Once, he had danced. He had danced on a wooden platform high among the trees on a forest moon, celebrating the death of a tyrant. He had danced on a painted lawn in a hidden base, helping a shattered squadron recover its morale. He had danced in an isolation ward on a Super Star Destroyer, celebrating the survival of a friend believed dead. He had danced with the most famous woman in the galaxy at a diplomatic meeting intended to prevent civil war breaking out in the galaxy. He had danced at his wedding.
Iella smiled to herself as she recalled their wedding. Both would have liked to celebrate it on Corellia, but it was not safe at the time, especially for Wedge. Instead, their friends had rallied around to bring Corellia to Coruscant. Mirax had baked ryshcates; Corran had given wedding rings of Corellian sun-gold, and Han and Booster had vied to outdo one another. Booster had given her metres of Corellian flower lace to make her wedding gown. Han’s gift of Coronet fire lilies had provided lush bouquets for herself and the maids of honour, and vases of them filled the reception hall with their sweet, crisp scent.
The first dance at the reception had been the Coronet Waltz, as was traditional at Corellian weddings. She’d felt proud and humble and secure as she’d danced with Wedge’s arms around her, and his brown eyes gazing into her own. He’d looked so handsome; his dark hair contrasting against the white of his dress uniform jacket, slender, well-toned, an enchanting smile, and those expressive, fascinating eyes. Her first husband, Diric, had been a comforter and guide: Wedge was her equal and her perfect match.
She reached out to softly brush her hand over his silver hair, cropped shorter than he’d worn it back then. Wedge’s eyes stayed closed; no flicker of movement from his still-dark lashes. Iella hadn’t expected a response. Small monitor pads fixed to his temples and chest fed information back to the machines on the other side of his hospital bed. His chest rose and fell in shallow breaths that hesitated now and again before resuming. Five months ago, not long after Wedge’s ninety-third lifeday, the doctors had diagnosed the rapidly progressive form of Van Glynd disease. The neural pathways of his brain had starting disintegrating and short circuiting. In those few months, he’d suffered mood swings, loss of co-ordination and mobility, confusion and memory loss. Now he was in a coma, with only hours, or maybe minutes, before his brain finally shut down and life slipped away.
A week after the diagnosis, he’d held her in his arms and said.
“When I was twenty, and flying X-wings with Red Squadron in the Rebellion, I didn’t think I’d live to be twenty-three. Every year since the age of twenty three has been a bonus. That’s seventy years I didn’t expect to have, and sixty of them with you as my wife. How can I not be grateful for that ?”
Iella picked up his hand, kissed it, and held it between her own. He had small hands for a man, smaller than Wes’s, or Corran’s, even though all three were much the same height. The nails were neatly clipped short, as he’d always kept them. This was the hand he’d almost lost in preventing a massive bomb exploding among the fleet above Endor. Skilful surgery and bacta had restored full function without leaving a mark. The faint white scar on the back of his hand was from another time, one Iella had shared with him. Corran had inadvertently sent a speeder bike flying through the window of an apartment they were in while undercover on Coruscant. Thanks to Wedge’s quick thinking, no one but the bike rider had been seriously hurt, but shards of transparisteel had pierced his hand. With no bacta available, the cuts had healed naturally, leaving the narrow scar.
Though the hand was scarcely larger than hers, it was the hand that had triggered a proton torpedo into the heart of a Death Star. This hand had controlled X-wings, as Wedge had danced his fighters among the stars, impossibly defying the impossible odds through many years and many wars. The hand she held had touched and caressed her, rousing the fire of passion in her body. Wedge’s hands had comforted her in times of distress, and had soothed their daughters through tears. Now his hand lay warm and limp in hers, no longer expressive. It would never guide or caress again.
Iella held her husband’s hand in her own, drawing comfort from this last contact with his physicality as his life ebbed away. She watched his face, and for a moment, she expected him to open his eyes and smile sleepily at her, as if he’d just woken in the morning. But his eyes stayed closed and the only movements of his body were the shallow, uneven breaths. He looked peaceful, and Iella sat quietly, ready for the end.
“I want you to promise me something, Iella,” he’d said one night, as they lay in bed together. “If the opportunity comes along, I want you to fall in love again. Don’t be afraid and hold back. I want you to be happy, and if there’s a man who can make you happy after I’m gone, then please take that opportunity.” It was the same unselfish blessing that Diric had given when he’d thought she and Wedge may have been lovers during his disappearance and captivity on Coruscant. She’d remembered that after his death, knowing that Diric wouldn’t grudge her the happiness she eventually found with Wedge. This second marriage was drawing to a close now, but this time, Iella was ready for the loss. Diric’s death, the timing and the manner of it, had been hard for her to cope with. Even now, decades later, she still preferred not to think too hard about the fact that she’d fired the shots that had killed him. The hurt and guilt had slowed her recovery from grief, and she’d almost lost her chance for a new life with Wedge.
Iella reached out and touched Wedge’s cheek, smiling gently at him as his life faded. Her heart was heavy, but she’d already commenced her mourning as the illness had overtaken him, robbing her of her husband. She’d passed through the shock of the diagnosis, the disbelief that this was happening. Then as Wedge had slept beside her at nights, she raged internally at the injustice that was taking him from her, bitter tears soaking her pillow. He’d been in this hospice for three weeks now, and she’d been alone when in their apartment. Sometimes she had found herself looking round, on the point of telling him something, or she’d thought she’d heard his footsteps in another room. Their home seemed empty without his voice, or the laugh she’d never hear again except on holorecordings. Iella had already agreed to stay with Syal and then Myri for a while after the funeral, wanting time to adjust before returning to live alone.
A steady electronic tone broke into her thoughts. Iella looked up, blinking, and saw the red light glowing on the monitors. She took in the messages on the machines without understanding for a moment. Respiration had ceased, and the line indicating pulse skipped a few times as she watched, then faded out. Brain activity was diminishing overall, and spiking randomly as the neurons flickered and died. Then meaning sank in, and Iella looked at Wedge. He looked just the same as before, but the shallow breaths had stopped.
Still holding his hand, Iella leaned over and kissed him on the lips. She was still sitting, holding his hand, when the em-dee droid arrived. After a brief greeting, it examined Wedge, removed the sensors, looked at the data on the monitors, and recorded the time of death.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” it told her, speaking with a voice that had been programmed to suggest sympathy.
“Thank you for everything you’ve done,” she replied.
“I wish it could have been more,” the em-dee said softly. “You may stay here until you’re ready to leave.” With that, he left her.
Iella didn’t really know how long she sat there, Wedge’s hand between her own, as she lost herself in memories. Once, he had flown a fighter into the heart of a Death Star and out again. Once, he had been the most famous and feared pilot in the galaxy. Once, he had been the general who had bought time for the galaxy by holding up the Yuuzhan Vong at Borleias. Once, he had been the lover who had refused to take her rejection in an apartment on Adumar and who had taken her breath away with a kiss. Once he had been the father who had swung their daughters high into the air, making them giggle with delight. Once, he had been the man who put his arms around her and danced with her.
Eventually, Iella came back to the present. She kissed the hand she was holding, and laid it neatly beside his body. She stood, stiff after sitting for so long, kissed Wedge and stroked his hair in farewell. Then she drew the sheet up to cover his face, and left the room.
As she walked, initially thinking of the calls she had to make to their daughters, and friends, she found a melody creeping into her mind. It was a waltz: the Coronet Waltz. Iella smiled softly as the tears gathered in her eyes, and she remembered how she and Wedge had once danced together.
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