My sadness poured out of me like vomit. I cried so hard I couldn’t breathe and I suppose that was what woke my uncle up. He came to me as he had done when I was a child and gathered me protectively in his arms, holding on tightly as my sobs wracked through me violently. He spoke to me in the same tone of voice he had always used to calm frightened animals and he waited until the storm had subsided.
He frowned. “How do you mean?”
“Jyrki.” I said through hiccups.
My uncle shook his head, clearly puzzled by the sudden twist the conversation had just taken. “What does he have to do with Cati’s death?”
“He was at the medical facility. He came to me, he said this was Isard’s fault, he said that Lord Vader killed the Emperor, he said tha….”
Uncle Vahlek held up a hand and silenced the jumbled tumble of words instantly. “Jyrki was there?” He asked in a low hiss.
I just nodded.
“In the quiet room at the Med center.” He confirmed.
“Did he hurt you?”
“Then what did he want?”
I shook my head. “I don’t really know.” I told him.
He sat back, pulling away from me and gave me a look. “I’m going to get us a drink and when I come back I want you to tell me everything that happened.”
“You should have told me right then and there.” He said as he got up, his rough callused hands curling into fists as he did so. “I don’t know why you didn’t.” He was angry.
I huddled into myself and looked up at him. “Zte’sa….?
“What?” He said out of crossness more than curiosity.
“I didn’t tell you because he said he’d kill you if you followed him again.”
My uncle raised both his eyebrows. “Did he.” He said flatly, in a tone of voice that sent a shiver down my spine and then without another word vanished to the kitchen.
I sat back on the couch, huddled under the Dantassi blanket for warmth, wishing, not for the first time, that Thrawn was with me. I missed him terribly and suddenly, when compared to what was going on this planet Nirauan didn’t seem like such a bad place to be any more. I watched Uncle Vahlek come back from the kitchen and took the glass of brandy from his outstretched hand.
“Now then, Lei’lei,” He said in a matter of fact manner, “tell me everything Jyrki said to you and do not leave anything out.”
And because I was exhausted, wrung out and beyond caring any more I did exactly as he asked. He listened with that eerie calm I had begun to associate with that side of him no one would ever speak about. His eyes had gone durasteel hard and the set of his mouth told me that he was anything but pleased to hear what I had to say. When I had finished recounting my conversation with Jyrki all Uncle Vahlek did was nod grimly and then get up off the couch to pace to the large window and stare out of it.
“What did he mean by if I catch him following me again, Zte’sa?” I asked, resting my head on my knees which I had drawn to my chest.
“I have been tracking him ever since the incident with the Anzati blade.” My uncle replied as if that explained it all.
“Why?” I frowned.
Uncle Vahlek’s glance at me spoke volumes. “The Anzati do not take very kindly to having one of their sacred weapons used in such a demeaning manner. They asked me to track the weapon and return it to them.” He had evaded my question neatly but at the same time opened up a new avenue for conversation.
“It’s probably in an evidence room or something.” I snorted. “Thrawn gave it to Intel.”
My Uncle sighed slowly. “It was. It has since been returned to its rightful owner.” He replied.
I glanced up at the silhouette of my uncle shadowed against the early dawn’s light cascading through the window. “How…?”
“I am very good at what I do Lei’lei.” He said slowly, choosing his words with great care. “The Tze’yusha’Jin pride themselves on the arts of not being seen. Obtaining the blade from the place in which it was being kept was child’s play.”
“So if you got the blade back then why are you still after Jyrki?”
“There is a price upon his head for what he did with the blade, for what he did to you.”
I frowned. “I thought that you said you were not a Bounty Hunter.”
“I am not.” He agreed. “But the price for Jyrki is not a bounty, it is an Anzati death mark. There is no monetary payment for his death.”
I shook my head in ignorance. I knew next to nothing about the ways of the Anzati. “So what does that mean, exactly?”
“It means that I am required to right a wrong.” Came his cryptic reply.
I pinched the bridge of my nose and sighed, willing patience to come. “And what exactly does that mean, Zte’sa?”
“It is my job and my job alone to kill him.”
There was a pocket of stunned silence that suddenly enwrapped us in its bubble. Then like the touch of a pin, my voice broke it. “But he might be your son….”
“Perhaps. That is still undetermined and even if it is his life, his safety is no longer my concern.” The ice in my uncle’s voice made me shiver. Something had happened between him and Jyrki that he wasn’t telling me, and most likely wasn’t going to tell me.
“But…” I began only to be silence by a minute gesture from my Uncle’s hand.
“Lei’lei, I have told you this before but I will repeat it. I am sworn to protect you under oath and to the death if that is what it will take. No matter what else comes up in my life, no matter who else comes into my life you, and you alone, have priority for my absolute protection. Jyrki Andando has not just once, but several times, harmed you, perhaps that was not his intent but never the less he has done so. The last time he did this he brought you to the brink of death with a weapon he had no rights to possess and that is unforgivable.”
There was another long silence which again I broke. “So… you are an assassin?”
This time my uncle nodded. “It is sometimes part of what I am required to do.”
“And you are going to …uhm… really kill Jyrki?”
“That is the task I have accepted, yes.”
The room was still as I digested this piece of news then I said, “Well I guess, if Boba Fett were alive I could tell him not to worry about his promise to do that for me then.”
Uncle Vahlek turned away from the window to look at me. “Fett promised to deal with Jyrki for you?”
I nodded. “Ages ago, shortly before the Battle of Hoth actually.” Feeling a wave of sadness as I thought about him.
“What did you tell him when he offered?”
“That you had the situation well in hand.” I replied. “He wasn’t so convinced.”
That made my uncle smile, “No, I don’t suppose he would be.” Then he asked with a puzzled look. “What makes you think he is dead Lei’lei?”
I recounted the images of his fall into the Sarlacc pit that I had drawn off the lightsaber the Emperor had forced me to read shortly before the destruction of the second battle station at Endor. When I was done my Uncle nodded and then looked smug. “Well, it would appear that you saw only half of the truth because Fett is still alive, at least he was the last time I ran into him.”
My jaw dropped open. “Alive? Boba’s alive?”
My uncle nodded. “Apparently the sarlacc did not find him all that appetizing; at least this is what Fett told me when I asked about the rumour of his demise.”
I sat back against the couch and felt a sense of wonder wash over me. Fett was still alive. He hadn’t died as I had thought. It was a tiny piece of good news in what had otherwise been a terrible day. I felt as though I had found a small piece of my family again and the relief made me weep. My tear s did not go unnoticed.
“I had not realised you and Fett were close.” My uncle spoke gently. “I would have told you sooner, were that the case.”
“Not so sure I would call it close, but he was a part of my life, Zte’sa. He helped me a lot when I was working at Jabba’s. He said he didn’t like seeing Kit’gar’s girl working for the Hutt in the way I was. He said it made him worry that papa would not give repairing his ship his full attention.”
My uncle smiled ever so slightly. “Lei’lei, you do pick up the most unlikeliest of friends and allies. Rest assured, Fett is very much alive.”
There was a moment of silence and then I asked, puzzled. “Zte’sa, if you are so good at what you do then why is Jyrki still alive?”
Uncle Vahlek gave me one of those rare smiles, similar to the smiles that Thrawn would occasionally give when I had solved a particularly intricate piece of palace intrigue all by myself. He sighed as he replied. “Because he is also very good at what he does.” He said. “He has had some Anzat stealth training, among others, and he is a Jedi or as near a thing to a Jedi as one might find these days. His skills at evasion are remarkable and while I have come close on several occasions, I have yet to actually make my mark.”
“But if you do catch him how could you kill him, he might be your son, you told me that yourself.”
Uncle Vahlek gave me a smile which was undecipherable. “Perhaps that is so but I did not watch him grow up from a baby to adulthood. I never shared his world the way I have shared and known yours. If he were to be my biological son that is all it would be, biology. There is no bond there Lei’lei, not in the way I am bound to you. It was I who found you on that transport ship that day, I who held you first and loved you from the moment I laid eyes on you.”
I bit my lip but he continued before I could say anything.
“It is not in the way for the Tze’yusha’Jin to marry and have families but by the grace of some greater working I was granted one through my connection to you and the people, my friends, who became your parents.” He paused to look out of the window again and then continued, “You were special little Lei’lei, we all felt it, we all knew it from the very first time we saw you and that has never changed. You have faced insurmountable challenges that would have destroyed or killed most people. You survived these terrible events and held on to the light and the laughter in your heart that you had as a child. While your world has shattered around you, you remained the same, full of compassion, trust and love. You are remarkable and after what I watched you do for your friend yesterday I have never been more proud to know you and be a part of your life than I am at this moment. So I ask you, how could I choose Jyrki Andando, a man who has proven himself to be capable of cruelty and malice, a man I barely know and, to be honest, now dislike over you? Even if he were my son, he is not my family, you are.”
It was probably one of the longest speeches my uncle had ever given on this subject and I had no idea how to respond to it. I was struck by the utter honesty in his words and the deep sense of love that surrounded them. It was such a vast thing that I felt tiny against it. I never thought about or even tried to understand my place in other people’s lives. I was just me and it never occurred to me that other people might feel differently or that I actually made a difference to them in a way that was good. Kerrjan had tried to tell me this when he had explained why Navaari worried so much but I did not comprehend it fully then or now.
My uncle took my silence as leave to say more. “We thought, when we heard the news about Endor, that you were dead. It was a terrible time for the galaxy but for your family it was beyond all imagining. Your father was devastated.” He explained. “It was easily two months before we got word that you were alive. Thrawn sent a courier, a man named Behl, with a very detailed letter about what had happened and this news was a gift beyond hope.” He drew a deep breath and I watched him struggle with the emotions these memories brought back. “Suddenly the black hole which had swallowed the light in your family vanished and we were whole again. I think that the courier must know you quite well because he spoke about you as though you were friends. He seemed surprised though, at being treated as a hero and one of the family.”
I smiled. “I don’t know if Jarack and I know each other so well but I hope I can call him a friend, he has been playing postman for Thrawn and me for years now.”
My uncle nodded. “This was how I kept in touch with Thrawn while you were finding your way back, through correspondence delivered by his courier.” He nodded, “Thrawn has a very elegant way of communicating, his skills with Basic are astonishing and his knowledge of other languages is vast, isn’t it?” He added as an after thought.
I nodded. “He’s brilliant.” I agreed which made my uncle smile.
“We were kept appraised of your condition which never seemed to change. Then, nearly a year later, Thrawn came, in person, to tell me that you were not only awake and out of that terrible death-sleep but that you were very much alive and recovering on a planet called Hjal and that the Dantassi were looking after you. I have never been ….”
“Wait,” I interrupted, “Thrawn came to Tatooine?”
Uncle Vahlek nodded. “He wanted to let your family know in person what had happened to you and what he was doing about it.”
I shook my head. “He never said anything about this to me.”
My uncle gave a slight shrug. “Your Ta’kasta’cariad is a man full of many layers and many secrets, Lei’lei. Perhaps he felt this piece of information was not important for you to know. I got the distinct impression he wished to see me in person again as well as your father. While he never mentioned how close your relationship had become, he hinted in its direction.” He said.
“I don’t know why he would do that. We were not speaking to each other at that pointing time.” I mumbled.
“He was hurt beyond belief by what had happened to you although he hid it very well.” Replied my uncle.
“Hurt?” I asked shaking my head, interrupting, “More like he was angry.” I countered.
“He almost lost you.” My uncle explained. “Grief does odd things to men such as he and as I understand it showing emotion does not come easily to him or his people.”
I made a face, nodded and then let it go. No point in rehashing this old discussion. I could no more go back and undo my mistake than I could bring back Cati to life.
My uncle gave me a small smile. “He arranged a meeting with me and your father and came to Mos Espa.”
“I am surprised he would risk coming into the Core like that.”
“He arrived heavily disguised in Dantassi clothing.”
“Then how did you know it was him?”
The corner of my uncle’s lip twitched. “The Dantassi wear their histories written on their mask. His mask and yours share several of the same symbols, it was easy to make the connection and the Dantassi are rare, especially these days.” It was a half truth and I gave my uncle a look which told him I knew this. He replied. “I knew who it was the moment our eyes met, Lei’lei. We have met before, remember.”
“So you took him to the house near WayFar?”
“It was the safest, most secure place to talk.” My uncle nodded. “He had asked for our discretion in the matter because not only was his life at risk but also yours and ours. The fact that he was willing to come at all in person to deliver the news of your recovery told me all I wanted to ever know about this man and his place in your life.”
“Is that why you weren’t very surprised by my news about him and me still being together and that we had been bound officially, well as official as it gets with him?”
He nodded. “It was not difficult to read his affection for you despite his anger and frustration at the situation you had managed to get yourself into. I don’t have to be a genius to know when someone cares deeply for you. I certainly didn’t need to be a genius to gauge your reaction when I brought the subject up on Corellia. You do not hide your affections for him well at all.” He smiled.
“So what exactly did you and he talk about?” I asked changing the subject and tentatively digging.
My question amused him. “Only the essentials, his time on Tatooine was very limited and he did not stay long. About you he would only give the medical facts and the story behind what had happened to you, as much as he knew. He is not a man to speak openly about his private affairs Lei’lei, and you should know that.” I made a face but he continued before I could protest, “He wanted us to know you were safe and that you needed time to recover in a place that was out of harm’s way. It was a noble gesture which spoke volumes about his character. He requested that neither of us tell you we had spoken to him; he felt it would only serve to fuel your anger at him at the time. Your father was less understanding about the situation and wanted to come out to be with you but in the end Thrawn’s logic was undeniable, especially given that it was not safe for you to come home at all.”
“Papa would not have been welcome on Hjal. That would have been difficult for all of us.”
“Yes, this is what Thrawn said as well. I was able to get your father to back down but he wasn’t happy. It was good that you wrote, hearing from you yourself helped him.”
I nodded wondering how this tied in with Jyrki but my uncle was one step ahead of me, as usual.
“Anyway, the point I was trying to make before we got sidetracked was this; I thought you had died. For two months we could get no information what so ever from the
There was coldness in the last few words my Uncle uttered that made me shiver. I almost felt sorry for Jyrki, but not quite, though I wasn’t certain I wanted him to die and I sure as hell wasn’t certain that I wanted my Uncle to kill him. There had been enough death in my life and I didn’t need more. What I really needed was peace and quiet.
I suppose some of these thoughts were as plain as day on my face and Uncle Vahlek relented some in his manner. “Jyrki Andando is no longer your concern and you should rest Lei’lei, you look exhausted.”
I shook my head. “Not really.” I said and it was oddly true. I would crash hard later on but in this moment as I sat in Thrawn’s living room with my uncle watching the morning’s light slowly illuminate the world around us I felt calm, though I half suspected it was more a dull numbness rather than peace of mind.
“Good enough,” He said heading for the kitchen, “I suppose you’ll have no objections if I make some ‘caf then?”
I looked up at him. Uncle Vahlek’s fierce love and powerful presence were like the Dantassi blanket I had wrapped about my shoulders, warm and comforting. I never wanted to lose this sensation. He waited for me to answer him so I did. “None at all, if you make enough for me as well.”
“I think that can be arranged.” He said with a little smile and left me to my own thoughts while he pottered around in the kitchen. I watched the dawn’s colours paint across the sky and my heart ached with loss but I took some small comfort in the fact that I was not alone and felt lucky that this was the case.