Migs had been halfway through dinner, tucked quietly away in the corner of the cantina, when he saw it: a face he shouldn’t recognize. A face only he would recognize. The man – shit, he still didn’t even know his fucking name – stood out immediately from the rather crowded bar, all the same ragged brown hair and lazily-maintained goatee he remembered (and promised to forget) from before. Something about him just...set him apart, even without the armor. The way he carried himself, maybe. Wait, why wasn’t he wearing his armor? The wheels of Migs’ mind spun at breakneck speed, calculating...overcompensating. Panicking. He took a couple deep breaths to slow himself down.
“Brown eyes,” he barked with a casual friendliness he didn’t completely feel over the rumble in the bar. Instinct told him to use the hasty erstwhile nickname over “Mando”. Because again, where the hell was his armor? Head and shoulders, the man turned, still moving the way he would as if the visor was on. For somebody who never – or at least, used to never – show his face, he had one hell of a penetrating gaze. Still, calling out to him put Migs in the thick of the thing, which was always where he did his best thinking. That whole sharpshooter’s tunnel vision and whatnot. He focused, watching the man edge his way past the locals. Intense gaze aside, said brown eyes were...well, big and sad as he remembered. But as he drew up closer, Migs noted a flatness behind them. A very, very familiar kind of empty.
Mando, Brown Eyes, who-the-fuck-knew, didn’t speak upon arriving at Migs’ table. Awkwardness and anxiety set every joint in a way that looked painful as he feigned a casual attitude. This fucking guy; however, Migs couldn’t be that mad. He stood and held out a hand in gesture to wait, though the suddenness of the movement made his...guest(?) start in place. Wound tight as garrote wire, yep.
“Hi. I’d tell you to sit, but you’re definitely not gonna do that. Gimme like, two minutes, okay?”
Mando nodded once, more a robotic jerk than a natural movement. Migs circled the table and slid past Mando’s rigid form. Instinct struck again as he reached to grab Mando’s shoulder and give it a tiny reassuring shake – inwardly, that puzzled Migs. He had no front to maintain and he knew it. The Imperial Remnant here was totally gone, fled like rats since the mining facility went up, and Migs had integrated himself pretty well in the past couple lunar cycles here, once he convinced enough people he wasn’t an ex-Imp holdout looking for a cover story.
Well, he was, but not like that. Anyway, point was, he shouldn’t be giving a shit about gladhanding for an audience. Unless...he really did care about Mando and whatever bullshit he’d shown up with. Fuck. He pulled up to the bar proper and waved down the proprietor, a bazillion-year-old woman named Jax. She was mean as fuck, but had taken a shine to Migs and his fast-talking bullshit. He suspected she had desperately missed and needed somebody clever enough to meet her where she was at, and truth be told, he needed somebody around to tell him to go to hell every once and again. A perfect symbiotic relationship.
“Jax. I need the back room. Lemme have the key.”
“For what? Tall, dark, and rigid-as-death over there? Since when did you have a face worth dating?” Jax asked, voice creaking and surly.
“Fuck off. He’s an old friend.” A very, very generous interpretation, but the simple answer.
“Don’t give me that shit, Migs. He looks like trouble in fifty-foot letters.”
“It ain’t like that,” Migs said, rapidly growing frustrated. Jax picked up on the change in mood and leant in a bit closer, arms on the countertop.
“You mean that?” she asked, surprisingly straightforward and...almost gentle.
“Yeah, promise.” Migs replied with a heavy sigh and chanced a look over his shoulder; Mando was watching, because of fucking course he was. Whatever. Figure that out later. He turned back to Jax, shoulders huddled to his ears as he tried to be discreet. “I wouldn’t do that to you and everybody. Look, he’s...he’s not good with people. Never has been. But he wouldn’t bring trouble either. Not...” Migs subtly tapped his chest, “Not any trouble outside what’s in here.”
Jax’s shoulders slumped in relief and understanding.
“Something’s up, and if I try to talk him through it out here we’ll be here all fucking week. So let me have the fuckin’ key already,” Migs continued, speaking fast as a show of his discomfited honesty.
“Yeah, yeah,” Jax replied, though it carried less of her usual surliness as she pulled a keycard lashed to an absurdly large piece of wood off a peg behind the bar and handed it off to Migs. “He looks hungry.”
Migs dug in his pocket and produced a few of his very spare credits on the countertop – he didn’t have a real job out here beyond tuning up freight transports and environmental units, so he wasn’t exactly flush. “He does. Dunno if he’ll actually eat it, but what the hell.”
“Well, you better damn well make sure he does,” Jax said. Her hand covered the credits and pushed them back at Migs. “So he doesn’t waste my shit. And I want your ass up here in the next couple days to look at my range. It’s gone to hell on me.”
“Yes ma’am.” Migs took the key, saluted with two fingers, and pivoted to return to Mando feeling oddly better about everything. He should keep up this good-boy schtick; his luck had risen with it. Upon returning to the table, he seized his half-finished meal (that, despite this new stress, he was damned and determined to finish, lest he face Jax’s wrath for wasting it) and used it to point to a battered door. “This way. Jax keeps a banquet room in back. The locals are real into familial gathering shit when they aren’t planning raids on mining trucks. I’m sure you’re very excited to see the four walls where a bunch of guys planned how to kill you last time you were here,” Migs said, knowing full well he was essentially rambling at a mannequin.
Mando didn’t respond, naturally, but the womp-rat-in-headlights-look had abated a little. Encouraging. Migs slapped the keycard to the reader to open the door and waved Mando in first. Once the door had safely hissed shut behind him and he’d sequestered his plate on the corner of the table, he turned to Mando and spread his arms wide in confused expectation. “Well then, let’s get right to the point. What the fuck?” he asked, hand waving up and down at the...casual dress, for lack of a better term. “Additionally, why the fuck?” he added, hands moving to his chest to indicate himself.
After an excruciatingly long beat, Mando spoke haltingly: “A lot happened.”
“No shit,” Migs replied with a sigh, but pulled out a chair for Mando to sit before taking one himself. “I’d ask if everything’s all right, but it clearly fuckin’ isn’t.” To his surprise, the tiniest (but nonetheless still sad) smile sprouted on Mando’s face as he took the offered seat. “What?” he followed up, puzzled.
“That’s what I hoped you would say,” Mando said quietly. “You can tell without being told.”
That pulled Migs up short. “Well, I mean...” He gestured again at Mando’s un-Mando-ness. “Kinda obvious. You lose your armor? Did somebody tattle to King Mando that I saw your face?”
Mando’s face darkened considerably. Shit, too flippant. “No,” he answered. “I’ve got it.”
“Oh.” The what-the-fuck quotient intensified, putting a pit in Migs’ stomach. “I dunno if I like that answer.” Far too late, he remembered why Mando had needed his help at all – and what was missing, now that his mission was supposedly done. Migs sat up straight in his chair with alarm. “Wait.”
“He’s fine,” Mando answered preemptively. “We did it.”
“Oh,” Migs bluntly sputtered again, more at a loss than ever. “That’s...good? That sounds like it should be good. The heroes win the day and so on.”
“Yeah,” Mando said, utterly unconvincing and as though he was thousands of light years away.
Migs frowned and put his elbows on the table to lean in. “Look. You’re out here in the middle of nowhere, and...for some damn reason, I’m here to listen. But I’m not gonna play twenty fucking questions all night, man.” That appropriately shook Mando loose, but Migs inwardly wondered if the cost was worth it when Mando’s eyes went from flat and deadened to bright, wide, and glassy.
“I gave him up,” Mando bleated.
“What? To...to who?”
“Those’re fuckin’ real?”
Migs sat back with a long, heaving exhale to process this little bombshell. Another question shot to the front of his mind, driving him to lean over the table again, hands cutting the air in bewildered gesticulation. “So, hang on. Jedi supposedly do magic shit. Did the kid do magic shit, too?”
“Yeah,” Mando repeated softly.
“Fuck. When did all this happen?”
“When we rescued him. We got pinned down by dark troopers, and...” Mando’s face showed the first real emotion in several minutes as his expression pinched, “I guess...the kid was asking for help with his powers, because the Jedi showed up and saved all of us.”
“Handy fuckin’ service,” Migs huffed. “So Gideon…?”
“Alive, but in custody.” Mando’s tone grew deeply bitter. “Not my choice.”
“I’m sure the New Republic is keen to try getting intel out of him. Good luck with that one. His entire reputation is built on the word psychotic.”
“You have no idea.”
Unbidden, Migs recalled their previous adventure – specifically, he way he himself had spoken to Vallin Hess right before putting a cauterized hole through his heartless chest. All the same flat tones were in Mando’s clipped sentences, and for the first time, Migs understood at least some of the reason why he was hearing this little summary at all. Anybody would be feeling a little crazy in Mando’s position right now, and he’d seen Migs at his own particular nadir of crazy. Some shit couldn’t be fixed, only lived with. We all gotta sleep at night, he’d said back then. A furtive glance told Migs how much Mando hadn’t managed that lately.
“No, I wouldn’t. Never served under that particular bastard.” Migs spun his fork against the table on one tine, searching for just the right thing to say. “Look, I’m sure all your other, much more morally-upstanding friends have told you that you did the right thing. Kids that can kill people with their minds need to learn how to, y’know, choose to do that to the right people for the right reasons. Otherwise he’ll be dropping people in the street for looking at him funny, and nobody needs that shit these days. Telling you what is and isn’t right means fuck all from me; I wouldn’t know what a good choice looked like if it whipped me in the head with a beam of durasteel. Right?”
“Right,” Mando answered a little too quickly and firmly for Migs’ ego. With a decisive little nod, too, that motherfucker.
“Thanks for that,” Migs said, rolling his eyes before growing hesitant again. “But that doesn’t mean it’s fair. Doing the right thing has been pretty fucking unfair in my experience. So...” One of Migs’ hands flapped around in a circle, searching for anything more poetic than what was coming to mind. Nope, nothing. Fuck it. “I’m sorry you had to let the kid go. That fucking sucks.”
Mando’s eyes shot up from where they’d been burning a hole in the table to stare and his expression slackened with shock. Had any of his more functional, competent friends told him that? Not even the damn shock trooper? Come on. She definitely had as much PTSD as Migs and should know better. But then, Mando and his typical tin-can face didn’t exactly serve itself up as open to sympathy. Migs, being an asshole, wasn’t ever going to be particular about rhetorical boundaries. Every once in a while, that was a good thing.
“I know how much he means to you. I took your helmet virginity over it, remember?” Mando fixed him with a Look – yeah, that was the bad kind of asshole. “No, sorry, I’ll shut up,” Migs continued, rubbing anxiously at his forehead. The silence grew painful.
“Not that you’re wrong,” Mando suddenly spoke, voice weighty.
“Maybe. Could have been more delicate,” Migs replied, shaking his head. “I owe you better than that.”
“You don’t owe me anything, Mayfeld.”
“Fuck off, of course I do. What you do or don’t want to do about it is up to you. You could have lost your shit and left me to the dogs after I shot Hess, and you didn’t. You’d have been justified, I almost got us killed.”
Mando straightened a bit in surprise. “I thought you meant letting you go.”
“Yeah, that too, but...” Migs anxiously smoothed a hand over his bald head and sat back. “I think that matters less to me. Not that I’m not grateful for the ability to be free, broke as hell, and living on a backwater jungle planet, it’s just...y’know.”
Mando nodded slowly. “Yeah,” was all he could offer, and Migs wasn’t mad about it. For two people who had originally met on a heist only to scream at and backstab each other into swapping prison cells, they sure had stumbled into one hell of a weird situation, having shared such an emotionally-charged crisis – and then killed all the other witnesses to it. Were they...friends? “I was fucked up that day, but I guess so were you.”
“I was,” Mando said. “Very.” He crossed his arms tightly on his chest, and while it was clear he wanted to speak, it was slow in coming. Migs, for once, decided to be quiet and let the moment come to Mando. “It never occurred to me to be upset you shot him. There was too much going on at first, and then...” He faltered, jaw gibbering a bit as he all-the-more-anxiously search for the words. “The first thing you did was hand me the helmet, just like that. After all your needling earlier that day. After...seeing Hess at all, much less having to talk to him. What it did to you was written all over your face. Still, the second everybody was dead...” He shook his head.
“Well, I mean...what taking your helmet off did to you was all over your face, too,” Migs replied as gently as he could muster while fighting off the impulse to crawl under the table and die. “And I didn’t really think that through when I was giving you shit about it. Like I said, we got ourselves pretty fucked up.” Migs scratched at the table with a thumb as he plucked up his courage. “Is that why you came out here?”
Mando’s eyes narrowed and darted back and forth as he assessed the table before he finally gave a huge sigh. His shoulders finally slackened and he appeared the most relaxed he’d been since he’d arrived. “Not originally. But now I’m here...maybe.”
Migs dramatically hung his head as he leant his elbows on the table. “You did not make me be that emotionally fuckin’ honest and come out here for something totally different,” he said, laughing in spite of himself. Mando even cracked another smile for a second, but it promptly vanished again as he reached for something on his belt and placed it on the table – a black...handle? It looked like the grip of an exotic blaster, maybe.
“You asked if I pissed off ‘King Mando’,” Mando said, suddenly sounding exhausted. “The correct title is Mand’alor.”
“Your Mandalorian king is a Mand’alor? Fucking original,” Migs couldn’t help himself.
“The culture’s name is adapted from Mandalore The Great, the most celebrated historical leader of the homeworld,” Mando continued as if Migs hadn’t spoken. “According to legend, he wielded a special blade against Mandalore’s enemies, and whoever wins it in combat has the right to the title of Mand’alor.”
Migs’ puzzled expression over this sudden history lesson melted away to shock as Mando picked the black handle up again and pressed a button, revealing a shard of pure energized darkness that cut the silence with an ominous crackle.
“Y-you…?” Migs sputtered.
“Me,” Mando replied in a tone so flat and severe, Migs balked a little. The blade slunk away as he turned it off again. “I don’t want it.”
“Then why the fuck do you have it?”
“Gideon had it. I fought and disarmed him. Nobody told me what it meant until after.”
“Waaait wait wait. You didn’t know beforehand? You’re Mandalorian!” Oh boy, Migs did not like the shadow that crept across Mando’s face as he said that.
“I’m...” Words clearly failed Mando and he started over. “I’ve learned that what I consider to be Mandalorian is...different. I was never taught this history. It’s been…”
Migs worried his lip and braced himself. “Is that why you’re running around incognito?”
“It was mostly just a good idea for this trip, but...” Mando looked away. “This isn’t the only time I’ve showed my face since you saw it. I did for...for the kid, once, before...” He gave up trying to finish that sentence. “And putting it back on has been...hard.”
Woof. Time to sprint away from that minefield as fast as fucking possible. “So...what do you do with the sword, then? If you don’t want it,” Migs said as casually as he could.
“I tried to give it to the person who actually wanted it. She won’t take it.”
“As I explained, she has to win it through combat. I tried to yield, but it didn’t do me any good. And she can’t just kill me, either, because she wants to unite Mandalorians to retake the homeworld. Murdering another Mandalorian just for the throne would make her look like a grasping usurper to some factions. The story is what matters,” Mando explained in bitterly mocking words. “So...I still have it.”
“You’re still king.”
“Of a dead planet.”
“And you can’t not be.”
Migs squinted. “That would happen to you, wouldn’t it?”
The second Migs said it, he regretted it and was certain he’d crossed a very obvious line, but his adrenaline rush was curbed when Mando’s face...split in a genuine grin and his shoulders...began to shake? “Are...are you laughing?”
Mando nodded as he did indeed continue laughing quietly. Migs stared openly. “I didn’t know you could do that.”
Now that made Migs laugh. They let the moment be for a bit, giggling stupidly across the table at each other. As it eventually faded, Migs patted his palm on the table between them and met Mando’s eyes.
“I’m sorry, but that’s bullshit.”
“It is,” Mando replied, and Migs was taken aback at the candor. “Total bullshit.”
Whatever baffled expression had twisted Migs’ face was clearly noted by Mando, as he sighed and grew contemplative. “I can’t stop thinking about what you said before. The ruler and the ruled. Whether Mandalorians sent to die did it willingly.”
Oh. Migs had said that, hadn’t he.
“Shit, Mando, I’m not a philosopher--”
“No, you were right. I...I hadn’t ever considered it seriously until now. I swore to a creed and have lived under that oath for decades. And now...now I’m here. Accidental leader of a people I don’t understand anymore. Or maybe never did.”
Migs nodded knowingly. “And now you can’t sleep at night.”
Mando didn’t reply and stared at his lap. Migs drummed his fingers on the table and his face scrunched in thought. He wasn’t a philosopher – he’d mostly been interested in just annoying Mando and his starchy-ass personality that day – but the opinion was one he genuinely held for specific reasons. He purposefully hadn’t defected to the New Republic when he could have, after all. He’d known more than his fair share of conscripts that had done it just so they wouldn’t have their back put against a wall when it was all over. Migs hadn’t had that sense of self-preservation – somewhere deep inside, he thought he deserved the wrong end of a blaster or whatever bad end would come to him in specifically not seeking political absolution.
“I said that because the point was that both sides were indifferent. Think about it – that mining facility was next to nothing. Secret, sure, but the New Republic’s got intel all the way up its own ass. They probably knew it was out here, but not what it was for. If they’re all hot under the collar for freedom and shit, it’d take two X-Wings to do what you, me, and three other people did, and they’d have done it a lot quicker. The reward is a few dead Imps, but more importantly, a people freed from under the thumb of tyranny or what the fuck ever. That didn’t happen. If your kid hadn’t been snatched, all those people on the other side of that door would still be killing themselves under the four axles of a mining transport for the possibility of something to eat next week,” Migs said, pointing towards the cantina proper. “Those motherfuckers on Coruscant don’t give a shit, and you know it.”
“I’ve lived most of my life in the Outer Rim, of course I know that.”
“Yeah. So...don’t be indifferent.”
Mando sat up straight, clearly confused.
“Look, the sword is, as previously established, bullshit,” Migs continued, gesturing to the grip still on the table. “And the ceremony around whoever won’t take it off your hands because something something fairytales is also bullshit. But the sword still is, and for some fuckin’ reason, that matters to people. That gives you the chance to do some good with it.”
“You...want me to rule Mandalore?”
“No, I said do some good. That almost never means ruling anybody. That’s why what I said is bothering you – you think you have to go lord over somebody. No you don’t. Fuck it. The last thing you should do is show reverence to your people’s weird murderous right to succession, but you can be irreverent and make a difference. They’re not mutually exclusive.”
“I...you...what does that even mean?”
“I can’t fuckin’ tell you. That’s your shit to figure out. I’m not a good person, remember? I have no idea what a positive outcome looks like.”
“What makes you think I do?”
“Your kid thinks you do.” Migs might as well have broken one of the chairs over Mando’s head for the stupefied expression on his face. Noting that, Migs softened up his tone considerably. “You put everything on the line for him. I literally saw you do that. The kid knows it too, I’m sure. And for what? A pat on the back before giving the kid up for a better life and a wicked-evil-looking laser sword? Shit, Mando. That’s a lot better than me and a whole lot of other people in the galaxy will ever say about themselves. If there have to be rulers and ruled...we all could do worse than you, I’m just saying. But I don’t think you have to go that far.”
To describe Mando in a word, he was...deflated was probably best. All his usual prim rigidity was gone and he was slumped in his chair, trying to recover from the successive blows Migs had landed in making his point. Migs shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “Still glad you came all the way out here?”
It didn’t happen right away, but as the moment stretched on, Mando’s eyes cleared and sharpened with an acuity Migs hadn’t yet seen from him today. At length, he nodded. “Yeah, actually.”
“Really? That’s...a relief.”
“It is for me, too,” Mando replied with a muted sort of wonder at Migs, the moment, and himself. “Thank you.”
“Don’t mention it. Literally. I might finally start being a decent fuckin’ person if I’m reminded this conversation ever happened, and then what am I gonna do?” Migs said, all his usual sarcastic humor, but he wouldn’t quite meet Mando’s eyes. “But...I’m glad I could help, somehow. Makes it feel like all my shit’s been worth it.” With considerable effort, he shook off the cloud of memory and regret that threatened to swamp him and ruin this rare positive human interaction he’d managed. “You hungry, Mando? No, don’t try, I’m just being polite, I can tell you are,” he continued, railroading over whatever refusal Migs was sure he was about to voice. “Jax is probably furious I haven’t picked up whatever plate she put together for you. Hang on.” Migs had almost made it to the door when Mando spoke again to his retreating back.
“What? Yeah, call it dinner, whatever floats your boat. I don’t even know what fucking time it is anymore.”
“That’s my name.”
Migs froze, keycard in hand, then spun on the spot, hand swiping this way and that as he spoke in fractured sentences. “Your name. Din’s your name. Not Mando.”
Din smiled, deeply amused by Migs’ nonplussed reaction. “That’s right.”
After a beat to absorb this simple yet incalculably-huge fact, Migs nodded, though more aggressively and longer than he really needed to. “Got it. Yeah. Okay, I’ll...I’ll be right back with some food...Din.”