Title: Rogue One
Genre: Angst, reflection
Timeframe: 41 ABY, post LotF
Characters: Jaina Solo, Luke Skywalker, Wedge Antilles, Tycho Celchu, Gavin Darklighter
Disclaimer: I don't own Star Wars or the characters. Thanks go to George Lucas, Tim Zahn, Mike Stackpole, and Aaron Allston.
Summary: Five former Rogue Squadron commanding officers gather to reflect on the warriors they couldn't bring home.
Notes: Inspired from a prompt by my good friend and supremely talented writer InyriForge. This fic is also an entry for the DT Index Memorial challenge and the Wraith Squadron LJ comm December featured pilot.
Since Jaina's time as Rogue Leader was never fleshed out in profic, I'm supplanting some of my own material for her. Everything else is in this fic is explicitly canon.
Jaina Solo rubbed the back of her neck with a gloved hand and stared through the forward viewport of her StealthX. She was half-tempted to key her subspace radio and hail her uncle. There were times Luke could be a vague person and, unfortunately, today seemed to be one of those days. A few hours earlier she had been summoned to the Jedi Temple's hangar by Luke and was told to prep her starfighter for immediate departure.
Her uncle was already clad in his own Rebellion era orange flightsuit by the time she had arrived. That had caught her by surprise. Jaina couldn't remember the last time that he had taken out a single seat combat starfighter for anything other than a combat mission. If he was flying for official business or recreational purposes, he always took the Jade Shadow. Perhaps in his older years he preferred the small luxuries a Horizon-class star yacht offered that the cramped confines of an Incom starfighter didn't.
Before leaving, Jaina had politely asked what had prompted this excursion. Her uncle responded in the usual manner; a half-smile, a shrug, and a vague explanation that they had been summoned to sit in with some members of the Alliance military for some meeting.
That was the only thing he had told Jaina. Now she sat in the tight confines of her starfighter, shifting uncomfortably in her seat and wishing that the countdown clock to realspace reversion would move faster. Hyperspace travel could be a maddening thing, one that drove many pilots out of the business of flying. Jaina had been more accustomed to it while serving with the Rogues. In the years since being forced out of active duty, she had taken to flying on larger ships like the Shadow or her father's Falcon.
"Bloah," she muttered to herself. "Maybe I'm getting old."
It was another twenty standard minutes before the countdown clock mounted on the railing above her finally hit 00:00:00. She pulled back on the hyperdrive lever, deactivating it and watching as the molten black and blue of hyperspace gave way to countless bright, white streaks. Moments later she found herself surrounded by a starfield, gazing out into the endless expanse that was punctuated only the tiny pinpricks of stars in the distance.
"Jaina, come around to point oh-five-nine," Luke said over the subspace radio.
Taking hold of the flightstick, she pulled down and to the left slightly, causing her StealthX to lazily bank up and to port. Slowly, the outline of a large, imposing starship filled her vision. On instinct her stomach leapt in her throat, but Jaina forced herself to calm down. Ahead were the frightening lines of an Imperial Class II Star Destroyer, a ship that had terrorized countless worlds over the span of forty years.
If it wasn't for the ship's distinctive paint job, she probably would have brought up her shields.
"Errant Venture, requesting landing clearance," Luke said. "Transmitting security credentials."
Moments later a static-garbled voice responded. "Security cleared. Welcome aboard, General Skywalker."
Jaina raised a brow. When was the last time her uncle had been addressed by military rank?
Twenty standard minutes later Jaina had landed and had changed out of her flightsuit into civilian garb. In another surprise, she found Luke wearing civilian clothing as well. Granted, they were about twenty years out of style and probably had been sitting in the bottom of a footlocker for Force knows how long, but it was a stark contrast to the black robes and clothes the Jedi Grand Master normally wore. Perhaps that was to better fit in with the Errant Venture's usual clientele?
"You're going to have to let me in on this at some point," Jaina said as she stepped over a Rodian that had passed out on the floor outside of one of the Venture's numerous drinking establishments.
Luke took a moment to respond. "Fraternity meeting."
He merely smiled over his shoulder at Jaina as he stopped in front of a set of doors. Depressing a nearby switch, the doors opened and Luke motioned for her to step inside. Jaina was greeted to the sight of a dimly lit room with a sabacc table in the center. The acrid smell of tabacc smoke wafted through the air, forcing her to pause momentarily to adjust to the assault on her nose.
She glanced around the room. At one end next to an unattended bar was a man she recognized as Tycho Celchu. The white-haired former General busied himself filling several mugs with an amber fluid from the tap. Two other men were seated at the sabacc table. Wedge Antilles was leaning back in his seat, boots kicked up atop the table. He appeared to be sharing a story with Gavin Darklighter, who was busying himself lighting a cigarra.
"Sorry we're late, everyone," Luke said from behind Jaina. "Got held up by Coruscant traffic control."
"You too?" Tycho asked as he moved towards the table, setting down mugs of ale. "I swear the new checkpoint regulations are just security theater. Only thing they've accomplished is instilling a false sense of safety in travelers and increasing wait times in the departure queues."
"And this, my friends, is another reason I'm still in the military," Gavin said, exhaling a puff of cigarra smoke. "Flash an identification card and get the greenlight to bypass security checkpoints."
Wedge nodded. "I do miss being able to abuse military rank on a regular basis."
"I suppose the rest of us are stuck with abusing celebrity status now," Luke said, walking past Jaina to take a seat at the sabacc table.
"Unfortunately I think that means we have to deal with the sludgenews tabloids," Tycho added, taking his own seat and looking squarely at Jaina. "New kid seems to be catatonic."
Jaina felt a blush rise to her cheeks, realizing that she had been standing in place and likely had a rather foolish look plastered on her face. Forcing a smile, she walked to the table and took her place at the last empty chair. Gavin picked up a mug of ale and slid it towards her. Perhaps on habit, she began to hold a hand up to turn down the drink but out of the corner of her eye, she saw the third unexpected thing from her uncle that day.
He was happily nursing his own drink.
He seemed to sense her confusion. "We meet up like this every so often, just a meeting of ex flightstick jockeys with a few things in common. Today I'm not Grand Master Skywalker. Tycho isn't General Celchu. Gavin isn't Admiral Darklighter, and Wedge isn't-"
"The envy of all Corellia," Wedge deadpanned.
"…General Antilles," Luke finished, rolling his eyes.
"That's right," Gavin said. "Today we're No Décor."
No Décor. That was military lingo signaling that rank and title were to be left in the hallway. Everyone present would be on equal footing. Enlisted servicemen and commissioned officers were permitted to speak to each other without having to worry about properly addressing a superior or vice versa.
"As of now we're here on equal terms and share one piece of common ground," Wedge said, pulling his feet off the table and sitting upright. "We were all Rogue One."
That caused Jaina to relax somewhat. She hadn't realized until then that she was tense in the presence of such military greatness. There was, obviously, her Uncle Luke, the first Rogue Leader who had established the unit and led them through their dangerous formative years in the Rebellion. Wedge Antilles was the second commander and presided over some of the most trying conflicts the squadron had faced. Endor, Mrlsst, Coruscant, the so-called Bacta War, and the Zsinj and Thrawn campaigns.
Tycho had inherited the unit largely in peace time, but he still had been forced to deal with more than his fair share of conflict. Off the top of her head, Jaina recalled that he had served as squadron commander during the Battle of Phaeda and the missions against the Survivor pirate ring.
Then there was Gavin, the man who had been Jaina's first commanding officer. He became Rogue One during the bloodiest era the squadron and the post Old Republic galaxy had ever seen.
Jaina knew all of them well. She had grown up with Luke. She had served under Gavin, Tycho, and Wedge to varying degrees during the Vong war. Still, despite that familiarity she struggled to let her guard down. These men were heroes of the Rebellion and the New Republic. Jaina knew that she had accomplished a great many things in her time with Rogue Squadron, but Wedge's words, while somewhat comforting, also left an odd feeling within her.
They were part of military and galactic lore. She couldn't even begin to compare herself to them.
Suppressing the urge to sigh, Jaina picked up her mug of ale and took a sip. "My stars. This is good."
"Whyren's," Wedge said. "Barrel of the reserve fifty-two batch."
Luke whistled. "I haven't had a mug of this stuff in years."
"You haven't had a drink in years," Gavin said with a grin, eliciting hearty laughter from the other men.
For a long while, the others happily conversed over drinks and the occasional hand of sabacc. Jaina managed to win a fair amount of petty credits, thanks in large part to the lessons she had received from her father while her mother wasn't looking. She did find some amusement at how terrible her uncle was. One would have thought that a Jedi Grand Master would possess a better sabacc face.
"You remember that tauntaun stew Wedge cooked on Hoth?" Tycho asked as he gathered the sabacc cards.
"Don't remind me," Wedge said. "I thought I was never going to leave the infirmary."
"You don't get to whine about that. Six of us were hospitalized because you're a culinary disaster."
Luke shook his head and laughed. "Neither of you spent a night inside a tauntaun, so you can both blow it out your exhaust ports."
Jaina swallowed another mouthful of ale. "Mom and dad still complain about Hoth. Sounds like it was absolute hell."
"You have no idea, kid," Wedge said. "It was a constant battle to stave off hypothermia."
"None of our equipment worked in the cold," Luke continued.
"All we had to eat were food rations that predated the Clone Wars," Tycho added.
An awkward hush filled the room. Jaina wondered if she had said something wrong, for the three Rebellion era Rogues suddenly clamped up.
"It really was hell, wasn't it?" Wedge asked quietly. "We were just hiding, trying to keep ourselves hidden away from the Empire. We suffered through the cold and ice. Then they showed up and a bunch of us died anyways. I know we didn't have a choice. I know we were on the run, but …"
"But it felt like we weren't doing enough," Tycho said.
Jaina looked over at her uncle, who was now staring at the table top as if it was the most fascinating thing in the whole 'verse.
"I think Hoth was harder on me than Yavin and Endor put together," Luke said. "We weren't on the offensive anymore, we were just running for our lives. Maybe that's why I didn't fly well enough that day, I wasn't in the right mindset to be behind the flightstick of that T-47."
Wedge frowned. "You can't keep blaming yourself for Dack. We were outgunned. Hell, you had just popped out of a bacta tank."
"I should have flown better, Wedge," Luke retorted. "I was so caught up in coordinating the evacuation defense I didn't focus enough on staying out of the way of frelling AT-AT laser fire. I was too easy a target and because of that Dack died."
Jaina felt herself recoil slightly. Rarely had she witnessed her uncle seem so bitter and vulnerable. He was a man who had such tremendous control over his emotions. To see him in this state was nothing short of heartbreaking.
"A lot of good pilots got shot down that day," Tycho said. "Hobbie was right next to you when he was downed. They got Zev. They blasted a bunch of us out of the sky."
Luke idly spun his mug in a circle in front of him. "I've been telling myself that for almost forty years. Sometimes I almost manage to convince myself that there wasn't anything more I could have done. Maybe I couldn't have seen it at the time; maybe I really had no hope of flying better while coordinating the speeder defense from the flightseat. It's just …" He swallowed, trailing off.
"It's just that you know you were capable of more," Gavin said. "It's the curse of a CO. Any time one of your own is lost you wonder if there was something different you could have done. You're responsible for them and whenever someone doesn't come home you can't help but feel it's a reflection of your leadership ability."
Wedge offered a hollow smile. "When I was building the Wraiths I had Admiral Ackbar's niece on my roster. She was a brilliant communication specialist but was perhaps a tick below average commanding a starfighter. Jesmin gave it her all, though. Truthfully after a couple weeks I thought she might just be able to survive in starfighter command. She managed to surprise me and notched four kills within a small handful of skirmishes.
"She was going to stick," Wedge continued. "Jesmin notched her fifth kill a short while later, made ace, and then the Galaxy pulled the rug out from under her. Blindsided by a pulse cannon blast that took out her inertial compensator. One of my pilots tried to save her and just about pulled it off but it just wasn't meant to be, I suppose.
"He was devastated. Felt like he should have been able to do something more when he did everything in his power to save her, and what did I tell him?" Wedge shook his head. "I told him not to beat himself up because there wasn't anything he could have done to pull her out of that dive."
Tycho frowned. "I saw the holorecording and the sensor data from that skirmish. As near as I can tell there wasn't a damn thing more Kell could have done."
"There wasn't," Wedge replied with a shrug, "but you know what I did the entire trip back to the fleet? I ran through that dogfight dozens of times in my head. I tried to find out what I had done wrong. Should I have paired Jesmin up with someone else? Did I miss something on the sensors I should have picked up? Did I underestimate those ground cannons? I was just as hard on myself as Kell was, but I told him to cheer up because he did his best.
"You know what that makes me?" Wedge rubbed his eyes wearily. "A hypocrite."
Silence filled the smoky room once again. This gathering which had started with such high spirits was quickly turning into an uncomfortable quagmire for Jaina. First Luke, now Wedge had been reduced to such a worn down state. This may have been an even more disturbing sight for her. Wedge was the proud Corellian who appeared in the history texts, confidently peering over the canopy of his X-Wing. She knew better than to think that he was immune to the emotional hardships that war brought with it. Still, in her mind's eye she had constructed the image of a completely unflappable Wedge Antilles, a man who was perpetually in control of his emotions.
A man much like her uncle.
"I think to a certain extent we all carry around guilt and feel like hypocrites," Tycho said, breaking the silence. "Force knows I felt like scum after Corran vaped Tal'dira."
Jaina looked across the table at the Alderaanian. "Tal'dira?"
"Twi'lek pilot flying with us during the Zsinj campaign," Gavin said quietly. "Tycho was in charge at the time."
She felt her stomach sink as a bit of squadron history bubbled up to the surface of her mind. "Twi'lek? He wasn't …"
"Yeah," Tycho confirmed. "Brainwashed while on leave, activated while we were in the middle of an operation. Got a shot off at Wedge and forced Corran and myself to step in. I covered Wedge, Corran took the shot and blasted Tal'dira out of existence." He looked towards the Corellian. "You know what's worse than telling one of your pilots something you don't really believe to help them cope? Having no idea what to say at all.
"After that operation I caught up with him in the hangar. I wanted to say something to him, anything. He was hurting but I couldn't for the life of me think of what to tell him. You can't just tell one of your pilots that they'll get over it. When you're forced to turn one of your wingmen into space debris that's going to haunt you to your grave."
"You know," Gavin said, "In a sick way I envy the three of you. There isn't a pilot I've lost that jumps out at me."
"I don't know how you managed, Gavin," Luke said. "You were losing fliers to the Vong at a rate I had never seen before and I hope I'll never see again."
Gavin nodded glumly. "There were stretches where I was writing next of kin letters three or four times a week. I was constantly looking for replacement pilots and trying to get them up to speed before the next operation. About a year in I was losing track of names of pilots and the dates they were killed. That's a horrifying feeling, wondering if you've become desensitized to all of the bloodshed because you've seen too much of it."
"You didn't, though," Wedge said. "That's just not who you are."
"Every one of those deaths hit me hard when it was all over," Gavin said, "but it wasn't until I had time to process it all. There were stretches where I couldn't look myself in the mirror because I was frightened of the person I thought I was becoming. I'd spend the few moments of downtime I had looking over the list of losses, trying to put names to faces but pulling blanks. You start wondering if they've just become numbers to you, plug and play resources."
"That's the peril we all face," Luke added. "You fear that all of the war, all of the violence will strip you of your humanity."
This was a side of the former Rogue commanders the general public didn't see. Jaina shook her head. This was a side of the former Rogue commanders that even their own subordinates didn't see. She picked up her mug to take a sip but stopped just before it hit her lips. A face flashed in her memory, one that belonged to a young woman she had not seen in over a decade. Jaina set her mug down and sighed.
"Two or three months after I took command we were assigned to some backwater system on what should have been a blue milk run," Jaina said, rubbing her chin. "We had a young pilot on the roster, Lilea Tromans. She was as raw as any pilot you've ever seen and was on the verge of washing out of starfighter command. My XO and I saw something and we were convinced we could turn her into a halfway decent pilot.
"That blue milk run was anything but," she said bitterly. "Two days in we got ambushed by a wing of TIE Defenders. Lilea knocked in her first kill but two minutes later she was in trouble. Picked up a tail she couldn't shake. Worse, her wingman bailed on her because the combat zone got too hot for his tastes. My XO broke off to try and assist. He did his best to talk her through a stunt that might have been able to shake that pursuer.
"The girl didn't have the skills with the flightstick to pull it off. Overcompensated on the maneuver and killed herself colliding with that TIE." Jaina took a breath and looked up at the ceiling for a moment. She forced herself to swallow the lump that was rising in her throat. "My pilots took it hard. It destroyed my XO, but I had try and rally everyone.
"You don't know how you're supposed to do it, how are you supposed to reassure your pilots when you're questioning your own abilities? How do you do that when all you want to do is cry, scream, and pound something into dust? I was convinced I had made a mistake clearing her for active duty and for not catching the character flaws in her wingman. I had all but talked myself into believing that it was my fault."
A hush descended upon the former Rogue Leaders once more. Jaina had no doubt that they were all reliving every loss they had suffered in their career, recalling each face every pilot that fate claimed. She certainly was.
"To Dack," Luke said quietly, raising his mug.
Wedge matched the gesture. "To Jesmin."
"To Tal'dira," Tycho added.
"To Lilea," Jaina managed to say.
"To all of them," Gavin raised his mug. "To all of the warriors we couldn't bring home."
The mood wouldn't remain somber for the rest of the evening. Each one of them had learned early in their careers to not let their emotions overwhelm them for too long. Somehow, they were all laughing and exchanging credits over hands of sabacc again. Despite her earlier nervousness, Jaina actually found herself relaxed and significantly more comfortable with the most legendary figures of the galaxy's most legendary military outfit.
She realized idly that Wedge had been partially right. That evening, they were all gathered as former commanding officers of an elite military outfit, but that wasn't the only thing they had in common. They had all tasted spectacular success, but they had also suffered through crushing loss that had left emotional scars that would be with them through the remainder of their days.
Perhaps more importantly, Jaina reflected, they had all managed to overcome their trials and hadn't let those moments of crushing defeat define them.
They were all Rogue One.