Jyn decided she liked Takodana almost the minute she set foot on the planet. They had landed near Maz Kanata’s domain, in a region covered in woods and numerous lakes and streams brimming with fishes, with a mild weather and right now, a soft breeze cooling the air. Had they not been on a mission, she would have gladly considered the place for some well-deserved holidays. But for now, they had to meet and negotiate with the local boss. Mon Mothma had told Jyn that Maz had retired from piracy a long time ago, even before the Empire was created, and was more a sort of wise adviser and philosopher than anything else, though the old lady could bargain as harshly as any smuggler.
The castle mentioned during the briefing had been built on the shore of a lake and cut a rather impressive figure with its towers and curtain walls. Wide stairs led to an arched entrance opening on a courtyard decorated with dozens of flags and banners… and a statue of a short-legged non-human with a large head and beady eyes, and at least half a dozen necklaces hanging on her chest.
“That’s Maz,” Cassian pointed out, nodding to the statue.
“I wonder about the size of her ego...” Jyn mumbled as they crossed the courtyard towards the main doors.
They were on a lucky day: few people loitered inside, perhaps eight or ten sentients of various species sitting around a game of cards or a cup of… probably something alcoholic. Jyn quickly scanned the room, searching for anyone remotely looking like the sculpture outside. She had just forgotten that stone portraits did not take color into account, so she was quite surprised when she discovered that Maz Kanata a) was orange and b) barely reached Jyn’s waist.
“Welcome to my humble dwelling, young lady,” Maz greeted. “I assume that this fetching fellow over there is your companion?”
“Yes… yes he is,” Jyn stammered. “I do hope we’re not disturbing you.”
“Nonsense! I’m over a thousand, but seeing new faces never gets old! Now tell me, what can an ancient woman like me do for you?”
Her extravagant manners brought a smile on Cassian’s face, before he grew serious again.
“As you can guess, we are not here for a drink, but for business. The Alliance may need your help, not to smuggle anything, but rather to bring relief to war orphans.”
Maz’ eyes widened behind her glasses.
“Well… I was certainly not expecting that. Come on, take a seat and I’ll bring some tea. A dry throat never leads to profitable discussions.”
Jyn had to grant her that, the tea was excellent, as well as the tiny cakes that came with it.
“So, explain your project, will you?”
“We… would like to open a safe house of sorts, that could host children and adolescents that were either orphaned or abandoned during the war. Among all the planets that were not affected by the conflict, this one seemed the most promising. No pollution, no spatioport of poor reputation, a peaceful environment… Unless you have a better suggestion, of course,” Jyn replied.
“I wouldn’t mind children visiting from time to time. But you will have to start almost from scratch,” Maz warned them. The closest we have to a suitable house needs heavy repairs.”
“And that’s where we would need your help. You know that the Alliance is a bit short on funds, so if you could… arrange something with your friends and clients, we would be immensely grateful.”
Maz nodded, a smile deepening the crinkles around her eyes, and Jyn let out a little breath of relief.
“I can do that,” the tiny woman assured. “I can even rope some of my most trusted friends into helping you repair the house.”
Cassian was not expecting such generosity and he thanked her with genuine gratitude. Of course the old pirate would ask for something in return, but he had a feeling that her price would be moderate, this time.
Maz invited them to stay for a few days, so she could call in some favors and Mon Mothma granted them a short leave to evaluate the state of the house and begin the most urgent repairs.
The place was not as damaged as they had feared first. It might have been abandoned a decade prior, perhaps, but the walls and basement were sounds, the roof only had a handful of tiles missing and the stairs supported their weight without creaking. However, the pipes and drains would have to be replaced, and the plumbing needed a serious revision. Then they would have to buy paint for the inside walls, new furniture, and everything children could require. Surprisingly, the kitchenware was both intact and complete, with some ustensils that belonged in high-class establishments. According to Maz, the unfortunate owner had tried to create a hotel for wealthy hikers but he had failed to attract enough clients and had been forced to sell the place to Maz in order to repay his debts. The planet was probably too far from the main space lines to receive many – legal – visitors, Maz lamenting the fact she had missed a beautiful opportunity to get more clients for her inn/bar/concert room (insert any other description you can imagine).
“You any good with house building?” Cassian asked Jyn as she stared at the house with an almost hungry expression.
“Everything electric. I’m also good with dusting. You?”
“I can move some furniture around. I can also paint.”
She did not reply, as she began drawing a quick map of the place, already considering where they would live and where the children would be settled. Cassian thought, with a thank to the Force and every single deity he knew, that she had finally found a task demanding enough that her nightmares would leave her alone.
Cassian went back to Chandrila alone, which did not really surprise Mon Monthma. She had always known that Jyn was definitely not cut for a desk job. When the Captain showed her their newest acquisition, her first question was ‘How much?’ Cassian gave her a rough estimation of the cost of repairs and new furniture, and calculated that, with a team of about a dozen people, they could have completely refurbished the place within three months.
“Given the size of the building, I don’t think we could take more than thirty children,” he concluded, “but we hope they won’t remain there permanently and that they will either be adopted or taken back by relatives.”
“It’s a start. If your experiment works, perhaps it will prompt others to imitate you.”
That might have been wishful thinking, but one could only hope.
Cassian came back to Takodana with more workers than he had expected. News of Jyn’s pet project had spread and many people had volunteered to help. Cassian had to borrow a small shuttle to take this unexpected work team back with him but the smile on Jyn’s face when she saw all of them was worth spending some hours haggling with the Supply Office.
They started with the gutters and roof on the following day, Maz bringing some acquaintances of her own to give them a hand. Jyn wanted to have something sturdy above her head before they began working inside, though some of the least experienced workers went into the rooms of the first floor to scrub the old paint of the wall and clean the slabs in the kitchen. Cassian had to admit the place was spotless after they were done with it.
The roof was finished after five days of continuous work, as they had discovered that some of the slates covering it were more damaged than estimated, and should be replaced.
By the end of their first week, they had gathered a considerable amount of bruises and blisters, not to mention several accidents involving thumbs and hammers, but the repairs progressed as scheduled and soon they were able to stay into the house rather than under tents, and clean the rubble and old, rotten furniture that still cluttered the rooms. There were also discussions regarding the decoration of the children's bedrooms and dormitories, and Cassian was surprised to see how much of themselves his colleagues could project into it. Some of them had been parted from their own family for years now and craved for any semblance of normality.
Maz paid them regular visits, curious to see how they would transform the house... and also to check that her funds and supplies were used as agreed and not channeled to the Alliance troops instead. Somehow, Cassian did not want to know what kind of hell the old pirate could raise if they tried to trick her. There were some rumors that she was Force-sensitive, after all.
For several weeks they were more or less cut from the rest of the world, a welcome reprieve from the horrors they had all witnessed. The war was still going on outside the Takodana system but its noise did not reach them there. One could almost believe peace had already been achieved.
And then one day, as they were almost done with the repairs and were now looking for enough beds, chairs and tables for about thirty children, they received the news they had all been hoping for.
One last battle to end the war, over the desert world of Jakku, the Empire’s last stand broken and defeated, after two decades of struggle. Cassian could scarcely believe it. Suddenly he understood Jyn’s anxiety better: he had known nothing but battlefields and the life of a spy for most of his life; how was he going to adapt to a normal existence? He would have to evaluate his skills in order to find what could apply to a civilian life, unlearn some of the most dangerous reflexes he had accumulated over the years… The prospect made him dizzy, as if he was going to lose a part of his identity now that the Alliance had won. Perhaps Jyn was right, and he should immerse himself into an equally demanding task to avoid over-thinking his situation too much.
He got to test this hypothesis soon after, when the Alliance delivered on Takodana their first share of orphans, a dozen children from four to eleven years old. Maz insisted to be present when they arrived, to let them know their new home was not completely isolated in the middle of nowhere.
They arrived during an afternoon with small travel bags, huddled together and casting quick, nervous glances around them. Cassian did his best to smile and look non-threatening, though he could feel a lump in his throat when he welcomed them, as they uncomfortably reminded him of himself around the same age. Seeing his uniform, the children seem to consider he was somewhat trustworthy and they replied shyly to his greeting, some of the oldest kids even reaching to shake his hand.
“What’s going to happen to us?” a girl asked, apparently chosen by the others to be their representative. “How long will we remain here?”
“Until we can contact your closest relatives, or a family wishing to adopt you,” Cassian explained. “Meanwhile you will live here as normally as possible: you will eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, have some lessons, play around the house… There’s no military presence on Takodana so you will be safe here.”
“And if stormtroopers attack the planet?” the same girl demanded.
“All the adults here have a lot of experience fighting troopers,” he admitted, “unfortunately. We’ll do our best to keep all of you alive, healthy, and safe.”
“That will do,” she concluded with a firm nod.
They followed him inside, where Jyn and three members of the Alliance that had chosen to remain as assistants greeted them.
“You want to see your rooms first, or we visit the house?” Jyn asked.
A chorus of “Rooms!” answered her and she signaled them to climb the stairs, turning to send a smile and a quick eye roll to Cassian as she went after them. Soon he heard her voice drifting from upstairs, warning the children off the adults’ bedrooms, commenting on the landscape they could see from their windows, and the echoes of a quarrel between two children who wanted the same room. Cassian felt a smile slowly stretch his lips. It would not be easy, his old demons would still be lurking in the shadows, but he knew he was going to enjoy this.