Din’s mother had given him a wavering smile before she hugged him goodbye. His father’s hands had been steady on his shoulders as he kissed his forehead.
He hadn’t realized the strength it must have taken them not to crumble until now, as he looks the kid in the eye, without the shelter of the helmet concealing the tremble he can feel in his lip, the burning behind his eyes.
He was no stranger to pain. He’d spent most of his life having to be strong. When he’d lost his parents, when the Empire had slaughtered his tribe, when the kid had been taken on Tython, it had taken all the strength he’d had not to break.
Yet none of those moments had taken half the strength it takes now, to set Grogu down, to let him walk away. Every muscle in his hands strain with tension, every movement he makes as he gently lowers Grogu to the floor cuts him to his skin. He wants to say no, he wants to scoop the kid back up in his arms, to fly away and forget any of this happened.
But Grogu holds his arms up to the Jedi, and even Din can feel the peace within the kid, the acceptance. And the Jedi’s eyes are kind, they are gentle, as he nods at Din, a silent thank you passing between them.
Din’s parents hadn’t wanted to part with him, they hadn’t wanted to hide him away in the hatch. They had wanted to take him and try to run away from the darkness coming for them. Din knows that now. He knows now the strength it had taken for them to let him go, to give him his best chance.
He wants to give Grogu his best chance.
He lets him go.
Din watches the kid, his eyes never wavering, a small smile on his lips and a reassuring nod on his head. Din waits until his kid is gone from his eyeline.
Then he crumbles.
He can feel Cara’s hand on his shoulder. She’s sitting next to him, her body angled away so she can’t see his face.
He can feel himself trembling. There’s a pain in his chest, in his lungs, in his head. He can’t move, even to put his helmet back on. A heavy grief is weighing him down, paralyzing him.
He hears voices behind him, Bo-Katan arguing in hushed tones about what to do with Gideon. She thinks the New Republic will be too soft on him. She wants to deal with him now and swiftly. He can still hear the malice in her voice when she mentions the Darksaber.
He wants to tell her again that she can have the stupid weapon, he doesn’t want it.
He’s given up the only thing he wants.
The pieces of himself that he’d been holding together for Grogu’s sake are slowly starting to unravel and he buries his face in his hands.
Cara’s hand tightens on his shoulder.
He hears a whispered voice next to them, it’s Fennec, “The New Republic reinforcements are almost here. Take your time, come when he’s ready.”
He lifts his head up ever so slightly to see Cara nod at her. Fennec has her eyes averted from his face as Cara’s are. It’s a kindness that brings him back to himself for a moment. There are still people here, there’s still work to be done.
He no longer has a clan but he’s still a Mandalorian. His eyes are blurry as he fumbles at his side for the helmet. Cara reaches for it and gently presses it into his hands.
He’s not alone. He still has family here. But there’s a gaping hole in his chest, something hollow and cold that he thinks may never be mended.
He ducks his head and puts the helmet on. He stands up.
“Are you sure you won’t come with us?” Boba asks him, as he prepares his ship to take off.
“Thank you,” Din says, “but no. There’s somewhere I need to go first.”
“I suspect we’ll meet again someday,” Fennec says, holding a hand out to him. “It was nice to see you again Mando.” There’s a hint of a smile on her lips.
“Likewise,” he says, taking her hand and shaking. “Thank you, both of you, for your help.”
She turns to leave. Boba gives him one last look before they board his ship. “You did the right thing. He will be safe with the Jedi.” He shakes his head to himself as if remembering something, “They are powerful beings.”
“Thank you,” Din says again. He can’t quite bring himself to believe he made the right choice. Not yet.
Maybe Boba senses that, because as he climbs into his ship he says, “The love between a father and his son is strong. He was lucky to have you in his life, even for a fleeting time.”
Din nods at him, grateful that the helmet hides his eyes. He knows it was not Grogu who was the lucky one.
He’s sitting in the small New Republic ship, a loan from Cara. “I asked them to bring their best one,” she says resting a hand on the pilot’s seat. “It’s definitely not the Razor Crest, but it’ll do.”
It’s not the Razor Crest. It’s sleek and shiny, and he doesn’t have to stop every parsec to fix the loose wires. He feels like a stranger sitting in it. There’s an uncomfortable sense of being away from home. Maybe that’s better, he thinks, there were too many memories on the Razor Crest that would burn. The small metal ball feels heavy in his pocket.
“You know,” Cara says with a small smile, “We could really use someone like you in the New Republic.”
Din would laugh if he felt up to it. “Thank you for your help Cara Dune,” is all he says. “I owe you one.”
“No you don’t.” She pauses, then, “He’s going to be okay, you know.”
Din can’t answer and Cara puts her hand on his shoulder again. “You know where to find me if you need me.”
He nods at her, it’s all he can bring himself to do and she turns to leave. As she climbs off the ship she says, “Bo-Katan told me to tell you that this isn’t over between the two of you. She said after she makes sure the New Republic gives Gideon what he deserves she’ll be retrieving the Darksaber.”
“Tell her I threw it out the window.”
Cara gives him a small laugh, “Until we meet again, my friend.”
He’s not even sure why he’s doing this. He’s not even sure this will help. He just needs some reassurance that he didn’t make a mistake, that the kid’s going to be okay.
He looks down at the tree strewn planet as he approaches, the yellow tinted light reflects off the clear windows of the ship, momentarily blinding him. He’s not used to the smoothness or the speed of the descent and the ship shakes as he hits the ground hard. He hopes the New Republic won’t mind if he returns it with a few dents.
He climbs out and jumps to the ground, his feet hitting the burnt forest floor hard. He’s off balance for a second and reaches a hand back to hold the ship for support. Everything about him has felt off balance ever since the kid left. Like he’s trying to relearn how to walk with a missing limb.
He’s not sure why he’s here. There’s no reason why Ahsoka Tano would still be on this tiny planet, after she’d freed Calodan and gotten what she wanted from the Magistrate. He’s not sure how he would even find her again if she was.
He rests against the ship for a few minutes, considering his options. He finally decides that maybe he should just go stomping through the forest and hope she jumps out and attacks him like last time, when he hears a rustle in the leaves behind him. He flies around, raising an arm to strike when he sees the white lights, the familiar humming sound that now holds more bad memories than good.
Ahsoka switches off the sabers and clips them to her belt. She slowly lowers the grey hood from her head and looks at him silently, just waiting.
He lowers his arm. “I was looking for you,” he says, before thinking that maybe that was obvious. It was she who found him after all.
“You caught me just before I left. I sensed your presence.” Her eyes meet his before they move down to the hand in his pocket. He hadn’t even realized he’d been gripping the small metal ball until she’d noticed. He releases it and removes his hand from his pocket, letting it fall limply to his side.
“The child is gone,” he says, and it takes everything for him to keep his voice from breaking as he does.
He takes a step towards her. He doesn’t know why he can ask this of her, what hope she may be able to give him but he has to ask it anyway, “Did I make the right choice?”
Her eyes hold his for a moment before she says quietly, “I cannot tell you what the right path is. Only that you must trust that what you have done is best for the child.”
“How can I do that?” he asks, his voice desperate. “How can I know that he’s going to be okay?” His voice does break then, and he stops and takes a sharp inhale, trying to collect himself.
Ahsoka is gentle but firm when she responds, “You can’t. You must accept that you allowed Grogu to choose his own path. You must trust that he has made the right choice for himself.”
He can feel the fight go out of him at her words. His legs feel suddenly weak, like the strings holding him up have been cut, and he sinks to the ground, pressing his back against the ship and resting his elbows on his knees.
Ahsoka stares at him for a moment before crouching down next to him, wrapping her grey cloak around herself as she sits up against the ship with him.
“I see now that my fears were unnecessary,” Ahsoka says, tilting her chin to look up at the hazy yellow sky.
“What do you mean?” Din asks, his voice still rough.
“The love you have for each other is strong enough that you were both willing to let one another go. That kind of selfless love is not so easily swayed by the dark.”
Din can’t answer. There’s a tightness in his throat, a gripping pain in his chest. He wants to talk about something else. “The Jedi who came for him, do you know who it was?”
She looks away from the sky, back to him. And for the first time there’s a smile on her face, one that seems sad and hopeful at the same time.
“Grogu is in good hands,” she says simply.
“Will I see him again?” he asks, fearing what the answer might be.
“In my life, I’ve found that when you love someone and they you, you always find your way back to one another, in the end.”
Grogu stares upon the ancient Jedi temple, a peace and belonging flooding his senses.
“Come little one,” the Jedi says kindly, kneeling down beside him, “I will train you in the ways of the force, I promise I will help guide you the best I can.”
Grogu turns away from the temple, back to the ship. There’s a sadness inside him that the peace and acceptance doesn’t fully wash away.
“You miss him,” the Jedi says quietly, “I understand.”
He saved me. Grogu thinks.
“He saved me,” Din says quietly to Ahsoka.
“Love saves us all in the end,” she replies, looking up at the sound of a convor’s cry above them.
“I know you’re afraid,” Luke Skywalker says to the child, “I also know your love for your father is stronger than your fear. You will find your way back to him someday, and he to you. I believe that.”
Grogu turns, and together they walk into the temple.