"I don't know what I'm doing," Luke finally said in dismay, looking up at Wedge with a slight tinge of panic in his eyes. "I can't...I've flown all of one space mission and now they want me to lead a squad?"
Wedge gave Luke a flat, unimpressed look. "One mission?"
Luke shifted. "Okay, that may be a bit of an understatement."
"Your 'one mission' blew up a weapons installation that would have terrorized a galaxy." Wedge reached over, shoved lightly at Luke's shoulder. "Besides, we're in this together. I'll keep you from fucking this up too badly."
Luke's worried furrow melted into something of a sheepish grin. "You promise?"
Wedge rewarded him with a smile. "Promise."
It could have been easy, Wedge knew, to be jealous of Luke, jealous of the luck or the skill that vaulted him up through the ranks. But Luke was earnest, good-hearted, and so talented the black skies themselves seemed to bow down in his wake. Those weren't the worst building blocks to grow leadership on.
Wedge could help him with the rest. "First things first, we have to sort the new recruits." Wedge gestured at the holodisplay in the briefing room they were holed up in. "Most found their way to us shortly after Yavin—they're still pretty green."
Luke nodded, his eyes focusing on the display of faces. "So...we'll put them in sims to get them trained." Luke barely managed to keep the sentence from turning into a question, his eyes flicking to Wedge, a quest for approval in them.
Wedge nodded. "Good plan. They should probably serve as gunners first, too." Wedge let his shoulders relax as he grinned at Luke. "Unless we wind up with a prodigy, of course."
Luke snorted and rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah." His expression faded into something more serious as he looked over their recruit roster. "They're so young."
Wedge blinked at Luke, wondering if he caught the irony of that statement. Wedge was...well, he hadn't asked Luke exactly, but Wedge guessed he was a handful of years older than Luke, maybe half a decade. While that might not count for much in the long run, Wedge still felt impossibly old compared to him. Wedge looked back over the recruits, slightly shaking his head as he did.
Most of them were even younger than Luke.
"I need a gunner," Luke said, his eyes fixed on the profile of the youngest of the lot—one Dak Ralter, aged 17. He smiled like he was taking a school holo, eyes bright and eager even through the fuzzy blue of the second-rate holodisplay. "I'll take that one," he said, a too casual movement as he waved his hand over Dak's picture.
Wedge looked at Luke a long moment, considering calling Luke out for trying to protect someone who had signed up to fight in a war. That sort of thinking was going to end painfully. Still. Luke was talented and lucky, and it wasn't the worst command decision to have the youngest, greenest gunner with one of the most talented pilots.
"Sounds good," Wedge said, and they moved on to the rest of the recruits.
"Ralter!" Wedge snapped, gratified when the young recruit stepped up next to him quickly, spine straight. The Rebellion wasn't much for drill formality, but it was still good to see people making an effort. Wedge kept his face stern and his eyes drawn as he handed over the dossier. "You're assigned with Rogue Leader, as a gunner."
Wedge gave an internal sigh at the way Dak's eyes lit up with excitement as he snapped, "Thank you, sir!"
"It's your job, not a gift. Don't thank me." This was the problem with Luke's plan. It was easy to see the position of Rogue Leader's gunner as a mark of favor. Maybe they should have put someone more experienced in the slot.
Then again, Wedge mused as he watched Dak trot over to Luke with enthusiasm, it might not be the position itself. Luke greeted Dak with a polite smile and a firm handshake, and they talked for about half a minute, Dak looking more and more enthused by the second. Luke was soon called away, and Wedge watched, with a certain sinking dismay, as Dak stared longingly after him. Practically pining after a thirty second long conversation.
This could be a problem.
Wedge watched Luke, who was completing his post-flight walkaround, doing a very good job of studiously ignoring the rest of the hangar as he paced around his X-Wing. He was also doing a very good job studiously ignoring his gunner, who was artlessly trying to ask Luke to come out for drinks with him...maybe some of the other guys...definitely him.
Luke politely declined, and focused intently on the fuselage until Dak left.
Wedge stepped up next to Luke, saying under his breath. "You need a hand with that?"
"With what?" Luke said.
Wedge snorted, glancing at where Dak was finally tending to his own ship. "Seriously? We could reassign all the gunners. Say it's good for squad morale to have a variety of functional teams. That might solve the issue."
"No," Luke said quickly, firmly. After a beat he said. "What issue?"
"Luke," Wedge started, then stopped, looking sideways at Luke. He could be a bit thick, but there was no way he was oblivious enough to miss Dak's crush.
Luke gave a grim smile. "I have. No idea. What you're talking about," Luke said slowly, deliberately.
"We've got good teams. Everyone," and there was the slightest emphasis on the word, "is flying effectively with each other. There's no reason to change it."
"You're the boss," Wedge said dubiously.
Luke winced. "You think I'm making the wrong call?" he asked.
Wedge liked him all the better for asking. In deference to that fact, he actually took a moment to think about Luke's question. "I think it's as good as any other plan. If he keeps pushing, though..."
"I know." Luke said quickly. "He's been pretty polite about everything. It's easy enough to ignore." Luke paused. "Not that there's—"
"Anything to ignore. Of course." Wedge sketched a sloppy two-fingered salute and wandered off to debrief.
The X-Wing set down smoothly, just a slight dip as Wedge settled her. He took a moment, running his attention over his control panel, making sure everything checked out. All systems green, as good as could be expected post-battle. Then he took one moment more, leaning his head back against his seat and breathing in slowly, in and out. He did better, he found, when he was able to take this time, make himself ready to face the noisy world outside his cockpit.
With one more breath, Wedge popped the canopy open, swinging himself out to rejoin the squad already settling around them. Dak and Hobbie chattered enthusiastically, Tycho had called Luke over to look at some scoring Tycho's X-Wing had picked up after a recent battle. Wes caught Wedge's eye, then with a slightly worried look shot his gaze sideways. Wedge followed the look, stomach flipping when he saw Mon Mothma walking over to them.
"Look alive," he called, sliding down the ladder.
Everyone straightened and fell silent in the presence of the Alliance's civilian leadership.
Mon, ever gracious, waved one hand in a negating gesture. "No need for formality. News of your skirmish over the supply depot reached us. It was very neat work you did. I wanted to let you all know personally that your dedication has already helped ensure that our ships stay fueled and flying. You have my gratitude."
Everyone puffed up at that, and Wedge was no exception. Still, it fell to Luke to make the formal response, and after half a second, he realized it. "We're honored," he said, inclining his head slightly.
"And in less formal news," Mon said, wearing a slight smile that softened her statuesque dignity into something almost approachable, "We've managed to get a mail shuttle in. Packages are in the crew room, and please, consider yourself dismissed to go get them."
"Thank you, ma'am!" Luke said, stepping back to gesture at the rest, "You heard her, let's go check it out!"
There was enthusiastic chatter as the group moved away. Wedge found himself hesitating for a moment, looking at Mon Mothma.
"Can I help you, Lieutenant?" she asked, watching him as he lingered back.
Wedge ducked his head, using the gesture to collect his thoughts. "The mail means a lot. I know it can't be logistically easy to handle. I just wanted to thank you...for making it a priority." Wedge paused, trying to find a good conclusion and failing, instead settling for saying again, "It means a lot."
Mon's slight smile deepened. "Of course. The military high command assures me it's a logistical nightmare." She is too refined to shrug but her slight head tilt carries the same spirit. "I believe the effort is worth it. We'll forget what we're fighting to save, if we don't stay connected to those that love us."
There was a sadness behind her eyes, and Wedge remembered that Chandrila had formally denounced her, lest they become a target of Palpatine's wrath. He saw an echo of that sadness in Luke's eyes, sometimes. Luke didn't get care packages. The Rebellion was the only family he has left.
"We appreciate the reminder," Wedge finally decided to say, bowing his head slightly in goodbye before hurrying off after the Rogues. It wasn't the most graceful of exits, but Wedge had run out of things to say, and didn't want to trip over a topic that might make that sadness manifest more clearly. Mon was running the entire Rebellion. She had better ways to spend her time.
The crew room was alive with conversation, when Wedge stepped through the door. It was almost festive, Wes busily wrapping a knitted scarf around Hobbie's neck with gravitas, one of Green Squadron's new members passing around a battered package—postmark showing that it had originally been sent out months ago—filled with cookies. They were stale by now but that didn't stop anyone from taking one, the allure of home baking undeniable.
Wedge looked over, finding Luke—with Dak unsurprisingly shadowing him. What was surprising was that, instead of his usual hands-in-the-pockets-satisfied-smile survey of the group, Luke was, instead, staring with something akin to surprise at a red-wrapped package in his hands.
"Oh! Yeah, that's from my moms!" Dak said, studiedly casual as he held up his identically wrapped gift. "I tell them about the crew and stuff, I guess they decided to send you something." Dak shrugged, slight smile on his face, "Probably as a thank you for keeping me alive, or something mortifying like that. You know. Moms," he gave a dismissive hand wave, as if he could brush embarrassment from the air, "they're like that."
Luke's face as he regarded the present was a sight to behold. He looked up with an absolutely stunned smile on his face. "Thank you."
Dak's answering smile was radiant. "You haven't even opened it yet," he protested, gesturing at the gift.
Luke regarded the present solemnly, carefully sliding his finger under the tape and working it free without tearing the paper. He had an almost reverent deliberateness to his action as he carefully worked the paper away from the gift, folding it neatly (to Dak's increasing impatience) before opening the box itself. Most of Rogue Squadron gathered around, jostling each other for a better view, so by the time Luke opened the box to reveal several small bags of candies and a lump of knitted-looking cloth, there was a chorus of appreciative noises.
Well, mostly appreciative noises. "Why didn't the rest of us get gifts?" Hobbie asked with mock offense. "We all keep you alive!"
"You know why," Wes said. "It's because Dak thinks—"
Wedge spoke quickly, to cut the rest of that sentence off. "You all bet Dak he couldn't do three barrel rolls consecutively and then he threw up all over the cockpit. Why would they send you gifts?"
There was a chorus of protests, lead by Dak that it wasn't all over it was barely enough to mention and besides, he—
Wedge tucked his hands in his pockets, satisfied he had managed to keep the conversation away from Dak's obvious and intractable crush on Luke. Still, he watched the expression on Luke's face with growing disquiet.
Luke pulled the knitted cloth out of the box and folded it over his arms—a blanket, apparently. He had a soft, complicated smile on his face as he traced his fingers over the fabric.
Wedge wasn't the only one watching Luke. "You like it?" Dak asked, softly enough that Wedge could barely hear it from across the table.
"It's great." Luke shook his head, broader smile on his face as he looked back up to Dak again. "I'll cherish it."
Dak rocked up on his toes and back down, so cheerful it seemed like his body couldn't contain it any longer.
Wedge flattened his lips. Sure, sure, it was great that Luke was getting mail. And it was good that Luke was happy! Wedge didn't resent that in the slightest. But watching the way Luke hugged the blanket against his chest, the way he didn't immediately step back when Dak leaned in, Wedge was uncomfortably aware that this was a distinct escalation of The Problem. Dak was starting to look hopeful, and that could be a problem for everyone.
He'd just have to have a chat with Luke. Stress the importance of not leading Dak on.
Wedge sighed, watching how happy Luke was, the way the burdens of war and leadership had fallen off of him, simply enjoying a present, sharing his gifted treats around the squadron.
Later. Wedge shook his head, smiled as he accepted one of the hard lemon candies. No reason to spoil the fun now.
Wedge watched Echo Base's heavy doors swing closed for tonight, gritting his teeth to keep from screaming. Hoth's deadly night would freeze all of them if the door's weren't shut. It was the right call, he told himself. The right call.
But Luke was on the other side.
"Where's Luke?" Dak asked, his voice going thin with panic.
Fuck. Wedge quickly stepped up and behind Dak, grabbing his elbow. "Dak—"
"The doors are closing, and he's not..." Dak's breath hitched. "Why are they closing the doors?"
Dak's voice was rising, loud enough to be clearly heard throughout the hangar. Concerned eyes started to trace their way, General Rieekan's eyes narrowing in Wedge's direction. Wedge gave him a pacifying wave, then steered Dak away from the crowds by his elbow . He found a hollowed out cavern that was doubling as equipment storage, and among the hydraulic lifts and plasma cutters he turned to Dak.
Dak shook free of Wedge's hold, wrapping his hands around himself in a painful little hug. "He'll be alright. Right? He's got to."
Wedge closed his eyes. "Dak..." Wedge's own contained grief made a desperate attempt to break free of the walls he had placed around it. He shoved it ruthlessly back down, forcing himself to focus on Dak. "It's dangerous out there. If Luke didn't check in, there's a good chance that..."
"No!" Dak said, wild eyed.
"Dak..." Wedge kept his voice calm.
"I love him!" Dak blurted out. "He can't—" Dak's voice hitched. "He can't!"
Wedge didn't really believe in false platitudes or dressing up the truth in convenient lies. Still, he took one look at Dak, nineteen now, veteran in some ways and still so young in others, and knew that he couldn't force him to face the truth any more than he already had. So Wedge didn't speak, just reached out and wrapped Dak up in a hug. Dak twitched in Wedge's hold and took one shaking breath, like the frozen moment before a hyperspace jump. And just as inevitable as the stars stretching once the switch was thrown, Dak started sobbing.
Wedge held Dak close, tucked Dak's head under his chin and rubbed his hand along Dak's back. Looking for some truthful gesture, Wedge finally said. "Luke's the luckiest person I know. And the Force likes him. If anyone survives this, it's him."
The words didn't fix a thing, but they did seem to help, settling Dak enough that his sobs slowly abated. Finally Dak was calm enough that Wedge felt safe taking him back to his quarters, leaving him with strict instructions to sleep and not even think about poking his head out of his room until morning.
"I'll wake you if we find anything."
"Promise?" Dak asked, a wavering echo of the check-in Luke always used with Wedge.
Wedge felt gutted by the word, by the thought that he'd never hear Luke say it again, but he kept it off his face. "Promise."
Something about that put Dak at ease, and he settled back against the bed, exhaustion winning out over emotional distress.
Wedge left Dak's room, and, refusing to follow his own advice, settled into the communications room to wait for any word of Luke.
"I'm going tell him." Dak's jaw was set, his eyes narrowed as they took in Luke's body, floating in bacta.
"Bad idea," Wedge responded quickly.
"He could have died." Dak clenched his fist and rounded on Wedge. "He could have died and he would have never known how I feel."
"You wouldn't be able to fly with him anymore," Wedge said, matter-of-factly.
"What?" Dak's tone indicated he thought that line of thinking was plainly ridiculous. "Why? Luke and I make an amazing team."
Dak laughed. "Oh, come on. You're going to try to pull that on me? Half the pilots are hooking up. Hobbie and Wes are—"
"Can't be proven," Wedge said with a firm shake of his head.
"Han and Leia…" Dak protested with a raised finger.
Wedge shrugged. "Just tension, as far as we know."
Dak folded his arms. "I know for a fact that there was an orgy in the crew room. This Tuesday!"
Wedge scrubbed a tired hand across his face, feeling older than his years as he stared at Luke, trying to find the words that would keep his headstrong gunner from throwing the Rogue's dynamics into a tailspin. "It's not about sex," he finally said. "It's about being able to get the job done. And your crush on Luke has held on strong for the better part of two years now."
"It's not a crush, Wedge."
Wedge waved his hand dismissively.
"I'm not joking when I say I love him." Dak's voice rose defensively.
Wedge sighed. "I know. That makes it worse. Because the important thing about all the other people who allegedly work together and sleep together is that you can modify it with the word allegedly."
Dak did not get the message Wedge was hoping he would pick up. "So…as long as we keep it quiet…" Dak said in scheming hopefulness.
"You really think Luke can lie about something like that?" Wedge asked.
Dak's face fell, as he regarded Luke with no small amount of dismay. Wedge stifled a smirk. It was good to know that even Dak's rosy view of Luke couldn't deny Luke's legendary lack of poker face.
Wedge stepped closer, laid a hand on Dak's shoulder. His voice quiet and serious, he said, "I need you to understand this, Ralter. I will make sure you are reassigned if I feel at all that your ability to fly with Luke has been compromised. I won't risk either of your safety, or the safety of the Rogues over this."
Dak folded his arms. "I keep him safe. That doesn't change."
But beyond that, Dak didn't protest further and they watched Luke together in silence.
Wedge was proud of Dak, strange as that might sound. The kid had handled Luke's convalescence with, frankly, more grace than Wedge imagined he would. Dak managed to keep his mouth shut when he visited Luke in medical—well, as shut as it ever was, Dak had always been chattery around Luke. But his chatter contained no declarations of love, or even evidence of his tearful breakdown.
So, despite looking closely, Wedge couldn't find any objections to Dak and Luke flying together. Dak was right about that much, at least. They did make a good team.
Luke entered the hanger; fresh out of medical, he was still paler than Wedge would have liked. He wished he could give Luke more time to recover, but the Empire had found them, AT-AT's were closing in, and there was no universe in which a Luke Skywalker who could fly would be talked into an evac seat.
Luke walked over to Dak, who greeted him with enthusiastic cheer. Wedge was too far away to hear their conversation, but Dak looked bright and smug and delighted to be flying with Luke again. As ever, as always. Luke turned to enter the speeder, and Dak caught Wedge's eye. He tossed Wedge a cocky little salute. Wedge shook his head and returned it.
He turned to his own gunner, finding Wes leaning against the snowspeeder with a wry grin as he watched the exchange. "Incorrigible, that one."
"Takes one to know one," Wedge shot back, giving Wes their customary before-battle high five as they got in the speeder.
"So, Wedge," Wed asked as he secured his buckle, "if I tell you I love you does it get me out of this battle?"
"Head in the game, Wes."
Wes gave an offended gasp. "Undying love, sir."
A soft snort came from behind Wedge, as Wes toggled on various controls. "Can't believe Luke hasn't picked up on it yet. Dak's the opposite of subtle."
Wedge grit his teeth. "Wes, instead of gossiping about our teammates, you get me the status of the harpoons?"
Wes gave an exasperated sigh. "You're no fun." After a pause, he answered, "Loaded and ready."
"Very good," Wedge said, and at Luke's command he hit the throttle, gunning for the hanger door.
Wedge emerged from his snowspeeder, attention split between making sure his droid was being loaded into his X-wing correctly, and listening to Wes harangue Luke.
"So your plan, boss, was to trip the death machine, and then jump out of your snowspeeder and stab it with your glowing sword?"
Luke's voice went high as he protested, "It worked!"
Tycho hopped out of his own snowspeeder, calling as he jogged over to the pilot cluster, "I feel like we should really be critiquing the engineering team. Who designs something with that obvious of a flaw?"
"Give 'em a break, Tych," Hobbie said with a grin. "They probably weren't expecting to fight someone who grew up on a death planet and uses shoddy bar brawl tactics instead of proper military strategy."
"Once again, I would like to point out the fact that it work—"
"Kriff," Wedge said, cutting Luke off. He circled around Luke's speeder, feeling his brows draw together as he saw the scoring along the back of Luke's speeder. He distantly became aware of the group falling silent, attention focusing on him. Wedge gave a short gesture at the back of Luke and Dak's snowspeeder. "Didn't realize they had gotten so close. Nearly got Dak."
Dak and Luke both paled as they stared at the scorch mark. Dak shook it off first, protesting, "Hey, I'm fine!" He held his hands out, opening and closing his hands, a little demonstration of his own solidity. His voice softened as he looked over at Luke, "No worries. Close scrapes are part of the job."
Luke glanced over at Dak, not cheered by Dak's proclamation. He took a slow deliberate breath, slowly relaxing his hands. He summoned a slight smile, before reaching out to ruffle Dak's hair. "Glad you're okay. I'd be lost without you."
Dak preened under the touch, grinning at Luke with his guileless brown eyes. Luke's own smile grew slightly in response.
Wedge groaned internally. He really needed to have that conversation with Luke about not encouraging Dak's crush.
But they had bigger things to worry about right now. He caught Luke's eye. "Move to X-Wing evacuation?"
Luke nodded, smile fading to determination.
Wedge threw him a salute. "Good luck, Luke. See you at the rendezvous."
There was a strange look on Luke's face as he turned toward his X-Wing.
Wedge glanced back to Dak, who stared after Luke with unashamed adoration. Wedge reached over and thwacked the back of his head lightly. "Head in the game, Ralter. We've got a transport to protect."
Dak shook his head. "Right! Right…" He threw Wedge a salute and headed toward his own X-Wing.
"What do you mean he didn't make the rendezvous?" Dak darted in front of Wedge and stopped, arms crossed, not letting Wedge get any further down the hallway.
"He's not here, Dak." Wedge ran his fingers through his hair, exhausted. "And we can't afford to wait any longer. Command's given the order, we need to jump."
"But…" Dak looked around, from the force field over the wide opening to the landing bay to where the X-Wings sat, a noticeable gap where Luke's was missing. Then he turned back to Wedge, eyes wild. "How will he find us again?"
Wedge bit back his pessimistic thought that it probably didn't matter, because if Luke wasn't with them, he was probably smeared to stardust somewhere.
Dak read it on his face. "He's not dead."
Wedge swallowed down his own gloomy predictions and turned to Dak. "You're probably right. I should learn to not bet against the boss."
Dak folded his arms and looked off to the side. "You shouldn't," he muttered, trying and failing to mask a worried tone.
"Maybe he's with the Falcon? Leia evacuated on the ship. Maybe they decided she needed an escort. They haven't shown up yet either." Wedge gave the thought as a peace offering, some sliver of hope they could share.
Dak took it. "And Leia, she's been with the Rebellion since the beginning. She'll be able to find us again no matter where we go!"
"Right." Wedge rested his hand on Dak's shoulder. "Well, let's see how much paperwork Luke's flown off and left me with."
Rapid footsteps came up behind Wedge in the hallway, then quick fingers grabbed Wedge's elbow, halting his progress. Wedge turned to find Dak, looking at Wedge with an intent glare. "Is it true?"
Wedge considered playing dumb. The gossip running around Home One was just gossip, after all. But the truth of things would come out soon enough, and awkward crush aside, Dak was Luke's gunner. So he said, "I think so. Command has confirmed that Leia and Luke have returned to base. Solo has not. I don't have the details."
"But Luke's in medical?" Dak said, the words pushing out too quick.
Wedge winced. "I don't have confirmation, but he—"
"If he were fine, he'd have checked in with us already." Dak folded his arms. "What happened to him? Is he okay?"
Wedge didn't have any reassurance to offer. Dak already knew everything Wedge did. But since Luke had left, Wedge had stepped up in leadership, so he felt obliged to try. "I'm sure we'll be briefed soon. And I'll ask around quietly. I'll let you know what I find out, okay?"
Dak ran his fingers through his hair, a frustrated look on his face. "Fine." He stopped, something determined settling in the corners of his eyes and mouth. "I'm going to tell him I love him this time, Wedge. I should have told him sooner."
Wedge sighed. "That's your business, Ralter. My objections haven't changed."
"I know. But it's not like I'm flying with him now. I'd rather he knew the truth." Dak swallowed, looking sad. "It's been a rough few months, you know?"
Wedge sighed. "I know," he said, quietly, emphatically. "I still think it's a bad idea."
Dak gave Wedge a smile. "That's because you're a dour old man." Dak reached over and cuffed Wedge's shoulder. "I still like you, though."
"Insolent brat," Wedge grumbled in his best dour old man voice.
Dak laughed, some cheer back on his face, and he snapped his heels together in mock parade attention. "Sir," he drawled.
"Dismissed," Wedge said affectionately. As Dak turned to leave, Wedge called after him, "And if I hear that you've broken into medical I will ground you for a month, and have you cleaning sewer lines the whole time."
Dak winced, giving an acknowledging wave as he left.
Luke seemed hollow.
Too white, blending with the stark sheet, stump of his arm hidden under a pinned sleeve. There was a heaviness about him Wedge had never seen before, foreign on Luke's features.
Wedge recognized it well enough, nonetheless.
They were the same shadows Wedge had seen reflected in the mirror, when he realized he had flown out with a full Red squadron to fight the Death Star, and flown back with…Luke.
The rest of the Rogues filed in, catching the mood and responding accordingly. Wes was teasing but gentle, Hobbie encouraging, Tycho graceful about conversation, deftly keeping it rolling with innocuous topics.
Wedge gave a worried glance over at Dak. Dak looked back, concern clear on his face as he glanced from Luke, to Wedge, and back to Luke.
Wedge shook his head slightly. Not the time, Dak. For Luke's sake, it wasn't the time.
Thank the Force, Dak had some restraint for once in his life. He gave Wedge a sad look and a slight nod, before deliberately assuming a cheerful expression and settling himself in at Luke's side. "Glad you're back, boss!" he said, giving Luke a sunny smile.
Luke caught his expression and his face softened, some of the tiredness falling off of it. "It's good to be back."
Dak bit his lip, reaching over and ruffling Luke's hair, a return of the affectionate gesture Luke used so often with him.
Luke gave a soft chuckle and ducked his head. Dak's fingers lingered in his flyaway strands, long enough that Wedge was starting to grow uncomfortable.
Wedge cleared his throat, gratified when Dak quickly tucked his hands back in his lap. Luke blinked over to Wedge, the shadows under his eyes undercutting the usual intensity of his gaze. Wedge said, "Just so you know, your stuff is tucked away in our" — Wedge gestured around at the Rogues—"rooms. We wanted to make sure it wasn't thrown away, so we split it up between our things."
Luke gave a small smile. "Thanks," he said, eyes flicking away from Wedge and finding each of the Rogue Squadron members in turn. His gaze landed on Dak, whose smile had grown wider.
"Actually…" Dak said, hopping off the bed for a second and reaching down into a bag he had brought. He popped back up the bedside holding the thick knitted blanket his moms had sent Luke.
Luke's eyes went soft as he looked at the blanket. "I'm glad that wasn't lost."
Dak, presumptuous as ever, started tucking it in around Luke. "It's too boring in here. All white. Give you some color," he said as he worked.
Hobbie caught Wedge's eye, arching his eyebrows. Wedge gave a small shrug. What was he supposed to do, yank Luke's blanket away from him? Besides, Luke was clearly in favor, his hand (his only hand, kriff) playing over the weave.
Dak finished tucking and smoothed the top of the blanket, gracing Luke with a smile. "I'll bet you have some interesting stories to tell."
Luke's face collapsed back into tight, drawn, lines, and Dak rallied quickly, "But that's going to have to wait! First, I've got to tell you about this band of pirates we caught out in the Haniloo Nebula! You remember that, Wes?"
"I'm not really sure that Luke wants to hear about that right now…" Wes said hesitantly, his eyes flicking from Dak to Luke.
"I'd love to," Luke said quickly, too obviously desperate to not have the conversation focused on himself.
The Rogues glanced around at each other, Wedge could read on their faces a mutual pact to not force Luke to talk about whatever it was that had happened out there. Wedge's eyes lingered on Dak's, and Dak gave another nod before he turned back to Luke. "Okay, so there we were…"
Luke settled, drawing the blanket tighter over him, relaxing as Dak talked. Wedge couldn't even bring himself to get too upset as Dak wiggled up closer next to Luke, not when Luke seemed to so obviously need some cheerful company.
Wedge stayed wary, watching Dak and Luke. Waiting for Dak to do something impulsive or for Luke to break down from that weight that dragged at his shoulders. But hours turned to days to weeks, and Wedge slowly relaxed. Luke worked to find his place back in the Rebellion, somewhere between a contractor and figurehead. He had a strange quietness about him, some of his easy brightness now complicated by depth and shadows.
Despite Luke not landing with the Rogues, Dak didn't seem inclined to push his proclamation. He stayed friendly and professional, saving his concern for when Luke couldn't see.
"Do you think he's okay?" Dak asked Wedge once, glancing across the briefing room to where Luke stood with General Dodonna and Princess Leia, head bowed gravely, his flesh and blood left hand wrapped around his now-mechanical right.
Wedge hadn't known how to answer.
Dak didn't seem to need Wedge's words, sorting things out for himself as he stared across the briefing room. "He's so…serious now. I think…he needs his friends. He needs to remember that he has friends."
Wedge breathed a quiet sigh of relief, that Dak was going with friends and not the potentially horrifying version. Whatever was going on with Luke, romance wouldn't fix it.
"He left again?" Dak exclaimed.
Wedge looked up from where he stood, across the hanger, talking with Tycho about promising younger flight officers who might be ready to take on more leadership oriented roles. Dak had been on that list. However, considering the fact that he was—fuck—currently cornering General Dodonna and Mon Mothma, Wedge suddenly had seriously concerns about whether Dak had the political skills needed for the increased responsibility.
Right now, all signs pointed to no.
A knowing glance to Tycho was all the communication needed to excuse him from the conversation, and Wedge jogged across the hanger, coming up just as General Dodonna said, "You don't have the security clearance for that information," in a tone that clearly indicated the conversation was over.
Dak did not get the message. "But—"
Wedge's hand landed heavily on Dak's shoulder and quickly pulled Dak behind him, leaving Wedge facing the brass. "Apologies," Wedge said, cursing Dak under his breath as Dodonna and Mothma gave him an unamused look. "I'll brief him."
Mothma arched an eyebrow. "Has Lieutenant Ralter already discussed his question with you?"
Wedge swallowed, hearing the unspoken words. Because if you told your junior officer to harass us with irrelevant questions, your leadership style is very much being called into question.
Wedge gave a brisk shake of his head. "No, ma'am. I'm confident I can handle whatever his request is, though." I know he's being a pest and, don't worry, he will get an earful regarding proper chain of command.
Mothma inclined her head, favoring Wedge with a slight smile, before flicking her eyes beyond him to find Dak. "You're dismissed, Lieutenant. Commander Antilles, with me."
Dak gave one more frustrated look to both Mothma and Dodonna, but, for once, was wise enough to hold his tongue. He spun on his heel and left. Wedge watched out of the corner of his eye until Tycho caught up with Dak. Once he was sure Dak was being properly shepherded, Wedge turned his full attention back to the very intimidating pair of commanding officers in front of him.
"Wedge," Mothma said, and Wedge started at the informality, feeling far more nervous than he would have with 'Commander.' First-name conversations tended to come with bad news. She must have caught some of the worry on her face, because she gave a quick shake of her head. "I can't discuss the details of Luke's mission, but I can tell you that it relates to the hopeful return of Han Solo. His absence was authorized, and his current location is, broadly, known."
General Dodonna snorted. "It's only authorized because he would have left anyway. It's easier to just give him the orders to do what he wants, instead of figuring out how to court martial a Jedi." Dodonna shot Wedge a sharp look. "Not that we're sharing that around."
Wedge shifted. This sort of discussion felt well outside his paygrade. But, there was a time where Luke had been his commanding officer. Maybe that entitled him to some inside information. "Of course not."
Mothma laid a hand on his shoulder, which nearly gave Wedge a heart attack. "I know Rogue Squadron was an important support to Luke while he was recovering. Although we can't share the details, his friends should know that he is acting in the Rebellion's best interests, and we hope for a quick conclusion to his mission."
Wedge swallowed, quietly overwhelmed by the consideration in that statement. This was why he defected. It's what kept him going on the shitty, miserable days where there was too much death with too little to show for it. War was war, and it was awful regardless of the side you were on. But having a commanding officer that watched their people and cared about things like friendship?
Wedge had had enough of the Empire's brand of leadership to know what a gift it was. "Thank you," he said, and meant it.
"You're turning into a fine officer, Commander Antilles," General Dodonna said, laughing at Wedge's startled expression. "Even if your team gets a little uppity."
"Sorry, sir," Wedge said automatically. But the look the General gave in the direction of Dak's exit through was nearly affectionate. It was enough that Wedge felt comfortable following up his apology with a rueful, "Pilots."
The general nodded knowingly, and Mothma laughed, finally releasing his shoulder. "I suppose you had better see to your pilot, then."
She was enough of a politician that, despite the ten thousand other things on her plate, she actually made Wedge feel like she was regretful to leave his company.
Dodonna, military to his bones, had no such grace. "Dismissed, Commander."
Wedge saluted and left, debating whether he wanted to yell at Dak, and then assign him to sanitation duty, or assign him to sanitation duty, and lecture him while he scrubbed.
After burning off the worst of his sulk while managing waste lines, Dak settled back into being a reasonable pilot instead of a lovelorn fool. Wedge braced himself for when Luke returned, but figured he'd enjoy the lull in the meantime.
Leia came back first, Han in tow. It was good to see that old Corellian again. And even better to see Leia happy. But Luke didn't come in with them, and Dak was a stressed out ball of tension until Luke finally made his way back to base again.
Luke remained...strange, though. Quiet. Still. The kid Wedge had known was burning bright, energy spilling out at the seams. It felt wrong to see him like this. Especially since Wedge had a feeling that the fire hadn't vanished. It was just contained now, wrapped in a mask of tranquility.
Wedge worried about what happened when that mask got stripped away.
But it was one worry in many, hidden among his worry about Dak being an infatuated idiot, about his people and their safety, about his own slow climb into high command and responsibilities he was picking up that he had never wanted.
Then the second Death Star came, and that worry eclipsed all the others.
And then Wedge blew it up.
Wedge stepped carefully down the ladder to the X-Wing, landing on the forest floor, his legs nearly buckling out from under him. They trembled, weak from relief and burning out adrenaline. He found his footing, and basked in the smell of campfire and cheers of delight all around him. He took a slow breath in, bracing himself against the ladder, a slight smile on his face.
He had done it. Oh, sure, he’d had help, but he had flown his X-Wing into a functioning death machine, and made it explode, while not getting himself exploded in the process. Wedge wanted a drink. Possibly two drinks.
He accepted a quick embrace from Lando, a longer embrace from Luke (slightly less distant, something bright and twitching in his eyes, with a strange smell of char hanging around him), the various cheers and congratulations from the pilots around him.
After much glad-handing, the noise and press of people started to grate in his nerves. He found a friendly face with booze to share, and filled up a mug with something warm and strong smelling. He toasted the soldiers and pilots clustered around the campfire fire with his mug as he wandered away a bit, finding some quiet.
Quiet was not exactly what he found.
"You've got to be kidding me," Wedge muttered in dismayed horror.
Dak had Luke pressed up against a tree, their lips locked together. One of Dak's hands was rucking up Luke's shirt, fingers venturing under the dark fabric. Luke's leg was wound around Dak's calf and there was definite...rocking...occuring.
Wedge groaned. Luke and Dak didn't hear him, too busy with their own—decidedly differently pitched—groaning.
Wedge pinched the bridge of his nose and turned away. He sent an irritated complaint to whatever gods were listening that on this day, this day when he had somehow managed to avoid getting blown to pieces by an exploding reactor core, he now had to deal with Luke dramatically reversing course on his policy of always ignoring Dak's obvious crush.
Hadn't he suffered enough for one day?
Fuck. This was going to be…messy.
This…could be handled tomorrow, Wedge decided, turning with a sharp pivot and stalking back to the campfire. He needed some more alcohol.
"He did what?" Dak exclaimed, eyes narrowing and arms folded.
Wedge, unable to hide his own irritation, snapped, "Apparently, three days, fifteen hours ago—which, as you well know, was during the Battle of Endor—Luke Skywalker surrendered himself to Imperial forces and was taken on board the Death Star."
"We…we were attacking it! We could have killed him!" Dak looked dismayed.
"I know!" Wedge couldn't quite keep the snarl out of his voice, his own grief and anger sliding out in the words. He and Lando had taken the shot, after all. If Luke had died on that battlestation…Wedge was the one who would have had to live with it.
Luke had his reasons, Wedge was sure. Luke always had his reasons. But right now, those reasons felt damn selfish.
Dak caught his mood, or maybe just had the same thought process. Either way, his eyes darkened, and he bit out, furious, "I swear, when I see him again I'm going to…we will be having words."
Wedge had no idea whether this was a positive development in the ever-frustrating tale of Dak and Luke. He decided he didn't care. It was just nice, for the moment, to have someone share his anger.
Wedge walked into his room aching and tired after a long day. There had been a lot of those, lately, as the Empire faded but refused to die. In the weeks since the Emperor's death, various Moffs and Grand Moffs and Admirals were all jockeying for a shot at that highest throne. And more and more, it was Wedge's job to figure out how to deal with that.
Wedge was looking forward to a night spent wrapped in his own blankets, that brief pleasant oblivion before morning came again, far too quickly. Hopefully Dak, his newest roommate in the ever-evolving Crew Berthing Shuffle, didn't feel like talking tonight.
Wedge toggled open his door, and it slid open, to reveal Luke. He was sitting on Dak's bed, a flush finding his cheeks when he saw Wedge enter the room.
Wedge stopped and stared at Luke. He hadn't even realized Luke was back from whatever Jedi nonsense he was doing these days. And he was sitting...on Dak's bed.
"Hey, Wedge," Luke said, excessively casual.
Wedge glared at him. He stalked past Luke and grabbed a bag, irritatedly throwing clothes into it.
"What, no, you don't have to—"
"Saw you at Endor." Wedge tossed a look over his shoulder at Luke.
"Yeah, of course you did, I said—"
"Ah." Luke looked away, and Wedge returned to packing. From behind him, he heard Luke say, "Look, I'm not...I'm not. This isn't the sort of conversation you need to leave the room for! I'm just...we're going to talk. Reset expectations."
Wedge closed his eyes for a long moment, before turning and looking at Luke. "Luke, have you seen Dak since Endor?"
Luke fidgeted, still sitting on Dak's bed. "I've been busy…we all have."
Wedge thought about Dak, his eyes bright with anger. He thought about Dak, hopelessly in love with Luke for years.
Either way, there was no pile of credits large enough to keep Wedge in the room for either way that conversation turned out. He made his way over to the 'fresher, grabbing his toothbrush as he called, "You have fun with that."
Luke huffed from the bed, there was a squeak of spring as he got up, moving over to the 'fresher door. "Do we have a problem? Is the Dak thing really such a big deal?"
Wedge stopped, sighing. He turned to look at Luke. "The Dak thing is…" Wedge tried to scramble for words to describe how he felt about it, then realized he didn't need them. "Your business. And I am determined to keep it that way." He waved his bag at Luke by way of explanation.
Luke shifted. "That doesn't explain the…" Luke leaned against the doorframe, hand in his hair as he looked for the right word. "You're mad," he finally said.
Wedge gave Luke a sideways glance. "You really want to do this now? You didn't come here to talk with me."
"I didn't realize I needed to!" Luke blurted. "Dak at least told me we had more things to talk about! You just—"
Wedge cut him off with a sharp, vicious little sentence. "I don't know you anymore."
Silence lingered in the room for a long, brittle moment.
"Wedge...I'm still…" Luke lost his words, trailing off as his voice went thin and quiet.
Wedge softened. He turned to Luke, hip pressed against the counter, opening his arms with a helpless gesture. "I don't know what you need. You haven't been talking to me." Wedge gave a twisted smile. "There was a time I felt I knew you better than I knew anyone else."
Luke grunted as if struck. "I—Wedge, there's so much I can't tell you, can't tell anyone…"
"You're going to have to figure that out." Wedge knew he sounded cruel, but he couldn't think of a softer way to put it. "I'm your friend, Luke. But I'm not going to pretend to understand you when you won't talk to me."
Luke looked like he was going to protest, then swallowed the words. Wedge gave him a resigned nod, and started trying to hunt down his comb. After a long pause Luke finally said, "Wedge?"
Wedge looked back up at him. Luke gave him a small smile, before saying. "I've had a rough time of things lately. And now I'm realizing I didn't handle that very well. I haven't been a good friend, and I'm sorry."
Wedge smiled in return. He could never stay mad at Luke for very long. "Forgiven."
"I'm not sure I'm ready to talk about it. If I'll ever want to talk about it. But I do miss—I want to be around more."
Words were easy. Wedge shrugged with one shoulder. "You know where to find me."
Luke nodded, slowly, then more decisively. "Dinner tomorrow?"
Well. Actions were better. Still...Wedge arched an eyebrow. "You sure you want to make Dak jealous?"
Luke blushed, shaking his head. "We're not…" Then Luke's eyes flew up, reading the change in Wedge's posture. His relief at realizing Wedge was teasing was tangible, and there was a nearly gleeful smile on his face as he finished, "Shut up."
Wedge laughed, then stepped forward, pushing Luke out of the 'fresher door. Once they were both out of the 'fresher Wedge stepped forward and gave him a one-armed hug. "Dinner sounds good."
Luke glanced around the room. "You...want to stay in here? We could all hang out…"
"Wedge, really, it's not going to be a—"
"Nope." Wedge saluted Luke, two fingers to his brow, before making his escape.
Wedge blearily blinked against the light coming through the transparisteel window that stretched across the mess hall, headache pressing up against his temples. It hadn't been a bad night, far from it, but he hadn't slept in his own bed, and that always made him bleary. There had also been a perhaps immoderate amount of alcohol involved.
Caf. He needed caf.
He made his way over to the machine, taking a slow inhale as he filled his mug and the caffeinated steam reached his nose. He swore he could feel his exhaustion retreat at just the knowledge that caf was coming to beat it down.
"You look terrible," a cheerful voice behind him said.
Wedge turned, eyes widening as he took in Dak, collar open, dark red hickies around the base of his neck. Wedge nearly dropped his mug. "Cover that up," he hissed.
"What?" Dak said casually, shouldering past Wedge to get some caf with a broad grin. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"For the love of—" Wedge's headache surged back fiercely.
Dak played with his collar ineffectually, love-bites still obvious, almost as obvious as his obnoxious good cheer and clear I-Just-Got-Laid stroll.
Sure, Luke. Just a talk. Nothing Wedge needed to leave the room for.
Wedge turned and stalked over to a table. A moment later Dak followed. "Luke had meetings, but—"
Wedge reached over and pinched Dak's arm.
Dak pulled back, wincing. "Hey!"
Wedge glanced around. They were mostly alone, thank the Force, and everyone else seemed uninterested. "You two going public?" He asked in an urgent undertone. "Have a press release? Has Luke prepared a philosophical statement about the Jedi and relationships? Do you have a nicely politically neutral answer to what it's like to fuck a Jedi?"
Dak's brow furrowed. "Don't be crude."
Wedge arched his eyebrow. "Do you?"
"Then if you're going to insist on strutting around looking freshly laid, don't use his fucking name," Wedge hissed.
Dak looked perturbed for all of two seconds. Wedge just hoped it was enough to sink in. After the painfully short moment of reflection, Dak shrugged again, with a bright smile. "Anyway, I had a lovely night last night."
Wedge groaned and buried his face in his caf mug.
"You look like you didn't." Dak nudged his shoulder. "Sorry for kicking you out."
"Liar," Wedge grumbled as he set the mug back down again.
Dak chuckled then stopped and leaned in closer to Wedge. "Wait…"
Wedge was treated to Dak's fingers reaching out and pulling his cheek down, as Dak peered at Wedge's eyes. Wedge jerked his head back and slapped at Dak's hand.
Dak gasped, cheerfully scandalized as he asked, "Are you hungover?"
Wedge grumbled, muttering, "Yes, you drive me to drink," as he reached over and buttoned Dak's collar. "Going to make me grey before my time. Insolent brat." He smoothed Dak's shirt down, making him almost presentable.
Dak grinned, "You love me."
Wedge rolled his eyes. "Force only knows why," he said, and turned his attention back to his caf.
Wedge was pleasantly surprised that Luke actually kept their planned dinner on the schedule. He had assumed that Luke would either be pulled away or come up with a convenient excuse to get Dak alone again. But no, Wedge's comm chimed in the late afternoon, confirming they were still on, and his suspicious nature bowed and acknowledged that for once, it had been proven wrong.
He and Luke grabbed some food, and after a baleful shared look at the crowded mess hall, mutually decided to find a quieter place for conversation. Wedge followed Luke into an unused conference room, the two of them enjoying a quiet dinner on a table that could fit twelve.
It was nice, talking with Luke again, if a bit stiff and formal at first, considering how their last conversation had left things. But after a few carefully polite comments about how the day's conferences had gone, Wedge couldn't help himself.
"I understand your conference last night had some unexpected outcomes."
Luke froze, half-full fork held hovering over his plate as he slowly turned to Wedge with an expression of disbelief.
Luke ducked his head in embarassed horror, heat sweeping over his face, until the tips of his ears (the only thing Wedge could see properly as Luke did his best to hide) pinked.
"Uh huh." Wedge said, then started laughing. He couldn't help himself. It was nice to know that someone (unlike Dak) still had enough shame to be properly embarrassed. After a moment, Luke joined the laughter, and with that, the last of the ice was broken between them.
"I am sorry about chasing you out," Luke said, and, unlike Dak, Wedge actually believed him.
"It's fine." Wedge said, with an irritated sigh. "Just don't make a habit of it." Wedge paused after he said that. Dak certainly seemed to be assuming that this was an ongoing thing. But Wedge had known Luke for years, and Luke was always the one person who could be counted on to not get sucked into the tumultuous world of Rebel hookups.
What had changed his mind? Adrenaline? Or, Wedge mused with a growing worried twist in his chest, was it just that Dak had been insistent, and Luke hadn't had the heart to say no?
Wedge should just stay out of it. He should keep his mouth shut, and change to topic to X-Wing flight trials or something. He should.
But he had always had a soft spot for Dak, and if Luke was regretting things, it was better that he have that help sooner rather than later. For everyone's sake.
Wedge braced himself, took a breath, and said, "You...feeling okay about everything?"
"Yes?" He gave Wedge a confused look. "Why wouldn't I be?"
Wedge stabbed at his food, wishing there was anyone else in Luke and Dak's life that he could foist this conversation off onto. After entertaining a brief hysterical fantasy where he ordered Wes to go provide relationship counseling, he managed to say, "Dak's great but he can be...a lot. Sometimes things that seem like a good idea in the moment feel...different...later."
It was terribly stated, but Luke took it seriously, tapping his fork thoughtfully against his lower lip. "I wasn't planning on it." He looked up quickly. "Honestly, Wedge, I wasn't. But...I don't think it was a bad thing."
"As far as I know you don't usually…" Wedge wrinkled his nose, feeling uncomfortable. "You know. With anyone." Wedge hoped that bit of awkwardness was enough of an explanation for why he had asked. "But as long as you're happy…"
"You know," Luke had a thoughtful look on his face, "for a long time I didn't really feel that way about anyone. Then Dak came along and—"
"I'm good!" Wedge held up his hands and glanced longingly at the door. "I already regret asking."
Luke laughed. "Nuh-uh. You're the one who complained that I don't talk to you anymore. I'm talking now! You're obligated to listen."
Wedge wrinkled his nose and conceded the point with a nod. "Fine. Just remember I still have to work with the kid, okay?"
"He's not really a kid anymore," Luke said, with a rolling suggestive lilt.
Wedge buried his head in his hands. "You're all infants," he bit out, muffled by his palms.
Luke laughed, bright and easy, and Wedge reluctantly dragged his fingers away from his face.
"More seriously…" Luke sighed. "Look, did you know that Biggs and I were…" Luke made a gesture, rather than finish the sentence.
Wedge swallowed, remembering Biggs talking fondly about the friend he had left behind on Tatooine. Remembered the way Biggs and Luke had both lit up when they caught sight of each other. Remembered the easy confidence in the way they stood in each other's space, trusting and teasing.
"You never told me...but I'm not surprised."
"Yeah…" Luke sighed. "When he died—" Luke swallowed, then tried again. "I got command of the Rogues, I was pulled into the war, it was all just one thing after another. I just shut that part of me off. Or it was shut off? I don't know. Either way, it was easier not to think about...that stuff. Besides, it's not like I was lonely!" Luke reached forward, raised his glass in a toast. "I had great friends."
Wedge smiled and raised his own, clinking the cheap plastifoam cups together.
Luke took a drink, after he swallowed he said… "And it was like that until Endor. And...I know you don't want details, don't worry." He held up his hands, smiling at Wedge's expression. "But…I know you're pissed at me for surrendering."
Wedge blinked. That wasn't the way he had expected the conversation to go.
"And I'm not ready to talk about why or how but I honestly thought it was the best call. And it was…it was hard, Wedge. Up there. I think it's the hardest thing I've ever done." Luke went quiet, staring at his plate. When he started talking again his voice was dull, nearly a monotone. "I was so tired, after."
Wedge didn't have an answer, so instead he reached over and pressed his palm against Luke's shoulder. "I'm glad you made it out."
Luke glanced up with a grateful smile, nodding. He seemed to pull himself back to the present. "But, that's where my mind was at when Dak came over. Exhausted and numb. He saw me, he just lit up, and then he kissed me and…" Luke shook his head. "It was was the easiest thing in the world to kiss him back. It was like a wall shattered. All of that stuff came pouring in."
Wedge nodded his understanding, even as he shifted, uncomfortably. This was getting into too much information territory. "I guess that makes sense."
"Yeah, it was nice, to feel things again. But it was definitely…all at once. Intense." Luke turned a little red as he stared at his plate. "Dak has really nice shoulders," he admitted, voice closer to a whisper.
Wedge squeezed his fork hard enough that he was worried he was going to break it. "Luke."
Luke shook his head, red growing stronger as looked back up at Wedge. "Sorry! Ah, yeah. I am...not used to this. Whatever this is. I don't know what I'm doing. But, something is happening, and I'm good with it. "
"Well, I wouldn't recommend saying anything about Dak's shoulders where press can hear you."
Luke snorted. "What, you don't think that would go over well?"
Wedge chuckled. "Too well, if anything." Then he paused, looking at Luke. "So...you're happy?"
Luke smiled, and for the first time in a long time, Wedge could see the the bright-eyed Luke that Wedge had once known clearly on his friend's face again. "Wedge, I'm really, really happy."
"Good enough for me." Wedge said with a decisive nod.
Luke was good. Perfect. Wedge planned to forget as fast as he possibly could that he had ever had any information about the youngest member of the Rogue Squadron's sex life and be content in knowing that…
Luke didn't know what he was doing.
Dak had been in love with Luke for literal years.
He was going to need to have another conversation.
Wedge stared at the ceiling of his and Dak's room as Dak came in, puttering around as he stowed his flight gear. Wedge rubbed the heel of his palm against his eyelids. He considered, once again, being the sort of person that kept to himself, minded his own business, let lovelorn idiots crash and burn without trying to stop them.
But damn it, Dak was his lovelorn idiot, and he felt obligated.
He huffed a grumbling sigh and sat up in bed. Dak turned to give him a short nod. "Long day?"
"Has there ever been a short one?" Wedge asked.
Dak tipped his head. "Good point."
Wedge swallowed. This wasn't going to be a comfortable conversation. Better to just get this over with. "Got a minute to talk?"
"Sure." Dak settled down on his own bunk, giving Wedge a regarding look. "Looking very dour there, Antilles."
Wedge chewed the inside of his lip. "So. You and Luke—"
Wedge was interrupted by Dak's happy sigh.
Wedge was impressed by Dak's ability to dreamily moon over Luke, even when Luke had been gone for the better part of the week, off being a figurehead, or whatever he was up to these days. Impressed was one word. Frustrated was another. It wasn't going to make his conversation with Dak any easier.
"I know it's new, but I wanted to talk to you about—"
"I'm doing much better at keeping it under wraps, okay? I talked with Luke about it, and you were right, he's not ready to think about the public relationship yet. I'm being careful."
"Yeah..." Wedge tried to put his thoughts in order. Dak had been doing better with subtlety, lately. Not great. But better. "I've noticed. Nice work."
"But...that's not what this is about, hm? Alright," Dak rolled his neck back and forth like he was getting ready for a fight, "hit me."
"Okay. You know Luke is great, right?" Wedge held up a hand, "No, don't say anything that expression is clear enough. But you know he hasn't always been...reliable." Wedge shifted, half expecting to hear Dak's explosive protest, but Dak didn't say anything. In absence of feedback Wedge continued, "And you, at least with Luke, are incredibly reliable. You've been nursing the same crush for nearly half a decade. See why I'm worried?"
Dak smiled, leaning forward to rest his forearms on his knees. "Aw, Wedge. I can't believe I ever thought you were a hardass, you big softie."
Wedge glared at Dak. "I just don't want this blowing up in all our faces."
"You keep telling yourself that." Dak winked. Then he shook his head, gaze shifting to middle distance as he turned contemplative. "I know Luke isn't reliable. I mean, no offence, Wedge, but I absolutely took every fucking time Luke ran off without telling us what was going on much harder than you did." Dak flopped back on his bed, staring up at the ceiling. "I was his gunner. It was my job to keep him safe. And he kept running off where I couldn't chase him. Where I couldn't do a thing to see him through to safety." He rolled his head, looking over at Wedge, "So yes, I am well aware that Luke isn't always the best at communication. Or thinking about other people. It's been a long time since I've seen him as flawless, Wedge."
Wedge gave a wry smile. "You do a very good job hiding it."
Dak laughed. "I mean, I still think he's pretty great."
"So have you guys talked about...expectations?"
Dak shrugged. "Sort of. He knows I love him. I know he's not in a place where he even knows what he wants. Aside from me." Dak smirked and winked; Wedge considered leaving the room. Dak's smirk grew into a grin at Wedge's obvious discomfort. He chuckled to himself, before continuing with that same seriousness. "He needs someone right now, Wedge."
"It's sort of selfish of him." Wedge felt disloyal saying it, but he also felt it was true.
Dak snorted. "No, it's not. I made the first move, I offered, and he's been clear with what he can give and what he can't. Here's the thing." Dak sat back up in the bed, looking at Wedge, his warm brown eyes unusually serious. "It's worth it for me. Maybe it works out, maybe it doesn't, but there is no way I'm not taking this chance. So yeah, maybe I get my heart broken. It's worth it."
"When did you get so mature?" Wedge couldn't help but ask. "What happened to the seventeen year old baby who was sitting in my hanger mooning over his commanding officer?"
Dak smiled. "He grew up. I promise, I'm going into this with eyes open." Dak's face softened, and he looked over at Wedge. "Thanks for looking out for me. I know you always have been."
Wedge rolled his eyes. "Not that you've ever taken my advice."
"It's appreciated nonetheless."
Weeks turned to months and to Wedge's surprise, Luke and Dak managed to avoid imploding or exploding. Dak was happy, Luke was happy, they honestly seemed to be good for each other. Wedge hadn't expected that. His inner pessimist chalked up another tally in the "I was wrong" column.
Of course, while the pessimist was wrong in generalities, it was often right in the specifics. Like what would happen when two young men with no subtlety to speak of decided to start having sex with each other.
"No," Wedge heard a young man (Pathfinder by the uniform, and junior enough that Wedge didn't recognize him) say in earnest undertone, as he walked through the hallways. "I swear, Commander Skywalker has someone, here, on base. I saw him the last time I came by."
"Dunno. Pilot, saw the orange. But they were going at it!"
"The Jedi? Really? It was probably some other guy."
"No! I heard his voice." The man's voice lowered. "He was into it."
Wedge grumbled as he passed them. He tried. So hard.
"Shit," Wedge heard one of them hiss. "Shut up. That's Antilles."
Wedge took some comfort in the fact that, regardless of what else was going on in the galaxy, he could still strike fear into the hearts of the underlings.
The Pathfinder's friend quickly wiped out any of the joy that thought had brung when she said, "We've got those three embedded journalists now. Hookup gossip's only fun if it doesn't bring command down on our heads for sparking tabloid stories."
Shit. Embedded journalists. Good, great for free press, very bad for his unsubtle friends. He ran through schedules, Luke and Dak were both on base. Shit. He needed to find them sooner, rather than later.
Wedge found Luke first, in the twisting corridors that made up most of the briefing area. He jogged up behind Luke and grabbed his elbow, unceremoniously hauling him into a quiet alcove.
Luke startled, saying, "Dak, I..." he trailed off as he turned. The affectionate smile fell off of his face as he realized that it was not, in fact, Dak that had hauled him into a small secluded space. "Wedge?"
"Yes." Wedge let the irritation show in his voice, but he kept his tone low. This was not the sort of conversation that needed anyone overhearing it. Which was, in fact, the entire point of said conversation. "You've been really acquainting yourself well with all sorts of corners of the base, haven't you?"
"Wedge!" Luke hissed, glancing toward the hallway.
Oh, sure, now he was worried about discretion.
"Think for a second, Luke, about how I know that." Wedge let go of Luke's elbow and folded his arms, fixing Luke with his best Commander's Glare. He had had many years to perfect it. It was a good glare. "If you are completely incapable of keeping your pants on, Skywalker," he hissed out the last name (last name address just went with the glare, nevermind that Luke was very firmly not under his command in any way shape or form), "then it is very important that you be fucking quiet."
Apparently, his glare had gained some strength since the last time he had used it on Luke. "There are press around, these days. If one of them gets nosy and shoves a door open..." Wedge sliced his hand in a firm gesture of negation. "I am not going to be stuck doing frantic back-end work with the communications team to keep my pilot out of the galactic gossip columns."
Alph, a cheerful comms officer, looked up as Wedge entered the room. "Wedge! Been a while since I've seen you here!"
"I need a favor," Wedge said managing to summon a smile in return.
Alph snorted. "Luke needs the favor." He reached blindly over his desk, fingers seeking and finding a datadisk, which was held up for presentation. "Something to do with this amazing footage our promotion team took, featuring one Dak Ralter dreamily declaring that he's going to marry that boy while holding a holo of Luke?"
Wedge closed his eyes in profound frustration. "He informs me he didn't know the cameras were there."
Alph grinned and plugged the disc in, Dak holding Luke's image clearly springing into life. "I love being in communications. You get to know everyone's secrets." He wrinkled his nose in glee. "So they're really…?"
Wedge ran his tongue over his teeth. This needed to be handled carefully. "You know, Alph, this particular secret is..."
"Oh! Yeah man! Here." Alph unplugged the disc again, Dak's happy form flickering out. He held the disk above his caf. "Oops," he said in a flat monotone. "I'm so clumsy." Then he dropped the disk into his caf mug.
Wedge sighed. "Thanks, Alph. Get you a new mug?"
Alph glanced past the rim. "Probably a good idea. It's getting cold." Alph threw Wedge a conspiratorial wink. "Mind throwing out the old stuff?"
Wedge shook his head, taking the mug. "Never go into acting."
Alph gave an over-dramatic gasp, flinging his hand to his forehead. "You wound me."
As Wedge returned with a fresh mug (datadisk tucked in his pocket, he'd make sure the data was well and truly corrupted before he tossed it) he said again, "Thanks."
"Try to teach your guy some subtlety."
Wedge looked at Alph, sure that his despair showed on his features. "I think...that was his subtle."
Alph gave a sympathetic wince, reaching over and patting Wedge's shoulder.
Despite Wedge's worries, it really wasn't that bad. Dak and Luke became something of an open secret around the base, but everyone else seemed as protective over the two of them as Wedge was, and the secret didn't make its way beyond the walls of the Rebellion-turning-Republic.
For all Luke's tendency to run off and be an avatar of light, he was very much the Rebellion's avatar of light, and they looked after their own.
Besides (and Wedge would never admit this) it was nice to have something relatively positive to worry about, instead of always focusing on fleet movements and who the Empire was tormenting today in its death-throes. Still, when he thought about Dak and Luke, a part of him was waiting miserably for the happy equilibrium they had found to shift, throwing it all off-balance again.
When the change came, it looked like nothing Wedge expected.
He found Luke by accident, eye catching on a slim black figure hiding in the corner of the observation deck. Luke was sitting on a table, his feet up on the seat and his face pointed toward the black sky. His gifted blanket laid out along his lap, and Luke's fingers stroked across it, playing with the pattern as he watched the stars.
To the average observer, he probably looked like he was just staring meditatively off into space. But Wedge knew Luke, knew what that hunch of his back meant, the way Luke tried to curl in on himself when the world got too overwhelming.
Some part of Wedge tried to protest that he shouldn't get involved, but most of him was resigned to the fact that he was well and truly entangled at this point. (He had always vaguely wondered how much he'd turn out like his father. He never realized he should really be worried about turning out like his Grammie Isk, who, from the moment Wedge had turned sixteen years old, had constantly asked Wedge if there were any nice sapients in his life, and if not, why was that, hm?)
"Hey," Wedge said as he came up alongside Luke.
Luke gave Wedge a knowing smile, straightening slightly and patting the table next to him. Wedge took the invitation, and sat. He reached out and grabbed a corner of the blanket, rubbing it between his index finger and thumb. He didn't need to say anything. That was the advantage of knowing someone this well. Luke, mind reader or not, would know that Wedge was willing to talk.
Luke's hands tightened on the fabric, then released, splaying over the weave. "I love Dak."
Relief poured over Wedge, cascading down his back, relaxing a tension Wedge hadn't been properly aware he had been carrying. He let go of the blanket, stretching his hands out behind him, leaning back against the table. "That's good. Have you told him that?"
Luke shook his head, worrying at his bottom lip. "Just realized it this morning. About ten-thirty, to be exact."
Half the Rogue Squadron, Dak included, had departed for patrol at ten. "Ah. Well, you probably should tell him. When he gets back."
"I know," Luke said softly. "I will. Only…" Luke gave Wedge a worried glance, still obviously perturbed. "Dak is so easy to love. And I'm…not."
"You planning on letting Dak down gently? Giving up on this thing just as you realize you love him?" Wedge asked, slight edge of irritation creeping into his voice.
"No!" Luke said, sounding honestly shocked. He shook his head, looking away, back out at the star-studded void. "I can't hurt him like that. I don't want to hurt him at all. He's…" Luke's voice was going thick, emotion choking at his throat. "He's exactly what I needed. What I never knew I wanted. I love him so much." Luke shifted, his hands balling up the fabric in front of him. "But I don't know how to do this without messing it up."
Wedge reached over and squeezed Luke's shoulder. "Dak—despite my best efforts—has been in love with you for years. Since Hoth, at least."
Luke looked over in surprise. Wedge shrugged, giving a knowing nod as he confirmed the question on Luke's face. "That's how long he's been saying it, at least. And for what it's worth, I believe him. And in that time you've run away at least twice, nearly gotten killed at least five times, and managed to seduce him into your bed without actually giving him any sort of promise in return."
Luke blinked, his expression shifting as he decided whether he was offended or guilty.
Wedge nudged him, forcing Luke out of his introspection. "And none of that made any sort of dent in how much Dak remained stubbornly, ill-advisedly in love with you. You're not going to fuck it up now by actually being in love with him too."
Luke relaxed as those words hit him, and Wedge could watch as he mulled them over. His hands smoothed out the blanket until it draped evenly over his lap and his face settled into cautious hope. He favored Wedge with a tiny smile. "You promise?"
For a moment, Wedge was thrown back in time, standing in a briefing room with Luke, helping him manage all the worries and hopes and fears that came with leading a squadron. And now they both sat, years and light-years behind them, staring at a new uncertain future.
So much had changed, but the answer hadn't. "Promise."
Wedge, let himself through the door, quietly taking off his shoes and shrugging off his jacket, humming slightly as he went.
"You sound happy," a voice said quietly from the bedroom.
Wedge smile. "I didn't expect you to be up." He started heading back toward the bedroom, explaining as he went, "I got some good news this afternoon. Luke's realized he loves Dak too. So that's a relief."
"I'm glad. I know that gave you grief for a while." A rustle, then the light clicked on, and Mon Mothma smiled at Wedge, propping herself up on one elbow. "Are you ready to come to bed?"
Wedge gave a slight bow. "With such lovely company? Always."
"Charmer," Mon said affectionately as Wedge crawled in, reaching for him.
Wedge settled in next to her, his head on her shoulder. It was still such a startling thing, for him, that she welcomed him here. It was a privilege he never imagined.
Well, no, that was a lie. He had certainly imagined it. He just hadn't thought he'd actually get it.
"You know," Mon mused, her fingernails scratching lightly against his scalp, "I never really understood what your objection was to them. For a while, the obvious answer was that you disapproved of the inherent power imbalance but…" she looked down at herself and then over to him. "That seems a bit hypocritical, now."
Wedge chuckled softly against the curve of her throat. "Yes, safe to say it's not that. It's…" Wedge hunted for the right words, speech made harder with the warm scent of Mon's skin filling his nose. "It was selfish."
"Selfish?" Mon asked.
Wedge pushed back away from her, pensive as he chewed over the words. "From the day that Dak met Luke, he was always, always, going to put Luke above everything else. And that wasn't right. We were fighting a war. We are fighting a war. Find comfort where you can, sure! Find love, even! But we're here because it's important, because we're fighting for something important, and I know Dak would have thrown it all away in a second if Luke had asked him to."
Mon laid her hand on his forearm and Wedge realized his voice had gotten tight and low, and he forced himself to relax, pushing his shoulders down and giving Mon a sheepish smile.
"So passionate," Mon said with obvious delight, brushing hair out of his eyes.
Wedge shrugged, striving for casual. "It's important to me."
She leaned forward and kissed him, looking a little sad as she pulled back. "You know I'm never going to be able to put you ahead of the Republic we're trying to build."
Wedge caught her hand. "You know I would never have gotten involved with you if I thought you might. I don't need selfish, Mon." He brought the back of her hand to his lips in a courtly gesture.
"I know," she said, with a slight hitched giggle at his showy formality. She squeezed his hand. "Neither do I. But it seems selfishness works for your friends."
Wedge tilted his head in consideration. "Yeah. I could see it. Everyone wants a piece of Luke, Last Jedi and all. Makes a certain amount of sense that that's what he needs, someone who's willing to tell the whole galaxy to take the night off, Luke needs a break." Wedge nods. "Still…" he wrinkled his nose.
"Something else you disagree with?"
Wedge blurted out, "They're so blatant. Dak has worn his heart on his sleeve since day one, and Luke's only recently developed the ability to keep a secret. We were fighting a war!"
Mon nodded, looking grave, but it was a performative seriousness, and amusement sparkled in her eyes. "No style, those two."
"No subtlety," Wedge said, less a correction than an expansion. "I have carried my impossible, ridiculous crush on you around quietly and with dignity since before Dak even joined the Rebellion. And nobody knew!"
Mon laughed. "I certainly had no idea."
"Yes. Because I know how to pine appropriately. They're both too…enthusiastic about the whole thing. Press is going to get them, sooner or later."
Mon's expressive shifted, becoming pensive. "I wonder which of us will be found out first?"
"Them," Wedge said with certainty. He ran his hand along her side. "They're amateurs."
Mon hummed. "Remind me to thank those amateurs, someday, for kicking you out of your room all those months ago, so you were wandering the halls and vulnerable to my advances." She reached over and trailed her fingers down Wedge's chest, something hungry in her eyes.
Wedge wrestled his attention back from her promising hand, just enough to say, "Mon, if you care for me at all, you will never say that to them, as I will get teased for the rest of my living days."
"Well then, I suppose you have an incentive to keep me happy, don't you?" She arched her eyebrows.
"Always," Wedge said, nearly whispering the word on an exhale.
Mon smiled at him, soft and beautiful as always. "You know…perhaps I do have a need for a tiny sliver of selfishness. Enough for moments like these."
Wedge leaned forward and kissed her. It still felt daring, like he was pushing the line and bound to get called back. But this kiss, like every other he had given her, she welcomed. He pulled back just far enough to whisper, "I think I can manage that."
And with that he grinned and pushed her back against the bed, crawling on top of her and kissing her deeply. She laughed, and kissed him in return, one time, and then another, and another, and for a just a moment, they found time to be gloriously, perfectly selfish.