In this story, there is no Empire.
Luke wakes up on Coruscant. Leia is still with their parents on Naboo, idyllic vacation back home instead being spent tense while she attempts to convince them that Han Solo isn’t a scoundrel. She’d be more successful if she believed it, and rather than listen, Luke returned early. His body still feels too stiff from the flight, but he didn't want to wait for a convoy to land the X-Wing on and actually, arguably, wanted to fly himself.
He lets himself think about Biggs for the first time in weeks, and wishes that he didn't.
There's no Empire, but Biggs is still dead.
There will probably always be separatists.
He can dress himself, sends the protocol droid away, and stares out of the window at the way the city moves. It’s fine to feel. It's about not being led around by those feelings which, ultimately, he thinks, is what happened. Maybe. Obi-wan didn't have an answer. Be mindful of your thoughts. Notice them, but don’t follow. Sometimes, he can’t even stop his eyes from drifting along with the cruisers, so he’s not sure what he’s supposed to do about his significantly more complex thoughts.
Realistically, Luke is fine. He does plenty to let go. The guilt over the loss has been processed: he didn't shoot down Biggs’s X-Wing. He couldn't have actually stopped it from happening, either. This isn't the problem anymore. The cruisers never even run into traffic. On Tatooine, traffic doesn't exist because it would mean more than two people owned speeders.
Today’s training is focused on lightsabers, which is fine. Obi-wan watches but doesn't say anything; there's the possibility that Luke is just as powerful here as he is in any other universe, but it's refined. He doesn't know loss the same way, or perhaps he never really needed to know loss in the first place. While moving through any given sequence, he’s able to let go of his thoughts: his mind doesn't wander per say but remain unfixed. It’s a lot like watching traffic. Attain differently. Obi-wan is still master but he’s too old now to do what he used to. Luke knows, the same way he has always been able to sense these things, that he’s in pain a lot more and that there’s only so much that Obi-wan can disconnect his mind from his physical before losing it entirely. “Have you decided what to do yet?” Obi-wan asks when Luke finishes.
“I’m still on leave,” Luke answers. He misses flying; he doesn't think he misses shooting at enemy fighters. Obi-wan senses it, understands.
“There’s a position in the Academy, of course.”
“With my father.”
“We both know he doesn’t instruct half as often as he says he does.” Obi-wan sighs. “It isn't the same world it was when you and your sister were brought into it.”
“There's still so much pain--I can’t do anything about it in the Academy.” Luke takes a seat next to Obi-wan and they watch younglings strike at lasers from behind their blast guards in synchronicity. “I haven't even been able to talk to Biggs's parents.”
“Do you feel you must?”
“I don't know.”
“I suppose it could help, or it could reopen the wound.” Be mindful of your thoughts, Luke hears.
“My father wouldn't have let it happen.”
“You assume him capable of controlling the universe.”
“He thinks he is.”
Something in Obi-wan must agree; he groans and stands. “I’m afraid we all think we have power over things that are out of our own hands.”
Luke is about to ask another question, but sees Threepio approaching. “Master Luke, you have a visitor.” Obi-wan begs off, instead approaches all of the young pupils.
“I didn't realize people had been informed I was back,” Luke says. “Tell whoever it is that I’m busy. With...Jedi training. I shouldn't be disturbed.” Even if he had achieved some level of peacefulness, it’s quickly eroding. He knows whoever it is is already waiting in the antechamber of his corridors, is radiating nervous energy.
Threepio compounds it. “Sir, I’m afraid Commander Antilles is rather insistent,” the droid says. “He is already expecting your return.”
He doesn't know when Wedge jumped in rank (again), but he’s not surprised. “He’s going to have to wait,” Luke says. And he doesn't really have a problem taking his time getting back to his suite; the ‘freshers in the Academy’s areas are great for shifting back into a meditative state, and there’s something to be said for the routine of putting himself back together after. He’s royalty; he doesn't play the card often, but knows he ought to.
Luke is still only just better than Wedge as a pilot, and he thinks it's only because Wedge isn't force-sensitive.
Wedge is staring out of the large window of Luke’s parlor when he gets to the room, doesn't shift at Luke’s presence. “Commander Antilles.”
“Congratulations on the promotion.” If he were anyone else, it’d be desertion. “The Order has offered me a position here.”
“It’s been three months, Luke.”
“It was authorized.”
“It’s not like we can say no to your mother.” Wedge faces him now: he looks tired, and sad, and Luke knows that he lost Biggs, too, and he didn't take off. He got promoted. He was made for this in ways that Luke, frankly, was not. “Come back.”
“I don't know if I can.”
“People are dying without you.”
“Biggs died with me.” And for all that he thinks he’s fine, Wedge showing up reminds him that he’s not. Maybe the Order was right about the appropriateness of attachment. “I’m sorry.”
Wedge’s face becomes unreadable, something Luke can’t unlock. “He was my friend, too,” he says. “I’ll be on Coruscant for the next couple of days. Think about what you want.”
Waiting out the rest of Luke’s leave, he means to put. It isn't as though he hasn't been thinking about it, but the three months have felt not dreamy but drifting, surreal. “And if I don’t want to come back?” he asks. They won’t strip his rank--retired, Obi-wan is still a general--but he’d need a good reason.
A reason like feeling death in every single cell of his body. The feeling he felt with Biggs will only get worse regardless of attachment. Wedge doesn't have to worry about it.
“Get started on the paperwork, I guess.”
“Best pilot in the fleet--one of my best friends--tells me he can’t come back? Yeah, I'm a little upset. Tell me it’s a Jedi thing, or something, but don't tell me it's because of Biggs.”
It is and it isn't. “I should be doing more,” Luke says.
“Like helping people instead of shooting them.”
“Help me, then.” If Luke listens close enough, he can hear Wedge’s heart rate go up. He doesn't, though.
He wants, he wants, he wants. What he wants, he doesn't know.
“When I met you, I didn't know who you were,” Wedge says. “You were just some prince who beat my flight scores. Now I can’t imagine flying without you.”
“You have though. For three months.” Luke can’t go back; he’ll stay with the Order. Become a Master. Maybe he and Wedge will stay in touch.
He doesn't like not knowing.
“It’s not the same.”
Luke takes a seat, looks up at Wedge, wondering if he should explain that, for a moment, he knew what it was like to be dying. To know it. “I know,” he says instead. “Did someone send you, or did you decide to come on your own?”
“Maybe I missed you.”
He wants Wedge to mean it. “I’m supposed to meet the senator from Naboo for dinner,” he says. “Come with me? Before you have to arrest me for desertion.” There’s a ceremony that happens; he’s witnessed someone being cashiered. It’d be an embarrassment for his family, for the Order, for the entire squadron too. Wedge shifts.
“I won't arrest you.”
“Because of my mother.”
“Because of you.”
“Sounds sounds like nepotism.” Luke looks at Wedge. “Please.”
“I don't want to go alone.” He's being selfish. In due time, he probably will grow out of it--maybe. His father didn't. “Wedge.”
“You’re impossible,” Wedge says. “Tell Threepio to send your regrets. I’m not coming.”
He can do that. He reaches to touch Wedge’s arm and it feels electric. “Where are you staying?”
“The Fleet set me up with an apartment ages ago. It’s not much.” If Wedge leans into Luke’s touch, neither of them say anything. “I’m never there enough for it to feel like a home.”
“That's because you live in your ship.”
“‘I guess’ nothing.” Luke swallows. “It’s--it is. A Jedi thing.”
“So no hope of convincing you otherwise.”
“I can't explain it.”
“Can you try?”
“I felt it happen.”
Wedge’s expression is confused, like he’s trying to understand what Luke is saying but it's not getting though. “What do you mean?”
“Exactly what I said. I felt it. And what am I supposed to do? Follow you back out there and know exactly how afraid you are, how alone you feel, if you get shot down? Feel it when it happens like it’s happening to me? Again?” He’d processed and unprocessed and reprocessed what it meant to feel like he was dying. Sometimes, most times, Luke thought he'd made progress--but three months isn't enough time. And it wasn't isolated, like Biggs was the only one, just the worst maybe because they knew each other so well. How much worse would it be with Wedge?
“I didn't know.”
“Nobody knows. I don't want anyone to know.” Even if Wedge had been up to dinner with the senator, Luke certainly isn't anymore. It’s hard not to be run by his emotions when his heart is going a mile a minute.
In this way, he feels like a failure: He knows that loss is inevitable, that one day he too will die. He should accept it, but can’t.
Biggs had been terrified, then gone.
“I’ll take care of dinner plans. If the senator has a problem with it, he can deal with me.”
“I can do it myself,” Luke says, and Wedge shakes his head. “You’re a guest.”
“I barged into your corridors,” Wedge answers.
In the end, Luke’s the one to send an apologetic missive while Wedge hovers behind, looking at food options with Threepio. “One of my fellow officers is in town for the night,” he says. “Perhaps another evening? The senate is in session for another fortnight.”
The senator’s face is warped by the holo, so Luke can't read him. “Very well. My regards.”
He can't do much about it either way. Wedge comes over when the holo’s off, puts a hand on his shoulder. “Since when have you been a vegetarian?” he asks, and Luke shrugs.
“We don't eat that much meat on Naboo,” he answers. Four months, give or take. Before Biggs. It’s unrelated but comes back to it. Most of the other Jedi are vegetarians too, excluding his father, so it’s been mostly unremarked upon. When he glances outside, the world has shifted into the brightness of Coruscant’s nightlife, which is really the natural state of the planet, Luke thinks. The soft lights of his apartment have cast a glare on the glace, making it reflect him and Wedge against the buildings and cruisers. He looks like a ghost and feels like one, too.
Wedge hums. “Well, I let Threepio make the decision for dinner.” He follows Luke's gaze towards the window and frowns. “I can't stand this planet.”
“You didn't have to come here.”
“You know I did. I just figured I wouldn't be leaving here without you.” He moves, and Luke watches him. “Jeez, Luke. I wish you would have told me.”
“I don't know. Then maybe I could have done something, or--been here with you instead of letting you go and sequester yourself away on Naboo or in the Jedi temple alone.” Luke can feel the hurt radiating off Wedge in waves, and it occurs to him that maybe he has been selfish; Biggs was Wedge's friend too.
For all that he was feeling, Wedge must have been feeling it too.
Luke stands up and goes to Wedge, leans against him. “It's something I needed to work out for myself,” he says. “I didn't think. I needed to leave.”
“Yeah, well. Maybe I needed you with me. You were gone before I could even find you. I didn't know--I didn't.”
What’s about to happen has happened before--before Luke even took off, or Biggs died. When Wedge kisses Luke, Luke is aware that it’s about to happen and leans into it, remembering what he’s missed. It won't heal everything, but Wedge feels solid and real, which is really what Luke needs right now because it means that he’s real, too. The reminder that they both exist must have been the comfort Wedge had been missing, Luke thinks, feels guilty about--what would he have done if Wedge had left without saying a word to him beforehand? He’d have felt lost.
“Wedge,” he says, “I still can't go back.”
“I know,” Wedge says, and he kisses Luke again.
“Master Luke, your dinner has arrived!” Threepio interrupts, but it's for the better--they should talk, first, and besides, Luke gets the feeling all Wedge has had has been rations on the X-Wing.
He doesn't want to move though. “Thanks, Threepio.”
“Should I close the blinds, Master Luke?”
“Uh, yes. Sure.”
He and Wedge awkwardly walk to the table where Threepio has laid out their food, avoiding eye contact. “That's not what I came here for,” Wedge says. “I don't--it’s not just. I meant it when I wanted you to come back to the fleet, and not just for. That. This.”
“I know,” Luke says. His soup and salad look as unappetizing now as they did when his mother would order the same thing years ago. “I'm not coming back. So before we do anything we should figure out...what we’re doing.”
His parents sometimes went years with seeing each other in person.
Figuring it out means picking at leaves and scuttling berries around on his plate while Wedge makes little headway on his dish. “I didn't realize that we needed a plan,” Wedge says. Luke never thought there were stereotypes about Corellians but he suddenly understands Leia’s frustrations with Han more acutely.
He understands, but doesn't follow. “I’m going to be here for a while figuring things out. I don't know what I should do, just that I need more time and can't--not until I know how to not feel that. I miss flying.”
“Then let's fly,” Wedge says. “Not--not like a drill. Just you and me flying.”
“And--I know you said you don't want anyone to know, so you don't have to say it's why, but you need to request extended absence. Make it a Jedi thing, ask the Order to vouch for you, whatever you have to do, but just because your mom’s the Supreme Chancellor doesn't mean they can look the other way forever.”
The soup is cold. In the morning, he’ll submit the proper forms. “What about you?”
“What about me?”
“How have you been, during everything?”
Wedge shrugs. “You just sort of decide to deal with things later. It worked with what happened to my parents. I guess.”
“It’s not working.”
“I don't know if I have the ability to try anything else. I’m not like you.” He frowns at his food. “Threepio has awful taste in food.”
“It’s not one of his primary functions,” Luke says. He just knows that he doesn't want Wedge to be alone, and skin to skin contact is the best way, he thinks, of reaching him. (It doesn't hurt that it’s what Luke needs too, now, feel bereft after stopping too soon.)
Wedge makes it feel easy.
They leave the lights on; there was never any point in hiding anyway. Outside, Coruscant hums, loud. Luke narrows his focus in on Wedge's breathing, on the shift of their bodies together, on the fact that three months hasn't made them any less cohesive. He wants to kick himself; how could he leave without saying goodbye?
“I missed you,” Wedge ssys, and Luke swallows, nods.
“I missed you, too.”
After, Wedge falls asleep and Luke relocates to his bathroom, sits in the middle of the shower, and breathes. As good as the freshers at the Academy are, this is so much better for getting out of his own head. The planet pulses around him, a million people happy and heartbroken and he feels them, but lets them go. The tension he’d been carrying on his shoulders lessens enough, and then he's able to enjoy the warmth of the shower. He gets out, dries himself off. Turns the lights down to 12 percent and climbs into bed next to Wedge.
And for the first time in a while, it’s a little easier to fall asleep.