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“You remember that story I told your kid, that one time, to help him sleep?” Cobb asks, out of the blue.

The memory is branded onto Din’s heart.

It was the first time they’d camped out under the Tatooine stars together, much like they currently are. Only, that night they’d spent with the Tuskens, and tonight it’s just Din and Cobb. That night, in fact, was when Din started calling Cobb by his first name.

The camp had begun preparing for sleep, somewhat warily thanks to Vanth’s earlier rudeness and hostility. The Tuskens had not taken well at all to his threat to “put a hole” in their brother, and honestly, Din couldn’t fault them. While they’d moved past the incident well enough, a murmur of tension still ran through the encampment as the night wound down. Poor child had picked up on that tension, and could not be soothed to sleep. Din tried everything he could with what little they had with them — he offered extra food, and warm bantha milk, but the kid pushed it away. He wrapped the child in his cloak for a familiar-smelling nest, held the bundle to his chest while humming a nonsense tune, but the kid fussed and cried like he was being pinched.

“Need a hand?”

Din whirled around to see Vanth. Having turned down his auditory sensors, he hadn’t heard Vanth approach. The Marshal had his hands up around his shoulders, the universal “don’t shoot” sign. Clutching the baby to his chest, Din said nothing.

Vanth looked properly chastised. “I get the feelin’ that’s at least partially my fault,” he said, nodding towards the wailing kid. “Figured I’d at least offer to help.”

Din weighed his options. There weren’t many to speak of, and the ones he did have, he didn’t like. He was tired, but in the usual way that meant he was doing something worthwhile. The child, though, needed rest. Desperately.

Inhaling deeply, Din exhaled through his nose. “You will not leave my sight.”

Vanth nods. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

Fighting the instinct that this is a Terrible Idea, Din untangled the child from his cloak. Vanth was already at his elbow, hands outstretched. As he took the child, he glanced up at Din as if to search for signs of a trap. Seeing none, he wrapped the kid up in his own scarf. “I know, sweet pea,” Vanth cooed, “life is very hard when you’ve got big ol’ ears that catch all the bad vibes an ornery bastard like me puts out.” With the way he had the kid swaddled, the scarf covered his little head like a shroud. When Vanth hefted him up to be cradled into his left shoulder, tiny face poking up to look at Din, he was afraid his heart would stop completely.

But it didn’t, and already the fussing was lessened. “There, see?” Vanth soothed. “Not so bad after all.”

Din wasn’t sure what he expected — but it certainly wasn’t to see Marshal Vanth, a man he’d very recently come so close to killing, recite a bedtime story for his little one.

It seemed to be one that Vanth had heard many times before himself, maybe even had told it to kids in Mos Pelgo, with how smoothly he told it then. Din didn’t catch the title, but the premise was easy enough. A young boy living on a tiny planet fell in love with a silly little flower, but after a spell wasn’t sure if he and his flower truly loved one another. The boy set out to explore the galaxy, hopping from one planet to the next. Each planet held a new being for the boy to meet, and they taught him lessons about what’s most important in life, or the nature of existence. Rather heavy material, Din thought, but packaged well enough for children.

More important than the story, though, was Vanth himself. Din found a flat place to sit and watch, and the longer he watched, he felt… well, he wasn’t actually sure what to call it. Vanth rocked and swayed his baby, and Din’s chest clenched. The child’s irritability waned into sleepy contentment, face turning to press into Vanth’s neck, and Din’s throat burned. The mole just under Vanth’s left eye drifted up a touch as he looked down at the kid and smiled, eyes crinkling, and Din forgot how to breathe. The only sounds between them anymore were the gentle cadence of Vanth’s soft vowels. Stupidly, irresponsibly, Din’s heart started to beat to the rhythm of his words.

Soon enough, the child was fast asleep.

Standing, Din nodded towards his small area of the camp. Vanth followed behind, and carefully laid the kid into his makeshift bed. Din moved to unwrap the scarf to return it, but Vanth’s hand on his wrist stopped him. The Marshal shook his head, and gestured for Din to walk with him for a few steps.

“I’d hate to wake him back up for that scrap of cloth,” Vanth said, looking both sheepish and amused. “He can keep it till morning.”

Din nodded. “Thank you, Marshal.”

A slow smile creeped across Vanth’s face. “I did just put your baby to sleep, I’d think we’re familiar enough now for you to use my name.”

Flushing a little under his helmet, Din swallows. “Vanth.”

At that, a quiet chuckle escaped Vanth; he looked down for a second or two, mouth skewed to one side pressing his lips together to smother a laugh. A lock of silver hair flopped down over his eyes, and Din was slapped by the urge to slice it off and take it with him. Vanth looked back up at him, grinning. “I meant my name name, partner. We’ll try again tomorrow.” With a brief touch to Din’s arm just above his elbow and a wink, he said, “Good night, friend,” and walked off toward his own bedroll.

“Good night, Cobb,” Din said, but he was already too far away to hear.

Din’s been a fool ever since.

He stopped keeping track of how many times he’s returned to Mos Pelgo after the fourth or fifth visit. Or maybe the tenth. At first Din would make some excuse about stopping by just for fuel and supplies in Mos Eisley, and really only come this way at Grogu’s behest. In turn, Cobb would flash a smile at the kid, remark on how lucky he is to have a daddy who speaks fluent Baby. One time, Din even had the presence of mind to reply with a deadpanned crack about not actually being able to speak Baby, that he only understands it. Now that was a good day; Cobb had been startled into a laugh brighter than both suns combined, and Din burned for it. Usually, though, Cobb would reach for Grogu, tuck him into his scarf, and lead Din towards an errand he needed help with. After a couple rounds of this routine, Din began to suspect that the errands were just as made-up as his excuses.

Din still comes to visit, at first with Grogu, but now without. It’s only his second or third trip to see Cobb on his own. He wonders if it’s the fact that they’ve set up camp on their way to visit the Tuskens that’s made Cobb mention that first night.

“I remember,” Din says.

Cobb nods, chewing on the inside of his lip in thought. He smooths his palm across his thigh, facing their campfire but not really looking at anything. After a few moments, he admits, “I left a part out, y’know.”

Saying nothing, Din simply tilts his head to indicate go on.

“Well,” Cobb starts, rubbing the back of his neck. “It’s the part that I never really got, as a kid.” When he glances up at Din for a brief second, he has a bit of a rueful smile. “Broke my heart, really.”

What’s gotten into you? Din wants to ask. Instead, he goes for, “Will you tell it to me?”

Cobb huffs. The corner of his mouth twitches upward. “I’m gettin’ there.” He shifts, planting his hands on the ground behind him and leaning back on his arms, face tilted up towards the stars. Then he clears his throat, and starts to speak.

“It’s when the boy is still travelin’ to all the different planets, before he gets home. One of the last planets he goes to, he meets a tooka. Now, the boy is pretty lonely at this point — he’s been away from home and his flower for some time, and all he’s met along the way are unsavory adults — so he asks the tooka to play with him. The tooka, though, tells the boy that they can’t play together. Boy asks why, and the tooka says it’s because he’s not tamed. When the boy asks what it means to be tamed, the tooka says it’s to establish ties, to— to make someone special to you, when they might not have been otherwise. Because the tooka, y’know, it sees lots of little kids come and go through the fields, right? And those kids see just as many tooka runnin’ around. But if the boy would tame the tooka, then — they’d need each other. In all of the galaxy, they’d be unique to one another.

“The tooka explains to the boy that his life is pretty boring. I mean, y’know, all it does is sleep and eat all day. Which, actually,” Cobb considers, “doesn’t sound too bad for either of us at the moment, does it?” He flashes a genuine grin at Din, who concedes the point with a nod. Cobb turns back to the sky. “But for the tooka, y’know, that’s all it’s ever known, and it’s gettin’ a bit dull. So he tells the boy that if he were to tame him, it’d be like the sun’s always shinin’ on him. The tooka would know the boy’s footsteps apart from all the other little kids and critters, that they’d be like music to him. The tooka points to the fields of wheat not far away, and says that since he doesn’t eat any grains, those wheat fields are useless to him. But the boy, the tooka says, the boy’s hair is the same color as the wheat. If only the boy would tame him, the tooka says, the wheat will remind him of the boy. And so, the tooka pleads for the boy to tame him.

“The boy is amenable, but explains he doesn’t have much time before he has to leave again. The tooka insists again that he wants to be tamed. So the boy tames the tooka. It’s a long, slow process, where the boy visits the tooka every day, and each time, they grow to understand each other just a bit more.”

If it weren’t for the beskar covering his body, Din is afraid that his heart would pound right through his ribs and run off into the Dune Sea.

Cobb takes a deep breath, one that shakes on its way in and out. “Now, this is the sad part, the part that always killed me. The boy’s gotta get back to his journey, right? So he tells this to the tooka, who starts to cry. And this upsets the boy, he says that he never wanted to hurt the tooka, but the tooka wanted so badly to be tamed. The tooka says yes, it’s true. The boy points out that the tooka’s still crying, so taming him hasn’t done any good at all. But the tooka says that it has done him good, because of the color of the wheat fields.

“I just always felt for the tooka, y’know? He’s lonely, and bored, and finally gets to have someone important. But he knows that the boy will leave, and I just couldn’t ever put it together why you’d want that heartache. Tore my heart up all to pieces every time I heard it.” That mournful not-smile is back. “I never got it, back then. But now, I think…” Cobb trails off, staring into the campfire. He swallows, sits back up straight like he’s steeling himself. “I think I get it, now.” Turning towards Din, his irises catch the light from the fire and shine brightly, embers against the dark halo of night surrounding him.

Looking into Cobb’s burning eyes, Din is horribly entranced. His heart flutters in his chest; something writhes in his gut, but it’s not entirely unpleasant. The air is clean out here so far out into the sands, but somehow now it’s too heavy and he has to work harder to breathe. He doesn’t realize that Cobb is searching for something, waiting for some indicator until Cobb turns back to the fire. Shoulders curved inward, he tucks his chin into his scarf, eyes hard.

Before he can stop himself, Din’s reaching out towards Cobb. The fire glinting off his beskar vambrace alerts Cobb before Din can actually touch him, and his head snaps back to Din. There’s a look on his face that Din has never seen before, doesn’t know how to read, and it freezes his arm in midair. He doesn’t like this look. It sets him on edge.

Cobb looks— he looks scared.

Din hates this look.

“I understand,” he whispers. “I understand it.”

His voice is so quiet that for a split second he’s terrified that his vocoder didn’t pick up on it, but then Cobb’s features soften again. Painfully aware of how awkward it is for his arm to still be suspended between them, Din sets his hand palm down between them on the ground. He almost wants to look away from Cobb’s gaze, with how it’s still stealing the air from his lungs. But then, the expression on Cobb’s face is so open and relieved and— and sweet.

How could he ever look away?

He’s so entranced that when he feels pressure up against the little finger of his hand that’s on the ground, it takes everything in him to suppress the urge to jump. It’s a good thing, too — when he looks, the pressure turns out to be Cobb’s hand, spread out next to his. The only point of contact between them is the line where their pinkies touch; it’s the first real anchor Din’s felt since… well, since.

They watch the stars for a while, the only sounds between them being the pops and cracks of the campfire. When the fire burns itself to coals, neither of them fetch any more wood. It’s late, anyway. Cobb shifts, shooting Din an apologetic grin when he has to pull his hand away to fashion his scarf into a headrest. Not wanting to be without contact for longer than he has to, Din scrambles to do the same with his cloak. Quiet as it is out here, he’s still loath to remove any of his beskar for sleep — until he sees Cobb already stretched out on his side facing him. Din strips off a single pauldron, just enough to allow him to lie down in the same way. He tucks it under his cloak for safekeeping.

This time, it’s Cobb who reaches out first. His arm is outstretched on the ground, palm up. Tugging off a glove, Din reaches an arm out to lay his hand in Cobb’s. Cobb inhales, lips parted like he’s about to say something, but then settles for rubbing his thumb across Din’s knuckles. He’s got another new look on his face that Din doesn’t recognize, but he likes this one. It warms him to the bone like a good whiskey.

Yes, he thinks. He knows exactly what it’s like to be tamed.