Luke would not call himself an expert on children, necessarily, but he sees enough of them on a regular basis to feel pretty confident that he has a handle on what’s normal behavior for one. The first time Han and Leia had left Ben with Luke the little guy had cried for hours. He’d started in on it even before they’d left, clinging to Leia’s knees and sobbing like they were selling him to Jawas. Any attempts on Leia’s part to convince him that no one was going to die or be sold for parts in the two days that Han and Leia would be off-world had been met with increasingly hysterical incredulity. He gets this from your side of the family , Han had told Luke, which they’d all known was a bald-faced lie.
The point is: Luke knows kids. Sort of. He’s accordingly a little surprised that Grogu doesn’t cry as Luke carries him down to his X-wing. He blinks up at Luke with a disconcertingly direct stare, his eyes so huge that they almost seem to contain whole planets. It reminds Luke of when Ben had been born; he’d been so solemn for the first few weeks, like he somehow could tell that the galaxy was a place full of strange secrets and he’d better pay attention or else he’d miss them.
“Uh,” Luke says, while they’re waiting for the turbolift to drop to the flight deck, “are you--doing okay?”
Grogu peers up at Luke, clearly confused.
“Leaving your dad,” Luke clarifies. The kid’s eyes are so hypnotizing that Luke almost doesn’t notice when the turbolift doors open; R2-D2 rams into the back of his knees and beeps, We leaving some time this century? It’s enough to get Luke shuffling into the corridor.
Grogu makes a soft cooing noise and conveys with the absolute certainty of the very young that he has never been separated from his father for any lengthy period of time and he’s sure that this won’t be any different. Although he’s too young to think in words, the thought is so crisp it might as well be: Dad will find me again .
Luke has zero idea what to say in the face of this calm confidence. He hasn’t left any way for the Mandalorian to find them--the only part of Luke’s incipient school that he isn’t being half-hearted about is the security; Ben is only six and he’s already weathered three kidnapping attempts and one botched assassination--and the farewell that Luke had just witnessed had seemed a little too intense for a man who was planning to see his kid again in a few months.
Instead of sharing any of this with Grogu, Luke makes a humming noise of interest and pretends to concentrate on remembering the route back to the flight deck. He’s mostly following the trail of dismembered droids, but there’s no need for Grogu to clock that.
Taking the noise as a sign to continue, Grogu elaborates: he’s been taken before and his father had found him. His memories are a confusing bramble, probably because he’s too little to really understand them, but he shows Luke a few people he remembers having taken him: a small man with glasses in a white coat, an Imperial moff that Luke had seen ten minutes ago glowering on the floor of the bridge, a Kel Dor in maroon-colored robes with a lightsaber clipped to his belt. And then, too quickly, the same helmeted head, again and again tilted down towards Grogu’s questing fingers: Dad!
Luke feels a momentary surge of confusion and excitement--another living Jedi?--before he realizes that Grogu is thinking of the distant past, when he’d been found and brought to the crèche of the Jedi temple on Coruscant. Master Yoda had told Luke that all of the younglings there had been killed; had he known about Grogu? You never could tell with Master Yoda.
Luke’s felt weird about this whole thing for a few days now, ever since he’d felt that powerful, uncertain touch in the Force and instantly known that it was a child. He’d been on Yavin 4, meeting with Leia and Shara about the temple whose ruins Luke was ostensibly going to convert into an academy, once he finally figured out what the fuck he was doing and also found someone other than his nephew to teach, and halfway through the afternoon tea service that Leia insisted on whenever she was on-world, he’d keeled over. Do you feel it? he’d asked Leia, dazed, and she’d actually cried , although she’d denied it later.
All of the sacred texts that Luke had managed to track down had said the same thing: find the younglings, bring them to the temple, teach them the ways. There were all sorts of cautions twined in, more ephemeral than practical, about how the children had to be very young or else they would form attachments that would make them difficult to teach and prone to darkness. Luke had felt strange reading these admonishments; he’d spent his own childhood in isolation, raised by people more concerned with his physical than emotional welfare, and he’d been deeply unhappy about it. It had been disconcerting to realize that maybe the reason he’d been able to become a Jedi so quickly was because he’d been primed for it by experiences that he now strongly felt no child ought to have.
Grogu’s call had been so powerful, Luke had been able to do nothing but answer it. There hadn’t been room for any questions or second-guessing; a child needed him. And then once he’d come, Grogu’s father had just--handed him over, like he, too, had read the sacred texts and knew what needed to be done. Why had he done that? It had been so clear how much he loved Grogu. Luke had only seen a short glimpse of the Mandalorian’s face, before realizing that he was staring and that was both rude and likely to get him murdered, and it had been twisted with agonized sadness, like he could feel loneliness breathing against the back of his neck.
Speed it up! R2-D2 beeps impatiently and Luke jerks to attention. He’s just been standing next to his X-wing, he realizes suddenly, holding Grogu and staring into space while R2-D2 has made the initial flight preparations.
Grogu extends an inquiring hand, just barely able to touch a claw to Luke’s chin. He must sense Luke’s tumultuous thoughts, if not the details of them, because he offers a clumsy attempt at comfort. He’s a much more empathetic child than Ben, who has such a deep internal life that he often struggles to make connections with other people.
How will Grogu feel when he finally understands that his dad won’t be coming for him? Luke tries to imagine showing a child a pile of books and saying, these rotting pieces of dust told me you weren’t allowed to see your dad ever again . If Luke had tried something like that on his sister after Ben was born, Leia would’ve told him to fuck off and fuck the Jedi Order, too, for good measure.
“What am I doing ?” Luke says, but it’s more of a pained whine.
Standing around uselessly , R2-D2 beeps.
“Can you watch the kid?” Luke asks, only barely paying attention to R2-D2’s sudden, panicked drone as he lifts Grogu into the cockpit and locks him into the pilot’s seat. “Grogu, don’t touch anything. R2, don’t let him--whatever, do anything. I have to go do something. I’ll be right back, okay?”
Not okay! R2-D2 insists but Luke is already sprinting back towards the turbolift.
Luke hears the yelling even before he makes it completely out of the turbolift. “--a sacred rite!” someone is shouting. “Just because you grew up ignorant of our ways and suckled by that mangy--”
That results in more yelling. Luke can’t make out individual words anymore, just voices of various pitches climbing over one another. It sounds a lot like the Provisional Senate meetings that Mon Mothma had overseen during the establishment of the New Republic, which Luke had been forced to attend because he was the Only Living Jedi and Leia had reasoned that things wouldn’t get too rowdy with his august presence--or, whatever. Luke hadn’t lasted very long as a figurehead; he’d gotten uncomfortable and bored.
When Luke enters the bridge, it’s to a clump of people in beskar armor all furiously arguing while two hard-eyed women with large guns watch from what has apparently become the sidelines. Grogu’s father has put his helmet back on. The moff is still on the floor for some reason.
“Oh,” the shock trooper says, her eyes darting to Luke. “Problems with your X-wing?” She clearly recognizes him, which is both not surprising and embarrassing. Luke hadn’t noticed before, but she’s wearing an Alderaanian mourning braid.
“No,” Luke says, quietly, but the sound of his voice cuts through all of the yelling and the various Mandalorians fall silent. They turn in almost unison to look at him. “Is this a bad time?” Luke hears himself ask, like a fucking idiot , and he flushes at the incredulous silence that follows this.
“Kind of,” Grogu’s dad says eventually.
“I need to talk to you,” Luke tells him. Although nothing in the Mandalorian’s posture changes, Luke can sense a kind of flare of alarm at that. “Nothing is wrong with Grogu,” he clarifies quickly.
The redheaded Mandalorian turns her hard-eyed stare on Luke. “Jedi,” she says with sudden sharpness, like something has just occurred to her, “did a master train you in the art of the saber?”
“Uh,” Luke says intelligently to this non sequitur. “Yes?”
“Name them,” she orders, in a tone nearly identical to the one that Leia uses whenever Han calls her princess in a derogatory way.
Luke stares at her for a few seconds, confused and not liking it, before saying, “Master Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi.” And then, because something about her imperious stare compels honesty and, frankly, losing a hand is a good learning experience all around, he adds, “And--my father, Anakin Skywalker.”
The Mandalorian princess’ mouth thins into an extremely flat line. “I knew General Kenobi,” she finally allows, in a hiss that makes it clear her opinion on Old Ben is not particularly flattering. “I acknowledge the mastery of your instructors.” She turns to Grogu’s dad and tells him, “Accept the Jedi’s training and I will take the Darksaber from you in combat.”
It occurs to Luke suddenly that this is the perfect way to solve the problem he currently has: namely, how to get a Mandalorian bounty hunter within half a parsec of Ben without Leia going supernova. “Yes,” he says, very quickly, before Grogu’s dad has a chance to turn him down. “I’ll do it.”
Grogu’s father tilts his helmet about ten degrees to the left, in a skeptical assessment that leaves Luke smarting. Although he doesn’t say anything, Luke can hear, very plainly, why the fuck are you doing this . “You’ll have to travel separately,” Luke tells him, slowly, staring at the faceplate of his helmet. “I don’t think anyone other than Grogu will fit with me in my X-wing.” He puts a very, very faint emphasis on Grogu’s name. Hopefully someone from a culture where everyone wears helmets all the time will be good at picking up subtle cues.
Although the Mandalorian has the Force sensitivity of a profogg Luke finds it pretty easy to feel the general outline of his emotions. It’s immediately apparent that he understands. He straightens up, the tilt gone from his head. Without conscious intention, Luke superimposes the face that he’d observed--those sad, dark eyes, turned down in the corners, a surprisingly mobile mouth for someone so demonstrably laconic--onto the smoothly impenetrable surface of the Mandalorian’s beskar helmet.
“Why don’t we rendezvous on Nevarro?” the Alderaanian shock trooper suggests suddenly, her voice a loud intrusion that startles Luke. So much for the imperturbable facade of the Only Living Jedi. He can feel himself flush again.
Luke clears his throat. “All right,” he says. “I can coordinate a transport to meet us there.”
“Oh, I bet you can,” the shock trooper mutters. It’s hard to tell if that’s a dig at Luke staring at her friend like a dazed bantha or a more general critique of Luke’s position in the New Republic--which is to say, bizarrely revered. Luke’s only been back to Chandrila once since Han had smuggled him off in the middle of the night during the initial negotiations and it had, frankly, sucked krakkiss balls. She helpfully clarifies the source of her antipathy by adding, “We’ll roll out the ol’ red carpet for you, Your Highness.”
Because this is not the first time someone has made this assumption, Luke says quickly, “The Organas only adopted my sister. I grew up on a moisture farm on Tatooine.”
The shock trooper looks a little skeptical but also much less annoyed. Had she thought that Luke was also Alderaanian, like Leia? Or maybe she has a general objection to royalty. Hard to blame her; Luke still has trouble shaking off his native Tatooinian suspicion of authority. Princesses are all well and good when you’re rescuing them from Death Stars, but it’s another matter entirely when they’re trying to run your life for you.
“My name is Luke Skywalker,” Luke tells her, and also Grogu’s father, whom Luke is only now realizing had no idea to whom exactly he was forking over his child. Luke is feeling better and better about his abrupt decision to stray from the ways of the Jedi outlined in their sacred texts. Even the Mandalorian princess’ fury feels less scalding as Luke’s confidence in himself and his actions is restored. “I probably shouldn’t leave Grogu alone much longer in my X-wing. He seems, uh. Prone to mischief?”
Grogu’s dad makes a little hissing noise that’s probably agreement. There’s a brief flare of amusement from him.
“I’ll see you on Nevarro,” Luke tells him. Even if Luke hadn’t seen the Mandalorian’s tears, he still would have been able to feel the man’s almost helpless sadness when he’d thought he and his son were being separated. It had been a familiar kind of formless agony; Luke suspects that, like himself, Grogu’s father had been orphaned at a young age.
The Mandalorian nods at him. “Nevarro,” he says, like a promise.
On his way to Nevarro, Luke sends a quick subspace transmission to Leia-- got the kid, bringing his dad, too, so can you send a bigger ship --and neglects to include any information that might make her angry, like the fact that the dad is a Mandalorian bounty hunter and also Luke had pretty distinctly heard someone tell someone else that Fett was on his way to pick them up. Leia’s feelings on Boba Fett are not particularly acrimonious but she generally hates everyone she’d deemed responsible for putting her in the situation that had resulted in her strangling a Hutt in a skimpy dancer’s costume; it seems better to pretend ignorance on the matter. Besides, it’s a huge galaxy. There are probably lots of people with similar surnames to Fett.
Grogu sleeps most of the trip and wakes up just in time to enthusiastically attempt to help Luke land the X-wing. This is something that Ben loves to do, too, and has since he was Grogu’s same approximate size. Luke gives him a very brief overview of what the various levers and knobs and flashing lights do and Grogu eagerly stretches his little hands towards them and then uses the Force to actually yank the altitude indicator out of the instrument panel before trying to stick it into his mouth.
“Hey, hey, hey,” Luke chides, sticking his fingers in after it to prevent him from choking. “If you eat that, we’re gonna crash and die.” He pops the altitude indicator out from between Grogu’s tiny little teeth and wipes it off on the leg of his pants. “You’re pretty powerful for a womp rat, aren’t you?”
Grogu makes a cooing noise and his presence in the Force is suddenly bright and delighted. It takes Luke only half a second’s concentration to intuit that Grogu is thinking of his dad: a tender tilt of a helmet and a gruff, charmed, you little womp rat . Grogu doesn’t know what a womp rat is, so he thinks that he’s one, literally. His dad’s womp rat.
Luke tries really, really hard to keep himself from feeling anything particularly embarrassing upon this realization. His chest aches a little.
The city clinging to Nevarro’s major spaceport reminds Luke a lot of Mos Eisley, not just because it’s clearly a shit town scrabbling its way out from underneath the Empire’s uncaring thumb but also because it’s another major hub of the Bounty Hunters’ Guild. He even recognizes a few faces--a tall blue Twi’lek in head-to-toe black leather, in particular, because Biggs had gotten pretty drunk at the Mos Eisley cantina after receiving news of his Imperial Academy acceptance and he’d made a pass at her that had gone down like a trolley of durasteel--which is a good reminder that bounty hunters, like jakrabs, have strong survival instincts and can be unpredictable.
This would be the point at which Luke regrets coming back for the Mandalorian, except--he doesn’t. He’s just going to have to come up with a better reason than I felt like I could trust him during Leia’s inevitable interrogation.
Luke and Grogu spend a few hours together before the Mandalorian finds them. Luke had initially gone to the marshal’s office upon landing, but the administrative assistant there had made Luke uncomfortable-- Force jeebies , Han calls them--so he takes Grogu to find something to eat, instead. For someone who can’t actually speak and is essentially an infant, Grogu is a surprisingly pleasant companion. He tells Luke all about his favorite things to eat, most of which seem to be whatever a planet’s closest equivalent to a gorg is, although he demonstrates that he’s not too picky by sucking the marrow out of the bones in the stew that Luke orders at a surprisingly clean and brightly-lit tavern.
A few hours later, as Grogu is starting in on a second bowl of stew, Luke feels someone with a familiar presence step through the swinging doors into the tavern. “Mando!” the tavern-keeper roars. “Not here looking for trouble, I hope?” But he chuckles as he says it.
Luke, seated at a corner table with his back to two walls, does not have to move at all to watch the Mandalorian thread his way between tables. A few of the townspeople say things to him, too quietly for Luke to hear, but he can feel that the mood is cautiously pleasant. It’s certainly a better greeting than Han’s ever gotten at a local drinking establishment, and another spot of coiled tension in Luke’s back slowly unspools.
Grogu notices the Mandalorian almost immediately, of course. He straightens up, puts his little hands down on the table, and struggles to his feet. Dad! he’s thinking, over and over, so incandescently happy that it’s warming Luke secondhand.
“Skywalker,” the Mandalorian says, voice a low rumble, and then he sits down across from Luke and leans across the table to offer an extended finger to Grogu. “Kid.”
Grogu grabs this finger and makes a warbling noise of pure joy.
“He’s very happy,” Luke offers, although he suspects the Mandalorian already knows as much.
The Mandalorian doesn’t answer, but Luke can feel that the two of them are twin spots of happiness. “Thank you for agreeing to meet,” Luke continues, deciding he might as well get this out while everyone is still in a good mood. “I should be honest with you, I--well, I didn’t like it, taking Grogu the way that I did. It’s how the Jedi Order has always done things and I’m trying to rebuild them, you know. After they were wiped out. But it felt wrong. That’s why I came back.”
The Mandalorian says nothing. He’s not even looking at Luke, really, the front plane of his helmet oriented towards Grogu, but Luke can tell that he has his full attention. The feeling is indescribable; like being the focus of another creature in the dark, even without knowing that it’s there. It should feel predatory, but somehow it doesn’t. Luke can feel his face begin to warm under this sensation. “I’ll teach you what I know of lightsaber forms, of course. But that’s not why I came back to find you.”
Luke’s habit is to wear the hood of his cloak up so that most of his face is covered in shadow. He’s not the most recognizable person in the galaxy but he’s certainly up there, and anyway it makes it easier to sell the whole Only Living Jedi thing if people think he’s mysterious. It’s impossible to know from the outside what sort of sensors the Mandalorian’s beskar helmet is equipped with. Hopefully he’s not getting a full-color picture of Luke furiously flushing under his hood.
“Would you like to come with us?” Luke asks. It comes out less certain than he’d intended, shading towards a plea. He’s immediately uncomfortable and coughs to clear his throat.
The Mandalorian’s helmet tucks a little lower, like he’s now gone back to looking at Grogu. “I only have one other student right now,” Luke tells him. “My nephew. My sister and her husband, they travel a lot and it’s usually pretty dangerous, so Ben will stay with me. But they visit him all the time and sometimes they’ll bring him back to Chandrila to stay with them for a few months. So, you know. I’m used to working with parents.”
The Mandalorian says, in a dry rasp, “I thought it was dangerous.”
“You mean, attachments?” Luke says. “That’s how it used to be taught, anyway. But if I tried to keep Ben away from my sister she’d disembowel me with a vibroknife. And--anyway--look,” and Luke pushes back his hood a little bit, so he can see the Mandalorian clearly. “The masters who taught me, they painted a pretty bleak picture of the Jedi Order before the fall of the Republic: stealing children away from their families, teaching them that the only way to control their abilities was to forgo strong emotions. And, you know, by doing that, they made--him. The old way made Darth Vader. What they were doing, it was flawed.”
Although the Mandalorian hadn’t been doing much, it becomes clear now that he’d been doing something , because by the time Luke has finished this urgent whisper, he has completely stilled. Something about his monochromatic, shiny armor makes him appear alarmingly dangerous, but Luke feels only the barest hint of Force jeebies. He anyway thinks those are because of the Darksaber; he can feel the proximity of a kyber crystal, like a bit of grit he can’t quite scrape out from under his fingernails.
“Vader,” the Mandalorian says. “He was like you?”
Despite presumably being an accident, this blow lands with unerring accuracy. Luke can feel himself pull back, tight and miserable. Whatever expression his face makes, it’s probably ridiculous and it’s definitely ugly. He tilts his head forward, letting the weight of his hood pull it down so his face is better shrouded. Luke knows what he wants to say, of course, which is to deny this accusation. But it would be a lie; he’s been molded by his experiences with his father in indelible ways.
“He was once a Jedi,” Luke finally says. “He died as one. But for a long time he was something darker. The sacred texts of the Jedi, they say that love for an individual is anathema to the light. You have to love everyone, you know? True compassion. But I saw love bring Vader back from the darkness before he died and it wasn’t because he suddenly felt compassion for all living things--he loved me .” Luke’s voice has gone cold without his realizing it.
“You were lovers?” the Mandalorian says flatly.
“Maker fucking-- no! ” Luke hisses, shocked out of his poor mood by horrified revulsion. “He was my dad . Ugh!” Luke contorts briefly, trying to shake off that horrible image.
There’s a brief flash of amusement, like a spark of distant lightning just out of reach. The Mandalorian shifts his shoulders back, loosening his rigid posture. “Are you confident you can safely teach the kid the ways of your kind?”
It takes Luke a moment to realize that he means the Jedi; for a second, Luke honestly wonders if he’s asking about moisture farming. “I can swear to teach him everything I know. My sister--I guess she was my first student. But once she had control over her abilities she decided not to become a Jedi. Grogu doesn’t have to walk this path all the way. He just needs to know enough not to be a danger to himself or other people.”
“Your sister has--attachments,” the Mandalorian says softly.
“She’s married and has a kid, so: yeah. I would say so.” Luke looks down at Grogu, who has gone back to slurping from his bowl of stew. “If you don’t mind, can I ask--why you let me take him? I kind of couldn’t believe it afterwards. The two of you have a very clear connection. Even if you’re not Force-sensitive, I’m sure you must feel it.”
“You asked me to,” the Mandalorian points out.
“Yeah, but people don’t generally do things just because I ask them,” Luke says. “That’s more of my sister’s bag.”
The Mandalorian’s helmet tilts a few degrees to the left, then upright, and then back down again. Perhaps the Force had had a hand in his complicity and he’s now finding himself without words to explain it. Luke is on the verge of opening his mouth to retract the question when the Mandalorian says, with a soft fuzz that’s clearly a sigh filtered through his helmet, “If he wants to go with you and join the rest of his kind, then it is his choice. Children are--cared for. They aren’t chained.” And then, nearly inaudibly: “This is the Way.”
“He came with me because he was sure you’d find him, like, almost immediately,” Luke says. The Mandalorian’s head snaps upright. “He said that you always find him.”
The Mandalorian says nothing for a long time. He and Luke watch Grogu polish off the stew, sucking the marrow out of the few bones left piled in the bottom of the bowl once he’s finished the scant broth. He then climbs over the top of the table and into the Mandalorian’s lap to settle in for another nap. His thoughts are not really words, just the cheerful happiness of a child who is drowsy and fed and loved. The Mandalorian looks down to fit Grogu into the curve of his elbow, carefully adjusting his vambraces so they aren’t in the way, and Luke is once again distracted by his memory of that sad, handsome face.
When Leia finds out that Luke has finally decided on the guiding philosophy for the academy he’s been dragging his feet about building, she’s going to be thrilled. At least, until she figures out that this awakening has come about because Luke has developed an immediate and embarrassing crush on a Mandalorian bounty hunter, at which point she’ll presumably kill him.
“Yes,” the Mandalorian says, quietly, when Grogu has only just begun to snore. “I’ll come with you.”