"What are you doing?" Dex yelled over the comms as they practiced toss bombing. "G-7, respond, now!"
"I'm putting iron on the fucking target, sir," Keyan hissed back.
"You're too in the weeds. Disengage immediately. G-4, G-5, do you read me?"
"I see you at my six, over," Sara nodded.
"Read you at eight, over," Krail confirmed.
"Break saturation at fourteen."
Sara swerved low and left to reach the location before the light went out. Followed by Krail, they flew tandem and dropped the mock bombs over the target, Lance missing a few. Sara cursed to herself before swerving off to rejoin the crew.
"Gold Squadron, ground at hangar B," they heard Dutch interrupt over the radio.
Sara clenched her jaw, just knowing that Dutch was going to have their asses when they got out. She hopped out of the Y-Wing and gathered with her team around their commander.
"What was that. Tiree, you're my second in command, what the fuck was that?"
Dex gritted his teeth, refusing to meet anyone's eyes. "I did what we practiced, sir."
"If I'm down, you need to be able to keep everyone calm and have them follow through. Farlander takes your duty, where were your commands?" Silence followed that question. "Sharpe, Lance, Farlander, and Krail, you are dismissed."
They exited the landing strip, hunkering in the hangar while they waited for their squad. Ava slid over to her partner, calmly taking her hand as she mind-melded with her.
"Did you feel anything while we were practicing?" she telepathically inquired.
Sara pulled her hand away and gave her an exasperated look. "Now's not the time, Aves."
"Not like that. I think someone in our group is one of us, untrained from what I felt. He just exudes the Force." Sara glanced around the squad, stopping at Keyan. Looking back at her partner, she earned a nod. "That's who I think, too."
"I think we should leave it alone."
"Imagine if he gets caught and the Sith find out. We have to do at least something, figure out how much he knows about the Force."
"If that's what you want to do, then go ahead, I wouldn't have any idea what I was doing."
Ava left her fiancée's side to join Keyan, who for the first time was not tinkering and speaking with the droids. Sara glanced as their droids approached them, some splitting up to recharge. R5-T9 sped to their current pilot, doing a little spin for fun. Sara gave the droid a playful punch to the side.
"Hey R-T, thanks for the corrections."
The droid beeped a few times in appreciation before swinging its body back and forth. Sara enjoyed their playfulness while still fully aware of the gravity of their situation. R-T spoke to her again, a message, it seemed, from another planet. Guessing it was her sister again, Sara postponed the message and pointed to the charging dock.
"Why don't you sleep a bit, I'm sure we have a lot more practice before the day's up."
The R5 unit shook their head and ran into her foot, playful but stubborn like the old unit they were.
"I'm preoccupied right now. I'll look at it later."
They swung their body into her padded shin.
"Ow, fine. Somewhere private, though. I don't need the others listening to Laurel's personal problems," she grumbled, exiting the hangar for a side wall she could lean against.
"What's the update?"
R-T backed up and began to play a hologram from an old communications device. Although grainy, she instantly recognized the speaker. Old Ben was backing away from the device, kneeling as best as he could before speaking.
"If you are receiving this message, Lance, I have passed. I'm recording this approximately a year after you joined the Republic. I wish you had told me, I could have prepared you better to conceal yourself from the Sith, but I understand your willingness to leave Tatooine for something grand.
"Either way, I must caution you about yourself, something I should have trained you to better control, your darkness. I felt responsible but unprepared to break you out of that irresponsible darkness that I knew consumed your soul for so long. As my time has come to an end, I want you to preserve the lightness in this turbulent era. Trust only in your heart, and may the Force be with you, always." The hologram collapsed and got sucked back into R-T's camera.
"Thank you," she solemnly nodded. "Now will you rest up?"
R-T left on their own accord to join the other droids that huddled in the back around the charging station while Sara rejoined her crew. She spotted Ava intently speaking with Farlander, then their first through third in command approach the hangar from a distance. Sara signaled to her peers to rise, everyone quickly followed suit and awaited further instructions.
"You are dismissed, I want you back at the barracks by 1700."
"Wait, so are we free to roam the base until then?"
"Yes, you all need it," he noted on his way back to base. "If you don't want to walk back or wait twenty minutes, I suggest you join me on the tram."
Sara sat in her cockpit with Ava on the wing, the only place they could have privacy. She focused on the dials and her windshield, scrubbing it clean while her partner intently watched her.
"What do you think they were talking about?" Ava finally asked.
"I assume something about Tiree's behavior. I thought he was being completely reasonable?"
"I'm not too sure about that. Dutch was right, he followed through with the wrong plan."
"But no one informed him."
"So, what, it was our fault? As second in command, he's supposed to know the plans."
"You're right," Sara admitted. "How did it go with Keyan?"
"It was interesting. I've never known someone who didn't know they were Force-sensitive."
"So, how did you approach him?"
"I asked him a few random questions that he answered correctly. I don't know what to do except tell him that I believe he may be force sensitive."
"Are you going to train him? Only enough to protect himself, though."
Sara nodded and relaxed into her seat to regard her fiancée in the harsh hangar light. "Has anyone ever told you how beautiful you are?"
"Only a few people, one of them I'm going to marry," she jibed with a peck to punctuate her words. "I know things are crazy now, but when we finish the battle, I'm planning on fuckng the absolute shit out of you."
Sara gawked at her forwardness, taken aback as a flash of pleasure suddenly flooded her system. "Why wait? Do you have a destination in mind?"
"Not that isn't on base," she shrugged with a glance at her watch. "But we have a lot of time for fun."
Lance clicked her tongue and nodded, "I might know a place, but we'll have to sneak out as if that's really too hard."
They rushed from the Y-Wing and through the blind spot beside the hangar's landing strip. Sara ducked under the fence, hovering across her back to not catch her collar on the bars. She held her hand out for Ava and they fled the base for their rendez-vous. Lance tried to recall the path, spotting the decrepit Jed Enclave about thirty miles out on the horizon. She began jogging in the directions before hanging to the right to find their spot.
"Where are we headed?" Ava giggled as they happened upon a break of trees and high grass.
"It's a cool history secret," she responded with a long kiss. "Come on!"
They continued down the path for another half-hour before finally happening upon an old manor. It was a low silver building from the old Republic, as its obvious change showed. Sara opened the door and showed her around.
"What is this?"
"It's the Matale estate. It's been abandoned for thousands of years, but well kept by the Khoonda until their demise. I found it while exploring the planet and began to fix it up. In all honesty when we were assigned to Dantooine I was ecstatic and would escape to fix this place up. I was thinking our team could live here. Mick's already picked out his room and I gave us the master bedroom. We still need to paint it and… Ava?" she asked, trying to read her partner's reaction. "Is this a bit much?"
"No," she practically murmured.
"Are you sure, this is a new face I have never seen before?"
Ava pulled Sara into a vice embrace, laying kisses upon her forehead and hair as she looked around the old manor. "I love it, I really do."
Sara took her bejeweled hand and kissed the ring. "I'm glad you do. I do have our room mostly completed. Furniture and basic amenities, even the water and electricity is all hooked up back there. When it comes down to it," she rambled, "this place is in its final stage of development, you know, paint, furnitu[re]-"
Ava took her face in her hands and kissed her passionately, drawing her in to finally wrap her hands around her waist. "I love you," she whispered against her lips.
"I love you, too."
"So, where's our room?"
Sara attacked her with a peck on the cheek and led her to their room. It was basic, as Sara had described, even the mattress was still covered in plastic and the blankets and sheets were tucked in the open wardrobe.
"I did bring something from our ship before it changed hands," Sara mentioned as she presented a blanket from the closet.
"Damn, how'd you manage to sneak that out?"
"I tucked it in my suitcase." She laid it over the mattress. "I really wish we had cleaned it beforehand. But I did wash it once I had a chance."
Ava pulled her partner on top as she fell back on the bed. Her heart pounded in her chest at the amazing work of her family. She tugged Sara in for a passionate kiss as they began to playfully jostle for position.
It all came so quickly. One moment travelling the stars to being stuck on Dantooine awaiting orders to hopefully destroy the Death Star. A few calls here and there between Sara and the new captain of the Waverider, but it did little to satiate her need to be out exploring again. Suddenly, she recalled why they agreed to finish their active duty when the chance came, It wasn't due to their squadron, in fact, it was the only thing keeping them sane, but the bizarre mix of desperate hope and constant down-trodden pessimism amongst their peers made Lance want to escape.
Now, with the Scariff plans to topple the Empire, everyone's stress increased tenfold. Dutch was the only person who seemed to have their head on straight. He pulled the squadron out to the base, wood, drinks, and rations packed in their backpacks while they trekked to their blba tree a few miles out of the way. Two days before the attack and tensions ran high enough to force Farlander's hand at socialization. Dutch stayed silent for the walk, mostly just smoked or sipped his Coruscant brandy.
Wind swept through the endless rampant grass that surrounded them. A moment of solemn tranquility echoed across the plains when they finally settled on an open circle of dirt that would suffice for a fire pit. Dutch knelt to the ground and pulled a mostly hollowed log from his pack, setting it upright and stuffing it with dried leaves and papers. He sat on the ground, glancing at his squad to invite them over.
"You're not out here to kill us, right?" Ryle joked as he pulled out the rations he was tasked to bring.
"Just to relax," their commander assured them. "Unless it's a pressing question, I want no one to talk about tomorrow's mission. We are here to enjoy each other's company and be merry before tomorrow. Tiree, did you bring your batanga?"
"I don't know, did I?" he nodded, swinging the small stringed instrument forward.
Sara unpacked her bag of drinks and cups, placing them around the log for others to partake in. She relaxed into her partner, glad to be able to relax before the fight. Something in her questioned how effective their front would be against a professionally trained army on their turf. Not only were they fighting them near their ships, but they were destroying a major hub where their leaders very well may be hiding. Ava nudged her back into reality with an overcooked sausage.
"Only from you," she finally jested. "Are you okay?"
"No, but yes."
"This'll be one for the ages!" Dutch informed them over the comms. "We're leaving in five, so strap up and finish your tasks."
Ava sat on the wing of her partner's ship and deeply kissed her. "I love you, Sara."
Lance gave her a calming smirk and nodded. "I love you, too. Be safe, baby-girl."
"Gold Squadron you are clear for takeoff," the announcer confirmed.
"That's our cue."
They parted ways to their own ships and waited to be towed to the runway, their bombers roaring to life one by one as they took flight. The squad fell into place, as they ascended from Dantooine to the stars. As. Uch as they had learned about the Death Star, nothing could have prepared them for just how massive the project was. A ship the size and shape of a moon floated with Tie-Fighters buzzing around it every so often.
"Holy shit," they heard Pops whisper into the mic. "Is that it?"
"I believe so," Dutch confirmed. "Sound off, Gold-1 standing by."
They continued after their captain, finishing with Farlander before they began their descent upon the Death Star. Surrounded by their Rebel family, the pilots encroached on their target, obvious nerves coming through the comms. Sara could only imagine the correspondence Dutch was getting right about then.
"Lock on to the tank position," Dutch commanded.
"We're passing through the magnetic field," Garven of the Red Squad could be heard informing them through mere static.
Following his further instructions, the Red and Gold Squads broke through the magnetic field and made a clean break to the Death Star.
"Accelerate to attack speed," Dutch continued.
"This is it," Pops commented once they were close enough to their target.
They confirmed positions once more, Sara and Pops standing by to bomb the entrance to the thermal exhaust ports while the others charged up. The Red squad split up to their positions to pull away enemy fire. The gravity of the situation and mission was not lost upon anyone, not even the fresh faces that joined them only after the Princess's rescue.
Turrets began firing upon the Red Squad, their X-Wings dodging and swerving as they shot into the enormous base. Sara and Pops began bombing the cover with the help of Keyan and Dutch, finally denting the hull enough to make cracks for a smaller ship to slip in. A few Tie-Fighters slipped around the Death Star and began firing upon them. Still continuing their assault, Dutch called up the Red Squad and commanded his pilots to begin defending their only chance to destroy the death star.
"Gold-3, swing around back to distract them until help arrives," he commanded.
"Flanking, copy," Ryle agreed, pulling her ship around to follow through with the order.
"We picked up some enemy fighters, do you read me?" Their ground control informed them.
"I don't see anything," a Red pilot noted.
"On your six," another informed him.
Finally breaking through the hull, the Gold squad slipped through the narrow channels, splitting up to hit their marks.
"Gold-3, return to position, do you copy?"
"I can't shake 'em sir!" he informed Dutch. "I have to-" Contact was lost and the first Gold pilot was counted.
They continued to listen to the incoming intel about their mission, diving and swerving through the tunnels. The Red Squad followed close behind to fend off the small tie-fighters that tailed them, their green blasters nearly nicking them. Pops and Dex came next, leaving Dutch to dart into their tunnel to continue the mission while he barked updates and orders to the remaining pilots.
Three enemy ships tailed Sara's crew, firing and taking out a Red pilot. She swerved and darted around the tunnel until her wing got shot off by a curved enemy fighter. Her heart sank while she tried to pull away from the wall, losing control and getting viciously pulled by the gravity field. All she could think of as she fought the direction of her Y-Wing was the promises she made to her loved one. Ava was her world, and being able to give their lives to something they both agreed on, the group that saved them from themselves in all reality, was noble. Sara felt her control falter before crashing into the Death Star.
Four down only three left.
Ava took command, Keyan at her tail in case anything happened. Their commander cut out, meaning they were the only ones left in their Squadron. Grief overtook her heart, every moment they had spent together. Now to be blissful memories.
"We have to keep going," she heard Keyan comfort her. "Don't let her death be in vain, Master Sharpe."
Ava hit her head against the headrest as she fought back tears. "I've got the trench, I need you to fall back and cover me, Keyan."
Ava could see the final entrance to the thermal exhaust port on her screen. She encroached upon it, a new flame to focus her on the mission until she heard the Red Squad panic through her comm.
"Red Leader, update, over."
"We're down and Red-5 just left his position. He's headed to you right now. They're killing us, how many are left in Gold?"
"Gold-6 and 7," she informed him.
"Copy, we're sending reinforcements to your position immediately."
"Keep them near the surface, the port is-"