Lexa looked around, trying to pick out Aden in the mass of costumed kids swarming the sidewalks. She'd let him run ahead to the next house while she made a few surreptitious adjustments to her own costume. For once Halloween had decided not to be arctic, and she was wishing her costume had a few less layers and was made from something a little more breathable. But it looked great and made Aden happy, and that was what mattered.
"Mom! I mean Armorer! Look!"
Lexa tried to look down as Aden skidded to a stop at her feet, but her helmet hit her chest, making it difficult to get him in her incredibly limited field of vision. Finally she managed to find his face – or what would have been his face if it wasn't completely hidden by a mask.
"I have secured The Asset!"
Lexa didn't have to be able to see him to know he was beaming, and she crouched down to see him better, expecting him to hold out a coveted candy bar or some other childish treasure... no pun intended. He still had his stuffed Baby Yoda tucked in the messenger bag that was doubling as a candy collection device, and his hands were empty.
Or... no. One hand was clutching something, and when she turned her head the first thing she saw was a transport pod that was so screen accurate she didn't want to think about the number of hours that had gone into its construction. It had been built around a wagon, which contained...
Not The Child.
A child. In costume as The Child, but an actual living, breathing, human child who was peering around with wide blue eyes at everyone passing by, seemingly undisturbed by the fact that it had clearly been taken not from agents of the Empire, but its parents. Who would almost certainly be frantic when they realized it was gone.
"Mando!" he corrected immediately.
Lexa sucked in a breath and tried to let it out slowly. "Where did you secure The Asset from?" she asked, trying to keep the panic from her voice.
"Up there," Aden said, pointing. "I got my candy and you didn't catch up with me yet so I was waiting and then I saw it and I had to show you!"
Lexa wanted to facepalm. Needed to facepalm. Couldn't facepalm, because of the damn helmet.
He'd wanted to show her.
Like Mando and The Child, they were a clan of two. He was the center of her world, and she was the center of his. So of course he'd wanted to show her. He wanted to show her everything that excited him or that he was proud of.
He was smart as hell – too smart for his own good, she sometimes thought – but common sense was still a work in progress, and it hadn't occurred to him to bring her to the baby instead of the bringing the baby to her.
Or maybe it had and he'd dismissed the idea for reasons that followed 7-year-old logic, which was a slippery, oftentimes incomprehensible thing.
But that was a conversation for later.
"Okay," she said, even though it wasn't. "Let's go find the Child's people and return it, shall we?"
She'd turned her back for one second.
One second to figure out what Ethan and Hope – picture-perfect and screen-ready in their Luke and Leia get-ups – were fighting about now, and whether Octavia and Lincoln were going to do something about it or let them settle it between themselves.
When she turned back, she was plunged straight into her worst nightmare. Every mother's worst nightmare, really, but after a prolonged custody battle to keep her daughter from being stolen from her by a man she regretted ever giving the time of day to (much less having a child with), it was enough to send Clarke straight into a panic attack, fearing the worst.
But Madi wasn't going to answer. At just shy of 18 months old, she had only a handful of words, none of which she produced on demand. She certainly wasn't going to call out, "Don't worry, Mama! I'm right here!"
"Madi!" she shouted again, because what else was she supposed to do?
Raven turned. "What's wrong?" she asked.
"Where's Madi?" Clarke demanded. "Did you take her?" Maybe Raven had moved the wagon to show off her handiwork. She peered past her friend, as if she might be hiding her daughter from her, even though the wagon was too big to miss.
"No, I—" Raven looked too. "Maybe Lincoln or O—" She stopped and pointed. "There!" she said.
Clarke whipped around to look and saw The Armorer striding toward her, the handle of the wagon in one hand, the hand of a very small Mandalorian in the other, having to take one-and-a-half steps for every one of the woman's to keep up.
"I'm sorry," The Armorer said, as soon as she was within earshot. "I'm so—"
Clarke didn't hear her. She didn't care. She just pushed past and lifted Madi from the wagon, hugging her to her chest and hating the mask that kept her from pressing her face into her tiny neck, breathing her in, letting the soft warmth of her skin calm her nerves.
Madi laughed, leaning back and clapping her hands like this was the best, most exciting thing that had ever happened to her. Clarke let out a breath. She was fine.
"Mando!" the boy said.
"Mando, what do you have to say?" The Armorer asked.
"I'm really, really sorry I took the wagon without asking," Mini-Mando said. "I wanted to show Mo—The Armorer and I thought if I went back to get her you might be gone and—" He lifted his shoulders and let them drop with the biggest sigh Clarke had ever heard out of a body so small. "I did not make good choices."
And suddenly Clarke was glad of her mask, because it was a struggle not to smile. It was clear from his voice that he'd realized his mistake and she doubted very much he would ever make one like it again.
And Madi was okay. She was, in fact, reaching for the boy, flailing desperately in her attempt to get him – or more likely, the soft toy in his bag.
No harm done.
"I'm sure you'll make better ones next time," she said.
"I will!" he said, his head bobbing up and down so fast Clarke feared he might get dizzy. "I will, I promise! I promise, Mo—Armorer."
The Armorer's hand landed on his shoulder. "It's time to go home," she said.
"But—" Mando started to protest, but then his shoulders – his entire upper body – slumped, all the fight going out of him. He knew this was his punishment without his mom having to say it, and he had resigned himself to his fate.
"I'm sorry too," the Armorer said, looking at Clarke... probably. It was hard to tell when no one involved in the conversation had real faces. "I should have kept a better eye on him. We both learned an important lesson tonight."
Clarke nodded, not sure what else to do or say. She wasn't even mad, really. How could she be? It had been an honest mistake, and by tomorrow she would be laughing about it... maybe even tonight, when all the kids were in bed and the adults could enjoy their own treats.
"I really am sorry," Mando said, his voice thick with tears. It wasn't the whine of someone trying to get out of something they deserved; he was clearly upset as the gravity of the situation finally hit him just a little too late. He reached out and touched one of Madi's grasping hands with a gentle gloved finger. "Bye, Baby. You're with your people now." He turned and took his mom's hand again, feet dragging as he trudged away.
Madi squawked in protest, and Clarke knew what she had to do.
The Armorer and her little Mandalorian turned.
"Do you want to join us?"
Lexa blinked. Not that the grown-up Mandalorian standing in front of her, still holding The Child – her child – tight to her chest, could see it, and maybe it was better that way. She hadn't had any idea what the reaction would be when they returned the wagon and its contents to their rightful owner, but the last thing she'd expected was an invitation to join up with the fairly sizable group of characters that spanned the Star Wars universe, in which the adults seemed to outnumber the children. (But given what she'd just been through when she'd let Aden off unsupervised for less than five minutes, maybe they had the right idea there...) If someone had wandered off with Aden when he was that age...
She suppressed a shiver, but her fingers tightened around Aden's hand, and he tipped his mask up toward her. She didn't know if his forehead was furrowing in concern, or if he was making puppy dog eyes at her, silently begging for a reprieve from the sentence she'd handed down.
But it had been an honest mistake, hadn't it? A momentary lapse in judgement. His apology had been genuine, and she could see the little hitches in his shoulders and chest as he sniffed. If she took off his mask she was sure his cheeks would be damp with tears. Nothing she said or did would make him feel worse than he already did.
"Are you sure?" she asked.
"I'm sure," the Mandalorian told her. "No harm, no foul, right?" Lexa thought she could hear a smile behind the words, although it was hard to tell, as the woman's voice came through some kind of processor or speaker built into her helmet, much like Lexa's own. Lexa wasn't sure that there was truly no harm done; Aden's little stunt and the panic it had certainly caused the baby's mother had probably taken years off her life.
Not everyone is as overprotective as you, she reminded herself. She wasn't a helicopter parent by any stretch, but she could be a little bit of a Mama Bear when the situation warranted... and it was possible she felt the situation warranted a little more often than the average mother would.
And not everyone holds a grudge longer than god, she added, only this time it was an echo of her sister's voice, who had teased her all the time about how she was the living embodiment of, 'Forgive, but never forget.'
"Just a second," Lexa said, and crouched down again, taking Aden's upper arms in her hands so they were eye-to-eye – or visor slit to visor slit. "Do you promise to be on your best behavior?" she asked. He nodded. "Use your words, A—Mando."
"I promise," he said.
"And do you promise that you'll always stay where I can see you and ask me before you touch anything that doesn't belong to you?"
"I promise," he said again.
"Okay," she said, not sure if it was the right decision. She resisted the urge to hug him, because The Armorer wouldn't hug the Mandalorian and he was very serious about staying in character any time he was wearing his costume. (He'd been so excited when it arrived that he'd put it on as soon as he got home from school every day and didn't take it off until bedtime. She'd finally managed to convince him that when Mando was a kid, he would have been allowed to take off his helmet at home to eat dinner.) She leaned her forehead against his instead, then let him go.
"We have a couple of new additions!" the Mandalorian announced to the group as she settled the baby back into its transport pod. Everyone turned to look, waving and calling cheerful greetings. The elder Mando introduced Aden to some of the kids, and after a quick look up at her to make sure it was okay, he joined up with Luke and Leia and was soon chattering away, although he kept coming back to check on the Child as if it really was his responsibility to look after her.
"I wasn't actually going to dress up this year," the Mandalorian said as they waited on the sidewalk while the kids ran up to the next door. "My friends convinced me that I had to. We've been doing group costumes together since college, but really, it had nothing to do with me and everything to do with Madi. They just wouldn't come right out and say that." Again, Lexa could hear the smile in her voice, and she felt her own lips twitching upward in response.
"Well she might be too big for the role next year," Lexa pointed out.
"Or at least too verbal," the Mandalorian said. "And have opinions of her own about how she wants to be dressed."
"Your costumes are pretty great," Lexa said. "The pod is really impressive."
"That was all Raven," the Mandalorian said, pointing to a woman dressed as Zorii Bliss.
"What about Raven?" Zorii asked, turning around. "You better have been saying how awesome I am."
"I was, actually," the Mandalorian said. "The Armorer here was just complimenting your handiwork on the pod."
"It was nothing," Raven-Zorii said, waving a hand dismissively, then leaned in and said in a stage whisper, "That is a lie. That thing took me two months."
"You did an amazing job," Lexa said.
"Speaking of amazing," Raven said, looking Lexa up and down and whistling. "Did you do that yourself?"
"Most of it," Lexa said, her cheeks warming. "I had help with some of the armor."
"Have you ever heard of the 501st? Because—"
"I'm a member," Lexa admitted.
"Really?" Raven asked. "Have we met? I feel like I would remember—"
"Not here," Lexa amended. "Not yet. I just moved here and I haven't linked up with the local chapter."
"You have now," Raven said. "Remind me to give you my number after. I'll text you all the details."
Lexa nodded. "I will."
"You're new to the area?" the Mandalorian asked.
"Sort of," Lexa said. "Not exactly. I used to live here but left for a while. Now I'm back." Under duress, but she didn't say that part, and it wasn't entirely true. Her job had made her an offer she couldn't refuse, even though it meant moving back to a place she'd sworn she would never return to. Not after...
She pushed the thought aside, glad for the distraction of Aden's return and his unrestrained glee at having gotten not one but two of his favorites at the last house. When they started moving again, he dropped behind to walk beside the wagon, where the baby – Madi – made another attempt to grab the plush version of herself from him.
"The baby won't eat it, will they?" Aden asked.
"She's mostly outgrown shoving everything into her mouth," the Mandalorian said. "But let me make sure she doesn't have sticky fingers."
She went to the side of the pod and flipped open a little compartment, pulling out a small package of baby wipes.
"Wow," Lexa said. "She really did think of everything."
"Best friend a Mandalorian – and a mom – could ask for," she said as she tugged a cloth from the package and wiped Madi's hands.
"A Momdalorian?" Lexa asked.
The Mandalorian groaned. "Is she always like this?" she asked Aden, cleaning Madi's face for good measure to a chorus of protesting squawks.
"Always," he said grimly, but Lexa could imagine the sly sidelong look and barely suppressed smirk behind his mask. Once Madi was clean, he deposited the coveted plush toy into her arms, and she squealed and babbled, hugging it to her chest and rubbing her face against the big floppy ears.
"Come on!" Luke and Leia called, and Aden dashed off to join them at the next house.
"He's sweet," the Mandalorian said.
"Even though he put the 'kid' in kidnap?" Lexa asked.
The Mandalorian threw back her head and laughed. "You sure you're a mom and not a dad?" she teased. "Because your jokes say otherwise."
Technically, I'm neither, Lexa said, but a stranger whose name she hadn't even thought to ask for didn't need to know that. Especially since she was the only parent Aden had ever known. Instead she just shrugged, and they kept walking.
Eventually, the adrenaline and sugar high of the evening starting to wear off, and the kids got slower and slower as they made their way up to each house. In between, their chatter was quieter, more subdued, and their feet dragged. Madi had fallen asleep with Aden's toy as a pillow.
"I think it's time to call it a night," Chewbacca announced, and the twins made only a token protest as he scooped one up under each arm.
Lexa looked around, realizing they'd wandered into a neighborhood she wasn't familiar with, and that it was going to be a long walk home for them. Hopefully another mini Snickers or two would get Aden through it. "All right, Mando," she said, preparing to retrace their steps. "Say good night to your new friends."
Aden dutifully said good night, and Lexa took the opportunity to get Raven's number. She held out her hand for Aden to take, but they hadn't made it more than a few steps before he stopped. "Mom—Armorer!" he hissed in an exaggerated whisper. "I have to go to the bathroom!"
"Is it an emergency?" she asked, but she could see from the way he was shifting his weight that the answer was yes. He'd probably needed to go several blocks ago, but had ignored it in favor of keeping up with his friends.
"I'm just around the corner," the Mandalorian said. "You can use my bathroom."
Lexa started to object, not wanting to impose any more on her than she already had, but they didn't have time to find anywhere else. "Thank you," she said, and followed the Mandalorian to a cozy little house tucked behind a wall of neatly trimmed shrubbery.
"The bathroom is at the end of the hall," the Mandalorian said, and Aden made a run for it, nearly tripping over his own feet in his haste.
"I'm going to put her down," the Mandalorian said, scooping Madi out of the wagon. "Be right back."
Lexa finally pulled off her helmet, sucking in a deep breath as fresh air hit her face for the first time in hours. She found a mirror and checked her hair, smoothing out the worst of her helmet head. Minutes passed, and she was about to go check on Aden to make sure everything was okay when she caught sight of the Mandalorian's reflection in the mirror as she reappeared sans baby... only she wasn't the Mandalorian anymore.
Clarke turned at the sound of her name and found herself face-to-face not with The Armorer, but with a face she'd never thought she would see again outside of memories and dreams.
If anyone ever asked, she would swear she only went in for a hug, but somehow it was their mouths that met first, clashing like their armor before finally finding how they fit together. And it all came flooding back, the bitter and the sweet, all the things they'd wanted and couldn't have because it was all too complicated. And it was still complicated. It would always be complicated. But nothing had ever felt more right – then or now – so she surrendered to it.
"Clarke," Lexa whispered again when they finally pulled apart to catch their breath and reassure themselves that this wasn't a dream or some kind of shared hallucination. "I—" She swallowed. "Wow."
"Yeah," Clarke said, resting her forehead against Lexa's. "It's been a minute."
"And a lifetime," Lexa said.
Clarke let out a breath, trying to put together the puzzle of the years since Lexa had disappeared from her life, but she was missing too many pieces. One, though... "That's Aden?"
Lexa nodded, the tips of their noses brushing with the motion, and for a second Clarke thought Lexa might kiss her again, and for a second she thought she might let her. Instead she sighed and pulled away. "I should check on him," she said. "See what's taking so long."
"Okay," Clarke agreed, wrapping her arms around herself like it could bandage the void that had opened inside her the moment Lexa let go. She watched her disappear around the corner, calling Aden's name in an undertone so as not to wake Madi.
When she heard no answer, and neither of them emerged after a few minutes, Clarke went to see for herself what was going on, and found Lexa standing in the doorway to Madi's room, a strange expression on her face.
Clarke nudged the door open a little farther, her gaze going to the crib first, as it always did. Madi was still soundly asleep... and so was Aden, curled on the floor beside the crib, Baby Yoda hugged to his chest with one arm, the other stretched out like he'd been reaching for the crib when sleep claimed him.
"He's gotten so big," Clarke whispered.
Lexa turned to look at her and Clarke saw tears beading in her lashes even as she let out a soft laugh, barely more than a breath. "Kids do that," she said.
"They do," Clarke agreed.
"I should probably wake him," Lexa said. "Get him home and into bed."
Clarke bit her lip, letting it slide through her teeth. "Seems a pity to disturb him," she said. "He seems pretty happy where he is."
Lexa looked back at the boy asleep on the floor, then stepped into the room to tuck a pillow under his head and drape a blanket over him before returning to Clarke, her eyes full of a million emotions, but chief among them was hope. "What about you?" she asked. "Are you happy where you are?"
Clarke hooked her fingers into the sides of Lexa's armor, pulling her back into her space and letting her fill the ache in her chest as their lips met again. "I am now," she whispered.
From there it was only a few short steps to the bedroom, and quite a few laughing, cursing minutes to free themselves from their costumes, but once that was done they fell into the sheets and the rest came easy as breathing.
Lexa woke up in a strange bed, but the woman in it with her was hardly a stranger.
In some ways, Clarke knew her better than anyone, because she'd been there with – and for – Lexa during some of the darkest days of her life, just as she'd been there with – and for – Clarke.
They'd met in the waiting room of the oncology floor, where Lexa had been visiting her sister and Clarke her father. Clarke had convinced her that taking out her aggression on the vending machine wouldn't actually make her feel better, instead feeding it several dollars until it released the bag of chips Lexa had been craving, and several other snacks besides. They'd sat side by side and devoured them, and slowly begun to spill their fears and the facts they didn't want to face into each other's ears. It had become a ritual, the only thing keeping either of them sane, and Lexa hadn't realizing she was falling for Clarke until she looked at her one day and thought if she didn't kiss her, her heart would surely explode.
So she'd kissed her. And Clarke had kissed her back.
And then monitors started beeping and alarms started sounding, and by the time they saw each other again Lexa's sister was dead and she went from aunt to mother in the blink of an eye before she'd really figured out how to be either.
She'd left the hospital that day and town the next, whispering to her nephew-turned-son that they would figure it out somehow, just the two of them.
Now here she was seven years later, living the dream she'd thought she'd let go of when she left the hospital in her rearview... and she had no regrets.
Even if this was all it ever was, this one night and nothing more... she would never have any regrets. But as Clarke shifted and stirred beside her, tipping up her face for a kiss, Lexa let herself believe that it could – would – be more than that.
"Good morning," she said, brushing back a strand of Clarke's hair where it had plastered itself to her cheek.
"Mmm," Clarke hummed. "It sure is..." She rolled over, pushing herself up so she was half on top of Lexa... and then rolled back with a groan when the sound of Madi babbling next door bled through the wall. "Or not."
Lexa smiled. "It's still a good morning," she said. She brushed her lips against Clarke's shoulder and sat up... realizing belatedly that the only thing she had to put on was her costume from the night before. She sighed and began to sort through which layers were necessary for decency and which could be safely left off.
Clarke tugged on pajamas and went to retrieve Madi from her crib. When Lexa finally emerged, it was to Clarke's amused smirk and a small Mandalorian, helmet and all, who gasped in horror when he saw her.
"Mom! Where is your helmet? You can't show your face to strangers!"
Clarke looked at her, a confused frown furrowing her brow.
Lexa shook her head and closed her eyes, holding back a laugh and a sigh. "Halloween is over, Aden," she said.
"Mando!" he protested.
"Aden," she repeated. She knelt down and took his hands, pressing them between her own. She tipped her head forward and waited for him to lean his against it. "Clarke's not a stranger. I knew her back when you were just a teeny tiny baby."
"Like The Child?" he asked.
"Her name is Madi," Lexa told him. "And even smaller. I met her at the hospital when your mama was sick."
"Oh," he said, his voice going small and soft. He didn't remember Anya; he only knew her from pictures and stories. But he understood that he had grown in her belly, not Lexa's, and that she had gotten sick and died, and that made his Mom – Lexa – sad, so he was always solemn when Lexa talked about her.
"So we've been friends for a long time," Lexa said, bending the truth just a little. "I promise it's okay if she sees your face. She's like family."
Again, Clarke looked at her, and Lexa held her gaze for a moment before turning her attention back to Aden, who was very seriously considering the information he'd just been given. He finally slipped his hands from Lexa's and slowly lifted his helmet from his head. His hair was a blonde tousle not unlike Clarke's before she'd hastily run a brush through it, and the image made Lexa smile.
"Hi," he said. "I'm Aden."
"Hi Aden," Clarke said, crouching down to his level with Madi still propped on her hip. "I'm Clarke. This is Madi."
"Hi Madi," he said, reaching out to touch her hand. She grinned, twisting away from Clarke and extending her arms toward Aden.
"She likes you," Clarke said.
Aden's cheeks flushed. "I like her too."
"Do you think you can keep an eye on her while we make some breakfast?" Clarke asked.
Aden considered. "Is she going to try to take pieces of my ship?" he asked.
"I make no promises," Clarke said. "You'll probably have to watch her pretty closely."
Aden's face split in a grin that he tried and failed to fight back. "I will," he said. "I promise."
Clarke smiled back. "How do Mandalorians feel about pancakes?"
"Very good," Aden said. "Mandalorians love pancakes."
"Pancakes it is," Clarke said. "If she gives you any trouble, we'll be in the kitchen."
Aden nodded, but he had already retrieved Baby Yoda and was making its ears flop, to Madi's giggling delight.
Lexa followed Clarke to the kitchen, where Clarke turned and slid into her arms. Pancakes were forgotten for several long, sweet moments before they settled into a domestic ease that felt like it shouldn't have been possible considering Lexa had never been in this kitchen in her life, and they'd been reunited for less than a day, but who was she to question?
When the pancakes were ready they called the kids to the kitchen. Madi came charging in at top speed, and Clarke scooped her up and tried to trap her in her highchair. Aden snuggled up to Lexa's side and crooked his finger until she leaned down.
"Are they going to be part of our clan now?" he whispered.
"Would you like them to be?" Lexa asked.
Aden chewed his lip for a second, then nodded.
"Me too," Lexa said. "Do you want to ask them?"
Aden nodded again.
"Go ahead," Lexa said.
Aden cleared his throat. "Clarke? Is it okay if I call you Clarke?"
Clarke smiled. "Of course. What's up?"
Aden reached for Lexa's hand and squeezed it. "Mom and I want to know if you and Madi will be part of our clan now. It's only just been us two and that gets kind of lonely sometimes. But if there were four of us, then none of us would be lonely anymore."
Clarke looked up at Lexa, then down at Aden, and Lexa could see her eyes were bright with a sheen of tears. "We would love to be part of your clan," she said. "Is there something we need to do to make it official?"
"Yes," Aden said. He pulled Lexa over to Clarke and Madi, and tugged them down until they were all on the same level, leaning in until their foreheads touched. "This is the way," he said.
Lexa let out a slow breath to keep her voice from shaking as she looked at her son, and then at Clarke and her daughter, and the aching void in her chest that had been opened with the loss of her sister got fuller and fuller until it almost overflowed. She caught Clarke's hand and laced their fingers together, and Clarke gave it a gentle squeeze. "This is the way."