Wedge Antilles drew the hood of his lightweight jacket closer around his face as a sharp shower blew across the twilight street. He was grateful for the excuse to make his face harder to see, as he walked briskly along, head lowered slightly to keep the rain out of his eyes. The few others on this quiet sidestreet would be similarly concerned with their own situation, and unlikely to pay much attention to others.
Not that keeping his identity secret was so important now the Civil War between the Confederacy and the Galactic Alliance had ended. Wedge had been pardoned by both the GA and the Corellians, though at present, he and his family were still based on the Errant Venture. Wedge was in no official danger, here on Corulag, but there was always the chance of running into someone who bore an unofficial, but equally dangerous grudge for some reason. And at this moment, he just didn’t want to be recognized.
He relaxed a little as he entered the warmth and brighter lights of a small, anonymous hotel. Ignoring the front desk, Wedge went straight to the turbolift and pressed the button for the fourth floor. Water dripped from his jacket onto the thin carpet as he waited. Only when he was inside the lift, did he pull down the hood. The side walls of the lift car were mirrored, and Wedge ran his hand over his short, steel-grey hair, smoothing the damp-induced spikiness. He removed the jacket, giving it a brisk shake that sent raindrops flying, and automatically checked the set of the DL-44 blaster pistol in its holster at his side.
On the fourth floor, Wedge glanced at the sign indicating room numbers, and turned to his left. The room he wanted was about halfway along the cream-painted, bare corridor. Wedge pressed the button beside the door and waited, the jacket clasped tightly in his left hand. He stared at the white door, feelings concealed behind the impassive mask of his face.
The door slid open, and Tycho smiled in relief as he recognized his visitor.
“Wedge ! I was afraid you wouldn’t come.”
“I did.” Wedge moved forward, forcing Tycho to step back into the room. He tossed the jacket onto a soft chair as the door slid closed behind him.
“Not even Iella knows I’m here.”
Tycho let go a sigh of relief. Normally he faced the galaxy with a degree of reserve, even when around his closest friends, but now his face was open, his crystal blue eyes anxious. Wedge hadn’t seen him look so vulnerable in decades.
“I’m glad you came,” Tycho said quietly. “We need this talk.”
“Do we ?” Wedge replied brusquely.
He took a swift step forward and ripped a left-handed punch into Tycho’s gut. Tycho grunted explosively, and folded forward into the right-handed jab that smashed into his jaw. His head snapped round and he fell sideways onto the thin carpet. Wedge stood stock still, every muscle tensed as he stared down at his friend. Tycho let out a groan, then slowly rolled over and sat up, brushing white hair back from his face. He looked up, forcing himself to meet his friend’s eyes.
“How could you do it, Tycho ?” The words burst out of Wedge. He sucked in a deep breath, willing himself to relax as Tycho slowly got to his feet.
“Jacen’s security would have realized there were intruders on the shuttle before the strike team had barely got down the ramp,” Tycho replied.
“The alert wouldn’t have spread ship-wide as quickly as it did if you hadn’t called the bridge and notified them,” Wedge retorted.
Tycho moved towards him, his arms held low and his hands open in a gesture of peace. “I was doing my sworn duty to alert my chain of command that insurgents had boarded the ship, as you know, Wedge. You’ve taken oaths of duty as an officer, and you’ve kept those oaths above and beyond what a soldier is expected to do. They’ve given you medals for it.”
Wedge let out an angry hiss. “Yes, I have medals, but I earned them by risking my own life, and the lives of soldiers who volunteered to follow me, as you know, Tycho,” he added bitterly. “I never betrayed allies, even informal ones.”
Tycho winced, and moved closer still. “Wedge, I…”
“You betrayed Iella, you Sithspawn !”
Wedge lunged forward, planting both hands on Tycho’s chest to push him away. Tycho reflexively grabbed Wedge’s arms as he fell, pulling Wedge over with him.
They hit the floor with Wedge on top of Tycho, and partially knocking the wind from him. Wedge scrambled to get to hands and knees, freeing one hand to swing a punch into Tycho’s face. Just before it connected, Tycho’s knee hit him in the back and knocked him off balance, spoiling the punch. Tycho seized his arm and pulled him sideways, twisting his body to throw Wedge off. Wedge landed on shoulder and hip, the holstered pistol digging painfully into his upper thigh. The spike of pain fuelled the hurt that had simmered inside him for months. Wedge let his temper consume him, and attacked his friend furiously.
Wedge couldn’t begin to count the number of fights of one kind or another he’d engaged in during his life. He’d fought and survived so many because he never let his temper control his actions; his calm, clear-headedness in combat had popularized the myth that he had ice-water in his veins instead of hot blood. Now, that self-control was abandoned as he wrestled savagely with Tycho, wanting only to hurt. That lack of control was what gave Tycho a chance to fight back. Wedge was lashing out wildly instead of using his head and his skills.
They rolled about the hotel room, bumping into the furniture. Now and again one would try to gain his feet, but the other would pull him down. Both were gasping for breath, clothing disarrayed, and blood smearing knuckles and faces. Wedge’s blaster had been dislodged from its holster and lay on the floor, disregarded. Tycho was fighting defensively, trying to protect himself from the onslaught until the firestorm of Wedge’s anger burned out.
Tycho was on his knees, trying to get up. Wedge got his feet underneath himself and lunged, his hands reaching for Tycho’s throat. Tycho caught Wedge’s wrist, ducked his shoulder and twisted, turning Wedge’s attack into a throw. Wedge flipped over and landed on his side, rolling with the momentum of the throw, but there wasn’t enough room. The back of his head smacked against the door of the closet, stunning him. The room faded out for a few moments as he lay there, immobile apart from the gasps for breath. Wedge was dimly aware of a weight pinning him to the floor, and Tycho murmuring something from close by, then something pressed against his open mouth. He instinctively responded to the warm touch of lips pressed against his own, returning the pressure. As consciousness returned to full, Wedge became acutely aware of the sensations of the kiss.
There was the metallic tang of blood mingling the with almost-forgotten taste of Tycho’s mouth. Tycho’s tongue probed into his own mouth, touching off responses that had been dormant for decades. He could smell the distinct musk of Tycho’s skin and felt the familiar, muscular weight of Tycho pressing against his body. Tycho’s kiss was familiar, but strange. It was so many years since he had kissed anyone but…
Wedge clamped his teeth down on Tycho’s tongue. Tycho made a strangled squawk and tried to jerk his head away. Wedge released his bite and threw Tycho off himself. He scrabbled up into a sitting position, as Tycho did the same a couple of feet away. Tycho poked out the end of his tongue in an effort to see the damage, then quickly licked some of the blood from his lips. As Wedge watched, he felt a pulse of excitement in his groin but he sturdily ignored it, taking deep breaths as he regained his self-control.
Tycho looked at him, his eyes pleading for a kind response. “I loved you.” he said hoarsely.
“Loved,” Wedge repeated, emphasizing that he’d used the past tense.
“I never really stopped,” Tycho admitted. “I couldn’t distinguish love from respect and admiration. And it was you who broke us up; you fell out of love with me.”
“It was too difficult,” Wedge said, shifting to a more comfortable position. “I couldn’t be both your commander and your lover, and I could do more good in the galaxy as your commander.”
“You did your duty.”
“I wasn’t putting anyone’s life at risk,” Wedge retorted.
“You broke my heart,” Tycho said simply.
“You were chasing Winter just a few months later.”
Tycho grimaced. “I knew that once you’d made your mind up, there was no hope of getting you back. Winter was the first Alderaanian I’d met in months and there was comfort in that.”
“You made it last thirty six years,” Wedge said tartly.
There was silence before Wedge spoke again. “Why, Tycho ? Why was your duty to Jacen more important than our friendship ?”
“Iella was taking a big risk by boarding the Anakin Solo. I didn’t realistically make it any worse.”
“That’s not the point !” Wedge took a deep breath, calming himself. “It’s not how much of a difference you made to the mission, it’s that you betrayed it. That you made the decision to warn them that there were enemies aboard, and you acted on that decision. You risked your own life, flying in behind the Reveille, to do your kriffing duty.” He spat the last words out.
“I had no choice,” Tycho protested, his hands bunched into fists.
“Like krif you did ! I wouldn’t have done it.”
“I’m not you !” Tycho took a sobbing breath. He forced himself to look straight at Wedge. “You can bend the rules till they creak and splinter, Wedge. You’re a bloody typical Corellian, for all your self-discipline. If you think doing something is right, you’ll do it and worry about the consequences later. That’s the only reason we survived Adumar.
I can’t make myself take that extra step. The military turned on me once, after I’d been on Lusankya, and I just can’t face that again. I can’t bring myself to defy them in the way you do, Wedge. I managed to defect from the Empire after they destroyed Alderaan. The Empire’s duty was to protect, and instead they destroyed; they betrayed me. The GA… I helped create the GA and I swore to defend it. I don’t want to be branded a traitor again, and despised. I didn’t want to lose everything all over again. My life on Alderaan was taken away; I couldn’t bear to risk losing everything I’ve worked for since.”
Wedge sat in silence for a minute, absently wiping his sleeve across his mouth to mop up blood.
“I guess that’s my explanation,” he said quietly. He’d got an answer at last, but all he felt was a sense of defeat. Slowly, he hauled himself to his feet and turned to pick up his jacket.
He looked back to see Tycho still on the floor, looking at him with desperation in his brilliant blue eyes. Wedge waited silently until Tycho burst out.
“I’m sorry, Wedge. Forgive me !”
Wedge looked at the man he’d loved and trusted for most of his adult life. Slowly he shook his head.
“You betrayed me and my family, Tycho; my family. It doesn’t matter that it didn’t make a material difference to the mission. You put loyalty to a corrupt government above your loyalty to me; someone you love.” His voice cracked and he had to stop speaking for a moment. “You couldn’t bring yourself to do the right thing by your friends when it really mattered. I don’t think I can forgive that,” he finished quietly.
Wedge turned sharply and walked towards the door, blinking treacherous tears from his eyes. He heard Tycho moving, but didn’t look back. His heart seemed to sit in his chest like a heavy stone.
The crack of the blaster bolt made him start. Wedge whirled round in time to see Tycho slump sideways to the floor, the DL-44 slipping from his limp fingers.
Wedge dived across the few feet of floor space and dropped to his knees by Tycho’s body. Tycho’s crystal blue eyes were open, gazing sightlessly at the ceiling. A small patch of the white hair at his temple was scorched where the blaster bolt had entered his head. A single, typically efficient shot. Tears rolled down Wedge’s face as he groaned. Grief and guilt crushed him as he wept, railing against Tycho for loving him, for betraying him, for killing himself.
When the tears ended, Wedge realized he was weak and shaky. Getting slowly to his feet, he headed for the bathroom. There, he washed his face and gulped down water, replacing the fluids he’d lost in crying. A glance in the mirror showed him his red-rimmed eyes. Wedge soaked tissues in cold water and held them over each eye in turn, then drank some more. When he looked in the mirror again, he still looked rough, but not so much as to attract attention.
Satisfied with his appearance, Wedge produced a black gadget from a pocket and switched it on. The DNA cleaner was an intelligence device he’d borrowed from Iella. It cast a bluish beam of light, but also emitted a combination of sonics and microwaves. The blue light showed up the debris left by living beings – skin cells, fingerprints, hairs, blood and more. The sonics and microwaves destroyed some things, and scrambled the DNA of anything that didn’t break down. Wedge set the cleaner to remove only his own DNA, and methodically used it to erase all traces of his presence in the rooms.
When he’d done, he stood by the door and looked back at Tycho’s body; the blue eyes were dull and glazed now. The visible signs of death made it a little easier for Wedge that Tycho really had gone.
“I’m sorry, Tycho,” he said quietly, his voice still hoarse from the crying. “I might have been able to forgive you in a few years. Maybe Iella or Mirax or Corran could have talked me into it because I would have forgiven you, sooner or later. But not now. Not today. I’m sorry.”
Wedge turned and left the room, walking quickly away without looking back. There was one more thing he had to do before he left Corulag. Someone else might have let the authorities take care of it, but Wedge couldn’t. It was a duty; one that came from within him. He had to comm his best friend’s wife and tell her the news that would break her heart.
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