was what she had trained for. They were after all the galaxies' peacekeepers. But she had never worked so closely or for such long durations with non force users before. She wondered if any of her fellow Jedi were finding the same conflictions arising. She considered Commander Gree to be a fine example; he had become a part of her daily life, a constant where there had not been one before. She was close to other Jedi of course, she had known them for many years, but non force users were different. She felt more responsible, more protective even?
He sighed in his sleep. Ah yes, and then there was the other matter. She dragged her admiring eyes away from him noting her own reluctance.
I am Jedi
I am strong
There was no doubt when dawn arrived. As if the bright sunlight and increasing heat were not enough it seemed that all the birds and various other creatures nearby had erupted into song and mating calls. She had not tended the fire for sometime, now that the chill of the night had left the stage there was no need to do so. The dying embers gave off delicate wisps of smoke the coiled and caressed their way into the air.
I am clone
I must be stronger
Commander Gree awoke with a start. His head was fuzzy and his memory seemed to be having trouble getting itself into any sort of coherent order.
"Good morning Commander"
He rubbed his bleary eyes and tried to locate the source of the voice.
"Good morning General" he managed, his voice was hoarse. She was smiling brightly at him and somehow that made things worse. He quickly checked that his makeshift blanket was still in place.
She knelt beside him and offered him some water that she had collected earlier, it felt cool and wonderful against his dry lips, and it was all he could do not to gulp it down greedily.
"Thank you" he sighed contentedly closing his eyes. He smiled inwardly as he heard her settling down next to him.
When he opened his eyes again she was looking down at him intently, he felt the gentle push against his mind.
"I can help with the pain Commander; you need to let me in"
He struggled, easing himself up into a sitting position next to her, his shoulder almost leaning against hers.
"I'm not sure I can" he replied flatly
He felt her again. He wasn't sure when he had first learnt to recognise the feeling, perhaps always. If he could put words to it; it felt warm, familiar, somehow enticing. He wanted to embrace it, embrace the comfort he knew it offered but his instincts recoiled from it, wary, suspicious.
Her hand was suddenly on the side of his face, her eyes so close to his as she studied him. He could feel her warm breath on his lips.
"Where did you learn this?" she all but whispered. "Where did you learn to block us out?"
He stammered at the unexpected closeness of her.
"I don't know" he answered honestly. Her eyes searched his and then she nodded seemingly content with what she found there.
"I wish you would let me help you Commander" she replied, pulling back.
He hung is head as if in shame, like a child scolded. When he looked back at her she was giving him a curious smile.
"Thank you" he said, his voice brusque.
"For what Commander?"
"For saving my life."
She nodded at him, a smile playing on her lips.
"Though you should not have come after me General" he added.
"Really? And please tell me how you came to that conclusion?"
"You were already injured yourself sir, you should not have risked your life just for one clone"
"It was my decision to make Commander Gree. It is not a matter up for speculation"
"I am replaceable General" It was a flat statement. "When my time comes you will be given a new Commander with the same face, the same voice and probably the same armour. You will not even notice the difference."
She looked at him and he pulled back slightly embarrassed by such an intense stare.
Her voice when she spoke was sad "You are not replaceable Commander, not to me."
Moments passed as they just looked at each other. He eventually coughed and a slow blush appeared on his face.
"Thank you General Unduli"
She laughed pleasantly at such formalities "You are more than welcome Commander Gree"
They spent the next few hours talking about past experiences whilst she checked his wounds over. He still fidgeted uncomfortably when she touched him, his nakedness in her presence still a source of awkwardness for him. What was left of his armour and his blood soaked torn clothes lay in a heap at the far end of the cave, none of it had really been salvageable and she felt a pang of pity for him over that.
They ate the last of their ration sticks in silence and then she helped him onto his feet once more. They had reached the entrance of the cave, the bright sunshine lancing its way through the jungle canopy to warm their skin; when General Unduli suddenly sensed something.
She scanned the surrounding jungle standing motionless one hand resting on her lightsabre. Commander Gree hung on to her with a quizzical look on his face.
Jedi Padawan Barriss Offee emerged from the jungle into the clearing with several troopers bringing up the rear.
"Master" exclaimed Barriss in relief before her eyes diverted to the naked Commander hanging uncomfortably in her Masters arms. Barriss looked him up and down slowly with a blatant look of wonderment on her face as Commander Gree let rip a stream of swear words covering languages from all over the Galaxy. He tried to cover himself with his free hand as best he could.
"He needs medical attention" said Luminara sternly, her voice breaking the silence with a sharp edge.
Barriss blushed in response and dipped her head slightly as she turned and addressed a couple of medics behind her, but they were already moving forward toward their injured brother.
"I trust it is not too serious?" enquired Barriss still blushing at the sight of Gree and at the Commanders colourful language.
"I think he will live" replied Luminara in a bemused voice as she carefully deposited her embarrassed Commander into the care of the medic troopers.
"It is good to see you again Barriss, though I was expecting you sooner" said Luminara moving closer to her young Padawan.
"I apologise Master. We detected a fleet of Separatist ships on our long range scanners. I was in contact with master Yoda at the time and he ordered us to conceal ourselves behind the small moon of this planet. They passed right by us, their present course would suggest they are on route to Ryloth. Master Yoda intends to engage them there."
General Luminara sighed "Ryloth again."
"I'm afraid we were out of communication range. And there was no time to contact you beforehand. As soon as we were back in range and realised you were not responding…" her voice trailed off.
Luminara nodded sadly. "The Commander and I are all that is left"
"Yes. We found the others." They stood in silence for a few moments. "I'm sorry Master."
"The perils of war my Padawan." Said Luminara sadly
"We have retrieved the Commander Gree's helmet. I imagine he will be pleased to have it back. The clones seem to be very attached to their armour, though . . ." Barriss left the sentence unfinished as she glanced over to where Commander Gree was being treated.
"Indeed" said Luminara Unduli smiling at her Padawan as they walked over to join the troopers.
Birds erupted from the surrounding trees as two gunships swung into position and landed in the clearing.
Crikey, I found this chapter hard to write lol. I'm still not sure I'm happy with some of the characterization, but I've done all the 'tweaking' I intend to do. Any continuity blips or technical scandals should be sprinkled with fairy dust and overlooked. Hope someone out there at least gets some enjoyment from reading it.