Project Echo: Part 27
Rating: PG
Gillian F. Taylor

There was a joyful, too-brief reunion at the spaceport. To Wedge's annoyance, there was an order from Admiral Ackbar himself that he was to go directly to a Starfighter Command hospital for assessment. He allowed himself to be examined and scanned, but when the 2-1B droid tried to keep him in overnight, Wedge flat out refused.

"The neuro implant must be removed," the med droid said.

"You're not going to do that tonight, though, are you ?" Wedge demanded.

"No. I need to study the scans taken in order to…"

"In that case, you don't need me in overnight," Wedge interrupted. "I've been kept apart from my family for almost five months. We're on the same planet at last, and I want to spend time with my wife and daughter. There's nothing — nothing — you can do for me or give me that will help me recover more effectively than spending time with my family."

The droid was silent for two seconds as it processed this argument. It understood that its patient was expressing a strong emotional need and concluded that this outweighed the immediate physical needs. It gave its consent that Wedge could return to his home overnight, inadvertantly saving Wedge from the charges of assaulting a droid which would have been the most likely outcome of a refusal.

Wedge was home in time to put Syal to bed. This took him longer than it had before, largely because Syal was excited at seeing her daddy again and was unwilling to lie down and go to sleep. It didn't help that Wedge wasn't very good at getting her to settle down, as he was so thrilled to see his daughter at last, and was fascinated to see how she'd grown and developed. Syal quickly realized that just saying 'daddy' was enough to keep his attention a while longer. She smiled at him, snuggled against him and chatted to him in baby talk. Only when Iella looked in at them for the fourth time did Wedge manage to harden his heart and tear himself away. He kissed Syal's cheek, tucked the covers over her and left the room without daring to look back.

It took some time for her to settle, though when only Iella responded to Syal's calls for her daddy, the little girl eventually gave in and went to sleep. Wedge wanted to hear about what Syal had been doing and what she'd learnt during his absence. Discussion of their daughter kept them occupied until Wedge caught himself yawning, and suggested bed for them both.

In bed, he wrapped his arms and legs around Iella's slender body, relishing the sensation of holding her close at last. Iella entwined herself with him, her long hair spilling softly across both bodies. Wedge didn't speak at first; he simply held her, feeling the gentle rhythm of her breathing, the softness of her skin and the warmth of her body nestled against his. She too remained still for the most part, now and again stroking one hand soothingly along his back or reaching up to caress his hair. When at last Wedge spoke, his voice was muffled against her shoulder.

"This is what I dreamed off when I was a prisoner. Just being here, like this, with you."

"It's not a dream now," she replied. "It's real."

Wedge nodded and sighed. He wasn't sure exactly what he was feeling: relief, contentment, joy, love and the guilt that came when he tried to reconcile his role as a soldier with his role as husband and father. He lifted his head and looked into Iella's eyes.

"Was it selfish of me to rejoin Rogue Squadron?" he asked.

She shook her head, very certain. "We discussed this before," she reminded him. "In any case, this clone plot was put in motion while you were with Fleet Command — on the Lusankya. You're a soldier, Wedge, just as you were when we first met, and when I agreed to marry you. It was my choice to marry a soldier."

Wedge managed a small smile, feeling somewhat ashamed. Of course Iella was a grown woman and capable of making her own decisions.

"Sorry," he said, kissing her cheek.

Iella looked into his eyes, looked down and then looked straight at him again.

"I'm the one who should be apologizing," she said quietly.

Wedge could feel the tension in the muscles under her smooth skin.

"What for?" he asked.

Iella managed a wry smile at his question, and kissed him softly on the lips. "Surely only you would ask that," she remarked.

Wedge blinked at her, puzzled.

Iella tightened her grip on him for a moment. "I'm apologizing for not realizing that the man I treated as my husband for four months wasn't in fact the man I'd known for over ten years."

"Ah. I said you needed to get your eyes tested." The quip came out before he could stop it.

Iella stuck him on the shoulder, the impact reduced by the limited movement she could manage. To Wedge's surprise, she then pushed him away and struck wildly at him two or three times.

"Iella ! I'm sorry !"

She withdrew herself from him and curled up, looking at him with stricken eyes.

"Stop apologizing," she begged.

Wedge just managed to stop himself from saying 'sorry'.

"You've done nothing wrong," she went on. "I mistook a clone for you. I made love with him."

Deep inside, Wedge felt a flare of jealousy, but he kept it from his face. As soon as he'd known that the clone had been living with Iella he'd been aware that his wife had probably made love to the other man. Alone in his cabin on the Skate, Wedge had confronted this situation. His head believed one thing but his heart felt another. In the end he'd known he would forgive her, knowing it had been done in error, but he hadn't been sure how he'd handle the moment. Now, seeing her upset and blaming herself, Wedge was overwhelmed with his love for Iella and the desire to see her happy again.

"You didn't deliberately cheat on me," he told her. "You believed it was me. Tycho, and Corran, Wes and Hobbie: they all believed it was me. You weren't the only one. How can I blame you for making love to your own husband?"

Iella sniffed inelegantly and looked at him with frightened eyes that brimmed with tears.

"Wedge: I'm pregnant. About five months. I don't know which of you is the father."

Joy lit up Wedge's heart. He gathered Iella to him, holding her close again.

"Pregnant? The scans are good? The baby's healthy?" he asked eagerly.

She looked at him. "Yes, yes, everything's fine. But I don't know if it was you or the clone."

This time the problem registered. Wedge continued to hold her as he thought.

"Well, genetically it won't make any difference," he said. "The clone was a replica of me, with the same DNA, so it doesn't matter which of us physically fathered the baby; the result will be the same. Half yours, half mine, same as Syal," he said with satisfaction.

"What about emotionally? Do you think you'll be able to cope?"

"On the way into Coruscant, Tycho showed me some holos of the clone with Rogue Squadron," Wedge said slowly. "It was like looking at myself doing things I didn't remember. If I hadn't been told it was a clone, I'd have assumed the holos had been digitally altered to put me in. Seeing my clone made it — him — more real to me; it helped me to understand how he'd passed as me for so long. Tycho said he wasn't a person in his own right — just someone created to be another Wedge Antilles. I think what I'm getting at is that if he fathered the baby, then it's the same as if I did. A sort of proxy of me. Not another distinct person."

Wedge looked at Iella, knowing what he meant inside of himself and wondering if he'd managed to get that across.

She smiled at him and snuggled closer.

"I'll be there when the baby's born," he continued. "I'll change nappies, put it to bed, feed it mush, take it to school, argue about pocket money, teach it to fly and give it love and support. I'm the one baby will call 'daddy' and that's the important thing."

Iella looked at him with glowing eyes and gently caressed his cheek.

He kissed her forehead and switched his mind back to enjoying the sensation of her physicality.

"We'll have to start thinking of names," he said. "Is it a boy or a girl?"

Iella made a noise that was somewhere between a sob and a laugh.

"I know someone I'd like to choose a name for." She paused before continuing. "I know the clone spent his life trying to be you, but in the end he made his own decisions and acted for himself. He never had a life of his own or even a name of his own. I think he should have a name for his memorial."

The idea had never occurred to Wedge, but then, in spite of seeing the holos, the clone was still something of an abstract idea to him, a stranger. He'd been a real person though to Iella, Tycho and the others who'd known him.

"I think you're right," he said. "He should have an Antilles family name."

Iella smiled. Holding him tighter she said:

"I almost wish that the baby was from him. You lived in the same place he did but he was there for five years, which was almost his whole life. He didn't have family, or friends until the last few weeks of his life, and even then they were borrowed from someone else. It makes me angry when I think how he should have been like you. He had all that potential and it was stifled and wasted. His DNA wasn't even his own, but if he provided the sperm cell that created this baby, then he achieved something of his own with his life."

"We'll never know about the baby for sure," Wedge replied. "But the clone saved the lives of Tycho, Corran and the others on Galdo. No one can take that away from him."

Iella nodded, and moved to rest her head against his shoulder.

"I love you, Wedge Antilles," she murmured.

Wedge held her, utterly content. "I love you too." He yawned. "And I'm going to be a daddy again," he added smugly.

"I'm the one doing all the hard work for the next four months," Iella pointed out.

"Mmmm," Wedge replied sleepily.

They kissed gently and lingeringly, then separated to settle down more comfortably for sleeping. Wedge heaved a long, contented sigh and reached out till his hand just touched Iella's arm. It was comforting, but in a dark corner of his mind there remained the knowledge that his clone had spent nights in this same bed, sharing it with Iella. He reminded himself that it hadn't been for very long — only a few weeks if you thought about the time the clone had been away on missions. It was nothing to the time he and Iella had already spent together and, Force willing, there would be many more years to come. Then the thought abruptly reversed itself, hitting Wedge with an almost physical jolt.

He was almost thirty eight years old: a few weeks were only a fraction of his lifetime. The clone had only had some five years of life, and only the last few weeks of those pitifully few years had been spent as part of a normal family. The clone's existence had been a secret so his life with Promezia Corporation must have been very restricted. Wedge suspected he'd mostly been confined to those very rooms that he'd spent just under five months in. Suddenly the clone was no longer an abstract, but a man like himself. In spite of seeing the holos, Wedge's mind couldn't quite put his own face on his idea of the clone, but he now found himself thinking of the clone as a person, one who had been bored, frightened and lonely. Wedge found himself growing angry, as Iella had, at the thought of this vulnerable person being exploited for the sake of gain, and never being allowed to live his own life.

At least, not until he'd finally been sent on the mission for which he'd been created. The clone had been given a family and friends and it had made him happy. But he'd given it all up, risking his life to open the shuttle for the Rogues and losing the gamble. And his last word had guided the Rogues to where he, Wedge, was being held prisoner. If they hadn't arrived on Benzalko when they did, he would be dead now. The clone had given up his own, brief, happiness, and made it possible for Wedge to be lying in this bed with Iella right now.

Wedge moved restlessly, prompting Iella to open her eyes and look at him.

"I was thinking," he said impulsively. "I'd like the clone to be called Jagged Antilles."

Iella nodded. "That's an honourable name. He was worthy of it." Wedge touched her arm, comforting himself with her presence. "I love you."

"I know," Iella replied. "Now go to sleep."

Wedge smiled at her and closed his eyes. He relaxed and fell asleep almost at once, content at being with the family he loved so much and grateful to the clone, whose short life had left its echoes in his own.

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