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Distorted Enough to be Familiar

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Din first feels the unacceptable openness of the world around him, the scraping touch of a sheet against his bare skin, the dry rush of air into his nostrils. Before his eyes open, he’s grabbing down by his left hip, where he always sets his helmet when he has to rest without it. Nothing is there. He opens his eyes to an unfiltered view of a medbay that’s sectioned off with heavy white curtains.

It hurts to sit up, but he does it anyway. His armor is nowhere in sight. He’s sitting in a recovery bed, next to a few monitors that are probably keeping track of his vital signs, but the medbay section is otherwise empty. He can hear activity, though – medical droids, hurried footsteps, low conversation – muffled by the curtains.

Din raises his hands to his face. He smells the remnants of the bacta. All he’s wearing is one of the loose robes doctors bundle bacta tank patients in after they dry off. If he turns his head too quickly, the room spins. He hasn’t been this vulnerable in years.

“Din?” Ahsoka Tano parts the curtains, and steps into his view. “I sensed you woke up. Before you ask, the baby is alright. He’s outside the partition. How are you feeling?”

“What have you done?” he asks her. The words come out ragged; he’s thirsty. From the stories she has told, Ahsoka has spent a lot of time with Mandalorians who don’t honor the principles that the Watch does. But she knows what the creed means to him.

“I’ll explain,” she says. “Your helmet was dented deeply. And your skull was dented underneath it. If it had stayed on, you would have died. Even then…you almost didn’t pull through.”

He runs a hand through his hair. The right side of his head is shaved between his ear and the crown of his head. A gnarled, tender scar is there. No mirrors are around, but he can picture new skin, red and puffy, surrounded by dark bruises.

Still, he glares at Ahsoka. He can’t help it. He’s not used to having to modulate his expressions for others’ comfort.

She glares right back. “The medical droids gave me a choice between prying your helmet off and letting you die. Be as mad as you want. I stand by my decision.” Her expression softens. “No one but the droids and I have seen you. I swear to you.”

“I need my beskar’gam back.”

“That’s…not so possible,” she says, wincing. “All the pieces are there, but it’s not in wearable condition. One of your grieves was shattered. Your chest plate has a deep crack. And the medical droids had to peel your helmet open like a tropical fruit. I’ll try to get you something to wear in the meantime,” she says quickly. “There’s body armor everywhere. Right now, though…forgive me, but one last person needs to see you.” Ahsoka leans through the curtain, and pulls the hovercradle into the makeshift room.

The child is standing up and leaning over the edge of the hovercradle, despite the numerous times Din has told him not to do that. Din is relieved to see him, but something isn’t right. When the child’s giant eyes lock on Din, the child shrinks back, ears drooping. He gives a plaintive look to Ahsoka.

“What’s wrong with him?” Din asks. “Is he hurt?”

“Not a scratch.” She frowns.

“Hey,” Din says. “Don’t be scared. I’m just a little ugly right now.” This is ridiculous. The kid shouldn’t be so thrown by this. He’s seen worse.

The child tilts his head. His expression is skeptical.

“He may not recognize you…” Ahsoka says slowly. “He’s never seen you, or heard you speak, with you helmet off. Right?”

Din sighs. This shouldn’t be a problem. The kid is smart enough; he’ll figure it out. If only it didn’t feel like insult upon literal injury. Something else to be stripped of, now that his armor is gone.

An idea crawls through Din’s aching head.

He cups his hands around his mouth. “Su cuy’gar, ad’ika,” Din says, hoping the words will sound distorted enough to be familiar.

His sore muscles ease when the child brightens, ears fluttering upward. The child rocks forward, arms stretching for Din. Ahsoka nudges the hovercradle to Din’s bedside. He picks up the child, and holds him in the crook of his arm like he usually does.

“Recognize me now?” he asks.

The child coos, and presses himself against Din’s side. It feels especially strange to be holding the child with his bare arm.

“There are worse things,” Ahsoka says, like she can read his mind.

Din gently runs a finger across the top of the child’s head, feeling the wrinkles in his skin, and the tiny, surprisingly soft, little hairs. Din doesn’t want to give Ahsoka the satisfaction of telling her she’s right, but he also can’t bring himself to disagree.