Din wanted to scream. They were all dead. His clan. Everyone he’d considered family since the Purge was gone, and it was because of him.
He settled for a choked whimper as Cara peeled his shirt away from a particularly bad burn on his side.
“Sorry, sorry. Just hang in there a few more minutes alright?” She gave his arm a quick squeeze, then returned to the task at hand. Cold water was poured over his back for what felt like the hundredth time as she tried to separate the fabric from what was left of his skin without causing any more damage. The bacta had helped a lot, but it had also made the blood clot more quickly on his armor and clothes and getting them off was agony.
At least it gave him something to focus on besides the awful feeling in his chest. Something equal parts sadness and shame and rage had been building there ever since he’d discovered the remains of the Covert and now it threatened to choke him.
Cara worked in silence for a few more minutes while he tried to direct all his focus towards a small green light blinking slowly on a console across the room. As grateful as he was for her help, right now he just wanted Cara to go home. If it was only the kid around Din could take off the helmet and show his grief openly. But with Cara on the ship he felt compelled to keep it together.
He squeezed his eyes shut and dug his teeth into his lip as though more pain would somehow cause a better distraction, but all he saw was the pile of armor on the floor of the covert. Had Paz's helmet been there with the rest? He couldn’t believe the bastard was gone; couldn’t imagine anything less than time itself would have been able to bring him down. But the Armorer had said the only survivors had been those who'd escaped off-world and he'd never know Paz to run from a fight.
An urgent squeak at his side forced his eyes open on instinct. The kid was staring up at him, little claws scratching frantically at his thigh. Cara was saying something too, but he couldn’t make it out over his own ragged breathing. It felt as though all the oxygen had been sucked out of the ship even though they hadn’t even left the atmosphere.
His hands slipped on the polished beskar of his helmet and be barely managed to get a grip in time to pull it away from his mouth before he was sick. He was vaguely aware of Cara’s hand between his shoulders rubbing gentle circles against his now bare skin, but it did nothing to ease the cramps that clawed at his stomach. It felt like an eternity before he was able to draw another shaking breath, but when he finally managed to open his eyes the sight of the bloody mess now splashed on the deck was enough to make him retch again.
He was too preoccupied with his misery to notice when Cara got up, and barely noticed when she returned and jabbed something into the side of his thigh. All he knew was that after a few more minutes of suffering the nausea began to ease. He dragged a hand across his mouth and let the helmet drop back into place before he collapsed against Cara’s chest. Her armor dug painfully into a gash at the back of his neck but her arms were strong around him.
The kid crawled up into his lap to press tiny hands against the sides of his helmet and nuzzle his head against the visor. Din automatically brought one hand up to cradle his back but found he was barely able to support even the slight weight of his little body.
The three of them remained that way until Din’s breathing evened out and the sweat coating his back and chest began to dry.
“You want to get cleaned up?” Cara finally asked.
He nodded. Really he wanted nothing more than to let her take the helmet off and feel gentle hands stroking his hair the way his caregivers had after nightmares when he was small, but that was impossible. Instead he let her pull him to his feet and leaned on her while she led him to the fresher.
“You going to be alright?” she asked once he’d traded his grip on her for leaning against the sink. He nodded.
“If you’re not out in ten minutes I’m coming in.” She cast another appraising glance at him. “You sure you’ll be okay?”
“I’ll be fine.” He was glad his voice was too heavy with exhaustion for his frustration to come through. The last thing she deserved was to be snapped at by his bitchy, self-pitying ass.
The kid waddled in and attempted to attach himself to Din’s leg. Cara stared down at him warily for a second before she scooped him up. “Not now little guy. There’s not enough room in there for two.”
The kid reached out for him with a mournful little coo before he turned and pressed his face against Cara’s neck. She tensed for a moment, but then forced a quick smile for Din’s benefit before he closed the door.
Getting the helmet off once he finally had the privacy to do so seemed to take forever. All his movements felt sluggish and heavy. He let it slip from his fingers and winced at the loud crash when it hit the floor.
“Mando? You still alive in there?” Cara called from the other side of the door.
“Fine” Din answered. At least he assumed he said it aloud. He wasn’t certain. She didn’t ask again though, so he must’ve done.
The next thing he knew his forehead was pressed against the cool glass of the small mirror above the sink. He cracked one eye open and noted bruises forming under the blood smeared across his face. He brought a shaking hand up to an especially dark spot above his cheekbone and pressed his thumb against it as hard as he could manage. The spike of pain gave him just enough adrenaline to drag himself into the shower cubicle and slap one hand against the control panel.
He sank to the floor and let the cool water pour over his head. It stung in more places than he could count and was tinged red by the time it made it to the drain. He struggled with his boots but only managed to get one off before he gave up and slumped against the wall.
He closed his eyes. Again he saw the empty armor. There had been foundlings at the covert, some too young to have even taken on their helmets yet. In his mind’s eye he saw the Armorer laying their fragile bodies on the pyre with the others. He barely managed to breathe through the urge to be sick again.
They’d revealed themselves because of him. They were dead because of him!
He felt something crack when he slammed his fist into the wall. A scream tore itself from his throat that had nothing to do with the pain now stabbing at his hand. All at once the breaking point was on him. He curled up on the floor and sobbed harder than he had since the day his parents died.
“Mando! Mando, open up in there!” Cara was pounding on the door. She’d find a way in any minute now and then he was fucked, but he didn’t have the strength to care. Not even the frantic wails from the kid were enough to get him to his feet now.
Din hid his face in his hands. He had to get up. The kid needed him. He was failing him just like he had failed the Tribe. But he couldn’t. No matter how hard he tried he couldn’t so much as lift his head let alone silence the sobs wracking his body.
The pounding at the door increased until Din was sure it would give way. Then all at once it stopped. Maybe Cara had finally realized what he was good for as well.
Everything fell dark. At first Din assumed he was on the verge of losing consciousness, but then somewhere in the ship the kid shrieked like he’d been stabbed. With the last of his strength Din pushed himself up, but his injured hand wouldn’t take his weight and he collapsed again with an almost inhuman cry of fear and frustration.
The water still cascading down on him turned icy. Then there was a loud bang and the screech of metal on metal. Din’s breath caught in his throat, animalistic terror taking hold of him.
“Mando?” Cara’s voice was suddenly close. “Mando, are you alright? Fucking hell!” Another crash, this time followed by a thud and more cursing.
“Din, if you can hear me say something! I can’t see shit.”
Hearing his name from her pulled a quiet groan of surprise from him.
“Mando? Kid? Who’s there?”
Tiny claws pressed against his cheek and the back of his neck. The kid cooed and chattered somewhere right by his head and he reached blindly for him. He could hear the water still running, but all of a sudden it was no longer hitting him.
“It’s fine, Cara. It’s fine.” His own voice sounded alien to him without the filter of his helmet com.
“Thank fuck” Cara sounded genuinely relieved. There was a bit of splashing, then her hand was on his arm.
“Oh. Wow, um, is the kid doing the magic hand thing again or…?”
“I think so.” Din rolled onto his back. The already black world seemed to be going soft around the edges.
“I’m here.” A quick squeeze of his arm backed it up.
“Why’s it so dark?”
“I tripped the breaker to override the door. I was afraid you were bleeding to death in here.”
“Yeah Mando?” Her voice was getting more concerned again.
“I think… Think I’m gonna to pass out…”
“Don’t you fucking dare! I’m not dragging your soggy ass out of here in the dark! Mando? Mando?! Din!”
But he was too far down to respond.
Din woke to the feeling of fabric covering his face. What the hell? Had he been kidnapped? Or…? His mind was suddenly filled with the image of his own shrouded body on a pyre with the rest of his clan. He gasped and tried to sit up but didn’t get far.
“Easy now.” Strong hands were on his shoulders, pressing him back down.
“Greef? What the hell..?” His throat felt like sandpaper and he struggled to swallow.
“Well someone had to scavenge enough bacta to patch you up. Once you’re back on your feet I’ll let you explain to your fellow Guild members why they had to spend all night searching a bunch of dead Stormtroopers.”
“Wha..?” Din couldn’t quite work out what to do with that information. His thoughts felt like they were swimming through mud, so he took stock of his body instead. His immediate conclusion was that it hurt, followed by the revelation that he was naked except for a pair of cutoff sweats, a thick layer of bandages around his hand and what felt like at least a dozen bacta dressings. He was almost naked. With no helmet. With Greef fucking Karga on his ship.
He’d been trained since childhood not to panic. He panicked anyway.
At least for a moment, until there was a dip in the mattress beside him and something heavy was set on his chest.
“I swear on the memory of Alderaan that we didn’t see anything.” Cara’s voice was uncharacteristically gentle. She stroked his cheek through the fabric covering his face, then took his unbandaged hand and guided it to rest on the helmet.
“Not your face anyway. But if the ladies of Nevarro knew what you were holding out on them I’m sure they’d…”
There was an ‘oof’ from Greef’s direction that sounded distinctly like Cara had punched him in the stomach.
“Turn around, pervert.” A faint shuffling of boots. “It’s alright Din, we’re not looking. You can put it on if you want.”
Din hesitated for a moment, then rolled over to face away from them before he pulled off the blanket that had been draped over him. He blinked at the sudden onslaught of light but almost immediately locked eyes with the kid perched on the bunk by his head.
“Hey ad'ika.” He reached out to brush his bandaged hand across the kid’s cheek. The little one cooed and tangled his hands in Din’s hair, claws scratching lightly at his scalp. Din gave the kid a small smile before he scooped him up to rest in his lap while he set the helmet into place.
“Alright.” He glanced over at where Cara and Greef were standing with their backs to him.
“You good?” Cara looked over her shoulder but kept her hand over her eyes.
“Yeah, I’m good.” Or better than he had been at least.
The pair turned back around and he locked eyes with each of them from behind the safety of his visor. They both looked vaguely awkward, but he decided it was more like the ‘I accidentally touched your ass while you were unconscious’ kind of awkward than the ‘I’m lying to you about something that would ruin your life’ kind of awkward. Neither was ideal, but given the available options this was clearly the better outcome.
Greef cleared his throat and glanced from Din to Cara to the kid and back again.
“Well it seems like everything is in order here, so if you don’t mind I have a Guild to run.” He nodded in acknowledgement to both of them before heading toward the hatch. Before he left he turned back to face Din.
“My offer still stands, Mando. I hope you’ll consider it once you’re healed up.”
He closed the hatch behind him before Din had a chance to turn him down again.
Din sank back against the bunk, weariness already overtaking him once more.
“How much does he want for the bacta?”
“I think he’s still grateful to the kid for saving his life. Or to us for not shooting him.”
She sat down beside him again and arranged the blanket over him.
“I wouldn’t count on it.”
“Oh, trust me. I’m not.” Her friendly smirk was soon replaced with something softer. “You going to be alright?”
“I’m currently wearing the contents of about six med kits. I’d better be.”
“That’s not what I meant.” She rested her hand atop where his good one lay under the blanket. “When Alderaan was destroyed I lost everyone who’d ever meant anything to me. I don’t know what that feels like for you, but I know what it felt like for me. So if you ever need someone to talk to…”
Din could feel his throat tighten. Something began to burn his eyes.
“I’m not ready. Not yet.”
“It’s alright. The offer hasn’t got an expiration date.” She squeezed his hand and then leaned up to press a quick kiss to the helmet just above his eyes. The kid grabbed a handful of her hair when it came into his reach and she scooped him up and gently poked his nose. He squealed with laughter and attempted to climb up her arm before he seemed to remember something and made grabby hands at Din instead. When Cara set him down he immediately curled up with his head nestled against Din’s shoulder.
Din couldn’t help but smile, even though it hurt in a way he couldn’t quite describe. He found Cara’s hand again and held it tight. He hadn’t lost everyone. He had his ad'ika. His friends. His family.