Whoever decided to build the Rebel base on Hoth had clearly never been there. The rest of us weren't that lucky. We spent weeks trapped on that ice cube of a planet. The most exciting thing that happened each day was a routine scouting flight, and those were only exciting because you got to look at the snow from above instead of below.
The only thing that made living there bearable was the tiny room they dug off the main caf to serve as a bar, and most evenings you could find every off-duty pilot on base crammed in there, elbow to elbow. There wasn't even room for tables or chairs. If you wanted to sit down, you had to go out to the caf, but then you might not be able to get back to the bar.
I was there one night, like usual, early in our stay. We'd been there long enough to develop a deep, abiding hatred of snow, but not long enough to really know each other yet. Dack was shouting in my ear about some medtech he'd decided he was in love with even though he just met her that afternoon. He didn't appreciate it when I told him she was ticklish behind her knee and stormed off.
I was turning back to the bar, about to order another drink, when I spotted him leaning against the wall next to the bar's entrance.
He was barely inside, arms crossed, glass of something in one hand, watching us all. I hadn't had more than a few passing conversations with him, enough to know he was on the quiet side and sharp. Buddies with Luke Skywalker and mildly famous for not getting himself killed during the attack on the Death Star—though we were all stupid enough to believe we would have managed that too, had we been there.
I was pretty sure he didn't like me.
I'd had just enough to drink at this point for his dislike to become a challenge and his straight-shooting personality to be annoying. I came up with a brilliant plan.
I was going to get Wedge Antilles drunk.
It took me a few minutes to force my way through half of Gold Squadron and into Wedge's personal space. He stiffened a bit, pulled his glass away protectively, and squinted at me.
"Janson," he said.
I grinned. "Antilles! You look down. I know what'll cheer you up."
He looked suspicious, which I didn't think was fair. I hadn't even gotten around to pranking him yet. This was completely undeserved suspicion, which only made me determined to earn it.
I dug in my pocket and pulled out a handful of credits. They'd be enough to get us a couple bottles of something hard. I'd be broke for the next three weeks, but this would be worth it.
I shook my fist full of coins in Wedge's face and hollered, "Drinking contest!"
He blinked. "Drinking contest?"
"It's a tradition passed down from starfighter squadron to starfighter squadron through the ages. A couple of pilots, a good supply of liquor, a few basic rules, and you've got yourself some fun."
"Fun," he said flatly, giving me the kind of look you gave people you didn't like.
"Yes. Fun. I'm sure you've heard of it." I busted out the grin that usually guaranteed I wasn't the only one who got in trouble. "What do you say, Antilles? Think you can take me?"
Wedge studied me for a moment. Then he smirked. "Yeah. All right."
Probably that smirk should have given me some sort of warning, but I was caught up in visions of Wedge dancing on a table or singing ten-year-old love ballads at the top of his lungs—Wedge seemed like the type to be a decade behind in his knowledge of galactic pop music. I just hoped someone in the vicinity had a holorecorder.
I shoved my way back to the bar and bought two bottles of some nameless whiskey off the bartender—nasty stuff he probably distilled himself beneath his bunk, but it had enough kick to knock a wampa on its back, so it would do.
Wedge hadn't moved from his spot against the wall, so I dragged him to one of the caf tables near the bar entrance. I waved him into the chair opposite me and set a shot glass in front of him with a dull clink.
"All right, you've got some options," I said. "There's a straight shot-to-shot contest—boring but effective. There's the Hoth Hopper, which I helped create, I might add, in which—"
"I'm familiar with it," Wedge said. "No hopping."
I raised my eyebrows. "Nervous, are we? All right. No hopping for the novice."
That smirk of his came and went again so quickly I thought I'd imagined it. I described a few more drinking games, but in the end he chose the basic shot-to-shot set-up.
I sighed. "You would go for the boring option."
"Just pour, Janson."
"So…you're a gunner," Wedge said.
"Yep. And you're a terrible conversationalist."
He rolled his eyes and filled our glasses. "Fine. What do you want to talk about?"
"You could tell me about the Death Star."
"No." He knocked back his second shot without blinking.
I quickly swallowed mine, trying not to make a face at the terrible taste. In a few more shots I knew I wouldn't notice anymore, but that wasn't doing me much good at the moment. "Okay. I'm easy."
"So I've heard."
"Oh, ho!" I shouted gleefully. "At last, Antilles lifts his visor! Please, do tell me about myself. I love hearing about myself."
He set his glass down. "All right. You're a crack shot and not a bad stick, but you're too busy chasing women and dreaming up stupid ways to get yourself—and anyone in ten meters of you—in trouble to ever be taken seriously."
I nodded amiably and poured us another set of shots. "I'm also a whole lot of fun."
The corner of Wedge's mouth twitched, and he picked up his glass to hide a smile. "We'll see about that."
"It's just so boring here, you know?" I asked, waving an arm expansively to indicate the entire base. I was feeling pretty good by that point, having hit the warm, relaxed stage of intoxication. I'd had a couple drinks before we started this game, but I had klicks to go before I got in trouble, so I wasn't worried. Just to prove it, I tilted my chair back and balanced on two legs.
Wedge had his chin in his hand and was spinning his shot glass on the table, making it wobble around in little circles. He looked more relaxed, but no more than me. Good. If he'd been too much of a lightweight, this wouldn't have been any fun.
"It's not so bad," he said.
The front legs of my chair hit the ice floor with a sharp thunk, propelling me into the table. "Not so bad?" I repeated. "Are we on the same base? On the same schedule? Because seriously, Antilles, this place is driving me mad." A horrifying thought crossed my mind. "Do you actually like it here?"
He shrugged. "Not particularly. But I don't not like it, either."
It took me a second to muddle out that sentence. I frowned. "You need more alcohol."
Wedge held out his glass.
"These glasses are too small." I ducked my head beneath the table and squinted at the floor. Somewhere above me, Wedge chuckled.
"What are you doing?"
"Looking for my other glass," I said. I sat up, hitting my head on the table in the process. "I had another glass. A bigger one. Like this." I held my hands a short distance apart to show him how tall the glass was.
He smirked at me. "You're not drunk already, are you?"
"What? No!" I shook my head emphatically, ignoring the way the room kept moving for a couple seconds after I stopped. "Not at all, which is why I want a bigger glass. More liquor faster."
Wedge produced a normal-sized glass from somewhere. I ducked under the table again to try to figure out where he was hiding it. Bobbing back up, I pointed at the glass. "Where'd you get that?"
"I had it earlier, when you accosted me and brought up this whole drinking contest idea."
"Oh, yeah." I frowned at him, which seemed to unsettle him more than anything else I'd done so far. "When you were posing aloofly against the wall. No wonder everyone thinks you've got an X-wing up your ass."
"I wasn't posing." He frowned. "Everyone really thinks I've got—?" He gestured vaguely.
I nodded. "You should thank me. A little more of this—" I picked up the whiskey bottle and shook it, then noticed it was empty. I picked up the other one. "A little more of this, and your stick-in-the-mud reputation will be no more."
He eyed the whiskey for a moment, then offered up his larger glass. I poured him about three shots' worth without spilling a drop, then snagged his abandoned shot glass for myself and filled it, as well as mine.
"Who's 'everyone,' exactly?" Wedge asked.
Shot Number One stopped halfway to my mouth. "Everyone?"
"Yes. Who, specifically? The rest of the squadron? The mechanics? The entire wampa population?"
I squinted at him. "You're trying to be funny, but it's not working yet. Drink more."
"All right," he said and took a swallow of his whiskey. "Who's everyone?"
"Well…" I swallowed my shot to buy some time. "Mostly me, but I'm very influential."
"Right. So I'm being forced by you to drink my weight in whiskey in order to prove wrong a perception of me that you yourself created."
I thought about that for a moment. "Yes."
Wedge closed his eyes and sighed, then swallowed the contents of his glass in one go.
I was starting to get worried. I kept trying to slide out of my chair, and Wedge was showing off his motor skills by flipping a credit coin up and down his row of knuckles. He was smiling though, which was progress.
"So then he opens his locker," I continued, "and three liters of engine oil explode in his face. It took him three weeks to get it out of his hair."
Wedge laughed. "How did you get away with that?"
"I didn't. But it was worth it."
He laughed harder
I shoved myself to a somewhat more vertical position and reached for the bottle, which was half-empty. "This calls for a celebratory bonus shot!"
Still smiling, Wedge gave me a slightly baffled look. "Celebratory why?"
"You're having fun." I splashed some whiskey into his glass, not caring when a good portion of it wound up on the table. I did better with my glass and raised it into the air. "To proof that X-wings can be removed from uncomfortable positions."
He started to drink halfway through my toast and wound up snorting whiskey up his nose. I almost fell out of my chair laughing at him while he coughed and wiped his nose with a sleeve.
"Drowning yourself s'not the answer, Antilles," I said.
He called me a few interesting names, a couple of them even creative. My smile got bigger. He continued to cough.
"Stand on your head," I said. "That'll help it drain."
"I don't need draining," he grumbled, glaring at his half-empty glass.
"Come on," I urged. "I'll hold your legs."
He gave me a dubious look. "Hold my legs? I'm not sure you can even stand."
"Can too!" I said loudly. I started to push myself to my feet to prove it but caught that smirk back on his face. I plopped into my chair and pointed a finger at his nose. "Very clever, Antilles." A few extra L's slipped into his name, and his smirk widened. "I'm not falling for that." I nudged his glass. "Drinky-drinky."
"Absolutely not," he said.
"Pleeeease?" I begged. "Jus' for a few seconds."
"I'm not dancing on the table. Feel free to knock yourself out, though." He waved at our whiskey-puddled tabletop. "It's all yours."
I liked that idea, but there was something I wanted to know first. "Then tell me why you're an aloof wall-poser."
The amusement dropped off his face. "Why?" he asked, wary.
"'Cause I wanna know," I said reasonably. More whiskey was also a good idea. The bottle had gone slick, and it took me a couple tries to get a good grip on it.
"And I would tell you because…"
"'Cause you like me now." I sat up a bit straighter and repeated this, certain it was the most brilliant thing I'd ever said. "You like me now! You didn' before. Admit it."
He didn't say anything for a moment, and I stopped the complicated process of filling my shot glass to give him a pointed look.
"I don't—I didn't dislike you," he finally said. "I just don't see the point of befriending people when we're all probably going to die anyway."
I frowned at him for a moment, whiskey forgotten, while he stared at the table.
"Tha's stupid," I said firmly.
He twitched and looked up at me. "What?"
"It's stupid. You're stupid. Everyone says you're so smart, but they're wrong, because you're stupid."
He gaped at me.
"Stupid," I said again to make sure he understood. "It makes no sense. Just because I might get blown up tomorrow or vaporized or shot or—or squished, that means I shouldn't bother having any fun tonight with all the fun people in this not-fun place?" I slammed my hand on the table. It was very loud, which I liked, so I did it again. "No! The opp'site. Everyone should be my friend. And they are," I informed him. "Besides, I don't think you mean it."
Wedge leaned forward, something rough in his face. "You had any of these 'friends' die on you yet, Janson?"
"Yes. I was supposed to be at Yavin, but I got sick. They wouldn't let me go. Sent Porkins instead." I sat back in my chair, crossed my arms, and glared at him.
"Oh," he said quietly, going loose and sad. "Sorry."
I nodded, very dignified, and stopped myself from sliding out of my chair by grabbing the table. Then I got very excited, because what I was about to say was really the most brilliant thing to ever come out of my mouth. I was kind of sad Wedge was the only person close enough to hear it, but since it was for him anyway, I supposed he'd do.
"You," I said, hoping he was impressed by such wisdom at such a young age, "you have that survivor's thingy."
He blinked. "You're going to have to help me with that one."
"The survivor's thing!" I tried to snap my fingers, but it didn't work. "When you get aloof and stupid because you're not dead."
Wedge's face went funny. "Survivor's guilt?"
"That one! You have that."
He was quiet for a moment, and I let him absorb my knowledge.
Then I got impatient. "Want to know how to fix it?"
He gave half a shrug, like he was broken. "Sure."
I grinned and waved the whiskey bottle in the air. "Fun by whatever means necess'ry."
I was singing, and everyone in the bar was cheering for me. I pointed at them and looked down at Wedge to make sure he noticed how much everyone loved me. He sat in his chair, just as he'd been sitting for the last two hours, and smiled up at me where I stood on the table.
I forgot half of the second verse, so I skipped straight to the chorus. I could hear a handful of people singing with me, so I tried a few dance steps.
Whiskey was wet, and wet was slippery, especially on a table.
The next thing I knew, I lay on the ground, and the battle of Yavin was taking place inside my head. I could feel the strafing runs pounding against my brain.
Three of Wedge's faces appeared above me, grinning.
"Ow," I said. The floor was cold. The floor was ice, I remembered. I hated ice.
"Sithspawn, Janson, when I told you to knock yourself out, I didn't mean literally." Wedge crouched next to me and helped me into a sitting position. Somewhere in the back of my skull, the Death Star exploded.
"Owwww," I said again. I squinted at Wedge, forcing his three faces back into one. He was still grinning. "How come you're not drunk? I was supposed to be you. Or maybe you were supposed to be me."
"I'm a little drunk," he said, "but not drunk enough to understand what you just said. Come on, let's get you up."
Standing was harder than I remembered, but once I was up, it got easier. Wedge put one of my arms across his shoulders and we moved toward the caf exit. I hummed a few bars of my song, since I didn't get to finish.
We made it to the ice tunnel that pretended to be the hallway that led to the pilot quarters before I realized Wedge was barely staggering. I shoved myself away so I could turn and face him and lost my balance. The curved wall of the corridor caught me.
"What?" Wedge's expression was half amused and half annoyed, a look I was used to getting.
"How?" I asked. "Howwww are you fine? D'you know how much we drank?"
Wedge shrugged, that smirk creeping back onto his face. "I'm Corellian."
I gaped at him. I could feel myself sliding down the wall, then thumping to the floor, but I was too busy staring at him to do anything about it.
Wedge gave me an innocent look. "Oh, you didn't know? I'm sorry. I would have said something, but you were so confident. I didn't want to ruin your evening."
I closed my mouth and worked it into a frown. "Help me up," I ordered. He pulled me to my feet, and I gave him a comradely clap on the shoulder. "I like a good prank."
"I'm glad to hear it."
"But you should know that I had two drinks before we started, so you had an unfair advan'age."
I swayed, and he propped me up. We started down the hallway.
"You're right, you know," he said without looking at me. "I didn't mean it. The aloofness. If I did, I wouldn't keep going to the bar."
"Ha!" I shouted, throwing one fist into the air in triumph. "I win!"
Wedge found this funnier than I even thought it was. It was the first drunk thing he'd done all night, and I felt a sloppy surge of happiness.
I patted his shoulder. "You can be my friend, if you want."
He glanced at me. I wondered how I'd never noticed how sarcastic he could look. "I thought everyone was your friend."
"I mean a real one."
"Oh." For a few steps, he didn't say anything. I was about to start humming again when he said, very quietly, "All right."
"And we've been friends ever since," Wes finished.
He looked out at the faces of Wedge's newly-formed squadron of misfits. They sat in a loose, scattered group in the first couple rows of the briefing room, and they were all giving him the same vacant stare.
He bounced on the balls of his feet a couple times. "Questions?"
A long second went by before Face Loran quickly glanced at his squadron mates and raised his hand.
Wes nodded. "Yes?"
"That was touching," Loran said. "Is there a point?"
"A point?" Wes repeated. "I just gave you valuable insight into your new commander."
"And here I thought you just liked to tell embarrassing stories about yourself."
Wes glared at him until Loran's face fell and he slumped into his seat. "Want to try again?" Wes asked.
After a brief silence, broken only by Ton Phanan's snicker, Loran hazarded, "Commander Antilles tends to hold himself aloof from his squadron in order to spare himself the pain of losing friends in battle?"
Wes frowned. "What? Where'd you get that?"
Loran blinked. "From the survivor's guilt…thingy."
"Oh. I forgot about that." Wes shook his head. "No, I told that story so you'd all know better than to try to out-drink Wedge. It's a mistake I've watched countless people make." He paused and gave them one of his most serious looks. He was a little out of practice but doubted they'd notice. "Even the most mild-mannered Corellian holds his liquor better than the rest of us. Remember that."
Kell Tainer turned to Myn Donos. "Is that true?"
Donos gave him a blank look. "Everyone knows that."
"There. See? Point made." Wes clapped his hands. "Good meeting, everyone. Dismissed."
He hopped off the low dais and strode toward the door, glancing at his wrist chrono and swearing. He was supposed to be in Wedge's office ten minutes ago.
"Wait," Loran called. "Is out-drinking Antilles something that's going to come up? Why did we have to skip lunch for this?" After a pause, he shouted, louder, "Is this even a real briefing?"
Wes ignored him and keyed open the door, whistling a peppy love song that had been popular during the early days of the Rebellion.
Disclaimer: Not mine. Non-profit organization.