Man's Best Friend
by Varghona

"Don't you know that a love unrequited Is still love in the end?"
- The Pursuit of Happiness, "Man's Best Friend"


*"Sit, Janson. Stay. Good boy."*

Okay, he didn't say that, but he might as well have.

It's been hours since Iella dragged him into that apartment. By the collar, no less. How's that for subtle? Now, it doesn't take this long to ask, "May I please have holocom access to General Cracken?" Damn it, Wedge, if you were gonna stay the night, how hard would it be to stick your head out the door and say, "You can go home, Wes, I'm staying the night." That would've been considerate. It's drafty in this hall, and I keep expecting some Adumari thug to jump out of the shadows and challenge me to a duel. Not to mention my stomach's screaming "MUST--FEED--NOW!" Three stale pastries aren't quite enough to satisfy.

Sithspawn. I'm getting soft in my old age. There was a time when Wes Janson, Boy Wonder, could go for days on a crumbly ration bar, a handful of Cheezy Puffs, and the warm fuzzy pleasure of turning Imps into fireballs. And then have enough energy left over for twelve straight hours of alcohol-fueled carousing afterwards.

When did I get so damned old?

This is pathetic. I'm not old. I'm not.

Really I'm not.

Okay, sometimes I just feel old. Like when I see the whelps that the Academy's turning out these days, I feel as ancient as Palpatine's underwear. But it's just a feeling, that's all.

I'm not old.

It's just that my ass is numb from sitting on these damn stairs, waiting for hours in this drafty hallway, grabbing my blaster at every little noise. That's what it is. I'm stiff and cold and tired and hungry and... *Sithspit*, if I didn't think it would earn me a broken nose and an instant demotion to Flight Officer, I'd bang on Iella's door right now and...and...and...


Get your butts to Adumar, they said. They have technology we want, they said. Bring Adumar into the New Republic, they said. Why us? we said. Because the Adumari hate politicians, they said. The Adumari worship pilots, they said. The Adumari will only bargain with our best pilots, they said. It'll be easy, they said. Just be wined and dined and wave at the adoring masses and by the way, Janson, try not to be too obvious about flirting with their teenage daughters, they said.

Yessir. It was fun for awhile. I was starting to feel eighteen again, what with all the wining and dining and lovely ladies giving me their room codes. And gods, being able to fly for pleasure again--even if it's one of these Blade-32 slugs with powered-down lasers and paint missiles.

Too bad Intel didn't see fit to brief us on some of the shittier aspects of this mission.

What they didn't say was that the Adumari would have Imperial pilots here, too. They didn't say we'd be in competition with the Imps for Adumar's technology, and that the Adumari would be playing both sides against each other. They didn't say that the Adumari consider death duels to be wholesome family entertainment. They didn't say that the Adumari way of expressing admiration for a man is to challenge him to a duel.

And they didn't say that our New Republic diplomatic advisor would be a manipulative slimeball who hands down declarations from the regional Intelligence head as if they were in telepathic contact with each other. Not a level of authority you'd expect from a mere pissant advisor.

And that, boys and girls, is the scariest thing of all.

Wedge is walking a tightrope here, one he's neither trained for nor accustomed to. Antilles diplomacy is usually "Lock S-foils in attack position." As for politics...Wedge is an honorable man. Honest, dependable, straightforward, with a low tolerance for fools. In other words, not a politician. It's a miracle he hasn't sparked an interplanetary incident yet.

Or perhaps not. This trip has been hell for him because he's working so bloody hard to prevent a Situation, while still hanging on to his ethics. But that's my commander...ready to put everybody ahead of himself, even if it means skipping trivial things like, oh, meals and sleep. The whole reason we came here tonight, looking for Iella, was to try and avoid a diplomatic incident.

That was the stated reason, anyway. I didn't know Wedge would have his own private diplomatic incident with our favorite Intel gal. Maybe he didn't know himself.

On the other hand, he wasn't too amused when I suggested we find ourselves a couple of women to help pass the time while we waited for her. It was just a joke, and he knew it was a joke, but he didn't have to look at me like that. Heh, I guess it would be hard to explain. "Oh, hi Iella, didn't notice you were there, I um--uh--this is, uh--what's your name again, honey?"

He didn't need to look at me like that. Like I was something you scrape off your shoe.

Wedge Antilles, I have willingly and proudly followed you into battle for most of my adult life, and I can take a lot from you. But I can't take your scorn.

Gods above and below, this is humiliating.

You trust a guy with your life, he trusts his life with you; you live and eat and sleep and fight alongside each other for years; you get to know him so well that when you're flying with him, you can almost sense what he's going to do just before he does it. There's nobody else you trust more, there's nobody else you'd die for so quickly. And the feeling's mutual...when he sees you alive after you'd been reported dead, he totally forgets he's in the military, forgets his rank, forgets all decorum, lets out a wild whoop of joy and starts dancing with the nearest bystander.

But then some attractive young widow starts giving off "I'm available" signals. And we see how much those years of friendship are worth.

Gonna have to prop my eyes open if Wedge expects me to guard this hall for much longer. If an Adumari thug jumped out of the shadows right now, I'd probably ask him to beat me over the head so I'd have an excuse to pass out.

Why the hell am I guarding Iella's door like some kind of dog? This is stupid. We came here in disguise, we made sure we weren't followed, it's been freakin' hours...if somebody was gonna make a move, they would've made it by now! Meanwhile I'm going stiff in all the wrong places. If an Adumari thug jumped out of the shadows right now, I'd be dead before I even had a chance to pull my piece on him.

Huh. Somebody's having a blastsword duel out in the street. Again. Must be the third one tonight.

Maybe I wouldn't be dead if an Adumari thug jumped me. Stealth isn't their strong point. Even the assassins broadcast their intentions from a klick away.

Still, I like my life assassin-free.

It's just so weird. The Adumari seem straightforward, yet we've found nothing but political intrigue since we got here. I get the feeling that, rather than the Adumari manipulating the situation, something is actually manipulating them. And it's trying to manipulate Wedge, too. Of course Wedge won't be controlled. He's determined to play this his way, by his ethics. Sooner or later, one of them is gonna have to win out...Wedge, or our mysterious Power Behind the Scenes.

And at least one of the two is gonna get hurt real bad.

I wish we'd never been tapped for this mission.

I wish we were back home. I wish I wasn't camped out on the stairs, listening to leaky plumbing. I wish...

I wish...

I wish Wedge wasn't in there with Iella.

This is it, isn't it? Iella's the one, if any woman could be. He's loved her for years, even though he told himself and everyone else who'd listen that it was just friendship, just admiration. But he and Iella were the only ones who were fooled. Everybody else could see it, even if those two couldn't. All you had to do was say her name around him, and something would happen behind his eyes--like part of his mind went elsewhere at that moment.

He was like that around Luke, too. In the middle of a mission briefing, he would look over at Luke and you got the feeling that he was trying to soak up the details of the moment: the gold glints in Luke's hair; the blue eyes clear as water; the passion in his voice, contrasted with that Tatooine bumpkin accent. I think Wedge was trying to commit these things to memory, so that if the time came when Luke was lost to him--or if he found himself in an Imperial detention cell, awaiting execution--he could take those memories out and find some bit of comfort. During that time between the rout at Hoth and Luke's return to the fleet, I think his memories of Luke were all that kept him sane. They let him grieve indirectly, at a time when to openly grieve for Luke would be to admit that he'd given up all hope.

Don't think he's ever looked at me like that.

Wes Janson, you're full of enough shit to fertilize a field. Or don't you want to remember?

No, I guess not. Hard luck. 'Cause no matter how much I drink, no matter how much I joke, no matter how many women I try to bed, it's not going away.

Holy--what was that...??


Good going, Wes. You almost blasted a ranat scrounging for food. All hail the great warrior and his trusty, quick-draw, vermin-vaporizing blaster.

Hey, at least I know my combat reflexes haven't gone down the 'fresher.

Don't joke about it, Wes. Don't even joke about it. If you'd put a blaster bolt through the wall, some innocent person could've been on the receiving end.

It's sad. My primary talents revolve around various ways to kill or maim another person in the quickest way possible. Useful talents, in wartime, but among civilians it makes me a very bad accident waiting to happen.

The galaxy's been peaceful in recent years. Well--comparatively peaceful. Nothing like it was at the height of the war. There are still a few homicidal megalomaniacs running around, but for the most part, the Empire is like a guy who says "And another thing--" a couple of hours after the argument is over. I won't say I've outlived my usefulness...yet...but maybe in a few years, the New Republic will take a look at the military and wonder where to start cutting.

Wedge should be safe enough. He's not just a general--he's a household name. And Tycho's sort of like Wedge, except blond and Alderaanian, so maybe they'd find a staff position for him. The rest of the Rogues might be told to take an early retirement.

Lucky thing I have a general for a friend. I might need his help.

Naturally, this is all assuming he doesn't get shipped home in disgrace for defying direct orders from the regional Intel head. If they push him too far, he'll do it. I know him. He'd never betray his personal sense of honor for anything, especially not political expediency. He'd take the court-martial. And the crazy part is, he probably wouldn't even write a tell-all book after the dust settled.

Funny how things work out. When I first met him, I never would've guessed he'd ever make general. And it wasn't the sweat and grime that formed that impression. He and Luke were both dirty, climbing out of the grease pit to greet the new pilot. Something about Luke, though--he could be as disheveled and dirty as anybody else, and somehow it didn't matter. He still had that glow about him. You could tell, without being told, which one was the Hero of Yavin. My only impression of Wedge was that he was a nonentity. He hauled himself out of the pit a half-second behind Luke, a small dark shadow to Luke's brilliance.

Once I got to know him, of course, I realized there was much more to him than Luke's shadow. But I still never figured he'd wear five pips someday. It's that complete lack of ambition thing. All he ever wanted to do was fly.

Now, more often than not, he's stuck behind a desk. Or worse--on the bridge of a capital ship, watching the fighters and wishing he was out there with them. It's no wonder he kept turning down promotions, knowing that was the fate waiting for him.

Hobbie would say that's life. Tycho would say it's irony. I say it sucks--to love something so much, to be so good at it, that it's inevitable a promotion will take you away from the very thing you love.

No wonder he doesn't smile like he used to.

And here I am feeling sorry for myself because I'm scared of military budget cuts that might not happen anyway.

Hey there, little ranat. You want my pastry crumbs? It's okay, I won't shoot you.

It's good that Wedge's finally received the recognition he deserves, but I can't help but think it's a shame, too. On the surface it looks like he's happy, and maybe he is happy, in a vague, distant, 'this was not what I planned on doing with my life' kind of way. But when I think about the spitfire Corellian kid I used to know...the one who could smile so easy one minute and then hand your own liver to you on a platter the's kind of sad. The old passion's still there, but reined in tight. Most people in Starfighter Command think that if you cut him, he'll bleed cold-space lubricant instead of blood. They'd never guess that back in the day, Wedge Antilles could drink most fighter jocks under the table. Or have sex in some of the most surprising places. (He and Luke still actually believe they were discreet.) Or find creative practical joke usage for boot polish, low-grade explosives, and game lure.

What the hell does he see in Iella, anyway? He's not a woman's man at all. He needs a man's love. The devotion of a comrade. Someone who lives with him, laughs with him, eats with him, sleeps with him, trains with him, fights beside him. Someone who wouldn't get jealous because he loves the open sky more than anything else--including his lover. Someone who would defend him with all his strength of muscle and mind. Someone who would die to protect him.

That's how I knew it wasn't gonna last with Qwi. Oh, she's strong, make no mistake about that. You don't bounce back from the things she's been through without some kind of resilience. But if you asked someone to list ten adjectives for "feminine," chances are that Qwi would fit all of them. Maybe Wedge liked the novelty of squiring a beautiful lady around on his arm, but his nature being what it is, that sort of thing couldn't last too long. And it didn't.

Iella's another matter. Put her in a dress and she looks like a fairy princess in a children's story--but that won't stop her from looking you square in the eye like a man and telling you exactly what she thinks. If any woman could be his equal and his partner, Iella could.

Even so...she didn't starve with him at Argenton. She didn't freeze with him on Hoth. She didn't know him when he was just a lieutenant, promoted above guys who had years of age and experience on him. She didn't see him through those times. She never spent a night in the brig for decking some noncom who said, "Antilles is a bloody coward."

And I have a feeling in my gut, sooner or later she'll get jealous of his work. No matter how much she tries, she'll never understand. It's something you can't understand unless you've been there yourself.

Where have you been all this time, Iella? And why did you drop off the map when he started seeing Qwi? Maybe you thought it just hurt too much to see them together. Well, ma'am, it did. It hurt like hell, but I stuck around. I could've taken your way out and avoided him. That's why transfers were invented, y'know. But I stuck around. This might be a radical concept to you, but if you claim to be someone's friend, that means you should damn well act like it.

Cute, Wes. Real cute. Why don't you take a good look at yourself before you start composing sermons for Iella. I mean, let's be honest. This is what it's all about, right?

Yeah, I guess so. I don't want to think about what he and Iella are doing in there, that's my real problem. And I can't help it. The images come too easy.

Because the images aren't imagined. They're memory.

I know what he looks like when he's about to come...


Okay, I really don't need to be thinking about this right now.

I...really, really, really don't need to be thinking about this right now...


Who are you kidding, Wes? It's been at the back of your mind all night.

Yeah. All night. And all day, every day, for years. Ever since it happened, I've had it in the back of my mind; I just never really thought about it.

But why did it happen when it did? I just wrote it off as...two guys getting really horny and looking for a little relief. It's a common enough response to death and destruction. But if that was the case, why didn't it ever happen before? It's not like the Zsinj task force was the most dangerous mission we ever had. Come on. My association with Wedge has been nothing but one very extended walk on the wild side. War. Rebellion. Death Stars. Duh.

Still, the Zsinj mission was weird even for us. And this is considering that I'm crouched in a dark corner, talking to a ranat.

A hundred years from now, everyone will remember how Wedge Antilles helped kill the second Death Star. How he liberated Coruscant. His work with Han Solo and the Zsinj task force might rate a chapter or so in the biographies people will write about him...which is a shame. For my money, it was his finest hour. It wasn't enough that we had to hunt down a crafty old reptile like Zsinj. It wasn't enough that we had the enemy to worry about. No, we had to worry about the walking time bombs in our own ranks. Some of them brainwashed, like Tal'dira; some of them headcases, like Lara Notsil and Myn Donos. Even Han Solo was close to the edge, you could see it in his eyes and in the worry lines in his face. The whole task force could've fallen apart from within, and Zsinj wouldn't have had to lift a finger. Hell, the whole New Republic could've imploded, if Zsinj's little paranoia projects had gone unchecked.

But Wedge kept us together. He kept us together, and he saw through Zsinj's tricks to undermine the New Republic. He knew when to come down hard on us, and he knew when to lighten things up--like with that impromptu shipwide sabacc party. He was just as close to snapping as any of us, yet somehow he found the right things to say and do...things that made us look within ourselves and find strength we didn't know we had.

Maybe that's why he crashed so hard when he got back to Coruscant.

What did it, Wedge? What was the last straw? Did you finally get your fill of being everybody else's pillar of strength? Or was it Tal'dira's attempt on your life?

Sithspawn. If another Rogue blasted my engines from behind--and assuming I survived the incident--I'm not too proud to say it would shake me to the core. Yeah, we know now that Tal'dira was brainwashed, but it doesn't make things any better. If Zsinj could corrupt Tal'dira's mind--as strong and honorable as he was--then none of us were safe. It's enough to worry about enemy fire without having to worry about wingmen shooting you in the back. That's just about the worst betrayal I can think of. If it were me, I'd want to curl up in bed and suck my thumb for a few days after that. Weeks, maybe. But you returned to the Mon Remonda just long enough to get a spare X-wing before getting back to the mission at hand. Heh. You probably scared more than a few techs, left them whispering stuff about cold-space lubricants instead of blood.

I almost wish they could have seen you a week after we returned to Coruscant. There wouldn't be any more crap about Wedge Antilles having a power cell where his heart should be.

It wasn't like the time you thought Luke was dead, either. After Hoth, you just grew distant. Your work didn't suffer. But after the Zsinj mission, you started walking around base with dark circles under your eyes, like you hadn't been sleeping. You started forgetting stuff. Your concentration went to hell, and we all knew there was trouble when Gavin vaped you in the sims. I mean, Gavin's good, but he didn't take you down by stroke of luck. He simply outflew you. That's not normal.

That's why I showed up at your quarters later. Unannounced, but the Whyren's Reserve was supposed to compensate.

Y'know, I never realized this before...but when I think of other homes, other rooms I've seen, there've been holos of family, friends, pets, schoolmates and squadronmates. Books and music discs. Bric-a-brac. Things indicative of the history, the interests, the passions of the person who lives there. You have nothing. The stuff that makes up your story could fit in a military-issue backpack with room to spare. Now that I think about's kind of sad. Pathetic, really. Like you're drifting through life rather than taking command of it. that I think about it some more, it mirrors my own life.

What all did we talk about? I remember some of it--sitting on the couch, chuckling over something you said, after the whiskey warmed us up. Discussing the upcoming smashball season and the Dreadnaughts' dim chances of winning the crown. Laughing about that weekend fishing trip to Lake Borgna--when you caught the prize redfin, Tycho caught a nice mess of brownfins, I caught a mudspitter and Hobbie caught a cold.

I don't recall everything we talked about, but I do know we went for a long time without talking shop, and that was refreshing. It was probably the most pleasant evening I'd had in years. The whiskey helped, but it was good to chew over things of non-life-threatening importance. Good to see you smile again, good to see you relax.

Sometime after our throats got sore and the silences grew long, you did start talking shop. You talked about the old days of the Rebellion, when we were less a conventional military and more a band of roughneck, independent freedom fighters. You talked about Luke. You talked about Baron Fel, and all the high hopes you had there--wrecked by bad luck, stonewalling politicians, and Fel's own impatience. You talked about lost comrades...Biggs, Porkins, Zev, Dack...Dllr, Herian, Ibtisam...Falynn, Grinder, Castin...Ton Phanan...Tal'dira. And finally you let go of the thing you'd been holding tight.

"When does it end, Wes? The fighting goes on and on and more often I find myself thinking I'll be fighting for the rest of my life. And the responsibi lity's not going to end, either. It's just going to get worse. More lives in my hands, depending on me to make the right decisions at the right time--and one of these days--one of these days I'm going to screw up bad."

Then you said something that sent a bolt of ice shooting down from my heart into the pit of my belly. "I'm tired, Wes. Just so damn tired." You weren't talking about something that could be cured with twelve hours of uninterrupted sleep. You were like an injured animal in so much pain that you couldn't even thrash about and rage against death.

That's why I pulled you close, let you rest your head on my shoulder.

I wasn't trying to put the moves on you. Really I wasn't. I saw my best friend in trouble; I had to do something. And we'd been through too much together for embarrassment. It wouldn't have been enough to slap you on the shoulder with a hearty, "You'll get over it." Anything less than an embrace--letting you lean against someone else for a change--would have been an insult. But soon, even that didn't seem like enough. Your breath was soft and warm against my neck, you were alive in my arms; I knew how easily that could change. All it would take would be one wrong move on your part, or one lucky move on the part of an Imperial pilot--and you'd be gone forever.

Holding you wasn't enough.

Okay. Maybe I was trying to put the moves on you. But...only just a little. Just enough so that I'd be able to say yes, something almost happened between me and the guy I always figured was out of reach. As far as any of us could tell, you'd practically taken a vow of chastity after you and Luke went your separate ways. Maybe you thought anything else after Luke would've been a letdown. And I can see that, I mean, come on. Luke Skywalker. Gorgeous, admired, and a Jedi. Then there's me--gorgeous, and can belch the Tanaabian national anthem in three different keys. Fun at parties. Although not the kind of parties you go to these days.

So I started to pull away. You stopped me. Stopped me with your voice, when you murmured my name. Stopped me with your gaze, when you nailed me with the most amazing brown eyes that've ever looked into mine.

And, ever the practical one, you stopped me with your hand planted firmly on the back of my neck.

I've never been able to turn you down. For anything.

I don't remember how long it took us to actually lean forward and kiss. I just remember the first soft touch of your lips, the taste of whiskey on your tongue.

I'm no stranger to getting tipsy and making out on someone's couch, but it's always with women, always a pleasant but necessary prelude to the main event. With other guys, foreplay was a case where I saw something I liked, he saw something he liked, and together we reached a more-or-less mutually satisfying conclusion. This time was different. I was kissing another man for the joy of it. Fierce and demanding one minute...luscious and melting the next. Then light, gentle bites...soft brush of lips...opening, lingering...feeling your tongue thrust against mine. A brief, slippery play of tongues, and then more hard, deep kisses...losing myself in a duet of toughness and tenderness. For once, kissing was an end in itself.

Ninety percent of my brain was on a buzz like I'd never felt before. The other ten percent was screaming Stop! You can't walk away when it's over. Stop before you do something you'll both regret. This is your friend....

And then the answer came: Who better? wanted it, too. And I've never been able to turn you down for anything.

(I shouldn't be thinking about this. I shouldn't be thinking about this, because if I keep thinking about it I'm going to be stuck in a very awkward position with no graceful way to find relief, because let's face it, jacking off in a stairwell is kind of gross even for me. And if I decided to risk it, it would merely guarantee that an Adumari thug would jump out of the shadows and slit my throat, because the universe has a sick sense of humor. And in the morning they'd find my cold bloodless corpse with my cold bloodless hand wrapped around my cold bloodless cock, and that's a really humiliating way to go. But...I can't stop thinking about it any more than I could stop myself the night it happened.)

Everything that happened next, I remember in flashes. It's like a night sky lit by tracer fire...

Whiskey-tinged kisses on the couch.

Groping like a pair of teenagers. Fumbling with buttons and buckles and zippers as if they're unfamiliar devices.

Staggering to the bedroom, dizzy with the red pulse of need pounding through my body.

Not making it to the bedroom.

Lying on my back, staring at the ceiling, feeling like the top of my skull's just been blown off. "Good gods, where did you learn that!?"

"Corellian Scouts. Earned my merit badge the same year I got badges for swimming, thak-riding, and camping." You laugh at my expression of horror; your eyes are brighter, livelier, than I've seen them in years. "I'm kidding!"

"You're evil."

"Yub, yub, Lieutenant." You help me up, lead me on.

Your bed seems too wide for one, too narrow for two. Somehow we manage.

Your mouth hard against mine.

Your hands bold and demanding, your fingers gentle.

Your body, strong and sculpted, responds to my every touch.

Your lips against my ear, your ragged voice whispers a plea. I've never been able to turn you down for anything. Together, we find the rhythm that answers the raging need of our bodies.

At some point I open my eyes and look down at you, to enjoy the sight of you as the lines ease from your forehead and tension gives way to abandonment. Your eyes are closed, your face turned to the side as if you're offering your throat in submission. "Wes," you growl. An expression like pain, but not pain, ghosts across your face. "Wes," you gasp.

Then you turn your head and look straight at me, locking your gaze with mine. "Wes." Your voice is steel and silk, and your soul is open and unguarded in clear brown eyes.

You're beautiful. Brave and beautiful.

Ahhh, gods....

Wedge, nobody ever looked at me like that before. Up until that moment, I thought I knew what trust was.

Big bad Wes Janson thought he knew a lot of stuff, up until that moment. I thought I knew my place in the cosmos. Thought I knew what I was doing most of the time. Thought I knew the difference between a mind-blowingly good lay, and the deep, abiding love between people who've seen each other through hell and back hundreds of times over. I thought I knew me pretty damn well. Thought I knew you, too.

That night I saw a side of you I'd never seen before, and I got scared. And not by your lust-crazed insatiable fuckbunny aspect, although he certainly figures into this.

General Antilles (Commander Antilles, at the time) is what the public sees. He's a war hero, and he has the medals to prove it. He looks good in uniform, and out of necessity he's perfected the art of waving to crowds and coming up with speeches on the spot. People wish he'd run for public office.

Wedge Antilles is what most of Starfighter Command sees. He's a serious sort, doesn't smile much. A tough, competent officer, he's all about duty. Everyone acknowledges that he's probably the single best X-wing pilot in the New Republic military, and although he doesn't brag about it, he wouldn't argue against it, either.

Wedge is my buddy. I remember him from the early days of the Rebel Alliance, and although he doesn't get out to play much anymore, he still shows up for private gatherings with his closest friends. He has a dry sense of humor and a sweet, friendly smile. He tells a good story, holds his liquor like a Corellian, and plays a mean game of sabacc.

Obviously, you're more complex than a four-sided die. But I didn't appreciate how well you kept your secrets.

Afterwards, we lay together and you talked some more. You reminisced softly about your sister, your parents...told me the full story about that psychopath Loka Hask. Lying next to you in the dark, listening to your voice, I started to see what you hide so carefully from everybody else. It's a grief-stricken little boy, robbed of his innocence, with no home and no family. He looks out at his future and sees a long, lonely path into darkness. When he needs to cry, he does it silently, stifling his sobs so that nobody knows he's there. You can't afford to let anyone find him. You have to be strong for everyone else, so the little boy stays in the shadows and grieves alone.

That night you slept soundly for probably the first time in weeks. I didn't sleep at all. My brain was jumping and my stomach was just this great big knot. Different thoughts came fast and hard from all directions, like a dogfight. Gods, I've buggered the CO. I can't just walk away from this one. I don't want to walk away. Never sleep with your friends, Wes. It's bad to see the commanding officer in his weakest moments. "The fighting goes on and on and more often I find myself thinking I'll be fighting for the rest of my life." Little boy lost. He looks so peaceful now. If this is love, why do I feel like I'm going to throw up? "I'm tired, Wes. So damn tired." No one's ever looked at me that way before. No one's ever made me feel like this before. Can I be strong for him? And if I try to give him what he needs, what do I give up?

In the end, I did the same thing I've always done: crawled out of bed, gathered up my clothes, and crept away like a thief.

I used to rationalize any and all guilt pangs by telling myself that my partners knew how the game was played, agreed on the rules beforehand. But this time it didn't work. It wasn't a game for you. But I still left your quarters, left you to wake up alone...

I'd finally found the one thing I could turn you down on.

Gods and ancestors, what have I done? What was I thinking?

Wedge, I'm sorry...I'm so damn sorry. You trusted me, and I shot you in the back. I didn't even have Tal'dira's excuse of brainwashing. It was just my pride. Stupid pride...and cowardice.

I wish an Adumari thug would jump out of the shadows now and...just...kill me. Just...oh, hell...anything to get away from it. Anything to forget the look in your eyes that night...and forget the way I blew it all to spacedust...

I'm not crying over this.

I'm not.

I'm not.

Really I'm not.

I just got a little dust in my eyes, that's all. Someone ought to sweep these stairs.

That's all it is.

Stars, I'm tired. Old and tired...right now it seems like my only friend left is this ranat, and that's more than I deserve...


Alrighty, Wes. It's been a touching walk down memory lane, but the self-pity is getting really old, really fast. Just be glad you stayed friends. Just be glad he knows how the game is played, even though he's not a player himself. Be grateful he somehow understood.

And hey, you have your answer now. Why is Wedge with Iella? Because chances are, Iella doesn't have massive hangups about commitment, caring, vulnerability, and all that other mushy stuff. Iella's not gonna run away upon finding out that Wedge is not, in fact, a droid. Tough as he is, every so often he needs to lean on someone else for a change. He might need the devotion of a comrade--but let's face it, when he opened up and said "Here I am, here's all of me, even the parts I'm not proud of," you weren't much of a comrade.

So wipe your nose. Sit up straight. Keep your eyes sharp and your ears open, and keep one hand on your blaster. You know what you have to do, so do it.

Yeah. I know what I have to do. There's only one way I can make amends now. I'm on his wing for keeps. Sink or swim, I'll be there. If the bastards try to court martial him, I'm there to help him even if it torpedoes my own career. If they assign him to some hellhole in the Outer Rim, I put in my transfer to follow him. If he resigns, I'm out too. Hell, if he runs off to join the freakin' circus, I'll bone up on my knife-juggling routine.

He's never let me down; I'm not gonna let him down again.

I'm here because he's my commanding officer, and he wants me to wait.

I'm here because he's my friend, and any Adumari thug who wants to assassinate him will have to get through me first.

I'm here because I love him.

Yeah. I love the guy.

Too bad it's taken this long to admit it to myself. And now I can't admit it to him. He's finally with the person he loves. I won't interfere with that; he's overdue for a little happiness. Better for him to be happy with someone else than not at all. Hell, if he wants me to be best man at the wedding, I'll do it and do it with style.

It's the least I can do.

Nobody will guess how much it hurts. least I've got the ranats on my side. Whaddya say, little guy? It's just you 'n' me against the world.

Hey, don't run...

Well. That makes it official. Even the ranats are avoiding me.

Okay, I really wish an Adumari thug would jump out of the shadows right about now. I want to beat the ever-living shit out of something. Maybe I'll do that, next time some arrogant fop gives me the excuse. I'll even tell Wedge to consider it an engagement present. That's the kind of theatrical flair he'd expect from Wes Janson.

Maybe I'll do that.

I just wish I wasn't all teary-eyed. From the dust on the stairs.


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