Title: Warbird
Timeframe: Shortly before Legacy of the Force, flashbacks to 4 ABY just after the Battle of Endor
Rating: PG
Characters: Wedge Antilles, Iella Wessiri-Antilles, Tycho Celchu, Wes Janson, Hobbie Klivian, Carlist Rieekan
Disclaimer: Nope, don't own Star Wars or the characters. George Lucas and the EU writing fleet are the creators.
Summary: Wedge Antilles struggles with memories of war and grapples with his emotions as his X-Wing is taken away from him.

"I really would like to know where you're dragging me," Wedge said, struggling not to fall over as he tripped over his boots. He continued to be dragged forward by the arms as he struggled to regain his balance. "And would one of you ladies mind removing this blindfold?"

"Not until we're there, daddy," Syal replied.

"No peeking!" Myri admonished.

Wedge sighed. He loved his family, but he wasn't all that fond of surprises. Those kinds of things were shrouded in the unknown, and the unknown usually brought a freighter full of bad things with it. His decades serving in the military had taught him that. Of course he was more than aware that his wife and two daughters wouldn't put him in any peril (at least not life-threatening anways). Still, he couldn't alter years of conditioning. Surprises and secrets caused feelings of dread to build up within him, not anticipation. The sooner he was at their destination (whatever that was) and had the blindfold taken off, the happier he would be.

"Okay Wedge," his wife, Iella, said. "I'm going to take the blindfold off. Just…try not to do something too foolish."

Light suddenly flooded his vision and he was forced to squint as his eyes readjusted. Looking around he could see that he was in some sort of museum. All around him were tourists stopping to read an information placard or listen to an educational recording. Not far to his left he saw an old Koensayr Manufacturing BTL-A4 Y-Wing. He shuddered as memories of flying those old crates came flying back to the surface. He often wondered if he were better off floating through the vacuum of space than sitting in the cockpit of one of those things. At least then he'd present a smaller profile to hit.

Sitting in front of him was another starfighter. This one had a very long, almost conical shape with a set of flat wings emerging from the sides. On top of each wing and next to the body was a single cylindrical intake and thruster engine. At the ends were four long, heavy looking laser cannons. Color began to come into focus now. Along the sides of the ship were scuffed, chipped, and fading red paint. The wings had a few areas with similar markings, most notably two thin, red strips towards the back.

A few emotions ran through his head at that point. The first was confusion, what was in front of him definitely should not be there. The second was denial. Yes, that was there, but he refused to believe that his mind wasn't playing tricks on him. The third was a sort of numbness. Wedge's mind locked down as he continued to stare at the nearly four-decade old craft in front of him.

Endor - 4ABY
Two days after the destruction of the second Death Star

Wedge wasn't sure what was worse, the ache in his hand or the taste of bacta in his mouth. His medtech had insisted that the swelling in his wrist and hand would subside in a few days, which unfortunately meant he would be held out from active duty until that point. The bacta was another issue. He was fairly certain the bitter taste and acrid smell would linger on him for weeks. If he ever got the urge to punch out of his cockpit again for any reason to go float in hard vacuum he'd be sure to think twice. If doing so meant he'd have to spend another two-day stretch in a bacta tank it might be more worthwhile to go down with his X-Wing.

It was hard to process the events that had ultimately caused him to leave the relatively safe confines of his starfighter in order to go for an impromptu trip into cold space. Two days earlier he had been on a routine patrol around the immediate space surrounding Endor. Alliance Intelligence felt that the odds of such a thing were slim. He had to agree with that. The loss of the second Death Star, countless Imperial military capitol ships destroyed, and the deaths of both Lord Vader and Emperor Palpatine was a crushing blow to the Empire. Word was already spreading that celebrations and riots were occurring all over the Galaxy, even on the Imperial political hub of Coruscant.

Though it was doubtful anything would show up, Wedge went on patrol anyways. For the majority of the scheduled flightplan nothing out of the ordinary occurred. At least, out of the ordinary considering the situation. The space around Endor was littered with strewn wreckage, debris, and corpses. Hundreds of starfighters and larger starships had been destroyed, either by the second Death Star's superlaser or by ship-to-ship engagements by smaller Rebel snubfighters. He had to be careful as he traversed through the fields of mangled durasteel. One slipup and he could easily add himself to the body count.

Towards the end of his flightplan he picked up an unusual reading on his forward scanners. Breaking off to investigate, he saw an Imperial message drone that appeared to have arrived in the system sometime after the battle had concluded. Using his X-Wing's computer systems, he sliced into the drone and attempted to pull up the communiqué stored within it. Instead of activating the message, he wound up triggering a self-destruct mechanism. Without thinking he prepared himself to enter hard vacuum and equalized the pressure of his cockpit to the space outside. Within minutes he was floating beside the drone and attempting to prevent it from destroying itself.

Wedge knew that whatever was hidden on the Imperial device could prove to be important. He quickly tore into the drone and, in a last-ditch effort to prevent it from destroying itself and the information contained within, shoved his hand between a set of electrite crystal leads that would trigger a set of explosives if they connected. The pain was excruciating and to compound matters further, he began to lose consciousness due to the time spent in hard vacuum. If Luke hadn't arrived with his lightsaber to cut his hand out of the drone Wedge was certain he would have died attached to that wretched Imperial tool.

One day in a bacta tank and a few hours of observation later, Wedge was allowed to leave the medical facility. He wasn't quite yet cleared to fly, the medical staff needed to process the results of a battery of tests before that would be allowed. For now he was merely grateful to be up and on his feet again. Floating in a bacta tank and laying in a triage bed wasn't his idea of a fun-filled day. Sighing to himself, Wedge slipped through the doors leading to the hangar where Rogue Squadron's starfighters were parked.

Instantly he noticed something was amiss. A small crew of deck hands were working on his starfighter. One of them were placing protective storage covers over the four engines' intakes and thrusters. A fuel siphoning hose had been attached to a side port on the hull, drawing out the tibanna gas that powered the drive system. For a long moment, Wedge stood completely still as he tried to process what he was seeing.

They were preparing his X-Wing to go into cold storage.

As realization dawned on him he stormed towards the deck hands, "What the hell are you doing?"

"Sir?" the young starfighter mechanic was clearly started. "We got orders about two hours ago to prep this ship for long-term moorage."

"Who issued that order?" Wedge demanded. "I sure didn't!"

He felt a hand on his shoulder. Spinning around on the hells of his boots, Wedge saw General Rieekan standing in front of him.

"Alliance High Command asked for your X-Wing," the grey-haired General said.

Wedge was incredulous, "What for? We're not exactly in a position to be putting starfighters into storage right now!"

The Alliance had lost a sizable portion of their single-man starship fleet in the battle to destroy the second Death Star. That was plainly evident in the hangar they stood in, where the durasteel floors were significantly emptier than they should have been. Only a small handful of ships were in flying condition. Others were in varying states of disrepair, from hull plating damage to lost weapons and thruster systems. How could Command remove a functioning starfighter now? How could they remove his functioning starfighter?

"General I-"

"Commander," Rieekan held up a hand, interrupting him, "I know it's not your job to consider the historical significance of things, and frankly it's not mine either, but you have to be aware that your X-Wing is buried to the forward viewports in it."

He didn't respond as Rieekan continued to speak, "It- you, rather, piloted it through attacks on two Death Stars. There isn't another ship or pilot in the fleet who has that logged on their service records."

"The Falcon was at Yavin and Endor," Wedge said bitterly. "I don't see anyone trying to take that away from Han."

"The Falcon didn't make a trench run at Yavin," the General said as he heaved a sigh. "Wedge, if it were up to me you would get to keep it. I know how attached you flyboys get to your birds. Even so, High Command has made a reasonable request. As far as anyone is concerned this ship is now a historic artifact."

Rieekan smiled faintly and squeezed Wedge's shoulder reassuringly, "We've got a batch of new fighters coming from Incom within the next few hours. You'll be first in line to have your pick of the litter."

Wedge watached numbly as General Rieekan walked out of the hangar. He turned his attention back to his (for the time being) X-Wing. Slowly he walked towards it, pressing a hand against the cold, metallic hull. He looked over at one of the mechanics who had been preparing it for storage.

"Are you finished?" Wedge asked.

The mechanic nodded an affirmative, "Yes, sir. All that's left is to remove the internal batteries but we'll do that after it's been moved to storage."

"I see," Wedge said, directing his attention back to his starfighter. "Could you…have your men clear off for a while?"

Little more had to be said, for the mechanic knew what Wedge needed. Quietly, he ordered the other deckhands to vacate the premises, leaving the starfighter pilot alone with his ship.

Silently Wedge walked along the underside, pausing for a moment as his hand brushed against a spot of darkened carbon scoring. That had come from a training exercise. He grinned slightly as that memory resurfaced. Just prior to the Battle of Yavin he had been conducting an instructional drill with several new pilots. One of them had an itchy trigger finger and had accidentally grazed the belly of his X-Wing with a stray laser cannon shot. Afterwards Wedge would deliver the first verbal dress-down of his career, which thankfully was something he had not had to do many times since.

He emerged next to a service staircase and ascended, stepping off of it and onto one of the starfighter's S-Foils. Wedge knelt down next to the top-starboard thruster, brushing his fingers against a set of rough welds that held the complex engine to the wing. Four years earlier he had flown down the gut of the first Death Star's trench next to Biggs Darklighter and behind Luke Skywalker. When fire from the enemy TIE Fighter took out the stabilizers housed under the engine he knew he had withdraw. Flying without the ability to make micro-adjustments to his flightpath would have put himself and his wingmen in jeopardy.

Pulling away and leaving Biggs and Luke behind had been and still was the worst moment of his military career. Almost instantly he was consumed by both grief and regret. When the transponder signal belonging to Darklighter's starfighter ceased transmitting Wedge added guilt to his gamut of emotions. If only he had been able to avoid those TIE's lasers a little longer. Maybe he would have been the one to get vaped that day instead of Biggs.

Once he had set down on the Rebel base on Yavin 4 mechanics immediately went to work replacing the damaged control surface. The spot welding had been crude, but it was effective. Still, every time Wedge stood on the starboard S-Foil of his X-Wing and looked down at the engine he flashed back to the trench run. This time was no different. A dull pain formed in his stomach as he reflected on the lives and friends lost that day. In minutes, the foolish delusions of invincibility provided by their youth vanished. The war against the Empire became all too real.

Carefully negotiating his way past the open transparisteel canopy, Wedge lowered himself into the cockpit and sank into the flightseat. There wasn't a place in the Galaxy he felt more comfortable than behind the controls of his X-Wing. He looked down at the flightstick, noticing that the black paint had rubbed away in places where his gloved hand often rested. Grasping it in his hand, he moved the stick away from him. Wedge had always liked the resistance of this particular stick. It had enough give to allow for free motion, but not so much that he would overshoot his spots.

With his left hand he grasped the throttle lever, sliding it forward and stopping when he felt a familiar hitch roughly two-thirds of the way up. A small defect from Incom's factory left a rough spot in that location. It didn't get in the way of its use or cause a problem, but there was definitely a catch there. It was a small but noticeable quirk, one he had grown used to over the span of four years. Glancing to his right, he saw the scuff marks on the shield control instrumentation panel that had been caused by the pressure hoses of his flightsuit.

"Commander," a voice called from below him. Wedge peered over and saw the mechanic he had spoken to earlier.

"The ship tug is here."

Wedge hesitated, finding himself unable to move for a brief moment. He was all too aware he couldn't stubbornly sit in the cockpit and refuse to move. That was conduct rather unbecoming of the commanding officer of Rogue Squadron and, besides, someone would show up at some point to drag him out of there in an embarrassing scene. Slowly, he stood and descended the entry ladder hooked to the cockpit. As he hit the hangar deck and turned around he was startled slightly.

Standing next to each other were three of his squadron mates and, if he were to be perfectly honest, close friends.

"General Rieekan suggested we pay you a visit," Tycho Celchu said, offering a smile.

"Seemed like a good idea," Wes added. "It was either that or peeling tubers."

"We brought Whyren's," Hobbie said, holding up a bottle in one hand and a set of shot glasses in the other.

In his peripheral vision, Wedge could see the hauler tug lumber into the hangar and position itself near his starfighter. It was then that reality finally came crashing down around his ears. His X-Wing was being taken away. The one possession he had, the one thing that had been able to offer him some control of his destiny during the war was about to be torn away from him. Despite himself, he felt a lump rise in his throat. He quickly brushed at his eyes with his sleeve, trying to catch a few stray tears before his friends noticed.

"To our warbirds," Tycho said, handing Wedge a glass of Whyren's reserve and raising his own in a toast.

Wes followed suit, "To our warbirds, the only place any of us spacers may ever feel at home in."

They shared a drink as the X-Wing slowly lifted off the ground and was hauled out of the hanger. Wedge watched as long as he could, squinting to try and make out the faint outline of his starfighter as it was towed to a safe location for storage. The elegant machine of war was little more than a minor footnote in the history of the Rebel Alliance now. A mere trivial oddity.

His friends stood behind him for a long while. Little needed to be said by any of them, for they all knew the emotional bonds a pilot shared with their starfighter.

After so many years Wedge had assumed that the old starfighter had been lost. Perhaps whatever shipyard it had been condemned to spend the rest of its days in had been destroyed during the Vong war. It had always bothered him that despite the claims it was an important Rebellion historical artifact nothing had ever been done with it. These sleek starfighters weren't meant to sit hidden away, collecting dust in a shipyard somewhere.

Yet, despite convincing himself years ago it had been lost, he was staring at his X-Wing, the very one he had flown from the Battle of Yavin through the Battle of Endor. There was no mistaking it. Written in red paint on the hull was "CMDR WEDGE ANTILLES." Below that were rows of TIE silhouettes and a large image of a Death Star. Looking down, he saw an information plaque on the ground below the nearly forty-year-old ship. It was emblazoned with an old photo of a much younger Wedge with text written to the side.

This Incom T65 X-Wing was flown by Commander Wedge Antilles during the Rebellion insurgency against the Galactic Empire.

Guided by the skilled hands of Commander Antilles, this starfighter was the only known military vessel to have survived attacks on both of Emperor Palpatine's Death Stars. During the Battle of Endor, Antilles would destroy the power regulators connected to the Death Star II's hypermatter reactor core resulting in the destruction of the Imperial superweapon. Antilles alongside Alliance General Lando Calrissian would be officially credited with the Death Star's kill.

Following the Battle of Endor, Antilles' X-Wing was declared an object of historical significance and was decommissioned and removed from active service.

"A friend of mine in Starfighter Command found it sitting in a storage facility on Tatooine," Iella said. "I tried to get the military to part with it but they felt it was too valuable to give up. Convinced them to do the next best thing, though."

"Put it on display," Wedge said quietly.

Iella nodded a confirmation, "As much as I hate to give you a reason to inflate your ego any further, people should see this. They need to know what you did for the Rebellion."

His wife's words didn't quite register in his mind. Before anyone could stop him he broke into a run, jumping over the short transparisteel wall that housed the starfighter. He scrambled up the starboard S-Foils and leaned over the engine, reaching towards a keypad just under the canopy and entering in his old clearance codes. It took a moment to process, but with a loud hiss the clear canopy began to pop open. Wedge angled himself into the cockpit and settled into the old ejector seat.

It was just as he remembered it. The scuffmarks near the shield controls. The flightstick that had just the right amount of resistance and give. The throttle lever that had a small catch two-thirds of the way up. He took a moment to soak it all in. Memories began to rush back to him. Yavin, the ambush at the Ison Corridor, the battle at Chandrilla, the escape from Hoth, the Battle of Endor. This X-Wing had been with him through all of that, giving him some control over his destiny.

Wedge felt as if he had been reunited with a long lost friend. He knew that others wouldn't understand, but that didn't bother him. Logically it was silly to feel this way about an inanimate military machine but he didn't care.

It wasn't necessary to try and rationalize the bond between a pilot and his warbird.