Chapter Seven: Beginning
It was one thing to know something, like the fact that space was kriffing cold.
It was quite another to experience it for himself.
Stonewall had no idea how much of the cold the Jedi's shield was keeping at bay, but he was ready for this part of the adventure to be over. It was colder than anything he'd ever known, so cold that he forgot what it felt like to be warm. His breath was short – thankfully it hadn't been ripped from his lungs as she'd feared – and his helmet offered him a bit of reprieve, but it was hardly anything noteworthy.
But the temperature wasn't the worst part.
Above his head, beneath his feet, on either side was...nothing. Black, blank void, the most unnerving thing he'd ever laid eyes on. He couldn't even see any stars, though he could see a milky planet in the background, behind Ventress' ship. After taking a moment to orient himself, he could make out the familiar triangular shape of a Venator-class starship – thank the Force – as well as a small starfighter, which he presumed held General Kenobi. As Stonewall activated his repulsors, a burst of color filled his peripheral vision: the second pod had been destroyed. It was likely that their little stunt would be discovered, soon.
But she had given him a task, and he refused to deviate from it, so Stonewall put every free iota of his concentration into the mental image of a shield around them, protecting both her and himself from the black, freezing nothingness that threatened to suffocate.
His repulsors moved them along slowly, so slowly. He didn't know how much time had passed since they'd left the Seppie ship, but he could feel her starting to shiver in his arms; a glance down showed him that color was draining from her skin. A faint, bluish tint crept over her lips.
No, he told her, tightening his grip and willing every ounce of his strength into the dark-haired woman. No harm will come to you, while I'm around. You have my word.
"Here..." she whispered, and he looked up to see the agile fighter gliding towards them on sublights. In his arms, she started to shake even harder, even though he saw a faint smile appear on her face. The sight frightened him; he thought that it meant she was had faded into a sort of delirium.
And then General Kenobi's ship was there, and Stonewall realized that he could maneuver himself and her into the opened gunner's area, which was separate from the cockpit. It was not difficult; in truth he hardly noticed, because Kalinda – there was no other way for him to think of her, now – had started to convulse in his arms, and the blue on her lips had intensified, like she was freezing from the inside out.
The moment he touched down, the Jedi activated the seal of the craft to close around them and block out the void beyond. Stonewall took a breath before he was able to speak. "Sir, she's not well. We need to-"
But his words were not necessary, because Kenobi had already veered the craft towards the larger, Venator-class ship where Stone knew there'd be medics waiting. Dimly, he registered the Jedi calling to the Republic vessel, but everything else faded away when he looked back down at the woman in his arms. She was shaking, almost writhing, and she looked an inch away from death.
Stonewall removed his bucket with one hand; it managed to clatter to the floor at his feet. "Kalinda," he said in as calm a voice he could manage when her eyes had rolled back in her head. "It's okay, Kalinda...we're safe now."
Even through his armor he could feel how cold she was, like ice, but he swallowed his fear. "You did it," he told her, lifting a gloved hand to smooth back an errant strand of dark hair from her forehead. "You saved us both."
"Stone..." Somehow she was able to shape his name, though the sound was halting and stuttered.
He shushed her, then touched her cheek both because he couldn't help it and because he would regret it forever if he didn't. He wished his armor was warmer, wished he had a blanket to wrap her in, wished he had something besides cold, utilitarian plastoid to place against her skin. "It's okay, now," he said again. "You're safe. You're going to be fine. I promised you, didn't I?"
The sound of General Kenobi's voice startled him, and he looked up to see the back of the Jedi's head. "Sir?"
"We're nearly there," Kenobi said. "Medics are waiting and a bacta tank has been prepared. She will be fine."
"Yes, sir," Stonewall replied, feeling very foolish all of a sudden. How much had the Jedi heard? Could he sense the clone's feelings?
Because it was undeniable, now. Stonewall knew, whatever else happened after this moment, that he was irrevocably changed, and that the woman in his arms had been the impetus behind it – whether she'd meant to be or not. Likely not. But that was okay, he figured. Maybe she'd been right, and the Force had led them to each other for some reason, unknown right now, but maybe not forever.
Maybe it was destiny. Maybe it was luck. Or, he thought, maybe it was some combination of the two.
When General Kenobi spoke again, his words were weighted. "Thank you for helping her, Stonewall."
Stonewall shook his head and touched her cheek for the last time. "Just doing my job, sir."
When they arrived at General Skywalker's flagship, the Resolute, Stonewall found himself on the sidelines as he watched the medics lift her unconscious form onto a gurney, which they then proceeded to direct to the medbay. General Kenobi was by her side the entire time, and Stonewall was glad that she wouldn't be alone. He did wish that he'd also been able to remain with her, but it was a fleeting thought. Now that the mission was all over, he knew that his place was not where she was, not anymore.
For a moment he stood in the hangar of the massive ship and considered what he was supposed to do, now. Contact Cody, probably; even though he couldn't recall if there were any regs for this type of scenario, he figured that was the proper thing to do: check in with his CO and accept the inevitable punishment that would accompany any soldier who abandoned his post.
After that...well, he did have a buddy or two in the 501st, and he didn't really feel like being alone at the moment.
However, before he could move, he heard a throat clearing behind him; turning, he took in the sight of a fellow clone trooper in distinctive, blue-striped armor – Captain Rex of Torrent Company, if memory served – arms folded across his chest and regarding Stonewall with an unnervingly unreadable expression.
Captain Rex. Something snapped inside of him, and he lifted his arm in a swift salute to the officer.
"Lieutenant Stonewall, correct? Cody called me about you."
Stonewall resisted the urge to grimace. Yeah, he definitely knew what was forthcoming. "Sir?"
"Once you've been looked over by a medic, he requested that I keep you busy until you're returned to your unit," Rex said in the mild voice of an officer who knew he was doling out a punishment, but was trying to keep the situation amicable. It was a bit puzzling, especially because Stonewall had no clue how much information Rex had been given about the entire incident. Either way, he knew Cody well enough to have anticipated something like this, so he didn't fault Rex for playing messenger.
The captain glanced between Stonewall and the direction that they'd taken Kalinda – General Halcyon, once again – then took a few steps across the empty hangar towards the other man, his bucket swaying at his belt with the motion.
For a moment he continued to regard Stonewall as if he was trying to figure something out, then he spoke again. "Sneaking aboard a Seppie ship to rescue a Jedi...it's going to make quite a story, Lieutenant. Why'd you do it?"
"I-" Stonewall frowned. It would not be prudent to admit that he felt anything for a Jedi other than a sense of duty. But none of the others had attempted the stunt he had, so clearly there was something going on beneath the surface, which was probably why Rex was even asking. The 501st captain was not known for his propensity for small-talk.
Kriff, he thought with a sigh. And I thought the hard part was over, already. He met the officer's gaze. "She needed my help, sir. I'm afraid I can't say much beyond that."
Something like satisfaction gleamed in the captain's eyes, though he only nodded once in acknowledgment of the words. "Until you return to the 212th, you're to be on cleaning duty, Lieutenant," Rex said in a brisk manner. "Mess-hall, practice rooms, barracks...it all needs a good scrubbing."
The captain paused, then sighed as he reached into his belt and withdrew a minuscule brush, the kind that was normally used to clean one's teeth. "Cody also asked me to pass this along...said you'd know what it meant." He gave Stonewall a look that was half apologetic, half amused.
"Sir, yes sir," Stonewall replied, reaching for the toothbrush so that he could tuck it into his belt. "The commander's good on his word."
At this, Rex appeared to fight back a snort of laughter, but he only nodded and turned to leave. Stonewall waited for one beat before he called out to the officer again. At his voice, Rex paused and turned, giving him an inquiring lift of his brow. "Yes, Lieutenant?"
"If...if there's any change in General Halcyon's condition," he said slowly. "May I request to be informed, sir?"
There was a beat where Rex appeared to think over his words, though he eventually nodded. "Certainly, Stonewall."
For a silent moment the captain seemed to consider something else; he gave a slight frown before he looked back at Stonewall one last time, and when he spoke, it was in a manner that indicated he'd thought the words over well before he'd chosen to share them.
"I'm not going to say that you did the right thing by breaking formation, or by disobeying Cody. But – for what it's worth – I think I understand why you did what you did. Jedi are not untouchable. They can be hurt, same as us, but I think they forget that, sometimes. I'm glad that you didn't."
Following this, Rex smirked and nodded to the lieutenant's belt, where the toothbrush had been stowed. "In any case, I look forward to a clean mess-hall floor, Stonewall...though, I recommend you get something to eat, first. After that, find Kix and he'll check you out."
It was all Stonewall could do to salute one more time, though he found he was smiling as well. "Glad to be of service, Captain."
Kix the medic was a soft-spoken fellow who arranged to meet Stonewall in the barracks rather than the medbay. Aside from a few members of the 501st, the area appeared to be quiet; it was the middle of the ship's cycle, after all, and likely everyone was on duty rotation.
Following a meal and a brief examination, he was deemed fit for duty. As Kix put away his kit, he cast Stonewall a curious look. "Our suits are space-resistant, but only to a point," he said slowly. "How is it that you and the general managed to survive?"
Kix had insisted on giving him an injection to ward away any potential infection, so he was replacing the pieces of his body suit that covered his arm, which he'd had to remove. With a note of remorse, Stonewall recalled General Halcyon's amazement at the mechanics of his armor...was it only a matter of days ago, now?
"She used the Force," Stonewall said. "Beyond that, I'm not sure."
"Well, color me impressed," Kix replied with a shrug. "I wish that all Jedi knew how to manage such a thing...might make our jobs a little safer."
Stonewall nodded, but his thoughts had turned away again, towards the dark-haired woman. "Have you heard anything about General Halcyon?" he asked, getting to his feet and slipping on his gauntlet.
Kix looked thoughtful. "She didn't require bacta, only some thermal supplements to prevent her body from going into true shock from the cold of space. I think she's sleeping, now. Room...Six, if I recall." He tilted his head in Stonewall's direction, and his tone was carefully neutral. "Want me to show you where in the medbay it is?"
"No, thank you," Stonewall replied. "I think I can find my way around." After a final word of thanks to the medic, he slipped out of the barracks and made his way through the Resolute's passages, thinking that they looked the same as every other Venator-class he'd been on, and wondering how much time he had until Rex started looking for him and the toothbrush to ensure that he was fulfilling Cody's punishment.
The medbay was bright, a little cold, but comforting in a familiar way. A sterile smell of antiseptic reached him, but it wasn't as bothersome as it normally might have been, now that he knew that she wasn't in immediate danger. Stonewall bypassed the ICU and made his way to the recovery rooms, counting down the numbers until he found the door he was looking for.
Room Six. Outwardly, it looked the same as any other.
He took a breath, then activated the chime that would announce his presence. No response. It made sense, if she was sleeping, but he didn't want to risk bursting in on her, just in case. The lock wasn't active; the readout on the panel beside the door alerted him to the fact that visitors were allowed, so after taking another deep breath, he activated the door and stepped inside.
Someone had dimmed the lights to cut away any glare, but there was enough to see the form of the Jedi Knight, lying prone in the raised bed at the center of the room. No one else was present; it was only himself and General Halcyon. For a moment, Stonewall stood by the entrance, debating, then he stepped forward, not bothering to shut the door behind him because...
Well, he didn't really know why, but the subject fled his mind once he reached her side.
In sleep, she looked peaceful. There was a comforting rise and fall of her chest that indicated her breathing was steady; her pallor appeared back to normal, though he still thought she looked a little too pale. Perhaps his memory was subject to the warm glow of a campfire, or a displaced shaft of sunlight. Her lips were parted, slightly, as if she was about to speak, and for a moment he could hear her voice in his head.
You have everything you need in here. He could still feel the cadence of her fingertips against his armored chest, as if she was remaking his heartbeat, just as she'd done with his name.
"Kalinda," he said, looking down at her left hand, resting along the linens. It was slightly upturned, and as he watched closely, he could see the faintest lift of the pulse at her wrist. "Thank you, for everything."
What he wanted to do was pull off his glove and take her hand in his own, just to feel her skin, though he immediately pushed the thought away as wildly inappropriate. It would be too much, he knew, to touch her hand, even with his gloves on. He'd gotten to hold her, once. That would be enough to sustain him throughout the rest of his days, however brief they might be.
Suddenly he felt very foolish for coming here. He had a job and a duty, not to mention a punishment to get started on. Better to leave now and pretend he'd never stopped by, should anyone ask. Kix might know, but medics were by-and-large good at keeping secrets, even the ones they hadn't been asked to keep. Rex would also probably figure it out, but the captain didn't seem inclined to punish someone for a transgression of this nature, if it even could be considered such.
It was General Kenobi; he'd entered the room without a sound and come to stand beside Stonewall while the clone had been absorbed in his own musings. Stonewall moved to salute the Jedi, but the other man waved the gesture aside, and for a moment the two of them watched her sleep. Finally, Kenobi looked his way. "If not for your – admittedly reckless – actions, we might not have found her in time. Thank you, Stonewall."
General Kenobi reached forward and skimmed his fingertips along the length of her arm, but Stonewall couldn't read his expression, other than to think that the Jedi appeared lost in thought. After a moment he glanced at the clone again, his blue eyes crinkling with traces of warm amusement, which was comforting in its own fashion. If this Jedi wasn't worried, it meant that she was truly going to be okay. "I think she feels the same way."
Stonewall returned the wry look with a faint smile of his own. "Good to know, General."
The air around him suddenly felt very thick and heavy, and he thought that he might have trouble speaking further – especially if the tightness forming in his chest was any indication – so he cleared his throat and addressed the Jedi again. "I should be going, sir. Commander Cody saw to it that I was given a few...tasks while we're here."
"Of that I have no doubt," Kenobi replied in a wry voice. They exchanged another look, then Stonewall slipped out of the room.
First he tackled the practice area. Equipment was organized, mirrors were wiped down, floors were mopped – Stonewall decided to save the toothbrush for later – and when he was done the entire place gleamed like it was brand-new. From there, he made his way to the barracks, where there were a few more clones, some he knew, some he didn't, but his duties were interrupted by some of the others asking him to recount his adventure.
It wasn't a story that he really wanted to tell, because it was over. It had ended happily, at least, but now it was over and done, and he could never go back to The-Way-Things-Were, before it had happened.
Word was that they would reach Corrie the next evening, so he took the opportunity to shower, shave and sleep before he confronted the rest of his punishment. The next time his eyes opened, Stonewall realized with a start that he'd managed to wake up in the earliest part of the morning, when a ship like the Resolute was at its most quiet. A few of the guys around him in the barracks were snoring, but other than that it was silent.
He spent several minutes tossing and turning before he decided that sleep was no longer an option for him, so he rose, dressed in his armor – he hadn't thought to ask for fatigues and didn't want to go searching around right now – and made his way to the mess hall. It was quiet there, too. The recessed lights that ran along the upper walls were dim, indicative of the nighttime cycle, but rather than activate them he decided to use the beams on his bucket to illuminate his immediate work area.
Time passed, he didn't bother to keep track. Mostly he tried not to think at all, focusing the bulk of his attention on the miniature spirals of soap that he pushed around with the toothbrush, and the rest on a few new tactics that some of Torrent Company had been discussing the previous day; despite all of this, he still saw her face in his mind's eye.
The image made him scrub harder and harder, as if he could erase it from his memory by sheer force of will, until he felt beads of sweat start to roll down his back and forehead.
But even in the recesses of both his imagination and his memory, Kalinda Halcyon seemed determined not to leave, and he wondered again if he was really lost, or if he was defective in some way.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. Clones and Jedi were not supposed to exist in the same realms, even on the battlefield, but his entire world had been thrown off-kilter from the first moment he saw her. He had no idea how to set it right again, nor did he know if he wanted to.
A soft shushing noise at the opposite corner of the mess – the doors opening and closing – made him pause and look up. It was her, but he knew at once by her movements that she hadn't seen him. The dark-haired woman entered the room and crossed the gleaming floor to the windows that overlooked the stars; he watched as her footprints left faint marks where he'd already scrubbed so diligently.
But he didn't care about that, not even a little. Her face was turned towards the window, and he couldn't make out her expression, but the fact that she was up and about was enough to make some of the tension leave his shoulders – tension whose existence he hadn't even been aware of until it was gone. As quietly as he could, so not to disturb her, he got to his feet, then spent a long moment debating what he was going to say.
Finally, he took a deep breath and shifted his body into the familiar repose of parade-rest, then cleared his throat. "I'm glad to see you on your feet, General."
Kalinda Halcyon turned his way, and his entire world was thrown into disarray – again.
Stonewall figured he really should've been used to that, by now.
This story is really meant to fit in both of the timelines I've established, so hopefully Obi-Wan's thoughtful attitude about Kali makes sense, no matter which you're reading. Stone's final words are in both timelines as well, but Kali's reactions when she turns are vastly different. :P
If you want to continue reading about Stonewall and Kali, check out All Or Nothing! :)
To everyone who has left a review, I cannot thank you enough! You are all totally awesome for doing so:
sachariah, LongLiveTheClones, Admiral Daala, Jade-Max, Queen, Arrowhead1996, SerendipityAEY, reulte, rexter-fangirl, Cnwriter, Jadedsnowtiger, and Pergjithshme...thank you so much for taking the time to let me know what you thought about the story!