No one on Tatooine has ever been able to read Luke’s words.
They wrap around his right wrist; four words, in a sharp, heavy script. He could reproduce them from memory at this point, having traced over them again and again until the shapes were as easy to bring to his fingers as his own name. But he can’t read them. No one he’s ever met has been able to identify the letters, not that there are that many people on Tatooine for him to ask.
Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru had matching words with their corresponding vines, thorny and with tiny white flowers growing out of them at certain points, flowing from them. Aunt Beru’s words were on her shoulder, a steady Nice to meet you, miss and her vines flowed down her back; Uncle Owen’s was on his ankle, Hello , nice and simple — and his vines trailed up his calf. Luke had asked them the story so many times, though it wasn’t particularly exciting. Uncle Owen’s father, Luke’s Grandpa Cliegg, had taken Owen as a teenager to visit a neighbor, and there Owen had met Beru, the neighbor’s daughter. Their words were their first words to each other, and the vines had grown with their relationship.
Many people’s words, Luke knew, were very similar — simple greetings, polite and unremarkable. It was likely that Luke’s words were the same. But the uncertainty ate at him. How could he know when he had met his soulmate, if he didn’t know what words to expect? What if he met them, and they passed right by, never suspecting? In and out of his life like the ships that stopped to refuel on Tatooine before leaving without a second glance? He might never even know.
Luke had spent his childhood and teenage years envious of his friends, whose words were easy to understand. Biggs’s words were written just above his elbow; they were the reason he was so obsessed with joining the Imperial Flight Academy the second he came of age. He, apparently, would meet his soulmate there — Name’s Wedge, TIE SS-2-5 — and would spend hours talking about becoming a pilot to anyone who would listen — which usually ended up being Luke. Uncle Owen was diligently opposed to Luke joining him, but Luke knew that the only path to deciphering his words was getting off Tatooine, and the only way to get off Tatooine was to join the Academy. So he argued, and pleaded, and bargained, but Owen wouldn’t budge.
It was only later, when he was curled up in the hold of the Millennium Falcon with a couple of ancient droids, Old Ben Kenobi, a Wookie, and a smuggler for company, resolutely not thinking about the sight of his aunt and uncle’s burned bodies in front of their destroyed home, that Luke regretted the way he had spoken to Uncle Owen. He knew, now, just what he was trying to protect him from. But it was too late to apologize; all he could do now was try to stay alive.
Din didn’t have words for the first nine years of his life. His parents, whose words were each on their right shoulders and whose vines wrapped down each of their backs and around their sides, had constantly reassured Din that it was alright, that not everyone got words. He knew, though, as he grew and his words didn’t show up, that they worried for him.
Din’s words appear a few months after the attack on his village, after he had been taken in and adopted by the Mandalorians and the grief was still thick in his throat. He doesn’t know, at first, that they are there at all, until his baji’buir looks at him, her golden buy’ce tilted, and says, quietly, “I believe you have your words, ad .” She hands him a piece of shining beskar to use as a mirror, and sure enough, curled under his left ear in a slanting script, there they are. Two words: I am.
Tiny. Fairly useless on their own. Life-changing, and all the more precious for it.
Din’s words are never discussed amongst his covert. Just like their faces, a person’s words are considered sacred, something that should be shared with clan alone. Of course, Din hadn’t yet sworn the creed when he got his words, having been too young, and so he couldn’t cover them with his helmet, just yet. But it is quickly impressed amongst his fellow foundlings, few though there were, that they are not to ask him about them, or to speculate whose words they could be. Most words were not quite so visible as Din’s, anyway. He knows Ven’ya’s words are on her shoulder, and Brit’s are on the back of their knee, but he never asks them what they say, and they never discuss Din’s with him. This was the Way.
Soon enough, Din swears the creed, and his words vanish behind the bright silver alloy of his buy’ce. He leaves it unpainted, for now — he likes how it gleams in the brittle Nevarro light.
But just because the outside world couldn’t see and discuss his words, didn’t mean they didn’t eat Din alive at times. What did they mean? Who was this person, his soulmate, his run’riduur ? How was he supposed to find them, when all he had to go off of were two short, uninformative words? He found himself on high alert, especially during those first few years out on his own, hyper aware of each conversation he had with another new being. He waited each time to see if their response would be the words he knew so well. But they never came, and soon his heart stopped pounding quite so loudly, his throat stopped constricting with every new conversation he engaged in, and he stopped speaking up quite so much. If his soulmate was going to find him, they’d have to try a little harder.
The first time he kills a sentient, Din is sixteen and has just sworn the creed. His armor is still new and unfamiliar, his gait awkward and clumsy. He stumbles along behind Jiya, one of their best hunters, through the early morning light on a planet far from the warm, safe tunnels of Nevarro, and learns for the first time what being Mandalorian in a galaxy like this truly means.
One moment, Jiya is striding along ahead of him, her head in its blue and gold buy’ce constantly swiveling to check for danger, and the next, the street explodes around them. Din is blown off his feet, duracrete raining down over him as he slams into the side of a building. His head is ringing from the explosion and from the impact, but before he can get his bearings, he hears a snarl cut through the air, and he looks up to see two beings holding Jiya up by the arms, and another reaching down to tear the helmet off her head from where it hangs limp between her shoulders.
Din doesn’t even pause to think about what he’s doing. He reaches behind him for the Amban sniper rifle Jiya herself had so recently taught him to use, takes aim, and fires. The Rodian holding Jiya’s left arm vanishes in a cloud of matter. The Trandoshan gripping her helmet is next, and at that point their accomplice drops Jiya into the dirt and takes off running. It doesn’t save them; they disintegrate just as the other two had, a scream still lingering in the air where their body had been.
Jiya wakes up quickly, once Din is able to drag her to a protected spot away from the site of the explosion, but not before he leans over, pulls his helmet up over his chin, and vomits. She glances at the mess, once she’s on her feet and leaning heavily on him for support, but she doesn't say anything other than, “It’ll get easier, kid.” Din helps her stumble to their ship and tries not to feel horrified at the thought.
Ben Kenobi is a quiet man, though he had seemed ready enough to answer Luke’s questions about his father back on Tatooine. But when Luke draws his sleeve back from his wrist and shows him his words, Ben’s expression becomes distant, as if a shutter had fallen over his eyes. He stares at Luke’s wrist and its strange sharp words for a few seconds, swallows, and shakes his head. “I am sorry, Luke. I’m afraid I don’t know what your words mean.” Luke wasn’t entirely sure he believed him, but he decided not to pry. Ben wore several layers of robes, and a high-collared shirt under those, but Luke could still spot a few leaves poking out along the edge of his hairline, dead and withered looking things that hurt Luke’s heart to consider. A person’s vines only withered and died if their soul bond was broken; if not in death, then in irreconcilable separation.
Han isn’t shy about his words; they wrap around his right forearm, and he keeps his sleeves rolled up to the elbow, so that they can all see the elegant, curled writing on his skin. The words Looks like you cut off our only escape route! don’t have any accompanying vines, and Han shrugs when he sees Luke staring.
“Haven’t met them yet, but it looks like they’ll be interesting, at least. Chewie,” he drawls, leaning back in his seat to look at the massive Wookie sitting at the dejarik table, who rumbles an acknowledgement but doesn’t look up, “says he doesn’t have any words, but I think that’s banthashit. I’ve met his wife; if any beings are soulmates, it’s those two.” Chewie roars, and Han laughs. “You know I’m right, buddy!” Han glances at Luke’s wrist, which is still uncovered, with curiosity in his eyes. “You know, I feel like I’ve seen writing like that before, but I couldn’t tell you what it says. Sorry, kid.”
Luke shakes his sleeve back over his wrist, and shrugs half heartedly. “It’s alright. No one’s been able to read it yet. Guess I’ll have to keep looking.”
Ben, at this point, pulls Luke’s attention back to his lightsaber training, and Han joins Chewie, Artoo, and Threepio in their game of dejarik. Then, they come out of hyperspace, and everything starts to go wrong.
The infiltration, rescue of the princess, and escape from the Death Star is a whirlwind of terror and adrenaline the likes of which Luke had never experienced before. At every turn, he’s convinced that none of them are making it off of that station alive. Maybe, he thought wildly as they ran through the halls, blaster fire raining down on them, maybe that’s why I can’t read my words, if I’m not going to survive to meet my soulmate anyway. He knew, logically, that it didn’t work like that, but it was hard to listen to logic when a seven-foot-tall terror in a death mask cuts down his only connection to his father, the only man who had offered him anything like hope. Leia, Han, and Chewie are the only reason Luke survives long enough to throw himself onto the Millenium Falcon and get away; that, and a voice in the back of his head, one that echoes in a way he had never heard before, telling him to run. It sounds like Ben, though that could be just an echo of his grief.
Later, when they were safely out of range of the Death Star and its sentries, Luke sits with Han in the cockpit and listens as he dances around the subject of Leia. Luke had heard their interaction — he didn’t need to see it to know Leia has Maybe you’d like it back in your cell, your highness written somewhere on her person. But neither of them had flinched back there in the hallway, too busy trying to survive to acknowledge it, and now it seemed they were too annoyed with each other to broach the subject at all. A tendril of jealousy curls in Luke’s stomach; they, at least, had the luxury of willingly ignoring their soulmate.
There’s a surprise waiting for him when they get to Yavin IV and jump into preparations for their attack on the Death Star. As he’s getting ready to climb aboard his ship, he hears a familiar voice call his name; Biggs is here, suited up, ready to fly the mission alongside him. He tells Luke, shyly, just before they head out, that he found his soulmate in the Academy, and they defected to the Rebellion together. He promises to tell Luke the whole story once they return.
He never gets the chance.
Luke knows, viscerally, as he’s flying away from the Death Star’s explosion, what Ben meant when he described the destruction of Alderaan. Luke can feel the deaths of every single sentient aboard the Death Star — so clearly it’s as if they’re standing in front of him. It’s all he can do to keep the ship flying steady and back towards Yavin IV.
The celebration afterwards, when Luke returns to the base, feels nearly obscene, once he realizes exactly how many of their men they’ve lost. The only other surviving Red Squadron pilot stumbles down from his ship, eyes hollow, and something in Luke’s stomach drops. He knows, somehow, who this is. “Wedge Antilles,” he says, holding a hand out to Luke, mouth quirked in a mirthless smile. “I, uh… I’ve heard a lot about you, Skywalker.” He swallows, and his eyes swim with tears. He jerks his head down to stare at the floor, and Luke’s throat is burning, the guilt flooding through him tempered only by the grief he can feel rolling off of the man in front of him.
“Wedge,” he croaks, grasping his hand like a lifeline, “Wedge, I… I’m so sorry, I couldn’t…”
Wedge’s head jerks back up again and he scowls, fierce. “No! Don’t you dare apologize, Skywalker. Biggs knew what he was getting into. We both did. You destroyed that damn thing, and saved us all. That’s what matters.”
Luke can’t bring himself to argue. But he knows for a fact that he didn’t save them all.
The Rebellion needs all the help it can get, Luke knows. He dedicates his days to helping them move from base to base, to training with the rest of the pilots, flying supply runs, anything they need from him. He has to find some way to make up for all the beings they lost, and if he has to sacrifice time to sleep and eat, he will. He drinks water, because he was raised by the desert and you never don’t drink when you have it available, but that’s it.
He’ll zone out, staring at nothing while Red 5 is given a diagnostics check and restocked, and that’s when Han most often catches him and forces him to rest, or he sics Leia on him, and she bullies him back to his quarters. Luke doesn’t ever find it easy to sleep, no matter how exhausted he is, but he can’t bring himself to care much. When he finds himself with no assignment and, as usual, unable to sleep, he slips off and finds an empty supply room and practices with the lightsaber Ben left him. He’s getting a little better at reaching into that part of his mind that lets him feel everything around him, but he still slips, sometimes, and feels the sting of the training droid’s blasts. He snarls, and works through it; he has to get better.
The first time he has to make the training droid faster feels like a triumph. He can’t let himself get complacent.
Luke meets so many beings from so many different planets and systems, but none of them ever know how to read his words. He asks every new person who joins, but they all shake their heads in sympathy and quickly redirect their conversation to safer orbits. He understands; no one wants to acknowledge the discomfort of someone not knowing their words.
In the same way, he never acknowledges the budding vines he sees start to crawl down Han’s forearm. Han and Leia never mention it either, but Luke catches them, sometimes, staring at the other through a holoprojector, or across the dining hall, or during a meeting. Surrounded by people he values and trusts, he has never felt more lonely.
Though he’s already deadly and fast with his weapons by the time he reaches twenty standard years, it still takes a long time before his buir allows Din to go out on solo missions. She forges him new armor in a stronger alloy; still with plenty of durasteel mixed in, but stronger than the first set that he had gained at sixteen. She sometimes laments the lack of pure beskar, when it’s only the two of them nestled in the hot confines of her forge, her hammer ringing in the comfortable silences they leave between them. She is careful not to speak that way in front of the others; publically, she maintains a calm, untouchable aura, as befits her station as their alor. But privately, with Din, she allows herself to relax, just a little.
Din is not, officially, part of his buir’s clan; as the alor of a dwindling covert, always only a few steps ahead of extinction, she cannot afford to play favorites and alienate any one of them. Privately, though, she calls him ad’ika and lets him call her buir, and he convinces himself that this is all he needs. He has never seen her face, and ever since he swore the creed and donned his own buy’ce, she has never seen his. He has no idea what her words are or where they are on her person, or if she even has any at all. This is, as she so often says, the Way.
Din’s buir does, eventually, allow him to start out on solo missions, and she helps him procure a gunship of his very own, a pre-Empire make called the Razor Crest. Paz, when he first sees it, sneers and calls it an eyesore, but Din doesn’t care. It will need a lot of work to bring the Crest up to snuff, he knows, but it’s his. He’s allowed to keep a small portion of the credits he brings in from his jobs now, and saves them up so that he can start upgrading the ship, investing in new weapons arrays and even, eventually, a carbonite chamber. That one takes several years of scrimping and saving to purchase, but it’s well worth the investment; now, he can just shove rowdy bounties in there when they start trying to talk to him.
Din’s days, as time goes by, are largely taken up by hunting down his bounties, his searches taking him all over the Outer Rim — he doesn’t dare to stray too far inwards, given the presence of the Empire has only increased in the Mid Rim and Core Worlds ever since they rose to power. Just as Jiya had said so long ago, it does get easier to kill, to ignore the fact that he’s hunting a living being, and to do what needs to be done.
Din’s skill as a hunter elevates him quickly in the esteem of the head of the guild. A few years into his meteoric rise, he finds himself being given the pick of the bounties every time he meets Karga for a new job. He nearly takes on a man named Solo, but just before he can set out, Karga comes to him to take back the fob; it turns out a hunter named Fett is going after him. Fett is in Darth Vader’s pocket, and isn’t someone Karga is willing to mess with. Din doesn’t argue; he hasn’t kept up with much news, but even on the Outer Rim they know about Vader, and they know that to cross him is to leave your fate to his whims — and there are fates far worse than death.
Hoth is a barren icy wasteland, not unlike the Hell that Uncle Owen had assured his younger self awaited all those who did evil deeds during their time alive in the galaxy. When he’s attacked by a wampa and finds himself laying in the snow, facing his death, he can’t help but feel the rightness of it. Luke’s had plenty of time to realize the enormity of what he‘s done; not only did he lose nearly all of their men, Biggs among them, but he killed all those on the Death Star, too, when he caused its destruction. Yes, they were working for the Empire, but they hadn’t even had time to defend themselves or to get off the station before it exploded. So for Luke to be freezing to death on the closest planet approaching Hell that he could ever have dreamed up, well. He may just laugh a little, the sound ripped away by the blizzard.
He hallucinates, he thinks, right before he passes out. He sees Ben, telling him to go to the Dagobah system, and tries to call to him, but Ben doesn’t respond. Just before his eyes slip closed, he sees something else overlaid on what he can actually see — a flash of silver, shining and beautiful. Something in Luke’s heart sings, for just a second, and he hears the Force whispering ‘ this one.’ He strains, trying to see more, but he can’t hold on, and drops down into unconsciousness.
Luke is utterly shocked when he wakes up after the bacta tank, back in the Rebel base, surrounded by Leia, Han, Chewie, and even the droids. He doesn’t tell them about the flash of silver he saw, when he explains how he has to go to Dagobah — that part of his hallucinations, he thinks, he will keep for himself.
Master Yoda, like Ben, only stares at Luke’s words for a while, when he finally asks about them, before declaring he cannot read them, and turning away, muttering about attachments. As with Ben, as well, Luke chooses not to argue. He does argue, vehemently, when Yoda and Ben insist he cannot go and help Leia and Han when he feels their distress through the Force. Eventually, he just leaves — he can’t just sit idly by when he knows something is wrong. He hopes, prays, that he isn’t too late.
It’s a trap. Of course it is. The second Leia sees him, even taken captive as she is by imperial troops, she tries to warn him. But what else can he do but hunt for Vader? If he can take Vader down, he can save his friends. That’s what he’s here for, isn’t it?
He should never have been so foolish as to believe he could take Vader down. Take his father down.
The shock of it is enough that it, in the moment, eclipses the loss of his words. Luke just clutches his arm to his chest, the words I am your father ringing in his ears, unable to do anything but reject the horrific reality that, even as he denies it, he can feel the Force confirming, just as Vader says. Vader tries to recruit him. Luke knows he has to escape, has to get away before Vader can capture him, or all of this will have been for nothing; his life, his friends, the whole rebellion, will be destroyed. So he lets himself fall, and somehow, miraculously, he survives. Just as before, on Hoth, he sees something flash across his vision as he hangs from the antenna underneath Cloud City — a hint of warm brown, nothing more, but the comfort of it settles something in his heart.
It’s only later, watching a medical droid attach his new prosthetic hand, that Luke allows himself to cry. He stares at the synthskin covering the cybernetics, blank and smooth and utterly wrong. The familiar spiky writing is gone, and now, he will never find out what it said. The loss feels like a hole has been punched in his chest, straight through his sternum, and he finds himself gasping for breath, ripping his arm out from under the stinging instruments of the med droid. Leia is by his side immediately, wrapping him up in her arms, and all he can do is cling to her and sob.
Days, months, years, they all blur together for Din, passing through life with the primary responsibility of helping his covert, and not much more to define it. He becomes his covert’s strongest provider. Some of them, he knows, resent him for it — he’s still so young compared to many of them, even his fellow foundlings. But he can’t help but be proud of his skill, of the way everywhere he goes, conversation stops and whispers about him go up. Outsiders call him “Mando,” and insiders like Paz call him “arrogant little shit.” But if arrogance is the price he must pay for being the best, he’ll pay it. Din’s buir observes all of this, he knows, but he can’t bring himself to ask her what she thinks. She does step in, sometimes, when he and Paz get into fights. Or, well, when she thinks he might kill Paz, he supposes. Paz used to be their main provider before Din surpassed him, and Din knows he resents him for it. But Paz is huge and loud and inflexible in his hatred of most non-Mandalorian outsiders, and they can’t afford him going out too often anymore and blowing their cover. So Din takes over and Paz stews about it in the murk of Nevarro’s tunnels.
Late at night aboard the Razor Crest, curled up in the pure darkness of his bunk, he runs his fingers over the place where he knows his words reside. That spot feels no different from the skin surrounding it, but he knows exactly where they are, his fingertips tingling with some unknown energy as he traces the curves of the letters. He imagines, for a moment, that it’s his soulmate’s fingers on his skin, instead of his own.
Throughout it all, during every second he’s tracking bounties or ignoring the way his covert watches him as he walks through the tunnels with his latest payment to bring to his buir, Din’s mind burns with two questions — who is my soulmate? and what happened to my parents?
Din can’t do anything about the question of his soulmate; they will appear just when the universe wants them to, and nothing he does will make that happen any faster. So he focuses his thoughts on Aq Vetina. He hopes — no, he knows — that some of them must have survived. They must have. He relives the attack all the time, imagining it again and again, especially when he sits in his buir’s forge and watches her work. He turns that day over and over in his mind, trying to think beyond the sharp, sour memory of fear, but eventually he realizes: the only way he’ll ever know for sure is if he goes back.
The days planning Han’s rescue, and even the infiltration and subsequent fight on Jabba’s barge, they all pass in a blur that Luke barely remembers. He acts when he needs to, fights when he has to, but it’s all instinct at this point — every twitch of his cybernetic hand, every flash of bare skin under his sleeve sends another stab through his heart.
He recovers somewhat when he returns to Dagobah to finish his training with Master Yoda, but only enough so that the old frog stops muttering about the foolishness of his attachment to a few unreadable words. Anger flares through him when he hears that, but still, he doesn’t argue with Yoda — it’s just not worth it. Yoda is old, and sick. All too soon, Luke sits at his bedside and watches as he fades into the Force, listening to his final warnings about the Emperor and Vader, dread swirling in his gut.
Ben echoes Yoda’s warnings to bury his feelings, even as he tells Luke that he has a sister. It must be Leia; why else are they connected the way they are? But Luke can’t, he just can’t lock all of his feelings away — to do so would be to sever whatever remains of the promise of his soulmate, and Luke can’t bear that loss on top of everything else.
Luke surrenders himself to Vader. It’s his only shot, he knows, to try to convince his father to listen. He has to lean against one of the railings and breathe, as evenly as he can, because the Force is screaming at him, making him turn and ask Vader to come with him. He hears the conflict in his father’s voice, can feel it in the emotions radiating off of him, as he tells Luke that he must obey his master. Luke blinks and envisions, in the span of a few seconds, what could have been — a man in dark Jedi robes, a face he’s never seen looking down on him and smiling gently. He blinks again, and the man is gone, replaced by the unnerving, ominous black mask.
The Emperor’s presence in the Force is slimy, cold, and horrifying. It clings. Luke can barely look at him, has to focus on Vader by his side, ominous as he is.
“It is good that your father rid you of those useless words,” the Emperor says, voice gravelly and grating, leaving the coppery taste of blood in Luke’s mouth, “for they would only ever have been a distraction. Without them, you will be even more powerful, young Skywalker.”
Luke feels Vader twitch, ever so slightly, next to him, and feels a sliver of remorse flash between them through the Force. It’s a cold comfort, but better than the horrid scrape of the Emperor’s Force presence against his own.
The Emperor takes his time with Luke, like a krayt hunting her prey. Luke watches the Rebellion battle the Imperial forces out in the stars, and tries his hardest to keep his thoughts calm and his emotions even. Repeatedly he can feel the Emperor reaching out to him through the Force. Repeatedly, he stifles a shudder and tightens his mental shields.
He cracks when Vader taunts him, when he threatens his friends and family, and his control slips for an instant — only an instant, but it’s enough. “ Sister,” Vader practically purrs, and Luke’s rage spikes as he threatens to go after her. Not Leia.
Luke’s a whirlwind of anger, battering at Vader again and again with all he has, swinging his saber in savage blows, until he catches Vader’s saber hand and, with a twirl of his blade, slices clean through Vader’s wrist, just as Vader had done back on Bespin. He stands, breathless, holding Vader at saberpoint… then the Emperor’s cruel, mocking laughter breaks through the rage pounding through his skull.
Luke refuses the Emperor’s command to join him. He stares for a second down at his prosthetic hand, thinking of the words he’s lost, of the symmetry in his and his fathers’ existences, now, and makes his decision. He tosses his lightsaber away, determined, and feels the Emperor’s rage spike when he proclaims himself a Jedi, like his father before him. The satisfaction of the moment, the sense of peace that washes over him, is broken by the first bolt of lightning coursing through him.
It’s — it’s indescribable, a burning, clawing pain that shoots down his spine, through each nerve ending, blinding, agonizing. The Emperor laughs and taunts as he shocks him, again and again, and Luke’s body writhes under the assault — he lost control of it some time ago. He thinks he calls for his father, for anyone, to help him. The Force around him is wailing, a horrifying sound that grates in his ears, in his marrow. He’s going to die here, he thinks, and he can only think of his soulmate, of how he’s let them down. The Emperor pauses for a moment in his assault, and Luke takes the momentary lapse in pain to send a wordless, exhausted apology to them. He wasn’t strong enough.
The Emperor strikes him again, and underneath the Emperor’s laughter and his own cries of pain, he hears his own name. “Luke.”
It’s not a voice he recognizes; it’s not Ben or Yoda, calling through the Force to give him support. The voice is low, and rich, and at this moment, it’s the most beautiful sound he thinks he’s ever heard. His vision is fading, now, his head hitting cold durasteel with every spasm of his body, and Luke closes his eyes. Then, ringing through the Force itself, he hears his father scream, “NO!”
Vader throws the Emperor over the side of the railing and down the station’s exhaust chute.
His father whispers an apology to Luke, free from the confines of his helmet, just before he passes. “I — I lost your Mother’s words, when I Fell. I am… so sorry, my son… to have taken yours,” he gasps. “But… you were right about me. Tell your sister…. You were right.”
Luke feels the moment he passes. It feels almost the same way Yoda’s passing did — something peaceful, a warm flow of energy flowing through the Force, dissipating out from the epicenter of his father’s body, even tempered as it is by the acrid sting of his own pain. There is nothing more Luke can do, and so he lets his tears fall.
Din doesn’t tell his buir where he’s going, since he’s not certain she would approve. She would probably say something to warn him about chasing after ghosts. He knows, too, that his covert can little afford him going off on his own on a personal adventure; he needs to be there for them, to provide as much as he can. But the need to find out burns; it takes over his thoughts, every waking moment, pounding in the back of his skull even as he takes down attackers and ties up bounties trying to squirm away. He gets this particular bounty, a loud, mouthy Rodian, into the carbonite chamber sooner rather than later, and climbs back up to the Crest’s cockpit, ready to input the coordinates for Nevarro. But something makes him pause.
He could. If he were brave, he could do it. They’re not expecting him home, not just yet. He’d tracked this bounty down much sooner than Karga had anticipated, so he has some time. Before he can talk himself out of it, he punches in the coordinates he’s memorized, and starts the engines.
Aq Vetina is silent. There are no incoming comms from air traffic control towers, no other ships entering or leaving the atmosphere as Din comes in to land. There is only, as far as he can see, black, charred ground and a low-lying fog that refuses to dissipate. He turns on his thermal scanner as he disembarks, hoping to see footprints or perhaps even the warm glow of bodies, of people hiding, but the land surrounding him is dark, and cold, and lifeless.
Din finds the remains of his village. He walks through the streets, the soft clink of his bandolier against his armor echoing off of the ruins of buildings around him. He can see, all around him as if it’s being projected as a holo in front of his eyes, the droids, the destruction they wrought, the people running through the streets. Blaster burns litter what’s left of the duracrete walls around him, and screams echo in his head. He shivers, feeling the desperation and terror that has soaked into the exposed bones of the village. There are no footprints, as he looks around, except his own. Nothing at all to show there is anyone still here, or that anyone has been here for a long, long time.
There’s a rustle of movement in his HUD, and Din jerks, hastily turning off the thermal scanner so as to see what it is in true color. It’s a piece of fabric, snagged on a broken slab of rubble. A piece of faded, dirty, but still faintly red fabric.
It’s this sight that makes it final, confirms what his head has been screaming but his heart just couldn’t accept. There were no survivors, not after the Mandalorians gathered him in their arms and flew away. He’s the only one left.
Din’s knees hit the ground, and he keens . His voice echoes throughout the ruins, and it’s almost enough to pretend that he isn’t alone.
Rebuilding the galaxy after the fall of the Empire was never going to be an easy task, Luke always knew that, but the amount of senators who immediately try to lay claim to his skills is, frankly, exhausting. Leia is busy establishing the New Republic Senate; she stations herself on Coruscant and runs meetings and discussions with all the ferocity and skill that she used as a Rebellion general. She is still the senator for the Alderaan sector, and thanks to her, several refugees from Alderaan proper are located and resettled on neighboring planets and moons. The former Alderaanians are fiercely loyal to Leia. Luke meets with several of them at various New Republic events, and they all refer to her as their Princess.
Luke has no such support, not from Tatooine, anyway. Leia does what she can, but the other senators are vicious when they want to be, and Luke finds himself sent on more and more perilous missions hunting down Imperial stragglers. He’s in an odd position as the galaxy’s only known Jedi; he’s a relic of a bygone era, someone mysterious and ancient, and at the same time he finds himself the subject of a slew of holonet gossip columns, all trying to pick apart his personal life. Speculations about his words are very common, and he finds himself reading several articles from separate publications that all claim to have exclusive interviews with his anonymous soulmate. Well. If they do, he’ll be first in line to find out who they are.
Luke keeps up with Han and Chewie, of course. Han and Leia have settled into a comfortable relationship, and Luke is honestly happy for them. He keeps Leia up to date on his missions, as well, and she worries over him just as she has always done.
“I don’t know, Luke.” Leia’s mouth twists as she looks over his flight plan, concern in her voice evident even through the tiny holo image radiating from the X-Wing’s dashboard. “I wouldn’t refuel on Nevarro. I’ve heard stories coming from that sector — there’s a bounty hunter out there who even the other hunters are afraid of. They say he’s impossible to kill and ruthless when he chases down his bounties. You and I both know how high the reward is for you. I don’t think you should risk it.”
Luke sighs, but agrees, and he and Artoo reroute their path so that he passes over Nevarro instead of entering its atmosphere. The Force thrums in his ears, but makes no move to intervene one way or the other.
Din has kept his armor unpainted, until now. When he returns to Nevarro, silent and with eyes that ache from crying, he seeks out Brit, who has installed themselves as the covert’s cultural advisor, and they find him the supplies he needs.
His helmet he leaves unpainted. It is the only piece of his armor that is pure, unaltered beskar, forged with special care by his buir from scraps she had managed to amass over several years, and it feels wrong to cover that shining silver in mere paint. The rest of his armor, though, he covers in deep red, the color used to honor family. He wears his remembrance of his parents and of his village for everyone to see, and in his mind’s eye he sees the red robes his people had worn and a feeling of rightness settles in his chest. His buir pauses when he enters her forge for the first time with the paint on full display, and he hears a smile in her voice as she says, “A good choice, ad’ika .” He hopes she knows that the honor extends to her, as well.
The bounties keep coming, even more so now that the New Republic is searching for the scattered remains of the Empire. Several hunters in the guild team up to go after a massive bounty on someone named Skywalker, but Karga keeps Din from joining them.
“It’s pure suicide, Mando.” Karga says, and offers him a few bail jumpers instead. “I’ve heard of Skywalker. He’s high up in the New Republic’s ranks, and he’s dangerous. You don’t want to get anywhere near him.”
Din shrugs, takes the fobs Karga offers, and sets off in the Crest. He returns a month later with a full carbonite holding chamber, and finds that Karga was right; the hunters who attempted to go after Skywalker never returned, and his bounty is still unclaimed, even raised by several thousand more credits.
Leia comes to Luke one day, eyes bright and a mischievous smile on her face, and asks him to follow her. He tries, several times, to ask where they’re going, even as she shoves him in the back seat of an A-Wing, Artoo already in position, but she never answers, only smiles that maddening smile and continues through takeoff procedures. He trusts her though, of course he does, so he leaves her alone once they’re flying through hyperspace and tries, unsuccessfully, to mediate.
The planet they land on is rough, right on the edge between the middle and outer rims, and Luke glances around warily as Leia tugs him along through the streets. She pulls him to a small shop, covered in signs in several languages that proclaim it to be the best tattoo parlor in this sector.
“Leia, I am not getting twin tattoos with you, I don’t care how much you try to convince me.”
She snorts. “Come on, Master Jedi, in here.”
The Besalisk sitting behind the counter looks dubiously at them when they enter, but nevertheless greets them cordially as Leia, still with Luke’s hand clamped mercilessly in hers, marches to the front desk. “Hello,” she says, slipping into her smooth politician voice almost immediately. “I’ve heard from multiple sources that you do the best synthskin tattoo work on the planet. Is this true?”
The Besalisk blinks for a second, then smiles. “Of course, my lady, of course. Best in the quadrant, even. What is it you want done?”
At this point, Leia turns to Luke, and her gaze is suddenly unsure for the first time. “Luke. You remember what your words looked like, right? Enough to be able to draw them?”
Luke nods, throat tight.
“You don’t have to,” she says quickly, “of course you don’t have to, but I thought — I know it won’t be the same, but —“
Luke pulls her into a hug, pressing his face into her hair. “Thank you, Leia. Yes, I want to.”
The Besalisk — Rekk — looks over the words Luke painstakingly draws for him, careful to get it as accurate as he possibly could, willing his hands not to shake as he does. “What language is this, kid?”
Luke shrugs and huffs a laugh. “No idea.”
It doesn’t hurt, not the way Luke knows a tattoo on real skin would. He can feel the vibration of the needle running up his arm, and feels the pressure of it, but the pain is barely there, only tiny sparks, less than pinpricks. Wedge had bled like a wetworlder when they’d gotten memorial tattoos in honor of their Red and Gold losses in the Death Star bombing runs, but that’s not really something Luke has to deal with this time. Rekk’s huge hands are amazingly precise, and it’s not long before he’s wiping excess ink away and saying, “Okay, go ahead, take a look.”
Luke glances down at his wrist and immediately feels tears welling up in his eyes. It looks exactly like it did before. His words, still unreadable but there , spiky and black and beautiful. He presses his other hand to his mouth as Leia, beaming, wraps her arms around him in a sideways hug. He looks up at Rekk, who’s watching him, and whispers hoarsely, “Thank you, truly. It’s perfect.”
Rekk smiles and shows him how to care for the ink so it doesn’t run — it’s not like a normal tattoo, he assures Luke, but it will still require a day or two before the ink is fully bonded with the synthskin. When Leia goes to pay him, though, Rekk waves her off.
“Least I could do,” he says when she protests, “words are important. Besides,” and his eyes take on a more knowing look, glancing between them, “it’s not every day I have a senator and the Jedi who killed the Emperor in my shop.”
Chewie pulls Luke into a backbreaking hug when he shows him the new tattoo a few days later, and Han inspects it with interest. “Is this why the princess was asking all over about tattoo parlors? It looks great, kid, though I’ve gotta admit I’m a little disappointed, I thought she was gonna come back with something a little more… interesting.” He waggles his eyebrows for emphasis, and then Luke and Chewie, holding Luke’s infant nephew Ben, get to laugh themselves stupid, watching Han try to outrun an incensed Leia.
Din had never anticipated anything, not even his soulmate, that would be important enough to distract him from his work providing for his covert. After all, if his soulmate truly was his pre-ordained other half, he never dreamed them to be anything but fully supportive of his place with the other Mandalorians. He had his path to walk, and he was — if not happy — content in travelling it.
The Child changes all of that.
Din tries to reject the bond he feels with the baby, at first. He watches it reach a tiny clawed hand out from its cradle, staring straight into his eyes, and it’s as if a piece of his heart that he hadn’t even known was missing slots into place. But that can’t be possible; this thing is a bounty, nothing more. Its reward is worth far too much to both Din and the covert for him to go rogue now. So he takes the child back to the Imp who sent Din on his search, even as he replays the memory, again and again, of the mudhorn lifting, impossibly, into the air, allowing his near escape from death. But, as has never happened before, Din underestimates himself. He goes back to save the child, letting the silver of his new armor shine for everyone to see, and only then does the guilt start to abate. His covert, even Paz, comes to save them, when the guild comes after them to kill Din and reclaim the child. Din escapes with “This is the Way” echoing in his ears, something telling him even now that it was worth it.
The child is not easy to hide, necessitating their moving from planet to planet as quietly as possible, but as the days pass Din grows more used to sharing his ship and his life with another being. It’s especially nice to share with one who does not sneer or try to kill him. The child only wants Din to hold him, and to chase after every creature he can fit into his mouth, and some he can’t, apparently. Everywhere he goes, Din finds people in need of help who know exactly what skills a Mandalorian can bring to the table. He finds himself being hired for a multitude of jobs: protecting a backwater town from an enemy tribe, where he meets and befriends Cara Dune; helping a rookie hunter track down Fennec Kriffing Shand, of all people; and even breaking a prisoner out of a New Republic prison ship. This mission grates on him the way not much else does, these days. Xi’an, Mayfeld, and Burg are merciless and uncaring when they mock his armor and his creed.
“You know, Mando,” Xi’an purrs, her fangs bared in her best imitation of a winning smile, “I never learned what your words were. If you’ve even got any.”
Mayfeld scoffs. “This guy? No way. He’s too proud.”
Din grimaces behind his buy’ce but doesn’t say anything. These people, among many, many other flaws, are far too comfortable discussing what’s supposed to be private and sacred. He really can’t say he’s disappointed when he has the opportunity to leave them locked up on the prison ship.
Eventually, Din’s luck runs out; the Empire tracks them down, and Din finds himself hiding with Cara and Karga, feeling every inch the prey, not the predator, this time. Desperation claws in his throat as he tries, again and again, to contact Kuill, but he never receives an answer. The child, though, is safe for the time being, protected by that damn IG unit Kuill had rescued and reprogrammed, and the moment Din sees it swiveling and mowing down troopers, he starts to think they may have a chance to get out of here with their lives.
Then Gideon blows up the E-Web cannon’s power cell, and Din knows he’s going to die.
Cara, loyal to a fault, drags him to safety. In his haze, Din remembers doing the same for Jiya, all those years ago, when he was barely more than a child. But he knows he’s not going to get up and walk away from this the way she had; he will die a warrior’s death, hoping the child will be safe, but unable to protect him any longer. IG-11 tries to remove his helmet, and Din stops him at blaster point; in that instance, he hears a whisper, a voice he’s never heard before, just at the edge of his perception. “ Please, love,” the voice says, and it softens the edges of the pain, somehow, spreading calm through Din’s chest. Din knows he’s dying now; it won’t much matter if IG-11 sees his face. But IG-11 is stubborn, something Kuill must have imparted to his creation, and soon Din is stumbling through his covert’s tunnels after Cara and Karga, unable to quite believe he’s still breathing.
That breath feels traitorous and mocking when he finds the pile of armor. Horror drags cold fingers down Din’s spine, and he drops to his knees, reaching with shaking hands to pick up Tzalne’s helmet, looking at the cracked transparisteel of its visor with a daze that Din is not sure is due to his head injury. His buir does not offer him comfort, but she does give him a new mission; to seek out a Jedi for his foundling.
Luke cannot stand these New Republic galas. They seem so frivolous, a weak excuse to dress in finery and eat delicacies that would cost a Tatooinian moisture farmer a month’s profit for each mouthful. No matter what Leia says about diplomacy and delicate political deals, he doubts he will ever be comfortable enough to be able to weather them the way she does. Of course, it’s what she was raised for. A farm boy like him, even if that farm boy happens to be a powerful and elusive Jedi, will never quite fit in the way Leia can.
He watches Leia and Han (who seems as uncomfortable in his dress pants and silk shirt as Luke does in his velvet robe) twirl around the dance floor. Leia’s dress is cut low enough in the back that Luke can see the edges of the vines that trail from her words, which, thanks to that sun-stung outfit Jabba had forced her into all those years ago, he knows are scrawled on her left hip. Envy is unbecoming of a Jedi, he knows, but he feels it stir in his gut nevertheless — a restless lothcat twitching its tail. Luke runs his fingers over the black glove on his right hand, where he knows his tattooed words sit, and tries to remember the flash of silver he saw on Hoth, the voice saying his name when he had been about to die at the Emperor’s hands. He’s had a lot of time since to meditate on it, and he thinks that they may have been flashes of his soulmate, unlikely though it sounds. None of the Jedi texts he’s come across mention soulmate bonds as part of the Force, but then, nearly all Jedi history was destroyed when the Emperor rose to power. He’s spent the better part of the last two years hunting down the few precious relics he does have, and they will probably never be enough.
They will have to be enough, though. Leia has finished her training, and Luke knows he needs to look towards finding and training other force-sensitives. Leia does not claim the title of Jedi; she refuses to wield a lightsaber, and she accepted just enough training so that she was no longer overwhelmed by the Force, but she will not go any further. In order for Luke to no longer be the last Jedi, then, he will have to find new students. How he’s supposed to find them, though, he has no idea. Hopefully, he thinks with a wry grin, the Force will show me the way.
Finding a Jedi is much, much harder than Din’s buir had made it sound. Once again he finds himself traveling all over, but this time he’s back on the hunt and not merely trying to find somewhere to hide from the Empire. He finds himself longing for his covert, for Ven’ya and Tzalne and even Paz; anyone else with the type of hunting experience he has just may be able to help him know where to look. Since he doesn’t know where the rest of his covert is, or even if any survived besides him and his buir, he figures his best bet is to see if he can find another Mandalorian who can help him.
The first attempt doesn’t go the way Din expects; the man he finds is an imposter in stolen armor, and it’s only for the sake of the kid that Din doesn’t kill him where he sits. But Cobb Vanth is a pragmatist, and he knows what cards to play; he enlists Din’s help to kill a krayt dragon, and Din walks away (covered in krayt slime) with the stolen armor and, perhaps, a new ally.
The second attempt is even more disastrous than the first. The Mandalorians find him, this time, when he’s trying desperately to save the child from the monster that had swallowed him, cradle and all. At first, he’s just relieved that the baby is alright, clutching him desperately to his chest, and staring at what feels like a miracle— three fully armored, clearly trained, actual Mandalorians. Then they remove their helmets. The betrayal stings so deeply that for a second Din can’t breathe. Their leader, Bo-Katan Kryze, calls his covert a cult in a dismissive, condescending tone that makes Din bite down on the fury buzzing in his skull. He does the job they need him to do in exchange for, finally, what sounds like a solid lead.
Ahsoka Tano is exactly the type of mysterious, skilled warrior he was expecting when he imagined a Jedi, but she refuses to help the child— Grogu. He finally has a name, at least, and Din revels in calling him and hearing the little “Patoo!” Grogu says in response. After helping Tano, Din has yet another trail to follow, one more planet to fly to in the hopes that this time he’ll succeed. But it’s all he has, so he loads Grogu onto the Crest and makes his way to Tython.
Tython is— a disaster. Oh, they find the seeing stone Ashoka mentioned, and Grogu falls into some sort of mystical trance (the force field around him makes the words on Din’s neck itch in a way he doesn’t understand), but then several things happen at once and Din can barely keep up. Fennec Shand, miraculously alive, and a man called Fett— Din vaguely remembers something about him working with the Empire, but he can’t deal with that right now— come to claim the armor in the Crest’s cargo hold. They do stay and help him fight off the Imps that have tracked them down, but it’s not enough, even with the three of them; Din watches in desperation, his jet pack foolishly discarded mere minutes before, as a hulking black droid flies off with his child in its arms. Even the Crest is destroyed in a single hit from Gideon’s light cruiser, and if Din were a weaker man, he thinks he would simply give up.
But he can’t give up: he is Grogu’s only hope of survival.
Luke is in a New Republic senate meeting, there partially as support for Leia and partially out of boredom, listening to the senator for the Barsa sector drone on about deep-sea mining tariffs, when he feels the Force scream at him with absolutely no warning. He grips the tabletop in front of him as a wave of emotion hits, and from the corner of his eye he sees Leia wince and raise a hand to her temple. The Barsan senator doesn’t seem to notice anything, but Chancellor Mothma does, and she sends them a questioning look. Luke glances at Leia, who makes a little shooing motion with her hand, and he stands, dipping into a quick bow of apology for the senator when they pause in their speech, and hurries from the room. The Force is still screaming, pounding in his skull, and he finds the closest empty room he can and drops into a crouch, opening his mind as wide as he can. The plea that rings through the Force is a wordless one, all flashing images of looming figures with scanners, a man in a dark Imperial officers’ uniform, and a flash of silver that feels somehow familiar. The meaning is as clear as if it were spoken aloud; whoever this being is, they need Luke’s help.
“I’m coming,” Luke murmurs, both aloud and along the thread of Force energy that has spun itself between him and the being begging for help. “Don’t worry. I’m on my way.” The emotions dewbacking their way into his brain fade away, but he finds he’s able to pick out that individual thread of energy when he concentrates, and he holds it in his mind as he springs into action.
He moves as quickly as he can, bypassing stairwells in favor of Force-assisted jumping-and-or-falling, retrieves Artoo from his quarters and hurries him towards the hangar where his X-Wing sits. Much to his gratitude, he finds Han there waiting for him, having already finished Red 5’s fueling and flight checks. Leia must have found a moment to comm and let him know. He loves them both so much it aches. Han hands Luke’s cloak up to him once he’s scrambled up into the cockpit, and he smiles his thanks. “Be careful, moisture boy,” Han says, a banthashit-eating grin on his face.
Luke cringes, more out of habit than true embarrassment and promptly replies, “I will. I swear.” He certainly hopes he’ll be able to keep all the promises he’s making.
The time it takes to gather enough information to go after Gideon is far too much for Din to take; every second is spent agonizing over what Gideon could be doing to his child. Din feels panic clawing in the back of his mind even as he and Mayfeld fight off marauders in stolen Imperial uniforms, even as he shows his face to a room full of Imp officers, even as Mayfeld hands the vile trooper’s helmet back to him with a promise that he’s never seen Din’s face.
Their assault on Gideon’s cruiser goes by in a blur of adrenaline and blaster fire. The dark trooper Din fights off is immensely powerful and almost too much for Din to handle, but he powers through and nearly beheads it with his beskar spear, thanking every god he can think of that the spear survived the Crest’s destruction. Then he finds Gideon, looming over his child with a strange, eerie weapon held over Grogu’s head like he’s just waiting for the opportunity to use it, and all other thoughts but vengeance leave Din’s head. Gideon is a poor fighter; Din can tell he was probably trained at some point, but years in a command position have made him soft, and while his attacks are aggressive, Din overpowers him easily. The relief he feels when he hauls Gideon to his feet in cuffs is overwhelming.
Then, in the midst of Bo-Katan’s anger over Din winning the Darksaber (which she won’t even take when he offers it), horror descends over the bridge; the troopers Din had thought he had taken care of are back, and they’re about to overtake and kill them all. Din knows they have no hope of survival, not anymore, but he will not go down without a fight; he sees Fennec, Koska, Bo-Katan and Cara arming themselves and knows they’re thinking along the same lines he is. He also knows that when the dark troopers get to them, he’s already planned out his last shot; Gideon will die bound like a dog, defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. The knowledge is satisfying, in a macabre sort of way.
There’s a thrum of dread building at the base of his skull, punctuated by the impacts of the troopers’ fists as they break through the bridge’s defenses. The buzz intensifies when their alarms blare a warning of an incoming craft; the X-Wing glides into the main hangar with no response to Bo-Katan’s requests that the pilot identify themselves. The figure who emerges is cloaked in black and strides purposefully down the hallways of the cruiser. Din stares at the monitor and feels the dread start to dissipate as the figure draws a glowing sword, much like the one now hanging from his belt, though the buzz stays nestled in his brain, like something in the air around him is trying to get his attention. Bo-Katan murmurs, “A Jedi?”, and Din’s stomach drops. He must be here for the child.
Gideon attempts to capitalize on their distraction and attacks Bo-Katan, then the child; Din throws himself in front of Grogu, so incredibly thankful for the pure beskar he wears as it deflects the blaster bolts. A distant part of his mind hopes his buir knows, somehow, what her work has just protected. Gideon’s eyes are wild even as his face is placidly calm, and he raises the blaster to his own chin. Cara knocks him out before he can pull the trigger.
Din pulls himself up to watch the monitor with Grogu, who’s entranced as the figure on the screen cuts down dark trooper after dark trooper as if they’re nothing more than flimsi, throwing them aside with the same type of lethal grace that Grogu used to lift the mudhorn so long ago. Din can’t help but admire their skill. This person is a warrior, that much is abundantly clear; they wield their laser sword with all the finesse and expertise that Gideon lacked. The warrior enters the turbolift to the bridge, and cuts down the troopers that lurk outside their defenses with shocking ease.
“Open the doors,” Din croaks, and then they’re striding forward out of the smoke, sword sending emerald light bouncing off the haze. They withdraw their blade and lower their hood, and the hum that was duetting the buzzing in Din’s skull goes quiet. Honestly, it had been all but forgotten as he watched their unforeseen savior cut a path of destruction through the cruiser’s halls. Without accompaniment, it comes back in full force.
The man in front of him wears a serene expression, blue eyes calm and untroubled, as if he hasn’t just destroyed thirty dark troopers with ease. Din opens his mouth, and the words leave his lips, unbidden.
“Are you a Jedi?”
He has to focus to hear the man’s reply; a small smile plays at the corner of his mouth as he answers, “I am.”
Din’s breath hitches as he hears those words, but no. The Jedi didn’t so much as twitch when Din spoke, no indication that he recognized the question Din had asked him. It was merely a coincidence.
The buzzing in his head, Din notes absently, has fallen away entirely. Just the relief of a rescue no one saw coming, probably.
Din’s heart is breaking, he thinks, when he scoops Grogu up to say goodbye. He knows he’s seconds away from crying. But he realizes, staring into the child’s eyes, that he wants to give him something, anything, that Grogu can hold onto. Even if they never see each other again, he wants Grogu to remember him as his buir, as his clan. So Din reaches up, and with trembling, hesitant fingers, undoes the preventative latches and removes his helmet.
He ignores the burn of the Jedi’s eyes on him, ignores Cara’s barely-there gasp from somewhere behind him. This is for Grogu alone. Grogu, who is so much brighter green than he ever anticipated. It’s his new favorite color, the only color that matters. Green of duty, of growing things, of Grogu. In a mirror image of their first meeting, the child lifts a tiny hand up — and rests it on his cheek. Din closes his eyes and tries to remember what it is to breathe. He hasn’t been touched like this, feeling bare skin on his own, for… for decades, now. It’s nearly overwhelming, on top of everything else, but after a moment he drags in a shaking breath and places Grogu on the floor, so that he can toddle over to the Jedi and be borne away, out of Din’s sight.
And just like that Din has nothing. No ship, no covert, no Creed. His buir is in the stars, and his foundling taken in the arms of the Jedi. All he has are hostile stares, a sword he has no inclination to wield, and two words branded on the side of his neck that still have not found their speaker.
Watching the Mandalorian say goodbye to his son is difficult in ways Luke hadn’t been expecting when he entered the bridge. The man clearly loves the child, quick to defend him when Luke first addresses him, but it’s the gesture he makes just before he hands him over that threatens to break Luke’s heart. He watches another man in another Imperial ship look up at him with love in his eyes as his helmet is removed, and he feels the grief — from both parties — that permeates the bridge as father and son look each other full in the face without any barriers between them — which must be terribly rare, by everyone’s reactions. The man is handsome, Luke cannot deny — his hair, though tousled and wild from where it was squashed under the helmet, looks soft, and his eyes... his eyes are a rich, warm brown that Luke could swear he’s seen before. The Force sings around him for just a moment, when they make eye contact, but then the Mandalorian sets the child down on the ground, and Luke gathers him up gently when he toddles over and carries him out of the bridge before he breaks and gives him back. He knows this child needs his help, and he would be remiss to let him go without training now.
It’s only when Luke is almost back to Coruscant, nearly twenty hours of hyperspace travel later, that he realizes that in his haste, he forgot to give the Mandalorian his comm code.
Leia, Chewie, and Han, as well as baby Ben, are waiting for him when he returns to the senate’s hangar, and they stare in shock at Grogu — he had shared his name during their flight back, before he had passed out in Luke’s arms — before turning identical expressions of bafflement on Luke.
“Kid. You left to go help some sentient, and you come back with a little green gremlin?”
“The gremlin was the one who needed my help, Han. Say hello to Grogu.”
The child burbles adorably at the mention of his name, and Luke sees Leia’s face relax into a warm smile. Han still looks dubious, but he doesn’t argue when Chewie grumbles, softly, and reaches huge hairy paws out to take Grogu from Luke. Grogu looks ridiculously tiny in Chewie’s massive arms, but Chewie just tucks him to his chest gently and strokes a finger down the length of one oversized green ear. Soon enough, Grogu’s dropping off to sleep. Chewie looks inordinately pleased with himself.
“Chewie’s the baby whisperer,” Han says, nodding to his own son in his arms, and Luke grins.
“That baby’s around fifty years old, if what he showed me of the Jedi temple is to be believed.”
Han’s mouth drops open in shock, and both Luke and Leia have to stifle their giggles behind their palms, lest they wake Ben up.
Leia helps Luke settle on Yavin IV, in the shadow of one of the rebellion’s former bases, where he can have space to grow his school and where he won’t be far from the colony that some former rebels, including his fellow pilot Shara Bey and her husband, have established. He chooses a modest house to start out in, one with two bedrooms and a small kitchen; he won’t need much more than that for just him and Grogu, even if Grogu’s father does eventually join them, like Luke hopes he will.
When he heard that Luke had forgotten to give the Mandalorian any way to find them, Han rolled his eyes so hard Luke was certain he had to have sprained something. He called Luke “moisture boy” incessantly for the next four cycles before offering to take Chewie and go searching for their misplaced Mandalorian. Grogu had shown Luke enough through his memories that he was, at least, able to give Han a rough idea of where in the galaxy to search, though Han complained that it was still much too wide of an area, especially if the target was an apparently very skilled Mandalorian bounty hunter.
Han and Chewie have been out searching for nearly two weeks before Grogu shows Luke a memory of a woman with dark hair and blue and black armor, whom he had seen before, and Luke notices something gold on her belt that hadn’t been there in previous memories. It looked like it might be a New Republic marshal’s badge; Luke comms Han as fast as he could with the news.
Han stares at Luke out of the holo for a few moments before he scrubs a hand down his face and sighs with enough force to start a sand storm on Tatooine.
“Why didn’t you tell us this before? There’s only so many marshals, and I know a lot of them — I’ll be able to narrow down the search that much easier now.”
“In my defense,” Luke says, and Han snorts, “In my defense, Grogu didn’t show me that particular bit of information until just now, so I wasn’t aware of it before.”
“You Jedi and your Force banthashit.” Han mutters. “Okay, kid, we’ll get going. I’ll let you know if we get a match.”
“Thanks, Han. Really.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Han says, waving off his thanks, and ends the call.
Din is… not hiding, he’s absolutely not hiding, but he is holed up in Fett’s palace on Tatooine when he gets the comm from Cara, saying that a man named Solo is looking for him.
Din stares at Cara’s tiny form for a moment while Fett, from somewhere behind him, yells that Solo had better not show his face around here or he’ll bash his skull in. Din has no idea of the story behind that, but he decides he doesn’t care to deal with it.
“You didn’t tell him where I am, did you?” Cara grimaces in a way that makes Din groan. “Cara!”
“Well, sorry, Mando, but he said he was looking for you because of the kid, so I thought—“
“The kid? What about him?” Din’s fully alert now, irritation forgotten. He can hear his own heartbeat, thundering half in hope and half in fear that Grogu is once again in danger.
Cara nods. “Yeah, he said the kid’s teacher, the Jedi, is looking for you.”
Suddenly, the prospect of Solo finding him here on Tatooine is much more appealing.
Din, in deference to Fett’s very-real-sounding threats against Solo’s life, travels to Peli Motto’s hangar in Mos Eisley to meet him. Peli is disgruntled by Solo’s ship, telling Din in a very loud voice that it’s an even worse hunk of junk than the Crest had been, but Din finds it easy to ignore her when Solo, a human man with a giant Wookie co-pilot who stares Din down from the top of the ramp, comes clomping down to meet him and says, “Hey, Mando. The kid’s been looking for you. Want to come with me?”
The Wookie growls, but Din’s Shiryywook isn’t polished enough to catch more than something-information-something-fool-something-worry-something-anger-sister. Solo, who Din once nearly took a fob for, turns back to yell, “Oh, shut up, you big furball, I know what I’m doing.”
“Chewie thinks I need to be more specific,” he says, grumpy, as he turns back to Din. “The Jedi teaching your son, Luke Skywalker, sent us to find you so that you can come to the school with us, if you want.” He looks over his shoulder at Chewie and yells, “Better?” Chewie growls a yes, and Solo turns back to Din with eyebrows raised. “Well, what do you think?”
“Did you say Luke Skywalker?”
Solo jumps; Peli, who had apparently been lurking behind Din, listening to every word, interjects herself into their conversation with her typical brashness, brows drawn tight over her eyes.
Peli marches up to Solo and pokes him in the chest. “Well, you tell that little no-good womp rat that Peli Motto doesn’t forget when irresponsible farm boys stand her up for a shift and then disappear into thin air. Wormie Skywalker cost me a big job when he didn’t show, and I don’t forget a thing like that.”
Solo stares in shock down at Peli, before a Life-Day-came-early grin overtakes his face. “Oh, you’ve got it, Ma’am,” he says. “I will absolutely tell him that.”
Peli huffs and crosses her arms. “See that you do.”
Solo turns back to a baffled Din and shrugs. “So. You coming?”
To say that Grogu is overjoyed to see his father again would be an understatement. The moment the Millenium Falcon breaks Yavin IV’s atmosphere, Grogu’s ears perk up and he’s up and toddling out the door of Luke’s house faster than Luke can track.
“Grogu!” Luke shouts after him, as the baby scuttles down the front path towards the clearing where the Falcon is touching down, “Grogu, you can’t just leave like that, kiddo, you have to wait for me!”
Luke manages to catch up to him and scoop him up in his arms before the kid makes it too far away from the house, and then makes his way to the clearing to greet his father. Luke is, perhaps not unreasonably, nervous; the last time he saw the Mandalorian was definitely not under the best of circumstances. He hopes the man won’t judge him too harshly for forgetting to give him a way to contact him.
Watching the Mandalorian greet his son, Luke thinks he may be forgiven. The man stops dead in his tracks when he sees Grogu in Luke’s arms and drops his bag, uncaring, into the dirt when Grogu reaches for him. Luke hands him over as quickly as he can, and watches only for a moment as the Mandalorian bends his head to nestle his helmet against Grogu’s forehead before he turns and gestures for Han and Chewie to follow him into the house. The pair definitely deserve a moment to themselves.
The Mandalorian is, as it turns out, an excellent house-mate as well as a devoted father. He immediately takes over half the cooking duty, making breakfast while Luke does his early morning meditation, and he takes care of the dishes when Luke makes dinner. He goes around making improvements and repairs to the little house while Luke and Grogu train, and he entertains the kid when Grogu gets tired of practice and runs off again.
He’s also, Luke discovers late one night, willing to sit and listen to Luke as he rambles on about nothing, his preferred coping mechanism for dealing with the nightmares that often lurk in his sleeping mind. The Mandalorian finds Luke sitting at the kitchen table one night, staring into a cup of Aunt Beru’s favorite tea blend, and Luke can’t help but pour his heart to that inexpressive, oddly comforting, T-visor. The Mandalorian even offers some of his own nightmares, metallic whispers describing the fear he felt when Gideon first kidnapped Grogu, the aching loss of his covert. After a while the Mandalorian even shares his name — Din. In a giddy fit of echolalia, Luke says it to himself over and over in the darkness of his bedroom, rolling the syllable over his tongue, and feels the Force hum happily around him.
On Yavin IV, for the first time, Din finds himself resenting the specter of his soulmate and the unknown part they’ll play in his future. He watches the Jedi — Luke — as he plays with Grogu, watches as his eyes shine in the midday sun, watches the long line of his throat as he throws back his head and laughs, openly, brightly, and wishes, suddenly, that the I am that curls beneath his ear was the one he had heard that day on Gideon’s cruiser. But of course, it can’t be. Luke has never said anything to Din about his words, has never approached and shown him confirmation that he can be Din’s. So Din watches him from a carefully-maintained distance, and tries desperately to shove his feelings down deep under his armor, where they, like his face, will never be seen.
The universe is most entertained by the trials it puts him through; it’s the only reasonable explanation. One evening as he readies Grogu for bed (the kid’s just as likely to swallow the toothpaste as actually brush, so Din supervises) a glimpse in the mirror stops him cold. He leans forward, heart pounding, to get a better look at something that shouldn’t be possible.
A delicate flower bud, tiny and nearly hidden in his hair, but it’s there, curling out from the m at the very end of his words.
Din wants to scream. He wants to rage, and beg, and hunt down whoever it is that cooked up soulmates in the first place and shake them until their teeth rattle. Why? Why show him that somehow, he’s missed his chance? That he’s met his soulmate and has no idea? Why can’t it be Luke?
Or worse — there’s always a worse, how could he have forgotten? — what if it is Luke, what if he’s a one-in-a-trillion mismatch, doomed to the sort of loneliness that’s spoken about in the hushed tones of children trying to scare each other? What then?
Luke’s first thought, when he sees the spot on his arm, is that his body is rejecting his prosthesis.
It doesn’t make much sense, of course; it’s been years, nearly a decade, since Luke first got it, why would his body be rejecting it now? But nevertheless, he stands in the shower and stares and scrubs at the dark patch that curls out from the seam of his cybernetic hand for far too long before, finally, realizing what it must be. The bar of soap he’s been holding clatters to the floor of the shower as his left hand spasms in shock, and he stares, water streaming down his face and into his eyes, at the little leaf-and-tendril that’s stretched up towards his elbow.
He’s pretty sure some of the water pouring down his face at this point is tears, though he honestly can’t tell. He never dreamed that he could get his vines, anymore, with his original words gone.
Leia looks like she might cry, when he shows her later that night on their holocall. “Oh, Luke, I’m so happy for you,” she says, and he knows she absolutely means it. “But you still don’t know who it is?”
He shakes his head and stares down at the little leaf, tracing the seam of his hand. “No. It’s only me, Grogu, and his father here.” There’s silence from the other end of the call, and he looks up to see Leia staring at him with a prodigiously unimpressed look on her face. “What?”
“Luke.” Her voice is exasperated. “You honestly don’t think it could be him?”
“Mando?” As far as Luke is aware, Leia doesn’t know Din’s name, and he’s not about to tell her if Din doesn’t want to share it. “I don’t think it’s him, Leia.”
Luke huffs. “Well, for one thing, he hasn’t said a single thing to me about it. I’d imagine if he had my words, he would tell me.”
Not, of course, that Luke hasn’t caught himself staring at Din, shining under the morning sun with Grogu tucked against his chestplate, and wishing he did have Luke’s words. He was just… kind, and strong, and exceedingly brave, if the memories Grogu had shown him were anything to go off of. The man had killed a krayt dragon, for one. But he was also incredibly gentle; Luke had watched him scoop Grogu up from a fall, or help him eat his dinner, with soft, loving hands and murmurs of encouragement that Luke knew Grogu adored more than anything.
Luke blinked and shook himself. Leia is watching him, eyebrows raised. “What? Sorry, Leia.”
“Uh huh. Anyway, I think you should talk to him, Luke. You never know what could happen.”
Luke sighs. “I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Okay, okay, I’ll stop torturing you for now. Tell me how the teaching’s going.”
Luke is very grateful to switch to a new, and much less emotionally fraught, conversation.
“Dank farrik, this — kriffing — thing —“
Din leans in the doorway to the kitchen, watching Luke as he squeezes his gloved hand into a fist a few times — or at least, tries to. His hand spasms as Din watches, fingers never folding quite all the way in the way they were supposed to. Luke shakes his hand out roughly, scowling down at it.
“Need any help?”
Luke had explained, late one night when nightmares had driven them both from their beds and into each other’s company around the tiny kitchen table, about his hand, how he had lost the original one in a lightsaber duel with his own father (Din had had to spend some time steadying himself when he learned that this brilliant jetii had suffered so acutely by his own ge’hutuun of a father) and that he had a cybernetic one in its place. It was always covered by a glove. Din has never seen Luke take it off, though of course he couldn’t begrudge the man something like that.
Luke glances up at him, now, and sighs, grimacing as his hand spasms again. “Yes, please. I tried to fix it myself last night, but apparently I didn’t do a good enough job.”
Din ducks back to his and Grogu’s bedroom to grab the kit he keeps for repairing his armor, and nods at the table. “Sit,” he says, and Luke obeys, folding into the chair across from Din, shaking his sleeve back as he does. He pulls the black glove off as Din opens his kit, searching for his smallest screwdriver. Din makes a triumphant sound as he finally finds it, and rises to peer at Luke’s hand —
The screwdriver clatters to the tabletop.
Luke’s voice sounds from somewhere far away, somewhere Din can barely hear him. He stares at Luke’s hand, at his wrist, at the black letters that curve around it. His heart pounds in his throat.
With slow, shaky hands, Din reaches out to cradle Luke’s hand in his and brush his thumb over the words there.
“Oh, those,” Luke says, and Din jerks his head up to stare at him, watches him duck his head and shrug half-heartedly. “It’s a tattoo, but that’s where my words were, before. I reproduced them the best I could, but I don’t know what they say. No one’s ever been able to tell me.”
“Are you a Jedi,” Din whispers, and Luke’s breath catches, his arm jerking in Din’s grasp.
“It says, ‘Are you a Jedi? ’” Din swallows hard. “In Mando’a. It’s written in Mando’a.”
Luke’s face is pale. He reaches a shaking hand out to trace his words, mouthing them as he does. He looks back up to stare straight through Din’s visor, right into his eyes. “Does that — does that mean — Din. ”
And Din reaches up, grips the edge of his helmet, and pulls it off.
Luke gasps and slams his eyes shut, and Din can’t help but laugh, a choked, breathless sound, feeling giddy.
“Luke, look. Please.”
Luke does, his gaze inexorably drawn to the words curled beneath Din’s ear.
They move at the same time. Din reaches out to cup Luke’s face in his hands, Luke braces a hand on the tabletop and leans forward, and when their lips meet, it feels like coming home.
Luke’s lightsaber whistles through the air as he moves, following his target who jerks back and away from the blade at the very last second, letting it slide against his own saber with a hair-raising screech. Luke’s opponent moves forward, muscling his way through Luke’s strikes, blocking with vambrace and blade and even his helmet when one swing goes higher than Luke had intended. Sparks fly where the saber meets armor, and Luke laughs out loud as they move together around the training clearing, trading blows and dancing in the emerald and obsidian light of their blades.
Their audience cheers as their blades meet again and again, especially when Luke’s opponent activates his jetpack and blasts into the air over Luke’s head, landing with a thump behind him and grabbing his cape to pull him down into the dirt.
Luke can fight dirty too: he grabs hold of the man’s vambrace as he falls, and with a little help from the Force manages to yank him down to land with a grunt on top of him.
“Cyare,” Din mutters through his helmet’s modulator, sounding hopelessly infatuated, “this isn’t exactly school-appropriate behavior.”
Luke laughs and shoves at Din’s chestplate until he rolls off of him, then climbs to his feet and offers a hand to Din.
“Good job, kid!” Han calls, and Chewie roars along with him. “Show Mando who’s boss!”
Din scoffs as he turns to Han, crossing his arms and tilting his head. “You want to go a round, smuggler?”
Han’s grin slides off his face, and Leia bursts into peals of laughter, little Ben in her lap clapping and laughing along with his mother. Grogu does the same from where he sits on Chewie’s lap, eyes bright. Luke sits down with a sigh, moving to wipe sweat from his brow.
“Good job, Luke,” Leia says, and she turns to Din and nods at him, “And good job as well, Mando.”
They all, even Luke, turn to stare at him in surprise; Luke hadn’t been expecting Din to give his name so freely, and so soon. Leia raises her eyebrows, and says, “Din, then. Good job.”
“Hey!” Han says, indignant, “how come the princess gets to call you Din and not me?”
“You’re not my soulmate’s twin sister.”
The clearing is utterly silent for a second before Leia cries, “Oh, Luke! ” and throws her arms around him. Han loses all signs of irritation as he claps Luke on the back and offers Din his congratulations.
Luke’s face is red, he’s sure of it, but he feels happier than he thinks he’s ever been as Din sits down next to him to join their conversation. He’s surrounded by family and finally in the arms of his beloved, his soulmate, after so many years of loneliness and suffering and heartbreak. Din draws him even tighter into his arms, and Luke doesn’t need the Force to know that this is meant to be.