"I'm fine." "'Course you are. We're all 'fine.'"
|Highly recommend listening to the String Quartet in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 131 by Beethoven while you read (it's on YouTube)
On the hill, the fires burned.
Wisps of smoke carried the sharp scent of burning flesh, woodsy, not the sterile stench common to operating rooms. Bright bursts of light and fire silhouetted familiar frames against the smoky ghost trails of previous artillery, dimming the splendor of the starred sky with each pop and sizzle. Atop the hill, the 41st Elite held fast in a smoldering orange glow.
Even from the base of the shallow valley the medic felt the ember's heat against his unhelmeted face. Tiring of the deadly deadly spectacle in the sky, the trooper looked down to the crumpled form of broken plastoid and flesh at his feet. Rolling the body supine revealed the cause of death. The trooper paused for a moment, before crossing the dead man's arms over the cavity where the chest should be, preparing for transport.
"You are dead," Kix told the corpse, gaze drawn back to the fires burning where a village once stood. "And I'm alive."
Later the medic sat at an empty table with a tray of untouched food.
"Boy are you glad you got body detail. You would not believe what I've had to deal with with." Another tray was dropped next to his as Coric sat down. "I just spent the last three hours with my hand clogging the hole in Tor's abdomen so he wouldn't bleed out while the med droid worked." Using a crust of bread, he sopped up the remaining juices on his plate. "Unlucky shabuir died anyways. You going to eat that?" The sergeant indicated Kix's tray, a frown forming when he didn't receive a response. "Everything alright?"
"You can have it." Kix observed his smooth and calloused hands, hands that held a newborn babe in the morning, and prepared corpses in the evening.
"Kix?" Coric ignored the tray, watching his brother's face instead. "Listen, I was going to ask the Captain for an escort assignment once we get back to Corrie. Guard duty for a lady senator, something easy easy. Want me to add you too?"
"No, I'm fine. I think I'll hit the showers." Abandoning his tray on the table, the young medic stood to leave.
"Hey Kix!" Coric called as he neared the door. Kix turned back. "If you ever need to talk..."
"'Course you are." Coric held his eyes, nodded, and spoke softly to his tray. "We're all 'fine.'"
"Yeah..." Having no words to fill the cynical silence, Kix turned on his heel and headed for the showers.
The water pelting his skin had long lost its heat when Kix heard his name being called.
"Sir?" He stepped out of the stall, mindful of the slippery floor as he saluted.
Captain Rex waved a hand. "As you were. Sergeant Coric told me you expressed interest in escort duties once we docked at Coruscant."
Kix blinked. "Yes sir."
"Quite a few have requested similar, so I'm not-" He paused, watching the shiver the medic was unable to suppress. "What were your duties today, Sergeant?"
"I was assigned to the village to provide first aid and medical relief, sir. Then, to cleanup detail." Kix swallowed, staring at the water stain on the wall behind the captain's head.
"Right." Captain Rex tried to catch his eye for several more heartbeats, before consulting the datapad with a tired sigh. "ETA to Corrie is six hours. Report to Commander Fox after debarkation."
"And get some rest. Force knows we all need it." With an economical flourish of the stylus, Rex turned back down the aisle, already calling for another trooper.
A drop had formed from condensation buildup on the wall, running straight down the discolored patch of durasteel.
"Yes, sir," Kix answered.
Plasma, IV fluids and tubing. Catheters. Tourniquets. Hemostatic agents. Hyposprays. Analgesics. Combitubes, oral and nasal airway adjuncts. Assorted bandages, wraps and gauze. An unopened set of exam gloves. Each item sat neatly placed in rows and columns on the standard-issue gray blanket. He was low on Morpha and bandages, and the last bottle of nutritional supplements had gone to the young mother with smiling green eyes.
Each item was returned to the medical kit with meticulous care, the oxygen tank and cricothyrotomy field kit going in first, the least used, bandages and analgesics last for a quick grab.
"How many more times are you going to repack your kit?"
Kix glanced at the sergeant's bunk, then back to the medical bag. "I'll stop."
"Much appreciated." The words were muffled as Jesse buried his head into the thin pillow. After a moment he lifted his head, blearily opening his eyes. "Something wrong?"
"No," Kix lied automatically. "I'm fine."
"'Mkay," Jesse mumbled, half asleep again. "Turn out the light will you?"
A touch to a panel on the console next to his bunk, and the room went dark, leaving afterglows of embers to burn across his vision.
Somewhere in the blackness beside him, Jesse sighed. "Much better."
Commander Fox partnered him with a scout from the 41st and assigned them to escort Senator Chuchi to her appointment in the business district. The scout looked him over with a blank expression, red-rimmed eyes lingering over the red insignia on his left pauldron, nodded once, then sealed himself into the green-trimmed helmet.
The senator greeted them with a warm smile. "Thank you for accompanying me today."
"Ma'am," Kix inclined his head. Next to him, the scout remained quiet and motionless.
"Can you please remove your helmets? I prefer to see your faces."
Chewing his lip, Kix hesitated before slipping off the bucket, glancing at his silent partner. "One of us should remain battle-ready, to stay in communication with command, just in case."
The senator smiled, polite but confused, while the scout inclined his helmet in the barest of nods.
"I guess that makes sense. You are in the 501st, yes?" She inquired, lightly touching the blue marks on his vambrace. "Do you know a trooper named Chopper?"
Kix regarded her curiously, wondering how a Pantoran senator knew a clone like Chopper, or even any clone, by name. "Yes ma'am."
"Fives and Echo, too?"
"Echo..." Kix paused, unsure how to explain to a civilian the inevitable consequence of war.
But she must have read the in his face what he couldn't say, for she simply said "I'm sorry" and gave him a sad smile. "Would you convey my condolences to Chopper and Fives?"
Kix recalled Fives' face, wrinkled with laugh lines now unused. Words could no longer help Fives. "Of course."
"What is your role in the fighting?"
"Infantry, though medical duties take precedence once the first casualty occurs."
"You are a medic? What about the others in your...squad, what do they do?"
Sensing familiar territory, Kix answered. "Medics are only temporarily assigned to squads; we're attached to different teams depending on the needs of the mission."
"That must get very lonely."
Kix opened his mouth, then shut it, giving her a frowning shrug instead.
Plainly searching for another topic, her eyes traveled from his face to the side of his head, her lips framing the words as she silently read his tattoo. "How many droids have you...deactivated?"
"Not many. Medic," he explained at her expression, then paused. "We ...haven't put up against many tinnies recently."
Her mouth formed a small "O" as realization dawned. "Does your saying apply to people as well?"
"Is the only good person a dead one?" she asked curiously, without rebuke in her voice.
"I..." Bewildered, he looked to the scout for help, but found only the impersonal black T-shaped visor instead. "I haven't really thought about it."
An awkward silence fell and continued for the rest of the trip. Kix courteously kept his helmet off, only when the senator disappeared into the building did he slip it on and assume a guard position with the silent scout. Sealed into their private world, Kix heard every hard swallow, every wet sniff, each shaky breath.
"I'm sorry," he whispered, as the normal routine of Coruscant swirled around them, oblivious to the misery of two cloned soldiers. It was all he could say. "I'm sorry."
Several hours later, the senator emerged, face grim, obviously lost in thought. The ride back to the senate building was quiet, and Kix found himself wishing for more awkward questions to distract him from the scout's grief.
"How was it?"
Kix continued to organize the bacta patches by size, grabbing more from the supply cart when he noticed the piles were low. Coric sat on a gurney, sipping his caf, patiently waiting for an answer.
The pretty Pantoran senator smiled at him in thanks, but the memory would quickly morph into Echo's charred helmet cradled in Fives' hands, into the green-trimmed scout grieving in the private world of his helmet, into a young mother holding out her infant child, into fires burning where a village once stood, into a glass-eyed corpse with his face.
"Never volunteer me for shore leave again." The lid of the bacta container was shut with more force than necessary.
"We're shipping out again." Coric stared into the dark liquid before squinting up at him. "Are you going to be okay?"
With steady hands Kix loaded vials of analgesics into empty hyposprays. "I'll be okay," he said, thinking of the scout standing tall and straight, still performing his duties while crying where no one could see him. "For my brothers, I'll be okay."
Coric nodded. "We should be entering hyperspace any minute now. Some Separatist-aligned planet, no medical relief missions this time. Shouldn't be as complicated. In the Ghost Nebula, Umbara, I think Rex said." The older medic clapped him on the shoulder as he made for the door. "Oh and Kix," he called back, "get some rest, will you? You look like hell."
The empty packaging hit the wall three meters from the door. Coric raised an eyebrow at the poor aim, shaking his head in disapproval as he disappeared down the hall. Ignoring the empty box on the floor, Kix returned to his task. He was a medic, he would be okay. He had to be.
For his brothers.
No direct inspiration for this, though I'll admit to heavy influences from two episodes of Band of Brothers, "Bastogne" and "Why We Fight", with the song taken from the later.