Elhen Anders sat back in the chair, feet propped on her desk, reading the latest reports from the outlying regions. She sighed, dropping her feet onto the floor and dumped the data pad onto the desk. Rubbing her face in her hands she didn't see the tall, slender man who started to knock on the open door then changed his mind, lounging instead against the frame.
He smiled as she sighed again, telling her, "That's what happens when you get promoted."
She looked up, a slow grin spreading across her face. His eyes sparked as he continued, "That's why I always stayed out in the field!"
"You stayed out in the field," she contradicted, sitting back in the chair and crossing her arms, "because they busted you back to Sergeant so often!"
He gave her an innocent "Who? Me?" look then shook his head in mock disgust, "That's what I always like about you, Elhen, you're forgiving, tactful nature…"
She laughed, pushing herself to her feet, walking round the desk towards him as he straightened and moved to meet her. He enveloped her in a hug. "It's good to see you, Darriek," she told him.
"Always a pleasure to see you, Elhen. It's been too long."
They broke away and perching on the edge of her desk she motioned him to sit down, "So, what brings you to this part of the universe."
"Strange unsettling stories I'm afraid." He dropped into the chair, leaning forward, elbows on his knees. "Finally got news from my Ord Mantell agent. He did a drop for you… Corin Seerzhe? He doubts you'll see her again."
He saw the look on her face and quickly explained, "The night she arrived on Merrion there was a murder, some Imperial Commander called Tennan. The Empire blockaded the planet…"
He trailed off as her face suddenly drained of colour. He reached out for her, standing up, "Is this important?"
She nodded slowly, "Very. Tell me everything you know."
"Thought it might be," he said, sitting back down but keeping hold of her hand. "Benn said that Vader might be involved. His Dark Lordship was certainly there and the blockade was his doing, but Benn wasn't sure if the events were connected. This Commander Tennan was murdered, they killed one of the people involved and arrested another – a female, but that's all he could find out. Seerzhe didn't call for the pick-up, but they had jammed all the frequencies. She could possibly still be there, unable to make contact, but Benn doesn't seem to think so."
Anders shook her head, mentally doing calculations. If Karrik had been picked up the night she arrived in Norrin Pelaas, then Vader had had her for three days before the attack on Hoth. Three days… No one could survive that long without breaking. And yet she couldn't have said anything about Hoth…
Echo Base had been discovered by a droid. Goddess… maybe it was Karrik who had been killed and her mother who had been taken by Vader. "Is that all he could tell you?"
"Pretty much. But I'll ask him to find out everything he can."
Elhen nodded slowly, still deep in thought. Darriek pulled a data pad from a leg pocket, offering it to her, "This is more bad news, I'm afraid. Twelve days ago the Empire executed some of the personnel they took at Hoth. My contact managed to get me that list - those who died and those who are still being held. There's one other thing about the list. My contact flagged a name, said that it was a Rebel who had been held on the Executor for some days before Hoth was attacked but that the Imperials executed with the others. He's given some background…"
Anders took the proffered pad, scanning down the list of names. Her heart lurched as she saw the name marked by Darriek's contact – Karrik Tennan.
So it had been Karrik... She rushed through the rest of the names trying to find the background, finally seeing it at the end of the list… And everything fell into place.
Karrik had been taken to the Executor from Merrion. She had survived almost three days of interrogation by Vader himself, until news had come in about Hoth. Then she had been abandoned to her fate with the rest of the Hoth prisoners.
Anders looked up at Darriek, trying to keep her voice even as she asked, "How accurate is this?"
Elhen had never questioned the authenticity of his information before. They had known each other since the days of the Corellian Militia, it was one of the reasons he knew he could trust her, was the only reason he supplied information to the Rebel Alliance. He pushed away his consternation at her sudden apparent lack of faith, telling himself that she must have an important reason for asking.
"It's accurate," he assured her. And then it hit him and he felt like a fool. She would know the people on that list. He sighed at his own stupidity, apologising and sympathising, "I'm sorry, Elhen."
Anders read over it again then put the pad down, asking, "Did you read the list?"
He shook his head, "No."
She took a deep breath realising that he had no idea that the two apparently unconnected pieces of information he had just given her were, in fact, linked. Darriek had been involved in the Merrion operation almost from the start. It was his operatives who had dropped Karrik, it was his operatives who were supposed to get her and her cousin out. This could affect their safety and he needed to know about it.
"The woman whose name has been flagged, Karrik Tennan," she began.
He frowned, "Yes…"
"She went into Merrion to bring out the Imperial who was killed. He was effecting to the Rebellion. Her cover name for the trip was Corin Seerzhe."
Darriek swore softly, the full implications of what she had just told him suddenly hitting him. "My people are safe," he assured her, "No names were given." Then another thought hit him, "So that's how they found you on Hoth."
Elhen was shaking her head, "No. That's just it. Echo Base was discovered by an Imperial probe droid. The Empire couldn't have known about Hoth before the droid stumbled over it, otherwise no one would have survived. The Empire would have hit it without warning, all guns blazing."
"But Tennan had to have been on the Executor for three, almost four days by then," Darriek denied, "No-one can survive interrogation that long…"
Anders picked up the pad, "According to this information, she did… Darriek, I need you to find out everything you can about Karrik Tennan and Verl Tennan. They walked into a trap laid by Vader. In all probability, Vader discovered that Verl Tennan was going to defect and set him up, but I need to be sure."
"Consider it done."
"Thank you," she smiled then asked, "How long can you stay?"
"Don't know at the moment," he shrugged, "Long enough to get the information you need. And I at least want a dinner with you before I go."
"It's a date."
He stood up, kissing her cheek, "Good. I've got this really potent wine that I found…"
He broke off as she put her arms round him, holding him tight. He returned the embrace, waiting until she let go then took her hands in his, "I'm sorry about the list. I didn't think..."
"It's all right," she reassured him, squeezing his hands.
"If you need anything…"
He left the rest unspoken. He had been there for her when his closest friend – her husband – had been killed in the riots. She had been there for him when he had decked the Militia's Commander-in-Chief and been drummed out the service. There was a bond between them that needed no explanation.
She was nodding, smiling sadly, telling him, "I'll holler. We'll get drunk together like the old days."
He kissed here again then turned walking out the door. Stopping abruptly he turned back, "Wait! I almost forgot! The Millennium Falcon? Ran the gauntlet of the Star Destroyers at Hoth… And then gave them the slip."
That brought a smile of surprise to Elhen's face. "Word is that Vader's brought in Bounty Hunters to find them," he cautioned. "At the moment, that's all I know, but hopefully I'll have some more details soon."
He grinned, "No one seems to know where she is, but the Empire sure as hells didn't get her."
And then he was gone. Elhen stood for a moment, contemplating all the information he had given her, then she lifted the list of names and headed out of the office to find General Rieekan.
~ # # ~
Rieekan forced a smile at Anders trying to ease her obvious discomfort with what he had proposed. She had told him about the list, about Karrik Tennan and about the Millennium Falcon and he had immediately, to her horror, called for a meeting with the other Command Staff. They were sitting now, waiting for them to arrive, although Admiral Ackbar would be unable to attend.
The Tennan business frustrated him. He had felt, right from the beginning, that something smelled about the whole thing, but he had let the thoughts of how much would be accomplished overturn his personal feelings. Time and time again he had relied on his instincts. Time and time again they had come through for him. But on Hoth he had no longer been a Colonel, he had been a General, had been so for over a year and he had still found it hard to get used to all the trappings that that had involved. One such trapping had been deferring to the higher authority on something that he instinctively knew wasn't right.
If he had still been a Colonel he could have turned to the General now and said, I told you so, and exorcised his demons. But he knew that he would never be able to do that to Mon Mothma. He knew how much of herself she lost every time something went wrong, knew what she had already sacrificed and knew how much agonising she did before making a decision for the greater good.
In his position and in her position, personal preference was no longer a luxury. And yet he still felt responsible for Karrik Tennan's death.
The door opened and Anders jumped to her feet as Rieekan rose gracefully to his, "I assure you, Major," he told her softly, "they won't bite."
She glanced at him, then back at the door as General Taearinn walked, deep in quiet conversation with… Mon Mothma.
Anders' eyes widened as she recognised the other woman. Mothma acknowledged Rieekan with a smile then turned to Anders as Rieekan introduced, "Mon Mothma, may I present Major Elhen Anders."
Mothma threw him a look of mock exasperation then shook hands with Elhen, telling her, "You must excuse the senior officers present, Major. They do like to stand on so much pomp and circumstance."
She smiled, her easy grace putting Elhen at immediate ease as she continued, "If only because they enjoy seeing old friends embarrassed! And I hate all this fuss!"
Rieekan chuckled and Mothma turned, admonishing, "You should know better, General!"
She sighed, shooting a look at Taearinn, who shrugged then suggested, "Perhaps we should all sit down."
They sat round the table and Mon Mothma, as usual, came immediately to the point, "Major, General Rieekan said you had information."
"Yes, Ma'am. Firstly, we've had reports that the Millennium Falcon evaded the Imperial Fleet at Hoth. Lord Vader has apparently called in bounty hunters to find the ship, but as yet no one has located her. The Millennium Falcon is still at large."
Mon Mothma sighed in relief, closing her eyes, "That is most welcome news, Major."
Bail Organa and his wife had been close, personal friends and she worried for their daughter, Leia. She had proven herself to be an accomplished leader, but to Mon Mothma she was still barely a child, little older than the quiet teenager who had enchanted Mothma with her unassuming yet compelling nobility.
"I'm afraid that's the only good news that I have, Ma'am, although the next may set some minds at rest… My contact has been able to provide me with a list of…"
She broke off, not quite knowing how to tell Mon Mothma the full story. Rieekan, however, came to her aid. The levity of before gone, his voice was grimly earnest as he told Mothma, "Major Anders has a list of fifty-two Alliance personnel who were taken prisoner at Hoth."
He looked at Anders and with a heavy heart she continued, "Of those fifty-two personnel, forty-seven were executed twelve days ago."
Taearinn made a small sound, her face showing her horror and dismay. Mon Mothma kept her face carefully controlled, but pushed herself slowly to her feet, crossing the room to look out at the stars.
Anders sat, saying nothing. Rieekan placed a comforting hand on Taearinn's arm. For a long moment there was only silence, then Mothma spoke, softly, "We must let their families know."
"With all due respect, Ma'am," Anders began, surprised at her own audacity, glancing over at Rieekan, "I feel that all those who survived Hoth should be told."
She saw the agreement in his eyes and then he was saying, "Major Anders has a point."
Mon Mothma turned, "Yes, of course… I will arrange something."
Mothma looked at her and Anders plunged ahead, "It might be better if the news came from… from someone who was on Hoth. There's been so much…"
Tears were threatening and she could hear the catch in her voice. She stopped to gather herself, swallowed then continued, "We have lost so many friends…"
"I understand," Mon Mothma began, "but I could not, in all conscience, force this responsibility on another."
"I'll do it, Ma'am," Rieekan told her.
"Thank you, General, but no," she told him, standing her ground.
He nodded, knowing that he wouldn't be able to change her mind, changing the subject instead, telling her, "There's more, Ma'am…"
"More?" Mothma repeated, moving back to sit down.
Rieekan looked at Elhen.
"The mission to Merrion to bring out the Imperial Intelligence Officer…"
"Karrik Tennan's cousin," Mon Mothma remembered.
Elhen nodded, "Yes, Ma'am…" She paused then went on, "The mission failed. Verl Tennan was killed. Karrik was taken prisoner. She was aboard the Executor and executed with the other Hoth personnel."
Dread lurched through Mon Mothma. She had sanctioned the Merrion mission. Had she sent Karrik to her death? Another, more horrifying, thought occurred to her. If Karrik had been taken by the Empire, had she lead them to Echo Base?
She swallowed then asked softly, "Is… Is that how they found Hoth?"
Elhen shook her head. "We don't believe so, Ma'am. Karrik was tortured," she confirmed, "but if she had revealed the location of Hoth, the Imperial Navy would have arrived much sooner. The information I have leads me to believe that the existence of Echo Base was only revealed by the probe that Captain Solo and Chewbacca destroyed."
~ # # ~
Commander Wedge Antilles lifted his head from the technical reports, looking up at the young woman standing in the doorway, "Sir," she continued, "General Rieekan would like to see you."
"Thank you." Wedge dropped the printouts on his desk, rubbing his hand blearily across his face. Rising, he lifted the jacket from the back of his chair, hesitating slightly as the wound in his shoulder twinged, then slipped the jacket on, leaving the office.
What the hells was this all about now?
Instinctively he acknowledged the more junior personnel who passed him, his tired mind on other things - like the lack of trained pilots. Or, more precisely, the despairingly depressing day he had just spent watching the new influx of trainees kill themselves, and each other, in the simulators. None of them had that flash, that flicker of independent recklessness that promised of a truly natural fighter pilot. Admittedly they were competent, but he had watched too many competent pilots die at the hands of TIEs.
The Aide rose as Wedge walked into the office, immediately ushering him into the inner room. The sight of Mon Mothma, regal as ever and alone in the room, pulled him up short.
"I'm sorry, Ma'am," he began as she turned away from the window towards him, "I was told that General Rieekan wanted to see me."
Maybe it was because he was so damned tired, but there was something about her manner, something about the smile that she gave him, that didn't seem quite right - as if she was nervous.
"It's quite alright, Commander, it was me who wished to see you. Please," she invited indicating the chair on the other side of the vast desk, "sit down." The soft, calming voice had an edge to it and Wedge's discomfort grew. Her smile widened as she tried to put him at his ease, but he could read the sadness in her eyes.
Mothma sat down, resting her clasped hands on the desk, "Commander, we have received news that concerns the personnel who are missing after the evacuation of Hoth. The news is, regrettably, grave. I have already asked for a Fleet-wide briefing to be announced so that I may inform those who survived Echo Base. I would be very grateful if you would stand with General Rieekan and myself when I deliver the news…"
Wedge blinked then swallowed. "Of course…" he assured her. There was no question of him turning down her request.
She gave him that sad smile again, telling him, "Thank you, Commander. I very much appreciate it."
She looked down at her hands then lifted her gaze back up to his face. "The information we received indicates that, of those still unaccounted for, fifty-two were taken prisoner by Imperial Forces and secured aboard the Executor. Forty-seven were... executed... twelve days ago..."
The colour drained from Antilles' face and Mothma only just stopped herself from reaching out to touch his hand.
"Luke... Commander Skywalker?" Wedge asked, hoarsely.
She shook her head, "Still unaccounted for, as are Princess Leia and the crew of the Millennium Falcon. Although we do know that the Falcon escaped the Imperial ships at Hoth."
Wedge closed his eyes briefly, hope beginning to assert itself again, relief stabbing through him. Solo was a good man; he would do everything he could to keep Princess Leia safe. And if Luke's name wasn't on that list then there was a chance, however slim, that he was still alive.
Then he heard Mon Mothma say, "There is one other name on the list Commander.... Karrik Tennan."
Wedge's world tilted.
"She was arrested on Merrion just over three days before the attack on Hoth and taken to the Executor for interrogation. She was executed along with the others."
It sounded so blunt, but there was not other way she could tell him. When she had suggested that both Commander Antilles and General Rieekan stand with her when she announced the deaths, Major Anders had warned her that there was something between Tennan and this young man.
Now, Mon Mothma found herself glad that she had chosen to tell him alone like this. She had seen too many people in the last few days with the dead look that had just swept over his eyes not to realise that something was obviously more than a little understated.
Wedge gazed ahead, unseeing, feeling numb, as if someone had just kicked him hard in the head. Goddess, she had been on that ship, so close he could almost have touched her.... and he had blasted right passed...
He suddenly wanted to throw up, but somehow kept his composure. Mothma was talking again, but he heard her from far away, as if in a dream, "I'm sorry, Commander, I know that you and Tennan were.... close..."
"We…" he blurted out, "We were going to get married…"
Mon Mothma closed her eyes, saying nothing for a long moment. Anything that she said now would simply be platitude, woefully inadequate in the immensity of the grief that she saw on his face.
Finally she chose simple words, telling him softly, "We grieve with you, Commander…"
The placid calm of her voice suddenly infuriated him and he jerked to his feet, "Thank you, Ma'am. May I leave, Ma'am?"
She stood up wanting nothing more than to comfort him, knowing how much she wanted someone to throw their arms around her and tell her that everything would somehow be all right. His cold, detached manner stopped her, pulling her back to her position, "You may, Commander… to accompany me to the briefing hall on Deck Six. The rest of your Flight, and the other Hoth personnel here on the Home One are being assembled there."
Wedge nodded silently, locking away his feelings behind Duty. He stood unmoving as Mon Mothma moved to her desk and picking up a data pad. Then she turned, walking towards the door. Wedge followed her, woodenly.
Outside, General Rieekan was waiting. He acknowledged Mothma with a salute, dropping into step beside Wedge, following her through the corridors of the ship. They rode the elevator to the sixth deck in silence, hearing orders to personnel echo through the tannoy system.
Clutching the data pad, Mon Mothma was sure that there was something she had forgotten to tell the Commander... but she wasn't certain what it was. She ran the meeting through in her mind, sorting through the emotions and details until, with a start of annoyance and dismay, she remembered.
For a brief moment she thought about stopping the elevator to tell him. Then she decided that here was an opportunity she could not afford to lose. Morale was almost non-existent, especially amongst the Hoth survivors. What she had forgotten to tell Commander Antilles, she could share with everyone in that hall.
There was so much pain, so many wounds to heal. An account of courage would go a long way to helping.
By the time they reached the briefing hall, the last stragglers were filtering hurriedly inside.
Everyone hushed to silence, rising to their feet as Mon Mothma walked in, the atmosphere expectant, shaded with apprehension. Mothma moved to the podium, placing the datapad on the lectern as Rieeken and Antilles moved to stand, slightly behind and either side of her. Slowly she looked up, letting her gaze run across the faces for a moment: faces of people who had been friends to the names on this list, worked with them, drank with them, fought with them, loved...
She pushed that thought away abruptly, clearing her voice, "Please, be seated."
She waited until the rustle of movement faded away then began, "It is my sad and reluctant duty to inform you that, having been taken prisoner by Imperial Forces on Hoth, the following Rebel Alliance personnel were... executed... twelve days ago."
She began to read, hearing soft sounds of grief as the names were said aloud, one after the other. After too short a time, considering the length of the list, Mothma reached the final name.
She didn't read it. Instead she took a deep breath, let it out slowly and began, "My regrets and deepest sympathy to all of you who have just learnt of the death of family and close friends. All of the Rebel Alliance mourns with you, and our thoughts are with those who are still waiting for news."
Pausing for a moment in respect, she continued, "In this dark time I would like to share with you the courage of a young woman, known to all of you.
"Many of you, especially those of you who flew with her, will be aware that Karrik Tennan left Hoth three days before the evacuation. Karrik was betrayed during a covert mission and arrested almost as soon as she reached her destination. She was taken to the Imperial Flagship, Executor, for interrogation. Karrik Tennan's name is the last on this list…"
She paused, waiting for this to sink in, hearing the small moan from the man standing slightly behind her.
"The information we received," she went on, "leads us to believe that, in all that time, she remained silent or gave her interrogators false information, taking the location of Hoth with her to her death. The existence of Echo Base was revealed by a spy droid, subsequently destroyed by Alliance forces, unfortunately not before transmitting the location of Echo Base to Imperial sources. Had Karrik Tennan been forced, under interrogation, to talk, the base would not have had the time that it did to evacuate and many more lives would have been lost."
Making a spur of the moment decision, knowing that something else was needed and, more importantly, wanting to acknowledge the suffering that Tennan must have had to endure, she continued, "Therefore, to honour her courage and sacrifice, Pilot Officer Karrik Tennan is posthumously promoted to Lieutenant and awarded the Alliance Medal of Honour."
For a moment there was silence. Then someone, near the back of the hall, rose to attention and saluted.
Wedge tried to swallow, but there was something in his throat, something circling tightly round his chest, making it difficult for him to breathe. One by one, the entire hall rose to their feet, standing smartly to attention and saluting in respect: not just for Karrik, but for all those who had lost their lives.
Mothma turned to Wedge, offering him an escape. He took her proffered arm, escorting her from the podium and out of the hall.
She turned as the door closed off the scene inside the hall, "We did not want her name sullied, Commander. I meant to tell you in the office but..."
She trailed off knowing her explanation must mean little to him now, finishing instead, "I'm sorry, Commander."
He said nothing, not looking at her. She began again, "At some point someone would have put three and three together... they needed to know the truth."
Finally, Wedge found his voice, "Thank you, Ma'am."
She smiled sadly, "I wish I could have done more, Commander."
The door opened again as Rieekan stepped out into the corridor beside them.
"Forgive me," Mon Mothma told Wedge, "but there are other duties to which I must attend."
She turned and began to walk along the corridor with the General.
Behind Wedge, the doors of the briefing hall opened. Quietly the occupants filtered out: some talking in hushed tones, others weeping or wiping tears from their faces, concerned friends trying to comfort them. Wedge stood, unmoving, detached from the whole scenario as they flowed around him, dispersing throughout the ship.
Janson and Alissha paused at the door, glancing at each other as they saw Wedge standing motionless in the corridor. Janson took a step forward, wanting to give his Commander some words of comfort but unsure about what to say. He glanced at Alissha again; who shrugged slightly, tears sliding silently down her cheeks. Janson took another step forward.
A hand on his shoulder stopped him. He turned. Elhen Anders was also watching Wedge. She turned her gaze on Janson, saying nothing, but in a wash of relief and regret he understood what she meant. He nodded, turning away, grabbing Alissha and hustling her down the corridor.
Elhen walked across to Wedge, standing in front of him, waiting until he realised that she was there. Slowly, he lifted his head. For a long moment he looked at her and then he started shaking.
Anders moved, slipping her arm around his waist. "Come on," she told him, gently guiding him along the corridor.
They rode in silence in the elevator. As the doors opened she heard a sound - a small, strangled sob and she held him tighter, willing him to keep it together for just a little longer.
Finally they reached her quarters.
She got him through the door and then his legs gave way, the strength deserting him. Losing her balance she ended up on the floor beside him. He looked at her, not seeing her, shaking his head as if by denying it he could make the pain disappear.
The word escaped, turning to a scream of grief as he broke down. Elhen closed her eyes, reaching for him, holding him as he sobbed against her. Finally, she allowed herself to succumb to her own tears. It had been a long time since she had grieved for her husband, but she cried now, letting all the fear and emotion of the last few days go, cradling Wedge's head against her shoulder and rocking him gently as a mother would a child.
When he had calmed a little she let him go, clambering to her feet and crossing to a storage area. She reached in, pulling out a bottle of blue liquor then picked up two mugs before walking back across to him. Dropping to the floor beside him she offered him a mug. He tried to push it away but she pressed harder, telling him, "Don't make me pull rank, Commander!"
He looked at her, wiping the tears away from his face, taking the proffered mug. She opened the bottle, pouring a large measure of the whiskey into both mugs, then pushed the stopper back in. Setting the bottle on the floor between them, she took a sip of the bitter sweet liquid.
Wedge sat, gazing into the mug, the liquor untouched. Finally he told her, "I was going to marry her."
"I know," she admitted, softly, "Skywalker told me."
Wedge took a mouthful of the drink, feeling it burn its way down his throat, easing the constriction in his chest as he tried to take in what had happened and deal with it.
They sat in silence again for a moment lost in their own thoughts. Then Wedge murmured, "We flew straight past her."
He looked at Anders, "She was on that ship and we flew straight past her." He looked away, back into the mug. "Three days!" he said, shaking his head, still unable to take in the enormity of what she must have had to go through, "Gods! They had her for three days."
He could feel the hysteria rising again and took another mouthful of the blue liquid, using the burning pain to get a hold of himself… but he was unable to stop the tears that welled up again in his eyes. He brushed them away, "I need to know what happened."
"Wedge…" she began.
He looked at her. "Please?" he implored her, "I…" His voice caught and he clamped down on the sob.
Elhen unstoppered the bottle, pouring some more alcohol into his mug, then topped up her own. She set the bottle back down.
"Her cousin was in Imperial Intelligence," she began softly, "on Vader's staff, on the Executor. He wanted to defect to the Alliance. If it had come off it would have devastated their intelligence community and we would have been so much closer to destroying the Empire's hold."
She stopped, took a sip of the whiskey then began again, "The Executor caught some of the conversation between Karrik and Han Solo at Taspin. Her cousin recognised her voice. He contacted one of our operatives, saying that he wanted to defect and that he'd only come over with Karrik. She agreed to go and get him. He'd done what he could to cover his tracks, but it was always going to be tight. We think Vader found out and let him have enough rope to hang himself. They were waiting for Karrik when she arrived… You know the rest."
For a long moment he said nothing, then he looked up at her, "Thank you…"
"I'm sorry, Wedge."
He shook his head, "The Empire has taken everyone I ever loved…" His voice held a desolate, angry quality that suddenly had Elhen worried… but when he spoke again it was gone, "I'm not the only one though, am I?"
It didn't ease the ache or the pain but somehow knowing that he wasn't alone in grief made it easier to bear. And at least he knew what had happened to her. There were others who were still waiting, not knowing if their family and friends were alive or dead. There were people whose fates would never be known… like the Sergeant from the corridor whose name he couldn't remember.
In the depths of his sadness he suddenly realised that he had a choice here. He could allow the grief to destroy him, tearing him apart from the inside. Or he could use it; turn it into a weapon to use against the Empire, forever a reminder of what he was and why he was involved with the Rebel Alliance.
He'd tried to forget it all before, jumping from bed to bed in an effort to rid himself of his demons… until he'd met Karrik. He'd had so little time with her and yet those few, snatched hours had changed him...
Karrik had returned the lust for life to him; everything that had happened before had no longer mattered. They had given each other a fresh start and then she had given him the greatest gift of all and agreed to spend the rest of her life with him. He had loved her, still did and would always love her and he would miss her... but Karrik, Zev, Hobbie and the others, they deserved more from him than sitting collapsing slowly into a glass of alcohol. Karrik would kick his butt!
Suddenly he found himself laughing. He looked up at Anders, lifting the mug, "Karrik would kill me if she knew I was trying to drown my sorrows over her."
His laughter was infectious and she smiled, "Ah, but you're drowning your sorrows in good liquor. That, she would appreciate!"
He nodded, sniffing, then dug into his breast pocket, pulling out the silver wedding bracelet. His heart was still heavy, ripping apart, but he had found purpose. He held the bracelet, rubbing his thumb over the roughness of the detail, "This was for the wedding..."
Elhen lifted it from his hand, opening the catch and putting the bracelet on his wrist, "She had said yes, Wedge. You just hadn't formalised it. And formality's a luxury we sometimes can't afford."
He smiled, still looking at the bracelet, thinking back to the time in the rec room on Hoth, everyone clapping and cat-calling as he had kissed Karrik. Zev, Hobbie, Dack, Luke...
He looked up at Elhen, lifting his glass, "A toast," he suggested. "To absent friends."
She nodded, suddenly serious as she lifted her glass, "To absent friends."