Wedge stared at the words and diagrams on his datapad without really seeing them at all. Such carefully laid plans--the best laid battle plans he'd ever had occasion to set, and the most important, and he still feared they'd be nowhere near enough.
He'd been reviewing the plans Tycho, Wes, Hobbie, and Iella had developed while he slept, and his own modifications to said plans, for over three hours. Glancing up, he saw a look on Tycho's face that told him if he ran through everything once more, the Alderaanian would shoot him before he made it to the battle.
He rubbed at his strained eyes and reached for the cup of caf by his right hand. Finding it empty, he frowned, then stood to get some more.
Tycho took the mug and refilled it. "Never thought you'd see the day, did you?"
"What day?" Wedge asked, confused.
"The day when half a planet would ask you to lead them into war."
Wedge shook his head. The four of them had been through a lot in their time with the Rebellion, but nothing could have prepared him for this. His mind flashed back over the events of those many years. Hobbie's near-death on the ice planet Hoth. Tycho's trial for treason and murder after the fall of Coruscant. Giving Wes up for dead at Distna. And those weren't even a handful of their exploits.
"Sit." Tycho gestured toward one of three empty chairs near him as Wes and Hobbie entered the room again.
"Finally done?" Wes asked with a wry grin.
"No," Hobbie said. "He's still trying to find faster ways to get us killed."
Wedge couldn't help but laugh at the pilot, though the reality behind Hobbie's pessimistic comment quickly sobered him.
"I don't think I can come up with any faster way," he said softly, then glanced at the door, certain that Iella would choose precisely that moment to return.
"She's gone in search of food," Tycho said, apparently reading his commander's thoughts.
Wedge glanced at him sharply, then drew a long, haggard breath. "Good. I don't really want her to hear what I'm about to say." He sighed. "You all know me, so pretending to be optimistic isn't going to do any good."
"Finally. You're starting to see things my way," Hobbie said, and glanced toward Wes, expecting some remark. But for once the perennial joker had no wisecracks to offer in response to Hobbie's dour observation.
Wedge looked at the faces of each of his three best friends. They'd followed him at every turn, nearly giving their own lives many times because of orders he'd given, often to save his life. The bond he felt between them--that he knew they felt as well--was one that could only have been forged through the years of trial and loss that they'd survived, albeit narrowly, through the heart of the Rebellion and the dawn of the New Republic. He'd always thought it a shame that it took such suffering to bring four so very different men as close as they were.
"Mostly I just wanted to say thank you. This may very well be my last chance to say this to all of you, and I want to take advantage of the opportunity while I have it.
He paused, then continued, voicing the thoughts on which his mind had been focused only moments before. "You've all followed me into so many hopeless situations before. Suicide mission after suicide mission. I know this may seem like just one more in a long chain, but this is one where you don't have to stay. I won't order you out of it; I know that would probably only result in mutiny." He smiled wryly. "But I am going to say that you don't have to feel obligated to follow me this last time."
He held up a hand as Tycho started to speak, silencing his second-in-command. "Just another second."
He took a deep breath, and blew it out forcefully, as if pushing out words that didn't want to cross his lips. But when they finally did, it was with a calmness he tended to have only in the moments before a battle.
Wedge spoke slowly, eyeing each of his men, each of his closest friends, in turn. "I say this last time because, likely, that's what it will be for at least one of us."
As his gaze drifted to each of them, he saw pain in their eyes that he knew none of them--himself included--never allowed anyone but each other to see. Pain, and fear.
The fear was not for their own lives. They'd gotten past that years ago, at an age where their biggest concerns should have been how to pay for that shiny new speeder or how to get that special girl's attention. No, this fear was something different that would never go away. In truth, Wedge thought to himself, I don't want it to go away. Because the moment it does is the moment we've gotten used to killing and having friends die, and that's the moment I never want to see.
This fear was for the lives of their friends, of the people with whom they'd lived, flown, eaten, slept, laughed, and cried for the last 12 years or so. In that time they'd all seen so many people die, but the fear of seeing one more good friend die never really left them, and Wedge was glad for that. It seemed to tell him that they were still fighting for something. Looking around at his comrades, he knew they were thinking the same thing.
Then Wes cleared his throat, and Wedge noticed a mischievous glint in his eye. He might have known the joker wouldn't allow them to remain in a state of introspective gloom for very long.
"I don't know about the rest of you," he began, "but if something were to happen to you," he said, pointing an accusing finger at Wedge, "I don't think I want to know what Iella would do to the survivors. I'm in."
"Sounds like a valid reason to me," Tycho said, nodding with all seriousness.
Hobbie looked thoughtful for a moment then nodded his agreement. "Yeah, and if she didn't kill us, Mirax probably would. Guess I'll fly. Lesser of two evils and all that."
Wedge glanced around the room once more, knew he should thank them for coming along again, but also knew he didn't need to.
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