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just gotta hold on (and on, and on, and on...)

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There’s a Mandalorian lurking at the back of this cantina.

It’s kind of impressive, really, how they manage to blend in even with their unpainted armor catching every beam of light in the entire place, and Kix can almost hear Jesse’s teasing drawl, something about this being a lot of dramatics for someone so karking shiny, the cadence of a joke he’ll never get to hear.

Kix can’t afford a distraction right now, though, so he swallows down the sorrow and heads to the bar, ordering a drink and scrolling through the messages on his comm while he waits.

Trust me, you’ll know me when you see me, the most recent one reads, and well, Kix has to admit a full suit of beskar is pretty damn distinctive. The ad had mentioned a kid, but Kix is pretty sure kids shouldn’t be in any cantina, much less this dreary, dingy thing the patron—the Mandalorian—suggested they meet up in. What a Mandalorian’s doing looking for a medic on a job board on a rundown planet in the middle of nowhere he doesn’t know, but Kix has already started getting speculative looks despite his efforts to disguise himself; a ride off-planet’s a ride off-planet, as far as he’s concerned.

The bartender slings his drink over to him, and Kix picks it up with a muttered, “Thanks.” He heads over to the table where the Mandalorian sits, waiting. The only available seat puts his back to the rest of the cantina, but Kix sighs and slides into it all the same.

The Mandalorian doesn’t react as Kix sets his glass down. “I’m assuming you’re the one I talked to?” he asks, flattening his accent to mimic the Mid-Rim holodramas he’s been watching as practice, and the Mandalorian tilts their helmet.

“Are you a medic?” they ask, their voice low through the helmet’s modulator, and Kix nods distractedly as he pulls out his communicator, tilting it to show them the conversation. “Then yes,” the Mandalorian says, folding their hands on the table in front of them. Kix waits for them to continue, but the silence drags on instead.

“Right,” he says, taking a sip of his drink and resisting the urge to push his hair back from his face. The cut he’s sporting in his disguise as a university drop-out is far from the intricate style he’d worn in the war, far from the regulation cut most civilians would recognize, and he’s still not used to having his curls falling over his brow, the weight of long hair at the back of his neck. It makes him twitchy. Never a good trait, in a medic, though the 327th seemed to get by well enough. “You mentioned a kid?”

The Mandalorian gestures to the bundle of cloth nestled next to them on the bench. Kix had assumed it was a cloak, maybe an inelegant disguise for a bulky weapon, but now that he looks closer he can see the faintest movement, rhythmic with the breaths of whatever creature is sleeping underneath.

“Right,” he says again. “I’ll be honest, I don’t really have much experience with kids, medically or otherwise—”

“He doesn’t need much,” the Mandalorian interrupts. At Kix’s skeptical look, they add, “his species seems pretty self-reliant, for the most part. Mostly I just need someone to watch him while I’m working, and defend him and the ship if needed.”

“He’s not human?” Kix confirms, and the Mandalorians shakes their head. “Are you human?” They must be, if Kix knows anything about helmets and basic physiology, but he’s still mildly relieved when they answer in the affirmative. “Okay,” Kix says. “So you need a minder for the kid, and a medic for when you get back from… working.”

The Mandalorian scoffs lightly. “I’m a bounty hunter. If that bothers you, you’re free to leave.”

“No, no,” Kix says. “I didn’t want to assume. It doesn’t bother me, but fair warning: my experience with other humans is also kind of limited.” It’s partly why he chose university drop-out as part of his alias—partial schooling invites far fewer questions than I have three years of battlefield medical experience, but only with one identical human physiology, after all.

“Even limited experience is better than what we’re working with now,” the Mandalorian says blandly, and Kix can only imagine. He hopes the Mandalorian at least drops the kid off somewhere while they’re hunting, doesn’t insist on fixing every injury with haphazard applications of bacta and brute-force medical procedures, but he’s seen enough of Mandalorians that he’s not particularly optimistic. “I can’t pay you much,” they continue, shifting as the bundled-up creature next to them starts moving, “but you’ll have lodging on my ship for as long as you stay.”

“That works for me,” Kix replies, mildly suspicious. Surely this Mandalorian isn’t about to let him into their ship and around their child just like that? “What species is your kid, anyway?”

“No idea,” the Mandalorian says, lifting the wriggling bundle up into their lap. They help the child fight free of the covering, then turn him around to face Kix. “Look like anyone you’ve ever seen?”

Kix stares.

The child— it— it’s—

“Karking hells,” Kix blurts.

“Look familiar?” the Mandalorian asks, and there’s a mildly hopeful note in their voice, but Kix’s head is spinning.

“That’s a karking Yoda,” he croaks, fumbling around for his drink without taking his eyes off the youngling. Those glassy, curious eyes, the twitching, pointy ears, that three-fingered claw reaching out to him— Kix drains his glass in one go.

“The hell’s a Yoda,” the Mandalorian mutters, running a soothing hand over the kid’s head when he looks up at them, questioning.

Kix buries his head in his hands. “I need another drink.”

“You’re paying for it,” the Mandalorian tells him, but they flag down a serving droid all the same, so Kix decides he’ll let it go.

He orders a refill even though every fiber of his being wants something stronger, and the Mandalorian is kind enough to wait until the new drink is in front of him, focusing on settling the kid on their lap as the droid whirls away to serve another table, to ask again.

“So you know what species the kid is?” they ask.

Kix snorts. “I don’t think anyone knows what species that thing is, but I knew someone who looked a hell of a lot like him— years ago, now.” He doesn’t know what happened to General Yoda, but he can hazard a guess. If this is Yoda’s kid— Kix tosses back his drink again, shaking his head at the burn.

“A relative?” the Mandalorian asks, oblivious to Kix’s internal strife.

“Maybe,” Kix hedges. “Yoda was a Jedi, and about nine hundred years old, I don’t know. We weren’t exactly close.”

The Mandalorian nods consideringly. “And how exactly would a teenaged human know a nine-hundred-year-old Jedi?”

Kriff. And he’d spent so much time putting that backstory together, too. “Uh.”

“It was a decent alias,” they continue. “Smart, using Alderaan as a homeworld so I couldn’t verify your records—” Kix winces, still feeling guilty “—but none of the refugees from the Naboo settlement went to the medical school in Theed. Corellia, yes, but not Theed.”

It had been sentiment, Kix had known it when he’d marked it down, but when he’d found Naboo on the list of Alderaanian refugee settlements he’d seen no other choice. How many brothers had he scolded for giving too much of their still-living selves to their ghosts, and now here he was doing the same thing.

“Plus,” the Mandalorian adds, deliberately light, “I don’t know what accent you’re trying to cover up, but you don’t sound particularly Alderaanian or Mid-Rim.”

“Noted,” Kix says absently. “How…”

“I’m a bounty hunter,” the Mandalorian says, amused. They bat the kid’s hand back gently where he’s reaching out to Kix, eyes wide and searching. “And I’m not about to hand my kid over to someone I don’t trust.”

Kix sighs, giving in and brushing his hair back out of his face, dropping the fake accent in favor of his own. “The truth isn’t exactly easy to explain.”

“Then explain what you can,” they say, and when Kix looks up at them, surprised, they add, “I have a good feeling about you.” The kid reaches up to climb onto the table before Kix can recover from that punch to the chest, and the Mandalorian gives up on corralling him, instead lifting him up to sit on the surface. “Kid seems to like you,” they comment mildly. “He’s got pretty good instincts.”

If this kid is Force-sensitive… Kix stops that train of thought before it starts. “Good instincts and good feelings,” he says instead, shaking his head. “Lot of faith to put in a stranger you already know is lying to you.”

“Are you trying to argue against yourself?” the Mandalorian asks shortly. “How about this: do you have any loyalties to the Empire?”

“No,” Kix says, decisive. “Absolutely no.”

“The New Republic?”

“Not… particularly, no,” Kix says.

“You have medical experience?”

“I was a battlefield medic,” Kix replies quietly, and the Mandalorian stops, considers.

“With the Rebellion?” they ask.

Kix shakes his head, keeping his gaze on a pattern of scratches carved into the tabletop. “Earlier.” Whoever left those behind must have had exceptionally sharp claws, he thinks.

“Earlier than the Rebellion,” the Mandalorian repeats dubiously, pitching their voice lower.

“I said it wasn’t easy to explain,” Kix shrugs, and he doesn’t look up at the Mandalorian when they don’t answer.

“Okay,” they say eventually. “Do you know anything more about the Jedi?”

At that, the Mandalorian’s kid looks up at them from where he’s been tracing shapes on the surface of the table, twitching his ears at them before toddling his way across the table to coo at Kix.

“Uh, yeah,” Kix says, trying to keep the kid from teetering off the edge. The kid reaches for his outstretched hand instead, tilting his head to peer up at Kix with those huge eyes, and he’s so taken aback by the fact that this youngling is a Yoda that he misses the hand reaching up to his face until it’s made contact.

Instantly he’s in the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, though it takes him a moment to recognize the creche from the low angle he’s at. There are younglings playing push-feather around him, but his attention is caught by the Nautolan in soft, slightly worn Jedi robes, talking to the— oh, the clone troopers at the door, all of them out of armor and radiating warm and safe and happy as they shuffle into the room to spend time with the younglings. Kix doesn’t recognize any of the brothers, but as his perspective moves closer to one of them, tiny clawed hands reaching out to snag in loose, soft trousers and pull gently, he realizes this must be a memory, and the kid’s memory at that. The trooper reaches down to pick the kid up, and then he’s vanished and all Kix can see is his own distorted reflection in the smudged surface of the table under his forehead.

Kix is vaguely aware of the Mandalorian speaking around him, but he’s mostly aware of the spinning sensation in his head, the way his mind feels too big for his body, the surge of emotion and memory so different from his own, the utter shock of seeing brothers again, happy and at relative peace in the Temple.

“What did you do, kid?” the Mandalorian implores, and Kix turns his head with a groan, just enough to watch where they’re holding the kid in front of them, peering down at him. The vision must have broken when they pulled him away, Kix thinks, and he has to blink away the sudden pressure behind his nose, willing the tears away before they can form.

“‘m okay,” Kix mumbles, sitting up straight and rolling his neck, wincing at the way it cracks. He’s felt the Force before, even let his Commander into his head once when all other lines of communication had broken down, but the kid’s blunt-force approach could use some refining.

He’s looking at Kix, wide-eyed, his ears drooping in apology, and when he reaches out to Kix again Kix grants him a smile. “I’m okay,” he repeats, “but tone it down next time, yeah?”

The kid’s ears twitch, and he wriggles in the Mandalorian’s grip until they set him down, making his way to Kix again.

“Hey,” Kix says lightly, and then he huffs out a surprised breath when the child nudges his way into his arms, nestling his tiny little head and pointy little ears against Kix’s shoulder. “Hey,” he breathes again, bringing his arms up to hold the kid. “You knew some of my brothers, huh, kiddo?”

The child sniffles quietly, turning his head to press his face against the fabric of Kix’s shirt, and Kix shifts a little so he can rub a soothing hand down the child’s back. “Yeah, I miss ‘em too, kid,” he whispers, and that pressure’s building in him again, the weight of all the emotions he hasn’t had the time to face trying to claw its way out of his chest.

He startles when the Mandalorian gets up from the bench across from him.

“Let’s go,” they say, fastening the fabric they’d swaddled around the child at their neck. “You should see the ship before you make a decision.”

“I— my tab,” Kix starts, trailing off when he realizes the serving droid’s already wandered away with his empty glass. “Thanks,” he says, getting up to follow them out of the cantina. “Do you—” he turns to offer them the kid, but the Mandalorian waves him off.

“Probably good for him to be around someone other than me,” they tell him, and Kix trails after them as they walk out into the daylight. The kid grips Kix’s shirt with a clawed fist, and Kix tightens his hold on him in response.

“That’s it?” he asks, still reeling from the turns his day’s taken. “No more questions?”

The Mandalorian stops in the middle of the street, and Kix almost rams into their back, following on autopilot as he is. They turn around to face him, and Kix stands his ground against the scrutiny.

“If you don’t want to do this, you can just tell me,” the Mandalorian says.

“I do! I just…” Kix doesn’t know how to put it in words, not to a stranger and not even to himself, really: this feeling that he doesn’t deserve to be here, navigating through the mundane details of a life he was never meant to have.

“You haven’t asked me anything,” the Mandalorian points out when Kix fails to finish his thought. “You don’t have any questions?”

Kix does, but most of them are ones he’s sure the Mandalorian won’t answer. The rest are mostly just variations of Why me?, a question more directed at the universe than the Mandalorian themself. “Why are you here?” he asks instead.

The Mandalorian tilts their helmet at him. On a brother, that specific angle would have meant a question and been accompanied by rapid hand sign for added context; Kix has no idea how to read it on a Mandalorian. “A hunt,” they tell him, turning to keep walking towards the hangars. “And then I asked an acquaintance if they knew any decent medics for hire.”

Kix can’t move to follow, too busy running through a list of everyone he’s interacted with here, trying to figure out which one he made such an impression on that they’d recommend his services to a Mandalorian, of all people. He’s pulled some emergency shifts at the clinic in the city, hectic days and nights that always passed in a blur, but he’d thought he’d done a pretty good job at flying under the radar. Apparently not.

The child squirms in his arms, anxiously watching the Mandalorian move further away, and Kix resettles him as he finally starts walking again. The Force moves in mysterious ways, after all; he decides he’ll see where this path leads.

“What’s the worst that could happen?” he murmurs, and as the child hums into his neck, satisfied, the words for once don’t feel like a curse.