Project Echo: Part 8
Rating: PG
Gillian F. Taylor

"He's very good with her," Iella remarked, watching as four-year-old Valin rolled a ball towards her daughter.

Syal shouted and toddled determinedly towards it, her chubby hands reaching for the toy.

"He doesn't spend enough time around other children," Mirax answered. She lounged next to Iella on the sofa in Iella's living room, sipping some strong caf. "The novelty hasn't worn off yet."

Syal gave the ball a shove in Valin's direction, adding a gleeful shriek. Iella winced.

"Why aren't small children fitted with a volume control and a remote?" she asked.

"They have no concept of volume, do they?" Mirax said, agreeing. "Thank the Force Valin is old enough now to quieten down when I remind him to. Mostly, anyway," she added more accurately.

As the children continued to play, Mirax glanced at her chrono.

"I wonder if they're back dirtside yet?"

"Might be," Iella said. "They were due back this afternoon if the mission went OK."

"This is the third since Wedge returned, isn't it?"

"Fourth," Iella corrected. "And so far, no losses or even injuries." She crossed her fingers.

Both women looked at their children, aware that either or both of them could already be a widow. Valin noticed the silence, and glanced at his mother. Syal threw the ball at him and managed to hit him in the chest. Her shrieks of laughter, and Valin's expression, made the women laugh too and they relaxed again.

"Booster keeps telling us we ought to come and visit," Iella remarked. "I suppose a Star Destroyer would give Syal a bit more space to run around in."

"You're welcome to let her use Valin's old toys," Mirax offered. "There's a closet full of his baby toys in our cabin. Booster is forever buying him things." Iella nodded. "I'll have to comm him and thank him for the mag blocks he sent Syal. He treats her like a granddaughter."

"Well, he thinks of Wedge as his son, so of course Syal's his granddaughter," Mirax replied.

Iella thought back to the time when Wedge, Corran and other Rogues had gone missing after being ambushed at Distna. While Booster had supported Mirax though the loss of her husband, Wedge's apparent death had been a more personal blow. Even as Iella reminded herself that both men had returned safely, she heard the apartment door sliding open.

"That sounds like my little sweetheart," Wedge called, as he entered.

Syal shrieked at his greeting and toddled to meet him, lifting her arms to be picked up. Wedge laughed as he lifted her, swinging her high in the air.

"X-wing climb! X-wing dive!" he exclaimed as she swung up and down before he settled her against his hip.

"Da, da, da, da!" Syal rattled out in return, her voice muffled as Wedge bent to kiss her.

Iella moved in for her own hug and kiss, relishing the physical presence of her husband. She filled her arms with Wedge and Syal, feeling Wedge's free hand pressing against her back, and breathed in the musky scent of his skin as she kissed him, and held her face against his. As she lifted her head again, she looked into his eyes, seeing the warmth and love there, and knew those feelings were reflected in her own eyes.

Valin called a happy greeting, surprising Wedge, who peered past Iella to see the visitors. Iella released him and moved aside as Mirax came over to claim her own greeting.

"Long time no see," she said to Wedge, giving him a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

"Whose fault is that?" Wedge answered, absent-mindedly jiggling Syal about as he spoke. "You've been away on the Errant Venture all the time I've been back with the Rogues."

"That's no excuse," Mirax retorted. "You're a general; you could organize some orders sending Rogue Squadron out to the Venture."

"That's assuming we knew where Booster was," Wedge said.

They moved to sit down again, Wedge keeping Syal on his lap. He bounced the giggling girl on his knees as they talked. Valin moved a box of blocks to the middle of the floor and began constructing a fort.

"Everyone's OK," Wedge reported. "Ooryl's ship took a heavy hit from an ion cannon and he spent a while getting checked out in medbay, but he's fine now. We got the job done with no losses."

Mirax smiled. "That's always good to hear. Oh, and speaking of hearing things, have you heard the stories about ships from the Corporate Sector causing trouble? They seem to have very good intelligence on where and when the New Republic patrols are going to be."

Wedge looked sober. "There's been nothing official about it."

"Last I heard of, a cargo of ginger-pine oil, whortleberries, Chandrilan sea-opals and wave-pearls and some Ithorian mead got taken."

"Luxury items," commented Iella. "High profit on a relatively small cargo."

Mirax nodded. "Merchants in the area are beginning to demand more support from the New Republic." She looked at Wedge. "You could end up out there."

"We could," he agreed, looking unhappy. He stroked Syal's fair hair then pulled her in close for a cuddle.

Mirax tactfully changed the subject. "Valin, start putting those away, please. Your father is coming home so we'd better be there for him."

Valin swept a hand through his construction, demolishing the walls. " 'K, Mum."

The adults stood up, Wedge with Syal clinging to him.

"Good to see you, Wedge," Mirax said, leaning over to give him a peck on the cheek. "Come over and visit in a couple of days and we'll have a game of sabacc while the kids watch a holo in Valin's room."

"That sounds good," Wedge replied. He patted Syal's bottom, and lifted her skirt to peer apprehensively into her nappy. "I think she needs changing."

Mirax grinned. "What a humble task for General Wedge Antilles: Conqueror of Coruscant; only survivor of two Death Star runs; the most decorated pilot in Starfighter Command."

"Former commander of the New Republic's only Super Star Destroyer," added Iella. "Liberator of Thyferra."

"And Daddy to this little girl," Wedge finished. "Which is far more important to her." He paused and looked down at Syal with a tenderness that made Iella's throat constrict. "For so long, all that was in my head was flying and killing; defeating the enemy. I didn't know what I was missing. Having a family, and friends is more precious than I ever imagined." He looked up at Iella, his eyes full of emotion.

Mirax turned away. "Valin, have you put all those blocks away yet?"

Iella smiled at Wedge, and he returned it. Hitching Syal up a little, he said. "OK, sweetheart. Time to go and make you nice and clean."

Bidding farewell to Mirax and Valin, Wedge carried Syal off to her room.



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