“So what did you do about it ?”
“I left the listening device, and told Luke and Mara not to talk in the refresher, and why. I’ll script up some false leads for them to say within its range and see what comes of it.”
“Problem solved.” Wedge reached over to switch off the bedside light.
Iella couldn’t dismiss the problem so easily. She lay awake, worrying at the mystery of the amateur spy in their midst. No matter which way she came at the problem, it made no sense. At length, Iella sighed and rolled over to face her husband, looking at him in the dim blue light that came through the tinted transparisteel windows of their quarters. Wedge was already fast asleep; today, like every day here on Borleias, he had driven himself to exhaustion. He’d never been good at delegating, even to someone he trusted as much as Tycho.
Iella smiled fondly at him. With his face relaxed in sleep, she could still see that boyishness in his features she remembered so clearly from their first meeting back on Coruscant, some twenty years ago. He wore his hair shorter now, and there was silver scattered through the dark brown, but Iella was sincere when she told him that it looked distinguished. She wanted to reach out and wrap her arms around him, to feel his skin against hers, to feel his heartbeat, his breathing. To hold him tight and pretend that there was no war that might snatch him away from her forever. But to disturb him and wake him would be selfish though. Wedge needed these brief hours of rest. He needed them for his own sake, and for the sake of everyone on this planet or in orbit around it.
It was a tremendous load for one man to carry. Of course Wedge had accepted responsibility for the lives of others before - it went with being an officer - but it never got easier. And now he had to hold together and inspire a scrambled-together coalition of troops who had just lost the long battle for Coruscant. There were refugees too, looking for help and guidance. And this enemy was something different. To be captured by the Yuuzhan Vong could mean torture, or being sacrificed to their gods, or suffering the implants that turned captives into mindless slaves. The aliens didn’t just mean to conquer, they intended to exterminate. With Coruscant under their control, the galaxy itself seemed to be within their grasp.
Borleias was not a good place to linger now, but Wedge had been trapped and abandoned here by the self-serving Advisory Council. Anger surged in Iella at the thought of the Council, and the Chief of State, Pwoe. Wedge had told her the basics of the meeting with the Advisory Council; it was Mara who had given her the full-colour version. Wedge had got the best deal he could from Pwoe, and now spent his days plotting how to cause maximum damage and distraction to the Vong, before the inevitable retreat. He would do it because there was no one better suited to the task, and that was his burden.
Wedge shifted a little in his sleep, half-stretching before relaxing again. Iella watched him tenderly, contemplating the contrast between this vulnerable, sleeping man, and the iron-willed general who commanded a fleet. A general who’d never even set out to become a soldier. Iella had chosen her career in security and intelligence, first with CorSec, and then the New Republic. Wedge had been a young, rootless pilot who had decided to give purpose to his life by risking it flying X-wings for the rebellion. In the Rebel Alliance, he had discovered his talents for leadership and tactics, as well as flying. The military leadership had grown to depend on his abilities and loyalty, demanding more and more from him. They promoted him away from his X-wing and made him responsible for yet more lives. With marriage and the arrival of their two daughters, Wedge had found meaning in his life outside of the military, and had retired from it without a trace of regret.
Until the Yuuzhan Vong had invaded. Wedge hadn’t wanted to leave her and the girls, and return to war, any more than she’d wanted him to. The alternative, to stand by and do nothing, had never been a choice for Wedge. Not when he knew that his skills could save lives, even at the risk of his own. It was the burden of being too good as a soldier. That sense of duty, the need to do the right thing, was one of the qualities that Iella loved in her husband, even though she hated the separations and the knowledge that it could lead to his death. She had grieved for one husband already, but at least she had been able to say farewell to Diric formally at a funeral. If Wedge were to be killed, it would most likely be on a starship destroyed by enemy fire. There would be no body, maybe no confirmation of his death. Just a notification that her husband was missing in action. That the legendary leader of Rogue Squadron, General Antilles, currently commander of the New Republic’s Fleet Group Three, had died facing enemy fire.
Iella blinked sharply, forcing away tears that threatened to form, even as she forced away those thoughts. Wedge was here with her now, sleeping soundly, alive. Back on Adumar, he had promised her that nothing would happen to him because he was the best there was. He had survived Adumar as he’d survived all the battles before and since. Iella remembered that promise and smiled to herself as she watched Wedge sleep. For now, at least, they were together and she could help him to carry his burden, if only by making sure that he slept in a bed every night, and not at his desk. Carefully, she leaned towards him and lightly touched her lips against his. Wedge didn’t stir as she eased back to her side of the bed. He slept on, like a child exhausted after a busy day. Iella caressed him with a last look, then closed her eyes. Soon, she too slept.
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