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.
Wedge looked up when the door opened. It was Sunrunner. The corporal shut the door and stood in front of it. “Excuse me, sir,” he said.
Wedge regarded him with a mix of curiosity and wariness. Sunrunner never came in without knocking, and he never just stood there. “What is it, corporal?”
“I have bad news, sir.”
“Bad news?” Wedge put his stylus down.
“Yes, sir. Very bad news.”
Now it was pure wariness. In fact, it was stronger than that. It was probable that Sunrunner would have used those very words to announce the resumption of war, the assassination of the entire Senate, or the resurrection of Palpatine, but unless it had happened in the last minute and a half Wedge would have heard already. This was going to be personal. And it was going to hurt.
“Yes, sir. I’m very sorry, sir.” Sunrunner closed the distance between the door and the desk and laid the datapad he was holding down in the center of the workspace. “Major Celchu is dead.”
Despite his forewarning, Wedge wasn’t ready for that. He closed his eyes against the pain. Not again. Not Tycho gone again.
He opened his eyes. Because it was there, he picked up the datapad, but he didn’t see the words on the display. ‘We lost the captain. Sorry…’ Wes’s message from five years ago floated before his eyes instead. “Yes,” he said, for something to say, not to worry Sunrunner.
“I’ll hold your calls, sir,” the corporal said, “and clear your calendar.”
“That’s not necessary.” I can deal. He didn’t say that, it sounded … something, he wasn’t sure what.
“No, sir. I’ll do it anyway.” Sunrunner withdrew.
Wedge barely noticed. After a minute, the words in front of him came into focus. It was hardly the first casualty report he’d read; he could decipher it, what wasn’t there as clear as what was. One flight of the squadron, four X-Wings, deep reconnaissance, surprise attack, unknown forces, three survivors, follow-up ongoing… in other words, intelligence had failed, Tycho had died to save the kids, and Rogue had lost its best. Again.
It was bad already, much worse than the last time. He wondered why that was, decided maybe it was because he’d been through it already and knew how bad it would get, later, after the numbness wore off. He remembered the first time they’d lost Tycho, remembered standing on the edge of the ocean on that planet as the dusk crept up like the darkness in his heart. He didn’t remember the name of the planet, never had been able to. He only remember how much he hated it, had hated it already; a place full of castes and status-wars and formalities, where every word you said had to be thought out beforehand without even any protocols to guide the unwary. You couldn’t even drink much, it was so important to stay alert, like a never-ending battle. He’d tried to lose himself in it, in a woman who won something by his abdication, he’d never been sure what, but it hadn’t worked. He remembered walking down a long road under stars barely visible, but still finding Alderaan’s bereaved mother sun… Here on Coruscant he’d be denied even that.
Even that little thing…
He had managed to drink Tycho’s memory. To drink, anyway: he’d gotten so drunk that transport crew was probably still talking about it. It hadn’t helped. Probably because there hadn’t been anybody to drink Tycho with, no one to talk about him. Getting blind, comatose drunk wasn’t the way he’d been brought up to deal with grief, and it hadn’t worked. It had been better than nothing, but every time he’d woken up it had all been there again. And now he knew what it was going to be like.
This must be what grounded Sainsy, he thought, this knowing what was coming. Although Sainer’s imagination had been his worst enemy, it had never actually happened to him a second time. A second time… there are no gods, and the Force? It doesn’t care. There’s just blind chance, or worse. Worse…
He leaned his forehead against the window and closed his eyes on the cityscape outside, trying to see stars instead, reaching for some sort of peace, some place to get his balance. He couldn’t find it, only memories, and pain.
More than a decade ago, a woman had died, a woman he’d planned to marry, and although he’d even then been uncertain of his feelings, it had hurt, enormously. He’d learned that being grown up didn’t give you immunity from the torment of loss, and he’d realized how much worse it would be to lose someone he really loved. He hadn’t consciously decided to shut down his feelings, to shut out the rest of the galaxy, to shut himself in, but he had decided to. And then, not even a week later, long before his determination could have been defeated by his loneliness, he had somehow lost anyway. A man, with that Imperial arrogance he didn’t even know he had and blazingly blue eyes shadowed by that Alderaanian desolation, had joined the squadron and gotten inside the walls without meaning to. Maybe if he’d meant to Wedge would have been on guard. But Tycho hadn’t been looking for a friend any more than Wedge had been. It had just happened.
He turned his head, feeling the cold of the transparasteel under his cheek. It was worth it.
Sainer was sitting at his desk, staring at six datapads and a large sheet of paper, trying to make sense of it, knowing there was a pattern there somewhere, if only he could see it, when the voice in his outer office finally penetrated. Somebody was giving Marjane a hard time.
“No. You don’t understand. I have to see Major Sainer. Now.”
“No,” Marjane said, her voice rising. “You can’t. Not without an appointment.”
“Major Sainer has to be seen.” That was a voice he knew. “By me. Now.”
Sainer stood up and opened his door. He’d been right: Rom Hothagan was facing his secretary, angry and not even trying his considerable charm. It was like him to show up like this after so long. “Rom,” he said, “what in the name of Akwavarra are you doing?”
“Sainsy,” said Rom, pushing his way past Marjane, “gotta talk.”
“It’s okay,” Sainer reassured her, “I know him, for my sins I know him. What’s up, Rom?”
“Tycho Celchu. He dead.” Rom’s syntactical accent, which Marcan Voorhees had worked so hard to eradicate, was back in full force.
Sainer sat on his desk. “Alderaan’s Graveyard,” he said, and then blinked at the unfortunate appropriateness of the phrase. “When? How? And how,” he straightened and glared, “did you find out?”
“I got sources, good as yours, better I guess at some things.” Rom cocked his head in that old familiar attitude. “Check.”
“When?” Sainer repeated.
“Yesterday, Standard. Out somewhere. Stupid fight.” Rom shrugged. “Missin’ the point, Sainsy.”
“What would that be?” Sainer asked.
“You and me, we’re it.”
“It?” He was missing the point; not, he remembered, all that unusual with Rom.
“Arey.” Rom shook his cropped black head, his pale blue eyes narrowing. “Rogue. Not them others,” he forestalled Sainer’s objection. “We’re it, first Rogues. You and me, before Dantooine. Everybody else is dead.”
“Sithspawn,” Sainer thought about it. “You’re right. Wait-”
“Wondered. Dantooine.” Rom nodded. “Wedge. He come to us at Dantooine. And Tyke after Yavin, like Malina an’ Wes. But just us left. An’ I don’ know where Malina an’ Wes are, so we have to.”
“Have to what, Rom?”
“Go to Wedge,” he said, like it was the most obvious thing in the galaxy. And, now that he’d said it, it was. “When Dutch died, an’ Marcan too, Wedge got me through it. I know what Corellians do for their dead. Drink, an’ talk. Both. An’ who’s left to talk about Tycho with Wedge but us? Nobody. So, come on.”
“Now?” Involuntarily Sainer looked at his desk.
“You savin’ Republic or somethin’?” Rom demanded. “Kahrai, Sainer, you got help here. Let them. Wedge needs us.”
“I know, I know. You’re right. I’m coming.”
“We gotta stop someplace for some of that, um,” Rom snapped his fingers, “that Whyren stuff he like so much.”
“I don’t know when I’ll be back, Marjane,” Sainer said as they crossed the outer office.
“Is everything all right, Major Sainer?” she asked.
“No,” he said, “but then, it never is, is it?”
When they walked into Wedge’s outer office, the blond Tatooiner who’d been attached to him since Mestaar rose to his feet. Sainer almost thought he saw an expression of relief on the man’s calm face. “Major Sainer, Captain Hothagan-”
“Mister’s fine,” Rom interpolated.
Sunrunner continued, “Please, go on in. The commander will be glad of your presence, sir.”
“You won’t be disturbed.”
“Thanks again,” Sainer said and pushed open Wedge’s door.
Wedge was standing by the window, staring out at nothing the way he did sometimes. He turned his head when they entered, blinked at them. Not surprisingly, his eyes had gone green, showing clearly with that tan uniform he was wearing. He blinked again. “Rom?”
“Been a while,” Rom nodded. “A long while.”
“You heard.” That wasn’t a question. He turned around to look at them, leaning against the window.
Sainer nodded. “We heard.” He put his carryall on the desk.
Sainer opened the bag, pulled out a bottle. “This,” he said, “is what Rom so eloquently described as ‘that Whyren stuff you like so much.’ And this,” he put the whiskey down and pulled out another bottle. Wedge reached for it, looking at its squared shape and dark, almost sullen, crimson contents. Sainer continued, “that’s Alderaanian port, which I recall as what Tycho liked. And these,” he pulled out two more bottles, these nondescript in the extreme, “are what I could afford to buy after I’d paid for those, which cost considerably more than is reasonable, even considering that there won’t be any more of the one and that people risk their lives to get the other onto the open market. I’m sure they’ll be terrible.”
Wedge actually smiled. “After we drink port and whiskey,” he said, “we won’t care if they’re any good.”
“Probably won’t even notice,” Rom agreed. “Startin’ with that?”
“I haven’t got a bottle opener,” Wedge said.
“Give,” Rom reached for it, pulling a complicated and probably illegal tool out of his inside jacket pocket. “Got glasses?”
“He’s got glasses,” Sainer said, settling his lanky frame on the desk. “C’mon, Wedge, don’t tell me the invaluable corporal out there hasn’t got glasses squirreled away.”
“He does,” Wedge said, pulling some out of the bottom desk drawer. He looked at them critically, blew some dust out of one. “Maybe I should wash these?”
“Shoo,” Rom said. “We’re drinkin’ alcohol. It’ll sterilize ’em.”
Wedge picked up the port and poured. “Tycho would hate drinking like this.”
Rom hiked an eyebrow, but Sainer grinned, knowing what Wedge meant. “Port in whiskey glasses,” he said. “Williard would’ve been scandalized.”
“Then Tyke would’ve drunk,” Rom said. He picked up his glass, filled to the top with the richly colored wine, and tossed it down.
You weren’t supposed to drink port like that, either, but Sainer followed Rom’s example, and so did Wedge, who then filled the glasses again and set the bottle down.
“Remember Polon?” Wedge asked.
“Polon? Not so good,” Rom said. “I was kind of out of it most of that. Like Gall.”
“Gall. That was fun.”
“Tell me. You an’ Tyke, though, you got me through.”
“He came back for us,” Wedge said. They drank and he filled their glasses again.
“Tyke always came back.”
“He always did what needed doing,” Sainer added. “Whether he wanted to or not. Remember Endor?”
“Endor? Who could forget Endor?” said Wedge. “You know, we’re it from Endor.”
“Malina,” objected Sainer. “Luke.”
“Han, and Leia, and yeah, but they weren’t with us.”
“Lando?” suggested Rom.
“Ah, he was never with us. Not with-us with us.”
“Yeah,” agreed Sainer. “But I was thinking, Tycho. He wanted to be with Rogue so bad. And then he didn’t even get to be in at the kill.”
“No,” Wedge remembered. “He did what he was supposed to do, followed his orders.”
“That’s what I mean,” said Sainer. He poured whiskey for them all and said, “He always did.”
“Remember Hoth?” asked Rom.
“Hoth? Who could forget Hoth?” Sainer asked.
“Did you forget Hoth? Or are you just drunk?” Sainer blinked at him.
“I am drunk, but I remember Hoth. I was there for a year once,” Wedge said reminiscently.
“A year? You were there for 35 days,” Sainer pointed out, “like the rest of us.”
“On the calendar, maybe,” Wedge said. “Place that cold, time slows down.”
“It was a month, you’re right,” said Rom. “But Wedge is right, too. Felt like a year. But remember Tyke?”
“He liked Hoth,” Wedge said, smiling.
“Liked it?” demanded Rom. “Arey, he loved it. He wanted me to ski with him.”
“Skiing’s all right,” said Sainer, holding out his glass as Rom poured.
“I didn’t see you skiing on Hoth.”
“Skiing is all right. Hoth was a hellhole.”
“Tell me,” said Rom.
“You got tanked,” Wedge remembered.
“Not first time. Or last.”
“Poor Rom. Or not,” said Sainer. “You’re still here.” Then he spoiled it by giggling.
“I was just thinking… remember Tycho on Ord Mandell?”
“I remember you on Ord Mandell,” Wedge said bitterly. “You thought it was so funny. So did you,” he said to Rom, “but not as funny as Sainer here did.”
“Was funny,” Rom said. “You must have sneezed for months… Remember that fight you an’ Tyke had with those Y-Wingers?”
“I remember,” Wedge said, smiling. “He couldn’t fight worth a damn, you know. He tried, but he just didn’t have the moves.”
“Never did,” said Sainer. “What I remember is when we first got to Ord Mandell. He stuck out like a Gamorrean at a Moff’s dinner party.”
“He told me I looked like a criminal,” said Wedge.
“You did,” pointed out Rom.
“He thought it was a bad thing.” Wedge smiled again. “He told me, ‘you do not look respectable’ and he meant it.”
“Was a nice boy,” Rom said. “Brought up lightside, and light clear through. Nice inside, no matter what.”
“Yeah,” Wedge nodded. “He was.”
“You know what it’s like?” Rom asked. “Galaxy has a grudge against Alderaan, that what.”
“What d’you mean?” asked Sainer.
“Wipe out the planet an’ then go after the survivors. We losin’ ’em all, Sainsy. It’s a damn shame.”
“Not all. It’s the best that go first.”
“Now that ain’t true,” Rom said, filling the glasses again. “I mean, yeah, best go, but you put your mind to it you’ll think of plenty of bastards who’ve gone. Just miss the good ones, that’s all.”
“No,” said Wedge. He held up his glass. “That’s not it. We don’t miss him because he was from Alderaan or anything else. He’s Tycho. That’s why. That’s why.” He drained his glass, and the others followed suit.
They drank. If they'd been sober enough to notice, they'd have been pleased that they'd been right: they didn't notice how bad the cheaper alcohol was.
“Gentlemen, shall we begin?” The Mon Calamari blinked benevolently at the table, but Wedge wasn’t fooled and he doubted anybody else was either. Mon Cals might look like rather kindly old fish, but Ackbar, at least, had the soul of an A Besseid. Well, that might be a little harsh, but only a little... ask any Imp.
Those colonels who were still standing took their seats, and Wedge sat in the one left empty, across from Salm. He glanced at the agenda. He never knew when Ackbar was going to want him to come, and he never knew what they were going to talk about when they did.
The admiral continued. “Commander Antilles, thank you for attending. There are two agenda items that concern you, so we’ll discuss those first and allow you to return to your duties. First, now that the Thrawn crisis is over, we are hoping to be able to refit a number of our capital ships. This will, of course, necessitate moving fighter squadrons into the areas which will be underprotected. We intend to start with the Fourth Sector, Spinward from Coruscant.”
“We are in the middle of a training cycle,” said Salm. “Actually, more in the beginning. We have three attack squadrons at Folor, but none are even close to ready for deployment. The most advanced of them has two months.”
Wedge reflected that both he and Salm had been asked to take squadrons operational with only one month’s training four years ago, but then, times had changed. Coruscant had fallen, the last Grand Admiral was dead, the war was over. More or less.
“So, we must redeploy squadrons already in operational status.”
Wedge said, “Rogue Squadron hasn’t stood down in over four years. Hunter and Striker haven’t for three and a half, a little more. You can’t push them forever, sir.”
“If we stand them down,” said Salm, “we’ll have three squadrons we can safely redeploy.”
“Three?” said Wedge. “You’re going to pull how many capital ships out of the sector, sir?”
“We’ll leave two Star Cruisers, Commander,” said Ackbar placidly.
“Two? Two Star Cruisers, and one wing of fighters scattered across the sector to make up for it?”
“How many do you think we need?” That was one of the colonels, somebody in planetary defense by his uniform. The faint stress he’d put on the word ‘you’ indicated his wonder that Ackbar hadn’t slapped this juniormost officer down, as he was well able to do.
Wedge knew why: Ackbar didn’t waste his time. He was completely capable of dismissing everything Wedge said, had in fact done so in the past, and more than once, but he didn’t worry about the way Wedge said it. They understood each other. At least, I think we do. “Three,” he said, “three wings at the minimum, sir.”
“We haven’t got three,” said Salm flatly. “I’m not sure we can scrape together two, not and stand down Rogue, Hunter, and Striker.”
“Do they need to, General?” Ackbar asked.
“Rogue does, that’s true. And Hunter took a lot of losses in the last campaign as well. Striker has been operational a long time, but they’ve also been relatively unused.”
“Then,” said Ackbar, “we could deploy four squadrons, including Striker. After Rogue and Hunter squadrons are reconstituted, they could join your three in training, Striker could be stood down, and we would have two wings plus.”
“It’s not enough,” said Wedge.
“It will have to be, Commander.”
“Two dozen, three, pilots could be put together from the rest of the Fleet,” suggested Wedge.
“And destroy unit integrity?” Salm asked, with a faintly sarcastic tone.
That was just like him; only a year ago Wedge had used ‘unit integrity’ to protect four Rogues from one of Salm’s notions, a Republic-wide good-will tour. “Unit integrity yields to combat necessity, as you well know. Sir.”
Oh, dear; he’d scandalized the colonel again; he was looking from Salm to Ackbar in barely-concealed anticipation. Well, Wedge wasn’t worried about that, either. He and Salm had fought like fill-in-your-own-proverb ever since they’d met, and only once had Ackbar told them to shut up. Oh, he’d told them “I have enough information to make a decision now, gentleman, thank you” all the time, but shut up? Just the once, on the occasion of their, oh, sixty-fifth fight about Tycho, five weeks into it. “It is important for you to air your grievances, but I will not have you fight and refight the same battles over and over again.” They were both good soldiers; they’d found new ones to fight. Plenty of them. They’d even fought over whether or not Wedge was going to bear truthful witness to Salm’s disobedience of Kre’fey’s orders at the disaster of First Borleias; Wedge had said no and Salm had said yes. Wedge wasn’t certain they’d know how to talk to each other if they found themselves in agreement over something.
“Thank you, gentlemen,” Ackbar was in fact saying. “We will deploy four squadrons across the sector and reinforce with Rogue, Hunter, and the three currently in training in four months’ time, when we will stand Striker down.”
“I think that’s the wrong decision, sir,” said Wedge.
Ackbar cocked his head, swiveling one eye toward Wedge and the other to Salm.
Wedge knew exactly what was coming. Sometimes he thought he wouldn’t have minded it quite so much if Ackbar had ever varied the words, but he never did. Wedge could have recited them along with the admiral. “I’m sure you do, but such decisions are made by those of us who have not repeatedly refused promotions.”
“I’m beginning to think that was a bad idea,” Wedge said. It was the first time he’d ever said that, almost the first time he’d ever thought it. It surprised him as much as seemed to surprise Ackbar and the others.
“Really, Commander?” the Mon Calamari asked.
Wedge considered briefly. “Yes, really,” he said.
“Does this mean that, if I were to offer you a promotion now, you would accept it?”
Wedge was taken just slightly aback. He’d been resisting promotions for so long now it had become almost habitual. And he still didn’t want to be sending men to do what he wasn’t doing himself. On the other hand, it was a fact that he’d never have any say at where people were sent until he accepted a colonelcy; that much was painfully obvious. It balanced, he supposed. Most things did. He realized he’d already made the decision, sometime. “Yes, sir,” he answered. “It does.”
Salm looked amused, but Ackbar looked pleased. He reached out his hand and one of his aides, wearing that look which says Sith, I’m glad I didn’t pick today to lighten my load and leave this behind, handed him a datapad. Ackbar slid it across the table to Wedge. “I had promised myself I would only ask you once more, so I’ve been waiting for the right moment. I do hate to break promises to me,” he chuckled.
Wedge grinned at him, a trifle wryly, and picked up a stylus. Then a word on the pad caught his eye and he stared, first at it and then at Ackbar.
“I told you I would, three years ago,” Ackbar said, still chuckling. “Go ahead, sign it, General Antilles. It’s my prerogative to skip a grade if I want; nobody’s going to argue it with me.”
The planetary defense colonel looked like he wanted to, but he didn’t. Wedge signed. The aide crossed around the table and picked up the pad to return it to Ackbar. Before he left, he handed Wedge a set of new general’s collar insignia.
Ackbar signed with a flourish and sealed the datapad. “Now,” he said, “that trifle disposed of, perhaps we can discuss the new planetary defense system. Generals, what have you to suggest?”
Wedge looked up from fastening his insignia. “I’d rather discuss the Fourth Sector defense policy,” he said.
“Next quarter,” said Salm, almost smiling. “If you’d taken a promotion two months ago, you could have discussed this quarter’s.”
“All right,” Wedge capitulated, settling his collar tabs and glancing just once at the PDF colonel. “The planetary defense system has a hole you could put a Death Star through...”
Getting to the building turned out to be the easy part of finding Wedge. Mirax had his address, of course, and she was pleased, though not really surprised, at how respectful the cabby was when he heard it. Wedge Antilles in a high-rent district, that was a concept she could appreciate. But nothing about officers’ housing at the base, not even her time in Coruscant before and during the battle, had prepared her for trying to find her way through one of its labyrinthine apartment structures with nothing but a message-delivery address to help. Eventually, though, she got to the right door and rang. She had enough time to wonder if she should have called ahead before the door opened, and Wedge said, sounding pleased,
“You answer your own door?” she asked.
“I open my own door,” he said, smiling. “Coming in, or are you here to drag me somewhere?” He glanced over her shoulder as she entered, but shut the door and palmed the lock closed without saying anything else.
The room was dark. That was a legacy of his childhood, she knew; his mother had never been one to waste energy, and Wedge had never found much reason to leave empty rooms lighted. It was a habit she knew he’d need a lot of reason to change. Especially since he generally could make his way through any place he’d been in more than once with his eyes closed. She, on the other hand, didn’t want to bark her shins on a low-table, so she stopped dead and said, jokingly, “Where are the infra-goggles, Wedge?”
“Sorry,” he said, “lights. I was out on the balcony.”
“That sounds nice,” she said, walking across the sparsely furnished room toward the big glass doors. “Oh, Wedge; it is nice.” She paused a minute in the doorway, and then walked out onto the balcony, staring at the sun falling slowly toward the ocean.
“Yeah,” he said from behind her, and then stood beside her at the railing. “Sunsets are. Almost every planet I’ve ever been on does them well. Of course, Luke says I should see Tatooine’s...”
“Everybody likes their own planet best,” said Mirax. “And with more than one sun, well, it’s almost cheating.”
“Ummm,” Wedge agreed. He looked at her, quiet for a moment, as if waiting. She only realized what for just before he asked, “Where’s Corran?”
“I don’t know,” she said, and added, almost fiercely, “and I’m working very hard at not caring.”
He blinked once, but, with his company all here he had the duties of a Corellian host to fall back on. “Will you have something to eat?”
“No, thanks; I’m not really very hungry,” she said, and then jumped the ritual to say, “but I could really use a drink, Wedge.”
“Brandy?” was all he responded. “It’s Montyrn.”
“That’d be lovely.”
“I’ll get it,” he went back inside.
Sithspawn. I didn’t mean to say that. She sank into a chair and closed her eyes, resting her hands on her stomach. She’d only meant to say that Corran wasn’t coming, but... he just gives me those brown eyes, and... damn. She opened her own dark eyes and stared at the sunset. She had a notion that this place, this view, wasn’t the sort of thing you got if you weren’t Commander Wedge Antilles, the only living man entitled to two Death Stars on his combat tabs, Conqueror of Coruscant, Liberator of Thyferra, hero of Yavin, Hoth, Gall, Endor, Bakura, Kansho, Borleis, Fors Tersa, Mria Avib, Toron... she couldn’t remember them all. It was kind of funny to think of Wedge, the quiet, shy kid she’d grown up with, so important, but not unbelievable. Not unbelievable at all.
“Here you are,” he said, setting her glass down on the arm of the chair. He put his down next to it, and she suddenly realized that he, tellingly, only had one chair on the balcony.
“Sorry, Wedge,” she started to get up, but he put his hand on her shoulder.
“Stay put,” he said, and dropped to the floor, sitting next to her. She glanced at him sideways, feeling the urge to grab him and start crying. But she didn’t want to upset him, so she just drank her brandy instead.
The sun fell into the ocean with a brief flare and then the sky grew dark, though behind them, from the city on the other side of the building, there was still light. Mirax had the feeling that it was unnatural for Coruscant to be even this dark. She said as much, and he answered, “Yeah, that about sums up Coruscant: dark nights are unnatural, open skies are unnatural, thunderstorms twenty floors underneath your window are not unnatural... I hate this place.” But she could tell he was smiling.
“You shouldn’t have worked so hard to capture it, then,” she teased him.
“I seem to remember you being peripherally involved in that,” he responded in kind.
“Peripherally,” she said, and fell quiet again. After a moment she glanced at him and chuckled.
“What?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
“It’s just... well, once I couldn’t have pictured you in a uniform, and now you apparently never take it off.”
He touched his light grey collar reflexively, smiling ruefully. “I just didn’t change, that’s all. There’s no real reason to take it off; I’m not going anywhere.”
“You look good in it,” she said, and added, “like you don’t know.”
He shook his head at her, and they sat in companionable silence, watching the stars fight their way through the dark gloaming that passed for Coruscant’s night sky. “More brandy?” he eventually asked, and she nodded. He got to his feet and she said,
“I can’t believe you don’t have a housekeeping droid, Wedge Antilles.”
“I-” he started and she finished it simultaneously with him: “-don’t like droids.” He laughed reluctantly. “Well, I don’t. And when I can’t walk from one room to another, I won’t get a droid, I’ll crawl out here and throw myself off.” He disappeared into the dark apartment without picking up the glasses. When he came back out he was carrying the bottle. He poured for them both, and then sat down again, leaning his back against the chair. The quality of the silence was somewhat different this time, and she knew he was going to ask. But what he actually finally said wasn’t what she was expecting. “You have to tell me this much, Mirax: the next time I see Corran do I hit him, or let him cry on my shoulder?”
“What? What do you mean?”
“I told him, ten minutes after I introduced you two, that you were my sister; if he’s hurt you, I have to beat him up. If you left him, though, well, I can only feel for him.”
“Oh, god, Wedge.” Mirax had told herself she was only coming here because Booster would kill Corran, because she didn’t have any other friends close enough, because... but she had known all along that she wanted Wedge’s shoulder to cry on, herself. “I never had any brother but you but no brother could have been better.”
He touched her arm gently. “Where is he?”
“I don’t know. We both flung ourselves away in all different directions. He could even be back home.” She ran her hands through her long black hair and said, angrily, “Oh, Wedge. I should have kept my mouth shut.”
“Always a possibility,” he said softly. “What did you fight about?”
“It wasn’t a fight, exactly...” she admitted. “I lost my temper with him.”
“That’s, umm, not impossible,” he said. “He can be... obstinate.”
“Obstinate?” Mirax stared at him. “He could make a rancor look like sweet reason. And he just wouldn’t be quiet about ...” She stopped, not wanting to bother him with more than he wanted to hear.
“Did you two fight about your father?” Wedge asked. He didn’t sound surprised.
“No,” Mirax said, glad he was asking, knowing she’d known he would. “About his father. He always thought his father was so wonderful, and my father was, well, you know. You heard him say it often enough.” Wedge nodded. “But that would have been okay if he’d just kept quiet about it. I could have gone on happily with him thinking like that. But he can hardly get through a day without some little crack about Father ...”
“And every defense you could mount ran head-first into the transparasteel of Corran’s convictions,” said Wedge.
“And Father’s,” Mirax said bitterly. “ ‘Booster is a smuggler, honey; he is a criminal, he did do time on Kessel. My father, on the other hand...’ I lost my temper with it, with him, last night, and let him have a few home truths about Hal Horn, CorSec’s finest.” She stared out over the balcony railing into the night, remembering what she had enough sense not to tell Wedge, though in truth he was smart enough to guess at most of it.
Corran was looking at her with that infuriating, patient look. “Mirax, honey,” he said, “you can’t deny it. It’s the truth, even your father admits it. Sithspawn, he practically brags about it.”
“So what?” she said, not the galaxy’s best rejoinder but, in her present frame of mine, hers.
“So-it’s the truth. Even Wedge, the first time I met you, said so. He’s always admitted my father had-”
“Wedge.” Suddenly she was so mad at him she couldn’t see straight. “You talk to Wedge about your father? You talk to Wedge about how great Hal Horn is?”
“What?” he said, uncertain for once where she was going. That Hal Horn had told Corran that Wedge was ‘a lost cause’ once he started running guns for the rebels had, as far as he knew, only amused the commander.
His uncertainty had made her attack even harder. “If I were you, I wouldn’t do that any more. In fact, you shouldn’t. He doesn’t like your father. He never has.”
“Mirax,” he said. “That’s ridiculous.”
“Oh?” Her voice was icy. Ridiculous, am I? “Does he actually talk about him? Has he ever actually said different? Or does he just change the subject when you bring it up?” She knew the answer; she’d heard the conversations.
“Come on, Mirax,” he said, that patient edge back in his voice, that ‘you’re-overreacting-here’ tone. “Wedge knows my father did his best about his parents-”
“Really.” She cut him off. “Maybe so, Corran Horn. But I’ve seen him so mad at your father that his voice shook, that his eyes went that green color, that his hands and arms hurt from clenching. I was there when that, that reception person told him your father went on vacation not a week after his parents were killed.” Her voice was soaring and she didn’t care. Maybe she couldn’t fight him about Booster, but she was on solid ground here. “Now maybe, just maybe, there was some hugely important family obligation or something that he just had to do, but try explaining that to a 16-year-old who found his parents’ bodies. Try explaining to him why the cop in charge takes a vacation instead of investigating. Try explaining it to me, for that matter. I was there, Corran. I saw it. And I saw your father interrogate Wedge, not about his parents’ death, oh, no, but about what my father was doing on Ralla, with Wedge. Why was my father caring about his friends’ son? To get a cheap crewman? One of the reasons Wedge started running guns was because of CorSec, because your father was such a sterling representative. Because he wasn’t incompetent, you’re right there, so either he didn’t care, or he wasn’t allowed to do anything, and either way, CorSec has to take the blame. CorSec ... what’s the difference between it and the Empire, when you get down to it? What? Tell me that! Booster Terrik may have been a smuggler, but he was a man of integrity!” She stopped there, suddenly realizing that she’d said more than she’d ever intended. It had escalated from there, into a short, ugly scene that ended with Mirax saying she was leaving, and Corran saying, no, he was. So they both had.
And she’d felt lost, so lost that there had only been one place to go...
Mirax came back from her memories to realize that Wedge hadn’t said anything in quite a while. She looked at him; he was sitting with his knees drawn up and his forearms resting on them, one hand clasping the other wrist, staring out at the ocean. It was a just too dark for her to be sure of his expression. She watched him, getting a little nervous, and finally said, “Wedge? What are you thinking? Tell me.”
He started slightly, and then glanced at her. “I don’t want to,” he said, his voice sounding rueful. “I’m thinking a lot of things, and none of them really do me any credit. I’m thinking, I wish I’d been there to see his face. I’m thinking, it’s about time. I’m thinking, it probably did him good to hear someone he trusts tell him a different truth than the one he grew up with. I’m thinking, did I ever tell her that Horn told me, when I visited Booster in Coronet, that it wouldn’t do me any good to be ‘an associate of a man like Terrik’, and if so, did she tell him? I’d just barely gotten to, Poor Mirax; say something to make her feel better. I hadn’t quite got to something to say.”
“Oh, Wedge,” Mirax said helplessly, “you are such a nice man. I love you so much.”
He pulled his feet underneath him and put his arm around her. She hugged him back. “Don’t worry,” he said softly, patting her shoulder. “Corran can see reason when someone rubs his nose in it. And you’ve always been suspiciously moderate, for a Corellian smuggler; wise, even.”
“Wise? After that?”
“Hey,” he took her by the shoulders and pushed her back so that he could look her in the face. “Mirax, you’ve always been reasonable. How much longer could you two have gone on like that ... especially with Booster still alive and a baby on the way?”
She stared at him incredulously. “You-” she started laughing. “Wedge Antilles, you are too damned perceptive!”
“Can’t help it,” he disclaimed. “I’m just good.”
“Oh, Wedge.” She hugged him again. “You really think...” her voice trailed off.
“Yeah, I do, no matter what some people say,” he said, and then reverted to serious. “Mirax, honey, Corran falls into habits real easy, and then it’s very hard to break him of them. And he doesn’t have a lot of practice looking at things from other people’s points of view. He’s a cop, he’ll always be a cop, even though he’s currently a snub jockey and may someday be a Jedi.” Wedge shook his head. “He’ll be a Jedi cop. Think of it. And cops are linear. If he wasn’t Force-sensitive he’d probably be a lousy fighter pilot, ‘cause that’s not linear. But he is: once he gets started it’s hard, real hard, for him to change directions-ask Tycho,” he half laughed. “But it’s not impossible, Mirax. He’s like a nerf: once you get his attention, you’re okay, but sometimes you have to hit him real hard up the side of the head to get it. I know; he works for me, remember? You did the right thing. Once he cools down, he’ll know it too. I’m not saying that he’ll ever agree with whatever you told him, but he’ll know why you said it, and he won’t do it again. When you two got married, you had to make a pact to keep your fathers’ lives out of yours. Corran may figure that, since Booster’s alive, he gets to talk about Horn, but you need to make him understand that he talks about Horn entirely too much. And you definitely need to make him understand that his child deserves to know its only living grandparent, whatever Corran may think of his past. And he’ll see it, if you show it to him. He’s not too stubborn to admit he’s wrong; he’s just too cocky to let the possibility get through on its own.”
Mirax smiled at him, convinced, and then gasped as something he’d said suddenly penetrated. “Wedge, oh, I shouldn’t have-this is going to be impossible for you now, in the squadron, I mean.”
“Ah, don’t worry about that,” he brushed it off. When she started to protest, he held up a hand. “I mean it, Mirax; don’t worry about it. I’m not going be seeing much of Corran any more anyway.”
“Why not?” she asked. “You’re his commander... did he do something stupid today? Like resign?”
“No,” Wedge held up a pacifying hand, “no, no, no. Not him. Me. They got to me today.”
She stared at him. “You resigned? I don’t believe it. What are you-Wedge! They’ve never taken the Rogues away from you! They can’t!”
“They could if they wanted,” said Wedge. “And it’s not that ridiculous, I’m not a kid any more and that’s a young man’s game...”
“Don’t be stupid,” she said fiercely. “You’re not but thirty-” she counted in her head “-one. That’s not old.”
“It’s old for a pilot,” he said. “Anyway, that’s not what happened. They wore me down.” He sounded almost embarrassed. “They finally promoted me.”
“They what?” Mirax got to her feet and pulled him into the living room, calling for the lights. She stared at his collar, and then smiled delightedly at him. “General Antilles! It’s about time.” She kissed his cheek in congratulations.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m not sure about it.”
“Why not, Wedge? You’re way overdue, people talk about it all the time. Luke Skywalker was a general till he dropped out to do Jedi stuff, Han Solo is a general, Lando Calrissian was a general... At least you’re a soldier.”
“Sort of,” he said glumly, dropping onto the couch with his hands between his knees. “I’m a snub jockey, Mirax; that’s what I know how to do. I never went to an Academy, I never had any formal training, and I hate politics.”
“Yeah. Ackbar and Leia want me on the Council as a military advisor.” He shook his head. “Politicians ... bleah.” He shivered theatrically.
She giggled and sat next to him. “Come on, Wedge. You like Leia. She’s a politician.”
“She’s an exception. Most of ’em are like Borssk Fey’lya, not like her.”
“Then all the more reason she needs your support,” she said firmly. “You’re honest and you’ll never tell her what she wants to hear. And don’t tell me they took away your X-Wing, because I won’t believe it. For one thing, who would they give it to? The legendary Wedge Antilles’s own X-Wing, that Ran the Trench of the First Death Star,” she proclaimed. “Pilots would be assassinating each other to get it.”
He was grinning reluctantly at her. “More likely they’d be demanding hazard pay for having to fly such an antique,” he said, “but no, you’re right, they didn’t. And Ackbar promised me I could fly with the Rogues if things came up. But first, I have to look at Coruscant’s planetary defense systems.”
“Of course,” she said. “Really, who else would you want to check that out but the guy who could take it down?”
“I may keep you around for a while,” he said, “you’re good for my ego.”
“Like that needs any help, General,” she needled him.
“Seriously, though, Mirax, are you staying tonight? Or have you got somewhere else? I won’t hear of your trying to find a hotel.”
“Thanks, Wedge,” she smiled gratefully. “I always seem to be staying with Antilleses.”
“It’s what we do,” he said. “Look, you could use a few days. Another Corellian smuggler I know is going up to the pole with his wife; they invited me and I haven’t answered yet. Want to come? She’ll wish you weren’t quite so married to somebody else, but she’ll like you.”
“She’s trying to get you married? Good luck to her, whoever she is. Do I know him?”
“I don’t know. Booster does; and I know you’ve seen him on the newscasts-”
“Han Solo?” Mirax hoped her voice hadn’t been a squeal on that name. “Han Solo and Princess Leia Organa Solo? A vacation with them? Do I want to take a vacation with them? Gee, let me check my calendar... you idiot. Of course I want to come.”
He was laughing so hard she almost hit him. “Okay, then. We’ll leave a message for Corran, in case he calls here; he can join us if he does.”
“Won’t they mind?”
“Not as long as Corran doesn’t try to arrest Han.”
“Maybe we’d better not,” she said. “I’m not sure that Corellian want on him was ever lifted; you know the Diktat.”
“Corran couldn’t collect,” Wedge reminded her, still laughing a little. “His hasn’t been either.”
“Oh, right,” said Mirax. “That’s okay then.” She sighed happily. “Gosh, I’m glad I came, Wedge.”
“Me, too,” he said, hugging her lightly. “I’ll go call Leia.”
While he was out of the room, she wandered around looking at it. Pride of place was held by a portrait of his parents, just slightly soft-edged, meaning he’d had it enlarged as far as it would go. She recognized it: for as long as she could remember Booster had had it, much smaller, in the Skate. He’d taken it, she remembered him telling her about it. It was the first time he’d gone to Gus Treta after Grey had been made manager... “I asked Grey if they had any regs about who was or wasn’t welcome. He told me I was always welcome, as long as I behaved myself.” Booster always laughed when he got to that point in the story. “I could hear Mrendy in the background telling Grey to stop asking for the impossible. Then she got on and told me to not to be more an idiot than I had to, and to come down right away. Then I find out, she only wants me to take holos.” Wedge hadn’t been born yet... How strange. We’re older now than they were then. They look so happy... and Father must have been that young, too. How weird that they were ever so young...
She shook her head and moved on, feeling a little tightness in her throat. Here was a series of young men, mostly grinning, with X-Wings; and then she laughed herself, because here was a picture of an X-Wing, with a very serious Wedge and half of another man, a mechanic. Her laugh died at the next holo, though, a double portrait of Wedge and another pilot, posing with painted X-Wings, Wedge sitting on the green-and-gold checkerboard nose of his fighter with his knees drawn up and his arms linked around them, laughing down at the brown-haired man with crystal blue eyes leaning back against the white nose of his crimson one... Tycho.
“He wouldn’t let me hear the end of it,” said Wedge, who’d catfooted across the carpet to stand at her elbow. “General Antilles... he’d laugh about that.”
“He’d be proud of you,” she said, slipping her arm into his. “But,” she conceded, “he would have laughed. A lot.”
“Leia said she’s more than happy to have you along. ‘Plenty of room,’ she said.” He chuckled. “I think she gets the whole floor whether she wants it or not.”
“You’re sure I won’t be intruding?” she was suddenly shy of the whole thing. These weren’t the circles she moved in.
“She said Han would be glad. Leia doesn’t like skiing,” he explained.
“You do?” she asked.
“Actually,” he began, but she cut him off.
“You do. Of course you do. It’s fast, dangerous, and you’re on your own.”
“Hey,” he was wounded. “At least we don’t carry weapons.”
“Idiot,” she said fondly.
“Anyway,” he said more seriously, with the intuition that had helped him become the warrior everyone in the New Republic knew. “You just remember the only want you ever had was for the Rebellion. Han’s still wanted some places.”
“Yeah, maybe. But I’m not married to the chief of state.”
“I don’t think it would work,” he said.
She laughed. “No, I expect you’re right. When are we leaving?”
“Yeah. Can’t figure it,” she said.
He nodded. “Tomorrow afternoon. Come on, I’ll clear off a bunk.”
She pretended to punch his shoulder. “That’s the best you can do? In this palace?”
“You can have the couch...” he ducked away from her, laughing. “Come on, the guest room’s over here. You can call out for anything you might need ... I notice a conspicuous lack of baggage.”
And you’ve got nothing lying around, that’s for sure, she thought, but all she said was, “Can I have them bill you?”
“Sure,” he said. “No credits this time, either, huh?”
“You’re a hard man, Wedge Antilles. I’ll bet the Rogues are glad to see the back of you.”
“Probably,” he agreed. “But they’re going to fall apart without me.”
“Yes,” she conceded, “I expect they will. See you in the morning, Wedge.” She kissed his cheek, and closed the door.
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