Wedge Antilles was looking for something to do. Anything to do. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been so bored. As a result, he'd ended up here, in this seat, at the end of this nameless bar, in this anonymous cantina, on this exceedingly unexceptional planet.
The cantina itself was dark, murky, and it smelled of a hundred different alcohols and species from throughout the galaxy. Which meant it had a little bit of atmosphere. A tiny bit of atmosphere. More than he'd enjoyed in a little while, at the very least. It would do for now, until he found something more invigorating.
And speaking of invigoration, so far the only real excitement Wedge had happened across was fending off the fairly bold advances of a dreary and aged prostitute, who looked like she'd been sitting at this bar since before Palpatine came to power. He'd seen her eyes light up as soon as he'd sat down, and he suddenly regretted having worn his New Republic uniform. Not that he really had anything else with him to wear, even if he'd wanted to, but he was beginning to feel more and more like the uniform made him stand out when he really didn't want to stand out.
He sighed, knowing that a number of eyes were continually turning towards him. Some watched him furtively, others more obviously, all either curious or suspicious. He took another swallow of his whiskey, avoiding their gawking. But as uncomfortable as it made him, at least he wasn't staring at the walls of his room anymore. At least he was sort of doing something, something more his style.
You have a style?
As Wedge set his glass down on the grungy bar, he studied the shimmering amber contents. So far this planet hadn't been any different from the three they'd visited before it. Call on the local dignitaries of the government in tow of the diplomatic team he was attached to, shake some hands, make some small talk with them. But even though he was a recently-promoted Commander, the leader of an elite squadron and one of their most decorated flyers, it was almost beyond Wedge's ability to reason why the New Republic thought a pilot would be any good at this. Especially him! The only reason he could possibly be along was as a trophy to show off, and maybe a holo-op for several of the higher ranked officials.
Take a holo with the commander of Rogue Squadron! See the man who was there when two Death Stars were destroyed!
Wedge snorted, slowly turning his glass between his fingers. He guessed that Luke hadn't been available, off doing some Jedi thing, so Wedge was their next choice. He humphed quietly to himself. What the "higher ups" didn't seem to understand was that what Wedge Antilles did best wasn't ambassadorial or diplomatic in nature. No, his talents, and those of his pilots, veered strongly towards destroying things, fighting a multitude of enemies, keeping anonymous people safe by putting their own lives on the line. He wouldn't have a chance to do that on this mission, which so far had been as dry as Tandoorian toast.
Of course, the night's still young. He sighed again.
He'd begun to go space-crazy, sitting alone in his quarters, and had made the sudden decision to break out of his VIP room, escape his 'keepers', and go out and do something. Not that he was looking for trouble, not by any means; he was just looking for a cantina, a drink, and anything except his stuffy if luxurious, rooms.
After some wandering he'd found himself in the outskirts of the city, seeking somewhere relatively quiet to have a drink and leave behind his mind-numbing duties. He'd wandered through the city's streets, looking for somewhere he didn't have to engage in inane small talk, or answer questions like where were you when Alderaan was obliterated? Or what was it like, flying inside the Death Star? Or his favorite little comment: you're much shorter than I thought you would be.
Just as he was beginning to get depressed again, another woman appeared, emerging from a thick atmosphere of smoke, like a starfighter clearing a nebula. At a quick sidelong glance he saw she was petite, slender, and attractive, even in her scruffy clothes and dirty face. Yet another unfortunate woman selling herself, Wedge assumed, just of a higher quality than the first woman. Either way, her sights fell immediately on him as he nursed his drink. On his part, he averted his gaze, hoping that she would pass him by. But he seemed to have left his luck in his flightsuit.
The woman stopped beside him, leaning one hip against the bar, her hand perched on the other hip. He insistently kept his eyes on his drink, frowning rather severely. "I'm not interested," he finally said when she didn't show any signs of moving on. But she didn't reply with words. Instead she grabbed him by the front of his uniform, hauled him to his feet, and kissed him fiercely on the mouth.
Wedge couldn't do much more than make a startled noise of surprise as her lips pressed passionately against his own. She didn't taste awful, was his first stunned thought-he thought she might, judging by her scruffy appearance and dress. And another unexpected turn of events was that he found himself beginning to kiss her back before common sense kicked in a moment later and he wrenched his mouth free. He began to formulate an appropriate response when he felt a surprised shock run through him. Those eyes... Her eyes... It was the only part of her that was familiar, even though there was something in them that was very unfamiliar. A hint of fear.
"Shh, pretend we're haggling over my price."
There was another stunned moment where Wedge wasn't sure what to say before instinct and experience kicked in. He smiled slyly, pulling on memories of all of the dark holes he'd frequented in his younger years-drinking with fellow pilots and seeing just the kind of women she was pretending to be-in order to answer suitably. "Well, thanks for the demonstration, but I'm afraid you might be a little out of my price range."
"Well, why don't we go elsewhere and perhaps discuss the price, like rational beings?" she asked smoothly, taking his arm.
What in the name of the Sith is Winter doing here?! he thought, thinking back to when and where he had last seen her. To when Tycho had last seen her! But that wasn't important, because she was here now and probably needed help. She needs to get out of here, and probably needs back up to do it. Just my luck... Or just her luck!
He quickly decided to play along now, get answers later. "Of course. Can always discuss it in private. And comfort." Wedge turned with her, and almost walked into the old woman who'd propositioned him when he'd first come in.
"So, I'm not good enough f'you, but she is, huh?" She fixed Wedge with an icy glare, which quickly turned on Winter. "And you... Am I goin' t'have to teach you again who's territory this is?!"
Wedge saw Winter's eyes quickly flick from the woman, survey the room, then turn back to her. He knew that she probably saw a thousand more details than he ever could, and would remember each of them in a clarity he both envied and pitied her for. There were some things he was glad to forget; Winter never could, because her mind didn't work that way.
"I don't mean to invade," Winter was answering the other woman. "But I'm sure there are a number of men around here who would love to enjoy the companionship of a woman with your...experience."
The woman frowned, obviously turning that statement over in her mind, before her icy glare turned near-lethal. "You sayin' I'm old?!" she demanded, her voice rising to something a little under a shriek. Two powerful looking Devaronians stepped up behind her; before then, they'd been sitting quietly at the other end of the bar, whereas now they had their blasters in their hands. Wedge's body tensed in preparation, knowing trouble was brewing, and other patrons started turning from their drinks to watch what was happening.
As Winter again tried to verbally diffuse the situation, slowly pushing Wedge towards the exit as she did, he let his own gaze survey the bar discreetly for other possible targets. There was obviously a person or group of people that Winter needed to avoid or escape, people that she considered dangerous and formidable enough that she needed help. Wedge knew that Winter wasn't one to ask for help unless it was clearly needed, so he looked around, calculating threats, tactics, possible angles of attack...
He first spotted, then disregarded, several drunken Sullustans cheetering in a corner. An older man and another member off the 'oldest profession', this time a Twi'lek, were huddled together near them, deep in discussion about something, and completely unaware of or ignoring the scene that was beginning to unfold.
Wedge's eyes hesitated over three beings in a booth, then quickly continued on, to not give away that he'd noticed them. From what he'd glimpsed, there were two human males and a small human female, keeping a cool eye on the proceedings. If there were going to be targets in addition to the Devaronians, they would mostly likely be it.
"...so we'll just be going. Both of us," Winter finished, about eight meters from the door. Wedge continued to move with her, his attention split between the Devaronians and the group of three individuals by the opposite wall. They seemed to be getting a little more nervous, the closer Winter got to the door.
At this rate, won't be long before they-
A warning prickled at the back of his neck, instincts borne of years of hard survival kicking in. Consequently, Wedge was reaching for his hold-out blaster at the same time that the two men and one woman did. The older of the two men was the fastest, his weapon lining up for a shot on Winter. Wedge was already firing at him while simultaneously seeking cover. Winter was just behind him-she didn't have a choice, his fingers gripping tightly at her upper arm as he dragged her along in his wake.
In the second and a half it took for that to happen, the dark and smoky air of the cantina was lit up with blaster flashes and the acrid stench of ozone overpowered any other smell. Wedge tipped a sturdy table onto its end, sending its former occupants scurrying for cover or the exit. He was anxious to make for the exit himself, but neither he nor Winter would make it out before having their backs drilled with laser fire. So while others fled they were being forced to stay and fight.
Wedge hazarded a glance over the top of their table, seeing the three humans they were fighting take cover themselves. He also saw, further to the left, the two Devaronians and the old woman dash behind the bar. The looks on their faces suggested to Wedge that they were as surprised as he was at the attack, but that didn't discount the fact that they may still join with their enemy eventually. Or they might just sit back and let someone else do their fighting for them.
"Well, I hope you have a plan for getting out of here," Wedge said, ducking back as the younger man took a shot at him.
"I did, until your female admirer got in the way," Winter retorted. She peeled back part of her skirt, pulling an undersized but relatively powerful blaster from a small holster attached to her thigh. It would have more shots in it than the three or four Wedge would get. "I didn't realize you had such a draw with the older women."
"I didn't know either," he replied. Easing his face a little around the side of the table this time, he took a look at the table behind which the three humans had taken refuge. "What a time to find out."
"No kidding," Winter said, taking the opportunity of Wedge making a target of himself to quickly study their opposition. She had to duck back, though, when a hand and blaster poked over the top of the opposite table, hoping for a lucky shot. She answered back with a shot of her own, which scored into the tabletop, leaving a burning crater.
"You know, I'm not sure what will get me killed faster," Wedge grunted, ducking a little further to avoid the increased fire. "A blaster bolt or telling Tycho that you kissed me."
"You tell Tycho," she replied, shooting twice blindly over the top of the table, "and I'll tell him that you kissed me back."
Despite the danger of the situation, Wedge felt himself blush. "I'd say I didn't know it was you, but I'm pretty sure that won't be a valid excuse as far as Tycho's concerned."
"Got that right, flyboy."
Wedge grinned, stooping further still as a quick flurry of shots melted into the table. "I don't know what would make me lose more sleep at night-knowing that you or Tycho was gunning for me," Wedge said, glancing around the cantina, calculating distances and odds of reaching another table without being shot. "Give me some covering fire. I'm gonna try and work my way to the side, see if we can't force them to move if I'm shooting at them from an angle."
"Just like a Rogue. Toss himself into the line of fire to protect me."
"I thought that's why you kissed me in the first place," he answered back with a lopsided grin. She sighed lightly.
"Fine, on three." He nodded and she counted off. "One, two, three!" Wedge pushed to his feet just as Winter thrust her arm up and over, shooting once, twice, and again. That gave Wedge just enough time to dart over to another table, closer to one grimy wall, and turn it over. He nodded to Winter from his new position. She nodded in return, ducking further back behind her table. They both knew that if they didn't do something soon, the three humans they were fighting would make a move, and that might leave them in an even worse position, if that were possible.
Wedge checked the power level on his small blaster, which was lower than he would have liked, leaving him probably one shot, maybe two if he was lucky. He then waved to get Winter's attention again. She'd been checking her own blastpack in the meantime, which was probably low as well; it was a bit bigger than his weapon, which was designed for personal defense, to "hold out" until help arrived. But there was no help coming this time, so they'd have to make do with what they had.
Once he had Winter's attention he motioned towards the table where the two men and one women were, made a half-circling motion with his finger pointing towards the floor, then flattened his hand, palm down, and made a motion that sort of looked like a fighter flying forwards at low speeds. He then held up three fingers. She caught on immediately to his rather insane plan, as he knew she would, and nodded. Barring a squadron of local police breaking down the door and coming to their rescue, they didn't really have a choice. And he had a pretty good idea that she'd want to be long gone before the local authorities got involved, anyway.
With a returned nod and a deep breath, Wedge signaled that he too was ready. He brought his blaster up high in preparation, his hand at shoulder level, then looked back to Winter. With his free hand, he held up the same three fingers, folding them down one after another in a silent countdown, until he made a fist. At the same time as his hand clenched, he hopped to his feet, breaking into a run and zigzagging between tables and chairs in an evasive pattern, avoiding both the enemy's fire and Winter's chaotic covering shots. He was aware enough to note that even though Winter was one against three, her shots numbered nearly as many as theirs did.
At first those enemy shots concentrated their fire on Winter's position, but as soon as it became obvious that Wedge was attacking, they swiftly turned their aim towards him. But even with Winter's accurate distracting fire, many of the enemy's shots were coming a little too close to Wedge. He ducked, increasing his speed, turning directly towards them, which made them hesitate for a half a moment. That's when he dove headlong towards their table.
He landed on his side with a thud that nearly took his breath away, then slid across the floor for at least three meters. He'd picked up more than enough momentum to carry him beyond the side of their table, putting the older man in his sights first. Wedge fired once from where he'd come to a stop, leaning slightly towards his back, and struck his target square in the chest. He knew that the man was dead before even hitting the ground.
Wedge also knew that despite a quick twinge of guilt, he didn't have a choice-it was kill or be killed at this point, and his little weapon didn't have a stun setting. But even as that thought crossed his mind he had already begun to roll towards the diminished group. The woman fired at where he'd been, her shot passing over his side with scant centimeters to spare. Wedge's shot was true, though, and she fell. He was still in motion, and didn't know if it had been a killing shot or not, but she was out of the fight, that much he was sure of.
Wedge was rolling onto his knees now, his blaster already leveled at the third enemy who stood before him; an enemy that he wasn't even sure why he was fighting. But that was a question for later-one of many questions. Now his life depended on shooting first and accurately. His finger depressed the trigger, but all that emanated was a sickening click. His powerpack was empty.
First there was a look of disbelief on the face of the younger man, looking down on Wedge as he knelt before him. It was followed by cold triumph, which lasted all of one second before a blue stun bolt flashed behind him and he crumpled into a heap. Wedge blew out a breath he didn't even realize he'd been holding, slumping as he hunched back on his heels.
"Thanks," he managed as Winter came closer, her blaster still aimed at the trio. "Why didn't you just shoot him?"
"Because I can use him later," she answered vaguely, kneeling and beginning to rifle through their pockets.
"Ah," Wedge said, finally catching his breath. "How did you know you had enough power left in your pack for a stun?"
Winter looked up at him, her usually foreboding brown eyes dancing with something like mischief. "I didn't. I took a gamble." She held her blaster up towards the ceiling, pressed the trigger, and was met with the same click that had left Wedge sure he was dead. "I guess the gamble paid off."
Wedge's mouth fell open slightly. "What?! If you'd been wrong, odds were I would've been killed before you took him down some other way!"
"I thought Corellians didn't care much for odds?" Winter retorted, her mouth twitching into a grin. "Sure didn't seem like you did when you threw yourself at these three."
"Well, that was different," he muttered, slowly climbing to his feet. He had a throbbing ache in his hip from when he'd hit the floor and figured he'd have a carpet of bruises in the morning. But at least Winter was safe. "Our lives depended on it then," he finished weakly.
"They may still," she said, straightening and standing as she heard the step of more people behind them. She turned, and Wedge could see the old woman and her two Devaronian comrades. Their blasters were aimed in their general direction.
Not for the first time tonight, Wedge sighed. Just great.
"We still don't want any trouble," Winter said evenly, the lie in her words obvious from the three figures laying prone between her and Wedge. Of course at this point, all they had were words, since both of their blasters were empty.
The older woman laughed. "You've caused a bit o'trouble, anyway. And we've decided that we don't want your kind of trouble. Get out."
Wedge stepped up to Winter, standing on her left side. He still had his blaster in his hand, but it wasn't more than a small awkward club at this point. "Aren't you going to call the local authorities?" he asked, surprised by this turn of events. The old woman's eyes turned to him.
"I had m'suspicions about these three-they won't be missed. She might not be, either, so get out before I add t'the body count."
"This one's still alive," Winter added, pointing to the stunned man. The older woman looked around her briefly.
"He'll wake up with his two dead friends for company in an alley somewhere. We don' want th'authorities in here if I c'n help it. Now you, get out. And take your boy-toy with ya."
Winter holstered her blaster and Wedge tucked his back in a pocket. She stepped around sprawled arms and legs, heading for the exit. Wedge was mindful of the limbs as well, but he backed towards the door. He didn't trust this group not to shoot him in the back, even if it was only for the measly amount of credits in his pocket.
Fresh air never smelled so good, he thought as he reached the street. He looked to his right, just in time to see Winter duck into the mouth of an alley. He quickly followed, but by the time he made it that far, she was already halfway down the small street. "Wi-Uh, hey!" He'd almost used her real name, and hopefully caught himself in time. Either way, she stopped and turned to face him.
"Where are you going?" he asked, jogging to catch up with her.
"I have a mission to finish," she answered. "Thanks for the assist, flyboy." She turned as if to go, but he took hold of her arm.
"Wait! That's all the explanation I get, after you drag me into a firefight and nearly get me killed?"
She smiled. "Consider the kiss your reward. Take care, my little boy-toy." As her smile tugged up into a grin, she turned and disappeared into the darkness. Wedge let her go this time, his cheeks a little flushed as he turned towards the main street again.
It took far less time to get back to his quarters than it did to find the cantina in the first place. As Wedge entered his rooms, ignoring the nattering protests of the guards he'd escaped, who'd been assigned to "protect" him during his visit, he headed straight for his bed. Without even removing his uniform he collapsed wearily onto it face first. He lay there for a few minutes, going over the night's events for the hundredth time, then gave up.
After visiting his lavish 'fresher to wash and treat some minor abrasions, he crawled painfully into his bed, dressed in something more suitable for sleeping. There he lay on his back, staring at the ceiling, letting images of enemies, and firefights, and the face of that man standing over him, sure he would be killed, flit through his mind... And as all of those images swam together into a mixture of adventure, Wedge let himself fall headlong into sleep. And he smiled.