Something was wrong with Din.
He stood in the too cramped quarters of his fresher, staring into his dusty and faded reflection. His mask stared back, impervious as ever. The beskar looked as new as the day the armorer forged it, never rusting, brushing off the wear and tear like time meant nothing to it.
Time meant nothing….
Din’s hands clenched down on the sides of his sink. His HUD filled up with biometrics and analyses in response to his unspoken distress, but his armor couldn’t find anything wrong with him. Of course it didn’t. It wouldn’t. He was perfectly healthy, has always been prone to it. Hadn’t had so much as a cold in years. He had to clean out bullet wounds and vibroblade cuts on the regular, but he almost never got seriously infected.
Good health came as naturally to him as shooting, and perhaps that was why it took him so long to notice. Or perhaps it was that he spent as much time in hyperspace as out of it. Or that his mission and lifestyle rarely allowed him to visit the same place—the same few friends—more than once. It was in fact, one of his few visits that clued him in that something was wrong in the first place.
Cara had made a home for herself in Nevarro as a keeper of the peace, and under her eye the city—and eventually the planet—thrived as a trading hub for the outer rim. Din had stopped to refuel and check in and found her in as high of spirits as ever. He’d registered the deep lines around her eyes and the large swathes of white in her hair only peripherally. More important: her grin for him was the same, her friendly punch to his shoulder as tough as ever.
The child had marched behind them as they caught up. She’d groaned as she picked him up, mentioned how big he’s gotten. Mentioned, also, she was getting too old to hold him like this, and that’s when all the pieces started clicking together.
Cara was old. Not aged from stress or battle, but old. Elderly, even. The concept was almost foreign to him.
Of course there were old Mandalorians. His people were battle prone, but they didn’t actively seek out their own destruction. Mandalorians fought the battles that needed to be fought and won more often than not. So, when one inevitably grew old enough that their movements slowed and their voices creaked, they settled down to help teach and raise the next generation.
For Din, as for all Mandalorians, age wasn’t a matter of appearance or time, but one of status and experience. So perhaps he could be forgiven for not putting it together earlier, but here, faced with the reality of a clearly aged Cara, he couldn’t help but notice.
Cara was old, but Din was older.
He was older, but his bones didn’t creak. His armor didn’t report any obvious degradation in his body. His breathing was fine.
Din had made his excuses, grabbed his child—who had grown bigger, as all children do, but whose growth should have been a huge fucking clue—and ran back to his ship. He’d locked himself in his fresher, and he’d acknowledged:
Something was wrong with Din.
Gathering his courage, the Mandalorian grabbed the fringes of his helmet. The hydraulics hissed as it loosened and he pulled it up over his head, eyes clenched tight. He set it down gently, a lifetime of habit forcing him to handle it with care. It was some strange fear lurking in his chest that had him scrubbing at a small patch of dust with his cape though. Which was ridiculous. What did he have to be afraid of? It was just his reflection. Just him.
One deep breath later, he was staring at his face—open, exposed—and the same man he’d known his whole life stared back. Black curls, wild and just-too-long, fell around his face. His brown eyes were framed with gentle lines, facial hair growing in thick from too many days left alone.
The fear lurking in him morphed into dread resting low in his stomach. This was exactly what he was afraid of. He looked fine—healthy. He looked like what any man or Mandalorian in his mid forties might hope to look like.
But according to the new republic calendar—and the old Imperial calendar, and all the star charts he could get his hands on—Din Djarin was eighty-seven years old.
Impossible. It was impossible. He was Mandalorian foremost, but he was human first, and humans just didn’t live this long. Hysterically, the thought passed through his head that, somehow, wearing the armor for so long had changed him biologically. Maybe on some fundamental level he was becoming the beskar that he treated so much as his own skin; maybe he was becoming a droid, or a statue or—
--no. No, don’t be ridiculous.
Din shook his head to get himself out of it. He glanced at himself in the mirror one more time—face open and obvious and so scared without the mask—before he pulled himself away from the sink. He shook his hands and took a deep breath. Now was not the time to freak out. He took another breath.
There was a knock at the door, gentle, as if afraid of disturbing him.
“Buir, okay, you are?” Came the voice of his child, words out of order as they only got when he was tired or distressed.
Din indulged in one more breath before he opened the door, “I’m fine kid,” he replied absently, taking the child in—really observing him for the first time in a long time.
The kid had grown—for all that amounted to anything. He came up to just above Din’s knees now. He was too small be described as lanky, but his child-thin arms and legs gave their best effort, starting off thin and trailing off into lethal claws. At some point in the preceding years, Din had given in and gotten the child some real clothes, but whatever he was wearing was swamped under a robe repurposed form one of din’s old capes. The kid’s eyes and ears seemed to grow with him. That paired with the ever-sharpening teeth and claws would have been alarming if it weren’t so damn cute. Damn it all though, almost fifty years, and the kid still had Din wrapped around its little paws.
Almost fifty years—
And just like that, the reminder slammed full force into him, strong enough to unbalance him. Oh no, wait. No. That was the kid hugging his knees, making distressed sounds.
Tugging gently on one ear, Din asked, “What’s wrong, are you hurt?”
The child shook his head.
Din sighed, “I can’t help you, if you don’t tell me what’s wrong,”
“You’re not okay,” The kid hiccupped, “You’re not okay! You’re not—wearing your face, you’re not! And scared, you are. Scared!”
Din sighed, tugging the child back just far enough to give him room to sit down, back against the doorframe, and pull the kid onto his lap. Din tucked the child’s head tucked under his chin. The kid curled up against him, heedless of the beskar, and grabbed onto his arms as they wrapped around him.
“Everything’s fine,” He assured his kid, “I just realized something, and it shocked me is all. Nothing you need to worry about,”
“My face isn’t that horrible, is it?”
One large eye poked out to stare at him, followed by another, and then two paws slapped against his cheeks. They poked and prodded and pulled and squished, and Din suffered the abuse stoically.
The kid nodded sagely, “No, not that horrible, I guess,”
Din felt his eyebrow twitch, and whatever the kid saw in his expression caused him to flee squealing.
Din took off after him, “You little womp rat. Get back here!”
The battle was long fought, and fierce. The kid had always been fast for his size, and he wasn’t above using his powers to throw their cargo at Din, but the Mandalorian had size and general forethought on his side so it wasn’t long before he had the kid tossed over his shoulder with the threat of showing him how “not horrible” he could be.
The kid squealed in between bouts of laughter as the Mandalorian ran his fingers over him, finding the child’s most ticklish spot with almost professional ease.
“Stop, Gedet'ye, stop!”
“Learned your lesson?” Din asked, despite not actually having any lesson to teach.
“Good,” Din grunted, reclining back. The kid recuperated for only a minute before he ran off to find some other entertainment. Din watched, contentment filling him up.
Okay, so. He hadn’t really aged since roughly the time he picked the kid up. The kid might be responsible, somehow. Or perhaps any one of the hundreds of planets he’d visited in his quest to find the child’s people had something to do with it.
He supposed the how of it didn’t really matter. He was here, now. Years—decades, apparently—of worrying about the kid’s future suddenly ground to a halt. Din had defeated Moff Gideon and his Dark Troopers to prevent the empire from taking the kid and turning him into a lab rat. He’d followed Ahsoka’s lead to Skywalker to find the kid’s people, only to take the child back to prevent the kid from becoming the New Republic’s weapon. He’d given the darksaber to Bo-katan Kryze secure in the knowledge that she would gather the Mandalorians together once more just so the kid could have a family to raise him when Din inevitably passed. All of that work, and for what?
Well, a safer galaxy, Din supposed. A better place for future children. A better place for him to raise his child. Something that he might be able to do, now. It was a sudden, unexplored possibility, huge and all-encompassing after facing so many years of the inevitability of leaving the child behind.
Din stood up and stretched and groaned. He wasn’t as young as he used to be, but he wasn’t doing too bad, for his age.
Not too bad at all.
“Hey kid,” He called out from the cockpit, trusting his child to hear him, wherever he was, “where are we going next?”