Obviously, this owes a great deal (understatement of the century candidate) to George Lucas, and to Michael Stackpole's "X-Wings" and Kevin J. Anderson's "Jedi Academy" series of novels.
No copyright infringement is intended.
Qwi handed Wedge his glass of wine and said, “Now. Tell me about Tycho.”
“What?” he asked, caught unexpectedly.
“Tell me about Tycho,” she said, gesturing past him towards the living room. “Where is Yagdoole, and was it a great battle or a minor skirmish? How much did you win by? And why aren’t you in Republican uniforms?
“Oh,” he said, “the picture.”
She’d looked at the holos on the wall of Wedge’s apartment the first time she’d been there, half a year ago now. He’d identified them for her: “That’s Marcan Voorhees. He’s dead now. They’re mostly dead... Rom here isn’t, nor is Malina... that’s Kapalvan, and Biggs... Tyree. And that’s me and Tycho on Yag’Dhul.”
She had looked a long time at that picture, at him sitting on his green-and-gold X-Wing and Tycho standing next to his own crimson-and-white one. Obviously noticing the difference in flight suits, not to mention in the fighters’ paint jobs, she’d asked, “This was before you joined the Alliance?”
“No,” he’d said. “It’s a long story... I’ll tell you someday.”
Someday had apparently come. He took a drink of the port while he thought about it. She was looking expectantly at him, her indigo eyes seeming even larger than usual, awaiting his answer. He was used to her hunger for knowledge, but not yet inured to it when the target was himself. It still surprised him more than a little when she wanted to waste time learning about his past. Not that he minded telling her... “Yag’ Dhul,” he said, giving the stop after the ‘g’ and the aspiration after the ‘d’ more than their usual strength. “It’s just a place, not a battle. Booster ran it-runs it still, in fact; it’s the Errant Venture’s home base.”
“Can we go there sometime?” she asked.
He laughed. “Sure, if you want to,” he said. “Booster’d be glad to meet you. But it’s not very exciting.”
“I’d like to,” she said. “Why were you there?”
“Booster was running it for me,” he said. “Pash Cracken found it for us and we moved in, and headquartered the Thyferran campaign there. It’s a dump, but it was strategically located and pretty easy to hide in when someone as savvy as Booster’s your administrator.”
“The Thyferran campaign...” she said in her ‘I-know-I-read-about-that-wait-a-minute’ voice. She stood up and wandered into the living room while she tried to remember; she always thought better while she was moving around. He followed her. “The bacta war!” she said triumphantly, turning to face him. “You won by a lot.”
“Yes, we did,” he was still surprised by that, more than four years later. “Faster and more easily than anybody guessed. Well, maybe not anybody,” he reconsidered. “It was kind of a lark for some of the squadron. But those of us who knew what was going on were flat scared. “
“Even you?” she asked.
He was touched by her confidence, but couldn’t pretend, not for her. “I was scared to death the whole time.”
“You were not!” she protested.
“Oh, yes, I was,” he said. “Every time I let myself think about it for ten seconds at a stretch, I was terrified.”
She cocked her head to the side and asked, “How often did you do that?”
He chuckled. “You’ve got me: not very.” He had to shake his head. “I didn’t have ten seconds at a stretch very often; there was always something to do.”
“You don’t look terrified,” she said, turning to look at the hologram on the wall.
“Tycho,” said Wedge fondly, remembering the day as clearly as if it had been that morning, “had just said something characteristically idiotic.”
“He said, if I was going to be immortalized as The Warlord of Yag’Dhul and Surrounding Space,” Wedge pronounced the capital letters with accompanying hand gestures as if displaying a title, “then I should climb down off my 65 and act like a grown-up.” Qwi snickered and Wedge nodded. “And given that he was the one who had every crate in the squadron painted up like they belonged to a teenage gang, I thought that was just a bit over the top.”
“It’s a good picture,” she said, almost touching it. “You look very ... easy in it.” He laughed; he couldn’t help it. “What?” she demanded.
“I hope not,” he said. “Sith, is that why all the women I know like it?”
“What?” she said again, and then blushed, her throat and cheeks turning lilac. “Oh. What should I say? ‘At ease’ is military, isn’t it?”
“It would work,” Wedge said. “But ‘relaxed’ is better... I was,” he added. “Tycho always relaxed me. That’s a good picture of him, very like him. Laughing with his eyes like that.”
Qwi looked more closely at Tycho’s likeness. “He wasn’t scared?”
“I think,” said Wedge after a moment’s thought, “that maybe he wasn’t. He’s Alderaanian, and lots of them think they’re on borrowed time anyway, deep down.” He put his arms around Qwi’s shoulders as he said that, knowing how mention of Alderaan usually bothered her. She leaned back against him, but said nothing, so he continued. “But he’d just come through a really bad couple of years: Imperial prison camps, suspicion of being a spy, accused of murder, prison and court-martial... he’d been looking at death from very close at hand for a very long while with his hands tied and no recourse, and at that time,” he pointed at the picture, “he was on top of the galaxy, free and clear and ready to fight back. He was feeling good.”
“At that time?” she echoed.
“Tycho was entirely too rational to feel good about the Thyferran campaign for the whole time. I mean,” he realized that wasn’t quite right, “that he, sometimes anyway, didn’t really think we could win, not that he didn’t think we ought to be trying. He knew it was the right thing to do; it’s just that’s not enough for most people.”
“You mean,” she teased gently, “that he figured the odds?”
Wedge laughed. When he could, he said, “Yes. Constantly. And wanted to tell me what they were. That’s all I needed. The man could never understand that we Corellians make our own odds.” He sobered up, sighing and saying, “It was the right thing to do. I knew we’d get it done. What scared me was how much the kids believed how easy it would be.”
“The rest of the squadron. They weren’t really, except Gavin, but I always thought of them like that. More because I felt so much older than them than that they seemed young, I guess. Though they did.” Wedge shook his head, recalling just how young they had seemed. “They did. And they all thought we could just do it. That’s part of what bothered Tycho, too; he thought they were falling for our propaganda. I think sometimes he thought I was falling for it.”
“What propaganda?” Qwi asked curiously.
“The invincibility of Rogue Squadron,” he answered. “We weren’t. We hadn’t ever failed, not since Yavin, even before, but we weren’t invincible. Well,” he added honestly, “maybe First Borleias. That was a failure. But it wasn’t our mission, or our plan, and we redeemed it with Second... But people died. People died a lot for our successes... Seven years from Yavin to Thyferra, and the squadron went through a hundred pilots, more...” Wedge sighed, remembering all the deaths.
“That one down there,” Qwi slid through his arms to point at the second holo on the wall. “He’s still alive, isn’t he? And her?”
“Rom Hothagan,” affirmed Wedge, “yes, he is. Rom,” he smiled. “Rom... As a matter of fact, Rom joined the squadron before I did. He didn’t get within shouting distance of the Death Star at Endor, and he didn’t fight at Hoth or Yavin-laid up, both times, Sith but he was mad about it, but he survived the whole time - Gall, Polon, Kansho, Endor. He wasn’t with us at Thyferra, had his own squadron by then. Malina came after Yavin and left after Bakura, and Sainsy here only made it by a hair; he works for Arien Cracken now, has since well before the Coruscant campaign even got underway. I was the only combat pilot we kept for that, all the kids were new and most of ‘em had no real experience. And we were so damned lucky before Thyferra, they all thought they were immortal.” He gave a short laugh. “They knew I was. The legendary Wedge Antilles... That was what was scary.”
“No, not Tycho. Not Tycho... he was my touchstone to reality.”
“He was with you a long time?” she asked.
“He wasn’t a combat pilot for the Coruscant campaign. I kept him in the squadron, but I couldn’t get him into a fighter, not then... Anyway, he joined the squadron after,” he paused and changed that to, “at Versace, fought at Hoth, Polon, Gall, Endor, Bakura, Kansho. Had the squadron while I was gone... He knew better. He sometimes figured he’d let a crazy Corellian talk him into suicide.”
“Corran, you mean?”
“Not Corran. Tycho didn’t come along for Corran Horn,” Wedge said.
“But Mirax told me once that Corran resigned first?” That came out an interrogative, but he didn’t think she meant to question her recall of Mirax’s words.
“He did,” he confirmed. “He beat me by about five seconds, but that’s because he was the one in the argument with Fey’lya. He didn’t want to be in charge, though; he wanted to leave the squadron just as it had been, though with Tycho actually flying with us instead of staying groundside...” his voice trailed off as he remembered that conversation.
Corran had gone out onto the balcony, and Wedge had followed him because he knew how important it was to get the chain of command straight. He could still remember the grumbling at Endor when Lando Calrissian had been put in as Group Leader, and, although Calrissian hadn’t seemed to notice, Rogue Squadron was too small for Corran not to. Wedge needed to reassure him that he was behind him all the way.
Corran had turned at the sound of his footsteps. “Wedge-” he’d started but hadn’t apparently had anything else to say.
“What’s your plan?” Wedge had asked.
Corran had stared at him for a moment, and then had shaken his head and said, frankly, “At the moment, my only plan is to ask you to take over as quick as I can. My strategic skills are pretty slim, and, Sith, I can’t be telling you and Captain Celchu what to do. That would be a perversion of nature.”
“That’s a bit strong,” Wedge had said.
“Maybe, but I don’t think so. I’m just a snub jock; you’re the commander. You’re Wedge Antilles-what?” he’d asked over Wedge’s involuntary laugh.
“It’s just, I’ve said that more than a couple of times in my own career,” Wedge had said, adding quickly, as he realized how arrogant that sounded, “the snub jock line, I mean.” Corran laughed. “I’d be happy to follow your lead,” Wedge had said, lying; happy he wouldn’t be, though ready he had been, “but if you want me stay in command-”
“I do,” Corran had been convincing.
Qwi’s voice brought him back to the moment. “Sometimes Corran can be quite intelligent,” she said approvingly.
“He’s doing a fine job with the squadron now,” Wedge said mildly.
“Now isn’t then,” she said.
“No, it isn’t,” he agreed.
“So, you all resigned your commissions?” she changed the subject slightly. “And were mercenaries?”
“Not by Booster’s standards,” he said. “We didn’t get paid.”
“No. Booster called us idealistic idiots. I suppose we were.”
“But he ran Yag’Dhul for you. Did you pay him?”
“Not a penny. Booster talks tougher than he is. Besides, Mirax was with us. And he was hungry for people after Kessel, hungry for action, too.”
“I would like very much to meet him,” she said, and then, “So how did you get your commissions back?”
“Somebody ‘lost’ our resignations,” said Wedge, grinning. “You have no idea how happy I was to hear that, either. I wasn’t at all sure what I was going to do with the rest of my life.”
“I am very happy, too,” she said softly, and then added, before he had to respond, “so you had known Tycho a long time?”
“By then?” he said. “Seven years, about... Versace-I turned twenty right around then. Maybe that’s why we were so close,” he said, thinking out loud. “I don’t make friends easily anymore, even supposing there was another Tycho Celchu out there. Williard tossed him into Rogue to give us some tone, maybe even replace me, and all he wanted was to slay Imperials... somehow we became friends. He was closer than Rom, Luke, Malina ... even closer than Leia. He was my best friend,” Wedge said simply. “I loved him like a brother, more maybe; I never had a brother, but I loved him like I love Mirax. And I miss him. Every day.”
“I’m sorry,” Qwi almost whispered, her usually musical voice nearly dull.
“That I miss him? I know, and I appreciate it, Qwi. But that I’ve talked about him? Don’t be sorry for that,” he said earnestly. “I haven’t really talked about him in a long time, and I’m glad to. We didn’t fight, we didn’t get estranged. He died. I still love him, and I could talk your ear off about him if you stand still for it. He’s important, and I want you to know about him.”
She smiled warmly at him. “Then I want to know about him, Wedge.”
He returned her smile. “Stop me when you get bored,” he said.
Qwi listened to the music she’d put on and let her thoughts ramble. It was the way she came at a problem for the first time, at least the way she did now. It felt so right, though, she was certain it was the way she always had.
Sometimes, she didn’t mind it, the not remembering. Sometimes, she even luxuriated in the feeling of never, never being without love. A beloved child, and then, straight to now. Sometimes, that was all she wanted.
But more often, she did want things she’d never be able to get. For one, she wanted to remember seeing Wedge for the first time, especially she wanted to remember seeing him for the first time when he was Wedge, not just another person. She’d read her journals, she knew she’d been closed and isolated, and she wished could remember how he’d slipped past her barriers and become so dear.
She had read the last journal entry she’d ever made, the renouncing one, when she’d decided to put all the past behind her and never, ever again work on a weapon of war. Senator Bel Iblis, she’d written, is most unhappy with my decision. He is not, I think, the only one. He wishes me to deliver to him the secrets of the Sun Crusher; I will fight him for its very existence and never tell them how it works even if I fail to wrest it from them. I have said so; so now he strikes back, very cleverly he must think. He will give me ... a soldier. A general. To follow me around and ... it is very annoying. Doubtless he is to impress me. To coax me into telling him of the Sun Crusher. To wheedle me, as Tol Sivron would have said (and possibly as he tried), into making weapons for his Alliance. Well, they shall see, for now my eyes are open, and I see.
And out of that, somehow, Wedge.
And she would dearly have liked to know how.
There were so many details she wanted to know, she felt greedy and demanding sometimes. Especially when he couldn’t remember them for her-“What were you wearing, the first time we met?” she’d asked once.
And, “I think it was blacks,” he’d said, “I think .... might have been tans. Can’t have been greys, it was summer, so-called, on Coruscant. Tans. Or blacks. I can’t remember if I dressed up for you that first time or not. I probably did, but... Qwi, I’m sorry. I just can’t remember.”
And he’d been so upset she’d said, quickly and earnestly, “It doesn’t matter, Wedge. It’s not important, not important at all.” Because if he couldn’t remember (and why should he have paid it any mind, then, for whatever Bel Iblis might have thought, Wedge wasn’t... well, he just wasn’t), and then he couldn’t. And she knew that better than anyone. But it was important. She wanted to know if she’d first seen in him in that casual tan uniform that washed him out, or the crisp black one that intensified him, made his eyes sparkle and complemented his shoulders...
And he didn’t even know when she’d first looked at him and seen him, not her escort, not “the soldier”, but him. So he couldn’t tell her anything about that day, not even when and where it was. He could only tell her about the first time he’d seen her. And that was sweet, but it wasn’t what she really wanted.
And then there were the other things, the things that were firsts for her but seconds for him, how she wished she could see him seeing them the first time. That was especially true in the early days of their new relationship, when she sometimes despaired of him. When she feared that there never had been a they, only she, before she learned again his moral code and his own fears.
But, she would remind herself, she was wanting the moon and stars, and she’d never get it. Also, she had learned him again, and she had gotten from him the assurance she needed... he wouldn’t always back away from her. Once she could walk on her own, he’d stand still at last and let her come to him. It was a male foolishness that she could even love in him, but it meant that she had to spend little time with him, because all her time was spent in learning to support herself, so that day would come as soon as it could. And when it did, she meant to take it, and him, and never let go.
Sometimes, it was true, she worried. Families were so ridiculously small in the Alliance, at least human families were. If Wedge wanted children, he’d have to look elsewhere, she was sure of that. What she wasn’t sure of was, did he want them? He was very fond of Rima, and had said all the right things when Princess Leia’s twins came home, but he didn’t seem to miss having his own, and surely he’d had chances, oh surely he could have married a dozen times over if their laws permitted it. But ... Leia had teased him about not having his “own kids around anymore”, a puzzling statement to Qwi until Wedge’s response had made it clear Leia had meant his pilots, whom he did call “kids” as often as not.
“Glad to have ‘em off my hands, I’ll tell you,” he’d said.
And Leia had riposted, “Ten and a dozen at a time? I’ll bet you are. Two’s enough!”
“I’d rather get ’em a dozen at a time, already grown and as sensible as they’re going to get, than start ’em that young,” Wedge had said, laughing.
And then Han Solo had spoken, holding his daughter so carefully in his arms. “You’d think so,” he’d said. “It’s different when they come, though, believe me. I’d have never guessed...” his voice had trailed off and he’d pretended it was Jaina distracting him, but Qwi had seen Leia’s elbow nudge him in his ribs. So Leia thought...
Well, but that was-out of her hands, thought Qwi, not to refer to gods who were at best impotent. There was nothing she could do about it, and anyway, she wouldn’t mind if they didn’t marry. She hadn’t wanted to marry as a child, she remembered that clearly enough. Her role model had been third-mother, whose name was famous across Omwat, and who hadn’t borne any children and very likely, Qwi thought looking back, never bedded any husband, either. Agni’s life had been bound up in her observations, her notebooks, and her publications, her only emotions those that surfaced in her frequent and lengthy fights-in-print over one arcane migratory theory or another. As a small child, knowing boys to be bug-eaters and entirely unpleasant, Qwi had dreamed of being even more famous, so that no one would mind if she was in-Xux forever. Somewhat older, she’d modified that ambition: never legally growing up had its disadvantages, such as not being able to vote or keep any money she made... Then she’d decided to be famous and married, but live like Agni, supported by her spouses for the glory she brought the Family, but on her own.
Not as gifted musically as Tariqwa, she’d found her niche in math. She didn’t like it enormously, let alone live and breathe it as Agni did ornithology, but it was a good path to her chosen goal. She wondered, looking back on it, how long she’d have worked so hard at it, had Tarkin not come. She’d only been ten, after all, and Tariqwa hadn’t discovered (how mistakenly, Qwi had thought back then, with what seemed such clearheaded reason) that boys were potentially wonderful until she was almost fourteen. But Tarkin had come, and Qwi had lived her dream.
She could remember clearly the day school, the slight tremble in the teacher’s voice as he distributed the unfamiliar packages and told them they must all try their very best, for the winners, out of all Omwat, would be given an Imperial education. Qwi remembered how exciting that had been ... Imperial technology was far, far ahead of Omwati, which was why the Imperials had moved in so easily. Some of Qwi’s parents could remember when they’d come, but most had never known the world without them. And the youngsters envied them what they had. To have a chance at it for themselves, it was beyond temptation.
And Qwi had won. Out of all Omwat... Whenever she got that far in her thoughts, she would mentally shake herself like a wet worvil, and refuse to think any farther. It was done, it was irrevocable, it was behind her. What was now was becoming whole enough for what was ahead of her. Which was Wedge.
And she didn’t mind if they never married, but she didn’t want to be like Agni any more. She hadn’t found another role model, but that didn’t matter. She was ready to make up her own role as she went along. The dream hadn’t worked quite as she’d imagined it, in fact she was on the whole glad she couldn’t remember that, but the reality she now had was very good.
And going to be better, just as soon as she had a job. Which brought her back to the datapads young Mik Rieekan had brought her. Not that he was really so very young, Qwi thought. She had asked Wedge why everyone called him that and learned that his misfortune was that he had the same name as his father. As long as the general was alive, or remembered, the son would be “young Mik”. But since Qwi had never met the general, she called the son just Mik; she thought he appreciated it.
Mik had stopped by that morning. Like several of Wedge’s bridge officers, his cruiser’s commander had taken a quiet but nonetheless strong interest in the general’s lady. And Mik’s interest was compounded because he was one of Wedge’s “kids”, an ex-Rogue whose talents had turned out to lie with the big ships but whose heart had never left the squadron. Mik, like Wes and Sainer and, to a lesser degree, Hobbie and the group that included Nawara and even Pash, was partisan, but by the end of the trip to the Maw Installation, he’d become convinced that Qwi was on the right side, too, and ranged himself solidly beside her. And since Yavaris was based at Coruscant, Mik, out of all of them, was always around. And Mik had had an idea, which he had immediately brought round to lay before Qwi.
After he had left, she had selected music, something with lots of woodwinds, and returned slowly to look at the information he’d brought, and to contemplate the possibilities while she wandered about the apartment.
She had no doubts that he was right, she could get a commission. And in much less time than, say, a doctorate, since she’d have to identify a topic-two, since she’d have to get a master’s thesis out of the way-and write and defend her dissertation. And for a teaching degree, something she’d contemplated, even longer. The Republic made people work very hard to get degrees to do jobs they let droids do with a simple program change... although, she admitted fairly, the people who wrote the programs probably spent a lot of time on them. But that wasn’t the question.
She wasn’t sure she wanted to be in the fleet, although Mik had pointed out that as an officer she could resign her commission anytime after the first year, “as long as we’re not actually at war again,” he’d grinned. “But things look kind of quiet at the moment. Rumor has it the Hutts are even talking about joining.”
“What about the admiral?”
He’d known which admiral she meant. “That’s a mess, right enough,” he’d said. “But it’s not likely to involve us in shooting at anybody... you were there, they don’t blame him. And the Bothans, well....” he shrugged. “Can’t shoot at them, I guess.”
So, there was that. But Qwi wasn’t certain how ethical it was to take a job knowing you weren’t going to keep it one minute longer than you had to. Because if she became a commissioned officer she didn’t intend to make a career out of it. There was too much chance she’d be sent places far away from Coruscant, from Wedge. She’d keep a job that let her be at home, at least she thought she would. She thought, what with the housekeeping service and the delivery services, she could work and take care of Wedge both, but only if she could be at home. It wouldn’t work otherwise.
And that was what was needed. She knew that. Wedge didn’t eat enough, or sleep enough, and he worked too hard and worried too much. And while Mik didn’t think Akbar’s absence spelled trouble, it was adding to Wedge’s concerns. He wasn’t enjoying being the representative of the General Staff on the Council. It was taking a lot of time, and he wasn’t sure he was doing it well, but he couldn’t not, because Leia needed his vote... If they were both going to be away, they needed someone else to take care of them, and that, to use Wedge’s expression, wasn’t in the cards. Even if Qwi had thought it a workable solution.
But Qwi was not a typical product of Omwat; she realized that very clearly. And while she had faraway, nostalgic memories of all her parents, she had never really been assimilated into her homeworld’s culture. And she didn’t want to start a new family... she just wanted to live with Wedge, cozy and alone and proprietary, no matter how wrong Omwati culture would have branded that. Still, she argued with herself, they weren’t going to live on Omwat. They were going to live on Coruscant, well, for the foreseeable future anyway. In fact, Omwat no longer existed, except in her hazy memories, and there was no sense in trying to resurrect it. Even if she felt, occasionally, that that argument was self-serving, if satisfying.
Though nowadays she only felt like that very occasionally.
She paused in her meanderings. She had come to the picture of Wedge and Tycho Celchu. It wasn’t the only picture of Wedge around the apartment, in fact right next to it was a picture of him, very young, with an X Wing, or, as Mirax more accurately described it, a picture of an X Wing with Wedge. But he looked preoccupied in that one, even tense, talking to the mechanic half hidden behind one S-foil. He was laughing in this one, laughing and relaxed and, she didn’t care what he said, easy, easy as in unstrained, comfortable, and not hard... Qwi wanted him to look like that more often.
She realized that she’d made her decision. She smiled at Wedge in the holo and went into the kitchen to fill out the applications.
Leia knocked on Wedge’s open door and walked into his office. He jumped to his feet when she did, a habit she’d probably never get him broken of and which, in truth, she secretly liked. “Hi, General,” she smiled at him.
“Morning, Highness,” he responded. “What can I do for the chief of state?”
“Nothing,” she said. “Can you believe it? The galaxy is actually quiet today.”
“Not where I sit,” he said, waving at his desk. “Some caff?” he offered as he always did.
“Love some,” she nodded, as she always did.
He pulled a chair up to the side of his desk before going after the drinks. She sat down and looked at his desktop. It was only slightly less bare than his walls; his office looked larger than it was because there was so little in it. A few holos on the wall, of pilots and X-Wings, including her favorite, the one of him and Tycho in their “independent” days with their individually painted fighters; and on his desk two things: a plain holo of his parents, looking proud and younger than Wedge was now; and a cut crystal vase with a single flower, something dark blue and faintly scented that Leia didn’t recognize. She didn't wonder at no picture of Qwi--Han had explained to her why he never had a picture of her around: Corellians didn't display pictures of those they saw on a daily basis. She'd asked why; he didn't know, they just didn't. She guessed there was some bad omen involved, if pictures were for the dead or the gone you wouldn't want to invite some power to make your loved ones either... Corellians had their oddities, no doubt about it. Of course, that description of 'bare' didn’t include his work, which was piled up pretty high.
He came back with caff, including a couple of fresh pastries on a plate which he set down on the corner between her and himself.
“You are evil,” she said to him before sinking her teeth into the flaky, fruit-filled delicacy.
“I would have happily eaten both of them,” he protested.
“Now that is evil,” she said. After finishing her pastry, she asked, “How are things going, Wedge?”
“Good, Leia,” he said, cocking his head to look at her curiously. “A little busy, maybe...”
“Really busy?” she asked. “Or just the usual overload?”
“The usual,” he admitted. “What’s up?”
“Well, actually, I want you and Qwi to come to dinner, before something happens and Han’s gone again, or you are, or I start having more of those damned midnight meetings.”
“That would be wonderful,” he said. “When do you want us?”
He checked his desktop calendar and nodded, looking pleased. “I’m free. And I doubt Qwi has anything; if she does, I’ll let you know. But I think I can safely say we’ll be there.”
“Wedge,” said Leia chidingly.
“What?” he asked, and then realized. “Oh. No, really, Leia, she won’t. She doesn’t. I wish she did. But the only thing she ever does without me is go to concerts, and I know the next one she’s going to isn’t for a couple of weeks. Maybe when she gets more, I don’t know, certain of herself.” He sighed.
“That’s a big sigh for a man in love,” said Leia.
“Yeah. I guess so,” he said.
“You guess what?” said Leia. “Come on, Wedge, this is me. Talk. What’s on your mind?” She leaned over the corner of the desk and put her hand on his arm.
“It’s just... oh, Sith, Leia,” he covered her hand with his. “She’s so smart. She’s smarter than I am, smarter than anybody I know, and she’s so empty. And I’m afraid of what will happen when she fills up again. When she gets her commission. When she’s ... I don’t know. Whole.”
“Afraid of what, exactly, Wedge?” Maybe she didn’t have Luke’s mastery of the Force, but she’d always been able to coax her friends into talking.
“I think she was falling in love with me, a little,” said Wedge quietly, looking at the flower on his desk. “But then she could barely remember my name.”
“But she did remember it, Wedge. She remembered you.”
“Yes, but... what if that was just because I was there? Everything is new to her now, everything. When she gets out on her own again... I’m just not all that remarkable.”
Leia put her other hand on his, taking it between both of hers. “Wedge, dear heart, don’t worry. Qwi remembered you because you are special to her. You love her too much for her not to know it. And I’m not going to try to tell you how remarkable you are, I’m just going to remind you that it’s been months since Kyp ... since Qwi lost her memories, and she hasn’t gone anywhere. And she doesn’t want to. All of the things her mind could have grabbed onto, could have held onto through that, and she picked you to remember. To keep in her mind... and her heart. You just remember that, Wedge.”
“Thank you, Leia,” he said, and tightened his hand on hers.
“Don’t mention it,” she answered. “Just come to dinner.”
“Wouldn’t miss it,” he smiled.
“Good. Now, I’m afraid I have to get back to my office, before my staff comes hunting.” She stood up, and so did he. She reached out and touched his arm. “Just try asking her, Wedge.”
“Yeah, maybe,” he said. “Maybe I’ll just let it stay the way it is for a while.”
“There speaks the hero of Borleis,” she teased him gently.
“Well, First Borleis,” he said lightly.
“As long as there’s a Second, Wedge,” she said. “As long as there’s a Second.”
She walked slowly back to her office, wondering how much pushing it was ethical for her to do. That hadn’t been the first conversation she’d had with Wedge about Qwi, but the last one had centered mostly on Luke. It was hard for Wedge to lose people, and this was coming at the same time that Luke was beginning to pull away from everyone. Truthfully, Leia didn’t understand what was bothering Luke; she knew he was disturbed about how easily he’d lost Kyp, that he was feeling pulled in a dozen directions at once, and that he both wanted Leia to come to the Academy for training and didn’t want to deal with her children. It annoyed her; she wanted him just once to acknowledge how much work it was to be chief of state for the Republic, and in how many directions she was pulled daily.. But it didn’t scare her; her bond with Luke ran far too deep for her to fear its severing. It was different for Wedge, whose bond with her brother, though deep, was not born of the Force, and who didn’t see Luke all that often any more, as his own job’s obligations made their own demands.
Especially when Luke’s withdrawal came now, when Wedge felt that, “Luke’s disappointed in me.” Wedge had concentrated on aligning his caff exactly with the three data pads he had already lined up, but he’d answered her question.
She’d regarded him with exasperation, not that he noticed. “Luke is wrong,” she said simply.
He looked up at that. “He’s a Jedi Master,” he protested.
Luke should work on that notion, if he wants something to do. “That doesn’t mean he can’t make mistakes, Wedge,” she told him. “He does. They all do.” Green touched Wedge’s eyes, and she went on, firmly. “I don’t mean the massive things, like going over to the Dark Side. I don’t even mean moderately huge ones, like Obi-Wan made with Vader. I just mean ordinary, everyday idiocies. Luke can do those with the best of them. He can be very unrealistic.”
“He is. Of course you want to cut the man’s heart out. How could you not? It’s unreasonable to think you don’t, or won’t, or shouldn’t. Kyp Durron hurt the woman you love, hurt her badly, and took her away from you in a very real sense. You were growing together, together, and now you’re in different places in your relationship.”
“That’s true,” he said savagely, and then he sagged in his chair. “Leia, I remember our first kiss. She doesn’t; she never will. She barely remembered my name, she doesn’t remember anything we did, anything we said, anyplace we went. And that makes me feel so guilty.”
“Guilty?” she asked softly, carefully. Surely Wedge couldn’t blame himself for not being able to stop a Master of the Sith from doing whatever he wanted.
“She lost her whole life, Leia, and I keep thinking what I lost.”
No; Wedge’s not blaming himself for not doing the impossible, he’s blaming himself for doing the inevitable. Leia sighed. “Of course you do; you’re human. And that’s why you can’t forgive Kyp as easily as Luke thinks you should.”
“Luke is concerned with Kyp Durron, the Jedi; his pupil, the one he once said could be the most powerful Jedi he ever trained. He’s concerned with where Kyp is, and how to make sure he stays away from the Dark Side. He’s not concerned with how you feel, or how Qwi feels. Luke doesn’t think he has ... he thinks that’s luxury he can’t afford. Besides, Luke himself is worried about anger and hatred. Because he knows where that could take him. And lastly, it wasn’t Luke’s beloved who was hurt. But you’re not Jedi. And you love Qwi. And you hate Kyp.”
“Sith, Leia...” he’d started, but she cut him off before he could mistake her meaning.
“My father-Bail-he always said that before you could be forgiven, you had to ask for it. You had to admit you were wrong, and you had to say you were sorry, and you had to try to make it right. Kyp may have done all of that with Luke, but he hasn’t with you, has he? Or with Qwi. How can you forgive him just like that?”
“Your father was a wise man,” he said. She loved the way he never called Vader her father, never qualified Bail’s position. That was another thing that annoyed her with Luke; he’d had no father, only a remote and disapproving uncle, and he willingly accepted Anakin Skywalker into the empty spot. But she had never met Anakin, just that one stupid hallucination on Bakura, she had only known Vader. She had seen his evil close up and she did not want to be, was not, Vader’s daughter. Wedge had added, “But Luke doesn’t agree with you.”
“Luke,” she had said, “is wrong.”
Now Wedge wasn’t bothering himself about Luke anymore. But he was still worried that Qwi wouldn’t love him again once she had finished re-educating herself. From what Leia had seen, Wedge had nothing to worry about. It was just a question of whether Wedge could see what she saw.
Well. Dinner tomorrow, and we’ll all see...
Threepio showed Wedge and Qwi into the room, fussing over them and trying to get them drinks and take Qwi’s cloak at the same time. Leia hugged Wedge and admired his new haircut in a slightly teasing fashion.
“Oh, please,” he said to her, accepting a glass of wine from Threepio, saying, “Whyren’s Reserve for Qwi.”
“Yes, General Antilles,” said the droid, obviously filing away the preference for future use.
“No, really, you look good,” said Leia.
“You’re stealing my lines,” he complained, and actually blushed when Qwi said, in her slightly breathless-sounding but musical voice,
“But she’s right, Wedge.” Her large indigo eyes rested on him gently.
“Where’s Han?” he asked, changing the subject with an abruptness that made Leia laugh at him before she got very serious.
“You have no idea how much I hate saying this,” said Leia, getting a slight kick out of the way Wedge braced himself, “But I promised Han I would... He’s in the entertainment room. Watching the Corellian Sector Springball Championships.”
“Live?” asked Wedge instantly, and then looked as if he regretted saying anything.
“Yes, live,” nodded Leia.
Wedge hesitated. Qwi put out her slim blue hand and gave him a gentle push on the shoulder. “Go, Wedge,” she said. “Watch it.” He smiled at her, a brief flashing grin, and followed Threepio out of the room.
“Corellians,” said Leia. “They gamble, they smuggle, they fly too fast, and they’re addicted to springball.”
“Wedge doesn’t gamble,” said Qwi. “But he does fly too fast. I suppose he can be a Corellian with three out of four?”
Wedge may not play sabacc, but his whole adult life has been one long gamble, thought Leia, but all she said was, “I don’t even understand springball.”
Qwi smiled. “I do,” she said. “Wedge plays, and we go to many, many games.”
Leia said, quickly, “Oh, I’m sorry. Do you want to watch--”
But Qwi shook her head, her pearlescent hair shimmering in the light. “No. Wedge enjoys it, both to play and to watch. I don’t.” Then she added, with a slow, fond smile, “I do enjoy watching him enjoy, though. But not tonight, not with you to talk with.”
“Good,” said Leia honestly, and Qwi laughed, a musical sound. “Let’s sit,” Leia said, matching her actions to her words, and Qwi sat on the couch next to her, looking around the apartment’s large living room with that wondering expression caused by her arched eyebrows and wide eyes.
“Those are lovely paintings,” she said, gesturing at the pair of landscapes in the place of honor.
“Those are of Alderaan,” said Leia. “My home,” she added, unsure whether that was something that Qwi had ever known, let alone remembered. Kyp Durron’s attack had been meant to destroy all of the brilliant scientist’s knowledge of weapons research, but he had been unable to be as precise as he intended; that, or he hadn’t cared much, because most of what she’d ever known was gone, apparently irretrievably. Leia knew that Luke had been unable to help her, and Kyp, back from the Dark Side, had nothing like the powers he had had under Exar Kun’s influence. “Han found them for me, somewhere. As a remembrance.” She stopped, suddenly unable to say the words.
“I’m so sorry,” whispered Qwi.
“It’s not your fault,” said Leia firmly. “The Empire destroyed Alderaan. Not you. Besides,” she added with real gratitude, “you saved Han from Admiral Daala.” And Han’s worth Alderaan, Leia? Then she scolded herself: don’t be ridiculous. That was never a choice. Losing Han wouldn’t have brought Alderaan back.
“And Kyp Durron,” said Qwi, “so perhaps things balance after all.”
“Perhaps they do,” said Leia, thinking again of Han.
After a short silence, Qwi spoke. “You have known Wedge a long time, haven’t you?”
“Yes, I have,” said Leia. “Almost half my life. And I’m very fond of him.” Qwi smiled, and Leia could tell she really wanted to talk about him. Well, Leia not only had no objections, she’d been thinking about it for the last two days.
“He is fond of you, too,” said the blue-skinned woman, a little wistfully. “You are in many of his stories, much of his life.”
“Oh, dear,” said Leia mock ruefully. “You’ve gotten Wedge Antilles to tell you war stories. I’m not sure that’s a good thing.”
Qwi shook her head, that pearly, feathery hair lifting and shining. She looked so ethereal, so fragile, Leia could understand Wedge’s initial protectiveness, and the woman’s underlying strength justified its turning into love. “His stories are all interesting, like everything he does, and he says only good things about you.”
“He’s shameless,” protested Leia.
Qwi considered that for a moment, and then laughed as she realized it was a joke. “There is no shame in him, it’s true,” she said. “I think there never has been.”
“No,” agreed Leia. “Never. Never will be, either. Can I ask you a personal question?”
“When are you going to marry him?”
Qwi seemed neither surprised nor offended. She merely shrugged her slim shoulders. “When he wants. If he wants.”
“If?” Leia was incredulous. Surely the woman couldn’t be misreading Wedge that badly.
Qwi said, “You have children, don’t you?”
“Yes,” said Leia, not understanding at first why Qwi was changing the subject, and then realizing that she wasn’t. “I don’t think Wedge is even thinking about that, really.”
“Could he be blamed?”
Leia was honest. “Not by some, maybe, not even by most, I suppose. But Wedge himself wouldn’t let that stand in his way.” And even though Leia thought Wedge would be a good father, she’d never counsel him to throw away love just because Qwi and he weren’t close enough genetically to produce offspring. He’d waited far too long for someone who loved him enough to break through his protective shell.
“Then, dismissing if, when he wants to,” said Qwi. “I have told him, I will go with him anywhere.”
“You love him very much, don’t you?”
“Oh, yes. I’ve never known any one like him, not even a little,” she said firmly. “I know I can’t remember the people from the Maw Installation, but they can’t have been like Wedge. For one thing, they worked for the Empire. For another, well, I read my personal diary entries from my lab, and I barely knew any of them at all.”
Leia had to ask. “What is it like, Qwi, not remembering?”
“It’s frightening, sometimes, but I’m getting used to it. The more I read, the more it seems as if I remember... there are isolated things that stand out, sharply and distinctly, and other things that I know happened, so I can tie memories together. And there are things I remember from records, like the time I spoke before the Council? About the Sun Crusher?” Leia nodded, and she continued, “I’ve seen the holos of that, so I remember it, but only from the, the outside, you see; I know all the words I said, but none of the thoughts I had.” She laughed a little. “I looked scared; maybe it’s as well I don’t remember it. Except, I can see on the tapes, I was looking at Wedge; I wish I could remember that. Or our first trip to Ithor, before Kyp...” She sighed, and then said more briskly. “And there are things that must have happened, but I don’t know what they are. How I got from one place to another, what exactly happened to my classmates... what Tarkin said to us. Those are things, like the weapons themselves and my pride in making them work, that I’m glad I don’t remember. How is it? Strange and new and yet, well, all I can remember is this, this last seven months. It’s as if I had all this empty space in my mind to fill with new and marvelous things.” She smiled a singularly sweet and loving smile. “And Wedge has promised to give me wonderful memories to fill it.”
“Like springball?” said Leia.
“But that is wonderful,” said Qwi. “It’s grace and speed and power bound by completely irrational rules. It is beautiful.”
“You are gone,” said Leia. “And speaking of irrational, I should check on my husband and see how much longer that game’s going to last.” Turning serious, she stood up, and added, “If I were you, I would ask him. And I mean that. Otherwise, you could be waiting a long time for him to get up his nerve. He’s afraid you’ll leave him, and it’ll take a while for him to come to the decision to risk it. You said it yourself, he’s not much for unforced gambling. And he loves you so much. I want to see him happy.”
“I-ask him?” said Qwi, as though she’d never thought of it.
“Yes,” said Leia. “You ask him. Think about it.” She went into the hallway hopeful that things would work out for her friend. Now, if only the right team was winning this stupid game for her husband.
“Mistress Leia?” Threepio toddled up to her. “When do you wish dinner served?”
“I don’t know yet,” she said. “I’m about to find out; just wait a moment.”
“Of course, Mistress Leia, as you wish,” he said, his fussy tone indicating his dissatisfaction with such an imprecise schedule. Leia smothered a smile and walked on down the hall.
She looked in the door to the entertainment room. Her husband was on his knees in front of the game, his hands clenched in fists before him and an expression of agony on his face. “No!” he was crying out, “no! You nerf herders!”
Oh, dear, thought Leia. She glanced at Wedge. He was still seated, though leaning forward on the edge of his chair. His thin, sharp face was alight, and he was distinctly happy about what had just occurred. He turned to say something to Han and spotted Leia, and stood up. She waved him back and asked, softly, “How much longer?”
“Ten minutes, max,” he said. “Even if the Skyhawks take their last time-out, which they don’t need to because they’re up by four.”
“Four’s not insurmountable,” snapped Han, not taking his eyes of the action.
“Good,” she said. “We’ll eat in twenty minutes, then.”
Wedge nodded, his eyes drifting back to the holoscreen. As she left, she heard him say, “Oh, well played,” and Han cry, “Who told you you could play this game?” She informed Threepio of the schedule, and then walked back to the sitting room and Qwi, feeling certain that Wedge was gambling; Han had the look he got when he was losing. Or maybe Wedge wasn’t gambling, exactly, she thought winning by four was a lot in springball; but he was probably betting. Still, she didn’t think that Qwi objected to gambling, only thought Wedge didn’t indulge. Leia just hoped Wedge wasn’t going to walk off with too much. At least it wasn’t Lando, he’d have had the Falcon back. Again.
She rejoined Qwi, who was studying the little Corellian fast-food mascot Leia had bought Han, under the impression that it was a culturally significant piece of his heritage that he would treasure as she did the landscapes he’d bought her. From her expression, Leia couldn’t tell if she knew what it was or not, but Leia wasn’t going to discuss it. Wedge knew the story, he could tell her. Instead, she said, “Wedge’s team seems to be winning.”
Qwi turned. “You mean, the Skyhawks? They are not his team; he only thinks that they will win the championship. His team finished in the cellar.”
“Where? Oh,” Leia figured out the expression a half-beat too late. “You mean last?”
“Yes,” Qwi nodded. “He was not very upset about it; he says he has grown used to it. They are not very good. When I told him I was going to take them for my own team, he warned me against it. He gave me several files full of data to pick a better one, with many statistics. The Skyhawks would have been my choice, if he did not hate them.”
He hated them, but he was glad they were winning ... he was definitely gambling. “So, you picked his team?”
“I do not care at all, really. I have never been to the Corellian Sector, I will probably never go, unless the Diktat falls. But it seemed to me wiser to choose the team he loves even if they are bad. Perhaps, especially if they are bad, so I don’t have to find out what happens if my team beats his.”
“Well,” said Leia, “he can’t have been to Corellia since he was, I don’t know --”
“Seventeen,” said Qwi, who, Leia had realized, rarely forgot anything on her own, especially not if it was connected with Wedge.
“Seventeen? That’s half his life, almost. Why doesn’t he just pick a new team?”
“He says he cannot. He says his father condemned him to a life of the Hunters before he was old enough to understand what was happening.”
Leia laughed. “A generational curse! They should make a holonovel out of it.”
“Yes. Still, it’s comforting to hear him say that one must stick with one’s team even when they undergo misfortune. Han follows the Skyhawks?”
“No. His team is losing.”
“Oh, dear.” But she didn’t sound truly upset.
“He’ll survive,” Leia said with unwifely callousness. “Tell me,” she changed the subject, “when will you finish the training and get your commission?”
“Never,” said Qwi. But it didn’t sound like frustration, it was more decisive.
Leia blinked. “I thought... Wedge said you were doing well.”
“I was,” Qwi said simply. “I’ve just decided not to. I don’t want to be in the Fleet, and it’s not really good for Wedge if I am on his ship, anyway.”
“Oh?” She was curious. Wedge had never struck her as unduly possessive about any ship, not since she’d first met him. Nothing like her husband, that was certain. She had had to make a conscious resolution not to get between Han and the Millennium Falcon, but Wedge had given up his freighter without a backward look. He had hung onto the same X-Wing more because of the obsession of at least one mechanic than anything else, not like Luke who bent regulations and even created a fusion between Artoo and his fighter. Wedge not only changed astromech units whenever an upgrade came out, but had regular memorywipes done on them. The notion that he was so possessive about a cruiser seemed absurd. “He doesn’t want you there?”
Qwi thought about that for a minute. “It’s not good for him, if there is fighting. If there isn’t, then yes, he does. But he worries if there is fighting.”
“About your safety?” Leia could see that.
“A little. But mostly, what I think of him.”
“When he’s playing, with Admiral Ackbar or whoever, then he enjoys himself, like ...” she paused, and then shrugged, “playing springball. But when it turns to war, he enjoys himself still but very differently.” Her dark eyes drifted sideways as she remembered, and then sharpened as she looked back at Leia. “You know what I mean: he’s very attractive when he is ... feral. But afterwards he worries what I think.”
Leia did know what she meant. Han was also very attractive when adrenaline was flowing and it was life and death. Han didn’t worry much about what she thought, though, he was cocky about it; she would never forget the way he’d told her she liked him because he was a scoundrel... On the other hand, the first time they’d met she’d been doing her own share of killing Stormtroopers, so Han had probably never given it a second thought. Introspection wasn’t one of his qualities. Wedge, on the other hand... “Wedge can be a worrier,” she nodded. “So, you’ve quit.”
“Yes. Also, because I don’t want to kill anyone. Or help to. Whoever they are, or however much they need it.” Her eyes grew bleak for a moment.
“Does it bother you that Wedge is a soldier?” That could be a real problem; Leia wasn’t sure Wedge could do anything else, not and enjoy it at any rate.
But Qwi’s eyes lightened and she smiled. “No; not at all. Many people need killing very much, and people like Wedge do it very well. Very properly, I mean,” she clarified, and then giggled. “Also very splendidly.”
Leia laughed, too. It was nothing less than the truth. “What are you going to do? Or do you know?”
“I know what I want to do,” Qwi said, shyly, “but I’m not ready to talk about it yet. It might not work... and Wedge doesn’t know yet.”
“Well, I won’t spoil the surprise,” said Leia. She sat up straighter as she heard Han coming down the hallway, complaining loudly about somebody who was incapable of the simplest act of following a ball down a field. “Here come the boys. We can eat.”
“At last,” Threepio said.
“I can’t believe those...” Han hunted for the right word and finally settled on one of Leia’s expressions, “laser brains lost that game.”
“I can’t believe you thought they’d win,” drawled Wedge from across the table. “They only got to the finals by simple, unalloyed luck.”
“Gaaaa,” said Han. Leia wasn’t sure if it was just a noise, or if it were some Wookiee obscenity Han had mastered in his misspent life. From Wedge’s expression, she rather thought the latter. “What I really can’t believe is that you root for the Skyhawks.”
“To paraphrase a Twi’lek lawyer I know, ‘I hold allegiances, I don’t bet them.’ The Skyhawks romped their division, there was no way, no matter what, that the Marauders were going to take them.” Wedge sounded philosophical, but his eyes were sparkling.
Qwi turned her head to look at Wedge, and then at Han, and then gazed across the table at Leia. “Four out of four,” she said and laughed her musical laugh.
Wedge looked wary. “Four what?” he asked.
“Never mind, dear,” said Leia, patting his hand maternally.
Qwi said to Han, “Wedge follows the Hunters.”
“CorImEx?” said Han, his good humor restored just that quickly.
“So, they stunk this year-” Wedge shrugged.
Han interpolated, “And the last five. Or is that ten?”
“That’s why there’s next year,” Wedge finished.
“Figure the odds,” laughed Han. “Not with that wing.”
“Don’t tell me the odds,” said Wedge.
“Okay, I won’t. Want to lay a small bet on their chances of finishing, oh, over .400 next year?”
“How small?” Wedge leaned back in his chair.
“Han,” said Leia warningly.
Han flipped his hand at Wedge, mouthing the word “later” at him. Wedge chuckled and nodded. Han met his wife’s gaze with a melting look of innocence that didn’t deceive her for a minute. Well, it was harmless enough. Whatever Han bet, Wedge wouldn’t take too much of an advantage of him. Leia decided to pretend she hadn’t noticed.
Four days after dinner at Leia’s, Wedge was working in his study when he was interrupted.
He raised his head and looked at Qwi where she hovered in the doorway; he smiled as he always did just to see her.
“How important is that, that you’re working on?”
“In what context?” he asked.
“Can you put it away and talk to me?”
“Oh, yes,” he said. “Absolutely.” He glanced down at the desktop. “Can you give me a minute?”
“You can have several,” she smiled.
“You are extraordinarily generous,” he said, and she went away, her musical laugh filling the apartment. He saved his file and stacked his datapads and dropped them into the desk, and then went into the living room.
She was in the kitchen; he heard things rattling. On the low table in front of the sofa was one of Qwi’s dessert concoctions, all chocolate, froth, and cinnamon, just the smell of it paradisial enough to keep nightmares away. Qwi loved cinnamon, not just the shavings of it; she nibbled on the whole sticks. For the rest of his life the scent of cinnamon would make him think of kissing Qwi, and there weren’t, he reflected, many things he’d rather be reminded of. He sank into the cushions and stuck a finger in the chocolate. He licked it off and then turned the dish so the depredation wasn’t obvious.
Qwi came out with hot drinks and settled down next to Wedge. She put Wedge’s down on the table, sat, tucking her bare feet underneath herself, and stirred hers with a cinnamon stick. He took a bite of dessert and then asked, “Was there something you wanted to talk about, or did you just want to talk?”
“Not just,” she said, “I want to talk with you about the future.”
“Really?” he asked, perhaps a little carefully. “Any part of it in particular?”
She smiled at him and he relaxed. Then she said, “Our part,” and he got nervous again. “I quit the Fleet yesterday,” she added, and that was so unexpected and yet somehow unsurprising that he didn’t really know what o say.
“Why?” he fell back on the question response, making sure all it sounded like was curiosity. He had thought she liked being Yavaris’s science officer in training.
“I don’t want to be in the military,” she said seriously. She reached out and touched his wrist, holding it gently. “I don’t dispute that we need one, and I’m so very glad that people like you are in ours, not like Tarkin, and I know that you are very good at it and that you enjoy it ... I don’t disapprove of the fleet, not at all. I just don’t want to be in it.”
“I understand,” he said, and he did. She’d been responsible, in a way, for a lot of destruction. He wasn’t surprised she was unwilling to be responsible for any more, even on what Malina always called the side of glory. “I really do understand.”
“You don’t mind?” Her dark eyes were even wider than usual as she waited for his answer.
“Mind? Qwi, no. I don’t want you to do anything you don’t want to do. I want you to be happy.” He pulled his hand through her grasp and clasped hers. “Whatever you want to do, you should do it.”
She squeezed his hand and smiled warmly.
“Do you know what you want to do?” he asked, hoping a little guiltily that she had no idea.
“Yes, I do,” she said. “I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. I don’t want to do physics. I don’t like physics, I don’t think, Wedge, that I ever did. Not really.”
“No?” That did surprise him.
“No. I think... I looked over my log entries from the Maw Installation,” she said. “They are full of little pleasures and some, occasional, big ones. But the big ones are for things that give me no pleasure now, and the little ones are all from making something work. From all the pieces falling into place. From accomplishing something... not from the thing itself. I think,” she looked over his shoulder into the distant dimness of her damaged memory, “that I took pleasure in physics because that was what I had to be pleasured by. I was very good at it, and it was permitted, and .... and I could hide in it and make it my world.”
He took her cup from her and set it on the table and then took her in his arms. She nestled against him and he stroked her feathery hair. “Never again, Qwi,” he said softly. “You don’t have to hide; the galaxy is yours to do with as you will.”
“I know,” she said. “You’ve given it to me, Wedge.”
After a moment he asked, “What do you think you’ll do, then?”
She pulled away far enough to look at him. Her indigo eyes were sparkling, and she had the look he’d seen before, and suddenly he thought he could guess. So he did. “Music?”
He was rewarded by her delighted laugh. “Yes! Do you approve?”
“Of what?” he said, laughing with her. “Of your music? Yes, but if you don’t know by now not to take my opinion on that as meaningful ... I don’t know anything about music, not to say know, I just know what I like.” She laughed at him again, but he was used to it. He enjoyed it. “I like your music,” he said. “The flutes and whatever... do you want to perform?”
“No,” she said, shivering exaggeratedly but with genuine emotion. “In front of people? I couldn’t. Ever. I’m going to write. Compose.”
“You could do that,” he said honestly.
“I know,” she said, sitting up and regarding him very seriously. “I’ve sold a concerto,” she said, proudly.
“You have?” That was a surprise, and, he was ashamed to realize, not an entirely pleasant one. “That’s wonderful.”
“Yes,” she smiled. “I did. I sold it. I’ve already made more money with it than I did as a cadet.”
“That’s not hard,” he said, hoping he was hiding his dismay.
“True,” she said. “I may even make more money at it than I would have as a lieutenant, and people will be happy listening to it.”
“I’ll have to buy a copy,” he said.
“I’ll give you one,” she said, “if you want one.”
“I do.” He meant that, anyway.
“Wedge,” she said. “I can support myself now.” She sounded partly wondering and partly very happy.
“I know,” he said, reaching out and touching her cheek lightly. “I knew you could.” And then, because he couldn’t stand it any more, he turned away and picked up his drink.
“Wedge?” she was leaning forward, her hands clasped on her knees.
“Hmmm?” he said.
“Now that I can support myself, I’ve been thinking.”
“Yes?” he braced himself. Now came, I’ve found an apartment...
“I think we should get married.”
“What?” he stared at her.
She smiled at him, reached over and took his cup and put it down on the table. Then she took his face between her hands. “I think we should get married,” she repeated, and kissed him.
He covered her hands with his, and then slid them down to her shoulders and pulled her close. She put one hand in his hair and the other around him and kissed him deeply, and then yielded to him. He kissed her eyes and throat, running one hand through her pearly, feathery hair, and then cradled her against his shoulder. Nothing before had ever felt like forever; he wasn’t sure he knew how to deal with forever. But Qwi certainly felt, and sounded, just like that. And he desperately wanted it, and her. Her breath was warm on his throat and her body fit against his as though it had been missing. He took a deep breath, and felt her move her hand across his shoulder to grasp his collar. “Are you sure?” he asked softly.
“I’m very sure, Wedge,” she said. “I have loved you since I can remember, and now, I don’t have to lean on you. Now, I only want to. Will you stand still and let me come to you now?”
“No,” he said, feeling sure and contented as he hadn’t since the day he came back from Iriodana to a desolation overwhelming. He tightened his hold on her. “I’ll meet you. And I’ll never go away. I love you, Qwi. Living stars, how I love you.”
“Oh, Wedge,” she snuggled closer. “You have shown me so many interesting places, filled my life with so many interesting things, but never, never have I been as happy as now.”
It was funny, because he had nothing original to say, but he didn’t mind. He leaned his cheek against her hair and said, “I’m the happy one, Qwi.”
And she didn’t seem to mind either, because she answered, “We both are, together.”
Together. Forever. Two words he seemed to have learned in the last few moments. Two words he wanted never to forget. He murmured them against her head, and she echoed them softly.
Leia knocked on Wedge’s open door and walked into his office. He got to his feet and smiled. He’d hoped she come in this morning so he could tell her the news.
“Hi, General,” she said, as she always did, smiling warmly.
“Morning, Highness,” he responded in kind. “What can I do for the chief of state?”
“Talk to me like I’m a person, not a symbol,” she said.
“I can just about manage that,” he said, grinning. “Some caff?” he offered as he always did.
“Oh, please,” she said, dropping into the chair he pulled up with exaggerated relief.
He brought in caff and some of the Selonian dewberry tarts he kept on hand for her.
She took one and bit into its rich filling with eyes closed, saying with pleasure, “These are so good, Wedge. Han has no appreciation of fruit for breakfast.”
He chuckled at her. “Neither do I. Fruit’s evening food. We just have to pamper you Alderaanians.”
“Oh, please talk to my husband.”
“Sure,” he said agreeably, looking at her sideways. “I don’t mind wasting my time.”
“You Corellians certainly stick together, don’t you?” she asked with mock sarcasm.
“There are so few of us around,” he said. “We kind of have to.”
“Oh, stop,” she said. “You’ll have me in tears in a minute.”
Wedge laughed and pushed the plate towards her. She looked at the last tart and he said, “Go ahead, I’m not hungry.”
“Well, if you’re sure,” she said and picked up the pastry. “Mmmmm. How do you get these? The Diktat has the Corellian Sector sealed vacuum-tight.”
“It helps having a smuggler nearly in the family,” said Wedge, amused.
“Stop!” She covered her ears, laughing. “I don’t want to know! I don’t want to have to arrest my only source for these things!”
“Han could-” he started, laughing himself, but she interrupted him.
“Han is out of the business!”
“Not before you learned the cant,” he observed.
“Oh, Wedge,” she relaxed in her chair and smiled at him.
“More caff?” he offered, savoring the moment.
“Yes, please.” When he brought it, she was looking at him closely. “All right, Wedge,” she said, “what is it?”
“What’s what?” He pretended innocence.
“I know that look. You’ve got something to say.”
“Never could keep a secret from you,” he admitted.
“No,” she said complacently. “So don’t try. What is it? Something good, hmm?”
“Well,” he teased.
“Come on, Wedge.”
“Okay,” he said. “You’re the first to know... Qwi and I have decided to get married.”
Her reaction was worth every second he’d dragged it out. “Wedge!” she cried in joy, jumping out of her chair and hugging him. “Oh, that’s wonderful! I’m so happy for you.” She kissed him on the cheek, enfolding him in her arms. He returned the embrace. “Oh, Wedge,” she pulled back and looked at him, her dark eyes glowing. “That’s wonderful. I said that, didn’t I?”
He smiled at her, feeling her happiness. “Yes, but it’s true. It is wonderful.”
“I have to talk to Qwi. This is so... wonderful.” She laughed at herself, and then sat on the corner of his desk, looking at him with that managing look he recognized from before Hoth. “What are you going to do?”
“What do you mean, what are we going to do? We’re going to get married.”
Leia looked at him with what he had no trouble interpreting as fond exasperation, heavy on the latter. “Where? How? When?”
“Oh,” he said. He’d known what she was asking, of course, but he didn’t know the answers. “Nearest registry office, I guess. Soon, I hope.”
“Wedge, you can’t just sneak off to a registry office!”
“Because!” said Leia. “For one thing, you’re a Hero of the Republic, not to mention,” she added as he rolled his eyes at her, “a flag-rank officer. People like you don’t sneak into registry offices. Haven’t you ever been to a wedding?”
“I’ve been to several,” Wedge said, feigning hurt. “I was at Mirax’s.”
“Wedge, you performed Mirax’s.”
“So, you’re saying I can’t get away with that at my own?”
“Yes,” Leia said. “I am saying that. You were at mine.”
“I was going to mention yours.” He shook his head at her. “I was going to say, I love Qwi enough that if such an extravaganza was necessary in order to get married, I’d do it. But it’s not, so I’m not.”
“Well, honestly, Wedge, there’s a lot of room between a state function and a registry office. What does Qwi say?”
“Qwi says, she wants my friends there. I know,” he said quickly, raising his hands as if to defend himself and laughing at Leia, “I told her when you ask to say she wants our friends there.”
“You are an impossible man.”
He decided to behave as if that were a compliment. “I know, I am, I really am.” He smiled at her. “So, you and Han, and Luke I guess-if he’s around and doesn’t bring Durron, because he’s not welcome-and Mirax and Corran and Booster, and Ackbar and Winter, and Pash and Malina and the Sainers and Wes, and Mik, and Rom if we can find him, and I guess your kids if they’ll behave, and the Rogues if they’ll behave... not many people, Leia. Not even thirty. We don’t need the Great Hall, we don’t need the Senate and the General Staff, and we don’t need the news services. We just need to get married. A tiny little wedding. Qwi doesn’t like crowds, I-” he stopped at the expression on her face, compounded of disbelief and amusement. “What?”
“Wedge Antilles, how can you possibly have done what you’ve done and gotten where you’ve gotten and be who you are, and still be shy?”
“I’m not shy,” he protested. “I just like small groups composed of people I know. That’s all. It’s my wedding, Leia. You had the Grand Theatre; we want ...” he lost the metaphor and had to finish lamely, “something else.”
“Dear heart,” she said seriously, “you do want you want. But you do have to remember who you are. You’re not some scruffy ex-merc squadron leader anymore.”
“I know,” he said resignedly. He slumped back in his chair and poked his caff cup with one finger. “Not that I was ever scruffy... Can we at least keep the holocameras outside?”
“I think that could be arranged,” she said. Her eyes sparkled as she started planning. “Do you want the Corellian Sanctuary?”
“No,” he gave her a level look. “I do not want the Corellian Sanctuary. I do not want anything even remotely resembling the Corellian Sanctuary. Or the Fleet Sanctum. Or the White Room. Or anything vaguely connected with religion.”
“I mean it,” he said, sitting up straight. “I told you, Leia, the nearest registry office will do for us. If we have to bring a registrar into a hall, then we do. But no officiants, priests, or clerics.” He sliced the air with his hand decisively. “I don’t move on this. Oppose me on it and we will go to a registry office. Tomorrow.”
“Wedge, it’s your wedding. As long as it’s legal, you can have anyone you like do it. You can even have it up on the Galactic Voyager and Ackbar perform it, if you want.” Her tone was somewhere between soothing and protest, and he realized he’d hurt her feelings.
“I’m sorry, Leia,” he said contritely, raking his hands through his hair and clasping them together at the back of his head. “It’s just... I’m not spiritual. I know you are, and I know it’s important to you. But I’m not. I’m not a child anymore; it’s been almost twenty years since I met a deity I want to invite to my wedding.” He spread his hands helplessly. “I’m sorry.”
“Oh, Wedge,” she took one of his hands in hers. “You don’t have to apologize for how you feel.”
“I wasn’t,” he said simply, and was rewarded by her flashing smile and laugh as she shook her head at him. “I was apologizing for how I spoke.”
“What about the Force, Wedge?” she asked, serious again. “Don’t you believe in the Force?”
“The Force. Do you want me to tell you what I think about the Force?” he bought some time, uncertain he should.
“Yes, I do,” she said. “I really do,” she squeezed his hand.
“The Force exists,” he said. “I can’t sense it, or use it, but I’d have to be braindead not to believe in it. But it’s a thing, Leia. It's like electricity, or fusion power. It doesn’t care. You can be strong in it for good, like Luke or Kenobi; or for evil, like Vader or Palpatine; or you can flip back and forth like Kyp Durron,” he paused and took a deep breath, “and the Force doesn’t care. It doesn’t do anything, it just gets used by those who can use it, to do whatever it is they want to do with it. And it just doesn’t care what that is.” She started to say something and he raised his hand. “Leia, where was the Force when my parents were killed? When Alderaan was destroyed? Where was the Force when Tarkin reduced Omwat, sector by sector, from a warm, glowing, living thing to a burnt-out cinder that won’t support a microbe? Two people may not mean much, but Alderaan and Omwat were whole worlds full of people who were entirely undeserving of what happened to them.” Wedge stopped, realizing he was getting worked up about it. He took a couple of deep breaths, and then said, “The Force is certainly not to blame, but it’s nothing I want to propitiate at my wedding.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way,” said Leia, “but I respect your feelings. I won’t argue them with you. But what about Qwi? How does she feel about it?”
Wedge laughed shortly and shook his head at her. “I’ll tell you what Qwi said to me, Leia, when we were talking once. She said, If there were any gods watching over Omwat, they were no match for Tarkin. And neither of us is quite ready to elevate that man to the rank of deity. No, Leia, whatever’s out there, the Force, or gods, or even the spirit that burns the stars, it’s not interested in us, so we’re not interested in it. All we need is a registrar.”
Leia reached out and touched his cheek gently. “Oh, Wedge.”
He pulled away and looked at her. “What?” he said defensively.
“Never mind,” she said, patting his hand. “A registrar it shall be, dear heart, if that’s what you want. But there’ll be a few more than thirty people who’ll want to come, you forgot your staff and your crew to start with, so I think we should consider, if not the Fleet Sanctum, then the Main Fleet Hall.”
“Whatever,” Wedge capitulated. Although he wasn’t sure how his wedding had become something we needed to plan, he’d won the battle that counted, and Leia could win the rest of it. Besides, he thought it was possible Qwi would like to remember a big wedding. “You and Qwi set it up, let me know when, and I’ll show up in full whites. Okay?”
She smiled at him. “You are such an idiot, Wedge.”
“I take that as a yes.”
|Autumn Afternoon | Ilya's Wedding | Something... | Last Corner | Morgans|
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