Author's Note: The rating of this story is "M" with good reason, (sexually suggestive content), though this version has been distilled to fall within the guidelines of this site. The "original" NC-17 version can be found on my Adult Fanfic author page, (there's a link on my profile.)
This fic is part of my first timeline (the order of which you can see on my Author page), and fits between the stories Bomb In A Birdcage and Duty And Destiny. It also features my OCs, Kalinda Halcyon and the clone trooper Stonewall almost exclusively.
As always, I don't Star Wars – I'm just getting my hands dirty – but I own Kali, Stone, and any other OCs that appear.
Feedback is always encouraged and welcome. Many thanks to my muse, SerendipityAEY for her support and all-around awesomeness.
If you could only see the beast you've made of me,
I held it in, but now it seems you've set it running free.
– "Howl," by Florence and the Machine, from the album, Lungs.
As Captain Stonewall approached her, the Jedi Knight, Kalinda Halcyon looked up at him, her dark eyes alight in the way that always made his heart lift.
"Stone! I'm so glad to see you!"
The dark-haired woman was perched on one of the benches that rested beside a fountain in the secluded garden of the Jedi Temple; perhaps he should have glanced around with appreciation, as he had never been here before her invitation, but all he could see right now – all he cared to see – was Kalinda. As he took a seat beside her, he cast her a smile.
She had been strumming her dulcimer, though she set it on the soft grass beneath their feet as he approached. "I've missed you," she said as she returned his smile, taking his hand in her own and giving it a gentle squeeze. "I thought we'd never have a chance to see one another again."
"I was afraid of that as well," he replied with a nod. "But now that the war is over, everything's different, isn't it?" She beamed at him as he continued, lifting his gloved hand to indicate the garden that surrounded them. "Thank you for inviting me here...it's beautiful."
Indeed, the gardens were quite lovely: feathery, green grass filled the gaps between the weathered stone pathways; the air was resonant with birdsong and redolent with the heady scent of flowers; gentle, ambient light filtered down from the sun above, gilding the edges of Kalinda's hair.
"Well, I wanted to see you somewhere that wasn't so...official. Come on," she added, taking a firm hold of his hand and rising to her feet. Even through his glove he could feel her warmth. "I want to show you my favorite spot."
He followed her down a winding path that led to an even more secluded part of the gardens until they reached a glade, surrounded by swaying willow trees. She stopped here and looked up at him, her hand brushing his cheek. "I really have missed you, Stonewall." Her voice was hushed, her eyes wide. "Have you missed me?"
"You know I have, Kalinda," he replied, his own voice wavering slightly. The touch of her skin to his sent fire racing through his veins, and it was an effort to speak normally. "I think about you every day."
Her face tilted up to his, her smile wide and inviting. "Do you?"
In response, he cupped her chin in his hands and kissed her; the sensation rippled through him like wind on the water. She rose up to him, pressed herself against his armor and he pulled her closer, his other hand wrapping around her waist. A soft moan escaped her lips as he-
The captain's eyes snapped open and he straightened at attention in a moment, his face flushed and his heart thudding beneath his armor as Kalinda Halcyon regarded him from the pilot's seat of the Jedi starfighter. "Sorry. Dozed off for a sec, General."
At his words, she gave a small frown, but it was one of concern, not irritation, and her eyes met his without a trace of recognition or awareness of his dreams, for which he was grateful. "You haven't slept much, lately. Is everything alright?"
"I guess I've been a bit restless," Stonewall replied as he shifted in his seat, thankful that his body-armor concealed what it did. She'd been perplexed as to why he insisted upon wearing it for the duration of the journey, but he was not about to enlighten her. "Deep space travel doesn't agree with me, sometimes. Even with the distraction of music lessons."
At this she chuckled; if he were to turn around, he would see the instrument cases that she'd brought along, which had served as a way to pass some of the thirty-odd hours of the journey from the Core. Never before would he have considered that he'd learn to play music, but she'd been rather insistent about it, and he found that he enjoyed the act, even though he wasn't proficient in the least.
"You're getting pretty good with the ion-steel gitar," she said with a glance at him. "I think you have a natural talent for it, Stone. And I've told you before...call me 'Kalinda,' or 'Kali,' please," she added with a slight huff that made him smile. "'General' is just...well, it feels wrong."
"It's an indication of respect," he countered. "It's...proper."
"It's annoying." The word could have been a reprimand, but for a softness of her eyes that made his stomach flip. "Please don't."
They'd been working together for some months, and he'd long since learned that she didn't operate the way that most other Jedi did. Often it seemed that protocol meant nothing to the dark-haired woman, but she still commanded his respect, because she was intelligent and capable and clever and...
He released a breath and nodded. "It's difficult..."
No other Jedi, he thought, would ask something like this, but as much as he wanted to please her, the idea of saying her name was so...personal. They'd had a previous mission where he'd had to call her by her name, but that was in the past. However, Stonewall knew that there was probably nothing she could ever ask him that he would refuse, so he nodded again. "Okay. Kalinda."
Her answering smile was broad, and he felt his heart speed up in response. "Thank you, Stone."
Stonewall chose not to reply until he was certain that all physical effects from his dream had faded, during which time he checked the sensors again; everything looked normal and the display indicated that they were nearing their destination. After doing so, he risked a glance back at the Jedi, watching as the faint glow from the console tinted her skin blue. "We should be at Mundali by this evening – right on schedule. It will be good to stretch our legs again – I feel like it's been ages since we left Coruscant."
"I know what you mean," she replied, the corner of her mouth pulling into a smile. "It's been a long time since I was this far in the Outer Rim; I'd almost forgotten how long it takes to reach it." She glanced at him. "Have you ever been to the Rim?"
"Not this far out, but some of my brothers have told me stories," he said, leaning back in his seat and glancing at the streaking stars before turning his eyes back to her. "I've heard that it's wild, uncivilized...and dangerous."
Kalinda shrugged, the gesture conveying a certain nonchalance that he didn't quite share. "It can be, I suppose. However, there is something to be said for the more...uncivilized regions of the galaxy. Sometimes I feel that Coruscant is too confining." She paused and glanced at the console, her brow furrowing. "I only hope we can offer some help."
As anticipated, they reached the small system of Mundali by that evening, though it was barely past dawn on the planet's surface, the majority of which seemed to be covered in lush jungle or sprawling grasslands. It was summer here; even this early in the day, the heat assaulted the Jedi and the clone the moment that they stepped off of the ship. After just a few moments, Stonewall was thankful for the temp-controlling properties of his armor, as the readout of his HUD indicated that the air was practically drinkable.
Just beyond what looked like the ruins of an ancient temple, there was a team waiting for them: three clone troopers and one Jedi Knight, a tall human woman with bright copper hair who stood with her hands clasped before her, watching their approach. Kalinda grinned and raised her hand in greeting, a gesture that the other Jedi returned after a moment.
"Honi...it's good to see you again," Kalinda said as she embraced the younger woman. "Mace didn't tell me that you were the one in charge of this operation."
The other Jedi gave a brusque nod, though Stonewall noted that a faint smile had lifted the edges of her mouth. "It's good to see you too, Master Halcyon."
Kalinda rolled her eyes. "So formal, still." She gestured to her side, where Stonewall was standing at parade-rest. "This is Captain Stonewall. Stone, this is my former Padawan, Honi Tallis, who has become one of the best Jedi Healers in the galaxy."
"That's up for debate," General Tallis said, nodding at the captain as they began to walk towards the temple, where Stonewall could see that the group had made their base in the form of a variety of cabins and prefab buildings.
Besides being hot and humid, he could see green everywhere he looked. Beneath a cloudless sky, the planet appeared to be lush with a large variety of plant life – flowers, trees and shrubs were in abundance – and in the distance he could make out dozens of animal-noises, bird-calls and buzzing insects. He wasn't too sure about these things, but he thought that Mundali would be considered pretty.
"Stone's the poor fellow who's been coerced into tagging along with me on most of my recent missions," Kalinda explained as she shot Stonewall a grin.
In response, he gave her a curt nod, which she then returned with a roll of her eyes. Behind his bucket, he smiled. He knew of no other Jedi who flat-out asked that the men under her command refer to her by her name rather than her title, and his innate formality had become something of a joke between them in the months that they'd started working together.
After a moment, General Tallis glanced at Kalinda. "I heard about Basrah," she said as they walked. "You were fortunate to have escaped Ventress unharmed, Master."
"Thanks to Stone's efforts, as well as Obi-Wan's," she replied with a smile at Stonewall in recollection of the shared experience. It'd been the first time they'd met, actually; from that point on, he'd been lucky enough to serve at her side. "Though, I must admit, I had my doubts."
"You must show me your shield technique," General Tallis added. "It sounds intriguing."
Kalinda nodded, then indicated the settlement, which they were approaching at last. "Of course. But first I think we have much to do, here. How is it going?"
At this, the red-haired woman frowned. "Not as well as I would hope, but I think there is potential. I am sorry to have to call you away from your duties in the Core, but there is...something here that we do not understand, and I know that you are familiar with many of the older texts."
They approached a long, low building that looked as though it had been here for centuries. It was rough-looking overall, carved out of a smooth, reddish stone that glowed warmly in the morning light.
When they reached the entrance, the troopers halted while the Jedi continued inside. Uncertain as to what she wanted him to do, Stonewall glanced at Kalinda, but she gave him nod that indicated he was to follow.
The building had been outfitted with lighting and lab equipment; as they walked farther in, he could see a team of men and women in orange Agri-Corps uniforms working over a series of long tables which were each covered with a mass of strange, purplish fungi. Kalinda approached the nearest one and leaned close to examine the fungus. "This is xoorzi?"
General Tallis nodded, slipping on a pair of white gloves before she picked up a specimen. "This is the basis for all of the bacta in our galaxy; this is why it was so vital for the Republic to come out here and investigate the rumors. We've found large clusters of the fungus all through the jungles, with our sensors indicating huge quantities in the southern caverns, but..."
She paused and glanced at Kalinda, uncertainty written in her pale-blue eyes. "As I said, there is...something else here, too. Something that doesn't want us to continue our investigation."
At these ominous words, Kalinda straightened and gave her former apprentice an appraising look. "Your transmission was a little unclear, which isn't like you, Honi. What's going on?"
The younger woman motioned to her former master and they began walking away from the lab area, back towards the entrance to the building. Stonewall moved to follow, but a curious look from General Tallis stopped him in his tracks. However, Kalinda shook her head. "He's with me, Honi. Obi-Wan was rather insistent that I have some...how did he put it Stone?"
"Er...'personal backup,' I believe, General." Thankful for his bucket, Stonewall had to chuckle at the notion. It was true; Kalinda had a knack for getting into strange situations, but as of yet he'd not encountered anything that he couldn't handle.
At Stonewall's words, his general smiled at the red-haired woman. "My life has been a little too exciting lately. Shocking, I know."
"Nothing about you shocks me any longer, Master," General Tallis replied, giving the soldier another curious look. "But...Master Kenobi requested that you bring a clone?"
"Stonewall is quite handy to have around," Kalinda said, a trace of firmness to her voice. "Where I go, he goes. Now, why are you being so cryptic, Honi? Take us to these caverns, and maybe we can figure out what's going on."