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we could be enough

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“Will I see him again?”

The words slipped out before Din could stop them, sounding desperate and scared. He was scared, and it didn’t matter than Din knew his child would be safe and cared for and loved because he didn’t know how to not be scared. Scared for Grogu. Scared for himself.

The Jedi—Luke. His name was Luke—paused. He looked back at Din, gaze soft and understanding. “I can’t give you an answer to that.”

And that was it. It was done. Grogu was walking away and Din was...alone.

Again.

“Wait—“

Luke stopped again and Grogu turned back, eyes wide and ears perked. He cooed, took a step back towards Din before stopping again. Grogu looked uncertain, glancing back at Luke before looking back towards Din.

“I—“ Din faltered when Luke met his gaze. “—here. It’s—it’s his favorite.”

Din reached into a pouch. Held out the metal ball.

Like raised an eyebrow, but Grogu cooed happily and reached for it. Din couldn’t help it, couldn’t stop it as he knelt to the ground, offering out the little ball as Grogu toddled back over. He wanted to scoop him back up, hold him to his chest and never let him go. But he couldn’t. As much as he wanted to he couldn’t.

Grogu took the ball, cooed and babbled something as he looked it over, then held it back out to Din.

Din stared blankly at it.

“He wants you to keep it.” Luke said softly. “And bring it when you see him again.”

Din snapped his head up. He had not realized Luke had gotten so close, close enough to see just how blue his eyes were, blue like the skies of ocean filled planets. Din looked at him, then back at the droid. It trilled and twisted it’s head before rolling back towards the door. The droid was ready to leave, but no one else was, it seemed.

“I thought—“

“I never said no.” Luke smiled and knelt in front of Din. He held a hand out, and Din, uncertain of what was being offered, took it. He could feel the warmth of it through his gloves. “If the child wants to see you again, then you will.”

“Grogu.” Din said. It slipped out, nearly automatic now. “His name. Grogu.”

“Grogu.” Luke repeated.

Grogu himself cooed, holding the little metal ball out further, waiting for Din to take it. Din did, squeezing it in his palm. Grogu held his arms up, and Din knew if he picked his child up it would make it harder to say goodbye but he did it anyway, letting go of Luke’s hand to hold his child tightly against his chest while Grogu hugged him just as tightly, gently butting his head into Din’s jaw.

Din’s eyes stung.

“He loves you very much,” Luke said softly. “I can feel it.”

“With your wizard powers?” Din pretended that his voice didn’t crack.

Luke laughed. It was a bright sound, ringing clear like bells. “Yeah. With my wizard powers.”

They fell silent, but Din kept his gaze on Luke, looking him over as he held Grogu close.

“You’ll take care of him?” Din already knew the answer.

“Like my own.” Luke answered anyway.

Din’s nod was jerky, and he ducked his head down to try and hide the tears he couldn’t quite hold back anymore. Grogu cooed softly, reaching up to touch the tears that stuck to Din’s cheeks. He babbled something, gently butting his head against Din’s again.

Din took in a shaky breath.

“I’ll see you soon, kid, okay?”

Grogu cooed.

Din set him back down, biting back the words that wanted to spill from his tongue. I love you. Be safe. Instead he held tight to the little metal ball, holding it close to his chest as he stood again and watched Luke and Grogu leave again.

It was not so painful this time.

Chapter Text

“He won’t let you see him again.”

Din didn’t answer Bo-Katan. He didn’t even look at her. He stared straight ahead, standing stiff and tall, watching the blue and white streaks of hyperspace fly by. They were as familiar as they were comforting, but now, in this moment, Din felt only a hollow ache as he watched those streaks pass by.

Boba Fett had offered to take Din with him back to Tatooine, but Din had declined. He declined Cara’s offer as well, letting her take Gideon back to Chandrila to be tried and sentenced by herself. That was where Luke was going, and that was where Din needed to avoid. So with nowhere else to go he agreed to go with Bo-Katan and Koska, to steal one of the weapon cargo ships in the hanger bay, to go back to Mandalore, to let the darksaber stay a heavy and unwelcome weight in his hand.

Slowly, as if finally realizing he was still holding it, Din transferred the darksaber to the empty gun holster strapped to his thigh.

He did not dare look away from the window of the cargo ship.

“It’s the Jedi way.” Bo-Katan continued. “They don’t let their children have families.”

“I thought you were supposed to be driving this thing.” Din said.

“Autopilot.” she answered.

Din bit his cheek, reopening the wound from his earlier fight. The sharp sweet tang of blood was not an entirely unwelcome taste on his tongue. It washed away the bitter taste of sorrow that was stuck between his teeth, that lingered at the back of his throat. “I will see him again.”

The weight of Bo-Katan’s stare was nearly as heavy as that of the darksaber. “You are far too optimistic.”

Din closed his eyes, glad his helmet was back on.

He did not want Bo-Katan to see how close he was to falling apart.

“How soon until we reach Mandalore?” he asked, desperate to change the topic of conversation.

“A few days,” Bo-Katan finally looked away from him. “I have some stops to make first.”

The taste of blood suddenly became the only thing Din could taste, its sweetness becoming sickly. He swallowed, feeling like he was going to choke on it. “You know,” he said slowly. “If you want my help with your--your suicide mission, you should learn to how to tell the truth.”

Bo-Katan stayed silent for a moment.

“I did not lie to you.”

“But you did not tell me everything.” Din snapped back. “Just like last time.”

He could hear her sharp intake of breath. “You put yourself into this situation. Not me.”

Din clenched his jaw so tightly he swore he heard his teeth crack. “I didn’t do anything. You were the one who gave me no choice--”

“I couldn’t take--”

“Yes, you could have!” Din snapped it out, cutting Bo-Katan off before she could get started again. His anger flowed free now, finally cracking under the weight of sorrow and a duty to a world he didn’t know, weight that was thrown onto his shoulders without his say. “I offered it to you--”

“I thought you were all about tradition.” Bo-Katan cut him off with a sharp retort, fury and spite laced with every word.

Din snapped his mouth shut.

They stared at each other, Bo-Katan unabashedly showing herself to the world, and Din hiding himself from it behind his helmet.

He counted to ten in his head, then walked away.

Bo-Katan did not try to stop him.

He stalked down the corridors of the cargo ship with no clear destination in mind. He just needed to go, to move, to get away. A control panel popped and sparked as he walked by, but Din didn’t pay it any mind. He kept walking, kept going, kept trying to get away.

He shoved himself in the first storage closet he saw, locking the door behind him. He pushed himself into a corner, tore his helmet off and slid to the floor. The darksaber was a crushing weight against his thigh, and Din didn’t think twice before he ripped it from the holster and threw it across the little room. It slammed into the wall, clattering as it fell back to the floor, undamaged.

He didn’t want this.

He didn’t want any of this.

The little holocom on his wrist trilled, and for a moment Din didn’t even hear it. It was a new addition, one Cara gave to him so they could better keep in contact. He hardly knew how to work it on the best of days, and after fumbling around in the dark for his helmet he slipped it back on, and after pressing nearly every single button on the holocom he pushed the right one to accept the call.

He was expecting Cara.

“I’m glad I found the right channel.” Luke answered instead.

Din didn’t answer.

He stared blankly at the little hologram while Luke gently smiled, patiently waiting for Din to gather himself.

“Is Grogu okay?” Din finally asked.

“Grogu’s alright,” Luke answered. He shifted slightly and the hologram flickered, like he was still flying and the signal was trying to catch up. “He was worried about you, actually.”

“Me?”

Luke hummed and nodded. “He could feel your distress--we both could, actually.”

There was a soft coo from Luke’s end of the call, and then Grogu was clambering up in Luke’s lap so he could be in view. He perked up when he saw Din, reaching forward with a hand like he was trying to touch him. It was nearly on instinct that Din reached out to do the same, stopping just shy of the hologram. He didn’t want to touch it. He didn’t want to distort the image.

Grogu babbled and cooed some more, tilting his head.

“I’m okay,” Din said. He curled his fingers to his palm, taking in a deep breath to calm his heart. “I’m okay.”

Grogu cooed softly, staring at Din for a little while longer before falling back into Luke’s lap.

Luke smiled down at the child before looking back up at Din. “That’s not the only reason I called.”

Din was so distracted with looking at his son that it took him a moment to give his attention back to Luke.

“Why else would you call?”

“I wanted to establish contact with you so I can keep you updated on Grogu’s progress,” Luke started. Din watched in fascination as one of his arms made its way around Grogu’s waist, holding the child tight. “Normally I would have to keep him isolated--his connection to the Force is too unstable. You’d most likely get hurt, but--” Luke paused for a moment, then shook his head. “I cannot ignore that Grogu is mandalorian.”

“Not by blood.” Din’s reply, while automatic, felt odd in his mouth.

“Neither are you.” Luke answered.

Din swallowed.

“Family is important to him, to you.” Luke continued. “And I cannot take that away from him, not if I want to complete his training.”

Din felt something odd settle in his stomach. “What are you saying?”

“If I were to completely take him away from you, I’m afraid that Grogu would fall to the dark side.” Grogu cooed and nodded, like he was agreeing with Luke’s words.

Din had no idea what the dark side was.

“I met a Jedi once, before you.” Din spoke slowly, almost afraid to hold onto this promise that Luke was giving him. “Ahsoka Tano. She told me--she told me she couldn’t train the kid because of his attachment to me.”

“In the old Jedi code, perhaps, but I don’t agree with the old code.” Luke smiled then, and it was so bright that Din felt he had to look away. “I will keep in contact, Din Dajrin. May the force be with you.”

Then the holo was gone, leaving Din in the dark with a fluttering heart and a promise.

Chapter Text

“You haven’t been to Mandalore yet?”

“No.” Din frowned—not that Cara could see. They were sitting in a quiet little corner of a street market on Nevarro, waiting for Bo-Katan to finish whatever shopping she needed to get done. He waved his hand around, gesturing to where they sat. “We had to make some pit stops.”

It’s been close to a week since...everything.

Cara had safely delivered Gideon, and Din hadn’t heard from Luke since that first incident.

Neither he nor Cara had brought it up in the time they’ve been talking. Talking about Mandalore was the closest they had gotten, and it was a s close as Din wanted to get.

But as much as he was hurting and aching there was a part of him that felt almost at peace. Grogu was safe with the Jedi, and although Din struggled to sleep without that familiar weight pressed against his side, he was secure and happy with the knowledge that his son was safe and cared for.

Din’s own comfort came second to that.

Cara snorted, tilting the cup she held and swirling the blue liquid around. “And here I thought you just wanted to visit.”

She knocked the cup back to drain the rest of her drink.

Din waited for her to finish before he spoke. “I...I wanted to see the Armorer again before we left.”

Cara was slow to set the cup back on the table. She held onto it even after it was placed down, fingers tapping against the rim as she stared at the bottom of it and the last dregs left behind.

“Nothing’s changed down there, Mando.” she said quietly.

“She’s very good at hiding her tracks.” Din countered.

“I’m not saying I won’t take you down there, I just--” Cara cut herself off, fell back in her chair. She sighed and tugged her hair out of her face. She stayed silent for a while, the hustle and bustle of the market settling between them. “I’m just saying you’ll probably be disappointed by what you find.”

I’m not sure you can take anymore hurt was what Cara didn’t say.

It hung between them anyway.

“I know that.” Din took in a deep breath, let it fill his lungs and burn before letting it back out. “But I have to at least try.”

Cara gave him a steady look, and when he didn’t back down she shook her head and sat back up with a quiet huff. “Do you want to go now, or is your babysitter going to blow a gasket?”

Bo-Katan hadn’t let Din out of her sight for nearly the entire time they’ve been together. She only agreed to let Din wander the markets by himself because the rest of her Nite Owls were back on the ship and because Cara was with him. Cara would be more than happy to help Din sneak off if he asked, but Din wouldn’t leave Bo-Katan like that.

He stuck by his word, no matter how much he didn’t want to.

“Let’s go see if we can find her.” Din answered.

Cara let out a long suffering sigh, and Din smiled.

The particular street market they were in was a smaller one, and finding a mandalorian wasn’t a particularly hard challenge. Cara spotted her at a vendor selling seeds and plants, but before they could approach her Din found himself entirely distracted by a sweets vendor.

He drifted over to the table, and Cara followed after him with a few mumbled choice words.

“Marshal!” the woman at the table greeted them both with a bright smile. “It’s lovely to see you again.”

Cara and the woman started up some idle chit chat, but Din didn’t pay it much mind. He stared intently at a package of blue cookies, hesitating for only a moment before picking it up.

“How long do these last?” he asked.

“Oh, those don’t get stale for a few years, at least.” the woman gave him another smile. “They make great snacks for the kids.”

Din paid the woman far more than what the little package of cookies was worth.

“You’re getting soft on me,” Cara knocked her shoulder into Din’s as they walked away from the vendor and back towards Bo-Katan. Cara was grinning, and so Din didn’t dare respond. He kept walking, but before they could reach Bo-Katan, she reached them.

“I thought I told you to stay put.”

“Oh, calm down, princess.” Cara stepped in front of Din, crossing her arms over her chest. “We were coming to find you.”

Bo-Katan had a bag slung over her shoulder full of seeds and sprouts. It looked out of place among her armor and weapons. It looked too peaceful.

“I have a stop I want to make.” Din said. “Here. On Nevarro.”

Bo-Katan turned her gaze to Din. He couldn’t read her expression.

“Yes. Of course.”

--

Returning to the tunnels of his youth was a strange experience.

There was a certain calmness that washed over Din as he descended underground along with a welcome sense of familiarity, but there was an inherent wrongness to it that Din couldn’t shake. The last time he was here had ended in a slaughter that may as well have been done by his hand. This was a place he did not fully belong to. Not anymore.

So caught up in his thoughts, Din almost didn’t notice the soft clanging of steel and beskar.

It was like a nearly forgotten melody, echoing off the stone walls in a quiet and somber mourning call.

Din’s heart clenched and his breath caught in his throat. He did not wait for Cara and Bo-Katan to follow him. He took off down the corridors, hardly looking at where he was going. The layout of these tunnels came back to him with hardly a thought. Din could have closed his eyes and still found his way back to the forge, to the warmth and comfort of the Armorer’s fires.

She was waiting for him when he finally reached her, cooling a piece of beskar armor while more sat by her feet.

“You have survived.” The Armorer’s voice was quiet and comforting and familiar.

“So have you.” Din swallowed, but that did not keep his voice from cracking.

The Armorer looked nearly the same as when Din last saw her. Her own armor had suffered from some chips and scrapes and her fur cape was gone, but everything else was the same. She still held her hammer, still stood tall and proud, still reached forward when Din got close enough to put a hand on his shoulder.

“Where is the foundling?” she asked.

Din closed his eyes for a brief moment, swallowed back the bitter taste rising in his throat. “He is in the care of a Jedi. For now.”

The Armorer cocked her head. “Have you taken in the child as your own?”

Din knew that had come to think of Grogu as his own despite his better judgement, but it wasn’t until this moment that he truly realized that he had. Without him realizing he had taken in Grogu as his child, and although he had never spoken the oath, never properly claimed him, Din found himself hardly caring.

“Yes.” he answered. “His name is Grogu.”

“Grogu Djarin.” The Armorer paused, like she was taking the time to smile. “A fitting name.”

Before Din could reply there was a sharp call of his name, echoing off the walls far more harshly than the sounds of the beskar. Then there was the pounding of footsteps, and then the Armorer went deathly still just as the footsteps stopped. Din could hear someone take in a sharp breath and Cara let out a soft curse, but he didn’t turn around.

He stared at the Armorer, and she kept her gaze locked just over his shoulder.

“Bo-Katan.” The Armorer’s voice had gone hard. Cold. “I see you survived The Purge.”

Din finally turned around to look. Cara was looking between him and the Armorer, but Bo-Katan kept her gaze locked with the Armorer’s. If she was surprised to be recognized, she didn’t show it.

“As did you.” Bo-Katan said.

“No.” The Armorer stayed silent for a moment. “My clan and I were exiled to Concordia after the first Civil War.”

Bo-Katan’s chest rose in a sharp intake of breath. “You are part of the Watch--”

“Not all of us who were exiled sided with the Death Watch.” The Armorer snapped it out, cutting Bo-Katan off. “It is true that my clan were warriors who preferred the traditions of the old ways, but we were not terrorists. We did not indulge in violence simply for violence's sake.” The Armorer took a step back, her hand slowly sliding off Din’s shoulder, like she was afraid to let go. “But your sister didn’t care for exceptions.”

Bo-Katan looked away.

“I fled with my clan long before The Purge. I wasn’t willing to risk more of them to war.” The Armorer’s voice grew soft again. Somber. “It seems that it hardly matters, now.”

“You haven’t—?” Din looked back at her, then let his voice fall.

The Armorer shook her head, looking back to the beskar armor scattered throughout the forge. “I fear you and I are all that remain.”

Din’s breath caught in his throat.

“How long will Grogu remain with the Jedi?” The Armorer jumped right back to their conversation so quickly that it took a moment for Din to catch up.

“I--I’m not sure.” Din answered truthfully. “I--until his training is complete. The Jedi--Luke, he wishes to keep in contact with me. Keep me updated on Grogu’s progress.”

“Then for now your duty has been completed.” The Armorer said simply. She tilted her head again, looking Din over. “Tell me, was your helmet removed during your time away?”

Din nodded. He cast his eyes down, trying to look at anything that wasn’t her.

“Tell me the circumstances.”

“He--my son had been taken from me. I couldn’t get the information I needed to find him without removing my helmet.”

“Do any of those who saw your face still live?”

Two of them did. Din thought of Mayfield for a moment, remembered the words he spoke to him back in that cantante. I didn’t see it. It was just words. But words were binding things to mandalorians. If Mayfield spoke them and meant them, then they were true. “One. The Jedi. I--I was saying goodbye to Grogu. Luke just happened to be there.”

The Armorer stayed silent for a moment, then spoke in a gentle voice. “Then your creed remains unbroken.”

Din looked back up at her.

“The creed allows you to remove your helmet for family. That is what you did.” The Armorer stepped closer to Din. She placed her hand back on his shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze, lowering her voice so only the two of them could hear. “Ease your mind, Din. You’ve done nothing wrong.”

Din let out a breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding.

She squeezed his shoulder again in a comforting gesture. Then she stilled again.

“What is that?”

Din blinked. He didn’t know what she was talking about until he followed her line of sight.

“I came into possession of the darksaber.” Din hesitated for a moment. “I won it in combat. From Moff Gidion.”

The Armorer didn’t speak. Not for a long time. She stared at the darksaber, now resting from a tie on Din’s belt, still holding onto his shoulder. Din couldn’t move. Couldn’t go anywhere. He could only stand still and wait for the Armorer to let him go.

“I never thought--” she started, then stopped. “You have seen to your duty with your son. It is time I give you a new one.”

Din wanted to protest, but he couldn’t find it in himself to get the words out.

“You will see to your duties as Mand’alor, Din Djarin. You will bring our people back together—“ she paused, then finally looked back up at him. For the first time in a very long time, Din wished he could see her face. “You will make a home for your son.”

Din swallowed. Nodded. “Will you come with us?”

“No. Not yet.” She said. “While I wish to return to Mandalore, I still have armor to find. But I will return.”

They stared at each other.

“This is The Way.” She said it softly, almost like a mourning song.

“This is The Way.” Din echoed.

Chapter Text

The Armorer’s words still echoed in Din’s head as they left the convent, as he said goodbye to Cara, as they started the cargo ship back to the light cruiser Bo-Katan had left suspended in hyperspace. They still echoed in his head as they started the journey to Mandalore.

Din was sure those words would always echo in his head.

You will see to your duties as Mand’alor.

Mand’alor.

The Warrior King.

It seemed like a legend—it had been a legend, to him. For as long as Din had been mandalorian, Mandalore had been a planet lost to the cruelties of history and it’s stories and culture had been given to myth and tall tales. The Warrior Kings themselves had fallen into the dreams and hopes of a people who had little else left, became a wish that someone would rise from the ashes of a fallen planet and bring it to life again. A wish that someone would find the mandalorian people, scattered like dust across the galaxy, and bring them back together. The Warrior King had become an ideal, a leader who would love and fight and be the face to a people too scared to have one.

The Warrior King was everything Din wasn’t.

“Kriff,” Din mumbled.

He had thrown himself back into that little closet as soon as he and Bo-Katan returned to the cargo ship. He needed the quiet, the familiarity of a dark space, the comfort of a small room.

The darksaber was still so heavy against his thigh.

Din took in a few deep breaths, the air tasting stale and bitter as he swallowed it. He reached a hand up to slide his helmet off, to get the slightly less stale air of the ship, but his hand quickly jerked back down as he startled at the sound of his holocom trilling. He did not struggle so much this time as he answered it, but it still took him a moment to push the right button.

Grogu’s face filled up the little holo, ears perking up as he saw Din. He cooed and stretched his arm out, reaching to grab onto Din.

Din smiled, couldn’t help the little laugh that spilled from his lips. He reached his own hand out, holding out his palm for Grogu. The child babbled and reached out further, the hologram going fuzzy around the edges as Grogu placed his own hand in Din’s.

“Hey, kid.” Din said softly. He couldn’t feel Grogu’s hand, couldn’t feel the weight of it.

Grogu babbled and cooed, pushing his hand out further until the hologram was almost completely blurred.

“Oh! There you are!” Luke’s voice came from somewhere off the holoscreen, and then there he was, looking windswept and a little disheveled as he scooped Grogu up. “I should have figured you and Artoo would run off.”

Grogu whined, pointing back to the holocall.

Luke looked back at Din, blinking in surprise before smiling. “Hello, Din.”

“Hi.” Din said quietly.

Luke wasn’t nearly as dressed up as he was the last time Din saw him. His cloak was gone, and the long sleeved tunic he wore had been replaced with a shorter sleeved one. His saber was hanging from his hip in almost the exact same place Din’s was. He switched the side he was holding Grogu on because of it, propping the child on his hip and keeping Grogu’s weight supported with a steady hold on his back, letting the child cling to him and hold himself up the rest of the way and chew on his sleeve—

Din frowned. “Grogu, spit that out.”

Grogu spit out the fabric, looking back at Din with wide eyes.

“I don’t mind. I’ve been covered in far worse things than baby spit.” Luke said easily, lifting Grogu a little higher and out of reach of his sleeve. “I’m glad he figured out how to work Artoo’s holocom, actually. I’ve been meaning to give you a call.”

Din blinked. “You have?”

Luke smiled again, but it was a little sadder this time. “Of course. I couldn’t—“ he paused for a moment. “You’re family.”

Luke didn’t say anything else. He fell silent, eyes falling down to look at Grogu. His smile slowly faded away, replaced with a look that wasn’t so much sad as it was melancholic. Grogu looked between Luke and Din before peering up at Luke and cooing softly.

Din looked at the both of them with a tight feeling in his chest.

Almost as quickly as Luke fell into his silence he snapped out of it, jerking his head so quickly that Din almost didn’t notice it.

“I haven’t been able to start Grogu’s training yet--we just landed on Yavin 4. We got held up on Chandrila for a few days--my sister wanted me there for Moff Gideon’s trial,” Luke quickly explained. Then his smile was back, warm and sweet like sugar syrup. “Your friend, Cara--she’s an interesting character.”

Grogu cooed at the mention of Cara.

“My sister’s from Alderaan too.” Luke continued before Din could really panic and ask if Cara said anything bad about him. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen Leia that happy to see someone.”

Din wanted to ask after Cara, ask what they talked about, but before he could he heard Bo-Katan sharply call his name. Her voice was muffled by the metal walls, but it was still clear enough that Din couldn’t pretend to mistake it for anything else.

“I’m sorry, I have to--” Din started, then trailed off.

“Right, no, of course.” Luke cleared his throat. “I’ll give you a call in a few days. Let you know how Grogu is doing.”

“Thank you.” Din nodded his head, then turned his attention to his son. “You be good for Luke, okay?”

Grogu cooed, lifting a hand off Luke’s shoulder to reach for Din again.

Din smiled, reaching out his own hand to meet Grogu halfway. “Love you, kid.”

He had not realized the words that he spoke until he was slipping back out of the closet, but by then Bo-Katan was rounding the corner of the hall. Din did not have time to fully think about them even if he wanted to.

“We’re about to enter hyperspace.” Bo-Katan frowned. She looked Din over, but seeing nothing wrong, looked back to the visor of his helmet. She didn’t stop frowning. “I hope you’re ready to go to Mandalore.”

Din wasn’t, but he nodded anyway.

Chapter Text

Din knew, logically, that Mandalore was a dying planet. He knew that there was a reason the Armorer had warned them to stay away.

Most of the planet was dead—turned to a desert wasteland that could barely support a shrub. All the springs and rivers and lakes had dried, leaving behind caverns and gorges infested with bugs and bats and all other sorts of creepy crawlers. It had been an odd experience as they flew over Mandalore and through Empire security, because Din knew that this planet used to be green and blue and full of life and wonder.

Now it was nothing but dust.

Din brushed a spider off his shoulder as Bo-Katan led them further into the cave, further underground. The firelight they were seeing by flickering eerily on the stone walls and cast shadows that Din was almost frightened to look at.

He had known, of course, that Mandalore was going to be a near desert wasteland. But stepping foot in the sand, sweating under a beating sun, breathing in filtered air that was still nearly too dry to swallow, staring up at domes cities full of Imperial and Empire troops—

Din’s heart ached for a time he hadn’t ever known.

The cave that Bo-Katan was leading them down was quickly becoming more and more narrow, and the ringing sound of beskar and metal scraping against stone became more and more frequent. Din closed his eyes for a moment and swallowed back a bitter taste. This was not like the warm comfort of the storage closet he and Grogu slept in. This was cold, and pressing, and suffocating. Din’s heart quickened and his breathing became shallow, and just as his vision was starting to blur he stumbled into a large open cave.

Din gasped and threw a hand out onto the rocky wall to steady himself.

“Don’t like tight spaces?” Axe asked. His tone was dry. Mocking.

Din didn’t dignify him with an answer.

“We’ll stay here for the night.” Bo-Katan stuck the torch in a soft spot on the cave floor, then turned to look at the three of them. “We’ll head to Ronion tomorrow--the Empire wouldn’t have strayed far from the capitol. Chances are they’ve left it alone.”

Bo-Katan fixed her gaze on Din, staring at him like the name might spark some recognition in him.

It didn’t.

“What's so special about Ronion?”

Bo-Katan looked at him for a little longer. She still wore her helmet--they all did--and it made her usual icy stare look eerie.

Still, Din refused to look away first.

“Ronion was a mob run city before the Purge. There was nothing useful there to the Empire then, and there's nothing useful there to them now.” Bo-Katan finally looked away, turning back to the corner she stuck the torch in. “But it will suit our purposes just fine.”

She set the bag she had been carrying down, then sat on the dusty floor and crossed her arms high over her chest.

It had been too risky to bring the light cruiser to the planet's surface, so they left it suspended in hyperspace and took one of the smaller cargo ships down, hoping that they could find one of the smaller cities unoccupied and still empty. If they could get into a city, then they could get to the beacon single that would broadcast to whatever Mandalorians still had it activated. They had left everything behind on that ship, hoping to go back for it once they set up an outpost in one of the cities.

Everything, but that canvas bag of seeds.

Din looked at it, wondering what plants were going to struggle to survive in Mandalore’s barren climate. Then he turned to look at the fire, watching it flicker and dance.

He did not know what the Empire was doing here on Mandalore, but he wasn't surprised they were here. It was the perfect spot if you wanted to stay hidden. As far as anyone knew, Mandalore was a dead planet, incapable of supporting life. People stayed away from it, frightened of the legends and stories surrounding it.

Din had been frightened of those same legends.

The Armorer had told him of barren wastelands and bitter winds slicing across the planet side, uncovering the bones of Mythosaurs and bleaching them a ghostly white. She spoke of the jai’galaar, swooping down to crush those same bones between their beaks, searing for any meat and marrow that might have survived.

The Armorer spoke of ghosts, roaming the desert sands and singing their mourning songs.

Still, when Din was sure everyone was asleep, he rose to his feet, squeezed back out the tunnel, and went into the bitter winds.

Night had fallen, bringing with it a chill that Din had not expected. What little breath that escaped his helmet froze in the air, drifting away like smoke. For awhile Din just breathed, watching the air freeze and leave him with a quiet whisper. There was something calming about it, watching it steadily float away and knowing that eventually it will come back to you.

Din let out one last breath before tilting his head skyward.

The stars nearly took his breath completely away.

They were scattered across the dark sky like a painting, making shapes and stories and twinkling with silent laughter. They were so clear, so bright, so joyful, and Din...Din has never seen them like this before.

“Beautiful, aren’t they?”

Din was startled by Bo-Katan’s voice, but he didn’t dare show his surprise,

“That was the one good thing to come from these domed cities. Light became nonexistent. The stars were able to come back and tell their stories.” She came to stand by him, her head tilted up just the same as Din’s. “Although, most of those stories are lost now.” She turned to look at him, eyes still hidden away behind her helmet. “And stars don’t speak.”

Din didn't know what to say.

He didn’t know if there was anything he could say.

“You should be in the cave.”

Din swallowed. “I just—needed some air.”

They looked at each other in silence. Then Bo-Katan looked away, seeming to accept that answer, and Din let out a quiet breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding.

“Your armor--it’s pure beskar, isn’t it?” Bo-Katan asked.

Din blinked, nodded.

Bo-Katan fell silent again, tilting her head back up to the sky. The starlight reflected off her visor, twinkling just as it did up in the sky. There was something about it that made her look softer. It made her look less like a solider, made her look more human.

“There were not many left after the Civil War who knew how to forge pure beskar.” she finally said.

“I guess I got lucky then.”

“I knew your armorer. Back on Concordia.” Something in Bo-Katan’s voice shifted. It became more somber, full of sorrow and regret. “She did what she could to keep us from fighting amongst ourselves, but--” she paused. Took a deep breath. “Khi was right. My sister didn’t make exceptions.”

It had been so long since Din had heard the Armorer’s name that it took him a moment to even recognize it.

“I thought you said you didn’t know her.” Din said.

Bo-Katan shook her head. “I wasn’t sure if it was her. Not until I got a good look at your armor--she was one of the few who knew how to properly forge beskar.” she paused again. “...she’s probably the only one left, now.”

Something heavy settled in Din’s chest at those words.

“She’s a good woman.” Bo-Katan looked back to Din. “I’m glad her clan was the one that found you.”

Then she turned around and went back into the cave, leaving Din behind.

Chapter Text

It was not often that Din was completely out of his element, but Mandalore knew just how to unnerve him at every corner he turned.

The winds howled fiercely across the open desert, slamming into him hard enough to knock him over—if it were not for the heavy beskar he wore, Din surely would have fallen. Still, he kept his head low, struggling to keep a firm foot in the loose sand as the tiny grains whipped across his visor hard enough to crack and pop.

Tatooine had prepared Din for the sand and the harsh sun, but Mandalore’s fierce winds went unrivaled.

At least Din wasn’t the only one struggling to stay afoot.

Axe stumbled. Din reached out a hand to catch him, the motion so ingrained in him from months of catching Grogu that Din hadn’t even noticed until his hand touched armor. Axe looked at it, shrugged him off, pushed ahead of him.

Din fell back a step, startled by the cold dismissal.

Bo-Katan bumped into him. She reached a hand out to steady herself, placing it on Din’s shoulder. Din himself stood straighter, grounding himself as much as he could so Bo-Katan had something solid to hold onto.

“He’ll warm up to you.” Bo-Katan nodded towards Axe, who had fallen into step behind Koska. “He has a...complicated past with the Death Watch.”

Din frowned. “But I’m not--”

“I know.” Bo-Katan tilted her head, the sands pinging off her helmet as the wind picked up. “But it’s all the same to him.” she paused for a moment, looking back at the other two mandalorians. “There was a lot of infighting between the clans even after the Civil War. Too many grudges were left unsettled.”

Fights had broken out in the covert, of course, and Din was humble enough to admit that most of them had been between him and Paz. They had been small and over petty things, a result of being cooped up for too long, but they always ended quickly when the Armorer stepped in. Like a mother disciplining her sons.

Din couldn’t imagine truly hating someone like that.

Couldn’t imagine hating someone enough to hold a grudge over someone you’ve never met.

“The dust storm is picking up.” Bo-Katan spoke suddenly, letting go of Din just as quickly. “We should hurry.”

She pushed ahead of him, ducking her head back down as the wind threw a particularly hard gust. Din stood still, watching her for a moment before hurrying after.

Ronion’s biodome loomed over them, so they were not far. It was large and imposing and unsettling, looking like a dark cloud hovering over them. Din tilted his head up as they got closer, squinting to see through his visor and the sand gusts. He could see cracks in the dome. Din wouldn’t be surprised if parts of it were shattered, both from years of disuse and raging winds and the Empire's own bombing of the planet.

He was amazed that it was still standing.

The wind had picked up when they finally reached Ronion’s outer walls. Even with the beskar Din was struggling to stay upright, and they slipped inside the wall just as the wind slammed against the metal and brick hard enough to make it shake.

And then it was silent.

Eerily so.

They weren't in the actual city yet. The outer wall was hollow, opening up to a control room. Din wasn’t sure if it was like this throughout the whole wall or not, but Bo-Katan knew what she was looking at and where she was. She went right to the computer, sitting in the rusted chair and wiping the dust off the screen and pushing a few buttons before the keyboard lit up with a pleasant ring and bright colors

“The whole biodome system is off.” Bo-Katan clicked a few things, cursed silently under her breath. “I can turn on the filtration system from here, but we’ll have to get to the systems building to get the rest of it going.”

“The Empire probably isn’t here then,” Koska glided over to Bo-Katan, putting a hand on the back of the chair as she leaned over Bo-Katan’s shoulder.

Din blinked at them, then took in the rest of the room.

It was gray and dusty and rusted, packed full of wires and computer screens and shattered lights.

No one had used this room in a very long time.

“We’ll let the filtration system run for a bit--get out some of the dust and sand.” Bo-Katan clicked a few more buttons, and after the computer made a pleasant trill and a generator kicked in, she pushed herself back from the computer.

“How long until the air is cleared?” Axe asked.

“A day, at least.” Bo-Katan answered. “We’ll just keep our helmets on until then.”

She turned to look at Din, but Din was hardly paying attention.

Something about this felt unsettling, but Din couldn’t place why. He eyed the door that opened up to the main city, walked closer, peered out the little port window. He saw nothing but empty buildings and dead streets, a city that was nothing more than a forgotten ghost.

“Do you see something?”

Din narrowed his eyes before stepping back and looking at Bo-Katan.

“No.” he said. “Nothing.”

Bo-Katan stared at him for a little while longer, then turned back to the computer.

They didn’t wait much longer before going out into the main city. Bo-Katan was too impatient and Din was too nervous to stop her, so he followed behind the other three mandalorians as they left the inner wall. It was silent, still. Every step they made sounded like blaster fire, loud enough to put Din on edge.

Ronion put him on edge.

It was not until they were halfway to the systems building that he realized why.

“Stop.” Din pushed ahead of them and threw his arm out without thinking, winding Bo-Katan as she ran into it.

“What do you mean—“

Din sushed Koska, slowly drawing the spear from its holder on his back. He crept forward, plastering himself against the side of the building they were passing. He waited until he heard the crunching of gravel, then lunged around the corner.

He saw a flash of white. Din lurched forward and hooked the spear around the trooper’s neck, yanking him back and ignoring the choked gurgle that spilled from the trooper’s mouth. Din spun on his heel, shoved the trooper against the wall, spun the spear in his hand until the sharp point faced the trooper’s head.

Din slipped it under the trooper’s helmet and didn’t stop until he met flesh.

“How many of you are here?” He asked.

The trooper gasped, but didn’t answer.

Din angled the spear and pushed it up just under the jaw. Blood welled up and slid down the shaft, dripping onto Din’s hand. He hardly noticed.

How many?

“No one! It’s just me!” The trooper jerked his head back, trying to get away from the pressure of the weapon. His head met solid brick and stone, cracking loudly against the building side. “They just sent me!”

Din frowned, pulling the spear back just a fraction as the trooper’s gasping bordered on hyperventilating.

“Why?” he asked.

The trooper said nothing. Din pushed the spear back into place, then further.

“We’re running low on supplies!” The trooper gasped. “They wanted to see if there was anything salvageable in the cities before sending in a request for a supply run!”

“Did you find anything?”

The trooper shook his head. Frantic.

“Good.” Din drew back the spear, then twisted the trooper back around and hooked the spear back around his neck. He pulled it back until he heard something snap and crack and break, then let go. The trooper fell to his feet. Dead.

Din turned back to the other mandalorians. All three of them were staring at him, silent.

Din swallowed.

“How did you know he was there?” Axe asked.

“I--” Din paused. “--I heard him.”

He was met with silence.

Din took it for only a moment later before he started to get angry with it. It had only been one trooper, but without any weapons drawn he could have done damage to them. If Din hadn’t noticed, it could have gone far differently.

Still, Din took a deep breath and redirected his anger elsewhere. “Is there any wildlife left on the planet?”

“The jai’galaar, maybe.” Bo-Katan answered. She looked down at the dead trooper, understood exactly what Din was asking. “But the Empire wouldn't know.”

Din nodded, looked at Koska and Axe. “Take him back out. Make it look like an accident.”

“But the storm--”

“Would have passed by now.” Bo-Katan cut Axe off. She jerked her head up and looked back at them. “Get him far enough out that they won’t come looking in the city. Din and I will meet you in the systems building.”

Axe stared at Bo-Katan, but Koska nodded. She swooped down to lift the trooper over her shoulders, hauling him out and carrying him like he was nothing more than a sack of grain. She started back the way they came, stopping to shoot a look at Axe when he didn’t follow.

“Go.” Bo-Katan’s voice grew hard.

Axe looked back at Din.

He stared long enough to make Din shift on his feet, uncomfortable. Then he jerked his head back and hurried after Koska.

Bo-Katan waited until they were through the wall before she turned back to Din.

She stared at him like she wanted to say something. She stayed silent instead, then pushed ahead of Din and continued forward with a new urgency in her steps. Din followed after, falutring and falling back as he felt something warm and comforting and familiar pushing against his thoughts.

Grogu.

It was Grogu.

Din stood still. He felt his heart calm and something wet gather in his eyes.

That warm feeling became more urgent, pushing harder against his thoughts. Din closed his eyes. I’m happy, he thought. Not sad.

For a moment, nothing happened. Then that pressure went away and slowly retreated, leaving Din with a lingering warmth in his chest. He took in a deep breath, reached a hand up to gently lay over the pouch on his belt that rested next to the darksaber. He flicked it open, squeezed the little metal ball into his hand, then hurried after Bo-Katan.

Chapter Text

Din wasn’t sure how it was possible, but everything in the systems building was still intact and, even more miraculously, still worked.

It was slow and sluggish, but it worked.

Bo-Katan wanted to stay in the building for the night to make sure nothing would break down on them. If they couldn’t get the biodome functioning, then Ronion was a lost cause. Din hadn’t had any objections to that—he had certainly slept in worse places than a dusty building—and as soon as he was dismissed he hurried off to a quiet corner to answer his holocom that had been buzzing against his wrist like an angry hornet.

When he answered it, Luke greeted him with a fussy Grogu propped on his hip.

“Oh—there, see?” Luke pointed at Din. “Your dad’s right there.”

Grogu stopped his babbling, then cooed in delight when he saw Din. He reached out for him, nearly throwing himself out of Luke’s arms in the process.

Din couldn’t quite hold back the laugh that spilled from his lips, or the way his heart skipped a beat when Luke softly called him dad.

“Hey kid,”

Grogu babbled and cooed.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to bombard you—“ Luke smiled apologetically, readjusting Grogu as he made another lunge for Din. “—it’s just that Grogu’s been worried about you all day, and he tried to reach out to you with the Force and it’s far too taxing on him to try—“

“I know. I felt it.” Din didn’t mean to cut Luke off, but with Luke’s little surprised gasp it didn’t seem like it mattered. “It was...warm.” Din continued. “It felt warm. And safe.”

Luke looked between Din and Grogu before he finally settled on the child. Grogu cooed and reached up, smacking Luke’s face once before turning his attention back to Din.

Luke didn’t seem to notice.

“I didn’t realize your connection was that strong.” Luke murmured.

Din wasn’t sure who he was addressing, so he stayed silent. He couldn’t have answered even if he wanted to, because it wasn’t even a few seconds after Luke spoke that Din heard yelling and the sounds of blasters and flamethrowers. He took a deep breath, counted to three in his head.

“I need to call you back.” He said.

Luke blinked and snapped out of whatever trance he had fallen in. “Is everything all right?”

“I don’t know.” Din answered truthfully. “But I’ll call you back as soon as I can.”

“Stay safe,” Luke said.

Din nodded, gave a little wave as Grogu waved goodbye to him, then ended the call. The sounds outside had shifted to the dull thuds of hand to hand combat, and Din took in another deep breath before he stood and threw open the door to the little room he had found, hand hovering over his shoulder and ready to grab the spear.

He paused before he even made it out of the doorway.

“Paz?”

It took a moment for Bo-Katan and the other Mandalorian to stop and pull apart from their scuffle. She had him pinned to the wall, arm twisted behind this back. The other Mandalorian twisted himself back around, jerked Bo-Katan’s arm hard enough to get her to let go. And then Paz Vizsla was looking right back at Din. He was a little worse for wear, his armor was much more scuffed and dented, but he was still in once piece.

“Kriff—you are alive—“ Paz pushed Bo-Katan off him and rushed over to Din, placing his hands on Din’s upper arms. Paz held him still, looked him over for injury and scuffs and scrapes. “Fucking hell, Din—“

Then Paz was pulling Din into a hug that was all beskar and armor.

Din blinked, surprised.

And then like he had never skipped a beat Din lifted his own arms, hugging Paz back twice as hard.

“I thought you were all dead.” Din mumbled.

Paz laughed, soft and quiet. “Yeah, me too.”

Koska and Axe came around the corner just as Din and Paz parted, blasters at the ready. Koska lowered hers in surprise, but Axe kept his up, staring at Din.

“You know him?” Bo-Katan sounded a little winded, but she took a deep breath and pushed herself to her feet like nothing had happened.

Din nodded. “This is Paz. He’s part of my tribe.” Then he turned back to Paz. “How did you find me?”

“The Armorer found me. Told me where you were.” Paz answered. He took a step back, looking Din over once more before he gaze settled on the darksaber, still hanging from Din’s hip. He stayed silent for a moment before speaking. “She told me you had--kriff, I didn’t actually believe her--”

Din’s hand drifted to the darksaber, keeping a gentle hold on the hilt.

“So what are you gonna do with it?” Paz asked.

“I will see to my duties as Mand’alor, as the Armorer instructed.” Din answered. The words felt heavy on his tongue, but the more he let them balance between his teeth, the less strange they felt. “This is the Way.”

Paz did not answer right away. But then he slowly echoed “This is the Way.”

 

 

When Din settled everyone down and made sure Paz and the others weren’t going to kill each other, he ducked back into that little room and called Luke back with a heart fluttering like a bird.

“Is everything alright?” Luke asked as soon as the call connected.

“Yes, yes everything’s—“ Din paused. Luke had changed. He wasn’t in his robes anymore. He was wearing sleeping clothes, looking frazzled and disheveled and—and Din was pretty sure that was spit up on his shoulder. “...everything’s fine. A friend of mine showed up, that’s all.”

Luke let out a quiet sigh of relief.

“Are you alright?” Din asked.

Luke blinked. He tilted his head, then opened his mouth in a silent exclamation. “Oh! Yes, I’m—I was just getting Grogu ready for bed and he—you know, babies--“ Luke gestured to the spit up on his shirt, then ran his fingers through his hair. The motion did nothing to smooth it out. “Actually, since I have you here, could you maybe sing to Grogu?”

Din stared.

“He keeps asking me to sing, um—Gra’tua Cuun?” Luke absolutely butchered the Mando’a, but there was something about it that was so endearing that Din stayed silent. “But I don’t know it—I don’t know any Mando’a, actually—“

“Okay.” Din spoke gently, quietly cutting Luke off before he could work himself up.

Luke blinked, then smiled.

There were hardly any lullabies to sing to children in Mando’a--only war songs and drinking songs ment for bloodier times. But Grogu liked the sounds of the Mando’a language, cooed and babbled whenever Din let the words spill from his tongue, tried his best to imitate the harsh sounds of the language. So when Din sang to the child he did so softly and slowly enough to make the bloody chants sound nearly like a goodnight song, to make them kind.

Luke’s droid rolled into a tiny room, and when the hologram cleared up Grogu was sitting up in bed and reaching for Din.

“You want me to sing for you?” Din asked.

Grogu cooed and nodded, crawling across the bed so he could get closer.

Din’s heart felt heavy in his chest.

“I’ll leave you two for a bit,” Luke’s voice came somewhere from off the holocall, soft and gentle and full of understanding. “I’ll check in soon.”

Din waited until he heard a door softly click shut, then he lifted his hands and slowly removed his helmet. The air in the building was clean enough to not need the filtration systems of his helmet, but even if it hadn’t been Grogu’s excited coos and babbles more than made up for it.

“Hey,” Din smiled, felt something warm rise in his chest. "Luke told me you had a rough day."

Grogu cooed softly, nodding slowly in agreement.

"I'm sorry, kid," Din wanted to reach out and hold him. "I'll sing that song you like--will that make you feel a little better?"

Grogu nodded and cooed again.

Din smiled and started to hum the melody while Grogu got comfortable in his little nest of blankets, then started singing once the child had settled.

Gra’tua Cuun was not a gentle song. It was a rally, a war cry, and Grogu’s favorite. So Din sang it softly, less harshly, and even when Grogu fell asleep Din kept singing until he finished the song. It felt good to let out the harsh clicks and deep sounds of his language, to let it escape in its entirety after he had spent so long keeping it shut away.

When Din finished the song he watched Grogu for a while, watched his chest rise and fall.

Din blinked back something wet in his eyes and slipped the helmet back on.

“That’s a pretty song,” Luke’s voice came from somewhere off the holoscreen.

“It’s not so pretty when you know the words.”

Luke gave a quiet laugh. His droid chirped and spun around. And there Luke was, leaning against the door frame with a soft smile and his arms crossed. “Thank you,” he said. “For doing that.”

Din looked down. It was hard to look at Luke. “I don’t mind. I...I miss it, actually.”

“Grogu misses it too.” There was a beat of silence. “It’s...it’s been hard, getting him to fall asleep. I’ve been singing to him, but it’s not you.”

Din couldn’t bite back his smile. “Well, if you ever need me to sing again--”

“I’ll give you a call.” Luke finished. Din looked back up at him and was nearly taken away by how gentle Luke’s smile was. “I should let you go. Get back to your friend.”

Din had nearly forgotten Paz was here.

“Right. My friend.” Din swallowed. Nodded. “Good night, Luke.”

“Good night, Din.”

Luke’s voice was just as soft as his smile, and when the holocall cut out Din sat in the silence and darkness he was left in with a racing heart and warmed skin.

Chapter Text

Ronion’s systems building had a mess hall.

The whole thing was covered in a fine layer of dust when Din entered it the next morning, and if it weren't for the filtration system in his helmet he was sure he would be sneezing.

Din took a moment to just look, blinking away the sleepiness that still lingered in his eyes.

Tables were scattered around the room with a smattering of chairs pushed off into the corners. Most were broken, but there were enough still in tack for Din to place around a table. He took his time with it, patting the dust off the fabric of the seats as he placed them around the least wobbly table he could find. He set out five chairs, almost went back for a sixth, stopped himself before his hand touched the chair.

Din took in a deep breath and let his hand fall back to his side, then headed back to the kitchen.

He found far too much rotten food and very little ration packs, but it would do for a quick breakfast.

Din was quick to eat one of the ration packs in the quiet of the kitchen. It felt suffocating here without the safety of his helmet, and after he shoved the last of the stale food in his mouth he slipped the helmet back on. He swallowed the food and a sneeze, took in a deep breath, then went back to the mess hall and threw the rest of the packets on the table just as Bo-Katan wandered in.

“Breakfast.” Din said.

Bo-Katan raised an eyebrow.

She had forgone her helmet, but it was no surprise. The air was breathable now.

“Is it any good?” She asked.

“It’s stale.” Din answered. He looked at her a little longer, then ducked back into the kitchen to see if he could find any hydration packets that were still intact. They had food back on the light cruiser, but Bo-Katan had been adamant about not returning to the ship unless it was absolutely necessary.

Din didn’t mind.

This wasn’t his first time foraging for food.

He found enough hydration packets to split between the five of them, and when he came back out of the kitchen Paz was standing in the doorway to the mess hall.

Din did not think twice before he threw the hydration packets at Bo-Katan and marched over to Paz. He knew the other would start something, whether it be a verbal fight or a physical altercation, but regardless Din was far too tired and wound up to deal with it.

“She is not mandalorian,” Paz hissed it out once Din got close enough.

“Her creed is different than ours,” Din put a hand on Paz’s shoulder, shoving him back as he tried to step forward. “But that does not make her any less Mandalorian.”

Paz stared hard, but Din didn’t back down.

“Are all three of them like that?” Paz finally asked. His voice was cold, covered in frost and ice and spite.

“Yes.” Din shoved Paz back a little harder, his anger and frustration bleeding out. “And I’m not in the mood to break up a fight this morning, so don’t you kriffen start anything.”

Din could imagine Paz’s glare, his scowl, his anger.

But he stayed silent.

“I would expect nothing less from a Vizsla.” Axe’s voice came from behind Paz. Both Din and Paz looked up and at Axe, who was standing just behind them with a scowl dug into his lips. “Violence is all you people know.”

“What?” it was rare that Paz got caught off guard.

Axe nodded to the clan symbol painted on the shoulder piece of Paz’s armor. The Armorer had given it to him, told him he should not forget his clan even if he did not know them. “You think I wouldn’t recognize that?” then he looked at Din, his scowl going to something a little softer. “You may not be Death Watch, but your friend certainly is.”

Din could hear Bo-Katan’s sharp intake.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Paz said. His voice got hard again, defensive.

Things happened far too quickly after that.

Axe spit out something quick and harsh in Mando’a, and Paz responded with something even harsher. There was a shuffle, the sound of a weapon being drawn. Din hardly thought twice as he pushed Axe back just as he darted forward, his own hand going to the darksaber that hung from his belt.

The saber sparked to life. Glowed an eerie gray as it threw Axe’s face in a nearly blinding light.

“Back off.” Din said.

Axe stared at the darksaber with wide eyes.

“Paz was a foundling.” Din spoke slowly. He didn’t take his eyes off Axe. “Just like I was.”

There was a tense moment of silence, filled only with the quiet hum of the darksaber. Then, slowly, Axe backed away and Paz relaxed his stance, putting his weapon back in it’s sheath. Din held his own stance for a little while longer, only letting the saber fall when Axe was nearly out of the room.

“I’m going out.” Din pushed the button that let the blade fall away and slipped the darksaber back in the band that safely held it. “Don’t kill each other.”

 

--

 

Din left the systems building, walked around the city with no idea where he was going, then marched into the next building he saw.

He was surprised to suddenly find himself in a library.

It was about as old and dusty as the systems building had been, but instead of machinery and wires this one was packed with holo pucks and digital journals and recordings. Din would be surprised if any of them still worked, but he was still jittery and stressed so he picked one up and turned it on and hoped the cool blue tones of the holorecordings would calm him.

He nearly dropped the puck in surprise when it lit up.

The image was grainy and just distorted enough that it almost hurt to look at, but it was still clear enough for Din to make out the young man speaking to the recording device. He didn’t look very old. Din would have a hard time believing that he was any older than eighteen.

“My mother doesn't know I’m here--” the voice was distorted too, glitching out enough that Din had to strain to hear. “--but there's something going on, and I--”

The recording cut out.

Din stared at the puck, reached for another one and turned it on.

This one took a little longer to start up, but when it did Din found himself looking at the same young man as before. He looked more worried. More frazzled. “It’s just like I thought. The Death Watch has a strong hold in Ronion--” the image phased out before coming back in. “I think they’re planning to overthrow my mother--”

There it was again. The Death Watch.

“--they don’t like that she’s staying neutral in the war. They don’t like that she’s forgone the traditions for a more peaceful way in general, but I worry that--”

Din reached for another puck as the one in his hand died out. This one started up quicker, but the quality was worse.

“--the Death Watch is planning an attack. My aunt, Bo-Katan--she’s leading it--”

This puck actually popped and fizzled as it died.

“I didn’t know those still worked.” Bo-Katan’s voice came from behind Din. His heart leapt to his throat in his surprise, but he didn’t show it.

Din took in a few breaths to calm his racing heart before he turned to look at Bo-Katan.

Her helmet was back on, and for the first time Din wished that it wasn’t.

“What’s on these?” he asked. He kept his voice calm and steady, slowly taking steps towards Bo-Katan. Then he was standing right in front of her, still holding the holopuck. His hand twitched, hovering over the darksaber.

“A mistake,” Bo-Katan answered. “That I made years ago.”

Din held the puck closer to her. “You were part of the Death Watch.”

Bo-Katan stayed silent.

“Does Axe know?” Din continued.

“No. And neither does Koska.” she tilted her head to the darksaber, staring at it for a long moment before looking back up at Din. “I would prefer that it stay that way.”

Din felt a hot anger rolling in his stomach. He held the holopuck tightly, quickly shoving it in a pouch on his belt before he broke it further. If Din could get to a computer he could upload the files, see the whole thing and recover the lost data.

He had to, now.

“I’m not sure that’s your choice to make.” Din said.

For the first time since Din picked up the darksaber, it wasn’t the heaviest thing he held.

Chapter Text

Din had not realized that he had fallen asleep until his holocom was trilling pleasantly and rousing him from dreams.

He quickly blinked the sleep from his eyes and pried his head off of the computer board, nearly knocking the holopuck off the desk as he scrambled to answer the call. He must have been up all night transferring the data from the holopucks he brought back and monitoring the biodome functions, and all he had to show for it was an incomplete loading screen and a sore neck and a back that cracked and popped as he sat up.

“Oh, I’m sorry--I didn’t wake you, did I?” Luke’s face filled the holoscreen.

“No.” Din lied.

Luke looked at him with a tilted head and narrowed eyes.

“Is everything okay?” Din asked. He cleared his throat, sat up straighter and angled himself away from the computer. He felt like a child who had gotten caught eating dessert before dinner. “Is Grogu alright?”

Luke stayed silent for a moment, looking like he was debating on weather or not to call Din out on his lie.

“He’s fine.” Luke finally answered. “He’s napping now--we were testing how much Force control he has today,” Luke paused and smiled. “He’s very good at lifting things.”

Din nodded. He glanced back at the computer screen. The incomplete loading screen still stared back at him, taunting and mocking. He hadn’t realized just how corroded the files were, and after his conversation with Bo-Katan he had been afraid to leave the main computer room in case she tried to delete what little he had. “He lifted a mudhorn when we first met.”

Luke opened his mouth, closed it, tilted his head again. “That’s...impressive.”

“It’s why it’s our clan symbol,” Din continued. He felt a swell of pride, but it came crashing down just as quickly, leaving his chest feeling tight. “But he won’t—without armor he won’t have his own signet.”

Luke smiled softly at him. It looked almost sad--that melancholic look didn’t sit right on Luke “You say that like he won’t get armor.”

Din didn’t say anything, letting his own unspoken assumptions answer for him. His knowledge on Jedi ran thin, and just because Luke had broken many of the expectations Din had been raised on, it didn’t mean that Luke would break them all.

“Grogu is just as much a Mandalorian as he is a Jedi. I’m not going to keep him from parts of his culture just because they don’t fit with mine.” Luke said gently. Then he paused, smiled again. “He’s very excited to get his own armor, actually.”

Din glanced at the computer as the loading screen ticked forward. His chest felt tight again for a very different reason. “It’ll be awhile before he does.”

They fell into a silence then.

It was warm. Comfortable. Safe.

“Will I get to see him soon?” Din did not mean for his voice to come out so softly, but once the words were out he wasn’t sure how he could have asked them in any other way.

Luke stayed silent for a moment. He tilted his head again, lost in thought. “I think so.”

Din looked at him, frowned behind the helmet. “You don’t sound very sure.”

“The Force likes to be elusive about these things.” Luke answered with a smile, but before Din could ask him to elaborate he heard a quiet little coo from off the holoscreen. Then Grogu was climbing up into Luke’s lap. He tugged on Luke’s robes, huffed and grumbled as he flopped into Luke’s lap. Then Grogu turned to look at the screen, cooing happily as he saw Din.

“Hey, kid,” Din smiled, reaching out his hand so Grogu could place his own on top of it. The hologram blurred around the edges as Din touched it. “You’re supposed to be sleeping, aren’t you?”

Grogu babbled.

“He wanted to say goodnight before he went to bed,” Luke translated. “Which you should also be doing.”

“Right, course.” Din’s stomach flipped and churned. “Was...was there a reason you called?”

“You needed company.” Luke said. He smiled then, reaching forward to hold Grogu steady as the child tried to get closer to the holoscreen. “And now you need sleep.”

Din nodded.

“Good night, Din.”

Din swallowed. “Good night.”

Grogu waved and cooed, his eyes already drooping. He opened his mouth wide in a yawn, babbled something with another soft coo, and then Luke gave Din one more soft smile before ending the call.

“I was wondering where that little womp rat of yours was.”

Din turned to look at Paz. He was leaning against the doorframe with his arms crossed. He had been standing there for a few minutes now and listening in to the last little bit of Din and Luke’s conversation, Din just hadn’t bothered to turn and address him.

“He’s with a Jedi.” Paz didn’t sound upset about it. Just curious.

“He is.”

Paz stayed quiet for a moment. “He’s no longer your founding, then, is he?”

“No, he’s not. He’s my son.” Din answered firmly, leveling Paz with a hard look. “Grogu is only staying with Luke to learn how to control his abilities. He’s where he needs to be, just as I’m where I need to be.”

Din was fully expecting to have to defend himself to Paz, but instead the other mandalorian let out a laugh.

Din blinked, surprised, waiting for the last of Paz’s laughter to fade.

“You’ve really grown up, haven't you?” Paz asked.

“One of us had to.”

Paz shook his head. Din didn’t need to see his face to know that Paz was smiling.

Chapter Text

The holopucks, once the data had been uploaded and restored, had been damning.

The boy in the recordings—because really, he was hardly more than a child—spoke of a corrupt government, a decline in political stability, the stirrings of war and uprisings and a culture that was falling apart at the seams. There was nothing he could have done to prevent the atrocities that had been done to the Mandalorian people, despite his best efforts. He had a mother who wanted to forget the traditions that Mandalore had survived on for generations, and an aunt who wanted to embrace the violence and anger of a past that Mandalore had let go. And here this child was, caught in the middle of it all, desperately trying to find a middle ground and mend the divide that was tearing his home apart.

It hurt to watch, but Din couldn’t seem to look away.

“I don’t know what to do,” the boy looked desperate, a startling contrast to the calming blue of the holoscreen that painted his face. “We can’t survive if we stay divided like this, but my mother won’t waver on her stance. She’s convinced that we can become a pacifistic people, but—“ and here the boy paused. “My aunt is right about one thing. Mandalorians are warriors. That won’t change.”

The video cut out.

“Shit—“ Paz had stayed in the little computer room with Din, settling into the extra chair as the transmissions started to upload. Now he leaned back, looked at Din. “This kid isn’t—he’s trying to stop a war.”

“He didn’t.” Din said quietly. He looked up at Paz, and something heavy settled in his stomach. “He didn’t stop anything.”

They fell into an uneasy silence.

And then Din played the next holopuck.

“She’s sided with Pre. I’ve tried talking to her, but—“ the boy's voice wavered. Cracked. “Aunt Bo won’t listen to me. She won’t listen to anyone.” The boy took in a deep breath, stood a little straighter. “She’s sided with the Death Watch. All I can do now is hope she’ll see reason.”

The video cut out for a moment before coming back in.

“They're going to attack. They’re going to overthrow my mother.” The boy looked tired and far too old for his years. “She’s sending me off Mandalore—she’s sending me to Naboo, with Senator Amidala.” And then the boy’s expression got angry. “I can’t—Aunt Bo won’t talk to me anymore and she’s going to attack her own people—“

Din cut the transmission off.

He took the puck out of the recorder, scooped up all the pucks and cubes, and stormed out of the room.

“Din—wait—!” Paz called out, but Din didn’t stop. He hardly even heard him. Din marched down the halls, ignoring Paz’s calls, his anger filling his chest and nearly choking him as it spilled from his mouth in ragged breaths and silent curses.

She had accused him of being part of this terrorist group, of siding with a murder who had driven his people off their home when it had been her who did those things. She had sided with the Death Watch, she had abandoned her family, she had left her sister to rot in a cell and left her nephew on a forgin planet, desperately waiting for his mother to come back when she never would.

Din had done nothing like that, and his anger at being accused of it threatened to suffocate him.

Din hadn’t realized he had reached the dining hall, but he threw open the door anyway. It cracked against the wall. Something broke off and clattered to the floor. Koska and Axe looked up at him, startled, but Bo-Katan zeroed in on the holopucks in Din’s hand.

Her eyes widened.

Din stormed over to the table they were sitting at, threw the pucks into the table. They bounced and skittered across the smooth surface, stopping abruptly just before they rolled to the floor.

Din stared at Bo-Katan as she looked up at him. “Either you tell them, or I do.”

For the first time since Din met her, she looked afraid.

“Tell us what?” Axe asked.

Bo-Katan stayed silent. She was still looking at Din, eyes wide. Din’s anger only grew, pressing against his lungs and ribs and threatening to burst and break them.

“Tell us what?” Koska repeated. Her voice had gotten low, full of a near silent danger.

“I—“ Bo-Katan’s voice cracked. She looked back down at the pucks. “—I didn’t think you—“

“I don’t keep secrets,” Din said. “Because secrets are what get us killed.”

Bo-Katan was silent for a moment. Then her lips dropped into a frown, her eyes hardened, and then she was standing and pushing herself close to Din as she tried to tower over him. “You don’t keep secrets? What about those calls you’ve been making?” she pushed forward, pushed Din back. “Did you think I didn’t notice?”

Din narrowed his eyes. Didn’t back away. “You never asked.”

“I’m asking now.” Bo-Katan was not yelling, but it was a near thing.

“Luke.” Din answered. He snapped it out, really. “I’ve been calling Luke.”

Bo-Katan opened her mouth and then closed it, taking a buckling step back. She reacted like Din had slapped her--like she was like she was surprised that she had gotten an answer. “The Jedi?”

“Yes. The Jedi.” Din bit his cheek, slipped into Mando’a and threw out a taunt and an insult before he could stop himself. He tasted blood with each word, and for the first time in a long time he didn’t mind the coppery taste as it coated his teeth and slid down his throat. “Kaysh ijaats kaysh koors.”

He honors his deals.

Bo-Katan tried to speak, but before she could get a word out Koska was stepping in.

“What the hell is he talking about?”

Din was tired of waiting and dancing around the issue, so while still looking at Bo-Katan he spat out, “She was part of the Death Watch.”

The room fell deathly silent.

“What?” Axe’s voice cracked. He looked at Din, then Paz, then back to Bo-Katan. “That’s not--he’s making that up, right?”

Bo-Katan said nothing.

She swallowed and looked down at the floor. Axe stared at her, and without a word he got up from the table and left the dining hall. Koska followed after him, sparing only a glance at Din and Paz as she passed.

The door slammed loudly behind them.

Din let the silence linger for only a moment longer before he spoke.

“If you want my help, you will tell them the truth.” Din spoke softly, but his words were hard and sharp enough to cut bone. “I told you--keeping secrets will only get us killed.”

Bo-Katan snapped her head up. “You have to take back Mandalore--your Armorer tasked you with it.”

Her voice was dripping in spite and anger, and yet it shook with every word. She was smart enough to know what was on the line, the stakes that she was about to lose.

“Yes,” Din agreed. Then he leaned in close--close enough that Bo-Katan stepped back. “But I don’t have to do it with you.”

Bo-Katan took in a sharp breath, and Din spun on his heel and walked out of the dining hall.

The darksaber hummed against his thigh.

Chapter Text

As soon as the sun had risen enough for Din to see by, he slipped out of the systems building and into the city streets.

Despite his initial entry to Ronion and his brief visit to the archive buildings to gather the rest of the holopucks, Din hadn’t taken in anything more than the empty streets. He had been far too focused on the task at hand, on making sure everyone was safe--that there was nothing in here that would harm them.

And there hadn’t been.

Ronion was as dead as Mandalore was.

The only thing that still stood tall was the buildings, but even those were rusted and chipped and broken. And yet they still loomed over Din, casting him in freezing shadows and weighing heavily on his heart as he walked through the city. Din did not know this city as well as Bo-Katan--did not know Mandalore as well as Bo-Katan. This had not been his home. This had been nothing more than a story of his people and their past, but it still ached when he looked.

Din could only look for so long.

He needed to get out.

Mandalore’s harsh winds and frequent dust storms made it nearly impossible for Din to use his jetpack outside of the city walls, but luckily enough for him he had wandered into a scrapyard where several abandoned speeders lay among the twisted sheets of metal. Most of them were far too rundown and rusted to still work, but Din found one--not that different from the one Peli gave him--that he could get up and running with a bit of tinkering.

“You left in an awful hurry this morning.”

Din had been entirely engrossed in dragging the speeder out from under a hunk of metal to hear Paz approach. He didn’t jump, but he did bite his cheek in surprise.

“I didn’t really want to hang around,” Din turned around. Paz had his arms crossed and his hip cocked out, and if he were not wearing the helmet Din would have been able to see Paz’s raised eyebrows. “That’s something Bo-Katan needs to do. Not me.”

“Right, of course. Why would you stick around to hear her telling her clan members about her secret criminal past?”

Din ignored the jab and turned his focus back to the speeder.

“You’re not even the least bit curious?” Paz continued.

Din tilted his head back and sighed. “What Bo-Katan did doesn’t affect me the way it does Koska and Axe. I can wait for her explanation--they can’t.”

Paz stayed silent long enough for Din to free the speeder. Bits of it were dented and lines of paint had been scraped away by the sheet metal that had covered it, but it looked to be in working order, if not a little rusty. Din knelt to the ground anyway, checking underneath for any loose and broken wires.

“So what are you going to do?” Paz asked.

Din frowned. He hadn’t really thought out a plan. He just wanted to leave.

“You don’t know.” Paz sighed, shook his head. He sounded resigned. “For kriff's sake--I’m coming with you.”

“What?” Din snapped his head up to look at Paz.

“The last time you disappeared you came back with a baby,” Paz had already moved to stand by Din, and he knelt down next to him to look at the state of the speeder. “You’ll probably come back with another one.”

Din scowled. “I’m not going to come back with another baby.”

Paz hummed, like he didn’t believe him.

--

Sundari wasn’t the nearest city to them, but it was the one they had decided to go to.

“If Imperials are going to be anywhere, it’s going to be Sundari,” Paz had explained. The Armorer had given him a data chip full of all the information she had on Mandalore, along with instructions to share it with Din. Displaying it on the holoscreen in his gauntlet while riding on the back of a speeder probably wasn’t what the Armorer had intended, but it was what they were doing. “It was the capital before The Purge, and my guess is that the imperials just stayed there during the occupation.”

Din spared a quick glance at the map Paz had pulled up, then adjusted the speeder to go in the right direction. They were nearly there, and if Din squinted he could see the black dome just on the edge of the horizon.

The winds were calm now, but Din was sure that it wouldn’t be long before they started to pick up.

“We’re just going to scout out the city,” Din said. “I don’t want to get caught out in these winds.”

Paz turned off the holo and raised his hand in a loose salute. “Aye aye, your highness.”

Din reached a hand back to smack Paz upside the head. Paz laughed, bright and happy and carefree. It was a sound that Din so very rarely heard from him--a sound that he rarely heard in the tribe.

It reminded Din just a little bit of Luke.

Din shook his head and pulled back on the throttle, easing the speeder to a slower speed until he coaxed it to a stop behind one of the dunes. Sundari’s biodome hung over them, and posted at the entrance to the inner walls was a stormtrooper in armor so white that it was nearly blinding.

Din bit back a curse.

“You would think there would be more of them,”

Din glanced at Paz. He had come to stand next to him, keeping himself hidden behind the dune as he looked over Din’s shoulder at the trooper. It did seem odd that there was only one.

“Do you have a map of the city?” Din asked.

Paz ducked back behind the dune as he pulled up the holoscreen. It took him a few moments to pull up Sundari’s map. He zoomed in on the outer walls, and both he and Din stared at it for a moment, trying to decipher what they were looking at.

“That’s not the main entrance,” Din mumbled. He frowned, glanced back at the trooper. “Stay here.”

“Din--”

Din cut Paz off by spinning on his heel and igniting his jetpack. The winds were not strong enough to jerk him around, but they still offered some resistance. It didn’t matter anyway. Din wasn’t going very far, and he had flown over the trooper and scooped him up before he even spotted Din. The trooper yelled and squirmed and flailed, and if Din had not gotten so used to holding Grogu when he squirmed and flailed, he probably would have dropped him.

He dropped him anyway when he got back to the dune.

The trooper landed in the sand with a grunt. His helmet had gotten knocked off on impact, and before he could get up Din had drawn his spear and pressed the tip to the troopers neck in an eerie imitation of what he had done a few days ago.

“How many of you are in the city?” Din asked.

“Who the hell--?”

Cloth was the only thing covering the troopers neck, and Din shoved the spear forward until it pierced the cloth and dug into skin.

“I--a few hundred!” the trooper blurted out.

“Are you occupying any other cities?” Din continued.

The trooper stayed silent. Whatever initial surprise Din had managed to inflict on the trooper was gone, replaced with a stubborn silence and loyalty. He clenched his jaw, grinded his teeth, searching for something. He wasn’t going to talk.

“Last chance,” Din said.

The trooper spit out a few curse words, and before Din could push down on his spear the trooper bit down on the electrification chip in his tooth. The wind howled and screamed, kicking up sand and bouncing it off Din’s armor and visor. The trooper was dead a few moments later.

“What happened to scouting?” Paz asked.

Din looked up at him. “That was scouting.”

Paz stared at him, and the wind screamed again.

“We need to get back,” Din stepped back, securing his spear back in its holder. “A storm’s picking up.”

Paz lightly kicked the troopers body. “What about him?”

“Leave him,” Din went back to the speeder, bracing his hands on the handles as he threw his leg over the seat. “The body will get buried in the sand.”

--

Everyone was in the dining hall when Din and Paz returned, and while Bo-Katan wasn’t sitting with Axe and Koska, they were at least sitting in the same room.

Din glanced at Paz, and with a silent nod he went off to Axe and Koska while Din slid into the seat across from Bo-Katan.

“Where did you go off too?” she spit it out, but she looked so lost and tired that it didn’t have the effect she was going for.

“Sundari.” Din answered. “The Empire has troops stationed there.”

Bo-Katan didn’t seem surprised by the news. She nodded slowly, then lifted a hand to gently rub at her temple. She looked down at the table, dropped her hand and curled her fingers into a fist.

“Did they see you?” she asked.

“One did.” Din answered. “He’s dead. Killed himself.”

Bo-Katan nodded again and slipped into silence. Din looked away from her and glanced up at Paz and the others. Axe was staring at them, but when he saw Din looking he quickly looked away again.

“I never wanted her dead.” Bo-Katan said softly. Din almost missed it, it was so quiet. “I loved my sister, and I got so caught up in doing what I thought was right that I forgot that. And now she’s dead and her son is an orphan. Because of me.”

“You didn’t kill her.” Din said quietly.

There was nothing on the holopucks about the Duchess’ death, but Paz’s datachip had mentioned that she had been assassinated by a Sith after the initial siege by the Death Watch. It didn’t take much to figure out why she had been killed. That was the way of war, after all.

“I might as well have.” Bo-Katan didn’t look at him. She shook her head, barked out an empty laugh. “You’re right. Secrets get us killed.”

Din did not know what to say.

“I’m sorry,” Din said softly. It didn’t feel like the right words, and he spoke even softer. “Nu kyr’adyc, shi taab’echaaj’la.”

Bo-Katan looked up at him.

Her eyes were wide and wet.

She stared for a while, then blinked and quickly stood and hurried out of the room.

Din let her go.

Chapter Text

Din and Paz were looking over the maps of Sundari that had been stored on the datachip—as well as what they had found in Ronion’s systems—when Axe gently knocked on the door. Din knew that they were going to have to take back Sundari if they wanted to reclaim Mandalore, and while they certainly had the weapons to do so, they meant nothing if they didn’t have a plan.

The least that Din could do was look over the city schematics while everyone was still cooling off from yesterday.

“Can I talk to you?” Axe locked his eyes on Din. He didn’t even glance at Paz. “Alone?”

Din glanced at Paz. The other Mandalorian shrugged and stood, deliberately knocking his shoulder into Axe’s on the way out. Din wasn’t particularly in the mood to deal with that, so he turned his attention towards Axe and made a note to speak to Paz later.

He stayed silent, waiting for Axe to speak.

“How long have you known?” Axe asked. “About Bo-Katan?”

Din frowned and crossed his arms over his chest.

“About as long as you.” He answered. He shifted in the chair, bounced his knee and tapped his foot against the ground. “I watched the pucks with Paz the night before I gave them to you.”

“Right. Paz.” Axe all but spat out the words.

Din narrowed his eyes and swiftly stood from the chair. He took a step closer to Axe. He was not in the mood to put out fires tonight, but if he waited for them to sizzle out on their own they would never be able to work efficiently enough to take back Sundari, and Mandalore would remain a forgotten relic of times past.

“If you have a problem with him, you need to tell me.” Din said slowly.

“He’s a Vizsla,” Axe scowled and shrunk back, but didn’t entirely back down. “You saw what they did.”

Din had not seen, but he had heard what they did from the holopucks--how the Vizsla clan cobbled together the Death Watch from the remains on Concordia, led the siege on Mandalore that led to its downfall.

“Paz wasn’t a part of that.” Din’s voice was low and full of warning. “I told you, he was a foundling--”

“He wears the jai’galaar!” Axe cut Din off.

“He wears the jai’galaar as an aliik, par alitt, ” Din spoke with equal harshness, stepping forward until he was looming over Axe. The Mando’a slipped from his tongue without him realizing, both as a weapon and a heavy reminder. “Alitt meg dar’oyay.”

“That alitt destroyed Mandalore,” Axe pressed on, although his voice had lost some of it’s bite. “You don’t understand--”

“You’re right, I don’t.” Din cut Axe off. “That’s why I can keep a level head about it.”

Axe blinked, then scowled, but before he could get in another word Din’s wrist com started trilling. Axe flinched at the sound, and Din stayed still.

“If you’ll excuse me,” Din said. “I have a call to take.”

Then he spun on his heel, turning his back to Axe in a cold dismissal.

He heard Axe mutter a few choice words in Mando’a, but Din didn’t turn around until he heard the door to the room slam shut. He only glanced over his shoulder to make sure Axe was gone before he answered the call, the tension bleeding from his shoulders as Luke and Grogu greeted him with soft smiles.

“Are you alright?” Luke looked about as tired as Din felt--his hair was sticking up at odd ends and his robes were rumbled. If Din looked close enough, he could see heavy circles under Luke’s eyes even with the blue tint of the holoscreen. “You were--we could feel your distressed.”

Din sat back in the chair. “I was just...having an argument.”

Some of the worry that filled Luke’s eyes left, and Grogu perked his ears up and cooed happily.

He reached forward, sticking his little hand out as far as he could. It was on instinct now that Din reached his own hand out, holding it palm up so that Grogu could rest his own hand on top of Din’s.

Din curled his fingers around Grogu’s hand, wishing hopelessly that he could actually touch.

But for now, this was enough.

“Has he been sleeping better?” Din asked quietly. It took him a moment to look away from Grogu and back to Luke.

“He has,” Luke was looking at Grogu’s hand--at Din’s hand. “He still asks for you to sing, though.”

Din smiled and looked back at Grogu. His chest warmed and his heart fluttered. “Yeah?”

Grogu squealed and leaned closer to Din, nearly tumbling off Luke’s lap. He held his other arm out and waved it around, babbling and cooing. Din may not have understood the words his son was trying to speak, but he understood what he was asking for anyway.

“You’ll have to go to bed when Luke tells you to, okay?” he offered it as a compromise, already knowing that he was going to sing for Grogu anyway.

Din didn’t mind that Luke would hear.

Grogu cooed and nodded while Luke tilted his head.

Din held out his other hand palm up, smiling softly as Grogu slapped own hand on top of it. The hologram fuzzed around the edges when Grogu got too close, but Din pretended to hold that hand too--like what he always did when he was helping the child to stand and walk--while he quietly hummed a few notes.

Kandosii sa ka’rta, Vode an,” Din was singing so softly that it was nearly a whisper, but still Grogu hung onto every word. “Coruscanta a’den mhi, Vode an.”

Luke was hanging onto every word too, not even trying to hide that he was listening with as much intensity as Grogu was.

And Din found himself not caring.

It wasn’t too long before Grogu was sleepily blinking his eyes and falling back into Luke’s lap. Din kept singing even after Grogu closed his eyes, looking up at Luke as he finished the song. And Luke didn’t look away. He met Din’s gaze and smiled so softly that it almost hurt to look at.

“That’s a different song than what you sang last time,” Luke murmured.

Din felt his cheeks grow warm, but he didn’t look away. “This one isn’t pretty either.”

Luke laughed quietly, like the flutter of bird wings. “Well, it sounded pretty.”

Din ducked his head down. His heart was hammering against his chest. He stayed silent for a while, counting the cracks in the floor. When he looked back up Luke was still looking at him. Was still smiling.

“You always say that Grogu can feel my emotions.” Din said. He didn’t think that he was asking anything, he was just saying something to keep Luke and Grogu on the call, but Luke still offered him an answer.

“You share a very strong bond with him--your thoughts and feelings flow through the Force to him, just as his do to you,” Luke explained. “I can feel your thoughts and feelings sometimes through my bond with Grogu,” Luke paused then, glancing at something off screen before looking back at Din. “You’re a very loud person, Din.”

Din frowned. He wasn’t sure what to say to that.

“I don’t have powers like you do.”

Luke smiled again. Luke smiled a lot. “You knew Grogu wanted you to sing to him, didn’t you?”

Din opened his mouth to retort, but he couldn’t find anything to say.

“I’m sorry, I have to go,” Luke looked off screen again. His voice sounded almost distant before he snapped back, shaking his head and jostling Grogu enough for him to open his eyes for a moment. “Good night, Din.”

“Good night, Luke,” Din echoed.

The call cut off.

Din stared at the spot where the screen had been. Then, slowly, he reached into his pocket and pulled out Grogu’s little silver ball. He looked at it for a moment, rolling it between his fingers and warming the cool metal. Then he curled his fingers around it, pressed it to his helmet in an empty keldabe and let out a shaky breath.

Chapter Text

Tensions were still high the next morning--higher, really.

Din hadn’t seen any of the others yet, but he could feel the static and the tightness in the air as he walked down the hallways, poised and ready to snap at any moment. He wondered if this was like the Force Bond Luke talked about last night, if he was feeling the emotions and frustration boiling off the others. The idea of it unnerved Din, and he shook his head and decided to ignore it.

He managed to catch Paz before he entered the dining hall, grabbing onto his arm and sharply pulling him back just as he reached for the door.

“Be nicer to Axe.” He said, cutting Paz off before he could even speak.

“Why?” Paz asked. His hand was still raised, fingers curled to his palm in an empty hold of the door handle.

Din took in a breath and held it.

He had not slept last night. Luke’s words kept rattling his brain and the lonely ache in his chest would not let him ignore it, and he poured over maps and schematics to try and take his mind off of it. It hadn’t really worked, but at least Din had walked away with a base outline for a plan to infiltrate Sundari. It was shaky at best, but it was something.

“Because if everyone keeps arguing with everyone, then this whole thing will fall apart and we’ll lose Mandalore for good.” Din spoke slowly and evenly, knowing he was sounding close to condescending but not caring. “I will not fail this mission just because you four can’t get your shit together.”

Paz snorted. “Tell them that.”

“I'm going to.” Din said. “I’m just starting with you.”

Paz started at him for a moment.

“Fine.” he finally said. “I will try to be nicer.”

Paz jerked his arm out of Din’s grip and continued on into the dining hall. Din hurried after him, lengthening his stride so that he could fall next to Paz. “Thank you.”

“I don’t know if you want to be thanking me yet,” Paz glanced at Din, then jerked his head back towards the others. Bo-Katan was sitting at a corner table, staring blankly ahead. Koska and Axe were at one of the larger tables, and while Koska kept sparing quick looks at Bo-Katan, Axe was scowling at Paz.

Din gently nudged Paz behind him as they got closer to the table, then he pulled a holopuck from his pocket and set it on the table before any words could be exchanged.

“What is that?” Axe glanced at it. His scowl didn’t fade. “More of Bo-Katan’s secrets?”

Din saw Bo-Katan flinch.

“No.” he said. “It’s a plan to infiltrate Sundari.”

Paz looked at him, surprised.

“You’re going to call the clans back to Mandalore?” Koska stared at the holopuck while she asked the question, letting it hang between them for a moment. Then she looked up at him, tilting her head. Bo-Katan must have told them about Din’s little excursion then. “You cannot expect to take back such a large city with just the five of us.”

“He’d be crazy enough to do it,” Paz mumbled.

Din ignored him.

“I have other people who can help us,” Din answered, but before he could explain further Bo-Katan was marching over to him, days worth of anger and frustration dripping off her. It figured Din would be the one she finally snapped on.

“I will not accept that clone’s help--”

“And I will not call the clans back until Mandalore is secure.” Din snapped back, cutting her off before she could even get started. “I’m not going to put their lives in danger.”

Bo-Katan’s lips twisted into a dangerous scowl, and Din found his hand drifting to the darksaber.

“They are Mandalorian,” she said. “They know when to fight--”

“They’ve been through enough.” Din didn’t snap it out this time, but his voice was still hard. Final. “I will not make them fight for their home--not when I have the chance to give it back to them.”

Bo-Katan stared hard at him, her eyes flicking down to Din’s hand, still hovering over the darksaber.

And then she backed down.

Din didn’t dare pull his hand back, not yet. He waited a few more moments, and it was only when Bo-Katan made no further moves that he let his hand fall back to his side. He didn’t take his eyes off her as he spoke again. “I know some people on Tatoonie and Nevarro who can help,” he paused, dared Bo-Katan to say something, and then let Luke’s name tumble from his lips before he could think any better than to say it. “Luke will help too.”

Bo-Katan stiffened, but before she could say anything Axe jumped in first.

“You’re going to ask a Jetii to help us?”

Din turned to face him, but to his surprise Koska stepped in first.

“It’s a smart move, Axe,” she said. She spared a glance at Din, giving him a quick nod before turning her attention back to Axe. She lifted a hand and placed it on his shoulder, holding him still. “He’s strong--I’d rather have him on our side.”

Din wasn’t used to them agreeing with him, and it was nearly as unnerving as it was a welcomed relief.

“I assume you’ll have to go off planet?”

It took Din a moment to realize Koska had addressed him.

He nodded, quick and sharp. “It won’t be long--two days, at the most.”

Koska hummed, glanced at Bo-Katan. “We’ll have to find you a ship then.”

--

Bo-Katan had found a ship in the scrapyard--a freighter that barely had hyperdrive--and while Din could not walk through the infiltration plans until he had everyone together, but he did leave the holopuck with Koska.

“Try not to kill each other,” he said. He was in the scrapyard now, giving one last goodbye before he set off for Nevarro.

Din was taking Paz with him, but leaving everyone else behind on some last ditch effort to get them to talk and see reason with one another. That, and he didn’t want to completely abandon Mandalore. Not now.

Koska huffed out a laugh as she took the puck. “Axe will settle down--his hatred of the Death Watch runs deep, but he’s smart enough to put it aside.”

She slipped the puck into her pocket.

“And what about you?” Din asked. “Can you put it aside?”

Koska stayed silent for a moment. She looked over Din’s shoulder at the freighter, blinking slowly before looking back at him. “I’m like you.” she said. “I became a foundling after the Purge. The Death Watch is nothing to me but history.”

Din blinked in surprise. He hadn’t known that.

“I await your return, Mand’alor.” Koska smiled, ducked her head, and then headed back towards the systems buildings, leaving Din with a heavy weight on his shoulders.

Chapter Text

Din had left Paz to set the coordinates and gently ease the rickety old freighter into hyperdrive, hoping that he at least had enough grace and tact to not let the ship fall apart. It was old and worn and hardly worked as it was, and Paz was not always the most proficient at flying things that weren't his jet pack.

But Din left him to it, ducked down into the cargo hold while his stomach churned and rolled.

He had not considered that Luke may be too busy with other things when he offered up his name, but that wasn’t Din’s biggest concern.

Din had never explicitly mentioned to Luke just exactly what it was he was doing on Mandalore. Their many, many calls had mostly been centered around Grogu, and any mention Din had made about what he himself was doing was brief and off handed. Luke had never pushed him, and Din had been grateful for that. His calls with Luke had been the one place where he didn’t have to hold all this weight—he could set it down, if only for just a moment, and be nothing more than a father.

But like most of Din’s decisions, this one was coming back to bite him in the ass.

“Dank farrick—“ Din bit out the curse just as the holocall connected.

“Din?” Luke’s face filled the little holoscreen, and he spared a quick glance behind him before he was hurrying over to a different spot. He was outside, it looked like. Din could see tree trunks and leaves behind Luke, and the gentle sound of a babbling river hummed in the background. “Are you okay?”

There was something about Luke that brought Din an immediate sense of comfort, even though Luke was currently the cause of his worry

“Yeah—yeah, I’m fine,” Din paused. “I need your help.”

Luke stayed silent, waiting for Din to continue.

“Do you know what the darksaber is?” Din blurted out.

Luke blinked, surprised. It clearly hadn’t been what he was expecting Din to say, and Din certainly hadn’t been expecting to say it.

“It’s a very old weapon,” Luke answered slowly. His eyes narrowed ever so slightly and his head tilted just enough to be noticeable. “I believe it was first crafted to be used against the Jedi—at least, that’s what I’ve read, but my sister told me that now it’s passed between the mandalorian kings as a sign of leadership—“ and of course Luke would know, Din didn’t know why he thought Luke wouldn’t. “—why do you ask?”

“Because I have it.” Din blurted that out too.

Luke’s eyes went wide, his mouth opening just a little in his surprise. “Oh,”

There was a moment of near silence, only interrupted by the humming of the ship and the soft noises of running water. Then Luke blinked and shook his head and put on a warm smile.

“How can I help?”

And just like that, they had moved on.

Din was quick to launch into an explanation of the current situation—how they had been taking shelter in Ronion, the state of the city—of Mandalore itself—how it was nothing but dust and ruins and ghosts, how if he wanted any chance of returning the clans to their home they needed to take back Sundari, how Din needed far more than five people to take the city back, but he wasn’t going to get more than ten, and that was if he was lucky.

“The city is occupied with Imperial troops.” Din left the implications hanging between them, not sure what more he could say.

Luke was silent for only a moment longer before a string of curses was spilling from his lips. It was sudden and harsh, and Din nearly jumped back from how unexpected it was.

Luke ran his fingers through his hair, spat out a few more choice words, and then, “No, yeah—I’ll be there. Of course I’ll be there—“

“I’ll be on Tatooine tomorrow, at Mos Pelgo,” Din hesitantly offered. He was not sure how far Yavin Four was from Mandalore, and while he doubted Tatooine was any closer, at least there Luke could be on familiar ground. “You can meet me there?”

“Mos Pelgo?” Luke paused his movements. He blinked once. “I didn’t think—“ then he cut himself off, shook his head. “Mos Pelgo. I’ll be there.”

Din nodded, but before he could offer up a time to meet, Luke was abruptly ending the call.

“Boyfriend sure hung up on you quick, didn’t he?”

Din snapped his head around to look at Paz. He wasn’t sure how long the other mandalorian had been standing there. “He’s not—“

“Yeah, sure.” Paz cut him off. He was leaning against the door frame, arms crossed. “We’re about to exit hyperspace. Might wanna get up to the cockpit and let the docking stations know we’re gonna land.”

 

 

After being on Mandalore for so long, Nevarro was an achingly familiar sight, and having both Cara and Greef waiting when Din landed the ship was an even more familiar and comforting sight. Din had taken over the flying for Paz, who was nowhere near as good at landing as he was at taking off.

Cara had a soft smile on her face when Din cleared the last few steps of the hanger doors, and Din hardly had a chance to space a glance at Greef before the older man was pulling Din in a tight hug.

Cara’s smile got a little wider.

“Don’t disappear on me like that again,” Greef said. His voice sounded dangerously close to breaking. Then he pulled back and cleared his throat and managed to lock eyes with Din through the visor of his helmet. “Understand?”

Din nodded.

Greef smiled.

“Your guard dog not with you?” Cara asked. She waltzed up to them, crossing her arms and cocking her hip as she looked Din over before glancing over his shoulder at Paz. She didn’t take her eyes off him, carefully studying him for any signs of danger.

Paz snorted, and Din himself couldn’t quite keep his lips from twitching up into a smile. “No, not this time.”

Cara smiled too. She shook her head and uncrossed her arms, taking a few steps forward until she was in front of Paz. Then she held out her hand. “Cara Dune. I’m the city marshal.”

“Paz Vizsla,” Paz took her hand and gave it a firm shake, although he did not let go after. “I’m a member of Din’s tribe.”

Cara’s smile fell slightly.

“I’m sorry,” she said it quickly and quietly. Din nearly missed it, but Paz stiffened. “I’ve been keeping an eye on the place, if it means anything.”

Paz was silent for a moment.

“It does,” he finally said. His voice had softened and his stance became less stiff and rigid. He nodded, squeezed Cara’s hand gently. “Thank you.”

They stared at each other for a moment, and then let go of each other’s hand. They both took a step back. Paz fell back next to Din, and Cara next to Greef. Then Cara crossed her arms again and fixed Din with a look that Din knew all too well.

“So what brings you back to Nevarro?” she asked it like she already knew the answer.

“I need help taking over a planet.” Din answered.

He was met with silence, and then Greef sighed. “Of course you do.”

Paz laughed.

 

 

They went back to Greef’s offices, where Din explained the situation to them just like he had to Luke. It wasn’t nearly as nerve racking--Cara was well aware of Din’s current position and expectations, and judging by the lack of questions on Greef's part, Cara must have kept him in the loop.

“This might be one of the dumbest things you’ve ever said to me,” Cara said once Din finished.

“Oh, don’t worry. He’s said dumber.”

Din lifted a hand to smack Paz, but he just dodged it.

“I know it’s not...ideal, but it’s what we have to work with.” Din said. He tried to sound confident, but it fell flat. He knew what he was asking was for was dangerous and stupid, and he wouldn’t have held it against Cara if she said no. She had responsibilities here, and she had already dropped them more than enough times to help Din.

Greef frowned. “What you have to work with is five mandalorians and a Jedi. That’s hardly enough to take on a whole city.”

Din just offered up a shrug.

Cara steepled her fingers together, pressing them to her lips as she leaned forward in thought. She tapped her fingers against her lips twice before falling still. “Five mandalorians and a Jedi, huh?”

“So far,” Din said. He still had to go to Tatooine, although three more people would hardly make up the difference. And that was if he could even get those three people.

Cara hummed, then nodded. “Yeah, alright. I’m in.”

“Cara--” Greef started, but he stopped just as quickly. He closed his mouth and shook his head, like he knew better than to argue. “Just--come back alive, okay?”

“When have I not?” Cara asked with a smile.

Chapter Text

“Welcome back, Mando!” Peli greeted Din with a bright smile. Tatooine’s suns had only just risen, washing everything with a brilliant orange hue. Even though Mandalore had similar terrain, its sunrises were never like this. “Wasn’t sure you’d want to come back after last time.”

“I always want to come back to visit you,” Din said. He was surprised that he meant it.

Peli gave Din an affectionate pat on his shoulder, then glanced at the freighter. She didn’t make mention of it outside of an silently arched eyebrow. When her droids started rushing towards it, neither of them made a move to stop them. “Where’s you little womp rat?”

“He’s—“ Din paused. “He’s with someone else.”

Peli looked back at him, eyes going wide. “You gave him up?”

“He’s got joint custody.” Paz cut in. He was walking down the loading dock with Cara trailing behind him, and when a droid got too close to him he gently nudged it aside with his foot.

“He’s with a Jedi,” Din said quickly. “Luke Skywalker.”

“Luke Skywalker?” Peli propped her hand on her hip and made a quiet little huh noise. Whatever surprise she had before was gone. “That’s a name I haven’t heard in a while.”

“You know him?”

Peli hummed. “He used to do some work for me during the farming off seasons—spent most of his cash at the bars,” she nodded towards the general direction of Mos Eisley. Din followed her line of sight, trying to imagine Luke in the backwater bars tat made up most of the city. “Not the brightest kid, but who is when you're a repressed teenager?” Then she shook her head and looked back at Din. “I’m assuming this isn’t just a social visit?””

“We need to get to Mos Pelgo,” Din looked back at Peli, then jerked his head towards the freighter in a silent gesture of and not in that thing. “You wouldn’t happen to have any more speeders lying around?”

“You think I’m gonna give you another speeder? After what you did to my last one?” Peli scoffed, but she was already spinning on her heel and marching back towards the scrap yard. One of the droids squealed and followed after her, but Peli redirected it back to the freighter. Din hadn’t been expecting the freighter to get worked on while they were here, but he was grateful for it nonetheless. That ship was a flying death trap. “You’d be lucky if I even have the parts for a speeder!”

Din glanced back at Paz and Cara.

Cara looked amused by the whole situation, but Paz had his head tilted in confusion.

Din offered up a shrug, then hurried after Peli.

“I do have one, as a matter of fact. Brand new.” she stopped in front of a speeder that was parked right outside the entrance to the scrapyard. There was a tarp covering half of it, and the little bit that Din could see was bright red and still shiny. “It should fit all three of you, but it’ll be a tight squeeze.”

“Thank you,” Din said.

“Just get it back to me in one piece this time, or else you're buying me a new one,” Peli smiled, which took some of the threat out of her tone. It wasn’t much, but it was some. “And say hi to Cobb for me.”

Din blinked. “You know Cobb?”

Peli smiled wider and didn’t answer.

 

 

Mos Pelgo was far more lively than the last time Din had been here. There were plenty of people out in the streets, both human and tusken alike, wandering between trading stalls and booths that hadn’t been there before. Many of them paused briefly to wave at Din in greeting before continuing on with their trading.

“Why are they all waving at you?” Paz sounded almost accusing as he asked it.

“I helped them kill a krayt dragon a few months back,” Din mumbled.

“Of course you did.” Cara sounded just like Peli when Din had first broken the news to the mechanic. She shook her head, eyes scanning the walkways as Din slowed the speeder. “I thought Tuskens preferred to stay isolated?”

“They do, but they’re social with outsiders they consider to be part of the tribe,” Din coaxed the speeder into a stop outside of the bar. He hadn’t even dreamed that the Tuskens and the Mos Pelgo residents would ever mend their relationship to such a degree, but, Din supposed, killing a krayt dragon would do that.

Din jumped off the speeder as soon as he shut it off, a cloud of dust billowing out around him as his boots hid the hardened walkways.

Cara’s disembark was much more graceful, while Paz, who had been regulated to sitting on the back, all but stumbled his way off.

“We’ll talk to Vanth first, then head to the old Hutt palace—“ Din didn’t wait for them to follow as he started his explanation and walked into the bar, but he cut himself off rather abruptly when he actually tilted his head up and looked inside.

Boba was sitting at the bar table with Cobb, helmet off and resting on the floor by the stool he sat on. Cobb himself had on a new set of armor--it wasn’t mandalorian by make, but it was by design. It looked like repurposed trooper armor, painted a green similar to Boba’s. They were sharing a jar of some bright blue booze, and Boba was smiling as Cobb was animatedly telling a story, holding his empty glass but making no move to refill it.

Fennec was leaning against the bar table a little further down, and she briefly made eye contact with Din before looking back at Boba.

“Buckethead’s here,” she said.

Din wrinkled his nose at the name.

Both Boba and Cobb looked up. Cobb looked him up and down, sparing a quick glance at Paz and Cara before looking back to Boba. “Guess you were right.”

Boba hummed. He didn’t take his eyes off Din.

“You knew I was coming?” Din started his way towards the bar, taking the empty seat next to Boba. Cara went to offer quiet greetings to Fennec, while Paz stayed firmly behind Din.

“I got word of a Mandalorian freighter in the system. There aren't very many people it could be.” Boba answered. He reached towards the jar of alcohol, which Cobb pushed his way before Boba could grab it, then nodded his head towards Paz. “Who's your friend?”

“Paz,” Din paused a moment before continuing. “He’s a member of my tribe.”

Boba nodded, tilting his head to get a better look at Paz’s signet. “Vizsla?”

“Yeah.” Paz’s voice was hard, and he stiffened his posture like he was getting ready to fight—and Din couldn’t blame him, not with the way Axe had treated him these past few days. But Boba just nodded, offered a greeting in Mando’a, then turned his attention back to Din.

“Is the princess with you?”

Din blinked, then shook his head. “No. I left Bo-Katan on Mandalore.”

Boba hummed and glanced down at the darksaber that hung from Din’s waist, then topped off his glass. “A wise decision.”

“What brings you back to town?” Cobb asked. He reached for the jar, which Boba handed to him without prompt, and topped off his own glass.

Din went to answer, but just as he was about to speak he felt a gentle push at the back of his head, like someone had popped his head from behind. He was so surprised by it that he snapped his mouth shut and turned to look at the door of the bar--in the direction of the push. He stood from the stool, and when he was halfway across the floor he heard a droid trill and the coos and babbles of a baby.

And then there was Luke, wearing all black and standing in the doorway, his astromech droid plowing on in ahead of him and Grogu resting in his arms.

The child was wearing different robes--they were the same dusty brown as before, but these were fitted enough that Grogu wasn’t swimming in them. Clutched in his little hands was the mythosaur necklace, with the cord looped around his neck.

Grogu shrieked in delight and threw his hands up, nearly smacking Luke in the face.

“You didn’t tell me the Jedi was Skywalker,” Boba hissed.

“You never asked.” Fennec replied.

Din didn’t pay them any mind. He hurried over to Luke, hesitating for only a moment before he took Grogu. The child cooed and immediately reached for Din’s helmet, dropping the necklace and babbling and patting the beskar as he bonked his head on Din’s chin. Din swallowed back something heavy, then leaned his head down so he could properly bump his forehead against Grogu’s.

Ni kar’tayl gai sa’ad,” Din spoke the words softly enough that only Grogu could hear, and Grogu cooed and bumped his head into Din’s again and Din’s hear, for the first time in a long time, felt light and warm and--

Oh.

This was what Luke meant by a Force Bond.

“I was going to ask my sister to watch him,” Luke said quietly. “But Grogu really wanted to see you.”

Din swallowed and blinked back something wet, then looked up at Luke. He was smiling softly, looking every bit as serene and poised and comforting as he had when Din first met him. But this time, there was something about Luke that seemed more real. More human.

Din nodded. “Thank you.”

Luke’s smile got a little softer, but when he glanced over Din’s shoulder, it fell completely.

Befor Din could even think to ask, Luke was blurting out a hurried I’m sorry.

“Don’t be,” Boba said. Din blinked and turned around to look at him. He was looking at Luke, his face blank. “I had a--enlightening experience.” Then Boba looked back at Din. “This must be important, if you called the Jedi.”

Din wanted to ask.

Instead he shelved it, adjusted Grogu like he had never let the child go, and nodded. “There’s imperial troops on Mandalore. In Sundari. I want them out.”

Boba looked at him for a moment, then he looked back at Cobb. “Do you want to help?”

Cobb frowned. “I’m not a Mandalorian.”

“Half of the people in this room aren’t Mandalorian.”

Cobb narrowed his eyes, glanced at Din, then back to Boba with a sigh. “Sure. Why the hell not?”

He knocked back the rest of his drink, and Grogu cooed and smacked Din’s helmet again.

Chapter Text

“So this is where you ran off to?” Luke’s voice was a pleasant surprise among the soft beeps and hums of the computers and monitors. It blended well with Din’s, who had been humming quiet songs to Grogu as the child slept against his chest. “To watch the biodome monitors?”

“Someone has to,” Din answered. He turned to look at Luke, careful not to disturb Grogu. The Jedi was leaning against the doorframe, his legs crossed and one hand resting on his hip.

“Doesn’t seem like a very kingly thing to do,” there was a hint of a teasing tone in Luke’s voice, a smile slipping onto his lips as he tilted his head and looked at Din. His eyes flicked down to Grogu, resting in the crude birikad Din had fashioned his cape into. Luke’s smile fell into something softer.

Din looked at him for a moment, then ducked his head down to look at Grogu.

“I’m not a king of anything,” Din ran his thumb along Grogu’s ear, leaning down to gently bump his head against Grogu’s as the child cooed in his sleep.

Luke pushed himself off the door. He crossed the room in graceful strides, then sat in the chair next to Din’s, angling himself so he could look at him. The dull computer lights cast him in a soft glow. It was almost like Din was looking at Luke through the hazy screen of a holo, but here he could see the blue of his eyes and the pretty gold in his hair.

“All those people out there would say otherwise.” Luke said softly.

Din didn’t reply, and Luke didn’t push him.

“What are you looking at?” He asked instead, easily changing the subject. He nodded his head towards one of the screens. It was the one Din had plugged Paz’s data chip into.

“It’s a datachip--the Armorer put it together. Filled it with everything she knew about Manalore.”

Din fell silent as his chest tightened.

He understood why the Armorer had left so much of Mandalore behind her, buried in the sand and burned to the ground where no one could find it. Her people were being hunted to extinction, her culture and way of life ripped apart and put on pretty displays for others to pretend to understand. It was easier for her tribe to live in ignorance of it, to forget the history and embrace a swiftly dying culture before it was gone for good.

Luke scooted his chair a little closer, offering Din silence and understanding.

He had always offered these things when they had their holocalls, but now, with Luke so close--

“The Armorer didn’t talk about Mandalore,” Din took in a breath, lifted a hand to hold Grogu a little closer to him. “She told us that it was from the before times--a relic we would be better off forgetting.” Din glanced up at Luke, and before he could really think better of it he let the rest spill from his mouth. “She tasked me with leading these people, but I don’t--how can I do that if I don’t know anything about them?”

Luke stayed silent for a moment, taking the time to gather his words.

“I don’t know a lot about the Jedi,” he finally said. “And what I do know, I tend to disagree with.”

Din was not sure what he had been expecting Luke to say, but that hadn’t been it.

“You can learn about a people’s history, but that’s not how you lead people.” Luke offered him a small smile. “You lead people by doing what you think is best for them, which is exactly what you’re doing now.”

Din ducked his head back down. “I think you’re overselling that.”

“Am I?” Luke’s voice was kind, and when he reached out and placed a hand on Din’s knee, Din didn’t jerk away. “You asked us to help you take back Sundari instead of calling the mandalorian’s back--you’re not willing to put them in danger, not when you can prevent it.”

Din didn’t say anything.

“You’re a better leader than you think you are,” Luke said. He lingered a little longer before pulling his hand back. Din was surprised at how much he missed the weight of it. “Everyone else is asleep, Din. You should be too.”

“You’re awake,”

Luke blinked, then laughed.

“Yeah, well, sleep and I don’t get along.” Luke leaned back in the chair, throwing his arm over the back as he glanced at the computer screens.

His smile fell, then.

Din felt something in his chest ache, and Grogu stirred and sleepily blinked open his eyes.

“Bu?” He reached a hand up, gently patting the side of Din’s helmet.

“It’s okay kid, I’m okay,” Din was quick to reassure the child, leaning his head down to Grogu could sleepily bump it before closing his eyes again. He could feel the warmth and comfort that Grogu was pushing to him through the bond, and it was as strange as it was exhilarating. Then Din looked back up at Luke, who was looking at the two of them with a wistful sort of gaze. “You want to help me work out these plans, then?”

Din had gone over his battle plan once everyone had gathered together in the dining hall, but there wasn’t much to it.

He knew that their best point of entry into Sundari was through the docking entrances. They were the least monitored, and if Din had been able to take out the single trooper that easily then it should be a breeze to get through. He knew if they even wanted a shot at taking back the city they needed to get into Sundari’s systems buildings to shut down the biodome--Mandalore’s air wasn’t nearly as toxic now as it used to be, but if left in it for too long it would still knock you out and seep into your bones and leave you paralyzed while it choked you.

The filtration systems in trooper helmets were not as effective as mandalorian helmets, and while Din knew how risky it was, most of this plan would come down to see who could last longer.

He hoped that they would be able to take out enough troopers before then, at least.

Luke’s smile was back. “You don’t think winging it is a good plan?”

That startled a laugh out of Din.

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “Not this time.”

Luke hummed and tapped his fingers against the back of the chair, then he leaned forward and reached past Din to flip the computer screens until a map of Sundari was showing.

Din felt his face heat up as he suddenly had a lap full of Luke, but he pulled back just as quickly and started saying something about splitting into groups, so Din didn’t have time to dwell on it.

Chapter Text

The sun had not yet risen—was only just beginning to kiss the horizon, and as Din stood in the shadow of Sundari, he felt like he could still be standing underneath the night sky.

“So, how do you wanna play this?”

Din glanced at Cara as she came to stand next to him. She was wearing an extra helmet they had found lying around—it was red, the paint chipped and faded in places to reveal the metalwork underneath. There was something about it that looked right on her, but still, Din couldn’t shake the uneasiness of knowing that the helmet didn’t belong to her.

“You and Bo-Katan will go in first,” Din was looking at Cara, but he raised his voice enough to address everyone. “She knows the city layout, and I want to get you to the systems building before we shut off the biodome.”

Cara may be wearing a Mandalorian helmet, but there was no telling how shot the filtration system was.

“Luke will go with you.” Din tacked on.

While Din had offered Luke a helmet of his own, the Jedi had refused. He had assured Din that he would be fine and that the air would affect him much more slowly, if at all, but Din had not been able to shake his worry. The filtration systems would stay on in the systems buildings--a fail safe that had been built in long ago--and the quicker Din could get both Luke and Cara in the better he would feel.

Truthfully, he wouldn’t feel better until he was back in Ronion.

He had left Grogu behind with Luke’s astromech droid, and while the thought of leaving his son with a droid rubbed him all sorts of wrong ways, it was better than bringing Grogu with him.

Bo-Katan bristled from Din’s other side. “You want me to go with a jetii?

Ni liser soletar bat te jetii.” Din spat back. He was not in the mood to argue with her. “A gar, ni dar’troch.”

Bo-Katan’s shoulders stiffened, but she did not reply.

Boba snorted out a laugh.

Din ignored him and continued. “You three will go in first, then I’ll have Axe, Paz, Koska and Fennec follow after you. I’ll stay behind and get the systems shut down from inside the outer walls.” Din paused, locking eyes with Luke for a moment. He smiled and gave a small nod. Din looked away. “Fett, you’re with me and Vanth.”

There was a moment of silence.

“Well, let’s get this show on the road,” Cara hummed and knocked her shoulder against Luke’s. “Let’s go pretty boy.”

Luke sputtered.

Cara laughed, the sound distorted by the helmet's modulators, then drew her blaster and started down the sand dunes. Luke stared at her, then shook his head and followed after, his hand hovering over his saber but not drawing it. Bo-Katan stood still, then quickly jumped into motion. There was only one trooper at the docking entrance, just like last time, and in a very similar move to what Din did Bo-Katan started up her jetpack and scooped up the trooper before they could properly react.

Din watched and Bo-Katan easily maneuvered the trooper into an easier grip. Then she snapped his neck and let him fall back into the sand.

And then the three of them were inside the city walls.

“See you on the other side,” Paz threw Din a mock salute, and then it was just Din, Boba, and Cobb waiting for an update to let them know everyone was inside the system's buildings.

Din would not shut down the biodome until then.

The wind whipped up quickly, sand pinging off Din’s armor and visors. “We should go--before the storm picks up.”

“Lead the way,” Cobb gestured towards the city wall.

There were three dead troopers waiting for them when they slipped inside the inner walls, the singe marks on their armor much more consistent with a saber strike than with a blaster shot. Boba kicked them out of the way to get to the computers, and Din closed the door just as the wind screamed and moaned.

Cobb went to stand behind the chair Boba sat on, leaning against the back and propping his hand on his hip while he quietly talked the other man through hacking the security walls put in place.

Din watched them, content to sit back and wait till he was needed.

His holocom trilled.

“I need you in the systems building.” Paz didn’t wait for Din to greet him before he started speaking. “We have a problem.”

Din felt his heart drop. “What’s wrong?”

Before Paz could reply his connection was cut off.

“Go.” Boba said before Din could even look over at him. “Cobb and I will get the dome shut down.”

Din hesitated for only a moment before he was rushing out of the inner wall and into the city.

Sundari was not much different from Ronion in it’s layout, but Sundari was far more quiet. It was strange. Unsettling. Din knew there were people occupying the city, but there were no signs of life anywhere. It was like the place had been abandoned.

Din didn’t have time to think about it--Din didn’t want to think about it.

He drew his spear and kept close to building walls and long shadows. He didn’t run into anyone, and when he reached the systems building Koska was waiting for him outside. Her blaster was back on her hip, her arms crossed low over her chest.

“The city’s been abandoned.” she said. “The only one’s left are the troopers guarding the city gates. Fennec and Axe are taking care of them.”

Din wasn’t sure what he felt at hearing that.

“We’ve still got a problem, though,” Koska continued. She nodded back towards the systems building. “Paz and your Jedi are up on the third floor.”

Din blinked, then shook his head. “Go back to Boba and Cobb--let them know what’s going on.” He paused for a moment. “Have them keep the dome running until I com them.”

Koska nodded, and while she took off back towards the wall, Din hurried inside the building.

There was no one inside.

It unnerved Din.

He tightened his grip on his spear and he hurried through the halls and up the stairs, ducking around corners and sneaking through doorways.

He came to an abrupt stop when he reached the landing of the third floor.

Paz was standing by the stairwell door waiting for him, but Luke was crouched on the ground and speaking softly to a child. A child, who couldn’t be older than ten. A child who looked terrified of Luke even though he was clearly putting on a brave face.

“There are more,” Paz said quietly. “Bo-Katan and Cara are looking for them, but the kid’s not telling us where they are. They’re going in blind right now.”

Din swallowed back something bitter, then pushed past Paz to get to Luke.

Luke looked up at him, eyes going wide as Din knelt next to him and removed his helmet.

“My name is Din,” he gently set his helmet on the ground, ignoring Paz’s sharp intake of air. “This is my friend. Luke.”

“He’s a Jedi.” the child sounded terrified, his eyes darting to the darksaber that hung from Din’s waist.

“He is,” Din agreed. Then he set his spear down and slowly removed the darksaber, keeping it in the child’s sight as he set it next to his helmet. The child followed Din’s movements and didn’t look back up at his face until Din’s hands were back at his sides. “But I’m not.”

The child didn’t relax, but he looked a little less scared.

“That big scary man behind me is also my friend,” Din continued. He glanced at Luke. Luke understood immediately and slowly rose to his feet to back away. “His name is Paz.”

The child glanced back at Paz, but didn’t say anything. He flinched back as Luke’s own wrist com trilled. Din didn’t look back, but he could hear one of them quietly slipping back into the stairwell.

“Din,” Luke spoke softly. His voice sounded far away, like he wasn’t even in the room at all. “Din, Cara found them.”

Din didn’t take his eyes off the child as he replied. “How many?”

A moment of silence, and then, “Twenty, at least.”

Din took in a deep breath, held it until it burned. "Get them out of this city. Now."

“I’ll go,” Paz spoke before Luke could. "You stay with Din and the kid." He deliberately kept his movements loud, letting the child know where he was and where he was going. When Paz was gone, Din quietly asked the child what his name was.

The child blinked, like he was surprised by the question.

“I don’t have one.” he said.

Chapter Text

Din and Luke went back to Ronion with the children.

The others offered to stay behind to chase out any storm troopers that might have been left behind and scour the city's computers and databases for any information that hadn’t been wiped yet. Boba linked up him com with Din’s to keep him updated and Paz had found them a ship big enough to get them all back, and as Din gently lead the kids onto ship Bo-Katan had watched with a haunted look on her face, her knuckles nearly white from how hard she had been holding her helmet.

Din had not been able to shake that image off as Luke flew them back.

“We had heard rumors of Empire sympathizers recruiting children,” Luke spoke softly, sitting close enough to Din that he could feel the warmth of the Jedi even through his beskar. “That’s why I--I was hoping I was wrong, when you said there were Empire troops on Mandalore.”

Luke glanced at him, his eyes full of a sadness that Din was starting to understand.

“Guess I wasn't.”

“This isn’t your fault,” Din murmured.

Luke smiled, bitter and hard, and didn’t answer. He looked back to the children, now back in the dining halls in Ronion and wearily eating the food Din had given them. They took tentative bites, glancing back at Din and Luke each time they did, like they were afraid it would get taken away.

Din and Luke themselves were sitting at one of the corner tables, far enough away to give them space, but close enough to keep an eye on them.

Artoo was running around the dining hall and checking in on the children. Din tried to pretend that it didn’t irk him that the children seemed more comfortable around Luke’s droid than him.

“What are you going to do with them?”

“They’re foundlings.” Din answered. He looked back at Luke, wanted to reach out and take his hand in an offer of comfort and understanding. “They are in our care until we reunite them with their parents or they choose to leave.”

Luke crossed his arms over his chest. He glanced at Grogu, who was sitting with the boy Din spoke to back in Sundari. He wasn’t frightened of Grogu, not like he had been with Luke. He let Grogu climb over his shoulders and into his lap, shared his food with Din’s son without the hesitation the other children were showing.

The sight of it made Din’s chest feel tight.

“I’m not sure you’ll find many of their parents,” Luke mumbled. He closed in on himself, like he was trying to hide himself away in his cloak.

“Then we’ll care for them.” Din did not say it harshly, but he spoke firmly enough for Luke to look up at him with thinly veiled surprise. “Until they are of age or brought back to their kind, they are our children.” Din swallowed as Luke’s eyes went wide. “This is the Way.”

Luke looked at Din for a while. His eyes searched Din’s face, pausing to hold eye contact for a moment before breaking it. Din realized, rather belatedly, that he had never put his helmet back on.

When Luke finally looked away he didn’t seem as sad.

“That boy,” Luke looked back toward Grogu and the child. “He’s Force sensitive.”

Din blinked, not nearly as surprised as he should be.

“A few others are too,” Luke paused. He chewed his bottom lip, fiddled with the hem of his robes. “But they’re like Grogu--they’re suppressing it, so I can’t really tell who else has Force abilities.” Luke paused again, this time reaching up to tug his glove. “I don’t think the Empire knew--I think they were just trying to train them to be troopers.”

Din nodded slowly. Luke had said as much back in Sundari, about them being used as troopers. “Do you want to take them back to Yavin?”

“I--” Luke started, then stopped. He bit his lip again, then looked back at Din and shook his head. “They need stability. Keeping them on Mandalore is the best option right now.”

Din nodded again.

He would care for these children, of course, but right now Din wasn’t sure he had the supplies and the ability to properly do it. Ronion’s broken down buildings and limited food supplies had been fine when it was just the five of them but now--

Din felt almost nauseous as he looked back at the children.

There were so many.

“I can talk to Leia,” Luke reached over and took Din’s hand, squeezing gently. “She can get supplies out here--food, water, things the kids might need.”

Din laced his fingers with Luke’s, opened his mouth to reply, but then his com unit was trilling pleasantly. Luke smiled softly, drawing his hand back as Din got up from the table and ducked out of the room.

“I’m not interrupting, am I?”

Din frowned at Boba and didn’t answer the question. “What did you find?”

“Not much, I’m afraid. ” Boba answered. He glanced behind him for a moment before looking back at Din. He looked tried. “The city’s completely empty--the princess thinks the Imps probably jumped ship once they found out you were here. Computer systems are mostly wiped clean too. I can’t tell you much more than flight logs and supply drops.”

Din nodded. “Anything on the kids?”

Boba’s face soured. “Your Jedi was right. They were being trained to be troopers.”

Din took in a deep breath, held it until it hurt.

“Come back, then,” Din finally said. “Not much use in being in an empty city.”

Boba nodded. “I’ll gather all the data files for you,” he said. “You might find something I missed.” Then he ended the call.

Din stood in the hall for a moment, dropping his head back against the wall. He took in a few deep breaths to even his breathing, then he pushed himself off the wall and slipped back inside the dining hall. The kids looked up when he entered, relaxing when Din headed for Luke and took back up his quiet vigil.

“They find anything?”

“No, not much,” Din sighed. “You were right, though, They were training the kids to be troopers.”

Luke bit out a few curses in a language Din didn’t know.

“I’m going to have to let Leia know about this,” Luke said. He sighed, lifted a hand to tug his hair back. “I know you wanted to stay out of New Republic business, but I don’t think you’re going to be able to.”

Din knew enough about politics and the New Republic that he knew once they learned that the darksaber had been reclaimed the Republic would come knocking on Mandalore’s door and demanding treaties and negotiations. Din wasn’t so naïve to think that it would never happen, but he was optimistic enough to hope that he could put it off until he had grown more adjusted to being Mand’alor or he had pawned the saber off onto someone else, regardless of the Armorer’s instructions.

But things never seemed to work in his favor.

“Stay here.”

Luke blinked. “What?”

“Stay on Mandalore with me,” Din repeated. “If I have to deal with the Republic, I’d rather do it through you.”

Luke blinked again. His eyes were incredibly blue. Din had never really noticed before, not through the glow of a holoscreen and his helmet's visor. “Din, I’m not a senator. Or a representative.”

“Your sister is,” Din said. Luke stared, then conceded with a nod and a sigh. “And you can stay with the kids--the wizard ones, too.” Luke snorted out a laugh, and Din smiled before continuing. “They need someone to watch over them, and I’m not stupid enough to think that I can do it by myself.”

“You want me to babysit?” Luke asked it with a smile.

“If they’re like Grogu, they’ll eventually need help controlling their powers. You can do that here.” Din hesitated for a moment before he reached over, taking Luke’s hand in his own again. “And--I would like you to stay.”

Luke smiled, soft and sweet.

“Yeah,” he said quietly. “I’ll stay.”