Author's Disclaimer: This story is based upon characters and situations created by George Lucas, Michael A. Stackpole, Aaron Allston and Kevin J. Anderson. It is intended solely for the enjoyment of the author and the many fans of the SW universe. The lyrics from Foolish Beat are used without permission. The song was originally recorded by Deborah (Debbie) Gibson.
Spoilers: This story is set just after the conclusion of the KJA muck, I mean trilogy. I haven't read all of I, Jedi, so you'll find no spoilers in here. It helps to have read Wedge's Gamble and The Krytos Trap. Isard's Revenge never happened in this timeline, 'cause I've not read it. This is set pre-Starfighters of Adumar, but is a missing moments story to cover events described in that text. If you haven't read the Krytos Trap, this story isn't likely to make any sense.
Acknowledgements: I'd like to thank Diana DeRiggs for giving me the courage to submit this story, Michael A. Stackpole, Aaron Allston (et al.) for creating and developing Iella Wessiri, and George Lucas for creating the GFFA.
Part 1: Fight or Flight Response
I saw him across the room at one of those decorated functions, where the collective shine from medallions and commendations would blind your average person. Unfortunately, on this night I was not blinded.
"... and this is my good friend, Iella Wessiri. I'd like you to meet Dr. Qwi Xux."
He had his arm around a young humanoid female, with blue skin and white-capped head. She wore a white dress to match her glistening feather-hair. Her eyes shone with a childlike innocence. I wanted to walk away, pretending not to hear, but a surreptitious glance about the area revealed no apparent escape.
"Hello, Ms. Wessiri," she greeted hesitantly. "I've heard so much about you."
I regarded her coldly, as I extended my hand to hers. Could she possibly know that I hate her, even though we've just met? There she stands, on the arm of a man I feel a great affection for, and is greeting me as though she's afraid I'll rip the feathers from her scalp. If only she knew the anger that coursed through my veins.
Snapping out of my thoughts, I regarded the woman again, hoping to see something likable in her. She was looking up at Wedge with idolatry in her eyes. Her right hand fluttered nervously towards her throat.
I think he noticed my anger at her, and her reaction to it. He took her fidgeting hand into his, and raised it to his lips. His eyes never leave hers as he reassures this shrinking violet of a woman.
"It's okay, Qwi," he whispers, "Iella isn't like everyone else. She wouldn't hate you."
Her reaction was to smile uncertainly at her hero, and to sigh, "I have to go and powder my nose. If you'll excuse me, Ms. Wessiri ..."
I moved out of her way. She shuffled with her head down toward the ladies' room, as I turned back to her now abandoned companion. He watched her closely until she was out of sight. "What do you think of her?"
I saw his lips moving, heard his voice, and I couldn't speak. In this darkened corner of the ballroom, all I could think is that it was an extension of my mood: dark & gloomy. I vaped all thoughts of regret and anger from my heart, and chanced a false smile.
"She seems nice enough. She seems a bit jittery, though." Selfishly, I had turned the tables on her. I was trying to make him loathe her as I already did, by showing him her weakness.
"She has every reason to be," he responded. "If you only knew what she's been through ..."
"So have we all, I suppose. What is she a doctor of? Hobbie-ology?" I teased. It was a long standing joke between us that it took an entire wing of doctors to keep his comrade Major Klivian in serviceable condition. "No," he responded, and I was rewarded with a resonant chuckle from deep in his throat. He continued speaking at a far lower tone. "She's a scientist. Qwi was brainwashed by the Imperials to be a weapons designer for them."
At that, I stopped. "What?" I shot back inelegantly, nearly dropping the wine flute I held gingerly in my right hand. I couldn't believe that she too had been a victim of the Empire, just as my beloved Diric had. I couldn't stay on that train of thought for long, lest I begin to feel sympathy for her.
"She doesn't remember any of it now," he continued, seemingly oblivious to my shock, "but the knowledge of what she's done weighs heavily on her conscience. Qwi is really very nice ..."
Ever the tactician, Wedge wanted to introduce Qwi to his friends, particularly those he thought would be understanding of her situation. He wanted to make her feel comfortable with people, especially his friends. Wedge's voice betrayed a beseeching tone, not quite begging me to accept her and be her friend, too.
"I need to get some air," I inserted quickly. Qwi was coming back, and I couldn't bring myself to spend any more time in her presence. "It's been nice seeing you again, Wedge."
Not giving him a chance to respond, I moved toward the doors leading to the terrace. Perhaps the breathtaking view of the coastline would take my mind off of the breathtakingly handsome man I'd just walked away from.
Part 2: Sanctuary
I was afraid of her.
I practically ran to the refresher after I'd been introduced to Wedge's friend. He'd told me before that Iella Wessiri was a good person, and that we shared a kind of kinship; after all, she was forced to kill her own husband, who had been manipulated by Armand Isard's daughter.
I saw no kinship in her eyes when we met. Pure ice.
I couldn't see how she and Wedge could be friends. He was so warm, so caring.
And she was colder than a night cycle on Hoth.
I looked in the mirror, hoping to see what she saw. I needed to see why she hated me. I'd spent so much time on my appearance, and Wedge had said I looked pretty tonight, so I know it wasn't that.
I ducked into one of the stalls when I heard voices approaching.
"And did you see that Omwati bitch?" one woman said. "Rubbing everyone's nose in the fact that she's with General Antilles."
"I know," the other voice answered. "Wedge is too good for her. What I would have given to see Iella Wessiri knock her flat."
I tried to keep silent, and tucked my legs up so that I wouldn't be noticed.
The first woman started to speak again. "I heard a rumor that the General had designs on Wessiri before he got involved with Dr. Death Star."
"Too bad he didn't act on them."
I blocked out the taunting voices, finally comprehending why Wedge's friend was so cold.
Does she love Wedge, too?
I shouldn't be surprised, I guess. Wedge is a warm, compassionate man. He was my friend when no other would be, and he stays with me now, even though his superiors don't expect him to. He's an attractive man, too, who could have nearly any woman he wants.
But she wants him. And he wants me, doesn't he?
In my reverie, I missed the departure of the two women from the restroom. I stood up, straightened my dress, and walked out of the stall, with my head held high. I could be confident, too. Wedge chose ME, after all.
As I crossed the floor towards where Wedge and Iella were sharing a tense conversation, she looked at me and paled. Then she turned, and walked towards the balcony at the far end of the ballroom.
As Wedge took my hand once again, I realized that his eyes were following her as she fled.
My newfound confidence faltered. Somehow I knew he didn't watch me that way.
Once she was out of sight he turned to me, and I was treated to the warmest smile I could imagine. I could bask forever in the glow of his smile.
Banishing all but the warmth in his eyes from my thoughts, I let him lead me onto the dance floor.
I didn't recognize the music; I had never taken the time to appreciate it until after the disaster on Vortex. I focused on the hypnotic tones from the muted brass, and the feminine voice it accompanied. Resting my cheek against his tense shoulder, we began to move.
I could never love again, the way I loved you
Oh, I could never cry again, like I did when I left you
And when you said goodbye
The look in your eyes just left me beside myself
Without your heart
I could never love again now that we're apart ...
As the lyrics reached me, all I could think of was the way Wedge's eyes followed Iella. Somehow, I knew that these are the words he would give anything to say to her. Yet, I can't bring myself to let him go.
I rested my head on his shoulder, making a fervent wish that someday his eyes would follow me the way they followed her.
Part 3: Navigational Advice
I looked out over the coastline, and saw the lights that the coming dusk painted across the sky. Just the slightest hint of blue remained in the late summer sky, but yet I couldn't forget the desert brown that I had fled from moments before.
I sat on the stone bench overlooking the ocean and tried to get my mind off of Wedge Antilles. I needed to talk to someone, but the only person I would have felt comfortable talking like this with was inside, enjoying himself with a feather-brained scientist.
"That's not fair," I heard a voice say from behind me.
I turned to face my former CorSec partner. Perhaps Wedge wasn't the only one I could talk to.
"What isn't fair?"
I was met with a wide grin. "How is it that you manage to evade the simpering politicians, while I have to make nice?"
"You're a Rogue," I answered jovially. "They want to make you suffer for several jobs well done."
"So why are you really out here?" He sat down on the bench next to me and leaned in. "Or are my instincts wrong?"
I snorted harshly. "How did you get so good at reading me?"
Corran sighed and leaned in closer. "Because, that's what happens between friends, isn't it?"
*Sigh* Not always.
"I take it you met the good Doctor," he began, slouching on the ancient bench. "She's not your kind of person, is she?"
"Not in the least," I shot back, unsure of why I was so hateful towards I woman I'd shared only a few words with.
A woman who had not even addressed me by my given name.
"What don't you like about her, specifically?" Corran inquired. "Is it the fact that she was a primary designer of the Death Star? Or that she's on Wedge's arm?"
Damn Corran and his Jedi insights.
"Does it matter?" I asked, my voice growing ragged and brittle. "Maybe it's just that I've been alone for five years, waiting for the day that I could move on; to go on the way Diric would have wanted. But no! Here I am, at a party, acting like the wet rag to dampen everyone's spirits. Why would I care if she's on Wedge's arm?"
Corran moved closer and took me into a comforting embrace. "It's OK to have feelings, you know. What is it, then, that bothers you more? Is it her, or is it that it isn't you?"
"I don't know!" I wailed. I never wail. Not in front of others, anyway.
And there we sat, on a cold stone bench, while I wished my own heart to turn to stone. Maybe then I'd be able to look at this logically.
"Thanks, partner," I said as I pulled out of Corran's calm embrace." Maybe I just need time to think this one out. You'd better get back inside, before Mirax sends out a search party."
He stood, smiling gently at me. "You're an investigator. Look inside yourself, and you'll find all of the answers you need."
I turned once again towards the ocean, noticing now that the sky now had taken on a purple and silver hue.
I could hear Corran's smooth tenor joining the joyous voices behind me. How I longed to share in that happiness that comes from being with those you love.
Part 4: Plotting The Course
Once again alone, I took my hair out of it's binding. Twirling a lock around my finger, I began to do what I do best: investigate.
What was it about Dr. Qwi Xux that made my blood boil? There was something not right about her.
What was it Wedge had said? "She doesn't remember ..." How can you not remember designing one of the biggest scourges this galaxy has ever known? How can you forget the lives that were destroyed? Alderaan? So many rebel pilots over Yavin and Endor? Did she have something to do with that Sun Crusher that had made the Carida system unlivable?
But yet, I remember something else Wedge told me. "She was brainwashed ..."
Was she another pawn of the Empire, as Diric had been? Had she been as unwitting a victim as he had, destroying lives without any ability to stop herself?
How can I be so cruel to someone that I should embrace?
How can I do this to Wedge: deny him happiness when he was there through everything after Diric's fall? Do I have that right, after all he's been through himself?
He was alone too. Yet, Wedge managed to take the time to help me in my hour of need. He needs someone to be there for him too.
But you weren't there for him, were you, Wessiri?
Did you honestly think he would make a play for you? Isn't that what you've been hoping for the last few years? Admit it, 'Ella. You wanted Wedge for yourself, but you were too prideful; too fearful to take a chance on him, lest you be rejected.
Wouldn't having him in your life be worth it, to take the risk of his rejection?
It's too late now, I told myself. He's seeing someone else. Wedge has moved on, and you're still alone. You can't even be nice to a girl who seems too innocent to comprehend what's going on. If she makes Wedge happy, can't you set it aside for his sake?
I heard the party behind me, only vaguely realizing that the sounds were rising in tone as the door opened one more time.
Part 5: Evasive Action
"I was wondering where you'd gone."
I turned to see General Wedge Antilles, New Republic Starfighter Command, standing with his back up against the closing doors. With his eyes skyward, he looked less a fearsome General than a little boy watching for falling stars. A stray lock of dark hair lay stubbornly against his forehead.
"I told you I needed some air," I said, hating myself for the venom that still spewed from my mouth.
He walked slowly away from the French doors, and took up a position facing me against the gallery's stone balustrade.
I decided to end the silence with an apology for my rude behaviour. "Sorry, Wedge. I'm a little edgy tonight."
A slight smile came to adorn his beautiful face. "Iella, can I help? With whatever it is?"
I took a deep breath, trying to find the words. Yes. Leave featherbrain. I want you ... I need you ...
But I can't need him. I've taken too much of his life already with my problems.
"Are you sure that you and Qwi are right for each other?" I considered my next words very carefully. I don't want to hurt him. "She seems to blossom around you, but what does she contribute to your happiness?"
Wedge looked stunned. Nope, he certainly wasn't expecting that.
"I take it you don't like her."
"She isn't quite what I envisioned for you, Wedge. You need someone stronger ..."
... like me, like I was ...
"She needs me," he said simply. "I care about her. I can protect her. There are so many who would hurt her, or take advantage of her ..."
"Wanting to protect someone from pain isn't love."
"No," he admitted. "But can't they go together?"
"You can love someone, and want to protect them," I began, "but sometimes it doesn't quite work out the way you'd like." Like right now.
"Can you accept her in my life?"
I thought for a moment. There was no way I could accept Qwi Xux as Wedge's lover, but I couldn't remain a close friend and keep my feelings hidden. And I had to keep them hidden, for his sake.
"No," I answered quietly. "I can't accept her. I'm sorry. I can't bring myself to remember what she represents. She's another victim, like Diric was."
He turned around and looked out at the reflection of the newly visible stars on the water. I was weakened again, reduced to invoking the name of my departed husband. Diric had nothing to do with my mindset. I had to give him the chance to walk away, so that I could spare him the anguish I seemed unable to avoid causing with regards to his new love.
"So now what?" he asked, not turning back.
After a long moment, I answered him, barely restraining my emotions. "I think you'd better go back inside. "Go back in, and have a wonderful time. Be happy. That is all I've ever wanted for you."
I watched him walk toward the French doors. With his hand turning the archaic doorknob, and his back turned, he said, "Good night, Iella."
And the doors closed one more time. The sound would haunt me forever.
Epilogue: The End of the Engagement
Cold and sterile, my apartment could have belonged to anyone, save for the few holos I keep on the mantle. I went to look at my holos, as I tossed my uniform jacket over a nearby chair.
The first holo was of my senior pilots, taken during the mutiny on the Mon Remonda. Wes had a silly grin on his face, and Tycho held Hobbie's head in a chin lock. I looked half drunk in the picture, but happy. Sighing wistfully, I wished for simpler times like that.
All you needed was a card game and a cold brew. Where'd you go, Wedge Antilles?
I took the single holo of my family into the palm of my hand. I think I was about seven when it was taken, before Syal left home. Even now, I wished that my big sister was here. Syal had been married long ago to an Imperial pilot, ironically one of the only Imperial pilots to be considered my equal in a fighter.
I set the old memory aside. Next was a holo of Mirax and Corran, taken right after their second, more formal wedding ceremony. They looked so happy together. In the eyes of my friends I saw happiness that I can only wish for.
The final holo on the mantle of the main room was a 2-D rendering of Qwi Xux, the woman I'd spent the evening with. As I stared into her unseeing eyes, I could only think of the words Iella Wessiri had spoke earlier.
"Are you sure that you and Qwi are right for each other?"
Was Qwi as wrong for me as she thought? She was a nice girl, but she lacked the spunk I usually found appealing. She was an innocent in a world of vultures, and I don't know if I'm with her to protect her or because I truly love her.
"She isn't quite what I envisioned for you ..."
That makes two of us, Iella. I always thought that I'd marry a girl from home, who wouldn't be afraid to give me hell if I deserve it.
Yet, I know that I can't have what I really want ... you.
You're still missing Diric, but I can't wait anymore.
I walked away from the last holo, feeling duplicitous for looking at Qwi's holo and thinking about Iella.
I moved toward the viewport, and took a look at the night sky. The stars shone brightly against the obsidian sky.
Like the tears in Iella's eyes when she told me to go.
She didn't want me to go away, any more than I wanted to go. I wanted to take her into my arms and crush her to me, to make her see that she was the only thing to make me happy.
But then where would that leave Qwi? Could I leave her alone to a world that only wants to tear her apart?
Look what Kyp Durron did to her ...
Then again, Iella has pain in her heart, too.
I picked up the discarded jacket and slid it over my shoulders, and decided to call Iella. I needed to set the record straight.
At the comm terminal, I punched in her number. I waited to see her image appear before me, but was greeted with a voice-only message.
"You've reached Iella's Den. I've been called off-planet to tend to business, but would be happy to return your call when I return. Feel free to leave a voice message after the tone."
That was Iella's code for, "I've gone on a mission, sorry, can't say anymore than that." In this case, I think it meant something else.
I didn't leave a message.
I went back to watch the stars and contemplate my future ... with Qwi.
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