Obviously, this owes a great deal (understatement of the century candidate) to George Lucas, and to Michael Stackpole's "X-Wing" series of novels. Rom's mine; so's Sainer.
No copyright infringement is intended.
Wedge settled into his office on Folor, the new headquarters of the RebellionAlliance, he'd have to remember that nowwithout much difficulty. He'd never lost the habit of traveling light. Holos of the squadron just before Yavin, in Hoth whites, that dreadful picture from Ord Mandell, the last shot before the Endor deployment, and the small one for his desk of his parents, and that was all. He stood in front of the Yavin holo and looked at the faces of the pilots, all scrubbed and polished in their brand-new uniforms. Rom, looking absurdly young, and Sainer, all elbows and long legs... everyone else was dead. Biggs, intense and with that slight, cocky grin. Jek, solid and cheerful. Dutch Vaerrit, his hand on Rom's shoulder. Amil Karsk, an enigma to the end. Antel San, his quirky grin in contrast to his best friend, Rud Tapan, who was as solemn as a priest. Cort Herowik, four death warrants on him before the Rebellion, silent and glowering even in this picture. Zev Senesca, grizzled veteran who always had a helping hand ready. And Marcan Voorhees, slim and aristocratic and always just a trifle disengaged. Wedge smiled, remembering what Biggs had said when they'd first seen the picture: Sith, we look like the Voorhees house guard or something...
"That was a long time ago," said Wes Janson from behind him, and Wedge turned to see the sandy-haired man standing in the doorway.
"Yes, it was," said Wedge, crossing the floor with his hand out. "A very long time ago. Good to see you, Wes."
"And you," said Wes, gripping Wedge's forearm firmly. "Congratulations."
"Thanks. And you," Wedge said, "though I still want you in Rogue Squadron."
"If you can swing it, you know we both want that," Wes said comfortably, "but if you can't, it's not like our own commands are a kick in the butt, you know?" He wandered over to look at the pictures. "Look at you." He gestured at the Hoth shot. "You weren't cold or anything, were you? My god, look at me. I was a baby."
"We were all a lot younger then," said Wedge, looking at that shot. And too many of us didn't get much older... Dack, Vondar, Preeman... Tycho.
"We were indeed," nodded Wes. He shivered theatrically. "I hated Hoth. That was the worst place we ever were."
"Ord Mandell was worse."
"Yeah, you thought so," Wes grinned. "You were sure allergic to something there."
"I was allergic to the whole damn planet," said Wedge.
Wes laughed. He'd laughed back then, too. They all had, Wedge remembered. He said so, bitterly, and Wes laughed louder. "And Sainer was the worst of you," Wedge finished.
"I saw him, couple months ago. He's made major," Wes rubbed his eyes.
"Good," said Wedge. "He's happy wherever?"
"I can tell you now," said Wes, sitting on the corner of the desk. "He's working for Arien Cracken."
"Cracken? You mean, Alliance Intelligence?"
"I do. We, ah, did a little job for them, and they were happy with it, and Cracken hisself, as Rom put it, came to thank us. He walked away with Sainsy. Just as well," Wes added reflectively. "He'd never been really, right, you know? for Rogue, not since Bakura."
Wedge did know. He'd spotted it at Bakura, and at Kansho, before he'd been pulled away. He wasn't afraid of dying; it was more insidious. He was afraid of being badly hurt, afraid of the tank. He'd flown well, but he'd flown scared, and that would get people killed. Wedge had known something was going to have to be done. And then Ackbar had pulled that goodwill tour stunt on him, and he'd left it unfinished. He'd talked to Tycho before he'd left, and Tycho had promised to find the right solution. Well, at least someone had. Sainer was clever enough to do well under Cracken, and it was unlikely he'd be tanked flying an intelligence desk.
"Good," he said to Wes, realizing he'd been quiet. "That's good news."
"And Rom's onworld, I think he's still here, anyway. He's gotten Striker Squadron and they're moving out soon."
"I'll have to see if I can find him," said Wedge. "What about Mik and Malina?"
"Mik's on Renewal, and I don't know where they are exactly. Malina's got command of the whole fighter group for Liberty Reborn's battle group, and Renewal is part of that, so I don't know where she is, either. But they're both fine, or were a few days ago."
Wedge started to answer, but his comm unit chimed, cutting him off.
"I just got here and I'm getting calls," he complained.
"Well, I'll let you get to work, boss," said Wes. "Hobbie and I want to take you to dinner sometime this week, though. Give us a day."
"I will," Wedge promised, waving as Wes left. "Antilles," he answered the insistent chime.
"Wedge!" Tyll Sainer's voice was hearty. "Good you're back, and congratulations on the promotion. It didn't seem right for us to be the same rank."
"Thanks, and congratulations yourself"
Sainer cut him off. "Right, right; look, Wedge, I don't have any time right now. Meet me for a drink at the DownTime at the training base, there, tonight, say 9?"
"Sure," said Wedge.
"Great. Talk about old times. See you then." Sainer cut off, leaving Wedge just slightly puzzled.
Wedge looked over the barroom. He didn't see Sainer anywhere, but he did spot Rom Hothagan, still looking about nineteen and sitting by himself. Wes hadn't been lying; Rom did have captain's insignia on his collar. Wedge decided to wait for Sainer there, and made his way across the floor to Rom's booth after picking up a drink at the bar.
"Hey, Rom," said Wedge, sitting down across from the black-haired man. "Congratulations on your promotion."
"They offered me a squadron because there's a push coming." Rom started out defiant.
Wedge blinked. "I'm sure there is."
"And because I'm a damned good pilot."
"No argument." That was honest, anyway.
"And I took it because I'm a veteran, and I can teach those kids something to keep them alive." Rom jabbed a finger at Wedge.
"And not because I'm Kanraynra."
"Fine," Wedge said. Where the hell had that come from?
"I didn't. That's not why."
"All right," said Wedge pacifically.
"You think it's why?"
"Rom, I don't know why. I haven't even been here, remember?"
"Oh, yeah." Rom subsided.
After a moment, Wedge decided he'd better ask the question. "So, why?"
"I don't know. I mean, I never thought of myself as Kanraynra, you know? Just as a guy who got off Kanraynor and never intended to go back. Ever."
"It's just.... Harl's gone, so it's me. And suddenly, I am Kanraynor. What I am, they all are. Everyone. The ones who would have kicked me in the teeth, and the ones who wouldn't only because they'd get dirty, but they certainly would have had me arrested... it don't make sense, Wedge."
"No," Wedge agreed. "So?"
"So. So, Kanraynor suddenly thinks about joining the Alliance. And I start hearing whispers... you know, Hothagan's Kanraynra. Irresponsible. Untrustworthy. Inconstantwhich I had to look up, mind."
Wedge smiled involuntarily.
"And I don't care about Kanraynor. I don't."
"No," Wedge agreed. "That's been lightclear ever since I met you. So?"
"So. I took a captaincy."
"Yes, you did. And a squadron."
"Yeah. Because there's a war on," said Rom defiantly. "Not for Kanraynor, Sith swallow it whole."
"Okay," said Wedge mildly. "You've convinced me. You took the squadron to kill Imps. It's a good reason. It's the best reason."
"Yeah. Well, it's my reason."
"Have some Whyren's Reserve to baptize those pips, Rom," Wedge offered. Another drink might just move Rom out of belligerence.
"I will." After a minute, Rom said, a little sheepishly, "Sorry. Didn't mean to jump down your throat, Wedge. You never talked Kanraynor at me. It's turned into a reflex; guess I'd better watch it, huh?"
"Wouldn't hurt," Wedge observed. "Especially around the kids."
"And they are," said Rom. "Look at 'em," he waved a hand at the pilots around the room. "We were never that young. It's like after Yavin."
Wedge knew what he meant, he'd noticed it himself. "They all think it's over."
"Yeah. They think it's using the gravity well from here on in. It's going to be easy, a romp all the way to Coruscant. Look, Ma, no hands."
"Well, we're going to have to keep them alive long enough to learn their mistake," said Wedge.
Rom nodded. "Ain't nothin' about this gonna be easy," he said.
"We'll get it done."
"I hope so. Sometimes, I'm not sure I'm cut out for this watching over kids stuff."
"You'll do all right," Wedge said. "Just make sure you get an exec who knows how to handle paperwork."
Rom snorted. "Oh, we've all gotten real good at that over the past year or two. That's about all we have done." He shook his head. "Prosecute the war with all deliberate speed," he imitated somebody Wedge was glad he hadn't met, and then reverted back to his own voice to add, "heavy emphasis on deliberate and in sore need of a definition of speed."
"We'll get there," said Wedge. "Can't go from here to there without passing in-between, you know."
"I know," said Rom, leaning back against the bench. "Leg and leg over the dog went to Yntover. Only you can get there faster if you move more'n one leg at a time." Rom grinned suddenly. "Sometimes I think I'm gonna be an old flag-ranker myself before it's all over."
"There's a little cognitive dissonance for you," Wedge grinned back. "General Hothagan... whooo."
"It could happen," said Rom. "Look at you, object lesson for us all. Take that first step and you're off the edge."
"I think we're going up, not down, Rom," said Wedge in amusement.
"I know you do, Wedge. Your problem is, you think you can fly. Our problem is, you can. Hey," he sat up straight. "Are those commander's bars? They giving you a wing, for real?"
"Well, an operational command, anyway," said Wedge.
"That's great. We really are going to make a push, then." His pale blue eyes sparkled.
"Ah, ah. I know. But seriously, Wedge, if they've brought you back, promoted you, and given you an operational command, things must be getting ready to move. I'm telling you, there was more action back on Versace than we've seen around here the last year and a half. And that was all earthquakes."
"Don't remind me," Wedge shuddered exaggeratedly. "Here I always thought planets were supposed to be solid. Firm ground, all that stuff."
"You're in a good mood, Rom," Sainer said as he stopped by the booth. He was in civilian clothes, and looked tired, or at least he did to Wedge's eyes; maybe he looked like that all the time now.
"Sainsy! Join us," Rom invited. "Look who's back from the back of beyond."
"Wedge," Sainer nodded. "Good to see you. It's very good to see you, Rom."
"Oh?" Rom looked at Sainer with caution. "And why is that? No, don't tell me. I don't want to know, do I?"
"Not really," Sainer smiled wryly. "Why don't you go away, Rom?"
Rom laughed again. "Arey, to be in your line of work. 'Nice to see you; get lost, please; thanks.'" He stood up. "Guess I should head back, anyway. We're shipping out in the morning. See you around the war, Wedge; Sainermy best to Iliana. Good night, gentlemen."
"Thanks," said Sainer.
"Luck, Rom," said Wedge.
"And you," said Rom, "and if you're working with this guy, you'll definitely need it." He saluted cheerfully and left.
Sainer sat down in his vacated spot and sniffed at Rom's abandoned glass. "It would be a shame to waste this," he said, downing it.
Wedge leaned forward. "What did you want to see me about?"
Sainer flashed a big smile and slapped Wedge on the shoulder. "Not here, Wedge," he said. He glanced at his wrist chrono and gestured at it in surprise. "Let's go for a walk," he said, standing up and motioning Wedge to come along.
Wedge hesitated, and then shrugged and played along. He finished his own drink and stood, following Sainer out onto the street. This had better be good. He wasn't really excited about playing games with Sainer, especially since he was not in the mood to lose his squadron and go off doing something else. Surely not; surely nobody thinks I'd be any good at that. He dismissed the memory of Kansho. That had been a one-time thing.
Sainer turned down an alley and made his way into a small square around a fountain. He stopped beside the splashing water and looked around. "This'll do," he said, and sat on the edge of the pool.
Wedge stood next to him and asked, "What's this about? What did you want to talk to me about?"
"Have a seat, Wedge; this'll take a little time," Sainer said. In the darkness his hair wasn't red but some indeterminate color, but he still looked pale and tired. Now he sounded tired, too. Wedge sat. "Did you ever hear of Akrit'tar?"
Wedge shook his head. "Who or what is it?"
"It's a planet, Coreward from Coruscant."
"That's a long way from here. Some reason I should have heard of it?"
"No," Sainer shrugged. "Not really. There's an Imperial prison on Akrit'tar. Well, to be more accurate, Akrit'tar is an Imperial prison."
Wedge didn't like the sound of that. "Coreward from Coruscant is not only a long way from here, Sainer, it's pretty damned deep inside Imperial space. Is there a reason we might want to go there?"
Sainer laughed humorlessly. "No. Oh, maybe if the right person was on Akrit'tar, somebody like, oh, Jan Dodonna or Garm Bel Iblis. But nobody like that is on Akrit'tar. We're pretty sure of that."
Wedge raised an eyebrow. "How?"
"'Cause somebody got off. We know pretty much all we need to know about Akrit'tar."
"Okay," said Wedge cautiously. "Then why are you asking me about it?"
"Have you ever heard of Lusankya?" Sainer ignored his question.
"I've been away, Sainsy, I haven't been incommunicado."
"What do you know about it?"
Wedge almost told Sainer to take a walk, but he didn't. Something about his demeanor said the redhead was really, really serious. So he shrugged and answered. "It's an Imperial prison, too, except we don't know where it is. And over the last four or so years, people have been escaping Imperial custody, or just turning up when thought lost, and suddenly they commit some act of devastating treachery and then they remember they were in Lusankya. Not before then. Where am I wrong?"
"Nowhere. You left out Iceheart's name"
"Ysanne Ishard. She runs Lusankya. She's the one who breaks people and puts them back together, and sends them out a little different than they came in. Otherwise you hit all the salient points."
"What's the point here?" Wedge was a little confused. Why was he hearing this? He didn't know anything. And there were no gaps in his memory, unfortunately; he could remember the last two years in excruciating detail. "You think this guy who got off of Akrit'tar was in Lusankya?"
"It's a certainty," said Sainer morosely.
"Do you have any reason to think it? Oryou can't just lock him up on spec, Sainsy. If we start doing that"
"No. He says he was in Lusankya."
Wedge paused. "I thought they didn't remember."
"The guy who escaped from Akrit'tar remembers having been in Lusankya."
"Well, then. Does he remember being broken?"
Sainer sighed heavily. "No. He says he wasn't."
"He says he was in Lusankya, and they tried to break him but failed. Then they moved him someplace else, which he doesn't remember, and then they put him on Akrit'tar, where he escaped after six months or so. He's the first guy we've ever debriefed with a story like that."
"You believe him?"
"I don't know." Sainer sounded wearier than before. "I just don't know."
"Tyllwhy are you telling me this?"
"Because some people, like Cracken, want to ice the guy. Some people, like Borssk Fey'lya, want to bury him. I mean, really bury him. Like you said, on spec."
Wedge had finally realized what was going on. Sainer was having a crisis of conscience over his job. He wanted advice. Wedge could only tell him what he thought. "We can't start doing that. That'sImperial. What the hell's on Cracken's mind?" He snorted and added, "I'm not even going to ask about Fey'lya."
"Cracken thinks it's highly possible that Ishard has managed to refine the process, or change it anyway. We're supposed to let the guy go because he remembers Lusankya, and thensometime down the road he kills Ackbar, or something."
"It's his job," said Sainer with a faint smile. "It's not that far-fetched."
"Far-fetched or not, it's wrong. I'm assuming, by the way, by 'ice' you mean"
"Stick on some backwater planet far, far away from anything that matters."
Wedge took a deep breath and blew it out. Sainer didn't really sound that upset about the possibility, so Wedge was confused about his part in the conversation again. "Sainsy, why am I hearing this? Am I cleared for it?"
"No, you're not. So don't tell anybody where you heard it."
"I'm not planning on discussing it"
"You will," Sainer cut him off. "Wedge, I'm telling you this because it's not right, especially not this time. Not this guy." Sainer hesitated, and then seemed to make up his mind. When he spoke, his voice was decisive. "Wedge, the guy is Tycho."
Wedge felt dizzy. Tycho? We lost the captain... Listen to Booster: you didn't see a body... "Tycho's alive?"
"Yeah." Sainer reached out and took Wedge's shoulder in a firm grasp. "Stay calm. Yeah, Tycho Celchu. He's alive."
"Living stars, that's good news." Wedge started laughing. Then he remembered what Sainer had been saying and sobered.
"Sort of," said Sainer. "Cracken wants to ground him, permanently."
"Not Tycho," said Wedge impatiently. "It doesn't make any sense at all for Tycho."
"A lot of people have passed through Lusankya"
Wedge shook his head violently. "Not Tycho. They couldn't break Tycho. Sainsy, think about that."
"I don't know, Wedge. I just don't know."
"I do. Tycho is not breakable. Not by any Imperial, at any rate. It's not in the cards." Wedge was insistent if not eloquent.
"Tyll, Cracken can play those games of his, yes-no-maybeso, all he likes, but not with Tycho." And that was final, at least as far as Wedge was concerned.
"Like I said, Wedge; you will be discussing it. Just don't tell Cracken where you heard it."
"Are you going to get in trouble over this?" Wedge hesitated.
"Cracken's going to know, but if you don't confirm it, I'll be okay. Just don't tell him where you heard it." Sainer sighed heavily. "Wedge, I just don't think that Tycho should be iced without anybody saying anything. And I sure don't think Fey'lya and his crowd should get the notion that nobody outside our office and the Council knows what's happening."
"I'll let them know somebody knows. And I'll definitely say something."
"I figured." Sainer smiled ruefully.
Wedge got to his feet and looked at Sainer. "Thanks, Sainsy."
Sainer nodded. "Go tomorrow, Wedge."
Wedge slapped Sainer on the shoulder. "I will. Thanks."
Wedge slammed the door of his quarters so hard the holo of his parents fell off the wall. He smashed his fist into the spot where it had hung and swore. Tycho dropped down onto his heels and picked up the picture, carefully. "Not even chipped," he said cheerfully and stood up. He rehung the portrait, and then said, "You need to calm down some, Wedge; your head's going to explode."
"Calm. Down. Calm down?"
"And you're going to get cashiered." He walked into the tiny kitchen area and pushed himself up to sit on the counter.
Wedge threw his cap, savagely, into the bedroom. It missed the desk and landed on the floor. He didn't care. He turned around, stomped into the kitchen after Tycho, and grabbed a bottle of Montyrn; if he'd had any Whyren's Reserve he'd have poured them water glasses full of it. He was supposed to ask if Tycho wanted to eat, or drink, or sit; but he was too angry to speak coherently. He splashed brandy into the glasses, literally; pale brown liquid spilled onto the counter top. His hands were shaking. He put the bottle down and gripped the edge of the counter, taking deep breaths.
Tycho was regarding him with concern. "Wedge, take it easy."
Wedge stared at him. "Take it easy? Take it easy? Tycho, how can you just sit there?"
"Well, what else?" He took one of the glasses and inhaled the aroma. He held the breath for a long moment, and then let it out slowly. "Ahhhh, that's good."
"Tycho" Wedge was out of words. He stalked into the equally tiny sitting room, but it was too small to satisfactorily pace. He slammed his fist into the wall again. It hurt, but it was better than hitting Salm and lightyears better than hitting Tycho, which he was tempted to do.
"Wedge, please calm down," Tycho sounded genuinely concerned.
That's just like him. Haven't seen him in more'n two years, think he's dead for nine months, and now he's worried about me. Wedge took several deep breaths and walked back into the kitchen doorway and regarded his resurrected friend. Thinner, his brown hair a little shorter, his blue eyes a little faded, and his uniform not only a little the wrong size but without any rank insignia. Otherwise, he was the same placid Alderaanian Wedge had mourned, had nightmares about, and missed so badly he'd felt crippled. I forgot how often he drove me right up the nearest wall.
"Tycho, how can you just sit there so calmly? The man wants to put you in jail."
Tycho finished the glass of brandy and poured more. "First, he can want whatever he wants. I mean, this is the Alliance, not the Empire; they can't put me in jail just because maybe, I might, who knows.... Second, even if they do, it will be nothing, nothing, compared to what I've already been through. I could do Alliance jail standing on my head."
"Tycho, why aren't you angry?" It was half a demand and half a plea.
Tycho reached out and almost touched Wedge's shoulder. "Wedge, it's all right. It is. I don't have anything to be angry about. I'm out. I'm back. I'm sitting here in an apartment, well quarters anyway and, okay it's kind of small, but compared to where I've been it's palatial; I'm clean and shaven and wearing clean clothes; I'm not hungry, I'm not drugged, I'm not in pain, and I'm drinking brandy; and even though your eyes are that green at me I'm looking at you. And you're here. Not in my head."
"Ohhh," Wedge sagged and leaned back against the wall. "Tycho. Dead stars." He sighed.
"That's better. That's the color I remember your eyes. I remember that face, too... don't have it on my account, Wedge. I'm fine. Seriously excellent."
"I cannot believe you aren't angry. I'd be so furious"
"You are furious. You almost decked Salm. I don't even want to think about how mad you'd beand mad is the word." Tycho shrugged, half-smiled. "But it's pointless, Wedge. Anger is counterproductive; isn't that what Luke always told us?"
"He doesn't know how right he is." Tycho's eyes blazed suddenly, momentarily, and then damped down again. They closed, and he inhaled with a quick hiss through clenched teeth.
Wedge winced. "Tycho, you can get angry here. It's okay."
"But it's pointless, Wedge," he said gently. "It accomplishes nothing. It won't change Salm's mind, it won't prove me harmless, it won't get my rank back"
"I'll get your rank back," promised Wedge.
"You'll lose your own," said Tycho. "That's crazy."
"No, I won't. They just gave me this, and Rogue, and a politically supercharged mission that they can't abandon. They need me." Wedge was confident about that much. "I'll get your rank back, and I'll get you back in Rogue Squadron."
"You're playing politics now?" Tycho stared at him. "Wedge Antilles is political?"
"That's the way it's done," Wedge said savagely.
Tycho's stare was only broken when he flinched with a sharp cry as the brandy glass shattered in his suddenly convulsing grip. Blood and brandy sprayed across the counter and the floor. Wedge sprang across the floor between them and grabbed his friend's wrist with one hand, turning on the water with the other. He ran the water over Tycho's hand, washing it clean. He saw right away that no tendons had been severed, in fact the cuts were mostly shallow, messy but not dangerous. He laughed in relief. "You'll live," he said, and started picking splinters out of Tycho's hand.
"Sorry about the glass," Tycho's voice sounded a little odd.
Wedge chalked that up to the pain. "Don't worry about the glass, it was cheap. The brandy, on the other hand ... still you could do worse than Montyrn to wash your wounds in. There. Stay put, I'll get something to wrap it in and we can"
"It's all right," said Tycho.
"It is not."
"Yes, it is. All the fingers work. Here," he pulled out a handkerchief and started to tie up his hand, clumsy with his left hand. Wedge shook his head and took it away from him, binding it up neatly.
"We should" he stopped. Tycho was shaking his head.
"No. Like you said, I'll live. I don't want to go anywhere, talk to anyone, not tonight."
Wedge paused. There was a distinct edge in his friend's voice, one he hadn't heard since ... well, never. They put that there, and we aren't trying to take it away. Sith take Salm and all his kith, kind, and kin. He tucked the ends of the bandage tidily out of the way and spoke with Corellian carelessness, "Okay. Want some more brandy, for internal use?"
"No," said Tycho. "Thanks," he added. "I've probably had enough, I'm out of practice." He manufactured a smile. "I'm fine."
"Sure," said Wedge. "Just don't tell me you're not angry."
"Alderaan's Graveyard." The edge had been replaced by a pain so raw it hurt Wedge to hear it. "Damn you, Wedge; of course I'm angry. The Empire took everything, my home, my family, Nyiestra, my whole world, and now they've taken what I had left. All I had was fighting them, all... and that's gone now too. And Salm thinks I wouldYes!" He slammed his uninjured hand against the counter, and then pushed himself down onto the floor in an awkward, enraged motion that was nothing like his usual controlled grace and rounded on Wedge passionately. "Yes, damn you! I am angry. Are you happy? For the past year I have done nothing but dream of hitting those bastards back and now I can't. For the past seven years I have had nothing, nothing, but the Rebellion; I've given it my heart and my soul and my every breath, and now I've lost even that. If Salm has his whole way I will spend the rest of my life locked up again; even if he doesn't, I will never wear a uniform again, I will never fly again, I will never" He slammed his fist into the wall and with that, all the rage seemed to die in him as suddenly as it had erupted. He leaned back against the wall and covered his face with his hands. Wedge wasn't surprised; he was drained just from listening. When Tycho spoke again, he sounded very tired. "I'm angry because the Empire has destroyed my life and the people I thought I belonged to are casting me out. So I'm not just angry; I'm scared. And I'm alone."
Wedge reached to touch him, but Tycho evaded his hand and said, almost angrily, "I'm all right. Like you said, I'll survive." He rubbed his hand over his face, and then turned and all but escaped across the hall.
Wedge took a deep breath and went after him. The hell you're alone. There wasn't much in the cramped bedroom besides the overloaded desk, the closet, and the bed, which was where Tycho was, leaning into the corner with his eyes closed. Wedge hesitated only a moment. He'd always tried to respect his friend's characteristic reticence, but he couldn't keep his distance now. Tycho was in far too much pain. Damned Alderaanian emotional repression. He knelt on the bed and took hold of the other man's shoulders. Tycho stiffened and tried to pull away, but Wedge was having none of it. He'd been, briefly, where Tycho had been living; he'd tasted what Tycho had been feeding on. It was no place and no fare for any man. He tightened his grip and drew the taller man to him, and after only a moment Tycho's resistance crumpled. He turned in Wedge's hold and clung to the Corellian like a child, like Wedge had to Booster when the smuggler had been his strength. Wedge had never thought of himself as having Booster's substance; he hoped he had enough for Tycho.
Who was trembling in Wedge's arms, his face buried against Wedge's chest. "You're not alone," Wedge said, leaning back on his heels under Tycho's weight and stroking the Alderaanian's back. "I don't care what the rest of the galaxy does, you're not alone, you're never alone, not while I breathe." He willed Tycho to hear the truth in his voice.
Tycho tightened his grip. "God, Wedge..." his voice broke and his shoulders shook.
"Shhh," Wedge soothed him, putting a hand in the light brown hair and caressing it. "I know you; I trust you; I love you. You're not alone." Tycho flinched slightly from the third verb. Wedge swore silently. Corellian men didn't say the words often, but they expressed the emotion; flippantly maybe, insultingly certainly, offhandedly more often than not, but they spoke. Alderaanians held everything inside, in silence. How long had it been since someone had said that to Tycho? Too long, in Wedge's opinion. He tightened his hold and repeated, "You're not alone."
Tycho clung to him like a man running out of air. Seven months' Imperial imprisonment, including nearly one in Iceheart's custody, and two more under Arien Cracken's no less thorough, if not as harsh, charge, and Cracken in a way worse because he was Alliance ... 'the people I thought I belonged to...' Wedge rucked up the hem of Tycho's tan shirt and slid his hand inside. There was nothing like the feel of skin on skin to convince you you were safe. His hand on Leia's neck when she finally wept for lost Alderaan, Mirax's on his shoulder when he cried himself to sleep aboard the Pulsar Skate, Booster's hand in his hair on Gus Treta, Grey's warm and comforting on his back when his cat had died, even nothing more than his hand on Malina Afrit's arm when Kendara Madel was lost at Gall... One hand on Tycho's back and the other in his brown hair and against his neck, Wedge comforted his friend as best he could.
Exactly when it changed, Wedge was never sure. When did Tycho move under his hands, sensation becoming sensual, touch translating into tension? When did the comfort Wedge offered, and Tycho took, change into a caress, Tycho's need transmute into desire? Was the Alderaanian, unused to touch, unable to enjoy physical closeness that didn't turn into intimacy, or was he so hungry for belonging, so fearful of abandonment, so in need of certainty, that he was driven to ask for the utmost? Wedge never knew, and it never mattered.
What mattered, and all that mattered, was what was between them, which was Tycho's need, bone-deep and aching and palpable, and Wedge's answer, wholehearted and complete. The details, Tycho's mouth on his, Tycho's hands and lips moving unskillfully on his body, evoking half-forgotten sensations and wholly new emotions, the response that began in the mind and transferred to the flesh to fulfill the other's needs, they were all transient and unimportant, though pleasurable enough as they occurred. Tycho's weight bearing him down against the bed; Tycho's fingers unbuttoning a shirt damp from tears and his hands alternatingly demanding and tentative; his own hands in Tycho's hair, on Tycho's shoulders, holding him as close as his next breath; Tycho's mouth questing blindly against Wedge's angular shoulder, his throat, his chest... Wedge had certainly felt desire before, had both indulged it and denied it; known the drive that came with danger and the longing that traveled with affection. He'd never felt it for Tycho before, or any other man, but that, too, was irrelevant. What was happening had nothing to do with him and his wishes, except for his love for Tycho and his need to give Tycho what he needed, insofar as he could give it. And this was so easily within his power to grant that no other answer ever crossed his mind but to grant, to yield, to respond. To make Tycho believe, know, that he was not, nor would he ever be, outcast and alone.
Eventually, Tycho slept. Wedge, although physically worn out, was still too emotionally keyed up to think of sleeping. The Alderaanian was going to be upset with himself in the morning, he reflected, but at least hewas calm and sleeping now. Wedge settled himself as comfortably as he could, considering that not waking Tycho, who was still half-holding onto him, was more important. The clinginess, considering Tycho's usual reluctance to show any physical affection, was as worrisome as anything else. You're going to need to talk about the past year, and you aren't going to want to,, he thought, and sighed. There was no way he was going to just close his eyes and fall asleep. Not tonight. But he wasn't going anywhere, either, not withTycho holding on like he was. After a moment, he reached for the novel on his desk, his usual bedtime read. Mirax had given it to him, a surprise gift, the last time they'd seen each other; it was Over the Sky and Far Away, which he had read half of at sixteen. He and his parents had read aloud three chapters of a book after supper every firstday as far back as he could remember, and they'd been reading that one when Grey and Mrendy had died. This one had been Mrendy's choice, and seeing its slightly battered cover had made him tear up. Reading once more through the first few chapters, he'd found he could hear his parents' voices again, something he'd been in danger of losing. He had no idea what he could possibly give Mirax in return, any more than he could even guess how she'd gotten the slightly subversive novel out of the Sector.
But tonight he couldn't fall into the familiar story; the injustice Tycho was suffering kept pulling him away, angering him all over again. I have my indignation to keep me company, he misquoted to himself wryly and put the book back where it lived, on the corner of the desk. He might as well sleep himself, if he could, tomorrow was going to be interesting. "Lights," he said softly, but it wasn't loud enough to reach the kitchen, whence the glow spilled through the bedroom door. Well, he'd slept in brighter than that before, it wasn't worth waking Tycho over. The man needed his rest.
Wedge glanced at him where he lay, curled against him, calm and peaceful to outward appearances. He didn't care what Salm said, didn't care what anybody from Salm through Cracken and Ackbar to the Provisional Council said: Tycho was not an Imperial agent. It just wasn't in the cards, and Wedge didn't care how many times Iceheart shifted suits and values. Some things were constants, and Tycho's loyalty was one of them. I promise you, my friend, he said silently to the sleeping man, you will fight the Empire again. One way or another, you will fly with us, and you will strike back at those who tried to destroy you. I promise you, I will find a way to make that happen, come Sith or starfall.
And then he began to drift to sleep, himself. His stormy emotions would send him dreams, he knew; but Tycho's comforting warmth and solid presence would ward off nightmares. He was pretty sure, anyway. He put his hand in Tycho's hair and closed his eyes, and slept, a sleep unbroken and profound.
When he woke, he smelled caff, very close. He opened his eyes: there was a steaming cup on the corner of the desk. He regarded it for a minute, and then accepted its appearance. Sitting up, he reached for it, leaned back against the wall, and took a deep draught. The world expanded and he saw Tycho, straddling the chair and leaning on its back, regarding him solemnly. "Good morning," he said, muzzily.
"Um-mm," said Tycho, not wasting any words.
Wedge took another drink and inhaled the aroma. Edges sharpened. One more drink, this time slowly enough to taste it, and he looked at Tycho. "How's the hand?" he asked.
"Fine," said Tycho, a little surprised-sounding, like he'd forgotten it. "You awake?"
"Yeah," said Wedge; it turned into a yawn. He shook his head briskly, stretched and finished the caff. "Yeah," he repeated, somewhat more convincingly. "I'm awake."
"Salm's office called. For some reason, he didn't want to leave a message with me."
"His loss, my gain."
"Wedge, about last night..." his voice trailed off.
"I'm not fretting." Tycho pronounced the word with annoyance. "It's ... I never..." he stumbled to another halt.
I'm awake, and you're back to normal. "How'd you get to be nearly thirty and never have to cry on someone's shoulder before?"
"I'm not..." he came to another dead stop.
"You're older than I am, and I'm nearly thirty," offered Wedge.
Wedge sighed. If he was going to insist on discussing it, he should at least be able to talk. He reached out. Tycho flinched slightly and Wedge changed the gesture, taking hold of the chairback and shaking it. "I meant every word I said."
"I know," said Tycho in distress. "But"
"Tycho." Wedge was patient. "Are you planning on making a habit of it?"
"Then don't worry about it." That was nearly an order, much more than a request.
Silence was the response, silence and clouded blue eyes.
"Tycho, I mean that. Last night was last night. I meant it, all of it, but we don't have to dwell on it."
Wedge looked at him, waited, but that seemed to be all he could say. That was fine with Wedge. He stretched again and said, "You think you could heat up some bread while I get showered and dressed? We've got a day ahead of us."
Tycho nodded, smiling gratefully. "I can just about manage that, I think." He stood up, took the cup, and said, "There's more of this."
"I hope so," said Wedge.
Tycho laughed softly and went to the kitchen. Wedge got up and headed for the 'fresher. The comm rang; Wedge called out, "Slap that thing onto 'answer', would you?"
Tycho complied. After a pause, a voice said, "Commander Antilles, this is Major Riktsor in General Salm's office. The general would like to speak with you on a matter of some urgency. Please return this call as soon as possible."
"I'll just bet he does," muttered Wedge. He had a one-in-two guess as to what Salm wanted to talk about; he didn't want to discuss either topic with the general today. If he had any brains, he wouldn't want to discuss it with me, either.
The smell of hot bread greeted him when he stepped out of the shower. He pulled on his shirt and trousers and padded into the kitchen, toweling off his hair. He left the towel around his neck and bit into a breakfast roll, closing his eyes in bliss. I could definitely get used to this, he thought, but he had sense enough not to say it.
"Bread for breakfast," Tycho disapproved, shaking his head. "You're out of fruit, by the way."
Wedge nodded. A cup of caff was on the counter; he picked it up. Tycho had cleaned the countertop and the floor; Wedge wondered how long he'd been up. The Alderaanian followed his glance and said,
"I can't believe you don't have a housekeeping droid here."
"One comes in a couple of times a week. After I'm gone. There's not enough room in here for me and a droid."
Tycho laughed. It was the first real, unbridled laugh Wedge had heard out of him. He grinned in relief.
The comm rang again. Wedge snarled at it and punched it onto 'silent answer'. "That's probably Ackbar," he said. "Got about a half an hour before one or the other of them sends somebody over here to wake me up." Tycho snickered. "I'll get my boots on and we can leave," Wedge continued. "First thing"
"Wedge." Tycho was serious again.
"I think I can get along on my own."
"I know you do." Wedge sat on the bed and reached for his boots. "First thing, we get that hand looked at. Then, we find you someplace to live. Off the base, for the moment anyway, but there's actually quite a nice off-base here"
"Wedge." Tycho was insistent.
Wedge blew out a breath and looked up at him. "Say it."
"I don't want you jeopardizing your career over me." Tycho's speedwell blue eyes were earnest. "It's not worth it."
"Your position," said Wedge, stamping his left foot into his boot, "is noted." He stood up and tucked in his shirt.
Tycho opened his mouth, and then capitulated. After seven years, he'd learned something, anyway: no Alderaanian born could match a Corellian for intransigence. He shook his head, but said nothing.
"Okay," said Wedge. "Where's my cap?"
"On the floor, I think."
"Ah. So it is." He picked it up, slapped it against his leg, and put it on. "Let's go. We've got a busy day ahead of us, my friend. Let's get started."
Tycho gave in completely. "Whatever you say, boss."
"That's the Tycho Celchu I know and love," grinned Wedge. "Come on, before Salm catches up to me. We're burning daylight." He shut the door behind them and glanced sideways at his friend. "Whatever that means."
"Rock clinger," said Tycho distinctly, and they made their way, laughing, to the main doors.
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