The Jedi wasn’t at all what Din had expected. He had expected a warrior of sorts - the stories his Tribe had told of the Mandalore-Jedi wars made that very clear - and the man had been exactly that, mowing through the Darktroopers with a bright gold lightsaber, doing easily what had taken Din extraordinary effort. Even Grogu had been staring wide-eyed at the security monitors, watching him work.
Still, Din had had to ask. “Are you a Jedi?”
“No,” the man replied, lowering his hood to reveal eyes as golden as his saber, “Or at least, not anymore. But I have been sent by those who still are.”
“Sith,” Bo-Katan hissed somewhere behind Din, but the Mandalorian was more focused on Grogu, who didn’t seem the slightest but worried. The child got down from his perch with a muffled “hup!”, then toddled over to the Sith.
The man went to one knee so the child could get a better look at him, but made no attempt to snatch him up and leave. “Hello, Grogu,” said the Sith, “My name is Luke Skywalker. If you like, I can bring you to the temple to learn the Jedi path.”
“You sure about that, Sith?” Bo-Katan growled, though now it seemed like more of a grumble.
“I was trained in the Jedi way by Master Obi-Wan Kenobi and Master Yoda,” Skywalker answered with rueful understanding, “It’s not their fault I… chose a different path. Yes, Grogu, that Yoda.”
The child lifted a tiny hand, and with surprising gentleness, Luke offered a hand of his own, the ungloved one, letting the child press their palms together. Both of them were silent for several long minutes, but finally Grogu made a number of happy noises and raised his little arms in clear demand.
Luke looked amused. "Don’t you think we should talk to your dad, ask if he wants to come along to check out the temple, before we go haring off into space?"
The child blurbled again and bobbed back over to the Mandalorian in question, who scooped him up as he drew near. “...I’d like that,” he said finally, and Grogu bounced in his arms.
He continued bouncing and making delighted noises all the way down to the cargo bay where the Sith had boarded the Imperial star destroyer. It was a tight fit, but all three of them managed to squeeze into his ship. On the way, however, Din was very careful not to look too closely at the slaughtered Darktroopers; he didn’t need to be reminded of how skilled and deadly Luke had been during the fight, and how attractive that was.
Grogu was just as curious about this ship’s controls as he’d been about the Razor Crest’s, groping for buttons and levers and switches if they looked even remotely interesting and in reach. Luke explained everything Grogu pointed to while Din dug out one of his toys - a silver control knob, all that really remained of the Razor Crest that wasn’t scrap scattered over the surface of Tython - and handed it to him. Once he was settled, the bounty hunter asked, “So, where are we going?”
“Coruscant,” was the reply, “Not your usual stomping grounds, I know, but that’s where the Order is. And where I live as well, since surprisingly enough the New Republic wants to keep an eye on the Sith who killed the Emperor and is working to rebuild the Jedi Order.”
To cover his own discomfort at venturing so deep into the Core, Din said, “That seems counterintuitive. A Sith rebuilding the Jedi, I mean.”
“Perhaps it would be if I was an ordinary Sith,” Luke answered, entering the coordinates for the planet, “but, as in all things it seems, I am far from ordinary.”
Grogu dropped the control knob, but the Sith caught it before it hit the floorboards and floated it back into his tiny hands. The child hummed at him.
“We are making some changes, yes,” Luke answered him as he guided the ship out of the bay, “Mostly those changes mean you still get to see your dad whenever he’s willing to make the trip.”
Grogu chirped in delight, waving his tiny hands. This time it was Din who caught the control knob when it slipped free, and he traded it out for another toy. To the Sith, he said, “That wasn’t Empire propaganda? Jedi child-snatching?"
To the covert, foundlings were everything - were the future of the covert - but the important thing was they were found, not stolen. Orphans adopted after everyone else was gone, not snatched from loving homes.
“Not in the way you’re thinking,” Luke answered, “There are differing degrees of Force sensitivity, and some people - like Grogu - are very strong and have an instinctive grasp of how to use the power. They have to be trained to control their abilities so they don’t end up hurting themselves and those around them. If they are that strong, the power shows while they’re very young... and sometimes frightens their parents into giving them up permanently, especially if they have other children who aren’t Force-sensitive or don’t have the same power level. Other times... the children don’t want to go home. There might not be anyone back there who really understands what it’s like to be Force-sensitive, to have these powers. They might be looked on with anger or hatred or fear, or even killed for what they can do. Rare, but it has happened. As a result, the parents blame the Jedi for ‘stealing’ their child, instead of accepting that the child wants to stay with the people who understand them and the friends they’d grown up with.”
That did make a certain amount of sense. He’d been born on Aq Vetina, but after growing up with the Tribe, he’d never felt any particular urge to return. It wasn’t home, not anymore.
Grogu made noise again, clearly asking Luke something through this “Force”, and the man hummed. “To a certain extent, yes. The old way created Darth Vader, so clearly something needs to change, but we’re still working out the specifics.”
“Vader was a Jedi?” That Din hadn’t known.
“He was raised in the old Jedi Path and eventually fell into darkness, becoming a Sith,” Luke clarified, “The old path dictated that Jedi were not to have any attachments - to anyone, really, even within the Order.”
“Very. But that was the mandate written into the Code - ‘there is no emotion, there is peace; there is no passion, there is serenity.’” He acknowledged Din’s disparaging noise and continued, raising his voice a little to be heard over the hyperdrive throttling up, “I have been told that Vader was very strong in the Force… but also a slave in the Outer Rim and so kept for labor rather than sent to the temple, and by the time he came to their attention, he was much older than the Order’s usual trainees. No mention of a father, but he was very attached to his mother. When he was older, he started receiving dreams of her through the Force - because for us, dreams are not always just dreams. The Jedi told him to let go - that whatever happened, happened, and was the will of the Force - but he couldn’t.
“He found her in time for her to die in his arms. So when he started receiving visions of his pregnant wife as well, their romance and marriage kept secret from the Order…”
“He went nuclear.”
“And was seduced by the Emperor, Darth Sidious, into believing that the Dark Side held the solution to preventing her death.” They jumped to hyperspace, and quiet descended once more, save for the soft whine of the engines.
Grogu made a curious noise. Luke said, “Yes, the old path. The twins - do you remember the twins? Luren and Noven Cyalle?” A delighted noise seemed to indicate an affirmative, so the Sith continued, “They’ve done some research over the years that says a long time ago, the Jedi were allowed to have attachments, get married, have children, as long as the attachments were healthy - were made with the understanding that someday they would end, and the Jedi must accept it and let them end, keep moving forward. ‘All things must pass away, all life is doomed to fade…’ Now we’re trying to go back to that, in hopes of preventing another situation like the one that made Vader. What is old is new again.”
The child squeezed his toy tight and nestled down into his adoptive father’s arms, radiating happiness so strong that even Din felt it, despite being barely a step up from droids when it came to Force sensitivity. The Mandalorian waited until he was sure Grogu was asleep before letting loose the question that had been lingering in his mind, unable to keep it in. “And you? Are there going to be more Sith like you?”
“There already are, in a way. We follow the teachings of Darth Vectivus, whose self-discipline and code of ethics let him exist as a Sith without falling to the lust for power that plagues many others. But whether we will train more... perhaps. We haven’t decided yet. And of course the new Republic will want to weigh in.”
Din grunted with a disparaging edge. “Tell them they should corner the market before someone more malicious beats them to it.”
Kriffing idiots went unsaid, but was still received loud and clear. “I might just do that.”
The Jedi Temple was in surprisingly good condition for something that had been wrecked, stripped down, and abandoned during the Emperor’s takeover. There were a surprising number of people there, too, from every race Din had ever seen and more.
“Some Jedi escaped the purges,” Luke said, noticing Din looking around at everyone, “Not many, compared to how the Order was before, but enough. Now they’ve come home to teach the next generation. The rest are students and their parents... and irritating dignitaries.” He caught a ball that bounced off a post and headed for his face, handed it back to the kicker with a gentle smile, and then hustled Din and Grogu down a side hall, away from the main entryway.
“Wih!” said Grogu.
“Don’t you want to see your rooms first?"
“All right, the twins it is. They’re probably in the Archive with the rest of the Knowledge Keepers.” Luke steered them down another hall and into a lift. “I’m sure they’ll be happy to see you - no, they haven’t forgotten you either.”
“Who are these twins? Luren and Noven?"
The Sith nodded. "Force-users, founders of the Order of Archivists, more commonly known as the Knowledge Keepers. Both were given to the Jedi Order as infants for training, but... no attachments. Not even to each other. They were taken to separate temples to train, but eventually found their way back to each other and left the Order rather than be separated again.
“Whether by accident or design, their own or the Force’s, they were on Coruscant the night of the Jedi Purge. It was only the two of them, so they knew they couldn’t save the people. They decided to try to save the Archive instead.
“They were caught, but they played at being upset ex-trainees kept on as junior archivists, and somehow they deceived the Emperor into letting them ‘keep tending the Archive’, which let them recover a lot of information that might otherwise have been lost, both then and with the fall of the Empire. They also recruited more than a few others to their cause. Regardless of their force affiliation - light or dark, Jedi or Sith - the rest of their Order feels as they do - that the pursuit, protection, and preservation of all knowledge... is worth any price.”
They stepped off the lift and into another hall that opened up into what must have been the Archive. Din was glad he wore his helmet, because he had to admit that his mouth fell open in surprise. He had never seen so many books in his entire life, let alone in one place. Some of the bookshelves were three or four times his height, filled to the brim with science and art and history from every corner of the galaxy.
Grogu babbled in his father’s arms, squirming, and Din set him on his feet, still half in shock. The child rushed toward the main circulation desk as fast as his little legs would carry him, and two men there turned at his noises - identical twins, blond-haired and blue-eyed. Luren and Noven Cyalle, founders of the Knowledge Keepers, and yet Din felt that for all their physical similarities, they were just pale shadows of the Sith beside him.
But they blinked as one, stunned. "Grogu?" they said together, their voices as identical as their faces, and they moved as one to kneel before the cheerfully vocalizing child, apparently understanding his babble and Force-whatever just as Luke did. “Still causing trouble, we see. We wonder when Master Yoda outgrew his mischief-making phase.”
“Never,” said the Sith, “He just got better at hiding it."
“And who is this?” said the twins, looking up at the Mandalorian.
“Bweer!” Grogu said cheerfully.
Buir. Father. For a moment Din had to concentrate very hard on breathing, and if the Force-users noticed, they said nothing about it. Smart of them. Grogu turned back to him and lifted his arms, and Din scooped him up, ignoring Luke’s gentle smile.
The twins rose with soft smiles of their own. “If it hadn’t been for this little gremlin, we wouldn’t have found one another for a long time, if ever,” said one.
“So thank you for taking him in, and looking after him as one of your own,” said the other. Then both of them bowed to him.
The bounty hunter shifted on his feet. “You’re welcome.”
“What shall we call you?”
“Mando, then.” Back to the eerie simultaneous speech; if they weren’t doing it intentionally, he’d eat his armor. “You are welcome to avail yourself of the Archive if you wish, so long as you do not attempt to damage the contents. We also have an extensive network of informants even in the Outer Rim, should you require it, but for that you must pay - knowledge for knowledge.”
That seemed reasonable. Better than hard-earned credits. “Fair enough.”
The twins nodded in agreement. “We’ll see you later, Grogu - we’ll come visit once you’re settled in.”
Din stayed long enough to make sure Grogu was settling in well (he was, and still trying to eat everything that fit in his mouth, and still acting utterly delighted to see his father every time he appeared, even if they’d only been apart a few minutes). But eventually the real world intruded; Fett called with a bounty he thought Din should take (read: all but ordered him to), and also mentioned that Bo-Katan was nearly frothing at the mouth over him taking the Darksaber from Gideon.
It was time to get moving again.
“Duty calls?” Luke said quietly from the door as Din laid Grogu down to sleep.
“Close enough.” He pulled up the blankets and handed the child one of his toys. “You behave yourself, all right?”
Grogu squeezed the toy and burbled what Din had come to understand was an affirmative.
“I’ll be back later. Don’t know when, but I’ll be back. Sleep well, ad’ika.”
Grogu purred and snuggled down into his bed. He’d had a long day, and so was asleep in minutes, letting Din get up and step out with the Sith, moving as quietly as a Loth-cat despite the weight of his beskar’gam.
Even though it wasn’t really necessary, Luke fell into step next to him to lead him through the temple to the spaceport nearby. It was only when they stepped into the lift, the door hissing shut behind them, that the Sith spoke. “You still have questions.”
All right then. Din met Luke’s eyes through his visor. “What made you go Sith?"
The other man’s eyes fell shut, and a tight smile pulled at his lips. He was silent for so long that Din thought he wasn’t going to answer, but maybe he was just gathering his thoughts. At last, he said, “Darth Vader was my father.”
Of all the things the Mandalorian had expected him to lead with, that wasn’t one of them. Still, he stayed quiet and listened.
“Together with the Rebel Alliance, I had destroyed the first Death Star, but it was more a temporary setback than anything else. The Empire started building it anew, without the weakness that let us destroy it before.
“To protect the rebellion, I let my father take me prisoner, and he brought me before the Emperor. In a way, he... provoked us, into dueling for his pleasure.” He said the words with clear distaste, lips curling on a snarl. “I don’t know just what, if anything, drew his attention, or if he already knew and was just waiting for the right moment to spring it on me, but during a lull in the fighting, the Emperor said, ‘Your sister draws near; she is almost within my grasp. If you will not turn to the dark, perhaps she will.’
“He started to laugh, and I went cold all over. I couldn’t let him touch her. I wouldn’t.
“And then the Force spoke to me, as clearly as we are right now. It said, ‘Dark does not always mean evil, just as light does not always mean good… and balance is not the ascendancy of one side over the other.’
“So I thought of my sister. I thought of my friends. I thought of my father, and how much I loved them all… and how angry I was, how bitterly I hated those who would do them harm, who had done them harm. I anchored myself in that mix of love and hate - as much as I could anyway... and then I opened myself up, and let the power come.”
Both of them were silent for a time, but at last Luke spoke again. “Right now the Order and the Republic need the strength I can provide as a Sith, but some day in the future, I will return to the Jedi Path in the end, like my father before me.”
One bounty turned into another, which turned into another, which cascaded into almost a dozen before he was able to circle back to the Core, let alone reach Coruscant.
Luke was waiting at the spaceport, Grogu on his hip. The child squealed in delight and extended tiny arms toward his father the moment he descended the ramp of his new ship. The Sith handed him over when the bounty hunter reached back. “He knew you were on your way before the rest of us did,” he said with a gentle smile.
“Is that right, you little womp rat?” Din ran a finger along the edge of Grogu’s ear, earning a purr and pleased squint. “Did you behave yourself?”
“We had to restock the frogs in the gardens, but the twins pulled records from both his and Master Yoda’s time that say that’s normal.”
“Good - kept thinking I wasn’t feeding him enough.”
“Small, frequent meals, or near-constant snacking,” said Luke, “Small stomach plus growing body and high metabolism equals always hungry.” As if to prove a point, he pulled some kind of meaty cracker out of a belt pouch and handed it to Din, who handed it to Grogu, who cooed in delight, crammed it in his mouth, and started chewing.
“...Huh. All right.” He’s carrying around food for my kid...
This stay wasn’t nearly as long as the last; Senator Leia Organa, Luke’s sister, heard he was in town and dropped by with half a dozen bounties on Imperials on behalf of the New Republic. The price they were offering for all of them alive for trial made Din almost swallow his own tongue in his haste to accept, before going down to the Archive to bargain with The Twins (who’d gone from the twins to The Twins) for information on his targets.
Then he spent a day with Grogu and Luke, letting the child show him his favorite places in the temple with the Sith translating via the Force. Grogu was sad to see him go again so soon after his arrival, but he understood that these bounties were more important than almost all of the ones held taken before - except for Grogu’s own.
Din left again five local days after he’d arrived.
He was halfway through the list when a familiar figure in a dark cloak sat down across from him. “The Twins said I could find you here.”
“Their intel’s as good as gold.” He hadn’t been happy about bartering away some of the Tribe’s secrets for information, but it had been worth it in the end. It helped that they’d alerted him when survivors from the covert surfaced - and also when Bo-Katan caught wind that he was out and about again. “New Republic not happy about the last one?”
“Missing limbs isn’t that big of an issue,” Luke waved him off, “This is more important. One of the Imps talked, and The Twins confirmed.”
A holocron hit the table between them, flicked on. An icy planet appeared, rotating slowly, with a simply enormous trench carved through the crust along the equator. There was something under construction in the trench, and as the planet rotated, it brought what was unmistakably a gun barrel into view, dozens of klicks across if not more.
“They call it ‘Starkiller Base’,” Luke said quietly, “and no, that’s not an exaggeration.”
The more the Sith explained, the colder Din felt, all his strength turning to water and flowing away through his fingers. He hadn’t thought there could possibly be anything worse than the Emperor’s Death Star, but apparently this ‘First Order’ had been founded specifically to prove him wrong. A planet-sized weapon that ate stars to kill other stars on the other side of the galaxy...
“The shield generator is already online,” Luke said, “and no amount of planetary bombardment will overload it - but there is a small opening. To accommodate both structures and the planet’s geography, the shield doesn’t lie flat on the surface - there’s a gap there. If a small ship could exit hyperspace inside the shield…”
“That isn’t a lot of time to react.”
“Coming at it at an oblique angle would increase it, but not by much.”
“But maybe just enough to avoid smashing head-first into the ground.” Din looked up from the holocron to meet Luke’s eyes, burning gold under his deep hood. “Why tell me?”
“The New Republic wants this dealt with yesterday,” the Sith replied, “In a few cycles’ time, they’ll be staging an assault on the base with the intention of taking control of the planet and launching it into its system’s star. A strike team is going on ahead of them, so they can take down the shield when the Republic gives the signal.
“I was hoping for some backup.”
It wasn’t even really a question. “When do we leave?”
None of Din’s hunts had ever taken him so far into Unknown Space. The planet in question, Ilum, was so far out of the way that if Luke hadn’t given him the coordinates, he never would have found it.
The ice ball wasn’t the only planet in the system, and the Nighthawk lurked in the shadow of a gas giant, observing the half-finished base.
Finally, Luke said, “There. That canyon. If we can aim for coming out of hyperspace over it, it will give a few extra seconds, in addition to the angle of approach.”
“The shield generator?”
“The facility that houses it is about ten klicks counterspin.”
“Then here goes nothing.” Din plugged in the coordinates, swung the Nighthawk around - and jumped.
They made it. Barely, but they made it.
The bitterly cold wind howled through the canyon behind them, covering the sounds of the engines as the Nighthawk shut down; they didn’t dare try to fly closer to the base, which meant a hike through the woods. But Luke said since the New Republic was still a few days behind, they had another stop to make first.
Din felt the planet’s chill even through his armor as he descended the ramp ahead of the Sith. Snow lay thick on the ground, crusted with ice, and their footsteps crunched as they made their way down into the canyon…
...and into a cave of almost glowing and thoroughly unsettling crystals. “Kriffing hell - what is this?”
“Kyber crystals,” Luke answered, taking the lead and descending what was clearly a set of rough-cut steps in the stone floor, “Force-attuned crystals traditionally used in Jedi lightsabers, though the Empire and now the First Order have turned them to more… widespread and malicious purposes.”
“Are they… watching us?”
“They are,” Luke confirmed, lowering the collapsible containers he’d brought to the floor, “They have an awareness of their own, though it’s very different from our own. And they are… not fond of Sith.”
Din’s hand fell to the blaster on his hip. He didn’t know what these things could do to hurt the Sith, but he wasn’t going to just let it happen. Still, he didn’t draw - not yet. “How do you have a lightsaber then, if they don’t like you?”
“My crystal is considered very unusual for exactly that reason. I had it before, and after I chose this path, it decided to stay with me, though it did change color. It used to be green; yellow or gold was traditionally reserved for the Jedi Temple Guards.”
“Well, it isn't wrong, is it?”
“No, I suppose not.” Luke smiled, then turned to the crystal chamber and lifted his voice to speak to the multitude of glittering facets. “I offer you as sincere apologies as I can, but I’m sure you know what the First Order is doing here, and that it’s too late to stop them. To prevent them from succeeding in their goals, this planet must be destroyed. If there are any here who want to leave before that happens, and are willing to enter my care to do it, speak now.”
As had been said before and would be again, Din was barely a step up from droids in terms of Force sensitivity, but even he felt the crystals’ response. The Darksaber rattled at his hip, and the energy buzzed in his teeth, made his brain throb without pain behind his eyes, every hair on his body standing on end.
Before his eyes, the crystal clusters started splintering, collapsing, some fragments staying bright while others dimmed to nothing. Some of the brightest ones actually started rolling towards Luke’s feet under their own power, while the dark ones remained where they had fallen.
“Grab the glowing ones, then,” the bounty hunter muttered, and stepped over to lend a hand, scooping up fistfuls of glittering crystals and dumping them into the containers.
They raided three more caves over the next few days, until at last the Nighthawk was so full of kyber crystals that they barely had room to move around inside. “Hopefully once the base is destroyed, we can move them over to one of the Republic ships and arrange for them to be delivered to the Temple,” Luke said, strapping down the last of the containers, “But I think you should hold on to this one for now.”
He handed Din a small kyber, which grew gently warm unnaturally fast in his hand. The bounty hunter examined it for a moment, then looked back up at him in quiet confusion.
“That will be Grogu’s saber some day, when he is old enough,” Luke explained.
Oh. He curled his fingers around it, cradling it like he had his son, then carefully tucked it away in a secure pouch on his belt, next to the Darksaber, which seemed to almost hum in greeting. And, if it wasn’t his imagination, the little kyber hummed back. “...Thank you.”
“You are very welcome. Get some rest - I’ll take the first watch.”
Din was on watch when the Republic arrived in the system. He knew they had arrived before they even reached out, mostly because Luke rocketed up out of a sound sleep so suddenly that the Mandalorian almost shot him out of reflex.
The Sith stared off into space for a minute, apparently doing the Force communication thing like he did with Grogu, before turning to Din. “We’re ready - let’s go.”
They sealed the ship behind them and hurried out into the cold, heading for the shield station.
Wading through some of the deeper snow drifts, even in Luke’s wake, reached the limit of Din’s knowledge of curses and forced him to start coming up with new ones in every language he spoke. “I’m charging you extra for this!” he shouted ahead to Luke, then cursed again as he tripped over something hidden under the snow.
Luke only laughed.
At last the shield station loomed out of the white. No guards outside, because only people who were absolutely insane would be out in the snowstorm that had come up on their trek. The Sith stood in front of the doors and closed his eyes with his hands outstretched, and after a moment, he moved them apart, the doors following the gesture with the groan of straining metal. Luke held them in place, and Din followed the wordless direction, his blaster at the ready as he darted through the opening.
“Clear,” he called back to the Sith, who followed him in and let the doors grind shut behind them. There were no Stormtroopers guarding the doors from the inside either, which felt like an extreme oversight to the Mandalorian; did the First Order really think their fortress was that impenetrable?
Apparently so, because they encountered no one for almost twenty minutes - until Luke stopped dead in the middle of the hall. Din paused next to him, but only for a moment, because an instant later the Sith activated his lightsaber, bright, humming gold in the dim halls. “There are Sith here,” he said quietly, “They’re coming - they know we’re here. We need somewhere to fight them.”
The Mandalorian triggered a new addition to his armor, courtesy of the Armorer, waited a moment for it to process, then analyzed the overlay. “This way.”
The sonar mapping system led them to some kind of transportation hub, both for supplies coming in through the doors behind them and from elsewhere in the planet; there were cargo modules everywhere, and at least two dozen tracks and tunnels leading off into dim tunnels.
This time it was Din who stopped.
Four blood red lightsabers ignited in the dark of one of the tunnels, even as Stormtroopers came thundering down half a dozen others, blasters at the ready. The Mandalorian dove for cover, but Luke didn’t, not right away; he threw out a hand, aiming for one group of tunnels, and the troopers there were thrown backwards. Then he made a pulling down gesture, and the tunnels they were in shook and groaned… and collapsed.
But there was no time for more. All four of the enemy Sith leaped for Luke, nearly snarling, and he was instantly on the defensive, dodging every strike he could and blocking those he couldn’t.
The troopers started gunning for Din, and he started shooting back, a blaster in each hand, wanting the advantage of their cover and movement being restricted by the tunnels for as long as he could possibly maintain it. Like shooting Colo Claws in a barrel.
Yet as the fight went on, he became aware that something was happening in the Sith duel, which he had been successfully avoiding so far. The air was growing hot and electric, prickling over his skin despite the barrier of his armor, and the Stormtroopers and even the enemy Sith were growing nervous as the facility started to creak and groan around them but Din felt nothing-
-until he did. He was flooded with the feelings and images of Luke’s love for his family - his sister Leia and brother-in-law Han Solo, their friend Chewbacca the Wookiee, his droids Artoo and Threepio, his young nephew Ben - and his friends - the other pilots of the Rebellion, members of the New Republic, the Jedi Order, the Knowledge Keepers - and his students - and Din and Grogu.
The image Luke had of them was not chosen at random. It was from the night of Din’s first departure from the temple. He hadn’t thought himself capable of kindness or gentleness - he was a bounty hunter, he killed people for money for kriff’s sake - but Luke had seen that he was; even though Grogu was a tough little thing (you little womp rat), Din had held him so carefully, the child looking up at him like he was the only person in the galaxy who mattered in that moment, reaching up towards his helmet with a tiny hand, both of them radiating some much familial affection that it was like looking at binary suns.
But then, on top of that foundation of love, bubbling up from that firm earth, rushing through that rock-solid canyon - a boiling hot wall of incandescent rage, a hard and vicious torrent of utter hate directed at those who would do Luke’s loved ones harm, who would destroy them without hesitation and dance on their ashes and call it victory-
I will shatter planets and swallow stars and bring the galaxy to its knees for the ones I love
So fast even that Din’s enhanced optics saw barely more than a blur, Luke lunged forward, brought his gold lightsaber down in an overhand arc, and the enemy Sith moved to block, her fear finally starting to show - Din knew that even a two-handed grip wouldn’t be enough to stop the Sith now that he had hit his stride -
Luke shut off his lightsaber. Only for a heartbeat, just enough to bypass the enemy Sith’s block, and then he reignited it, gold plunging into the Sith’s gut. Then, just as fast as his downward swing, he whipped the saber upwards, bisecting her from waist to crown.
The enemy Sith didn’t even have time to be surprised at his unconventional tactic; she just went down, but Luke was already moving on. With a shout that was almost a shriek, he seemed to do what looked like a Keldabe-kiss, shoving his head and shoulders forward like was trying to headbutt the air itself - and a wave of Force energy slammed into the remaining Sith, throwing the two on either side nearly a dozen meters back into the walls and almost the same distance up while Luke charged the one in the center, snarling.
Blaster fire flashed past, and Din cursed, refocusing on his own fight. Most of the Stormtroopers had fled when his Sith got going, fear overwhelming loyalty, but enough of them stayed to be a problem. He fired back, trying to take them out before they could rally and support the enemy Sith, overwhelm him and Luke.
He didn't know what his Sith did - his back was turned to the other fight - but there was a crunch of bone breaking, and one of the enemy Sith screamed in agony and fear. Almost half of the remaining troopers broke ranks and fled, some of them even throwing down their rifles to flee faster. It didn’t stop Din from shooting them in the back as they ran, but it did let him focus on the few remaining troops who were a greater threat.
When the last of them fell, Luke seemed to just appear at his side. The air around him hummed with energy, a just visible golden haze wrapping around his body like armor, his eyes blazing in the dim light. “We need to go,” he growled, staring off into the distance at something Din couldn't see or sense, “Reinforcements are coming - too many.”
They found the control center for the shield and deactivated it, and then Luke threw out an arm like he was sweeping a table clean. Every single one of the consoles ripped themselves out of the floor and crumpled against the wall, crushed into so much scrap metal; no turning the shield back on until it was fixed. Then they turned and ran.
Luke didn’t bother trying to leave the exterior doors intact this time. He shoved a hand forward, palm out, and the doors were absolutely blasted off their tracks, thrown dozens of meters to land in the snow, almost unrecognizable. Then he swept his arm out again, and a tsunami of snow buried the doors and the dead forest beyond, clearing a path for them all the way to the Nighthawk.
They drew near to the ship right as the New Republic fleet bore down on the planet. First Order ships were rising to meet them, trying to defend, but Din felt a surge of crackling power from his Sith a few steps ahead as he slowed his pace, his hands lifted skyward as if in invocation. The Mandalorian looked up-
Explosions rippled the length of four, five, six enemy destroyers, which had been moving in formation towards the Republic fleet.
“The Order and the Republic need the strength I can provide as a Sith.”
Damned right they did. Din scooped Luke up when he passed, threw the other man over his shoulder, and kept running.
The kyber crystals keened when Din carried his Sith onto the ship, rattling in their containers at the amount of energy Luke was channeling. The man himself looked like he was barely keeping it together, glowing eyes rolling without seeing, his body almost vibrating from head to toe at the power rolling through him, the golden haze more pronounced, long, thin tendrils whipping around him and vanishing into the distance. Din threw him into the copilot’s seat and strapped him in, then threw himself into the pilot’s seat and ran through a severely abbreviated pre-flight checklist before blasting off.
TIE fighters whipped around to harry them the moment they cleared the atmosphere, but from the corner of his eye, he saw the haze snap through space, crack like a whip to touch the ships. Luke must have done something to their internals, because every single one of them exploded, the remnants swiftly falling behind and tumbling back toward the icy surface.
The Nighthawk had clearly been marked as friendly by the Republic, because their lines opened up slightly to let the ship pass, then closed again behind them. But Din didn't take them too far from Ilum, swinging the ship around in a wide arc to stay close enough for Luke to work.
More ships were breaking up under his Sith’s power, but someone seemed to be doing something, working him back down, because the rate of destruction slowed, Luke bringing himself back under control. He still shook with unused energy, however, and before long the console flashed with an incoming call.
It was Senator Organa. “We’ve got it under control now, Mando,” she said, her voice strained, “Please, get Luke out of the system. We have other Force-sensitives in the fleet, and he’s giving us all migraines like he’s trying to boil our brains inside our skulls - and probably himself too.”
“Roger that. Nighthawk out.”
A minute later stars blurred past as they jumped to hyperspace, and Din turned to Luke, undoing the safety harness to check for injuries. Not a one, not even so much as a graze on his cloak, but he was still so full of excess energy that his skin seemed to spark with golden static when they made contact.
“What do you need?”
Luke laughed, and the sound throbbed in Din’s ears, in his chest, like a bass line more felt than heard. “Dark side Force energy can’t just be released the way Light side can,” he rumbled, his eyes like molten gold, “I need to burn through it.”
“Normally by fighting the Masters at the temple, but that’s not an option here.” He let his head drop back, exposing the long pale line of his throat.
He was right. Even when empty, the entire ship was too small for even just a bare-knuckle brawl, let alone full to the brim with kyber crystals that were still humming quietly in the hold and halls, but Din’s attention was already caught by the sight of that exposed skin, tempting him like nothing else. He reached out, dragged his fingers over the bumps of Luke’s trachea, following them down to the edge of his tunic… His Sith shivered at the touch, and the power thrilling under his skin shivered with him, making Din’s fingertips tingle, but otherwise he didn’t move.
The most powerful Sith in the galaxy, sitting lax and trusting under his hands… Suddenly Din understood how Luke felt; that thought was electric, full of restless energy, and he couldn't stay idle in the background now that he’d had it - not with Luke’s burning gold gaze finding his own through his helmet.
The cockpit was too tight, too narrow. He hauled his Sith out of the seat and into the main body of the ship, where he almost slammed him up against a stack of kyber crystal crates and shoved a thigh between his legs.
“This works too,” Luke murmured and closed his eyes, pressed his hands against Din’s chest for a moment -
And suddenly Din felt hands on his skin, phantasmal and yet still thoroughly real, as if there was no barrier of armor between them. Luke wasn’t clan (not yet, a growing part of him whispered), so Din couldn't remove his armor in front of him, but it seemed that the Force was willing to provide a work-around. He still couldn't kiss Luke, but he set that aside in favor of yanking his Sith’s tunic out of his trousers and shoving it up to get access to his skin.
Din had thought that there would be some outward sign of Luke’s Force-power visible on his body or inside it, more than just his unusual eyes, but he was just a man underneath, if anyone could be just a man when they could do what he could (how little would it take for him to unmake someone from the inside out). His skin was smooth and soft but taut over muscle made strong by combat training, and Din wanted to see if he tasted as good as he looked, if he had gone salty with sweat yet or if he was still just pure him. But he set that aside as well in favor of learning what the other man liked, searching out stretches of hot flesh where brushes and grips and strokes made him twist and writhe and moan.
Luke’s physical hands stayed fisted in the fabric of his body sleeve, but under his armor the Force hands roamed everywhere, up his arms and over his chest, down his back and between his thighs, squeezing his muscles and tracing his scars despite not being able to actually see a single one of them. After his Sith found one too many that were sensitive in just the right way to make his cock throb, Din yanked Luke forward off the crates, spun his Sith around, and shoved him back, almost flattening him against the durasteel.
His Sith only laughed softly, then sighed in contentment. The electric buzz of power under his skin ratcheted down a little more. All at once, their clothes were undone just enough to do the job, Luke’s cloak pushed to one side, and the vial of gun oil for the Mandalorian’s sniper rifle was floating within reach.
“If you can still focus enough to use the Force, I’m not working hard enough,” Din said, keeping Luke pressed against the crates with the full length of his body even as he stripped off his gloves and plucked the vial from the air.
“Guess you’ll just have to work harder then,” Luke replied with a toothy grin over his shoulder, grinding back against him.
Din growled, slicked his fingers, and started working his Sith open simultaneously as fast and as slow as he dared, taking long enough to stretch him to ensure he wouldn’t be too badly hurt by any roughness but not a microsecond longer. As he did so, he listened closely to the noises Luke made: the gasps and moans and writhing when something was pleasurable, the telling silences and stillness when it was painful, the sighs and shifts of in-between.
Then, when he judged he’d done enough, he went looking for the vial of oil again, found it floating once more, but this time it seemed more involuntary than intentional; it was tipped on its side, the oil spilling out but beading in the air like it was in zero-g. Din swiped a hand through it, then pulled his cock out and lubed himself up, hissing quietly at both his own touch and the contrast in temperature.
Luke was hot when Din pushed inside him, almost like he was running a fever, and the Mandalorian only had a moment to suppose that he was before he gritted his teeth on a groan. But his Sith wasn't just hot around him, he was tight as well, a dangerous combination that forced Din to stop and breathe so he didn't lose control.
His Sith was whining softly through clenched teeth, holding so tight to one of the crystal crates that the metal was starting to warp under his Force-enhanced grip, but he didn't seem to be in pain. When Din pressed himself closer to get a better look, flattening the front of his body against Luke’s back, the man let his head fall back onto his shoulder, eyes closed and breath stuttering but pleasure clear on his face. But then a slight smirk pulled his lips up, and his walls clamped down on Din’s cock.
The Mandalorian swore, then growled. All right then. Let’s go.
Din shoved Luke forward again, pinning him against the crates, then braced himself and thrust hard.
His Sith choked on a cry, all the air driven from his lungs, eyes going wide before squeezing shut as Din did it again. And again. The third time he managed one of those vibrating shouts of his, and the kyber crystals keened in response almost like a warning siren, but Din barely heard it, more focused on trying not to lose his kriffing mind. He had felt Luke’s shout from the inside, the use of Force energy a blissful tingle of static over his cock, and tried to hold on - at least until his Sith groaned, “What’s the hold up? Harder!”
Din grunted, then resumed thrusting as hard as he could, this time bracing both himself and Luke on the containers so he could grope for the other man’s cock.
His Sith choked on another vibrating cry when Din finally got a hand on him, hands scrabbling at the containers, and the bounty hunter put the knowledge he’d gained to good use, pulling cry after cry from his bitten-red lips. Luke tried to move to meet his thrusts, his strokes, but Din purposely moved out of sync to keep the man guessing, keep him lost in the pleasure.
He felt it the moment his Sith tipped over the edge. Even before Luke came over his hand, a wave of furious, violent heat rolled over Din’s body - Force energy dispersal; the kyber crystals keened louder for a second before the sound died away - and with that energy came intimate but exterior bliss that poured into his mind, dragging him over the edge too. For a moment Din felt what Luke did, what it was like to be filled up with his own cock, his own hands stroking burning trails over his skin, and he knew that Luke now knew what it was like to be buried hilt-deep in his own body, tight and hot and electric.
The connection was gone as fast as it had come, leaving the Mandalorian very aware of how alone he was in his own body. But that, too, was gone in an eyeblink; his Sith was still warm and content in his arms, and Din tilted his head against Luke’s own as they came down, panting. After a moment, his Sith lifted a hand and curled it back to cup Din’s neck, holding him close.
This time it was The Twins who brought Grogu to the landing site, both of them smiling benignly in that faintly creepy way of theirs. “Mission successful, we take it,” they said, handing the child over.
“Reasonably,” Luke replied, floating the crystal containers out of the Nighthawk and setting them down on the pad, “Call the younglings; I think it will be a good exercise for them to practice using Force levitation with sources like the kyber so close.” To Din and Grogu, the latter of whom was babbling cheerfully to the former, he said, “Cover your ears.”
Din couldn't really do that with his helmet on, but he did turn down the gain on his audio receivers and covered Grogu’s ears.
One of The Twins - he was reasonably certain it was the one called Noven - turned back to the temple behind them and put his fingers to his lips, letting out a truly earsplitting whistle loud enough to echo off the buildings. The particular tune he used must have meant something, because in minutes, there were younglings streaming out of the temple, chattering amongst themselves until Luke gave them instructions.
After a minute, they started streaming back into the temple at a much slower pace, the older trainees levitating the containers under the watchful eyes of some supervising Jedi and admiring younger ones.
“Rey, Rey,” said Luke, “You need a constant flow - slow and steady. Try matching pace with Finn. Poe, what are you doing?”
“Taking a nap,” was the reply from a young man stretched out on top of one of the containers, which the “Finn” in question was carefully levitating toward the temple.
“Mm. If you're here, you can help.”
Poe suddenly found himself tipped off the side of Finn’s container, and another, smaller container was dumped into his arms. He groaned loudly, then darted off after his laughing friends.
Then Luke turned to The Twins, who had identical sly looks on their faces. “If that’s the way you're gonna be, you can fuck off,” the Sith said to them, apparently in response to something communicated through the Force.
They just laughed. “We’ll see you all later,” they answered, “Have fun, and use protection this time.”
The Sith took a swat at them, but in an instant they were out of reach, and then gone, disappearing inside the temple so fast that it seemed like magic even for all the weird things Force-users were capable of.
Din looked down at Grogu. The child was looking up at him, but then he squirmed in Din’s arms, reaching for one of his waist-pouches. He managed to shift the kid into a one-handed grip, then dug into the pouch in question and pulled out the kyber crystal, handing it to Grogu.
Much to the Mandalorian’s surprise, Grogu didn’t try to shove it in his mouth, instead gazing wide-eyed at the softly-glowing crystal. Then he looked up at his father and let out an inquisitive mrr?
“It’s for you. For your laser sword,” Din replied, and just knew that Luke was rolling his eyes at him. But Grogu squeezed the crystal to his chest like it was the best gift he’d ever received and snuggled down into his father’s arms, radiating contentment.
Din looked back up at Luke. The other man wore a soft smile at the sight of them, and tilted his head towards the temple. Coming in?
The Mandalorian started walking, and his Sith fell into step beside him.