Warning: contains a character I know mainly by osmosis – I simply fell in love with the concept of someone being impertinent enough to call Lord Vader 'Uncle D' and get away with it! If I created some OOCness, please point it out and I'll try to correct it.

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer, the saying goes. What then, of those persons who worm their way into our innermost hearts – are they enemies or friends?

"Morning, Uncle D, how are…ugh. Now's a bad time, got it. I'll be back later, no problem."

Oo oo oo oo oo oO

In his line of work, he regularly ran across the obnoxious sort of people who greeted everyone by thumping them heartily on the back – those he could deal with. In fact, he took great pleasure in thumping them right back, and Gunnery Sergeant (DD) Jixton Wrenga had not been Unarmed Combat champion in the Imperial Forces annual inter-branch competition three years running for nothing. They rarely tried it twice.

Then, there were the even more irritating people greeting everyone with a hug and a peck on the cheek – irritating mostly because there were so few attractive young females among them.

There was only one person, though, he had met so far, who would wrap incorporeal fingers around his throat, as soon as he came into view, and kept them there for the duration of the stay – or as Jix had put it, "Uncle D, you're the only one I know, who greets people with a hug and stays hugging them until they are out of the door again."

The immaterial grip had tightened significantly, after that.

"Have you ever heard the expression 'at the end of one's tether', Jixton?" Lord Vader had growled back.

"Consider this," a black-gauntleted gesture towards the constricted throat, "the other end of the tether. So you better refrain from pushing me any further."

Jix wouldn't have been a good Corellian if he hadn't taken up the challenge. Ever since he had adopted the hulking Sithlord, he had done what every good nephew would have and made sure that the whole mask-and-swirly-cape shtick didn't go to his uncle's head. Would have been a real shame, if that nice gleamy helmet got stuck on a swollen ego, one day, wouldn't it? And if he was entirely honest about it – something Jix usually managed to avoid – he also felt a sort of perverse satisfaction in the fact that he surely held the all-time record for feeling his lordship's ghostly fingers grab his throat and still living to tell the tale about it.

Most of the time, the grip was not a very hard one, just a reminder of the edge he put the Sithlord on. But then there were days – like today – when he didn't get through a friendly greeting before the invisible chokehold threw him against the nearest bulkhead. Those days, he had learned painfully, you better weathered the storm elsewhere.

Oo oo oo oo oo oO

Once he was safely outside the suite of rooms, Jix took a moment to slouch against the door and massage his bruised throat, before he pushed himself back to his full height and turned towards the turbolift, intent on killing some time in the nearest mess. People who only saw the boisterous thug never suspected a connection with the Empire, since the long-haired ruffian looked so utterly un-Imperial; but with the pony-tail carefully tucked beneath a uniform cap, the former combat trainer could move about unsuspected in pretty much any Imperial military installation, because he knew exactly how to talk, walk and otherwise behave like their rightful inhabitants.

Jix still wasn't sure, however, what to make of the fact that Vader had given him a Master Sergeant's uniform to wear, in case his agent needed to meet him in person, while the Sithlord was busy as Supreme Commander of the Imperial Forces – one rank above the one Jix had held before his court-martial.

Mulling over this puzzle, once again, he nearly walked into the Navy guy – full captain, Vader's best agent noted absently – coming the other way, when the lift arrived. Old habits, carefully revived for the sake of camouflage, made him step aside for the officer and the other man would have passed him with barely a glance. And yet…There wasn't much on this floor that an officer this high in rank would be coming for, and some latent esprit de corps – not towards the Empire as such, merely commiseration with another damn fool working for the same mercurial boss – made him issue a warning.

"Uh, sir, I wouldn't go in there, right now. He's in a bad mood today."

Hazel eyes looked him down with a hint of condescension – or would have, if the captain hadn't been so much shorter than the tall Corellian.

"Sergeant," the man said, in the no-nonsense, yet reassuring tone, the former combat instructor might have used, back in the day, to talk down a green recruit turned skittish by the noise and smell and general excitement of his first live fire exercise, before somebody got hurt, "if his lordship truly was 'in a bad mood', as you put it, we would not be having this conversation. Instead, a maintenance droid would have been sent for, to clean up the mess."

Your funeral, pal, Jix thought, somewhat stung, as he considered himself to have outgrown the need for such reassurances decades ago.

"Yessir", he said aloud.

While he waited for the turbolift to return – he had missed it, thanks to his misguided impulse – the former instructor idly considered hijacking a maintenance droid and sending it into Lord Vader's quarters, just to freak out the patronizing captain. He decided against it: Uncle D might not see the humor in the situation, and being a stuffed shirt didn't warrant a death sentence on the first offence – which would automatically follow, if the man was still within reach when the Sithlord met a further provocation, right now.

The lift had just arrived, when the captain bounced off the wall opposite the entrance to Vader's suite of rooms, with enough force to crack bone. Jix's own bruised shoulder ached in sympathy. He watched the Navy man land awkwardly on his bent arms and knees and stay there, gasping and coughing desperately, and blocked the lift, with a sigh.

It was, of course, utterly unbecoming of a sergeant to tell a captain 'I told you so', so the Corellian didn't say so very loud, before he strode over pat the man down, with the professional casualness of a man who has seen – and caused – so many hard impacts on the mat (and various other surfaces), that he knows exactly what to look for. Skull, neck and upper spine – check; collar bone – check; shoulder joints – strangled moan and a flinch, but normal range of motion, bruised or sprained, at worst, no dislocation; ribcage – heavy flinch and a groan, but no unnatural give, couple of cracked ribs, just as predicted. He ignored half-choked croaks when he pulled the uninjured arm over his shoulder, to pick the slighter man off the floor, and half led, half carried him to the turbolift.

Really, what would Uncle D do without me, to tidy up after him, the bodies would just pile up on the floor, Jix groused silently, while sending the turbolift down to the medical deck. He pushed the still gasping man off the lift before the latter could protest against the manhandling – or thank the incognito agent for his assistance, Jix really didn't care for either – and sped off again, now finally headed for a drink.

Oo oo oo oo oo oO

Five hours and, incidentally, five maintenance droids shattered violently against an increasingly dented wall opposite his quarters later, Lord Vader had calmed to the point where the sixth droid was merely curtly commanded to collect the piled-up wreckage from the corridor outside. After it had deposited its load inside his study, it was sent away, but before the door could slide closed behind it, a familiar figure slipped through it.

Up to his elbows in bent metal, deftly realigning twisted droid parts, the Sithlord didn't even look up to wrap ghostly fingers around his agent's throat. "Your idea, I suppose, Jixton? Or an entirely coincidental outbreak of suicidal tendencies among the ship's droid contingent?"

The Corellian found himself a nice wall to lean against, watching with interest how scrap metal was steadily turning back into something useful. "Well, Uncle D, you can't expect me to make like a bouncy ball all day long, just to find out if your temper tantrum has blown over yet."

For a moment the grip tightened, until Jix could have sworn he could hear his vertebras creaking, before it went back to a mere reminder. "Ack! Still a touchy point, got it."

"But maintenance droids, Jixton? What was the point with that?"

The former combat instructor shrugged. "Actually, some guy suggested they might be necessary, to clean up the mess if you were in a bad mood – which he denied. Perhaps you know him, came by this morning, shortly after me, left in rather a hurry?

Like," he pointed towards the outward door, "flying droid-style hurry…"

"Captain Piett." The Sithlord's tone dripped menace.

"Ah!" Jix raised an admonishing finger, "No strangling of people, just because they think they know you better than your favorite nephew. That captain guy insisted on going to speak with you, even after I told him not to, because he seems to think you're not in a bad mood, yet, if people haven't ended as a smear on the wall, so far."

He grinned at his adopted uncle. "Been with you a while, huh?"

The Sithlord tinkered on, silently, for a few moments. "A while, yes. Having to replace him would be… unfortunate."

"Ha, I knew it! You like the stuffed shirt, Uncle D, I knew the moment I saw him clutching his throat but still breathing. You only give people your special hug if you really like them." Said 'hug' drew tighter again, but Jix went on, undeterred.

"No need to worry about him. I dropped him off at the med-deck, and when I checked through the files an hour ago" – if Sithlords would sigh, Lord Vader might have, at this blithe breach of security and patient confidentiality, but obviously they don't, and he didn't – "they had already taken care of a couple of cracked ribs and some internal bruising around the larynx. Tomorrow your captain will be as good as new."

Setting down some reassembled droid part with warning finality, the Sithlord changed the topic. "Jixton, why have you come here, in the first place?"

"Ah, yes, remember that Skywalker kid, you told me to keep an eye on? Well, he got himself into this scrape on Ralltiir…"

A/N: Jix was a sergeant before he was discharged dishonorably (DD) and sent to Kessel, but my sources are in disagreement if he held the rank of Gunnery Sergeant or Master Sergeant. I made him both, to cover my bases.