Kellaro was floored, almost literally, as he opened the bill. He started gesticulatingat it wordlessly, as the Sullustan mechanic pulled off his oily gloves and then just looked at him with a raised brow.
“I can’t afford this,” Kellaro finally stuttered out.
“It’s an old and rare ship,” the mechanic answered. “You think those parts come cheap?”
“Well no, but…” Kellaro worked his jaw wordlessly a minute. “…would you take a loan?”
The mechanic sucked in his lips, a sign of Sullustan displeasure, and Kellaro’s heart sank, but then the alien went on, “Your father’s been a solid customer for years. I’ll accept a loan–”
“Oh thank goodness !”
“On one condition. It stays on my showroom floor.”
“It’s either that or I have the authorities impound it,” the Sullustan said with an angry flutter of his lips. “With a debt like that, I should anyway! At least this way I’m still getting some money coming in. Everyone loves a Mantis, and this one has authentic Mando sigils on it to boot.”
Kellaro felt queasy at the thought of complete strangers ogling the heirloom ship, running their hands over its plating, tromping through its interior… but he couldn’t argue that it was a better idea for the Imperials to confiscate it and put him in debtor’s prison.
“Okay,” he said brokenly. “I’ll just get my things out from inside it… you’ll have the money soon.”
“Hey,” said the mechanic suddenly showing sympathy — of a sort. “How is your old man doing anyway? He knows I would never cheat a Lok’kar, but you have to understand that I’ve got to eat, too.”
“He’s dead,” Kellaro said woodenly. “That’s why I’m in this mess to begin with.”
He turned on his toe, brushing his hand across the nose of the ship, the hand-prints there — including Brant’s small print, made back when he had still been a child and living with them, back before things got so bad. As the Sullustan watched suspiciously, Kellaro leaned up against the ship.
“We’ll be back for you,” he whispered to it. “I promise.”
Then he lifted his bag over his shoulder, and walked from the hangar with its bright, sterilizing lights, out into the dreary Dromund Kaas rain.
“Please, vod. It’s only for a few days…” Kellaro’s face was fixed, dignified. He would not beg. Brant grimly recognized the Mandalorian’s struggle to maintain dignity, as it was one he had fought himself many times before. He gave his brother props for that much, at least.
“A few days, only, then,” Brant said. “Then I’m turning you out, whether or not you’re ready to go.”
Kellaro set his little sister down in the room she and he were to share for the next few days. It was small and unfurnished, but it had a good view of the city past the giant windows on one side.
“When are we gonna see Brant?” asked Makkia. The Sith Lord had been absent when Kellaro had stumbled into the apartment that night, wet through and Makkia shivering. Even Brant’s anoobas hadn’t come out to greet them, though Kellaro still felt as if several sets of eyes had been watching him from dark corners as he got himself and his sister situated in their room.
“Soon, I’m sure,” said Kellaro in response to the question, even though privately he doubted it. Internally, he was resolving to not let Makkia go running around unattended in this creepy place anyway.
“Mom always said he looked just like you,” said Makkia sleepily as Kellaro got her cot set up by the window. “When’s she coming back, anyway?”
Kellaro paused; he still hadn’t found a way to answer that question honestly. “I will let you know, little vod,” he said. “Now go to sleep.”
“We’ll have breakfast with Brant tomorrow ?” the child asked with a yawn.
“Maybe,” said Kellaro, and gave her a kiss on the forehead. “Now go to sleep…”
Breakfast the next morning was on the go, though. Kellaro has set up several appointments with different potential crew members, but as Siikaris was out on his own business, and Brant hadn’t returned, Kellaro had to bring Makkia with him.
It proved to be a disaster. Not because Makkia behaved badly — though the Ithorian didn’t seem to approve of the comments made about his “saddle for a head” — but because each of the potentials balked at the idea of a child being aboard a serious bounty hunter’s ship. Some simply didn’t like children, but a few lambasted Kellaro for his irresponsibility:
“And where is her mother?” asked one.
“I–she’s not mine–”
“Bringing kids around cantinas and all the dodgy places in this city?” said another in disgust. “You’re traumatizing her by letting her see such things at her age!”
“I’ll leave her on the ship in between–”
“She’s not going to go through my belongings, is she? With those snotty, sticky fingers–”
“No, no, she’s very well behaved–”
“How is a child supposed to keep up with us on the hunt?”
“She won’t be–”
“Are you training her to be a dancing girl?”
“No!” Kellaro finally shouted and walked out on that interview with a scowl. But on and on it went…
At last, he returned to the apartment at the end of a long day. Makkia was complaining about being hungry, and Kellaro scrounged up something in the apartment’s kitchen, almost falling asleep as he watched Makkia pick apart the makeshift sandwich he had put together for her. He didn’t eat a bite himself, feeling too queasy. What would he do if he couldn’t find any other crew mates?
Makkia was in bed by the time Brant finally came home. The Sith entered their room without knocking, staring at them both with yellow eyes out from under a black hood.
“I really wish you wouldn’t do that,” said Kellaro wearily. “If she woke up now and saw you, she’d have nightmares.”
Brant ignored him. “No luck on finding a crew?”
“No,” said Kellaro.
Brant stared intensely at the sleeping child. “Leave her with me tomorrow.”
“Oh, that okay,” said Kellaro, suddenly wide awake and stuttering, “I can take her, it’s no trouble, really–” He didn’t say aloud his misgivings: brother or not, he did not want to trust a Sith with his sister.
“Your negotiations will go better when you are not distracted,” said Brant coolly. “And the better they go, the sooner you can both be out of here.”
“And you won’t be sorry to see us go, will you?” snapped Kellaro.
Brant turned to stare at him, and Kellaro deflated.
“I’m sorry. Look, I’m tired–”
“You are safer away from me,” said Brant, cutting him off. “If my babysitting her gets you out of here faster, then that is what must be done.” He departed without another word.
“Are you really sure?”
“Yes,” said Brant, holding onto his temper, just barely, as Kellaro bobbed and worried at the door.
“When she wakes, be sure to make sure she goes potty right away. She’s been having accidents, ever since — well, I think it’s anxiety–”
“It’ll be fine.”
“And she usually doesn’t eat much at breakfast. That’s why I give her a snack–”
“It’ll be fine.”
“And make sure her afternoon nap isn’t too long, or she’ll be up all night–”
“And then–” Kellaro broke off at the unexpected use of the Mando’a word. “What did you just call me?”
“Vod, I’m sure it’ll be fine,” said Brant quietly. “You worry needlessly. Did you even sleep?”
“Yes,” said Kellaro defiantly, though it wasn’t true. “Look, Brant… About our parents? She doesn’t know.”
“And why not?” said Brant coldly.
“I–how do you even break something like that to a kid? Look, remember how you took it when Dad went down to the Zakuulians…?”
“That’s because I knew he wasn’t really dead.”
“Well, yes, but in this case–”
“Tell her the truth,” said Brant impatiently, then, in sympathy when Kellaro faltered, “I will start the conversation if you wish.”
“It should really be me to tell her–”
“I was the one who saw them die, Kellaro.”
That silenced his brother abruptly. Only the ever-present rain could be heard then, beating on the windows.
“Go,” said Brant after a long stretch. “Stop thinking so much, and do something. You always thought way too much, ori’vod,” he added, almost kindly.
“Only since my world turned upside down,” said Kellaro shortly, not appreciating the pity, as he shouldered his daypack.
“That’s what I meant,” said Brant, closing the door behind him.
The interviews did not go much better this time, but without the constant worry for his little sister, Kellaro’s head was clearer at least, and he could think more fully on the problem at hand. He didn’t really want to sign on with just any crew that was available: his sister would be growing up with whoever it was, and he wanted to be sure they would be a good influence on her. Of course, it could take months before such a trust could be built, and Kellaro knew Brant would refuse to house them for that long.
No, he was better off buying a cheaper ship, as much as it stung him, until he could work up either the credits or the connections to buy back the Mantis… With a heavy heart, he turned back towards the hangars, running over in his head the bare minimum specs he would need to house both himself and Siikaris.
Meanwhile, back at the apartment, Brant quietly pushed open the door to his little sister’s room, rather than let the noisy automatic mechanism wake her. She was sleeping in, as Kellaro had said she would; it was the first time Brant would lay eyes on her, and he preferred to have plenty of privacy to process what he saw.
Like the twins, she took after their mother more than their father, her skin and hair dark, face round, with small etched eyebrows instead of the thick ones Kyolath had sported. That resemblance stung him, and Brant leaned heavily against the doorframe as confused feelings swarmed his mind. The old anger was there, but also, suddenly, loss and guilt. He quietly shut the door again and went to meditate before he child could wake.
When Kellaro made it back, all was quiet, and Kellaro wasn’t sure if this was a good thing or not. He couldn’t find Makkia at first, only one of the anoobas chewing on a bone, and he almost shot the creature until he realized the bone was much too thick to be Makkia’s…
He eventually found his siblings together in Brant’s training room. Multiple pictures lay strewn on the floor, colored with wax pencils. Brant lay on the floor too, looking moderately perplexed, as Makkia lay beside him and occasionally put her latest masterpiece in his face and demanded a critique on it.
It was so normal that Kellaro almost fainted with relief. As it was, he didn’t want to disturb them, knowing how fragile such moments must be for a Sith. Oh, how he remembered such sessions sitting with his brother on the old Mantis, back to back, when they were kids — albeit, just as often tinkering with electronics as they were drawing with wax pencils…
Brant acknowledged Kellaro with a nod, but Makkia still did not notice for several more minutes. When she did, she immediately grabbed up a picture and trotted it over to him. Four stick figures, one small, were crowded around a green and gray blob that Kellaro could only guess was the Mantis. Two more stick figures stood on either side of it, one wearing a black dress or robe, and the other in a comically big Mandalorian helmet. “Alit” was written beneath, misspelled, although the intent was clear.
Kellaro made the appropriate amount of oohs and aahs, then looked up at Brant to see what he thought of it. But Brant wasn’t looking at him, instead surveying the clutter of papers all around as if he couldn’t remember how they had all gotten there to begin with.
To save him from his growing frustration, Kellaro distracted Makkia. “Have you eaten?” he asked.
“Time for bed then, don’t you think?”
Makkia didn’t want to go, but Kellaro convinced her by telling her to pick her favorite drawing to take up to bed with her. This turned out to be the “Alit” drawing, which had somehow found its way into Brant’s hands. The Sith gave it to her, not speaking or even smiling, but Makkia gave him a kiss on the forehead and a happy wave before disappearing upstairs.
Carefully, quietly, Kellaro then sat down next to Brant, as the Lord finally began clearing away the papers, setting fire to the ones that were just scribbles with a flame on the tip of his finger.
“We’ll be leaving tomorrow, vod,” said Kellaro finally.
“I see,” said Brant.
Kellaro watched him a few moments more, not commenting as more pictures went up in flames, even though it strained him. “Thank you for watching her, by the way.”
“My pleasure,” said Brant, but he said it with the careful tone of courtesy rather than sincerity.
“Look, can we talk?” Kellaro asked.
Brant slowly raised his head, yellowed eyes glinting even as another picture burned. “I have nothing to say to you.”
“Well, I do,” said Kellaro, saving one of the drawings from the endangered pile. This one was a tan circle with five legs that might’ve been a fat anooba. Kellaro held it out to Brant pointedly.
Brant only sighed heavily, but he did put down another drawing without turning it into ashes. “Well, I won’t stop you. What is it?”
“Thanks. I guess.” Despite his insistence to have the talk, it took another long moment for words to come to Kellaro. “I never really got over you leaving, you know…”
Brant eyed him, emotionless, but Kellaro liked to think it was just a mask the Sith wore. And in face of the silence, he starting pouring out his heart. Several times he thought maybe it would be wise to stop, but he kept reminding himself stubbornly that this was his brother. They had been best friends, once; he would listen to Kellaro. He had to.
“You didn’t sleep after all,” Brant remarked after the flood had slowed to a trickle.
“I didn’t,” Kellaro confirmed.
Brant picked up another picture. He couldn’t tell by the color of the armor, but he thought it was a drawing of their father hunting a monster, perhaps a nexu or narglatch. “You can sleep now,” Brant said softly.
“No,” Kellaro grunted. “I have to watch over Makkia…”
“I can see her from here,” said Brant. “With the Force,” he added in exasperation when Kellaro gave him a funny look. “I will watch over her… and over you.”
Kellaro stared at him, but Brant had turned away by then, expression impossible to see let alone read at this angle. Yet he still clutched the wax pencil drawing, and Kellaro saw that at least some small sliver of his brother had survived the Sith indoctrination.
But how much? he wondered. And for how long?
“You were, and are, loved,” Kellaro said softly, as Brant stepped up front of the rain-streaked window: a view of a dark skyline marked by his darker silhouette.
“I know,” his brother said.
“Why do you keep running from us, then?” Kellaro pressed.
Brant looked down at the drawing. “Because… there are terrible things that exist in this galaxy, Kellaro, and I… am one of them.”
Kellaro frowned, looking down to the drawing Brant held. “Look, I’m not Dad,” he said. “I can’t give advice like he did, but I’m not going to believe that’s all that’s in store for you.”
“Would you still say that if you knew the truth?” Brant mused.
“What truth?” Kellaro demanded.
Brant shook his head, gazing back out the window.
“Dad did a lot of terrible things in his life, too,” said Kellaro finally. “Maybe you didn’t know. He only said something about it when I was older. That is not the point, though. If he can come back from something like that, then so can you.”
Brant turned on him sharply. “Something like what?”
“Nuh uh,” said Kellaro, crossing his arms, thinking he’d gotten to Brant at last. “Your secret for his, or I’m saying nothing more.”
But against all expectations, Brant only turned back to the window with an exasperated sigh. “My secret is not worth that, vod.”
Kellaro dropped his arms, defeated. “Well, maybe one day the curiosity will kill you enough to know!” he taunted.
“You shouldn’t say that,” growled Brant. “You don’t know what a Sith would do to avoid death.”
“If that was a joke, it was a piss-poor one,” muttered Kellaro.
Brant said nothing, and Kellaro wanted to continue needling him in hopes of drawing more out, but a yawn stole his next words. His tired eyes felt like sandpaper.
“Go to sleep,” said Brant softly.
“Yeah, sleep,” said Kellaro muzzily. “Don’t stay up all night watching over us… ori’vod.”
He brushed his hand over Brant’s shoulder, but Brant said nothing, only held and looked down at the drawing.