A Better Man – 1/3 – Keira Marcos

Title: A Better Man
Series: Gra’tua
Series Order: 1
Author: Keira Marcos
Fandom: The Mandalorian, Star Wars
Genre: First Time, Kid!fic, Romance, Time Travel, Science Fiction
Relationship(s): Din Djarin/Cara Dune, The Armorer/Paz Vizsla, OC/OC
Content Rating: NC-17
Warnings: Slavery, Canon Typical Violence, Explicit Language, Explicit Sex
Author Notes: Slavery is a canon concept in Star Wars but it’s not one I focus heavily on in the series. I warned for it just as a head’s up. Special thanks to my Alpha readers Jilly James & DarkJediQueen and my Betas Chris King & Ladyholder. This fic started out as some wistful idea and it bloomed organically out of me in a way all good ideas do. It wouldn’t have been the same without Jilly’s epic support throughout the entire writing
Beta: Chris King, Ladyholder
Word Count: 99,900
Summary: Din Djarin loses the love of his life, his son, and his faith in the way. Near the end of his life, Qui-Gon Jinn gives him the chance to return to the past so he can right the path of the Force in the galaxy and do what he can to keep the two halves of the Force Dyad from being destroyed by the dark side. His first step? Kill Moff Gideon and take the darksaber.
Artist: Mizu



Formatting Note: Translations are provided for words not clearly defined or translated in the narrative. If you encounter an underlined word or phrase, hovering over it will give you more information.


“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”
– Maya Angelou

Chapter 1

40 ABY

Qui-Gon Jinn, Jedi Master, was a maverick. Some had questioned his place amongst the Jedi Knights, though never to his face, but he’d heard the whispers. He’d known their doubts as well as he’d known his own face. His own Jedi Master had turned to the dark side, and Qui-Gon had watched as a Force Spirit as his padawan was cut down by the boy they’d rescued from slavery. It had taken decades, but he’d been right—Anakin Skywalker had brought balance to the force. But the galaxy had paid a terrible price, and the Force sought to right itself with the creation of a dyad.

It had been five years since Ben Solo’s death. Qui-Gon hadn’t been surprised when the younger man’s spirit had faded from existence the very night that Rey Skywalker took her own life. She hadn’t joined them. Luke and Leia had been so disheartened by her suicide that they’d buried her body personally. The twins—Anakin’s children—faded together not long after Ben.

Yoda tilted his head as he stood in front of the small farmhouse on Sorgan. “Why here?”

“There is a man inside, a Mandalorian.”

Yoda hummed. “About the child this is.”

“Certainly,” Qui-Gon agreed. “He was born the same year as Anakin Skywalker. Did you know that?”

“Dead he was when I learned of his becoming,” Yoda said quietly. “Broken Din Djarin is.”

“He lost everything—his son, his woman, and his creed,” Qui-Gon said. “What a force I would’ve been if I’d had half of his strength—he survives even now to live in honor of the child he believes he failed.”

“Look upon this man I shall,” Yoda declared and walked toward the house.

Qui-Gon followed and they walked through the walls. Din Djarin was sitting by the fire, a cup of tea clutched in work-roughened hands. “He came back here because the child was happy here.”

Yoda hummed. “Heartbroken.”

“Certainly.” Qui-Gon walked across the room and stood in front of the Mandalorian. “He did not stop until he avenged them—the family that Moff Gideon took from him.”

“Rest he deserves,” Yoda said quietly.

“A united Mandalore could’ve been enough to prevent the rise of the First Order,” Qui-Gon said. “It could’ve given the New Republic the strength and fortitude it needed.”

“Difficult path.”

“Certainly, but the Force is dying, and with it, so will this galaxy. Do we not owe them a different path? A different future?”

“Failed the Jedi Order did.”

“The Force deserves better than the Jedi Order,” Qui-Gon snapped. “We deserved better! We turned from compassion, we turned from grace, and sought to control the most uncontrollable thing to ever have existed!”

“Love.” Yoda walked to stand by Din Djarin. He reached out and activated the holocron sitting by the man on a low table. An image of the child shimmered into place in front of him. The boy was chasing a frog out of the view of the recorded image. “Frogs I miss.” He rocked on his feet. “Delicious.”

Qui-Gon smiled. “He caught that frog and ate it whole before his father could stop him.”

Din Djarin reached out and shut the holo off. “Not today, ad’ika.” He cleared his throat. “I don’t know when you were born exactly, but you were 50 the day I found you, so I’ve been counting that as your birthday. Probably arrogant, but it’s all I’ve got. You’d be 81 years old today. I don’t even know if you’d be an adult yet.” He took a shuddery breath and rubbed his face with a shaking hand. “I think the Force is dying. Things feel weird lately. I don’t know what that means for you. Will I still feel you? Will I still hear your little feet running across the floorboards of my room at night?”

“Insanity?” Yoda questioned.

“No, the child has visited him often though he’s not a Force Spirit in the most traditional sense. Today is the last day that this man will believe himself visited by the ghost of his son. The child is gone now. It’s just the two of us,” Qui-Gon said.

“Obi-Wan?”

“It’s been years, Master Yoda,” Qui-Gon explained gently. “It takes more and more work to bring you to my side.”

“Fade I will,” Yoda said. “Soon.”

“Very soon,” Qui-Gon agreed and focused on Din Djarin. “He became a historian for the Force and the Jedi after he finally killed Moff Gideon. In the last decade, many have come to this world to tell him of the Force and the Jedi they knew. He knew Rey Skywalker was dead before the New Republic found out. Finn Dameron came to him—spoke of her loss, and cried himself to sleep in Djarin’s guestroom. What is left of the Force on this plane is drawn to him. It’s why I’m here.”

“Weapon the Force has chosen,” Yoda said. “100 I was when I became a Jedi.”

“When did you come to the temple?” Qui-Gon asked.

“89 years old,” Yoda said. “A new path the Force will choose.” He stared at Din Djarin. “Mistake it was to search for the child’s people. Dissuade him quickly we should.”

“You told me once that you believed you were the last of your kind. Do you know where the child came from? Who his parents were?”

“From the Force, he came,” Yoda said and turned to Qui-Gon. “My mother and my father the Force is.”

Qui-Gon barely kept his mouth shut. He blew out a long, ragged breath. “Shmi Skywalker said she woke up pregnant one day. She believed the Force impregnated her.”

“The dark side,” Yoda said.

“Because the light side wouldn’t have forced a pregnancy,” Qui-Gon speculated. “Is that why you didn’t want me to train him?”

Yoda spared him a look and focused on Djarin. “After Dooku?”

Qui-Gon made a face. “What?”

“Taste nasty dark side sandwich,” Yoda declared and laughed.

Qui-Gon pushed that image entirely out of his head even as he acknowledged that he wouldn’t have wanted to be known as the Jedi Master, who was both mentored by a Sith and who had mentored a Sith Lord himself. “I’m glad Obi-Wan isn’t here to hear this.”

“One with the Force Obi-Wan was,” Yoda said. “Strong of heart.” He turned to Din Djarin. “Like this one.”

“The Force shook with his rage and grief the day his son was murdered,” Qui-Gon said.

Yoda inclined his head and stepped in front of Din Djarin. He appeared with a shimmer of light, and the cup fell from the Mandalorian’s hand.

“Ad’ika, you grew up.” Din reached out but then pulled his hand back with a frown. He inclined his head and stared. “Master Yoda?”

“Yes.”

“You don’t have the same eyes,” Djarin said and turned toward the fire. “Why visit now? You should’ve come when you could’ve helped me. Helped him. Maybe he would’ve lived.”

“See all I do not,” Yoda said. “At 100 years adult I became.”

Din took a deep breath. “Right.” He blinked rapidly, and Qui-Gon wondered if such an action had ever prevented tears from falling. “I’m sorry I failed him.”

“Take the Force inside you will,” Yoda declared.

Djarin snorted. “I’m too weak to help you—my heart is failing.” He reached out and picked up the holocron, and activated it. “I’d have given my life for him.”

“Would you?” Yoda questioned and inclined his head. “Will you?”

“I don’t understand,” Din murmured. “I sacrificed my creed, dedicated ten years of my life to finding and killing Moff Gideon. I did all that I could. I made him pay for what he did.”

“Would you do more?” Qui-Gon asked and appeared by Yoda’s side.

The Mandalorian remained focused on the boy. “What more is there?”

“Be one with the Force, Din Djarin,” Qui-Gon urged.

“I’m not Force-sensitive,” Din protested. “You ask the impossible.”

“If it were possible?” Qui-Gon questioned.

“Will it bring him back to me?” Din asked, and he closed his eyes. “Will it make the tiny grave in my garden empty?”

“It will remake the galaxy as you know it,” Qui-Gon said. “It will return to you the child you claimed as your son but could not bring yourself to name. It will give you another chance to prove yourself worthy of your woman’s love.”

“There’s no woman…” Din trailed off. “I never knew how she felt about me. Gideon took her from me, too. I wasn’t even allowed to bury her. I don’t deserve another chance.”

“Your boy does,” Qui-Gon said.

“I’ll do whatever you want me to do,” Din said and turned off the holocron. He curled his fingers around the device and pressed it against his heart. “Take whatever you need from me.”

“Stay here I will, Qui-Gon,” Yoda said. “Ready we will be when you call.”

– – – –

21 ABY

Qui-Gon watched the girl struggle to pull the scrap parts she’d scavenged into the AT-AT. She was a tiny thing—underfed, exhausted, and sad. Her emotional state was doing more to protect her from the other scavengers on Jakku than anything else. People were outright avoiding Rey because she projected grief all around her. It was through no fault of her own—it would be years before she would be exposed to enough information to purposefully use the Force to influence others in such a way.

He knelt down in front of her and allowed himself to become visible. She gasped in shock and scrambled back away from him.

“Easy, little one,” Qui-Gon murmured. “I mean you no harm.”

“You’re a ghost!” Rey exclaimed and took a breath.

Qui-Gon grinned. “I’m a Force Spirit.”

She squinted at him. “What’s that?”

“When I lived, I was a powerful Force user called a Jedi Knight,” Qui-Gon explained. “When I died, I joined with the Force and became a Spirit.”

“What’s the Force?”

“It is the energy that moves throughout our universe,” Qui-Gon said. “It’s in everything and in everyone. Some people, like you and I, are sensitive to the Force. We can learn to use it to defend ourselves to and protect others.”

“I’m not powerful,” Rey denied. “I can’t even carry all my scrap in whole pieces!”

Qui-Gon grinned. “You’ll get bigger.” He took a deep breath. “Rey, I have to tell you something very sad.”

She pressed her lips together. “Is it about mommy and daddy?”

“Yes,” Qui-Gon said. “They loved you so much that they hid you away here to keep you safe. They would want you to know that they never meant to leave you here forever.”

Her chin quivered. “They’re dead.”

“Yes,” he said. “You felt it, did you not?” He touched her forehead gently. “Here.”

“And here,” Rey said and pressed her hand against her heart. “But I didn’t want to believe it. I’ve been trying to forget I ever felt it! It’s not fair! It’s so hard here, and I’m hungry all the time. I never get enough scrap to sell.” She turned her head as tears fell. “You’re magic, right? Can you bring them back?”

“I cannot,” Qui-Gon murmured. “They died to protect you, Rey, and such sacrifice must be honored.”

She used her sleeve to wipe her nose. “Is honor important?”

“For some, precious little in this whole universe is more important,” Qui-Gon said. “I have traveled a great distance across space and time to speak with you.”

“Why?” Rey asked.

“I need to ask you a very important question.”

“I’m only six,” Rey whispered. “I don’t know a lot of answers.”

Qui-Gon laughed. “You’ll know the answer to this.”

“I’ll do my best,” she said and focused intently on him.

“Do you think it’s important to protect others?”

“Yes.” Rey inclined her head. “That’s what good people do. That’s not a very important question—that’s a really simple question.”

“It certainly is,” Qui-Gon murmured. He turned his head briefly, aware that he was no longer alone. The transition backward in time had left the future version of Yoda in a form of stasis. A stasis that would not lift until the entire matter was resolved. He knew the slightly younger version of his friend would not interfere. He hoped their merger would go as smoothly as his own. “But sometimes very important questions are quite simple.”

“I don’t think a magic knight would ask simple important questions.”

Yoda snorted indelicately in Qui-Gon’s ear.

“I find myself at a loss,” Qui-Gon admitted. “I do not wish to mislead you, but you are very young and should not bear the burdens that I carry.”

“Maybe…” Rey began. “I should ask questions instead.”

Qui-Gon considered that. “Okay.”

“Did you come here to tell me my parents are dead?”

“Partially, yes. I did not wish you believe that they abandoned you forever on purpose. It would hurt you for a very long time.”

“Why else have you come here?”

“I want to arrange for you to have a new family,” Qui-Gon answered. “You’ll be safe.”

“Do I have to do anything to get my new family?” Rey asked. “Should I go get more scrap to pay for it? Do I need to sneak onto a ship? I can try…but I did before, and I got caught. Maybe you could help me sneak into a cargo ship with your magic.” She rocked a little as she speculated.

“Your new father will come here and find you,” Qui-Gon assured.

“How will I know him?” Rey questioned.

“He’ll have a small green boy with him that will make the Force within you tingle, and he will be wearing shining armor. His name is Din Djarin, and he is a Mandalorian.”

“I’ve never even heard of a Mandalorian,” Rey admitted. “I don’t have to do anything?”

“Just stay close to this AT-AT,” Qui-Gon said. “When you wake up tomorrow, things will be a little different. All of your belongings will be gone, but your new family will be on their way to get you. It could take them several weeks, but I’ll make sure you have plenty of food.”

She looked around. “I’m going to travel across space and time and end up in the same place?”

“You’re a very smart little girl,” Qui-Gone said. “And yes, that is exactly what’s going to happen.”

“And I get a new daddy and a brother out of it?” Rey asked. “And I don’t have to sell scrap to Plutt anymore?”

“If you agree.”

She looked at him and frowned. “Who’d say no to that?”

“It won’t all be wonderful. There are many dangerous things out into the galaxy.”

“It’ll be better than this!” Rey motioned around with both hands. “Because I’ll have a family! So, yes, let’s go travel space and time already!”

“This will make no sense to you,” Qui-Gon said quietly. “But, in another life, you couldn’t have picked a better surname if you’d tried.”

– – – –

9 ABY

He closed his eyes on Sorgan at 66 years old and opened them standing on Nevarro over the still-open grave of Kuiil. Din’s knees went weak, and the shovel he’d been using to dig with fell from his limp fingers. He turned, his heart thundering in his chest, and found his son toddling a few meters away from him, carefully plucking vivid orange blossoms from a rocky section of the desert ground. He fell to both knees as tears wet his face. He pulled his gloves off with a shuddering breath and dropped them on the ground.

Ad’ika,” he said hoarsely, and the baby turned to stare at him. He watched the child tilt his head slowly, then make a soft happy sound before he rushed back toward Din as fast as his little legs would allow.

Din didn’t even realize what he was doing until his helmet was already falling to the ground from his hands with a heavy thud. His son stopped briefly, a meter away from Din, and stared in shock before he giggled and waved his flowers as he continued toward him. Din picked the boy up and held him gently with shaking hands up as his son patted his blood and tear-stained face with a fistful of flowers still clenched in his claws.

“I’m so sorry,” Din said hoarsely. “I swear I’ll do better this time. I…won’t let anyone hurt you.” His fingers curled into his son’s coat, and took a deep breath. “You don’t have to worry about anything anymore.” He looked at Kuiil’s body, renewed regret stirring in his gut at the loss of the Ugnaught, who had proven to be loyal and brave. He barely remembered discovering the body the first time. He wished he could’ve picked the time he would return to the past, but he hadn’t been consulted at all.

Reluctantly, he put his son down so he could finish the burial. He didn’t want to risk Kuiil’s body being taken by the night-dragons and eaten. He glanced toward the sun as he put his gloves back on. He hesitated only briefly before picking up his helmet and putting it back on. It didn’t feel like a burden, and he’d thought it might after decades of not wearing it. His creed had meant nothing to him after Moff Gideon had killed his son. He focused on the child and found him carefully tucking the orange flowers he’d picked around Kuiil’s head.

It reminded him of the funeral rites they’d attended on Sorgan after they’d defeated the raiders. Not all the villagers had survived, and Din had been worried that his son wouldn’t understand, but he’d clearly known what death meant. The children of the village had picked flowers for the graves and placed them carefully in a manner that his son was currently emulating. After he was done, the child walked over to the ramp of the Razor Crest and sat down. His big ears curled around his face as he took a deep breath.

Din covered Kuiil’s grave with sand and stacked the rocks to make a cairn to protect the body further. He started to hang the goggles but remembered that the child had wanted to keep them. He focused on the boy and found him in the same place on the ramp.

“Did you want to keep these to remember your friend?” Din asked. The child reached out with one hand, so Din took that as a yes. He walked to the ramp and picked his son up. “Okay.” The child took the goggles and held them tight against his body with a soft, sad sound.

He put the boy down and went to the area where Kuiil had worked and slept on the ship. Din honestly didn’t remember exactly what he’d done with the Ugnaught’s things the first time around. Surely, he’d sold it all without even looking at it, which he already knew to be a mistake. Din unfastened the satchel and found the small blue back-up drive of IG-11 that Qui-Gon Jinn had told him he’d find. It was galling, in more than one way, since the work Kuiil had done on IG-11 had made the droid’s base program worth a lot of credits. Enough credits that if Din had known what was on the drive, he could’ve used the proceeds to fund his search for his son’s people for a decade or more.

“I don’t even know his full name,” Din murmured and looked to his son. The baby had looped the goggles over his head and half of his body. It looked like some sort of gun belt. Din grinned. “You look great, ad’ika.” He got a laugh in response.

He pulled a blood-red scarf from Kuiil’s bag. Din knew that Ugnaughts favored the color though he wasn’t entirely sure why. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever been told, but it seemed right to mark his friend’s grave with it. It wouldn’t last long in the desert, but that wasn’t the point. If Kuiil’s spirit had joined with the Force, Din wanted to him know that he’d been honored in his life and that his sacrifice meant something to Din and his son.

He left the ship and returned to the grave, where he tied the red scarf around the marker he’d fashioned out of the three tools from Kuiil’s kit. It wasn’t much, but it was what he could do. He checked the position of the sun one more time and focused on the grave.

“You made a sacrifice for my clan that I cannot repay, Kuiil,” Din said. “I’m sorry I involved you in this mess—you deserved the peace you’d carved out for yourself. IG-11 was everything you said he would be and more. I didn’t trust you enough, and I regret that. I think that you’d have lived if I’d let the droid come with us at the start. You certainly wouldn’t have been taken out by Imps. My son is safe, and I’ll keep him safe as long as I live. It’s all I can do.” He paused and sighed. “I’ll get your…droid child a new body and take him into my clan if he agrees. I hope that means something to you because it terrifies me.” Din cleared his throat. “Haat, ijaa, haa’it.”

A soft cooing sound caught his attention, and he found his son standing on the ramp. He walked to him and knelt on one knee. “Haat, ijaa, haa’it,” he repeated softly. “It means—truth, honor, and vision. I’ve made a pact with Kuiil, and you’re our witness.”

The baby laughed and held out his hands. Din picked him up and walked onto the ship. He checked the time again. He had another forty-five minutes before everything would be in place and just ten before Qui-Gon Jinn was due to appear before him on the ship. He closed the ramp and put the child down, then pulled the medkit out.

“I was rescued by a tribe of Mandalorians called Death Watch,” he began and glanced towards the baby and found that he was being stared at intently. “They were very stringent and orthodox regarding their interpretation of the way. I never disagreed with it until…” He trailed off.

Until his son was killed, and he had to live with the regret of never having seen his boy alive without the filter of his helmet settled on him so hard that it broke him wide open. It was a wound that never healed.

“Well, that doesn’t matter really because my tribe is all but destroyed. I don’t know if I’ll ever see them again. There is a tribe living on Tatooine, of all places, we’ll go there and join them. I don’t think they have a consistent provider and haven’t had one since Bos Vik was supposedly killed. I say supposedly because that di’kut is still alive. He abandoned his tribe, so we’re going to kick his ass if we ever run across him.”

The baby laughed and clapped his hands.

“The tribe there is not part of Death Watch—they believe the way’s true purpose is to protect us from outsiders. They remove their helmets in front of their own clan members. Their leader’s face is known to them all—a matter of trust and intimate regard. The first time she showed me her face, I was so overwhelmed I cried. I hadn’t worn my own helmet in years. She invited me to join her tribe, but I couldn’t…not after the way I failed.” He sat down as he sorted the contents of the medkit. The bacta that IG-11 had used on him had certainly done the job regarding the skull fracture, but he had a bit of body pain he wanted to take care of before Moff Gideon made his way out of the crashed ship.

A shimmer of light swirled on his left, and he stopped looking through the stims in the kit to focus on the Jedi Master who had engineered his time travel. “I didn’t think to ask Master Yoda, but if you were off pilfering the Vaults of Cato Neimoidia, then who is watching over Rey?”

“Obi-Wan Kenobi is with her. She’s taking apart the motor in the AT-AT she’s living in. We stole enough rations from that creature, Plutt, to last her three weeks.”

“I’ll be there within 72 hours,” Din said shortly and focused on the stims. He selected one for pain.

“You won’t need that,” Qui-Gon said and placed a black and red orb on the table in front of Din. “The Force will finish healing you. The Kazerath.”

Din swallowed hard. “I tried to steal it once—mostly because I was still angry. I hoped they’d kill me. I was arrested but never stood trial. Senator Organa bailed me out and told me to stop being a tin-headed nerf herder.” He dropped the stim in the kit and closed it. “How does it work?” He glanced toward his son and found that the child had curled up on the table and gone to sleep. “Did you do that?”

“Yes,” Qui-Gon said. “He’s too young, too powerful, and too curious to be awake during this.”

Din frowned at him then stood up. He picked up his son, took him to his own bunk, and placed him on the bed. He covered him carefully with a blanket and shut the door. “Don’t do that ever again. Using the Force against him at his age could make him reactive and defensive. You know that.”

“I do,” Qui-Gon said. “My reasoning is sound, and the risk is minimal at his age. Master Yoda assures me that he’s far too immature to recognize the Force being used against him unless it causes him physical pain.” He pointed toward the chair. “You should sit and remove your chest armor. I’m going to call another Force Spirit to my side. Don’t be alarmed.”

Din frowned but removed the chest plate of his armor without protest. He placed the beskar on the table and jerked briefly when he looked up and saw that a hooded figure had joined him. “Is that a fucking Sith?” he demanded and glanced briefly toward the bunk where his son slept.

“I was in life,” the hooded figure said. “But the Sith cannot commune with the Force after death. If their spirit lingers, it is solely in the place they die.”

“You know better than most that the Force is far more than light and dark,” Qui-Gon said. “You studied and learned more about it than any Jedi has in over five hundred years. It was our hope that your scholarship would prevent Luke Skywalker from falling into bitterness.”

“He never had a damn ounce of respect for me because I didn’t have the Force,” Din said and focused once more on the Sith. “Anakin Skywalker, I take it.” He didn’t flinch when the man lowered his hood and revealed a noticeably young face. He frowned. “You died a middle-aged man.”

Anakin shrugged. “What’s the point of being one with the Force if I have to stay in an old, crippled body?”

Din couldn’t argue it, so he focused on the Kazerath. “What does the orb do?”

“It’s a Force conduit,” Qui-Gon explained. “Created by two Force users a millennia ago—before the Jedi and the Sith existed. They were the first Force dyad and a corrupted, misshapen story of their lives eventually led to the creation of the Jedi Order. The founders of the order wished to prevent the mistakes they were told to be fact.”

“No love, no family, compassion without empathy,” Din murmured. “That is the exact opposite of a Force dyad. They’re agents of change and greatness—filled to the brim with the ability to love and sacrifice for those they love if Rey is to be taken as an example. She loved Ben Solo utterly despite his corruption and fall into the dark side. The destruction of the first pair’s story must have been quite complete.”

“Indeed,” Qui-Gon said. “I still don’t know the full truth of it, and I’ve been searching since I died. The Kazerath is your path, Din Djarin. It will allow you to become one with the Force.”

“Are you sure he can handle it?” Anakin questioned. “Grief brought him low once before.”

“Who are you to talk?” Din demanded and got a look for his trouble.

Anakin glared. “I can still Force-choke people, you know.”

“I heard that was your go-to,” Din said and crossed his arms over his chest. “Try me, hotshot.”

“I can see why you like him, Master Qui-Gon,” Anakin said roughly. “I reserve the right to complain for the next five hundred years if he fucks this up.”

“We won’t last that long if he fails,” Qui-Gon reminded. “And you’ll be one of the first to go, so I’m willing to let you complain for as long as you exist, this time around if he fails.”

Anakin made a face. “Are you sure my son isn’t a better choice? We could lead him to both children.”

“The same guy who’s let Darth Sidious torture his own nephew for five years already without noticing? In fact, he’s not going to notice Ben Solo’s plight for another fifteen years, and even then, he isn’t going to realize that the dark influence is coming from the outside. The first time around, his first inclination was to murder the boy rather than try to help him.” Din frowned. “Sounds like a great plan. He turned into a bitter old hermit who let the First Order take over where the Empire left off. Left his family and friends to fight and die without him because he couldn’t live with his mistakes. Moreover, if you try to send that asshole to take my son from me—I’ll end him and find a way to end you, too.

“How are you any different?” Anakin questioned. “Master Yoda said that you were living on some farming planet in the Outer Rim waiting to die when Master Qui-Gon found you.”

Qui-Gon cleared his throat. “The difference is that where Luke Skywalker retreated and hid from the Force because of his failures, Din Djarin dedicated himself to hunting down Moff Gideon and making him pay for his sins. He worked with the resistance, trained their fighters, and learned all he could about the Force to honor his son until his heart could no longer support his body. He retired to Sorgan, where he’d buried his son, only when he believed himself more of a burden than a help. Even now, he sits here willing to accept an immense burden on behalf of his son and the galaxy because I asked him to. Don’t question his honor—Anakin—the Jedi Knights of old would’ve followed such a man as Din Djarin into battle without question. The same cannot be said of your son, unfortunately.”

“Luke’s not fully trained,” Anakin protested. “There wasn’t time before Master Yoda died.”

“And in the years since Yoda’s death, he’s done precious little to further educate himself. He doesn’t even seek to speak with any of us despite the fact that you’ve shown yourself to him more than once. He uses the Force as it suits him but does not honor our Lady. He does not further himself within the Force. He is not with us,” Qui-Gon pointed out. “Given time, he’ll start to seek out resources, but by then, the damage done to Ben Solo will be too great. The dyad must be protected, Anakin, and this is the way.”

“So, the Jedi are going to let a Mandalorian save the Force,” Anakin said wryly. “I’m pretty sure most of those Jedi Knights of old are having screaming fits, Master.”

Qui-Gon laughed then focused on Din. “We’re going to both touch the Kazerath—it takes both the light and the dark united under one purpose to activate the orb. We believe that Anakin’s knowledge of the dark side will allow him to act in this role. You’ll pick it up and place it on your chest. If the Force accepts you, the orb will sink into your body and dissolve inside you.”

Din was really glad he was still wearing his helmet since his mouth dropped open. He checked the time on his gauntlet. “And I’ll recover from this in time to stop Moff Gideon from leaving the planet? Because once he gets off this planet, I’ll be on the defensive, and I’ve already lost that battle once.”

“Yes, he’s still unconscious and will remain so until we’re finished here.”

“You’ve got some Force Spirit watching over him, right?”

“Master Yoda took that honor,” Qui-Gon admitted. “He’s looking forward to bashing him in the head with his gimer stick if he wakes up too soon. It seemed fitting considering Gideon’s goals.”

“It honestly disturbs me how much power you have on the physical plane,” Din admitted. “I blame Rey, which isn’t fair because she’s just six right now. I think she broke the Force.”

Qui-Gon grinned. “Pick up the orb, Mandalorian.”

Din reached out and picked up the orb. “For both of our peoples, then.”

“For a united front against those that would oppress the free peoples of this galaxy,” Qui-Gon murmured and touched the orb.

Anakin made a face but gamely joined them. “This is going to end terribly.”

The orb started to glow, and Din pressed it against his sternum. “Yeah, well, I’m pretty sure you started this particular mess.”

Anakin’s face tightened with anger. “I tried to finish it, too.”

The Kazerath sank into his body with a painful flash of unspeakable heat. Din’s breath caught, and he slapped both hands on the table in front of him as something fierce and ancient woke in him. “Fuck…”

Din shuddered, lurched from his chair, and stumbled to his knees. His skin tightened so much that he fleetingly wondered if it would tear. A golden aura spread out around him as he struggled to his feet. The Force rushed into him—graceless, demanding, and relentless in a way he’d never expected. A part of him had thought it might be gentle because of his willingness.

Anakin tilted his head. “How’d that feel?”

“Like the universe kicked my ass,” Din said and bent at the waist, breath ragged despite his efforts. “I think…you just shoved two ancient Force users into me.”

“Their power, certainly,” Qui-Gon agreed. “You’ll need every single bit of it in the years to come—to keep the children safe. The child and Rey are just the first that will be brought into your care. There will be others—whether you chose to raise them yourself or not is up to you.”

Din frowned. “I’m not going to raise a bunch of Jedi, Master Qui-Gon.”

“No, I suppose you won’t,” Qui-Gon agreed. “Your kind raise warriors.”

“This is the way,” Din said.

Chapter 2

Din activated the comm as soon as he started prepping the Razor Crest to take off. “Greef, come in.”

I’m here, Mando,” Greef said. “Problem with your ship?”

“No, I’m getting a human life sign from the crash site,” Din said shortly as his ship lifted off and reoriented. He really didn’t want to involve either of them in the fight that he was about to start, but he needed to know that someone would come for his kid if he died fighting Gideon. “Did you send someone out there to check on the body?”

No!” Greef swore. “We’re on the way!”

The flight was just a few minutes, so he set down not far from the crash, and after checking on his son, who was still asleep, he exited the ship and closed the ramp behind him. Jawas, who’d started scavenging the wreckage, scattered and ran. In the distance, he could hear the sound of speeders approaching and the distinct noise of a jetpack. He glanced in the direction of the town briefly before he focused on the ship.

The sound of metal being cut filled his ears, and he watched, furious, as Gideon used the darksaber to cut himself free. To see the weapon of his people used in such a fashion by a moff was galling. He leveled his rifle and cracked his neck as the man kicked out the piece of metal he’d cut and climbed out of the wreckage. He felt more than heard the approach of a ship from above.

Gideon noticed him then and brandished the darksaber with a smirk. Din resolved, at that moment, to cut the man’s head off.

“Thrilled to see you again, Mandalorian,” Gideon announced. “My thanks for making this so easy.”

The ship landed just in time for the arrival of the Armorer. She hit the ground behind Din on his left, turned on her heel, and headed straight for the Imperial ship. Handled, Din thought, and shifted on his feet as Gideon took a step forward. He fired off a shot for form’s sake, and Gideon deflected it easily with the darksaber. It figured the man had learned to use the weapon in some fashion despite the fact he had no Force potential.

“Impressed?”

Not remotely, Din thought. The speeders arrived just as the Armorer engaged the stormtroopers, and distantly he heard Cara Dune’s weapon start to fire. He focused on the darksaber, and the Force shifted inside of him. He knew the principals, had studied their ways for years but to have the Force respond to him was startling and mildly horrifying. Gideon’s eyes widened in shock as the darksaber jerked against his hold. His gaze went to the ship, and he glared at Din.

“That creature doesn’t know enough to help you!” Gideon shouted and started running toward Din.

Distantly, he heard Cara shout for him, but Din couldn’t make himself look in her direction as he moved to meet the moff. The darksaber looked menacing in the late afternoon sun, but Din didn’t fear it. He’d taken it from Gideon in the other timeline without the Force. Well, he’d destroyed it to prevent Gideon from using it, but he considered that pretty much the same thing. Just short of meeting, Din slung his amban over his back and used the Force to jerk the darksaber free. It slapped into his hand before Gideon had time to recognize what was happening.

Din grabbed Gideon’s shoulder and shoved the darksaber into the other man’s gut. “This is for my son.” He pulled the darksaber free, released Gideon, and cut Gideon’s head off in one fluid motion.

The stormtroopers started shouting and trying to retreat. Din was having none of that. He turned and ran toward the fight, barely allowing himself to look in Cara’s direction as he hit the ship’s ramp at a dead run. The fight happened in a blur, and by the time he was throwing the dead body of the pilot out of the cockpit, Din could barely breathe. He fought the urge to remove his helmet as he deactivated the darksaber.

“Mando!”

He braced himself against a wall with one hand and looked up as Cara stepped over three bodies to reach him. “I’m fine.”

She stared at him. “Your kid is standing in the front viewport of your ship screaming his little head off.”

Din grimaced. He’d really hoped the child would stay asleep for a while. “I locked him in. He doesn’t like that.”

“Pretty soon the whole planet is going to be aware,” Cara said.

Din slipped past her, his gut clenching when their bodies brushed together. He’d never been more thankful for the armor he wore than he was in that very moment. Seeing her alive again was a different kind of agony than what he’d experienced with his boy, and he couldn’t define it. Perhaps it was because of the way she’d died—Moff Gideon had destroyed the Razor Crest while Cara had been in the pilot seat. Din had watched the destruction from the ground. He hadn’t been able to look at another gunship of that class again for the rest of his life without being reminded of her death.

He used his gauntlet to open the ramp of his ship as he exited Gideon’s former ride. He’d already decided to take it—victor and spoils and all that rot. The Razor Crest was rather unique in the Outer Rim, and it was known to be associated with his kid, which meant he had more than one reason to part with the ship. He stopped as the ramp hit the ground, and the child toddled determinedly out onto the sand. The goggles were still in place across his chest.

Cara sighed.

“He wanted something to remember Kuiil by,” Din defended. “He cried when I took them away from him.”

“It’s a good thing you’re covered head to toe in beskar—considering your big soft heart,” Cara muttered as Greef picked the child up.

The Armorer joined them as Greef tried vainly to keep the kid from seeing all the dead bodies.

Mand’alor.” She inclined her head.

Din started to deny it, but it was part of the path he’d agreed to. Mandalore, their homeworld, was in disarray, and his people were spread out in hiding all over the galaxy. He knew that most of them would die under the hand of the First Order if he didn’t make significant changes to the timeline. He clipped the darksaber to his belt.

“I must ask something of you, Armorer,” he said quietly.

“Your will be done,” she said and shifted into parade rest.

He hated it—the reverence and the deference. She was the matriarch of his tribe, which mattered more to him than the title that came with the darksaber.

“The Razor Crest is well-known to be mine, and there aren’t many gunships like it left in the Outer Rim. I want you to take it—refit it to suit your needs, register it with the New Republic, and use it to gather what you can of our tribe when you’re ready to build a new covert. We need to establish a legitimate presence with those assholes.” He glanced toward Gideon’s ship. “I’m going to take this VCX.”

“It probably isn’t registered,” Cara said. “I’d say all the ships that Gideon had control of are untraceable. The VCX is one of the most common ships in this sector. It’s a good choice.” She looked back at it. “Lots of space.”

“Agreed,” Greef said. “We’ll need to survey the whole damn planet to make sure he doesn’t have some kind of base here.”

“I think he must,” Cara said. “They’ve probably already cut and run if they were monitoring this situation at all. Without the moff, there’s no getting paid.”

Din took his son from Greef. The boy stiffened briefly in his hands then made a startled cooing sound. He laid his head on Din’s chest and bounced a little in his hands. “It’s okay, ad’ika.” He patted the boy’s back and looked around.

“Should we let the dragons have the bodies?” Cara questioned. “Or move them to town to burn with the rest?

“No less than they deserve,” Greef muttered. “Need help moving your stuff to the new ship, Mando?”

“Yes, we’ll empty out the cargo of what I don’t need from the VCX so it can be sold for the tribe,” he said and focused on the Armorer. “If you agree?”

“Of course,” she said simply. “I’ve three locations to scout for a new covert, but my blood sister’s covert is on Tatooine. They follow a different path within the way. One that you might find disconcerting. Depending on our numbers, it might be best to merge with her tribe for the benefit of our foundlings.” She glanced toward the child. “Including your own.”

Din swallowed back the shock. He’d had no idea that the leader of the covert on Tatooine was related to the Armorer. Siblings weren’t normally separated if they were taken in as foundlings. He patted the baby’s back as he considered what to say.

“She married in,” the Armorer said. “Her mate’s tribe is very accepting and open.” She paused. “Frankly, too open, but…” She glanced back toward Moff Gideon’s body. “The ability to adapt has been the difference between life and death for our people for thousands of years.”

“Agreed,” Din said. “I need to drop by Tatooine to commission…IG-11 a new body. Then I have a personal matter to attend to. I’ll touch base with my contact on Tatooine first and return there to meet with the covert leadership within fourteen solar days.” He sighed when Greef and Cara gaped at him. “It’s what I owe Kuiil. I found IG’s back-up amongst his things. It’s the least I can do.”

Cara flushed. “I found the pram he made. Greef and I were with the Armorer when you called because we were hoping to get it repaired.” She paused. “And reinforced.”

“I’ll bring it with me when we meet on Tatooine,” the Armorer announced, then activated her jetpack without another word.

Din watched her fly away and focused on his son, who was watching the flight with a delighted expression. He turned his attention to Moff Gideon’s body. “The New Republic reported him dead. That obviously wasn’t true. I’m going to put his remains in carbonite and deliver him to one of their bounty centers.”

“The going rate for a moff is 100k in New Republic credits,” Greef said roughly. “If they acknowledge him for who he is. The credits would set you and the kid up right—so you can find whatever you need to help him.”

The credits would be nice, certainly if the covert on Tatooine accepted him and his children. “I’ll make a claim for it,” Din said roughly. “But I want them to know they have a problem. Moff Gideon was reported executed. How many others were able to fake their deaths?” He focused on Cara. “If he has a secret base on his planet, it probably is empty at this point. Would you be willing to hunt for it and retrieve any data you can?”

“I’ll need a team for that,” Cara said and glanced toward Greef.

“I owe that little whomp rat my life, twice over,” Greef said. “I’ll fund a salvage operation. I get the equipment, Mando gets the data. Shouldn’t take me long to get a couple of assets on planet to help with the job.” He cleared his throat. “The closest New Republic collection point for bounties is on Naboo—might be out of the way for your errand.”

“It’ll work,” Din said. “I don’t want that asshole’s body around my kid longer than necessary.”

Ten hours later, they’d removed everything Din didn’t need from the VCX’s cargo bay, transferred everything he needed from the Razor Crest, and arranged for his former ship to be stored at the town’s spaceport so Greef could oversee any modifications that the Armorer needed. Din figured he’d find some way to pay for it because the man hadn’t been reasonable on that front. Not really a surprise since he was still high on the fact that he’d survived. Moving the carbonite freezer had proven to be the most strenuous job, but between the three of them, they’d handled it.

Greef had decided to take the Razor Crest back to town, leaving behind the two speeders and Cara Dune. One of the speeders ended up in Din’s cargo hold. He figured it might come in handy, and he could always sell it later if it wasn’t. The kid was running around the new cargo hold, clearly finding places to hide.

“Is your personal errand dangerous?” Cara asked. “Need back up?”

“It’s…no, not dangerous at all. I’m going to Jakku.” He cleared his throat. “I need to get moving, so I don’t have time to give you the explanation you deserve, Cara.” She blinked at him in surprise. “I know Greef offered you a job here, and you certainly deserve the stability. If he can clean up your chain code, that would be to your benefit. If I get a payoff for Gideon, we can buy you a new one on the black market if it comes down to it.”

“That’s pretty damn expensive,” Cara protested. “You need those credits for the kid.”

“Let me worry about that,” Din said. “A clean chain code for you would be…it’ll be easier for you to travel to the places I might have to go fairly soon.”

Her eyes darkened. “You want me to go with you?”

“Of course,” he admitted roughly. “I didn’t want to leave you behind on Sorgan the first time. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a partner like you—one I could depend on. But we both have things to do right now for the kid…” He trailed off and focused on the baby. “Will you travel to Tatooine with the Armorer? I think regardless of her decision about a new covert, I’m going to join the tribe there. I’d like to perform the adoption and naming in front of them. It’s what…was done for me, and I want that for any children I have. I want to give him more than a clan. He deserves a tribe.”

“You’re making it really hard to say no,” she said roughly and rubbed her face, which only managed to smear the dirt and soot on her skin.

“I’m not trying to manipulate you,” Din said. “That’s the last thing I want. I realize I’m the kind of package deal you really never intended on taking…” And he knew, shortly, that his circumstances might even be more of a turn off for a woman who’d made it clear she didn’t do the baby thing.

He wasn’t entirely sure how he was going to explain Rey to Cara. He wouldn’t bother explaining to anyone else because they didn’t matter in the scheme of things. Most wouldn’t even question it—Mandalorians adopted and raised foundlings. It was a fundamental part of their culture. Most of his own would just laugh and point out that adoption was kind of addictive once one got started. Paz had six foundlings at last count. Din really hoped they’d gotten out of the covert. In the first timeline, he’d never met with a member of his own tribe again after parting ways with the Armorer.

“I love the kid,” Cara blurted out. “He’s obviously going to be a baby for a long time…the burden of his care isn’t going to get less any time soon, so I know you need help.”

“I’ll have IG-11 back shortly,” Din pointed out. “Don’t let guilt play a factor here either. That droid probably doesn’t even need me around.”

Cara laughed. “Only a Mandalorian would think an assassin droid is a great choice for a nanny.”

“I trust Kuiil’s programming,” Din said and wondered how many times he’d have to say it to believe it completely. “I just hope I have enough pull with my contact on Tatooine to get him a new body easily.” He paused. “Do you think I should try to swing the same model?”

“It’ll prevent you from having to reorient him and teach him basic physical skills again,” Cara pointed out, then shrugged. “Also, visually, he’d be a severe deterrent to anyone thinking about messing with the kid.” She cleared her throat. “What’s up with the sword, and…she called you some sort of title.”

“It’s the darksaber. Moff Gideon must have stolen it from Mandalore during the purge,” Din said. “Traditionally, the Mandalorian that wins the darksaber in combat is our leader.” He paused. “The sole leader.”

Her mouth dropped open. “Are you serious?” She huffed. “Yes, I’ll meet you on Tatooine. I don’t even have a choice! Look what you’ve done! Someone is going to shoot you in the back over that stupid sword!” She stalked down the cargo ramp muttering under her breath about tin cans, magic hands, kings, and lightsabers. “And get IG-11 an upgrade! Give him missiles!”

“I’m not giving any droid missiles! The damn thing already comes equipped with a grenade launcher!” Din shouted after her and laughed when she threw an obscene hand gesture at him. “You’d better be glad my kid doesn’t have enough fingers to copy that!”

He closed the ship and, for a moment, just leaned on the wall. What he’d already done felt overwhelming and impossible. He wasn’t sure how to tell Cara about the Force, the Jedi, his own time travel, and, more importantly, the reasons behind it. Qui-Gon Jinn had put Din on a path that could remake the galaxy. The child’s claws curled into the fastenings of his boot, and he looked down.

“Moff Gideon was a threat to you in more ways than I can explain to you right now, ad’ika, but he’s gone now. Others will hunt for you because of your power and because of what you represent. They might not even truly understand what they want from you, but it doesn’t matter because they aren’t going to get it.” He picked the baby up. “The Armorer said you were too weak to follow the way, but she doesn’t know you the way I do. You might not fit the traditional image of what it means to be a Mandalorian, but I don’t think that’s going to matter much in the future.”

The child’s box was in the co-pilot seat. Din had strapped it there first thing since the boy had clearly been concerned about it. He put the baby down, watched him look around with a distinct frown, and laughed. Din pulled the silver knob he’d pocketed from the Razor Crest’s hyperdrive lever and offered it. The baby took it with an excited laugh.

“Hopefully, Greef’s team will replace it.” He sat down in the pilot’s seat and took a deep breath. He’d been trained to fly a variety of craft, so there was nothing about the VCX’s system or cockpit that was unfamiliar. “How about we go visit Peli and see about getting IG a new body?”

The baby smiled and waved his ball in excitement.

– – – –

He had to wait in orbit above Tatooine for three hours to get a berth in Peli’s bay. She only had one slot for a ship of the VCX’s size. He was thankful she could take it at all as he hadn’t really considered that when he’d switched the ships out. Din just knew he couldn’t spend any significant amount of time on the Razor Crest. He didn’t want to relive Cara’s death repeatedly. He didn’t have any credits, but he had something very valuable for trade that would solve a lot of problems for him and set Peli up for life. He figured he owed her that; she’d proven to be a strong ally for him in the other timeline and had helped him get another ship so he could pursue Gideon.

She was waiting with her three droids when the ramp dropped. “What happened to the Razor Crest?” She demanded as she picked up the baby. “Hey, sweetheart, is your dad feeding you right?” She turned to her pit droids. “Go make him food!” One darted away. Din wondered how that was decided amongst the three little droids since she hadn’t assigned the task to a specific one.

“He’ll eat as long as you give him food,” Din said. “Well, eventually, he’ll pass right out and sleep for a few hours.”

“Got some carbon scoring on the side already,” Peli said sourly as she started to walk around the ship. “People still hunting the baby?”

“I took out a big player in that situation, but I can’t say if there are more, bigger threats out there. Another reason I made a ship change. The Razor Crest is now in the hands of one of my tribe. Can I tell her she’s welcome in your bay?”

Peli frowned at him. “I want to talk about that. Since you left, Mandos keep showing up with work for me. I didn’t even know there were more like you here until then.”

“Is the work a problem?” Din asked in confusion.

“I don’t need charity,” Peli said tartly.

“Mandalorians don’t…do that,” Din admitted. “Clan, tribe, self—outsiders don’t get anything from us unless it is strictly necessary. Have you been asked to repair a piece of equipment that clearly didn’t need it?”

“No, but they only come to me, and a few of the other managers are complaining about it.” She offered him a look. “Then you waited three hours in orbit to get into my bay. There’ll be more bitching.”

Din shrugged. “I can go visit them. They’ll be relieved we leave them alone after that.”

“No need,” Peli said. “I can handle a little bitching, and I’m not afraid to get out my blaster if they get out of hand.” She focused on the child. “Have you named this baby yet?”

“I hope to adopt him soon, but I want to do it in front of my tribe,” Din explained. “His name shouldn’t be spoken by anyone until then.”

“You got a name picked out, though?” she prodded. “Wouldn’t want to get up there in front of a bunch of people and be at a loss for words.”

“I picked out two,” Din said. “Beyond the carbon scoring—I don’t need much done to the ship. The floors need some clean up because of bloodstains. Can you get your droids to handle that while we talk?”

“You’re gonna let my droids work on your ship?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.

“You built them, right? Most bay managers build and program their own droid crew.”

“They’re all mine,” she said. “Even tooled their housings myself. I used to build ships and droids for the resistance.” She looked up into the ship. “Bloodstains, huh? Do I need to take this off the grid for you?”

“It’s not currently registered, but I need to change that.”

She made a face. “Let’s talk in my office.” She walked away with the child, giving her droids orders over her shoulder as she went.

Din followed.

She sat down at a table that had been set up with some food. Din watched the baby make a happy grab toward a meat skewer as he was placed in a chair clearly meant for someone his size. Din resolved to ask Peli if she could build something similar for him to put in the ship’s galley.

“Why register your very anonymous and common ship?” Peli asked.

“My search for information about the kid is going to lead me into the Core,” Din explained roughly. “I need to look as legitimate as I can for that.”

“Appearances can be important,” Peli agreed and moved a cup of bone broth close to the child. “During the resistance, we used to fit ships with a randomizing ident code. Each chip had about a hundred registered codes that the Imperials didn’t pay attention to. There are probably several thousand ships out in the galaxy right now operating in the same way. You’ll be able to move in and out of the Core easily without leaving a trail that leads to a single ship. It helps that you’ve picked up one from the VCX series—quite a common ship for a former rebel to own. There were a few Mandos who worked with the rebellion; you won’t stand out in that regard since you don’t show your face or share your name.”

“My name is Din Djarin,” Din said quietly. “In private, you can call me Din, if you’d like.”

She smiled. “Din Djarin. That’s a good, solid name.” Peli nodded. “I expect you to give this baby a name that is meaningful.”

“I will,” Din promised. “How much will that chip cost?”

“I’ve got a box full,” Peli said and waved a hand. “I sell them on the black market for a hundred credits, but you can have it for nothing. You’ve been good business, and it’ll keep the baby safe.”

Din started to protest, but it felt like a gift for his son, which he didn’t have the heart to turn down. “Speaking of protecting my son.” He pulled out the backup drive and placed it on the table. “A friend of mine made him a nanny/protector out of an IG assassin droid. He was destroyed in a fight recently. Well, he sacrificed himself to protect us. I found a backup of him on the ship. My friend was also killed in the skirmish. I made a pact with my friend, Kuiil, to see his droid returned to a body. It’s a matter of honor.”

“You’ve got the programming of an IG unit on that drive,” Peli said. “That’s a fortune.”

“Certainly,” Din agreed. “You can clone it, right?”

“Probably at least twice without losing integrity,” she admitted. “Did you need three of them?”

“No. I wouldn’t want his memories, protocols, or personality copied. You get one clone as payment for the work, and you sell the other for me. I want to share the credits with the covert here as a gift for accepting us into their tribe.”

“A bribe?” Peli questioned.

“No, a gift. They won’t expect anything at all, but I know they’re not in a great place and haven’t had a proper, experienced provider in years. They need the credits for their own protection and for their children. I don’t know how much longer they’ll be here, but it’s important that the children be provided for.”

“You’ll keep enough to feed you and the baby, right?” Peli questioned with a frown.

“Of course,” he said. “Can you build an IG unit?”

“It’ll take a week,” Peli said. “I’ll need to order some parts and materials. I trust you’ll handle its ordnance.”

“Of course,” Din said. “I have a whole crate of Imperial weapons I picked up recently. You can break down whatever you need for the droid. It’s the white crate in my cargo hold. Your droids can off-load it after they finish…cleaning up my mess.”

“You took that ship from an Imperial?” Peli asked with a delighted grin.

“A moff, he’s in the carbonite freezer. I’m going to trade in his bounty on Naboo tomorrow. Well, I’m going to try. He’s supposed to already be dead, so the NR might refuse the bounty.”

“Fuckers,” Peli muttered. “I’ll get the chip and install it now. Did you want me to keep the baby while you resupply?”

Din hesitated. “I don’t have…”

She sighed. “For a man sitting on a fortune, you’re ridiculously poor.” She tapped the drive then went to a cabinet. She punched in a code and pulled out a brown sack, which she brought to the table and dropped in front of him. “Two hundred, Imperial. It’ll spend fine here. I’ll take it out of your cut of the clones.”

He stared at the bag.

“This isn’t charity; it’s an advance on the stupid amount of credits we’re going to make on this droid clone.” She picked up the drive. “Don’t be an idiot.”

Din picked up the credits. “Right, thanks.”

“No, thank you—you just set up my retirement fund. When I get bored with this place, I’m going to take these credits and go live on some pleasure planet where I don’t have to do a thing but get drunk and eat food served to me by beautiful people.”

Din laughed and resolved to make sure that happened for Peli Motto. “I’ll take him with me. He’s been cooped up for a while and yesterday was a terrible day. He could use something new to look at that doesn’t explode.”

Peli nodded. “I’ll have a concept drawing ready for the IG unit when you come back then. I have the specs for several models already. Been thinking about building myself a security guard since I got held hostage in my own damn bay by an amateur.” She shot him a look, and he shrugged.

The baby held up both hands; one had a meat skewer clutched in it. Din took him and just laughed a little when the child gnawed on the meat. They left the office and found two Mandalorians standing perfectly still in the middle of the hangar not far from his ship. Two more were standing on either side of the cargo ramp.

“Mand’alor,” one said as she stepped forward. “Welcome to Tatooine. The patriarch of our tribe invites you to join us for a conversation while your ship is being attended to. He’s also sent guards to make sure your ship is secure during your visit to avoid a repeat of your previous experience here.”

“I can’t stay more than a few hours. I have a personal matter that needs my attention as quickly as possible,” Din said. “You’re the Armorer’s sister.”

“By blood and creed,” the woman he knew to be named Gí Rast said. “I am the riduur of our tribe leader.”

The leader sending his wife to issue the invitation was telling and something of a relief. He hadn’t known what role she’d had in the covert during this time period. He was being offered a very gentle invitation to join them for a conversation. “There’s a satchel sitting on a bench in the cargo bay. I need it for my son.”

One of the guards disappeared into the ship and came back out with the satchel without a word. Din took it and looped it over his head and tucked it under his cape and out of his way.

“You’re wearing it,” Gí said.

“It’s my duty to keep it out of the wrong hands,” Din murmured as he shifted the darksaber on his belt so that it was hidden within in the folds of his cape. “I certainly can’t leave it unattended on my ship right now. I haven’t finished the security package. It’s a very new acquisition.”

“My sister said.” She laughed a little. “I just never expected to see the darksaber in person. Come, please, we won’t take much of your time. Did you need to be resupplied? I can send someone to do that for you.”

Din considered that then dismissed it as an option. He didn’t want the tribe to supplement his funds with their own, and moreover, his kid was picky. “I prefer to handle my own supplies but thank you.”

He glanced briefly at Peli, who just rolled her eyes and nodded. He figured he’d be getting another earful from her about the number of Mandalorians in her life when he returned. Gí led him through the market, and the large Mandalorian that had stood with her walked behind him, clearly on sentry duty. No one really glanced their way, so he had to wonder just how hidden the covert on Tatooine was. He didn’t remember, really, what Mos Eisley had been like in the other timeline. He’d only visited the covert once and hadn’t had the strength to do so again. He hadn’t felt he deserved their compassion or their acceptance. He’d buried his helmet with his son, so he’d never be tempted to try to wear it again.

Din’s fingers curled into his son’s coat. It was a little sooty. In fact, the baby smelled distinctly like he’d been in a battle. They both probably did since he hadn’t bothered with a shower since they’d left Nevarro. He’d been so damn tired after they’d finally left that he’d plotted a course and promptly fallen asleep in the pilot’s seat. Shortly, they entered a small junk shop. The baby made some excited noises and reached out for several things as they weaved through the aisles of the shop. Din was relieved when he met with a steep set of stairs and gratefully followed Gí down them.

It wasn’t a sewer but a large cave complex that stretched for kilometers under Mos Eisley. Gí took him to the central chamber of the complex, which boasted an underground pool and a large stream that spread throughout the cave system. The first time he’d seen the place, he’d been in awe of it, and that feeling still lingered in him. More so, he no longer felt as if he didn’t belong. He had a mission and his son back. He hoped to gain a daughter in the days to come, but that would be Rey’s choice. Life on a spaceship wasn’t for everyone, and he wanted her to have a choice no matter what Qui-Gon Jinn had planned.

“Greetings.” A man stepped forward, sans helmet, and Din purposefully relaxed his shoulders as he took the hand offered. “I am Oddau Rast of Clan Rast, leader of this covert. Welcome to Tatooine. We all grieve the loss of the covert on Nevarro. We’ve put out coded messages welcoming any of your tribe that survived the Imperial assault.”

“My thanks,” Din said. “Din Djarin of the Clan Djarin. This is my son. His name will be announced at his adoption.”

“Gí tells me you can’t stay long.”

“No, but I’ll be back. I’ve commissioned some work from Peli Motto, and I’m to meet the Armorer and my partner within two weeks barring any issues.”

“Can we speak for a few moments?” Oddau asked. “In private?”

Din nodded. “Yes, of course.”

His gut clenched slightly, but he wasn’t all that worried about being challenged for the darksaber. Oddau’s armor was painted a vibrant green, which spoke to stability. This was not a man who wanted to face one fight after another like Din might come to if he stayed in a covert for any length of time. Moreover, Oddau Rast walked with a pronounced limp that spoke to a permanent injury of some sort.

Shortly, they were in a smaller chamber. Once the door was shut, Din let the baby down and pulled his satchel over his head so he could place it on the floor. “Is there a problem that I can help with?”

Oddau laughed. “A problem? You sit before me in full beskar armor, wearing the darksaber, and you’re asking me how you can help me?” He shook his head. “She said you weren’t the sort to demand anything from anyone.”

“It’s not the way,” Din said. Part of him wished he’d told the Armorer to keep the information about the darksaber a secret, but that would’ve done nothing to serve the plan to unite the tribes on Mandalore.

Gí removed her helmet as she joined them and set it on the table. “What can we do to help you with your task, Mand’alor?”

“Before…” He cleared his throat. “Before the final fight with Moff Gideon, I believed I was to reunite this child with his own kind. During the fight, when I saw the darksaber for the first time, I realized what he is and what I am in turn. I understood, finally, why I connected with him immediately upon meeting. And I know that I can’t part with him. He’s my son, and I won’t waste time pretending otherwise. He’s small, and perhaps he’ll never be strong enough to swear the creed, but I don’t care. The fact is that I probably won’t live to see him to adulthood, so I won’t be around when he makes that choice. He’s 50 years old and still a toddler with no overt language skills.”

“50,” Gí repeated. “It could be a decade before he starts to speak in full sentences.”

“He’s not been stimulated properly,” Din said. “When I found him, he was a hostage, and there’s no telling what his circumstances were before that. He clearly understands me when I give him instructions. Based on something I read about another of his kind, I believe he’ll reach maturity at around 100.”

“Do you know what his kind are called?” Oddau asked.

“No, but two beings just like him once served on the Jedi Council,” Din said.

“Jedi.” Oddau sat back in his seat. “That’s not a word you often hear these days. Some say a Jedi Knight was part of the resistance near the end—a key player. No one knows where he came from. I’ve never heard his name spoken. You said…you felt the Force when you saw the darksaber?”

“It’s the first time I recognized the feeling,” Din said. “I’ll be the first to admit I wasn’t the best history student, but the story of Tarre Vizsla, the first Mandalorian Jedi Master, would be a difficult one to forget. As to how you can help me, I need every scrap of information that can be gathered regarding the Force, the history of the Jedi, and their training methods. I’m going to have to train myself first, so I can be what my son needs. He already uses the Force in ways that could be dangerous for him. I’ll be out there searching as well. I may come across children that will need a home. Can I bring them here? I found and brought 12 foundlings into my tribe on Nevarro in the last four years.”

“Yes,” Oddau said immediately. “We have room for at least a thousand people in this covert, and our number grew to 102 just yesterday with the birth of a child. We could open up more of the cave system or dig our own structures to make space for more. I am open to other tribes joining us here. We’ll respect their traditions if they give equal respect to ours.”

Din nodded. “I’ll make sure that’s clear.”

“And you’re welcome to join us,” Oddau said. “We won’t be the only tribe to offer, and the Armorer might kill me for putting it on the table, but I don’t care.”

“I will consider it,” Din said. “And give you my answer when I return from my trip.” He looked down because the child was tapping the poleyn covering his knee with one hand while he clutched a lizard with the other. The child offered it to him. No matter how much he’d missed his boy, Din was not eating a live lizard. He picked the baby up and carefully extracted the lizard from his claw. “Did you eat one of these already?”

The baby giggled and licked his mouth.

“They come in from the underground river,” Oddau said and carefully took the lizard from Din’s hand. “They don’t bite, and they’re edible—harmless in nature and design. Does he often…”

“He’s an omnivore like us,” Din explained. “But he much prefers his meat to still be wiggling when he eats it. Frogs are his favorite. But he caught that for me to eat. I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m the worst hunter to ever exist.”

Oddau laughed, loud and long.

Chapter 3

Greef hadn’t been at all surprised when she’d told him that she wasn’t going to stay. Cara couldn’t really even articulate why the idea of Din Djarin leaving her behind again left her feeling cold. She was familiar with the deepest kind of loss. As far as she knew, there were less than five thousand people from Alderaan left in the galaxy. Even as she’d told him that she was going to stay on Nevarro, she regretted it. She hadn’t known how to take the words back, so she was glad he’d asked her to change her mind.

Din’s decision to leave the Razor Crest behind in favor of the ship they’d confiscated surprised her. It was clear he had a great deal of affection for his old ship. The VCX would offer more space and privacy, which would be needed with her on board. The ship was designed to sleep a crew of ten, and she’d already mentally picked out the space she was going to claim as her own.

Greef sat down at the table they’d managed to get into place. The people he’d hired to clean up the cantina were working around them steadily. There wasn’t a glass or a bottle of liquor to be found in the whole place. Fucking Imps. The older man put a datapad down in front of her. “Got you squared.”

She focused on him. “What?”

“Your chain code. It’s clean.”

“How…” She raised an eyebrow. “What kind of favor did you call in? Do we need to kill someone? Lay siege to a planet?”

Greef laughed. “Nothing like that—someone on Coruscant owed me one. A big one. I figured I’d call it one day and get a new life for myself. But you know what I realized during this whole thing?”

“What?” Cara asked.

“I like my life,” the older man said roughly. “I like my work. Those assholes tried to ruin it for me. Moreover, if I’d died during that mess, then that debt I’d be holding onto since the Empire was in control would’ve never been paid to me. That pissed me off.”

Cara put her hand on the tablet, and her chain code was displayed. Her New Republic identification filled in before her eyes—picture, standard birth date, planet of origin, resistance service, five years of New Republic military service, and an honorable discharge. She blinked a that last one. “Greef…you realize I was wanted for murder, right?”

“I know you killed a man you were supposed to be protecting,” Greef said. “I also know that he regularly purchased young girls as slaves while he was in the service of the Empire. He replaced his slaves a lot. The problem is—that he never sold any. They just disappeared after about a year. Got a contact on Byss said that asshole Imp probably killed upwards of 50 young women when he got bored with them or when they got too old for him.”

Cara grimaced. “I’d go with too old. I never saw him express a single bit of interest in an adult woman. When I found out the New Republic was going to pardon him for his crimes because he gave them information on a few Imperial strongholds…I couldn’t stomach it. I shot him in the head and walked away. I was surprised to get off the planet.”

“Rumor has it that they couldn’t get a single soldier on duty to help contain and arrest you,” Greef said wryly. “My contact found it quite easy to clear your record, by the way. Once he had all the information on your crime—he asked his wife to make it all go away, and she did. Apparently, some people believe you did the Republic a favor.”

“Just like that?” Cara raised an eyebrow and focused on her chain code. “I don’t know how to thank you for this. Can I know your friend’s name? Mando wants to visit some Core worlds; I wouldn’t want to come across him and be caught unaware.”

“Han Solo,” Greef said and stood. “He used to work as a smuggler. Solo managed to get himself married to some fancy big deal senator on Coruscant. How that asshole swung that, I’ll never know. I guess he’s easy on the eyes, but the man’s a complete criminal even if we ignore all the charges the Empire filed. He won’t try to get a favor out of you in return or anything. He won’t bring it up unless you do. He’s that sort—stand up in his own way. Hungry? I could eat half a nerf.”

“If you can find one, I’ll eat the other half,” Cara said and wet her lips. “Honestly, I haven’t had a good nerf steak in a decade.”

“Let’s get something and take some food down to the Armorer.”

“Your crush on her is kind of cute,” Cara said and laughed when Greef huffed. “You know she can kick your ass, right?”

“That’s the best part!” Greef declared. “My salvage team will be here tomorrow. We’ve got a freighter in maintenance to use. I’ve already had a survey done of the surface. Got two locations to check out. One is definitely an old Empire base. Would Gideon have been arrogant enough to use it?”

“Are we talking about the same guy who paused in the middle of the battle to deliver our biographies?” Cara questioned. “Seriously? Men like him won’t stop being Imperials until they’re dead. He came in here guns blazing with stormtroopers because he believed he was the law on this planet and probably this whole fucking sector, Greef. He invaded the covert and killed as many of the Mandalorians as he could because he believed he had the right to do it. That’s what it meant to be an Imperial.”

“I’m really glad that bastard is dead,” Greef muttered. “He messed up my whole town. I had plans for a redevelopment of the market in a few months—now it’ll be a new build. Some of the structures on that street were several hundred years old. That’s history—destroyed by a bunch of idiots who can’t shoot for shit. I can’t see how they controlled the galaxy as long as they did.”

“Sheer numbers,” Cara said grimly. “They just never seemed to end. You kill five, and fifty more would just pop up in their place. The average stormtrooper wasn’t worth the materials used to make their armor. But there were highly trained assets, clones that were still viable, that were nothing to trifle with. Some of them are still out there—trying to blend in with the rest of us and pretend they weren’t part of that monster’s killing machine.”

– – – –

“Do you know why he gave me this ship?”

Cara looked up from where she was screwing a hinge into the side of the cargo bay. They’d decided to place a series of cots that could be pulled down for sleeping to give what comfort they could to whoever ended up traveling on the Razor Crest in the future.

“No,” she admitted. “He had some emotional attachment to it that he never expressed to me, so I was surprised.”

“His buir gave it to him,” the Armorer said shortly.

“Buir?” Cara repeated.

“It’s the Mando’a word for a parent,” the Armorer said. “His father, as you would say. The man that rescued him the day his biological parents were killed and raised in him in the way.”

“It should’ve felt like he was making a sacrifice,” Cara said.

“But it didn’t.”

“No, I think by the time we were finished with the move, he was just…relieved. After Greef left with it and we were alone on the VCX, his whole body relaxed. I hadn’t realized just how tense he was until then. Maybe he was worried about his ability to protect the child on this ship. It’s not very family-friendly. The VCX-100 is much better for that.”

“Especially if he intends on taking on a partner,” the Armorer said.

Care felt her face heat, and she focused on her job. “It’s work. He said it’d been a long time since he’d had a partner, he could trust to have his back.”

“To a Mandalorian, that’s practically a marriage proposal,” the Armorer responded.

Care blew air out between her lips. “He doesn’t see me like that. I’m not his type.”

“What’s his type then?” the other woman questioned.

“There was a woman on Sorgan—he spent a lot of time with her. Widowed, single mother, beautiful…” Cara picked up another bolt and screw it into place. “Soft. She could handle a weapon, but she wasn’t…” She gestured to herself. “A fighter.”

“I’ve known Din Djarin a long time,” the Armorer said. “And I’ve seen him go after more than one lover in that time period—not a single damn one of them was anything less than a fighter. The life of Mandalorian is hard, Cara Dune, and we don’t take on any sort of partner who can’t stand with us. That woman on Sorgan would be best called a diversion. Perhaps he liked a glimpse at the kind of life he could’ve had if his biological parents hadn’t been killed by the Empire. Maybe he saw his own circumstances mirrored in hers—single parenthood is daunting, and even as far back as then, he was considering that odd little baby his child. That’s why I declared them clan when I finally saw them together.”

“Then tasked him with finding the child’s own kind,” Cara said. “It’d break his heart to part with that kid.”

“You weren’t close enough to hear what Djarin said to Moff Gideon when he killed him.”

Cara turned to her. “No, I wasn’t. What did he say?”

“He said—this is for my son.” The Armorer inclined her head. “Thankfully, I have a few decades to figure out how to put armor on that boy of his.”

Cara gasped. “Oh, come on.” She slid down her on her butt and laughed. “The helmet would squish his ears!”

The Armorer snorted. “For fuck’s sake.”

– – – –

The base had been used recently but was certainly abandoned. They found a body in one of the labs that Greef identified as a doctor named Pershing. Cara cleaned out the lab computers personally and packed up all the datapads as part of Din’s haul. Greef was having entirely too much fun with loading up ordnance to care what she did. There was a large crate in the back of the facility that had a cipher lock on it. She set aside her satchel, broke it open with the butt of her weapon, and flipped open the lid.

She stared, stomach-lurching at the collection of Mandalorian helmets. There were at least eight, but she couldn’t bring herself to move them around to get an accurate count. It was, somehow, worse than the pile of armor they’d found in the covert. This didn’t look like remembrance—it looked like a fucking trophy collection. She activated her radio. “Greef, I need a cart.”

“Find something interesting?”

“No,” she said curtly. “Just bring the cart personally, please. I’m in the moff’s office. Actually, bring two carts—he’s got a wet bar in here that will restock the cantina at least temporarily.”

A few minutes passed, and she did nothing but stare at the helmets. She didn’t know if they were recent acquisitions or if he’d collected them during the purge of Mandalore.

“Son of a bitch,” Greef muttered. “I know…I was on the wrong side of things the day the covert exposed themselves to save Mando, but I’d have never…this is obscene.”

“I want to take them to the Armorer. Whoever they were—they don’t deserve this,” Cara said. “She’ll know what to do with them.” She shut the crate and wiped her mouth with a gloved hand. “I think he died too quickly.”

“You clear out the comps?”

“Yeah, I’d like to destroy this whole facility.”

“Already have my guys setting charges. There’s no way I’m leaving this here for another Imp to come along and try to use again.”

“The second location?”

“Clone War-era bunker,” Greef reported. “The doors were rusted shut. They had to use a torch to get through them. Clearly, Gideon had never been there.”

“If it’s that old, it might be Galactic Republic,” Cara said. “Any active computers?”

“Haven’t ordered a full search. Want to take a look yourself?”

“Yes,” she said. “Maybe there’s something to help Mando figure out how to help the kid with his magic.” She took a deep breath. “I have a feeling most of the information that would truly help us will be that old or older. If his credit situation works out with the moff bounty—we’ll probably set up some kind of information exchange system with you. You’ve got a lot of hunters out and about out here who could come across data or people of interest.”

“Agreed,” Greef said. “We’ll build that kid a magic library or whatever.” He waved his hands. “Maybe next time we need magic on demand, he’ll get what we mean.”

Cara laughed. “Maybe.”

– – – –

Cara dropped down on her bed and continued to run the comb through her hair. The window of her room was boarded up, but otherwise, there hadn’t been a lot of damage to the inn itself. The Armorer had taken the crate full of helmets without a word to either of them. Cara didn’t blame her, and Greef had looked like he wanted to trot along after her and offer some sort of comfort. She figured they were all glad he’d refrained.

She picked up the datapad Greef had sent over to her. It held a comm from Din that she’d been putting off watching. She had no real excuse for it. Maybe she was a little worried that he’d changed his mind and no longer wanted her to meet him on Tatooine with the Armorer. Disgruntled with herself, she opened the message and flicked her fingers through Din’s projection.

We’re leaving Tatooine. I’ve plotted a course for Naboo, but that shouldn’t take more than a few hours. After that, I’ll be in hyperspace for 12 hours. The kid enjoyed himself—ate four or five lizards. I picked up a few toys for him—educational ones, including this ridiculous floating ball thing that he’s hit in me in the head with twice so far. It’s supposed to help him with critical thinking skills and dexterity. I’m sure he sees only its weapon potential.”

“Like you’re any different,” Cara muttered.

“We’re looking forward to meeting up—well, I am. Honestly, the kid just wants to be fed, and I don’t think he cares who does it. I’m glad this thing has two cooling units because when we left, I was presented with an entire case of lizards. I hope he doesn’t mind eating them dead. Now that you’re equally horrified, I feel like my work is done. I’ll try to send another message when I’m on my way back. Take care.”

She didn’t know much about Jakku beyond the fact that it was the site of a major battle during the rebellion. She hadn’t been there. He said it wasn’t dangerous, but that didn’t mean much considering the source. She set the datapad aside so she wouldn’t play it again and quickly braided her hair. There was no point in sending him a message; he probably wouldn’t get it until he was on his way back, especially if he was already in hyperspace.

She stood and walked across the room to pick up the long tunic she’d chosen to wear for sleeping and dropped the towel she’d been wearing in a basket. Only two of the droids serving the cantina and the attached inn had survived the assault intact. She didn’t know if the others were repairable and what kind of impact that would have on laundry services. The thought made her hesitate, and after a moment, she retrieved the towel and draped it over the back of a chair to dry in case she had to use it again.

Cara pulled the shirt over her head and glanced at the mirror. She stilled in shock and touched the two braids running along the left side of her head. If one of her own people saw her, they’d know she’d marked herself unavailable to romantic attention because she was at the very least infatuated with someone specific.

Cara reached up to take the braids out, but the moment she touched her hair, her fingers started to tremble. “Damn it.” She huffed and went to lay down on the bed.

She picked up the pad and set it up to record as she settled on the ridiculously fluffy pillows Greef had presented her with a wide grin. Cara really wondered how long the man was going to ride high on survival joy. It made him very likable, and from all reports, that wasn’t the norm for him.

“Hey, I had two targets, and I hit the most likely one today. I haven’t sorted what I’ve found yet, but I’ve got time to work on it before we meet up. There is another place—older, not used for a long while that I’ll be checking out tomorrow. It’ll horrify you to know that Greef confiscated ten droids and is currently having their memories wiped. He says they were owed to him because Gideon and his people destroyed most of his staff. Anyways, they’re mostly service and maintenance types. One security droid immediately surrendered upon our arrival and suggested he be reprogrammed. Total coward. I told Greef that we should sell him, but he said he could get him programmed to be a better resource. They’re Imperial, so we can’t trust them without reprogramming them, which is better than outright destruction.

“You’ll probably get this on your way back unless you check the relays once you leave hyperspace.” She made a face. “If the kid prefers reptiles as his primary protein source, then we’ll definitely be dedicating one cooling unit to his needs. The Armorer explained more about the whole thing you’ve got going on. She said she’d already spoken to others about it. At least it’ll give you an easier path in the Core. Between you and me, I don’t get it, so I’m looking forward to that very frank discussion you owe me. I’ll meet you as planned.”

– – – –

The helmets were still in the crate when Cara entered the Armorer’s forge. She hesitated at the sight of it. The woman must have noticed because she walked over to it and closed it.

“I thought you’d…” She glanced toward the forage.

“Those helmets weren’t taken from my people; they were removed willingly,” the Armorer said shortly.

“How…”

“If he’d taken them for trophies—he’d have taken all of their armor to leave them exposed and fully disgraced in his mind. When we were invaded, any Mandalorian that had a foundling was ordered to retreat.” She paused and took a deep breath. “It would’ve been difficult for them to escape the planet fully armored with their children.”

“They sacrificed their creed to…” Cara closed her eyes.

“Foundlings are the future,” the Armorer said. “I’d have done no less for a child if I had one.”

Cara sat down and rubbed her face with both hands. “Again, I have to say he died too quickly.”

“But his death was the ultimate justice.”

She focused on the Mandalorian woman. “What?”

“The man who purged Mandalore and stole the darksaber from us—was killed by a Mandalorian. The last thing that bastard saw was a shining beskar helmet that I made. May that image burn into his soul and haunt him for eternity.”

Cara nodded. “Do you blame—”

“No,” the Armorer interjected. “The moment I saw that beskar, I knew that Din Djarin had made a choice he couldn’t live with. I made his armor because I knew he would go back for the asset, whatever it was. We didn’t find out later that it was a child. We prepped to help him the moment he left the covert. I should’ve ordered an immediate evacuation after the fight. I thought we had at least a day. Gideon sent in stormtroopers within an hour of Djarin’s departure.” She returned to her salvage cart and dropped a piece of Imperial white armor into the forge.

“Did you want the rest of that crap? Greef has collected it all for you. We’re burning the bodies.”

“We’ve set up a delivery schedule,” the Armorer admitted. “It’s not well made, but the quality of the plastoid is standard for Imperial forces. I can’t make armor from it since it’s little more than plant polymers and synthetic resin. That’s why I have my forge currently set to recycle.”

“What will you do with the recycled material?”

“I have a weaving machine—a stationary droid—that will weave it into cloth we can use for body gloves. The kind we could use to create sealed environmental suits with.”

“Handy,” Cara said. “We burned them in their body gloves…”

“There’s no need to strip even an enemy of dignity in death,” the Armorer said. “But I’ll take any weapons that are no longer functional and the riot shields if Greef will part with them.”

“I think the whole ones and the ones that are broken into pieces are in a cart in your sorting section.” She flicked a hand upward. “Din’s in hyperspace.”

The Armorer hummed under her breath. “Do you know anything about his personal errand?”

“Not much,” Cara admitted with a frown. “I asked him if it was dangerous and if he needed backup. He said no.”

“Do you trust his assessment of the situation?”

“Of course,” Cara said hotly and flushed when she got the helmet tilt of doubt. “I do. Except his idea of what is extremely dangerous is hard to define. The man went to fight a mudhorn by himself.”

The Armorer snorted. “He’s always been like that. I can just imagine his entire thought process on that, and it would not flatter him at all, so I shall keep to myself.”

She could imagine it, too, and it wasn’t good. “He’s such a man, sometimes.”

“Take this.”

Cara looked and found the Armorer holding a physical assessment wand. It was normally used in medical situations when there wasn’t a med-droid around to scan the injured. She’d used them in the field often enough during the rebellion but saw no need for her to hold one currently. “I’m not injured. Just some bruising and a bit of muscle strain.”

“I’ve modified this device to take physical measurements.”

Cara took the wand.

“Stand—it’ll give me a better result.”

Cara stood with a frown. “What do you need it for?”

“You’re going to travel with the Mand’alor. I already know he’s not going to accept any sort of security or a guard. He asked you to go with him, and he trusts you. I will make you armor.”

“I have armor.”

“You have crap pretending to be armor. I don’t have enough beskar to outfit you properly, but I can create a durasteel alloy with beskar reinforcements that will protect you far better than what you’re currently wearing, which I would very much like to salvage so I no longer have to look at it.”

“I paid a lot for this armor,” Cara said. All she’d had at the time since she’d had to take off the armor she’d worn while in the military after she ran.

“You were cheated. We should find the person who made it and beat them like a criminal.”

Cara laughed. “Why do I like you so much?”

“I’d be flattered, but you like Din Djarin more than me, so you clearly have very poor taste,” the Armorer said wryly and took the wand. “Start taking it off while I reconfigure my forge.”

“But your salvage operation…” she trailed off when the Armorer started rearranging the forge. “Must you all be so stubborn and unreasonable?”

“This is the way.” She paused and turned to face Cara. “Traditions are important, are they not, Cara Dune of Alderaan?”

“In the end, it might be all that we have,” Cara said, then gamely took off her vambraces and dropped them onto the half-empty cart. “I’m only agreeing to this for him and the kid. I don’t know what I’d do if something…” She huffed. “How did that little green absurd looking baby become so important to me?”

“I’ve decided I’ll probably have to mold the helmet around his ears.”

Cara burst out laughing.

– – – –

Greef raised an eyebrow at the sight of her. “No helmet?”

Cara flushed. “She said she’d make me one if I ever want to swear the creed.” She slouched down in the chair Greef pointed her to and accepted the cup of soup he pushed her way. “Did you send my message?”

“First thing,” Greef said. “It’s hit a few relays. I got word through official channels that Moff Gideon was turned in for bounty fifteen hours ago on Naboo. Full reward tendered into a New Republic credit account.” He paused. “The smug bastard also picked up four pucks for missing moffs on his way out.”

“He plans to move inward toward the Core in his search for information about the baby’s abilities,” Cara explained. “The account makes sense, and so do the pucks. He also plans to have a covert to support, and he’s…well.”

“What?”

“Do you remember when the Armorer called him Mand’alor?”

“I figured it was just…what they call each other in public?” Greef said. “I’ve never seen two Mandalorians in the same place before everything went down when Mando stole the kid back.”

“That light sword he took from Gideon is some ancient symbol of leadership to Mandalorians. Mando won it in combat against the man that led the purge against Mandalore.”

“So, he’s the tribal leader now?”

“No,” Cara said. “He’s the leader.”

“Like a king?” Greef questioned.

“He used the words sole leader, but yes,” Cara said. “That’s why I got new armor. He asked me to travel with him, and the Armorer knows he won’t let them send a bodyguard to watch his back, so she wanted to make sure…” She waved a hand.

“You need more weapons,” Greef decided. “Let’s see about getting some kind of sniper rifle. Can you handle an A295? We found one at Gideon’s base.”

Cara sent him a sour look. “Yeah, I can handle it and probably anything else you can get your hands on. There’s room on the VCX for my own weapons locker. I’ll start getting one ready.”

– – – –

“Why are women in armor so hot?”

“Because you like getting your ass kicked, Hico,” Cara said. “The moment I set eyes on you, I thought, there’s a man who wants me to break him in half.”

Hico laughed. “Did you hear that, Jor? This dropper thinks she can kick my ass.”

“I know she can kick your ass,” Jor said as he pulled his tools free from the digital lock and opened the door with a flourish. “But you wouldn’t enjoy it half as much as you think you would. Besides, that’s Mandalorian armor she’s wearing. You don’t lay hands on a woman wearing that shit without permission unless you have a death wish.”

“So, what if it’s Mando armor. She’s not a Mando—no helmet.”

Cara ignored them both and slid into the room. She sat down at the dusty terminal. “Check for any other locked rooms and gather up any datapads, holocrons, and portable drives you can find. I’ll follow along behind you and gather any data from computers if there are any.”

“Sure thing,” Jor said. “Come on, Hico, before you get yourself killed.”

She realized that some people would take one look at her armor and assume that she belonged with a Mandalorian in some fashion or another. The Armorer wouldn’t have made armor for a true outsider. Neither of her pauldrons were marked with Din’s clan signet, but she wouldn’t be opposed if he asked her to join him. She really couldn’t explain it to anyone and wouldn’t try. The circumstances weren’t normal, but she was trying to work with it.

The unit hadn’t been active in about seventy years, and when she turned it on, it flickered in a fashion that told her power was limited. It was an incredibly old system, so slicing into it took no effort at all with her datapad, which was full of illegal tools she might need. She hooked up a portable drive, pulled all the data she could, then opened the unit up and took out the data storage in case something was hidden. She’d just finished packing it all her satchel when Hico and Jor returned.

“We found a few holocrons and six pads that have no power. No other computers. There are ten rooms outfitted like barracks and an empty kitchen. One room looked to be set up like it was used for ops and communication, but it’s empty.” Jor put the datapads and holocrons on the now useless unit. “Good thing Karga paid us upfront because we’re not getting shit out of this job.”

Cara stored all of it in her bag. “Good thing.”

“What’s the data for? Your Mando got a hard-on for ancient history?” Hico asked with a truly unbecoming leer. “I prefer women myself.”

“Mind your own business,” Jor muttered and pushed Hico out the room ahead of them. “I’m not going to give you a proper burial if she kills you.”

“She’s not gonna kill me!”

Cara just shook her head as she followed them out of the bunker.

“You know that pile of bodies burning outside of town? She helped make it!” Jor exclaimed. “Karga’s the law around here. He won’t even slap her on the ass if she shoots you in the face!”

“I prefer central torso shots,” Cara said. “I can’t hardly stand to see someone’s brain matter.” She smiled when they both glanced back at her in horror. “Seriously, brains are disgusting.”

Chapter 4

One of the best features about the new ship, which he’d decided to call the Tor, was the top-of-the-line security package. He’d spent most of the hyperspace trip using a slicer program to reconfigure the ship’s computer to his own specs. Neither Gideon nor his people had ever bothered to personalize the system, so it was the work of nothing to claim it wholesale. Once activated, the security systems would prevent his ship from being boarded if he left it unattended. It also meant he wouldn’t have to worry about it being stripped down by Jawas who were, in his estimation, a plague. He was probably biased, but he was willing to own it since the little fuckers had made him fight a mudhorn so they could have a snack.

There was a single spaceport operating on Jakku, but Din ignored it. He also ignored the very persistent manager of the spaceport, who offered him several different options regarding docking with fees attached that wouldn’t have been out of a line for a luxury deep-Core berthing. The fallen AT-AT was where he expected it to be. Since there was more than enough room to land near it, he did so. He left the cockpit and picked up the baby, who was industriously chewing on a piece of lizard jerky.

He kind of hated Gí Rast for the dried meat that had been put in his satchel when he’d been leaving. It had turned out to be the kid’s favorite snack, and he drooled a lot while he gnawed on it. Din took a deep breath as he lowered the back ramp of the Tor. The ship didn’t quite feel like home, but he figured it could become one with time. He thought briefly about the cottage he’d built himself on Sorgan after he’d retired. He grimaced at that thought—he’d have to find a doctor to check out his heart to see what he could do to prevent the problems he had as he’d gotten older in the other timeline. Din wanted to be around for his children as long as he could be.

The ramp hit the sand, and there she was—impossibly small. Rey was looking at him with such hope etched on her face that it made Din’s heart hurt. Her clothes were threadbare but reasonably clean. He knew that water was short supply on Jakku and expensive but that Qui-Gon Jinn had been helping Rey keep out of sight of everyone in the ramshackle community pretending to be a town since the backward shift.

He came fully down the ramp and squatted down not far from her. From experience, he knew that approaching a foundling had to be done carefully. An orphaned child, especially one living on their own for a long time, could be skittish and often grew to fear adults.

“Hello, Rey. My name is Din Djarin.”

Her eyes filled with tears. “You came.” She pressed her hands to her mouth, and tears spilled. “You came for me.”

Din put the baby down, and her eyes darted briefly toward the boy who immediately toddled off to the left in the sort of determined fashion that told Din the kid had a target. He focused on Rey. “I know Master Qui-Gon has told you a lot about me.”

“You’re a Mandalorian,” Rey said. “And you have the Force like me, and so does your son. He said I’ll be safe with you.” She took a deep breath. “But if you don’t want me, it’s okay. I’ll understand. My parents…didn’t want to keep me either. Could you take me somewhere better than this, maybe?”

Din found himself dropping to both knees. “Rey, did Master Qui-Gon tell you what it means to be a Mandalorian? Did he explain about my helmet?”

“He said you don’t take it off for anyone,” Rey whispered.

“There are many paths within the way, and I once followed a very strict one,” Din explained as he activated the heat sensors on his helmet. They were the only life signs within three kilometers of the downed AT-AT. “But recently, when I earned my clan signet, I made the decision that I would share my face with my clan. Only one person has seen me without a helmet in twenty years, and that is my son.” He glanced toward the baby and found him coming back to them with a fistful of orange flowers. Din unlatched his helmet from the gorget protecting his neck and pulled the helmet free from his head. He set it down on the sand beside him and focused on Rey. “And you.”

Her chin trembled, and tears spilled down her cheeks before she lurched forward and threw herself at him. Din caught her and hoped that the impact against his armor hadn’t hurt her because she’d started sobbing. The baby patted his arm, so he picked him up one-handed. The baby’s empty hand caught in Rey’s hair, and Din almost laughed as his son tried to pat her.

“What’s his name?” Rey asked. “Master Qui-Gon didn’t know.”

“If he has one—I don’t know it,” Din admitted. “I’ll be adopting him in front of my new tribe when we return to Tatooine, and I’ll announce his new name then.”

The baby offered Rey the flowers.

“Why…” She trailed off as she took them.

“You’re very sad,” Din said. “He…we can feel it.”

“Because of the Force?” Rey questioned as more tears welled in her eyes. “Is it making him sad?”

“He’s very attuned to the Force,” Din admitted. “And people who are sensitive to the Force are also sensitive to the strong emotions of others.”

“How old is he?” Rey asked.

“He’s 50 years old,” Din said. “His species doesn’t age the way we do.”

Rey stepped back, and the baby lurched in her direction. She took him hesitantly with flushed cheeks. Din picked up his helmet and put it back on. The neck guard clicked back into place, and he looked at the AT-AT.

“Did you have anything you wanted to take with you?”

“I have lots of food rations,” Rey said and blushed. “Master Qui-Gon helped me steal them, but he says I more than earned them because Plutt’s a thief.” She bit down on her bottom lip. “Also, I’ve been salvaging parts from the AT-AT. I don’t want to be a burden. I can work.”

Din’s stomach clenched, and he took a deep breath. “Rey, you’re not a burden. It’s my honor to provide for the children of my clan.”

“What should I do with the salvaged parts then?” Ray questioned.

“We’ll sell them on Tatooine and use the funds to buy whatever you would like. Okay?”

Rey shifted the baby in her arms, and a few petals fell from the flowers clutched in her hand. “Whatever I want?”

“Whatever you want,” Din promised. “This is our clan ship, the Tor.”

“It’s big,” Rey declared and hitched the baby on one hip. “What does the name mean?”

“The word tor means justice,” Din said quietly, and she offered him a bright smile in return.

Din was grateful that the baby weighed little to nothing since Rey was far smaller than he’d expected her to be. When he’d met her as an adult, she’d been of average height but very slender. Her body type wasn’t the sort to gain a lot of muscle, and that was fine—she’d been a fantastic fighter despite her size.

“I have a room ready for you. I bought you…some things on Naboo before I came here.”

– – – –

“What should I call you?” Rey asked as she glanced rapidly around the cockpit. “Are we going to Tatooine next? Is the tribe very big? Is it okay that I’m coming?”

“I decide who belongs to my clan, and the tribe will welcome you. The Mando’a word for parent is buir. It’s what I called my adopted Mandalorian father,” Din murmured. “We’ve got one more special, secret stop to make, then we’ll go to Tatooine.”

“Buir,” she repeated. “When did your buir adopt you?”

“I wasn’t much older than you,” Din admitted.

“What’s the special place?” Rey leaned forward as the ship transitioned from atmosphere to space.

“Did Master Qui-Gon tell you about the Jedi?”

“He said they were Force users, and they had temples where they taught students. I asked if you learned to use the Force in a temple, and he said all the temples are gone.”

“There are remnants of temples all over the galaxy, and I’ll be hunting for them so I can learn everything I can about the Force,” Din explained. “Then I can teach you.”

“And the baby.”

“Eventually,” Din said. “But maybe…maybe you’ll be the one to really teach him. He’ll live an exceptionally long time, Rey, and won’t be an adult until I’m an old man. I could be too old to teach him when the time comes.”

“I’ll learn everything,” she promised as she wiggled in the seat.

“Or maybe your own child will teach him,” Din said in amusement. “I have it on very good authority that he won’t be an adult for another 50 years.”

Rey glanced toward the baby and made a face. “Is he potty trained?”

Din laughed. “Yes, fortunately.”

“That’s good, ‘cause it’d be terrible to be changing diapers for that long.” Rey leaned forward again as Din started punching in coordinates. “How do you know where to go?”

“Because I’ve been to this place before,” Din murmured. “But I didn’t find what I was looking for.”

“Why?” Rey questioned.

Din considered that. The last thing he wanted to do was sour Rey’s opinion of Luke Skywalker. He hoped to put the man on a different path—one that wouldn’t lead him to a place of bitterness so deep that cutting himself off from the Force was a solution. He’d gone to Ahch-To with Rey a year after Ben Solo’s death because she’d sought him out and asked him to travel with her. She’d wanted to show him, the only known Force scholar in the galaxy, the remains of the first temple. She’d also told him how Luke Skywalker had tried to destroy the entire collection of knowledge, some of which he’d added to the uneti tree. He believed he’d find at least three books already in the tree, hidden there by those who founded the first temple.

“I didn’t look in the right place,” Din explained. “The world is mostly water, and there are many rock islands all over it. I have new information, so I’m confident we’ll find the right island this time.”

“And there will be other worlds? Other places to search?”

“Yes,” Din murmured. “In time, we might meet others who have the Force. There could be other children. The Force is a living thing, Rey, and above all, it seeks to be a part of us. The Jedi served the light side of the Force, and they sacrificed everything for it—most especially love and family. The Sith served the dark side, and in the dark, they found nothing but anger, greed, and the insatiable desire to subjugate everyone around them.” He paused because she was young, and he worried that he had no idea what she was saying.

“Like Plutt,” Rey said grimly. “He controlled the food and the water on Jakku. He decided how much the scrap was worth. Sometimes he would get angry at me for no reason at all and cheat me. He cheated others, too. Sometimes, I think he fed people just enough not to starve. Just enough to make sure they could work.”

Din considered turning his ship right around and going to kill Unkar Plutt, but experience told him that the asshole would be replaced by someone just as bad if not worse.

“Plutt tried to make me live in his house, but I hated it there. He’d let me run away and scavenge on my own, but it never lasted long. I’m glad I never have to see him again.” Rey crossed her arms. “If he tries to take me back to his house, you’ll make him stop, right, Buir?”

“Do you remember how you traveled with Master Qui-Gon?” He glanced toward her and watched her make a horrified face at the baby who was trying to give her a dried lizard tail.

“Through space and time,” Rey said as she guided the baby’s hand to his own mouth. “I don’t understand what that means.”

“One day you will,” Din murmured. “But right now, it’s important that you forget about that part and never share it with anyone. What you can focus on is this—Unkar Plutt doesn’t even know you exist, Rey. He’s not looking for you, and more importantly, he has no power whatsoever off Jakku.” He paused. “But I’ll take care of him if he ever comes near you.” He glanced her way and found her smiling brilliantly.

Din set the autopilot and slid out of his seat. “Come on, I’ll show you your room.”

“I really get my own room?”

“Of course,” Din said. “Traveling on a spaceship is a close-quarter situation all the time, so it’s important to have a private space if it’s possible.” He led her down the ramp to the small common area that also housed the kitchen and a table for eating. “The baby doesn’t have his own room because…well, he sleeps where he wants and never stays where I put him anyway.”

Rey laughed.

Din opened the first room. “This is my room. If the door is shut, you should always knock.”

“Why?” Rey asked.

“Well, you know the difference between boys and girls?” Din questioned warily. He really didn’t want to have the talk with a six-year-old.

She squinted at him. “Yes.” Rey’s cheeks flushed pink. “If the door’s shut, you might be naked?”

“Right,” Din said. “And no one should see your private parts without your permission. You’re old enough to bathe yourself, so that’s a choice you get to make now. We have to give the baby baths, but I’d never do it in public because he deserves privacy, too. This is the way.”

“This is the way,” Rey repeated and nodded. “Okay. I understand.” She leaned in and looked around his room. “There’s not much…in here.”

“This is a new ship to me,” Din explained as he guided her down the hall. He skipped the door next to his and opened one on the opposite hall. “My other ship was small—we had small racks for sleeping. But I knew I would come to Jakku to get you, so I got a bigger ship for our clan. This is your room.”

It was about half the size of his, but there was room for a bed; she had a small closet and a trunk attached to the wall. He’d made the bed with linens and a quilt he’d purchased in a market on Naboo. The sheets were white, but the blanket was red because it had made him think of Kuiil. She rushed forward and snatched the pillow off the bed.

“It’s all mine, really?” Rey asked as she turned to face him. Her eyes wet with tears again. “Really?”

“Of course,” Din murmured and leaned against the doorframe as the baby went to the trunk and pushed it open with the Force. The first time around, he’d not really noticed just how much his son used the Force to move around in the world. Only the big moments had stood out. “We didn’t know what sort of toys you might like…”

“Oh, I don’t need toys,” Rey exclaimed in a rush.

Din inclined his head toward his son, who had pulled a plush doll from the trunk and was offering it to her. “He picked that out for you.”

Rey took the doll with a trembling hand. “I don’t think…” She put the pillow aside. “I’ve never had a doll that I can remember. She’s nice.”

“I didn’t know what sort of clothing you’d have or want, so I picked just a few things. We can get more on Tatooine.” He motioned toward the closet. “It’s just leggings and tunics. The boots might be too big, but we can make them work. Better a little too big than too small. There is a hairbrush and some things for your hair in the trunk as well. Just the basics. I’ll show you where the shower is, and you can clean up while I figure out something for dinner.”

“Okay,” Rey said and took a deep breath. “It’s like…a dream. I’m afraid if I close my eyes, I’ll wake up on Jakku again.”

“Let’s just make a vow between us that we’re never setting a boot on Jakku again, ever.”

Rey laughed and used her sleeve to wipe her face. “Okay.”

– – – –

He put the baby in his chair and got a pouty look for his trouble. “I’ll give you a bath later.” He rubbed the baby’s head gently. “I’ll fill up the galley sink, and you can splash water everywhere. How’s that?” He put a plate of meat down in front of him. “Let’s go with cooked stuff for now, okay?”

The baby stared at the chopped nerf steak with a mildly disgusted face but gamely picked it up. Rey came in as Din put his helmet down on the counter. She hesitated briefly but then smiled and slid into a chair he gestured her to. Her hair was down but dry. He’d not used the drying unit in the bathroom, so he was glad it appeared to be working order.

“Can you braid my hair?” she asked as he put a plate down in front of her with warmed meat and rehydrated tubers.

“I can try,” Din murmured. “It’s been…I can’t even remember the last time I was asked to braid someone’s hair.”

Rey laughed. “Well, you’ll do better than me.”

Somehow, he doubted it, but he was game to try. He knew how it should look, at least, for the most part. He thought about Cara’s braids—the small ones she’d worn on Sorgan and the ones of mourning she’d worn after Gideon had killed the baby. Din cleared his throat and pushed that aside. It served no one and nothing for him to allow himself to focus so much on what happened before.

“This is good,” Rey declared as he put a glass of water down by her plate and gave the baby a cup of milk. “He has teeth?”

“More than you and me combined,” Din reported, and she laughed. “And they’re sharp. If he bites you—tell me immediately. He’s not bitten me, but…well, you’re new, so he might. Sometimes he doesn’t understand a situation and reacts out of instinct.”

“I understand,” Rey said and focused on the baby. “He doesn’t look dangerous.”

“Neither do you,” Din said. “And frankly, Rey, there are probably fewer beings in this whole galaxy more dangerous than you and your brother.”

“And you,” she said and raised an eyebrow. “Right?”

“Right,” Din admitted, but he liked to think that it wasn’t all to do with the Force. He rubbed his chest at the thought, and a warmth welled him in briefly. It wasn’t as strange as it should’ve been.

– – – –

It shouldn’t have surprised him to find Qui-Gon Jinn standing by the altar deep in the tree repository on Ahch-To. Rey leaned against him, and the baby made a soft excited sound.

“These old books won’t teach you anything you don’t already know,” Qui-Gon said.

“I’m not gathering them to learn from them,” Din said shortly as he stepped forward and opened his satchel. “These three, in particular, are just the religious principles that the Jedi founded their whole fucked up sect on.”

Qui-Gon huffed a little.

“You know it was fucked up,” Din muttered. “And more? Some of you just don’t know how to learn from your mistakes. I know why you picked me, Qui-Gon.”

“Why?”

“Because Luke Skywalker is already tainted by the same ideals that drove his father to the dark side,” Din said shortly. “You couldn’t risk changing any of the events that led him to turning Anakin back to the light side and the way he is now…it’s going to take something far more than a couple of disapproving Force Spirits to get through to him. He’s already swallowed the dogma wholesale thanks to Master Yoda, and he’s passed that same bantha shit onto his sister.”

“Wow,” Rey said.

Din focused on her. “Forget you heard that.”

“It’s gonna be hard to forget,” Rey admitted and blushed when Qui-Gon laughed.

Din sighed. “Why are you back? Yoda said it was important that I gather these resources on my own one way or another.”

“The journey is important,” Qui-Gon agreed. “You’ll find people along the way that you need to meet—for your sake and for the sake of your children.”

“I get it,” Din said shortly.

“You should get an instruction manual for braiding.”

Din flushed and was glad he was wearing his helmet. Rey’s braid was a little crooked. “It’s my first in a long time.”

“It’s great, Buir,” Rey declared and glared at Qui-Gon. She focused on Din. “Can we take a porg with us?”

Din considered the little sea birds and shook his head. “Not a good idea.”

“I’ve never had a pet,” Rey said and pushed out her bottom lip.

“Your brother would probably eat it,” Din explained, and her mouth dropped open.

“That’s…” She glanced at the baby who was chasing a porg around the inside of the tree. “If we got something bigger than him…it’d try to eat him.”

Din figured that was likely. He knew he was going to regret it but said, “Maybe a droid pet.”

Her eyes lit up. “Okay!” She trotted off to get the baby.

“Dune was right,” Qui-Gon said. “You’re ridiculously soft-hearted for a Mandalorian.”

“You know why,” Din muttered. Neither of his children had ever had anything really, and he’d do a lot to make sure they were both happy.

– – – –

Din settled down in the pilot seat and found that a message had hit his comm center. He hesitated because there weren’t that many functional relays in the wild, and he was out of the way of even the Outer Rim. He glanced over his shoulder. Rey and the baby were playing with the floating ball. He hadn’t been all that surprised when she’d quickly learned to push it around in the air with the Force.

The message was heavily encrypted, but it activated with just the verification of his chain code.

Din Djarin, I congratulate you on your ascension to Mand’alor. My name is Leia Organa. I’m contacting you on behalf of the New Republic Senate. Records we’ve recovered from Imperial sources indicate that there was…a major offensive on Mandalore, and your people scattered as a result. We don’t know, yet, what kind of Imperial force remains on the planet. As you must know, the liberation of peoples throughout the galaxy is an on-going mission for the New Republic.

“It is our hope that you will come to Coruscant and meet with me regarding the liberation of Mandalore. A place on the Galactic Senate has been opened for your homeworld. I won’t pretend to know how your government functioned in the past or if holding an election for a senator to represent your world is even possible at this juncture. That being said, you are free to submit the individual of your choice to represent your interests in the Senate, or you may sit in the seat yourself until you have an established government.

“I’ve included my private contact details in this message. I will make myself available to you as your schedule allows. May the Force be with you.”

“She’s pretty,” Rey said.

“Yes,” Din murmured. “And very important. She helped lead the rebellion against the Empire.” He turned toward her. “What do you know about the Empire?”

“My parents were afraid of something to do with it,” Rey said. “My mother told my father we’d never outrun them. I don’t know what that meant. I think the Empire killed them.” She pressed her lips together tightly. “The lady is good then—she fought the Empire.”

“Senator Organa is a very good person,” Din said. “Strong, loyal, brave, and fearless in the pursuit of doing the right thing. She has the Force, just like us.”

“Are you going to contact her?” Rey asked. “Maybe she could join our clan.”

Din laughed. “She has a husband and child of her own. He’s just a little bit younger than you, actually.” He considered Organa’s message. He didn’t know what was going on with Cara’s chain code and didn’t want to do a search in case it caused activity on her bounty record. “We’re going to travel back to the Outer Rim, and I’ll check for any other messages. We have a week and a half before we’re due on Tatooine, so we could certainly make a quick trip to Coruscant to meet with the senator.”

The baby squeaked behind them, and Rey trotted back into the common area.

Din considered the possibilities. It would be good to have something more solid to offer the tribe, and information on the New Republic plans regarding Mandalore would be very welcome. Or even information on the condition of their homeworld would be good. He hadn’t gone near Mandalore since the purge. There had been no news from the planet since the Empire had fallen at this point in the timeline. He’d ignored anything to do with Mandalore during the resistance against the First Order and afterward. He wouldn’t have felt welcome there at any rate.

He plotted a quick hyperspace trip and stayed where he was until they dropped out near an orbital slot above Jakku. Din oriented the ship so that the planet wasn’t visible from the cockpit. He didn’t know if Rey would recognize it from orbit, but there was no need to make her worry. Two messages hit his comm. The first was a holovid from Cara, then a text-only message from the Armorer. He opened the Armorer’s message.

“What’s that?” Rey asked as she deposited the baby in his lap.

He paused. “Can you read basic?”

“Yes,” Rey admitted. “Plutt gave me an education primer so I could learn. He said I needed to read so I could scavenge better.”

Asshole, Din thought.

“But that’s not basic.”

“No, it’s a Mandalorian code called Dadita. I’ll teach you how to read it after you learn our language, Mando’a,” Din explained. “The code is a secret that we use to ensure that our communications are secure. This message is from another Mandalorian who is only known as the Armorer. In fact, she made the armor I’m wearing.”

Rey leaned on his chair. “What does her message say?”

“She’s finished her work on Nevarro and will meet me on Tatooine as planned,” Din explained.

He activated the message from Cara and sat back in his chair as her beautiful face filled the air in front of him. She looked fresh from a shower. The thought made his mouth water. He shifted in the seat and took a deep breath as he listened to her message.

“She’s really pretty, too,” Rey said. “Do you get lots of messages from pretty girls?”

Din considered that. “Everyone is beautiful in their own way.” He glanced toward her and found Rey looking at him with a raised eyebrow. “I mean that.”

“You’ve got a really nice face,” Rey decided. “But no one but the baby and me have even seen it in forever.”

Din laughed and rubbed his face, then ran his hand through his hair. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“They must like you for you,” Rey said. “That’s nice. Right?”

“Sure,” he agreed.

“Do you have a special friend? Plutt had a special friend.”

Din turned and tapped her nose. “Please don’t ever tell me anything about Plutt’s special friend.”

She pursed her lips. “You said everyone was beautiful in their own way.”

He laughed. “I still don’t want to hear about his friends, special or otherwise.” He focused on the baby, who was staring intently at his face. “What are you thinking?”

That baby giggled and grabbed both of his feet as he fell back in Din’s hands onto his back.

“He’s happy,” Rey said.

“He has a good temperament—rarely has tantrums,” Din said. “As long as he has food on demand.”

“Being hungry is terrible,” Rey declared. “So, what do we do next?”

“We’re going to Coruscant to meet with Senator Organa,” Din said. “For the record, I hate politics.”

“What are politics?” Rey questioned.

“Just stuff you have to do when you’re in charge.” He flicked a hand around.

“And you’re in charge?” Rey asked in confusion.

“I had a fight with someone, and I won,” Din said roughly. “And now other Mandalorians think I should be in charge of them, and the New Republic has been informed of this belief.”

“What does the word Mand’alor mean?” Rey questioned.

Din blew out a breath. “Basically? I’m the leader of Mandalore, our homeworld.”

“Leader,” Rey repeated, and her mouth formed a perfect O, and she tilted her little head then quirked an eyebrow. “Does that make me a princess?”

“It’s not like a king,” Din said. “I mean, there is no king on Mandalore.”

“But if there was a king…” Rey trailed off. “It would be you.”

“I guess,” Din said reluctantly and sighed when she grinned.

“I’m a princess,” Rey declared and darted off with a laugh.

Din focused on his son, who was sprawled in his hands, sucking one foot. He sighed. “Not very princely, ad’ika.” The baby giggled and tried to stick both feet in his mouth. He set up the flight and activated the autopilot once the ship was in hyperspace, then stood. “Time for bed.”

– – – –

“Is the whole planet one big city?” Rey questioned as she leaned forward as far as she could to look at out the front viewport of the ship.

“It is,” Din murmured. “Some call it Galactic City, but the planet’s name is Coruscant. The governing body of the whole galaxy has been here in one form or another for over 25,000 years. When the New Republic was established, it was decided that the Senate would move periodically to other Core planets.”

Rey hummed. “You can’t see any trees or water at all. I never saw trees on Jakku, either.”

“Unfortunately, Tatooine is a desert planet, too,” Din said. “But we’ll visit other planets that are more interesting later.” He paused. “Hopefully. Honestly? I hate deserts.”

Chapter 5

Cara said nothing while the Armorer negotiated their landing on Coruscant. If anyone had told her even a month ago, she’d be willing to return to any Core world, she’d have laughed in their faces. Now, she was about to land with the Armorer and ten of the biggest Mandalorians she’d ever seen in her life on the Core. They’d spent 14 hours in hyperspace to reach the world because of the distress call that Din’s ship had put out and because Senator Leia Organa had contacted them, begging Cara to come as quickly as she could.

She left the cockpit and slid down the ladder, and headed toward the back exit of the Razor Crest. If Din Djarin was dead, she didn’t know what she would do, but she was certain she was going to owe Greef Karga an apology for wasting his favor. She would make her previous crime pale in comparison.

“If he’s dead…” She cracked her neck. “Then retrieving his son is our priority. I understand the need for revenge, but he’d want…he’d want to make sure the baby is safe and cared for. If they’ve killed Din, then his son isn’t safe in their care for any single reason.”

“If the Mand’alor is dead—we’ll take his child and make sure you get away with him,” one of the men said. “No matter how many of them we have to kill in the process.”

The ramp clicked smartly against the floor, and she walked down in. Security forces immediately lifted their weapons, and the Mandalorians behind her responded in kind. Cara let her hand fall to her blaster.

“Hey!” Leia Organa rushed across the spaceport’s docking area. “Back off!”

“Senator Organa, they’re heavily armed…”

“Haven’t you done enough?” Organa shouted. “Captain Holdo! Secure this situation!”

“Port security is my responsibility!” A man in a white uniform snapped at Organa as he rushed toward her.

“Hey pal, watch it,” a dark-haired man pushed him back with one hand. “Lay a hand on my wife, and I’ll feed it to you!”

Cara glanced toward the VCX and noted it was in lockdown mode, then focused on the security forces as several soldiers pushed them to the back of the bay with a riot technique she’d learned in training. She was surprised the ship hadn’t been sliced into. It was surrounded by military personnel. Cara motioned as discreetly as she could to the Armorer, and the woman cleared her throat. The Mandalorians behind her stopped moving.

“Leia Organa is royalty from Alderaan. She helped defeat the Empire, so whatever else is going on here—she’s not a problem,” Cara murmured.

“As you say, Cara Dune,” the Armorer responded evenly. “Resolve this solution quickly. The Mand’alor is laying on the floor of his ship—unmoving, and there are two other life signs on his ship.”

“Is the baby okay?” Cara questioned.

“Sitting beside his father. The other life sign is sitting not far from the side entry with a weapon. And based on size, I would say it is a small child.”

“He must have picked up another foundling in his travels,” one of the men said. “This is outrageous, Armorer.”

Cara watched the last of the port security removed from the area and focused on Leia Organa, who was approaching them. She held out both hands to Cara.

“Cara Dune of Alderaan,” Leia murmured with a soft smile.

Cara took her hands. “Princess Leia, I’m going to give you every ounce of patience I have left because I hoped one day to stand in your service when you became queen of our homeworld.” She glanced toward the VCX briefly. “What’s happened here?”

“We received word from Naboo that Moff Gideon had been turned in for bounty,” Leia began, “by a Mandalorian bounty hunter who identified himself as Din Djarin. I reviewed footage of the transaction and realized he was carrying the darksaber. I notified the senate that Mandalore once again had a leader. It was agreed that I would reach out to him to establish a line of communication. Our liberation forces will reach Mandalore within the next 48 months, you see, and we were pleased to know that there was a clear leader for the Mandalorian people available. The Outer Rim would be well-served with a stable Mandalore.”

“I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said so far,” Cara said. “Din Djarin does carry the darksaber, and I’ve yet to encounter a single Mandalorian who would dispute his current position. That being said, I also must say that the ship I’m came in on is the first of many heading this way. A distress signal left his ship well in advance of the message you sent me. You’re about to have as many as a hundred incredibly angry Mandalorians descending on this port.” She glanced around. “This flimsy, barely defended port.”

“I ordered planetary defenses not to engage your ship or any other with a Mandalorian pilot,” Leia said with flushed cheeks. “He announced himself properly, arranged to berth, and transferred the docking fee. He also sent a message to my office letting me know he arrived. Before I could get here or notify Captain Holdo to arrange a proper security escort, port security tried to detain him. He has two small children with him. Apparently, the head of security believed the children kidnap victims. He got it in his head that all Mandalorians steal children, and he tried to take them from him.”

Cara took a deep breath even as more than one of the people behind her prepped their weapons. “How many did he kill?”

“None,” Leia answered. “He severely injured 22 guards, and another ten were injured by…one of the children. I have holovid footage you need to see before we can figure out how to get the girl to open the door. The last time I asked her, she yelled at me for getting her buir hurt and told me she’d shoot anyone that tried to enter. Not that we can unless she releases the security protocols because the damn ship is set up as high-security transport. It’s already knocked out the two slicers I brought to break into it. She also keeps calling us besoms.” She blew out a breath. “What does that mean? I left the droid that handles translations for me at home because he’s annoying, and the HoloNet offered no information on the Mandalorian language.”

“Ill-mannered louts,” the Armorer supplied. “The child thinks you’re all very rude.”

Leia nodded. “She called the head of security a di’kut.”

“Useless idiot, waste of space,” the Armorer supplied.

“Leave it to Din to teach a child to insult people in Mando’a,” Cara said and took a deep breath, and focused on Leia. “Why did you ask for me specifically?”

“While I could not have his ship sliced, I was able to get a copy of his communication logs from the relay system. Yours is the last message he accepted, and he watched it several times.” Leia paused then continued, “What does buir mean?”

“In this case, it means father,” Cara said. “Mando’a doesn’t recognize a difference in gender—their entire language is neutral in that regard. You said there was a holovid?”

“Yes, this is my husband, Han Solo,” Leia turned toward her husband, who offered a datapad. “Djarin is amazing, by the way. Holdo wants to take him home with her.”

“Din Djarin is well past the age of adoption,” the Armorer said stiffly.

Cara sent the Armorer a look and got a helmet tilt in response. She stepped back from Leia and held the pad so the Armorer could watch the footage with her. Din’s ship landed in the near-empty spaceport, and from the camera’s perspective, she could see several hidden security personnel.

“They were lying in wait for him,” the Armorer observed. “This man clearly intended to attack the Mand’alor whether he had children with him or not.”

“His behavior will be addressed,” Leia said quickly. “He’s in custody. Unfortunately, his second in command is also a pain in the ass.”

“We can kill him,” the Armorer offered. “If that would help and even if it will not, I consider it a goal.”

Cara cleared her throat and focused on the video. She felt a surge of pride at Din’s quick and decisive defense of himself and the children. He had the situation under some sort of control until one of the guards tried to pick up the little girl who was holding the baby. The moment one of them put hands on the girl, Din abandoned his fight and went straight for the children. It earned him a shock rod to the back.

The Armorer hissed in what Cara figured was fury when a second and third hit from the rod didn’t seem to faze Din at all.

“We need to add a defensive layer to absorb electric shock to the new body glove,” one of the men muttered, and Cara realized that the Armorer must be broadcasting what she was watching to the others.

Din took four blows from the rod before he stumbled, and the little girl started screaming and struggling. Then, the baby closed his eyes, raised his hand, and used his magic to shove the x-wing parked beside the VCX right into the back-up security forces that were arriving. Din struggled to his feet, grabbed the children, and fell into the ship.

Cara handed the datapad back to Leia Organa. “Four hits from a shock rod is fatal for a human.

“It should be,” Leia agreed. “But he is clearly still alive.”

“He shouldn’t be,” the Armorer said. “The second should’ve made movement all but impossible, and the third would’ve taken out a Wookie at least temporarily. I don’t even think a Hutt would survive four strikes.”

“I can assure you that two will kill a Hutt.”

They all turned to stare at the biggest of the men Cara had brought with her.

“What? He had it coming.”

“Never met a Hutt who didn’t,” Leia muttered but then focused on Cara. “I don’t know the girl’s name. When I asked, she told me it was none of my business, and it was rude of me to even ask.”

“Mandalorians have a very different view of what rude behavior looks like,” Cara said, like that mattered, and glanced toward the x-wing. “Are you sure none of those guys died?”

“Not yet,” Solo offered cheerfully.

Cara focused on the VCX. “She’s never met me, so I don’t know if she’ll open the door for me either.”

“She might have seen your message since he apparently watched it several times,” the Armorer said. “I know his security protocols, so I can slice in if we have no choice, but it would be faster if you could gain her trust.”

“The multiple viewings…” Leia trailed off and shrugged. “I took that to mean that you’re…special to him. I hope she saw it or at least heard it. It’ll make things easier.”

Cara walked over to the ship and pressed the exterior comm button. The fact that Din had watched her message more than once made her feel better about how many times she’d played his.

“I said go away! You hurt Buir!”

“Can your buir talk?” Cara questioned. “Tell him his friend Cara Dune is here.”

“Cara?” the girl questioned. “The one we’re going to meet…” She trailed off. “How do I know it’s you?”

“The baby doesn’t have a name,” Cara said. “He likes to eat reptiles whole and alive, and his favorite toy is the silver knob off a hyperdrive lever. Your buir was coming to Tatooine to meet the Armorer and me. I’m very worried about him. Can you let me in?”

“What if they hurt him again?”

“I promise, I won’t let anyone else hurt him,” Cara said.

“Make everyone else stand back. I have Buir’s blaster!”

Cara relaxed as the locks disengaged one by one, and the door slid open with a gentle swooshing sound. The girl, who looked so much smaller in person, was holding the blaster with both hands. The baby was standing next to her. He made a sad little sound and held out his hands toward her. She carefully picked him as the girl stared at her.

“Hello.”

“I’m Rey of the Clan Djarin,” the girl said and slowly lowered the blaster. “The baby has a name, but it’s a secret ‘til the adoption.” Tears welled in her eyes. “They hurt Buir. He won’t wake up.” She glanced briefly at the other Mandalorians and glared at Leia Organa before focusing on Cara again. “The baby healed him, and he slept for hours. I don’t know if it was enough. Can we leave? Will you take us away from here before they kill Buir?”

“Rey,” Cara began and took a deep breath. “There was a terrible mistake made, but we need to get your buir help, which means a doctor—a doctor here.”

“What if they hurt him again?”

“I will kill them all,” the Armorer said, and she inclined her head toward the other Mandalorians. “I’ll let them help me.”

“Okay,” Rey agreed and put the blaster in the gun belt she was wearing across her chest. “I’ll carry my brother.” She held out her hands, and Cara reluctantly released the baby to the girl. “So, you can help kill them if they try anything.”

“I like her,” Solo announced and turned to his wife. “Can you take Holdo in a fight? I want to keep them all.” He waved a hand. “All of them. Even the big green who likes to kill Hutts.” He paused. “Especially the big green one who likes to kill Hutts.”

“Han.” Leia exhaled sharply. “I’m starting to wish I’d brought 3PO.”

– – – –

Cara forced herself to lean against the wall as Din was scanned by a medical droid. She knew he’d be horrified, and from the Armorer’s posture, she knew it, too. She blew out a breath because it felt like a betrayal.

“Stop.”

“What?” Leia asked in confusion.

“Just…” She swallowed hard. “Get an organic being in here, Senator Organa. He’d be…he wouldn’t want to be handled by a droid he doesn’t know very well.”

“But…”

“Imperial battle droids murdered his parents,” the Armorer said. “If he wakes up with that thing hovering over him—he’ll come up swinging, and we’d probably have to hurt him to contain him.”

“This man has severe nerve damage to his spine,” the droid reported. “He’s not moving any time soon.”

“Han, get a doctor,” Leia said. “A human one would be best. 2-1B-48, leave this room and start prepping whatever equipment the doctor will need.”

The droid turned back to Din, and Cara pulled her blaster.

She shoved it against the droid’s head. “She said get the fuck out of here.”

“Wow.”

Cara glanced toward Rey and found her staring at her with wide eyes.

“Buir thinks you’re pretty. Did you know?”

Cara laughed a little as the droid hurried away and took a deep breath. “You shouldn’t tell your buir’s secrets, Rey.”

“Your gorgeous face is no secret,” the Armorer said. “We should put a helmet on you for our own sakes.”

Rey shifted closer to the medical platform and her hand on her father’s arm between two armor plates. She focused on Leia Organa. “He told me you were good. He said you were strong and brave. Buir trusted you.” She turned her head when Leia started to respond. “The people on Jakku said there was no difference between the Empire and the New Republic. Maybe they were right. Buir has hope—you can see it in him. When he laughs—his eyes laugh, too. He’s not broken. A lot of people are, you know. The Empire broke them, and the New Republic isn’t…helping to fix them. That terrible man in the dock—he’s broken. He feels ugly on the inside.” She focused on Leia again. “Really ugly. He hates my buir, and he’s never even met him. He wanted to kill him. I felt it, and so did my brother. You’d understand that, too, if you weren’t pushing the Force away.”

Leia paled. “Rey…I’m so sorry your father was hurt. I have hope, too. I want to help people. I…” She took a deep breath and tried to smile. “My brother is a Jedi Knight.”

“Master Yoda says he needs more training, but he’s being a stubborn little bastard about it,” Rey said and shrugged when Leia’s mouth dropped open.

Cara swallowed back a dozen questions. The girl had seen Din’s face? She glanced toward the Armorer and found her posture relaxed. Perhaps she was missing something when it came to the whole helmet thing. The door opened, and Solo returned with a man in a blue uniform.

“Dr. Lennox will be taking over,” Han announced. “He’s been briefed by the droid.”

Rey stared at the doctor and removed her hand from her father’s arm. “Don’t touch his helmet.”

“I’ll need to remove all of his armor to treat him,” the doctor protested.

“The helmet stays,” Cara said. “We’ll remove the chest and back plates. And you can pull the body glove down to the waist, but that’s all you get, Doctor.”

“Senator Organa,” the doctor began in protest, and Leia raised a hand.

Rey glared at the doctor. “Buir says no one should see your private parts without permission. His face is private.” She flushed. “More private than anything else.”

“Din Djarin was raised by the Death Watch tribe of Mandalore, and they’re orthodox. The armor, the helmet, and even his weapons are part of his religion. Removing his helmet without his permission is a crime on par with…” Leia trailed off with a glance toward Rey. “A violent, personal assault.”

The doctor reared back in shock. “I…see. I’ve never treated a Mandalorian.” He glanced toward the Armorer. “Are there any other religious tenants I should adhere to during his treatment? Can he have blood replacement? Synthetic organs? Bacta injections?”

“Any treatment is fine as long as you respect his armor and his honor,” the Armorer said stiffly. “I insist on staying with him throughout the procedures.” She paused. “And removing his children could be dangerous…for you.”

The doctor grinned then. “I treated half the men injured by the x-wing.”

Hours later, Cara was sitting on a chair that had been brought in, and the baby was asleep against her chest, one hand curled under the edge of her chest plate. Rey was sitting beside her, struggling to stay awake. She’d asked the girl to sleep but had been sternly rebuffed. The doctor had repaired the nerve damage, several bone fractures, and reported a heart defect that he’d declined to treat without permission as it wasn’t an emergency situation and not a result of an injury. There were several options, and Cara was glad they hadn’t been asked to make a decision about that treatment as she really didn’t have the first clue what Din would prefer.

The Armorer had reported 32 ships in orbit above Coruscant with Mandalorians on board to Senator Organa, but had been unwilling to tell anyone how many people that equaled. Cara had listened to her relay several reports though none of the conversations had taken place in Intergalactic Basic, so she hadn’t gotten much out of it. Leia Organa had come and gone from the room several times—the senate had convened to discuss the situation, which was shaping up to be the first major diplomatic incident since the New Republic had formed.

The girl lurched off the chair suddenly and rushed to the platform just as Din’s hand moved. She grabbed two of his fingers with her whole hand. “Buir, you’re awake.”

“Rey?” Din whispered. “Where’s the baby?”

“Cara has him.”

“Cara?” Din turned his head, and Cara stood. “What…”

“You picked a fight with about 30 spaceport security guys alone,” Cara said.

“Those aren’t bad odds,” Din muttered, and Cara couldn’t help but laugh. “None of them can shoot for shit. They’re worse than conscripted stormtroopers.”

“True, they had to take you out with a bantha shock rod,” Cara said and passed the baby to Rey as she took Din’s hand. “And caused something of a big political nightmare. Apparently, the head of security for this spaceport has made a habit of preventing Mandalorians from even landing, but he couldn’t deny you because you had a priority approval from someone who outranked him. He didn’t know who, or he might have hesitated. As is, he’s been charged with the attempted murder of a New Republic dignitary and two counts of attempted kidnapping.”

“I hate politics.”

“Politics are terrible, Buir,” Rey complained.

Cara tilted her head toward Rey. “So, one kid wasn’t enough?”

Din would’ve shrugged, but he figured it might hurt, so he refrained. “At least she can talk.”

Cara nodded. “Yeah, she spent upwards of 15 hours yelling at Captain Holdo and Senator Organa. I think she might have declared war on behalf of Mandalore at one point. The Armorer is ready to honor that declaration, by the way.”

“She promised to kill everyone for me,” Rey said. “And I guess they don’t all deserve it, but there are a lot of di’kuts here, Buir. So, we should leave as soon as we get your heart fixed.”

“My heart?” Din questioned, and his chest heaved a bit. “What about my heart?”

“You’ve got a defective valve,” Cara explained. “The doctor says it can be repaired with a bacta injection but refused to do it without permission since it wasn’t an emergency. There are other options, including a synthetic organ, but that would require opening your chest up.”

“Get him back in here and tell him I’ll take the injection,” Din said roughly. “Then we’re leaving.”

“Senator Organa should return shortly.”

“If Leia Organa wants to talk to me, it’ll be on my terms,” Din said. “I want off this planet within the hour, Cara.” He turned his head and tried to sit up. “Where’s the Armorer?”

“She’s outside with the ten-man assault team she assembled for the trip,” Cara explained as she pressed against his shoulder to keep him down. “There are…32 Mandalorian ships in orbit, and I don’t know how many actual Mandalorians are onboard them.”

“32,” Din repeated. “This is…” He let his head fall back on the platform. “I don’t have time for this…”

“You taught your new kid to insult people in Mando’a,” Cara said. “Though she still managed to call Luke Skywalker, the hero of the blessed New Republic, a stubborn little bastard.”

“To his face?” Din questioned.

“He’s not on the planet currently,” Cara admitted. “So, no, just to his sister.”

“Well, he is a stubborn little bastard,” Rey said. “Master Yoda said so.” She paused. “Well, what he actually said was—Skywalker stubborn little bastard he is. Which is clearly the same thing.”

Din laughed weakly. “Cara, please, the doctor?”

– – – –

Din watched the doctor prep the syringe.

“I’d prefer to sedate you for this,” the doctor said.

“Not an option,” Din murmured and turned to Rey. “I need you to turn around and make sure the baby can’t see this. He doesn’t react well to things he doesn’t understand.”

Rey glanced toward the doctor, made a face, and turned around. “It’s a big needle, Buir.”

“Bacta is thick,” Din said. “It’ll be fine. If you think he’s going to react badly, you need to make sure he can’t see the doctor. Okay?”

“Yes, Buir.”

Din turned and focused on Cara, who was standing next to the doctor. He gave her a nod as she took his hand and pressed down on his shoulder to keep him in place. He’d refused restraint as well. It would be a warm day on Hoth before he’d willingly allow himself to be strapped down.

“You got him?” The doctor questioned, clearly skeptical.

“You watched that video of him from the port?” Cara asked.

“Yes, of course. I wanted to see how the shock rod hit him.”

“I’ve kicked his ass.”

“I held my own,” Din protested.

Cara laughed. “I respect you too much to let you keep thinking that.”

“Go ahead, doc, let’s get this over with,” Din ordered.

The doctor inserted the needle.

“She kicked your ass, huh?”

Din focused on Han Solo, who was standing at the bottom of the bed. “Yeah.” He paused. “She’s magnificent in a fight.” He appreciated the man’s attempt at distraction, but it wasn’t going to work. The pain was so intense that his vision blurred. His free hand was suddenly in the Armorer’s grip, her gloved hand pressed down on him.

“Hey, Buir?” Rey asked.

“I’m…” Din shuddered. “It’s fine, Rey.”

“I was thinking,” Rey began. “I think I need a weapon my size.”

“You’re not old enough for a weapon,” Din said firmly.

“She held your blaster on me,” Cara said. “And threatened…everyone with it for hours until I got here.”

“Rey, I told you to not touch my weapons,” Din protested weakly as the doctor started to push the bacta into his heart.

“There were special circumstances,” Rey protested. “The baby threw a ship! I just pointed your blaster at the door!”

“And cursed people out,” Han Solo pointed out.

“It’s rude to tattle,” Rey said hotly. “This whole planet is so rude, Buir, and I can’t even defend myself properly from the rudeness because the Armorer took your blaster away from me.”

“It was entirely too big for you,” the Armorer said as her fingers curled around Din’s shoulder. “You’re a lot stronger than you used to be.”

“Yeah,” Cara agreed. “Been working out, Mando?”

“I did get my ass kicked by some dropper on a backwater planet in the Outer Rim,” Din said roughly.

Cara grinned but turned to look at the doctor. “Are you almost done, Doctor? I’m going to dislocate his shoulder if this lasts much longer.”

“So, about my weapon, Buir,” Rey prodded.

“I’ll have quarterstaff made to your specs,” Din said roughly. “It’ll be good for mental discipline as well. But no guns.” He paused. “Yet.”

“How old do I gotta be?”

“13,” Din said roughly and focused on Cara when she made a shocked sound. “Mandalorians raise warriors, Cara.” Her eyes widened, and she took a deep breath. “This is the way.”

She wet her lips, and her eyes darkened. “This is the way.”

“Did they just get married?” Solo questioned.

The Armorer sighed. “Our marriage rites are done in private, General Solo.” She released Din’s hand as the doctor pulled the needle free and put a bacta patch on the injection site.

“Help me sit up,” Din murmured as the doctor backed away with wide eyes.

Cara shifted her hold and braced his back as he sat up. He slid off the platform and caught himself just short of falling.

“Easy,” Cara snapped.

“Where’s the rest of my armor?” Din asked as he tried to pull on the body glove.

Cara frowned and helped him get the black material back into place as the Armorer returned to them with a bag, which she put down and opened. Cara took the control harness for the chest from the top and slipped it over his head, and buckled it.

“You have new armor,” Din said as the harness activated and magnetized the top half of his body glove. He turned to the Armorer. “You made her armor.”

“Of course, I did,” she said. “Since you can’t see my face, I want you to know I’m looking at you like you’re an idiot.”

“I’m glad to know that you’re not intimidated by the whole leader thing,” Din said as he reached for a vambrace. Cara slapped his hand and picked it up for him. He turned to Han Solo. “I pity any man who ever assumed he was in charge of anything ever.”

The door opened, and Leia Organa entered with Captain Amilyn Holdo. Both women paused briefly before coming forward.

“I’m told you want to leave,” Organa said. “Would you be willing to stay for a conversation?”

“I mean no disrespect, Senator Organa,” Din said roughly as he pulled on his gloves, “But I’m leaving immediately. When I’ve calmed down and no longer want to raze this planet, I’ll contact you and arrange a meeting somewhere relatively neutral.” He focused on Holdo and offered his hand. “Captain Holdo, I’m honored to meet you. You saved my life a few years back.”

Holdo shook his hand with a pleased smile spreading over her lovely face. “How?”

“The Candor Maneuver,” Din said. “I used a modified Mandalorian gunship to take out a patrol ship using your example. Fortunately, the Empire never bothered to shield their cargo bays even after you revealed the weakness. I disabled them and was able to escape into hyperspace. I had six children on my ship at the time—we made it out, and they all lived because of you.”

Her eyes lit up. “You’re the one—that patrol ship had you completely outgunned. We had a spy on it. We eventually got a holovid of that whole incident. I tried to find you for recruitment to the rebellion. I use a simulation of my maneuver and your modified version of it in classes when I teach tactics at the academy.”

“You’re really pretty,” Rey said and leaned against Din. “My buir likes to get messages from pretty girls. You should send him a message later.”

Holdo grinned broadly. “Well, that’s better than how she spoke to me earlier.”

“Rey,” Din admonished.

“Well?” Rey questioned.

“You’re not wrong on either point,” Din admitted and cupped her shoulder gently. “As I said, Senator Organa, I’ll contact you when I’m calm. But that’s not going to happen until I get my children off this planet.” He held out his hands for the baby, and Rey gave him up. “When you come, bring your brother—stubborn little bastard or not—I need to speak with him at length.” He paused. “And your son.”

“What do you want with my son?” Han Solo demanded, and his hand fell to his holstered blaster. Leia Organa shifted toward her husband; face rapidly paling.

Din glanced toward the weapon as he brought Rey close. “He might benefit from meeting two children like him. Deep power moves in the blood of every living Skywalker. I wouldn’t think your son would be an exception to that.”

“Both of them?” Han questioned, his gaze darting from the baby to Rey. “My wife said there used to be a being high up in the leadership of the Galactic Republic who looked like your son.”

“Yoda,” Din agreed. “He trained your wife’s brother on Dagoba. There was another named Yaddle, but she’s dead as well.”

“Are they his parents?” Leia questioned. “Biological parents, I mean. I’m not questioning your custody of him.”

Din hesitated. “Both Yaddle and Yoda were well over 700 years old when the baby was conceived and birthed. I don’t know how long their species is fertile, but it seems unlikely.” He really wasn’t prepared to explain the reality of his son’s existence in his current circumstances. He turned to the Armorer. “Let’s go.”

“As you will, Mand’alor.”

There were ten men and women in the hall, but not a single one of them was from the covert on Nevarro. He didn’t know how to feel about that and wondered what it meant regarding their survival and their future loyalty. There was so much at stake, and he didn’t have room to worry about his own people turning on him.

Chapter 6

Ten ships, besides the Razor Crest, followed him out of the Core. He’d received messages from the rest with contact details. Organa had given him a datapad with a diplomatic package on it, but he’d put it on the table in the common room as he’d made his way into the cockpit. He set the autopilot as soon as they hit hyperspace and left the chair in favor of checking on his children. The baby was sprawled across Cara’s chest, where she sat at the table.

“Where’s Rey?”

“She fell asleep eating,” Cara murmured. “I woke her and sent her to bed. I don’t think she’s slept, at all, since…well since she last slept before you landed on Coruscant.” She patted the baby’s back. “I can’t fucking believe you came into the Core without me!” She took a deep breath when the baby stirred and made a soft whining sound. “His pram is in the cargo hold with my things.” She stood and took the baby to a padded bench, then walked away without another word.

Din followed her as she stalked away, despite his exhaustion. “Cara.”

“I should kick your ass,” Cara muttered as she stabbed at the digital lock of a crate. “But you almost died, again.” She pulled the pram free, and he caught it as it floated toward him. “And something is going on! You’re different!” She took a deep breath. “I thought…I mean, I guess I barely do know you, and maybe I was just deluding myself. You have all of this political stuff, and I might be a good partner for a fight but not for that…” She waved both hands then slammed the crate lid down. “And I’m not one of you.”

It felt like loss, and he couldn’t take losing her again. “Don’t leave me,” he blurted out, and she turned to stare at him. “I’m sorry, I trust Leia Organa, and I put too much faith in her current circumstances and did something stupid and dangerous…” He took a deep breath and braced himself against the crate. “I could’ve gotten them both killed.”

Suddenly she was there, throwing his arm over her shoulders. “Shut up, for fuck’s sake, you’re exhausted and recovering from an attack that should’ve killed you.” Cara all but dragged him through the ship. “Which room is yours?”

“I can handle myself,” Din protested even as he motioned toward the room.

She all but dragged him into his room and dropped him down on the bed. “Stay here. I’ll put the baby in his pram. Is it okay to put it in Rey’s room?”

“Not without asking,” Din said. “Her room is her private space. If he goes in by himself, that’s one thing but…” He took a deep breath. “He doesn’t understand privacy, and she knows that. He’ll be fine in the galley; just leave the pram open. He associates being locked up with danger.”

“Don’t move,” Cara ordered.

Din pulled off his gloves and tossed them on the bedside table. He glanced toward the vaulted storage he’d bought on Naboo and bolted to the floor in the corner. It held the darksaber, all of his hard currency, and the books from the Jedi temple. He’d decided not to carry the saber on Coruscant, and he regretted it. The weapon could’ve made a difference in the fight. He’d had saber training, but a beskad was nothing like a lightsaber due to the weight distribution of the two weapons. He needed to spend some time with the darksaber before he’d feel comfortable using it in an actual fight.

“Do you need help getting undressed?” Cara asked shortly.

“I…no. I’ll stay dressed for the moment. I can sleep in my armor with no issues.”

“Are you in pain? Where’s your medkit?”

He caught her hand as she started to go open his closet. “Please, Cara, sit with me. I owe you a conversation.”

“You owe yourself some sleep,” Cara muttered but sat down beside him.

“My son’s power…it isn’t magic. He’s Force-sensitive. In the past, he would’ve been sought out by the Jedi Council and brought to their temple to be instructed as a Jedi Knight.”

“They say that Luke Skywalker is a Jedi Knight, but that’s just…myth and legend. When I started hearing those rumors, I thought it was just rebellion propaganda.” Cara took a deep breath. “Rey told Leia Organa she was hiding from the Force. But she’s so small I thought…she was focusing on some sort of fairytale to make herself feel better about the baby’s abilities.”

“No, the Force is not a myth. It is in every living thing in this galaxy. Some are born with the ability to use the Force to manipulate their surroundings. The baby and Rey both can use the Force.” He paused and took a deep breath. “And so can I.”

“It was you…you took the darksaber from Gideon. I thought the baby did it. Gideon certainly thought the baby did it.”

“He did, yes,” Din said. “It didn’t matter what he thought, but I don’t want to keep secrets from you if I can help it. You deserve better from me.”

Her fingers trembled against his. “Why are you like this? What happened?”

“I left Nevarro after we escaped Gideon as quickly as I could,” Din said and squeezed her hand gently when she started to speak. “I ran for a year—barely staying ahead of him and his relentless pursuit. I was so fucking tired, Cara, and alone. It got hard to work—to earn enough credits to even feed us both. I turned my back on everything I was taught by my Mandalorian father because of what Gideon did to the covert on Nevarro. I didn’t want to get any more of them killed, so I refused to search for a new covert. I went back to bounty hunting to get the funds to search for the child’s people.

“I couldn’t risk returning to Nevarro for pucks or to turn in bounties for that matter. Greef gave you a little cruiser, and we’d meet up every few months. You acted as a go-between. I’m not sure which one of us he followed. We didn’t meet at the same place twice, changed comm codes daily from a list we generated on our own without a computer. We took every single precaution, but Gideon caught up with us on a planet in wild space—it wasn’t on any single map either one of us could find. We thought it was perfect.

“There came a point when he stopped trying to take him. I don’t know why or when that happened, but Gideon killed my son,” Din took a deep, shuddery breath. “He left us both alive, the arrogant shabuir. He shot all three of us, but only the baby’s wound was fatal.”

“I…” Cara took a deep breath. “I don’t understand.”

“We buried him and my creed on Sorgan,” Din said. “Then we took a few high profile, profitable bounties from the New Republic since we didn’t have to hide anymore. Then we used every single credit to hunt for Gideon. We caught up with him three years later, but we’d been sold some bad intel. We’d split up—I was on the ground doing recon, and he destroyed the Razor Crest while you were on board. I had nothing left of you to bury.”

“Fuck.” Cara lurched from the bed. “Why does this…how? Your words feel true, and that makes no sense. Why?”

“Because they are true,” Din said. “He thought he’d broken me—when I finally caught up with again, after seven years, he was genuinely surprised to see me. He didn’t understand how he could take everything from me but not defeat me. Gideon said he wanted to leave me broken and destroyed to punish me for defying him.” Din clenched his fists against his thighs. “He was ranting and raving—in that quiet, terrible way like he did on Nevarro while he brandished the darksaber like a fucking toy. I think he expected me to aim at him when I raised my amban.”

“But you didn’t.”

“No, I aimed for the darksaber,” Din murmured. “It blew off his arm all the way to the shoulder. He was screaming for help, but I’d already killed everyone else on the base. I went to him, and I just stared—his weakness and corruption made me sick. I shot him in the head and walked away without ever saying a single word to him. Remnants of the Empire started to gain power. They called themselves the First Order. It would be decades before it was discovered that the emperor survived the destruction of the Death Star over Endor. A new resistance formed, and I joined them because…I thought it was something you would’ve done. Rey eventually killed him. She was a bright shining light in the Force, but the damage was done to her and her partner in the Force before they ever met because of Darth Sidious. She took her own life five years after she defeated the emperor.”

“Where is he?” Cara asked. “The emperor.”

“In a place we can’t reach currently,” Din said roughly. “The Sith used the dark side of the Force to hide the world he lives on long ago and a special instrument is required to navigate to him. I never learned the specifics. The New Republic kept it largely secret even after his defeat due to the immense amount of tech and information he left behind. There was a path—forged by Rey—through hyperspace, but she destroyed it so no one could ever return to that planet. No one wanted to risk someone figuring out how to make another death star. He had built a whole fleet of ships—each one had the power to destroy whole planets.”

“How did you…scientists on Alderaan believed that physical time travel was impossible,” Cara murmured.

“I can’t say it is possible without the will of the Cosmic Force,” Din said. “I let two dead Jedi rip my soul out of my older body and throw it into my younger body.” He focused on her and found her staring at him in horror. “Then I let them push an ancient Force relic called the Kazerath into me—it dissolved and left behind the powers and abilities of a pair ancient Force users called a dyad in me. They were the first dyad.” He glanced toward his door. “And Rey is one half of the second Force dyad to ever exist.”

“And the other half?” Cara asked grimly.

“Ben Solo.”

“Damn it.” Cara dropped down on the bed beside him. “I wish I thought you were insane.” She took a ragged breath. “Maybe that shock rod scrambled your brains.”

Din laughed sadly and dropped his gaze to his hands. “They didn’t let me choose. I’d have saved the covert if I could’ve—but I closed my eyes on Sorgan, an old man, and when I opened them, I was staring at Kuiil’s open grave.”

“Sorgan,” Cara muttered. “Did you marry her?”

“Who?” Din asked in confusion.

“Omera,” Cara said and glared at him.

“Oh, no, of course not,” Din said and shook his head. “She didn’t respect the way or my people in any fashion. When we went to bury…him…I chose Sorgan because he was so happy there. She actually said she was pleased to see me without the helmet. My hands were still dirty from covering his grave.” He clenched his fists. “She said it was good that I buried my helmet with my son and that she would help me get on with my life.”

Cara took a deep breath, and he glanced her way. Her eyes were closed, and she was taking measured breaths.

“What are you doing?”

“Telling myself that I can’t go murder a widow on Sorgan for something she hasn’t actually done and certainly won’t get a chance to do again.”

“You punched her in the face,” Din said. “If I hadn’t pulled you off of her—you’d have probably killed her. When I retired there due to my heart condition, she refused to speak to me directly. She’d remarried by then and had several more children. Winta would come to visit me and leave flowers on his grave once a week. Even when she had children of her own, she’d tell anyone that would listen that he was the best friend she ever had. She hated the man her mother married, and her children called me their grandfather. It infuriated Omera, but I couldn’t have cared less.”

“I’m sorry she hurt you,” Cara said through gritted teeth.

“I think insulted and disgusted better described how I felt about her behavior,” Din said. “As I said, she had no respect for the way. I couldn’t even consider her a friend after she tried to remove my helmet.”

“She what?” Cara demanded.

“The first time I was there—she asked me to stay with her and tried to remove my helmet. Maybe I was tempted to let her but not because of her.” Din took a deep breath. “Life was simple and beautiful there. It was alluring. I think you understand that.”

“I do,” she agreed. “You were tempted by the idea of a family.”

“Maybe,” Din said. “But my idea of family would never be compatible with Omera’s. Besides, she’s not exactly who she pretends to be. She isn’t from Sorgan. Her father was an admiral in the Imperial fleet. Before the Empire fell, that woman was living in the lap of luxury on Coruscant. Her husband was an officer in the fleet, too, but I never learned his name. He died on the first Death Star. Winta didn’t remember her father or grandfather at all.”

“She was very good with a weapon,” Cara said and exhaled sharply. “Do you think she gave our position away? Those tracking fobs don’t work off-planet, which means that hunter couldn’t have tracked you to Sorgan. He had to be told that you were there.”

“They’re not good for anything over 100 klicks,” Din said. “There were easily a hundred made for the baby. I don’t know if Greef can recall them or if they’re still active now that the client and Gideon are dead.”

“I hadn’t even considered that,” Cara admitted. “We’ll send him a message.”

“And no, I don’t think Omera gave away our position. She didn’t have to. Hiding our numbers didn’t serve the kid or me—a lot of people thought I was the only Mandalorian in the Outer Rim.” He took a deep breath. “That’s not going to be a problem going forward. What happened on Coruscant will spread like…an out-of-control fire.”

“What happened to Mandalore in the future?” Cara questioned.

Din shook his head. “By the time I was near death, most believed that I was the last Mandalorian alive in the galaxy.” He shrugged. “And I wasn’t much of one.”

“Shut up!” Cara snapped. “How dare you! You think that fucking tin can makes you a Mandalorian?” She jabbed her finger against the side of his helmet. “Look at my face, Din, this is my you’re a fucking idiot face!”

Din grabbed her hand when she tried to poke him again. “Stop before you break your finger—because, despite your jokes, this is not tin. Beskar is the hardest steel alloy in the galaxy.” He pushed his free hand into her hair and took a deep breath as she leaned into him. Her forehead came to rest against the front of his helmet. “Do you have any idea what you’re currently doing?”

“Something I don’t think I ever got a chance to do the first time around,” Cara murmured and put one hand on his shoulder. “Do you have any idea what you’re doing?”

Din let her hair fall through his fingers. “I’ve always wanted to touch it. I didn’t allow myself even this the first time around. You deserved better than me. You still do, but I’m going to be extremely selfish about this, Cara, and I’m not sorry.”

“On my world, allowing you this kind of liberty would mean that you’d have about a week to approach my father and ask him permission to seek me for marriage,” she said with a little laugh, and Din released her hair immediately.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to insult…”’

“You didn’t,” Cara murmured and lifted her head. “I’d have never allowed it if it was offensive to me. I don’t put much stock into those old-fashioned ideas. I cut all of my hair off after Alderaan was destroyed. Maybe it was grief, or maybe it was guilt—I don’t know for certain. But I haven’t cut it since I met you. I started putting traditional braids in, again, without even thinking about it.” She touched the two on the side of her head. “She didn’t say it aloud, but the reason Leia Organa probably thought I was the best choice to help with the situation because of these braids. She assumed they were for you. She saw my last message to you.”

Din couldn’t help but touch them. “What do they mean?”

“Infatuation. Honestly, they’re the braids of a young girl with her heart full of thoughts and dreams of someone else for the first time.” Cara flushed. “I didn’t even realize I’d done it until I looked in the mirror, but I couldn’t make myself remove them. So, I’ve been running around the galaxy wearing braids like a teenager with a crush.”

“You wore it in mourning braids after the baby…” Din took a deep breath. “It’s hard, but the memories are moving away. Maybe one day they’ll be just like a bad dream that I hardly ever think about.”

“These Force Spirits? They’re around? Why didn’t they help you on Coruscant?”

Din took a deep breath and let his hand drop from her hair. “The Kazerath, the device the spirits used to give me the Force, made me stronger certainly but not so strong that I could’ve taken four hits from a shock rod and survived it on my own. I didn’t have time to activate the distress call either. And I hadn’t taught Rey how to do it because I am, in fact, an idiot. Since I haven’t seen or heard them since I woke up—I’m left to think that this event took a lot out of them. They can interact with our plane after a fashion using the Force, but they’re not all-powerful or all-knowing, for that matter. Mostly, they’re nosy interfering assholes who boss me around a lot.”

“Did you fall in love with the other me?” Cara asked. “The future me.”

“I’ve been gone on you since you held a gun to my head,” Din admitted. “But we never came close to having this kind of conversation in the first…timeline.”

“Is that as weird to say as it is to hear?” Cara asked wearily.

“I hope so,” Din admitted and laughed when she glared at him. “We were partners in that timeline but never lovers. We never even kissed.” He rubbed her bottom lip. “I’d really like to fix that sometime soon.”

“Not now?” Cara questioned.

“We’re both raw and exhausted,” Din said. “Let’s give each other some space and time to get all this figured out before we complicate it beyond all recognition.” He watched her stand and walked toward the door. “And if you can’t handle everything that comes with being with me as more than a friend—Cara—I’ll never hold it against you.”

She paused and turned to face him. “Holdo.”

Din leaned back on his hands. “Her first name is Amilyn.”

“I’m aware,” Cara said and crossed her arms. “Are you really going to make me ask?”

“A few years before she died in the other timeline, we were living on Endor in tents teaching ground warfare to anyone who joined the resistance. She came to my tent, crawled on top of me, and asked me to help her forget that we’d both lost too much to ever be whole again.”

“And you did,” Cara said quietly.

“Yeah,” Din admitted. “She knew I’d never disrespect her by revealing it to the trainees and that I was just as lonely as she was. It happened off and on the whole time I was with the resistance. There was some love there for us both, and if she’d survived, I wouldn’t have been opposed to growing old with her. I was living on Sorgan, retired because I had a heart attack during a training exercise, when she rammed a heavy rebel cruiser into a Star Destroyer to protect what was left of the resistance. A few weeks later, Rey killed the Emperor.”

“The bacta fixed your heart. It was kind of horrific but a simple fix, all things considered.”

“It couldn’t fix the damage done to me over a lifetime,” Din said. “I didn’t know I had a problem until I had the heart attack. I didn’t have the money for a synthetic organ, and they weren’t sure I’d survive the implant surgery. Honestly, it saved me in a way because I can’t say I would’ve let Holdo go out alone if I’d been capable of serving in the resistance at that point.”

“We’ll monitor your heart to make sure the treatment worked,” Cara said and opened the door. “I’m sorry for what you suffered. I’ll help you get it right this time.”

“The thing with Holdo—I don’t regret it, but I don’t see it as a situation I’d want to return to.”

Cara offered him a little grin. “For fuck’s sake, Din, I wouldn’t have turned her down either.”

Din laughed and dropped back on his bed as she left the room. “Your room is next door. I set up a bed for you.”

“Thanks,” she said and shook her head as she closed the door.

– – – –

At arrival, the Armorer had guided the other ships to a secluded underground dock the covert had opened up. Din had the coordinates, but he owed Peli Motto a visit first. They’d rearranged the cockpit, easier to accomplish with the pram, so Cara was seated in the co-pilot seat, and they’d pulled a secondary seat from the floor for Rey.

“Did you meet Peli?”

Cara sent him a look. “You might say that.”

“What’s that mean?”

“What is it about you, anyway? Why do women like you so much? You know she’s a former fulcrum, right? She interrogated me like a criminal when we showed up in your old ship.” Cara paused and quirked an eyebrow at him. “When the distress call came through—she told us not to come back without you. She meant it.”

“She likes the baby.”

“She didn’t threaten to drag my body into the desert and leave it there if I hurt the baby,” Cara said and laughed when Din couldn’t help but groan.

“Fulcrums were spies, right?” Din questioned.

“Yeah, and they don’t have a long shelf-life. She must have been something else in the field to survive and probably achieved some rank before it all ended. Combine that with a tech background and the mechanics—you should probably stay on her good side.”

When they exited the ship, there were two Mandalorians in the back of the docking bay, leaning on the wall on either side of the exit. They both gave him a nod, and he focused on Peli, who was glaring at him.

“I saw the holovid! Every news site on the HoloNet is playing the senate hearing on repeat!” She pointed a finger at him. “You asshole!” She huffed, took the baby from the pram, and walked away.

“I like her a lot,” Rey declared and trotted after her.

Din swung his amban over his shoulder and followed while Cara merely laughed. It was hard to be irritated with either of them. Peli was giving the baby a rib shaped bone with meat on it when he entered the office. She motioned toward the IG unit, which was standing in the corner.

“I didn’t activate him—in case he had security protocols I couldn’t handle,” she said. “His program is flawless. I’m sorry I can’t meet the person who did the work.” She looked at Rey then focused on Din. “Picked up a new one, huh? Does this one have a name, or are you going to leave her unnamed for months, too?”

“I’m Rey,” Rey said and accepted the cup of broth one of the little droids brought her. “But I’ll get a new name at the adoption.” She looked toward Din. “A Mando’a name. Right? Like the baby?”

Din was really glad she’d voiced that expectation because he hadn’t intended on doing more than giving her his surname. “Of course.”

He walked over to the IG unit. If he didn’t know better, he would swear it was the same damn body the droid had before. Peli had offered up several different visual options, but Din had ended up providing digital pictures from his helmet to work with so he would be familiar to the baby.

“Any issues with the clone?”

“Got three out of the process,” Peli said. “Sold two, put one in a security droid for Oddau Rast to protect the covert.” She shrugged when he focused on her. “They have babies there, you know. I put your cut in your New Republic credit account, less what you owed me.”

Din nodded. “Thanks. How do I activate him?”

She offered him a code chip. “Considering your droid issues, I thought you’d appreciate more control over him. I made this for your vambrace. If he becomes a threat to the children, you can shut him down immediately.”

Din took the chip, inserted it into a data port on his vambrace, and nodded. “Thanks, Peli.” He activated the unit, and Cara unholstered her blaster as IG’s head swirled. “IG-11, do you recognize me?”

“The Mandalorian. Master Kuiil’s friend.” The unit paused. “My internal date system does not match my memory set.” He paused. “I’ve been restored from a backup.”

“Yes. Kuiil was killed on Nevarro by Imperials. I commissioned you a new body,” Din explained.

“Why? You do not trust me, Mandalorian.”

“I should’ve, and if I had, Kuiil might be alive. You saved us in the end.”

“And the Imperial who killed Master Kuiil?” IG questioned.

“You took the child back from the Imperials who killed Kuiil. Considering your programming, it is doubtful they survived that encounter,” Din explained. “Then you came into town and killed a lot more.”

“It was pretty great,” Cara said cheerfully and holstered her weapon.

“You did very well,” Din said reluctantly. “IG, what is your base function?”

“To nurse and protect,” IG said. “Am I to travel with you?”

“From now on, you’ll be known as IG son of Kuiil,” Din said. “And yes, you can travel with my children and me, if you wish. I don’t consider you my property. You remember the baby. This is my daughter, Rey.” He blew out air. “You’ll be expected to address me as Mand’alor if you are to stay with my clan.”

“My congratulations, Mand’alor. Has the New Republic Senate recognized your leadership of the Mandalorian people?”

“Yes, unfortunately,” Din said sourly.

“I will stay with you, Mand’alor. Master Kuiil wanted me to nurse and protect the child.”

“Hit a HoloNet hub and update your data on the New Republic at the first opportunity. I have a new ship, it’s a Corellian VCX-100 called Tor. It’s registered, after a fashion, with the New Republic. Make sure your maintenance files can handle emergency repairs if necessary.” Din paused. “And download whatever files you need regarding piloting the ship and operating the gunner.”

“I no longer have a self-destruct option,” IG reported.

“No, you don’t,” Din said grimly and left the office. He walked across the dock and to the entrance where the other Mandalorians still lingered. “Has there been a threat made against Peli Motto? Why are you on sentry duty?”

“She reported to Oddau Rast that she had a highly valuable asset that belongs to you in her possession. We offered to take the droid to the covert for storage until your return, but she declined. She agreed that we could stand guard.”

“You’re standing sentry over my nanny droid?” Din asked.

“Your modified hunter droid,” the woman said. “In its deactivated state, it could’ve been reprogrammed to be used against you.”

“Has the covert on this planet always been so…not covert at all?” Din asked.

“We’ve had to make adjustments,” the man said. “Being the presumed home base for the Mand’alor will require more changes in the months and years to come.”

Din considered that. “Can one of you contact the magistrate for Mos Eisley and set up a meeting? Apparently, the New Republic Senate thinks I’m important, so I might as well shove that authority down their throat to make things easier around here.”

“I’ll handle it,” the woman said and left.

“Buir,” Rey said as her fingers curled around the holster strap of his blaster. “Ms. Motto offered to buy my parts. Can I get a dress for the adoption?”

Din looked down and found her cheeks flushed. “I’ll buy your new clothes. Your credits are yours to spend on something fun.” He paused. “No guns.”

She huffed dramatically and stomped off like her world was ending.

“Did she really hold a battalion of NR infantry at bay with your blaster?”

“Fortunately, for her ego, the ship has a full high-security package,” Din said wryly. “I’m just thankful she couldn’t figure out how to brace the amban and have it in a position to fire at the same time.” He focused on the man. “Your name?”

“Aja Rast, son of Oddau.” He inclined his head. “Do you have something special going on with your body glove to help you take shock hits?”

“No, it’s just synthetic wool with a cool-fit lining to regulate body temperature,” Din said. “Maybe the evidence of my endurance, which apparently has been spread far and wide, will prevent someone else from using one of those rods on us in the future.”


Related Posts

Keira Marcos

The only thing holding me back from world domination is felony level procrastination.

8 Comments:

  1. You….you wrote Mando fic. I am straight up crying tears of happiness over here. I haven’t even read it yet, and I am so excited!

  2. i am so loving this. as usual great universe build up, believable characters and solid storytelling. thank you for sharing this

  3. This is enthralling! I am so enjoying how you’ve given such depth to so many.

  4. Amazing story. And 2 more installments to follow is a treasure trove of goodness.

  5. Oh good lord. This is so awesome I’m speechless. Thank you!

  6. It floors me how completely you bring characters to life. Your words sing off the page.

    Thank you so much for writing and sharing this amazing fic. Can’t wait to continue the journey

  7. I hit the end of this part and I am so fucking excited that there are 2 more parts ahead of me. Thanks for getting me fully into a new fandom!

  8. I don’t even go here and I’m completely hooked. This story is so amazing and engaging and I don’t want to stop reading.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.