This is set after the events of Eye Of The Storm: Alchemy, but I think is self-explanatory enough for readers to "get" even if you haven't read that trilogy.
In so many ways, they were the same.
Former captains. Husbands of female Jedi. Deserters. Stonewall knew that Kali and Ahsoka both would have said that he and Rex shared those traits of bravery, steadfastness, loyalty and the capability of immense depths of love and compassion. To an outsider, they shared the same face, though each was, at this point in their lives, somewhat uniquely weathered by time and differing experiences.
The differences were minute, but they were there, nonetheless. As Stonewall watched his brother sipping a cup of caf at the dining table in his homestead on Mundali, he could see that Rex had more than a few lines on his forehead, creases of worry that were permanently etched into his skin. Stonewall knew that he had them as well, but they were differently placed. His own were centered, few but very deep, while Rex's seemed to be scattered, as if his own attention had constantly been divided between loyalties.
But they were relatively smooth at the moment as the former captains were talking. It was dark outside, and that time of year on Mundali that hinged on the cusp of autumn and winter, such that the worst of the humidity had all but faded away, and the air held the faintest trace of something that was almost cool. The old-style door that led outside to the stone porch was open, the screen in place to keep out the moths, and before she'd gone to put Milo and Kam to bed, Kali had lit some soft lights around the room.
Rex shifted in his seat, the wooden chair creaking softly in the quiet of the evening. "You've done a lot of work to the place since 'Soka and I were last here."
"There's always something to be done, it seems," Stonewall replied, sipping his mug of caf. "We've been getting a growing influx of wounded and refugees for some weeks, now."
"I know. Unfortunately, I think it's only going to get worse," Rex said with a slow nod, his hands resting on either side of his own mug.
It was quiet, for the moment. Stonewall continued to sip his caf and studied the rim of the cup for a moment before glancing up at Rex again. "Is that why you're here?"
The other man gave a deep sigh, his chest seeming to swell and then deflate with the movement. His eyes – mirroring Stonewall's own – looked up, but Rex's gaze wasn't planet-side. It was far-reaching and broad, as if spanning the galaxy. There was a new heaviness to the set of his shoulders.
At last he nodded again. "What you've done with this place," he began, his eyes falling on Stonewall. "It's extraordinary. I can't tell you how often Ahsoka and I have been grateful to have you and your family's assistance while we try and piece together..." His left hand lifted and made a vague, wavering motion. "Whatever it is we're trying to do out there."
Apprehension trailed from the other man, faint, subdued, but Stonewall also detected notes of hope, and he thought he knew what was coming. "You're doing good work yourself, Rex," he said. "Both of you."
Rex nodded again and – unexpectedly – grimaced. For a moment he looked uncertain, then something seemed to tighten within him; he sat up, shifted the mug to one side and folded his hands together before him on the table, meeting Stonewall's eyes. "You know that we could use your help, Stonewall."
Silence, then a breeze shuffled into the room through the screen, sending the hairs on the backs of Stonewall's arms to standing up. After another moment Rex continued. "I know it's a lot – more than a lot, actually – to ask, and I hope you know that I wouldn't even bring it up if things weren't so dire. But we're...floundering." He winced at some memory and swallowed before speaking again. "I have warriors, but they're...well, most of them are civilians with their hearts in the right places, but who don't know which is the business end of a blaster."
A half-smile passed between the men at this, though Stonewall felt something cold and heavy forming in his gut. "Rex..."
"I'm not looking for an answer right now," Rex said, raising both his palms. "And it wouldn't be for very long...six months at most. But Stonewall," he leaned forward, his voice dropping in pitch. "You and I both know that you have abilities that could come in very handy for the Rebellion."
As the only Force-sensitive clone in existence – as far as he knew, anyway – Stonewall understood that he was something of a commodity, caught between a Jedi and a true soldier, both of which were in short supply these days, from the sound of it. Looking at Rex, he could see the dilemma in his brother's eyes; Rex understood what it was he was asking, and for him to come all the way to the Outer Rim and make such a request, things must be even worse than he was letting on.
Stonewall opened his mouth to reply, but a soft noise from the corridor that led to the family's quarters made both men turn. A small, dark-haired boy was standing in the doorway, dragging a patchwork blanket and rubbing at his eyes. Stonewall slid his mug aside and rose to meet his son. "What are you doing out of bed, Milo?"
"Can't sleep," the toddler replied, blinking up at Stone. "Bad dreams." He lifted his arms and Stonewall scooped him and the blanket up, glancing at Rex as he did so.
"I'll just be a second..."
Rex nodded, but Milo shook his head and looked at his father, his startlingly blue eyes wide. "I wanna stay out here with you, da." For good measure, he gave a small pout that reminded Stonewall of Kali, and then reached forward to lock his arms around Stonewall's neck.
A soft chuckle sounded from Rex's direction and Stonewall felt himself smile as well. "Okay, son," he said with a sigh. "You can stay up for a few minutes. But let's not make a habit of it, alright?"
Milo murmured something incoherent in reply, already half-asleep, and Stonewall slid back into his chair, holding his son up to his chest and reaching out with the Force to ensure that all was well within the confines of the fragile form. After a moment he glanced at Rex. "He gets these dreams, sometimes. We don't know quite what to make of them."
Stonewall shook his head and ran his hand through Milo's hair in thought. "Not exactly. One time he said that the sky was going to fall, and the next week about seven or eight meteors struck around the northern pole. Weave tracked them on his sensors."
This made Rex's brows lift as his eyes fell on the sleeping child. "I've never been around too many Force-sensitive kids, aside from yours and a few others. Is that kind of thing...common?"
"It's not unheard of, though Kali's starting to think that he has some kind of precognition when it comes to his dreams." Stonewall frowned, remembering some of his own dreams in the past, many of which still stuck with him in some form or another, and his hands tightened reflexively around his child. "I think he gets it from me."
In his arms, his son was warm. Stonewall breathed in his scent: soap from his bath with traces of the chocolate pudding that he'd undoubtedly cajoled someone into giving him, which made his father smile. Milo was nothing if not persuasive when it came to dessert.
"He's beautiful," Rex said after a minute. "And so is your daughter." Stonewall nodded a thanks, and his brother continued. "Sometimes I wish that Ahsoka and I could have children together," he added, leaning back and sipping his mug again. "But then...I think, what kind of legacy would we leave them? What kind of world would they grow up to? I'd want to make sure they were safe, but I'd also want to know that they had a chance at a good life, something that doesn't seem likely if things stay as they are, now."
The Empire. It had cast a shadow across the galaxy, for all that Stonewall knew it hadn't reached his family's home on Mundali.
Another sigh escaped Milo, and he burrowed his face into Stonewall's neck, his arms tightening around his father's form. The blanket had fallen out of his grip, and Stonewall absently wrapped it around the small boy while he considered Rex's words. Finally he glanced at his brother, who seemed to emanate tension, and – if Stonewall looked closely – a kind of bone-deep weariness that dwarfed anything experienced during the Wars.
"I'll need to think on it," he said after a moment. Rex nodded and his shoulders seemed to relax, just a little bit.
"Fair enough." At that moment Milo's face suddenly broke into a yawn, causing both elder clones to chuckle. Rex gave him another smile. "I guess you'd better get the little 'un to bed."
After putting his son to sleep in the adjacent room they'd outfitted for the toddler, Stonewall entered his and Kali's room, which was dark and quiet. Kam's crib was off to one side and her mother was asleep in their bed, her lips parted slightly and her dark hair strewn across the pillow. As Stonewall slipped into his sleep-clothes, he heard a soft gurgle of sound from his daughter; stepping over to her, he smiled when he saw that her eyes were open, and that she was giving him a messy, baby's grin.
"Don't tell me you're awake, too?" he whispered. Because he couldn't help himself, he picked her up and kissed her cheek, his own smile widening as she squealed with delight.
"Stone? What are you doing?" Glancing over, he realized that his wife was awake – barely – and watching him with a mixture of amusement and irritation. "I just got her to sleep," she added, nodding at the baby.
Stonewall wasn't really tired, but he wanted to be near his wife and child, so he slipped into bed beside her, balancing Kam on his hip as he did so. At Kali's look of confusion he shook his head. "She can sleep with us. Just for tonight?" As he said the words he lifted his arm and Kalinda nestled into her customary place at his shoulder, stretched out along his side, while he placed Kam against his chest. Kali's arm slid around their daughter and both of them were asleep within moments.
Outside, it was quiet.
Within, images and sounds flashed through Stonewall's mind: bright snatches of blaster-fire mingled with the gentle sway of trees in the wind; laughter that faded into shouts of fear and pain; white-armored men, uniform in their purpose as they set the world on fire. Stonewall looked down at Kali and at the life they'd created, and thought of Milo, asleep in the next room. If there was trouble, he knew that he could reach his son within a few strides. If either of his children needed him, he would be there in an instant. Always.
But he also knew that Rex was right.
There was more at stake than even his family's happiness. Though the Clone Wars had ended well over three years ago, the galaxy was still fighting itself. Every warrior was needed.
The former captain sent out a tendril of Force-energy to his son, to his daughter, and to the woman he loved, as if to reassure himself that they would be okay in the interim, and then allowed himself to fall asleep.
As if untouched by the deepest shadows of the night, his dreams were vivid.
Stonewall didn't dwell on the goodbyes; in truth, he could hardly think about his last week at home, so he tried to busy himself with studying the latest intel that Rex's men had cobbled together.
Ahsoka was out of sight at the helm of the small craft, leaving the two men in the cabin and in deep discussion while they traveled through hyperspace. "We have about fifteen temporary bases set up along the Mid-Rim and the Expansion Region," Rex was saying as Stonewall nodded over the datapad. "Temporary because...well..." He grimaced, and Stonewall looked up, brow lifted.
Rex sighed. "'Soka just got word that two of our bases – one on Metalorn and the other on Coraux – were targeted by the Imperials. Only a few made it out alive." He scrubbed his face with his hand. "I don't want to think it, but there's no way the Imps could have known about them, unless they had...inside information."
"A turncoat?" Stonewall frowned over the word, and Rex's head moved into a heavy nod.
"It's not unheard of," his brother continued. "And with the Rebellion still in the early stages...this kind of thing – if it's true – can be devastating to our operation."
Stonewall set down the datapad and studied Rex. "That's why you wanted me along. To suss out the traitor?"
The other man looked thoughtful. "We only just learned about the destroyed bases, Stonewall, but I guess you could say that I had a bad feeling about it." He shook his head and thumbed the direction of the cockpit, where Ahsoka was seated. "She agreed. But either way, you'll be an asset to the Rebellion."
Suddenly, he sat up and leaned forward, his eyes on Stone's. "I know what you've given up for us, Stonewall, and I don't know if I can thank you enough. All I can do is promise you that it won't be for nothing."
Kamala. Milo. Kali. There names were a litany within his mind, their faces were etched onto his spirit. Just before he'd left, Kali had said that he would carry them with him, within his heart, no matter what. She had been smiling, but her eyes were red-rimmed.
Stonewall tried to set the memory aside for now; he nodded at Rex and tried to ignore the feeling of being torn in half.
Six months turned into nine. As it happened, it was almost a year before he saw his children again, and then it was only because Rex had arranged a clandestine meeting on some backwater moon whose name Stonewall couldn't even remember once Milo and Kam were in his arms. When Kalinda embraced him, he noted the lines around her eyes and the threads of silver in her hair, and wondered if the pace of her aging had increased with his absence.
Milo sat on his knee and chattered a klick a minute, reciting every detail he could remember about the journey (long and much too cold), the way that hyperspace looked (pretty, but it made him dizzy), the quality of ship's rations (terrible, but Mom let him eat as much as he wanted).
Kam stared at him like she didn't know who he was; when he commented on how much she'd grown, she wriggled in his arms and reached for Kali, who gave Stonewall a remorseful look before taking the small girl back. It hurt more than he could say, but he tried not to let it show as he continued speaking to his daughter, hoping to at least get her to smile. Despite his best efforts, Kamala kept eying him warily, the way she did with people she'd never met, and when he reached to her through the Force, she recoiled from his attention as though he'd struck her.
During his tenure as a soldier for the Republic Stonewall had suffered his share of wounds, but there were none that cut so deep as the unfamiliarity and suspicion in his daughter's eyes when she looked his way.
Later, he couldn't recall exactly what it was they'd talked about; all he could think of was how much he'd missed the sound of his children's voices, and the way that his wife's head rested against his shoulder as she recounted the past almost-year of their lives, of only a small portion of the experiences from which he'd been absent.
He did remember, just before it was time to part, how Kali looked at him, her dark eyes filled with an emotion that he didn't want to think about. "I'm so proud of you, Stone," she'd said in a quiet voice. "We all are."
"I love you," was all he could say in reply.
It was a bright day on Mundali when Kalinda received the message from Rex.
Summer was thick, but this particular morning wasn't too humid, and there was a pleasant breeze from the north that lifted her dark hair as she watched her children sitting with Crest and a few of the other younglings who'd found their way to Mundali. The clone's voice lilted as he read through a history text; none of the kids appeared bored, as Crest – in his fashion – was doing a fair job engaging them with the lesson. The various ridiculous voices he was using for the 'characters' probably helped, but Crest was also naturally gifted at dealing with the younger set, as evidenced by their rapt attention on his every word.
The message came just as Kali was encoding another letter to Stonewall, preparing to send him the latest pictures that the children had drawn. Suddenly, her comlink chirruped, the cadence revealing that it was an encrypted transmission on a channel only used for emergencies.
There was no sound as the datapad fell to her lap, then to the ground as she rose from her place at the steps of the porch and slipped around the side of the building. As she went, she didn't notice how Crest's eyes flicked over to follow her movements, or the way that his voice faltered – just for a second – before he turned back to the kids and continued reading, working to keep his voice jovial even though he'd noted the terrified look on her face.
Once the dark-haired woman was out of sight of the others, she activated her comlink and watched as Rex's image bloomed before her, which was when it seemed that she felt the beginnings of a collapse within her heart. The clone stood at attention, his helmet tucked under his arm, and if it hadn't been for the derelict condition of his armor, it may have been any moment, any message that she had received during the Wars.
"Kalinda, I would tell you this in person, but...I can't get away." It was unlike Rex to be so informal, even now when she was no General. A tremble started creeping into her fingertips as he continued, after taking a deep breath. "There's been an incident..."
Later, she would say that she didn't want to remember the rest of the transmission. For the moment, though, she slid down against the side of the building that Stonewall had repaired with his own two hands – trying to remember if it was it four or five years ago – and put her fist to her mouth even though she seemed incapable of forming words.
Rex's face dropped and he took another breath before he continued. "You should know, that your husband saved at least two dozen of my soldiers' lives before the Imperials got the better of him."
There was a pause, then it seemed that Rex was able to look up, as if he was really meeting her gaze. "I'm so sorry."
Stonewall was awakened from the dream what felt like moments later by a feather-light touch against his arm; blinking, he noted that the sky outside seemed a hazy and pale, which made him realize that dawn was coming. "Mi?"
Sometime during the night, Kali and Kam had extricated themselves from his arms and were curled up together next to him, so he was able to reach for his son without waking his wife and daughter. As he did so, Milo looked at him with large eyes, tears streaming down his face.
"Don't leave, da. Please don't leave." His voice was too solemn for a child who'd had a nightmare, and Stonewall felt a flare of foreboding at the thought of his earlier conversation with Rex. He didn't think that Mi had heard any of it, but perhaps...
So the former captain sat up and pulled Milo into his lap, rubbing his son's back and sending him a soothing coil of energy through the Force while the boy shuddered and wept silently into his shirt. A glance at Kali showed Stonewall that she was still asleep, so he kissed Milo's cheek once the worst of the tears had ebbed. "What happened, Mi? What did you see?"
Milo pulled back and studied him with an intensity that Stonewall thought was only partly due to his son's Force-sensitivity. After several hiccuping breaths the boy recounted a dream that was frighteningly similar to his own, down to the wording of Rex's transmission to Kalinda in the aftermath.
"You died. You went away an' you died," Milo finished after a few minutes. With the words his face started to crumple again and he threw slender arms around Stonewall's neck, gripping as tightly as he was able. "Don't go away, da. Please..."
"It was a dream, son," Stonewall said after a moment, when he found his own voice. "It wasn't real."
When Milo spoke again, it was into Stonewall's neck. "Da, are you gonna go away?" His voice was plaintive, and despair rippled around him, so strong that Stonewall heard the baby start to shift, as if she was about to wake from the force of the emotion.
In response, Stonewall wrapped his arms around Milo and gave his son a fierce kiss against his cheek. "No, Milo. I'm not going anywhere."
Stonewall couldn't help but chuckle at the earnestness of his son's voice. "I promise." He felt the toddler nod, but his grip didn't loosen.
"Good." Milo's reply was firm, though the effect was somewhat lessened with the yawn that followed, and Stonewall rubbed his back a little more, hoping to soothe the child's nerves as well as his own.
After a few minutes, Stonewall realized that Milo had fallen asleep again, and gave a faint smile as he gently pried his son's fingers off of his neck. Another glance showed the former captain that his wife and daughter were still asleep, the disturbance thankfully having not been enough to rouse them, so he settled Mi down on the sheets next to Kam; after ensuring that everyone was positioned in such a way that they could breathe, he sat on the edge of the bed and considered the best way to break the news to Rex. Sooner would be better than later, he knew, and part of him wanted to do so immediately.
There was little doubt in his mind that Rex would be awake right now. A glance at his chrono showed that it was barely 0600, but he knew his brother's habits; no doubt he was on an early morning run, as he liked to do when he and Ahsoka were planet-side. Stonewall knew that he could slip out of the room and join the other clone with ease, that after a few minutes of jogging he could pause, put a hand on Rex's forearm and apologize, explain that he wasn't willing to leave his family and the life he'd created here.
Both of the former captains knew that good work was being done on Mundali, knew that even Stonewall's minor Force abilities were useful in training the younglings that came through, and knew that he and Kali were working – in their own way – towards creating a stable future for their children and those of others. It wasn't fighting on the front lines, as they'd been bred for, but it was important nonetheless.
Crest had said once – long ago – that you could take the clone out of the army, but you couldn't take the army out of the clone, and Stonewall knew that was true, too. Part of him felt a flare of shame when he thought of the good he could do elsewhere, and of the lives that he could potentially save.
But Stonewall had made his choices long ago, and he'd never been the kind of person to look back at the past with regret. Life was too short, after all, and he'd heard it said that the future was constantly in motion, never indelibly written like the static past.
All other things aside, he knew that there was too much for him to live for, right here beside him.
It was not what he'd been taught in his youth, but he knew that it was his way, now. Experience had shown him that more than one kind of warrior was needed, especially if his family was going to remain safe and whole.
So Stonewall took a deep breath and maneuvered himself back into bed, sliding his legs beneath the blankets and turning on his side to regard his family, thinking that Rex would have to wait. The moment he did so, Milo – still asleep – snuggled up to him and heaved a sigh that puffed out his entire body before his head fell against Stone's chest. Carefully, so as not to wake anyone, Stonewall reached his hand up to encircle the child, to hold him close. Milo was warm, and smelled like home. Before he fell asleep, he gave a gentle kiss against his son's forehead to ward away any further dreams.
This ficlet came about after a plot bunny featuring Stone's "death" refused to let me be. Sentimental fool that I am, this was the closest I could come to killing him off.
It's meant to be a bit disorienting with his dream; I hope that came across okay. Much thanks to SerendipityAEY & sachariah for dual-beta-ing this! You guys rock! :D
Look for a new fic featuring Stonewall in his near-shiny days next week! It's essentially his POV during my fic Old Wounds...which you may want to refresh yourself with. ;)
Thanks for reading! :D
PS: updated my profile...again. Check it out for news about upcoming fics!