Din holds Gideon at spearpoint as he tosses him the cuffs. It would be so easy to just kill the Moff and be done with it, but...no. Kryze wants Gideon in exchange for her help, and Cara wants to turn him into the New Republic, and either way the Moff is more useful alive than dead.
Still, Din can feel his patience thinning. Grogu is right there and so close and wearing tiny binders and Din wants him in his arms right now. He can’t help pressing the spear closer into Gideon’s throat as the Moff dawdles.
Gideon rolls his eyes, but complies. Once the cuffs are on and secure, Din drags him back to his feet and shoves him roughly towards Grogu’s cell.
“Don’t forget the Darksaber,” says Gideon. His eyes have an odd, gleeful glint to them. “You won it, fair and square.”
Right, Din remembers. Bo-Katan wanted that too, didn’t she? Din scoops the thing off the ground, replaces the spear on his back, drags Gideon back into the cell, and dumps him in the corner. He kicks the Moff in the diaphragm, hard, to make him double over on the floor wheezing and keep him distracted long enough for Din to attend to his real business.
Grogu is still sitting where Din last saw him, ears slightly lifted, eyes wide with fear that evaporates as soon as Din returns.
“Hey, buddy,” says Din softly, kneeling in front of him and cupping the back of his tiny head. Grogu coos weakly back. The child is a little too pale, moving a little too sluggishly, but he’s here and alive and there is so much relief and anger and shame and love twisted up behind Din’s ribs at the sight of him.
Grogu coos again, a bit stronger, and lifts his arms up. It takes a moment to twist the small cuffs off, and then Din scoops the kid up in a tight hug. Grogu babbles at him with tired, happy excitement and presses his tiny fingers up against the corner of Din’s visor. Din runs a hand down the kid’s back and chokes back a sob. Everything he did, everything he’s lost, was all worth it to have Grogu safe in his arms again, and Din wants to stand there and hug his kid and not move for hours.
“Ni kar'tayl gai sa'ad, Grogu.” The whisper comes out of his mouth unplanned, without him really thinking about it. Grogu’s ears perk, like they have every time Din has said his name, and Grogu beams back at him like he understands.
He shouldn’t have done that, Din thinks. He was always meant to deliver Grogu to someone else, someone who could teach him to use his powers. This, him and the kid and the galaxy, was never meant to be a permanent arrangement. But somehow, he doesn’t care. The words have been lodged deep in his being for a while now, like a brand burned into the inside of his soul, stronger and brighter than even the gleaming mudhorn etched on his shoulder. All Din has done has spoken them aloud, made the contract binding instead of hypothetical. The vow is real now, part of the manda and part of his soul, and nothing can take that away now.
The little green child—Din’s child—presses himself closer and buries his face in Din’s cowl, and Din regrets only that he didn’t say the words sooner. Grogu’s head pushes up under his chin, shifting the helmet a tiny fraction. Din has never wanted to remove it since putting it on decades before, but he has a sudden urge to rip it off, to actually feel Grogu’s fuzzy head and grasping claws on his face...
But the Moff is still there, finally regaining his breath, pushing himself up in his corner and even daring to smirk as he watches them. He’s going to try something if Din doesn’t keep an eye on him. And there are people on the bridge waiting for him. For them. There will be time later to reunite properly, but for now, the mission’s not over. He still needs to get Grogu to safety.
Din reluctantly shifts Grogu to the crook of one arm, then reaches for the Darksaber with the other. He’ll need something to keep the Moff obedient, but the spear is a two-handed weapon, and there is no amount of credits or beskar that could make Din put Grogu down right now. The weird one-handed laser sword will have to do. He finds the switch to ignite it, and Grogu looks at it and back up at him and tilts his head, trusting and curious.
Beneath the helmet, Din smiles back down at him. “It’s okay, kid. I’ve got you.”
The elevator door closes.
Din stands there a long moment, his hands at his side, fingers flexing at air. Empty now.
Grogu is safe, Din tells himself, knowing and desperately needing it to be true. The way the Jedi cut through those dark trooper droids means he is more than capable of protecting and training Grogu, and Gideon is captured and will no longer be able to pursue him. Grogu is probably safer now than he has ever been since Din found him.
And soon, Grogu will be able to protect himself. Din can’t train him how to move rocks or seal up wounds or crush things with his mind, and the kid needs someone who can. If Grogu learns even a fraction of the fighting prowess that the Jedi just displayed, he’ll be a formidable warrior in no time. Grogu is going to be strong, brave, capable, powerful, more than Din could ever hope to be, and Din is so, so proud of him.
He just wishes that he could be there to see it. He’s known this day was coming, laid awake so many nights thinking about it, traveled all over the galaxy and taken risk after risk to find Grogu the trainer he needs, but...somehow he thought they’d have more time.
He’d barely gotten to hold his son again before he was gone. He’d barely gotten to hold his son as his literal, legal son before he was gone.
“We need to talk.” Bo-Katan Kryze’s voice comes from behind him, unfiltered.
Din barely restrains from flinching. He doesn’t turn around. He has been so focused on Grogu, on those big, sad-but-hopeful eyes, on the feel of his son’s hand on his bare cheek, that he has forgotten that others are here, and they can see him.
He keeps his face towards the elevator as he bends over, picks up the helmet, and stands up again. Each movement feels like more effort than it should be, like the beskar covering him is twice as heavy as usual. His head tilts down to stare at his eyes’ reflection in the visor. Brown eyes, Mayfeld’s voice echoes.
Should he put it back on? Can he put it back on?
The air is cold and sterile against the drying tears on his cheeks. He feels exposed, vulnerable, raw in more ways than one. He’s removed his helmet twice now willingly in the last couple of days, and he’s not sure what that makes him exactly. It was all for the kid, and he knows that he regrets nothing, that he would do it again if he had to, that he made the right choice, but...he did remove the helmet. Just now, in front of others.
Is he dar’manda now? He does feel a bit like what he’d imagine living without a soul would feel like. Like a large part of him has been scooped out with a long hooked blade.
“Hey!” Cara yells behind him. Din can hear the sound of someone being shoved.
He slides the helmet back on. It still fits, molded to his face perfectly, like another layer of skin over bone and muscle. When it clicks into place, it is as if something inside of him shifts back into place as well. He feels a little bit better, stronger, more confident, a bit more like himself. Like he is merely badly wounded rather than dead and withered, and he has fought wounded before. He can do this. As long as he breathes, he is sworn by Creed to fight until the very end. He turns around to face the others.
Cara has placed herself between Bo-Katan and Din like a guard dog, one arm shoving back at Kryze’s collarbone, the other arm waving her large blaster rifle in a threat. Bo-Katan is pushing back against Cara, glaring icily. Fennec is off to the side from this exchange, glancing between the two with an eyebrow lifted, her rifle still pointed at the floor but clearly at the ready. Koska’s fists are half-raised as she stands not far behind Bo-Katan, ready to join in whatever fight is about to break out.
“So talk,” says Din.
Hearing the vocoder, Cara whirls back around to face him, and Bo-Katan seizes the moment to elbow past her and stomp towards him.
“You didn’t hold up your end of our deal!” she seethes.
Din shrugs, unable to muster any anger in return. “You said you wanted Gideon, and you wanted this. I got you Gideon, and I told you, I don’t want it. It’s yours. I yield.” Din holds the Darksaber out to her again.
She knocks his arm aside, nearly sending the thing flying. “You weren’t supposed to fight him! I told you, Gideon. Was. Mine!”
“He was in the child’s cell when I got there, threatening him. I had no choice.”
“That’s even worse!”
Din numbly waits to see what attack she makes first. He’ll try to block it—defending himself is second nature, drilled into him by his upbringing and training and habit—but he doubts he will win. He is too unfocused. He can’t bring himself to even really care whether she attacks. He already feels his thoughts wandering away, back towards the elevator. Grogu is probably at the X-wing by now. He’ll be in hyperspace very soon.
Grogu is safe. No matter what happens to Din, at least he knows that. He wonders if it would be worth it to attack Bo-Katan first. Maybe fighting her will make him feel something other than the emptiness threatening to swallow him.
He waits. Bo-Katan does not attack. She takes a deep breath, and some of the tension slowly leeches from her shoulders. Din wishes he could rid his own body of the tightness running through him as easily.
Her lips press together in a thin line. “Gideon planned this. He did this just to spite me, the hut’uun.”
Din thinks of Gideon, how the Imperial hurt his son and robbed him of the last few days Din could have spent with him, and that does evoke something dull and bitter. His fingers twitch open and closed at his side, still achingly empty. “That we can agree on.”
“Boba says he’s a few minutes out,” mentions Fennec idly. “In case you’d like to resolve this little dispute before we part ways. I’m assuming you still want a ride, Dune, Mando?”
Din answers on auto-pilot. “Yes. Thank you.”
“Same.” Cara hoists Gideon’s limp body over one shoulder. “We’ve got a bounty to collect.”
Bo-Katan whirls back to Din. “You’re leaving? What about Mandalore?”
“That wasn’t part of our deal.”
“Yes, it was.”
“The deal was that I would consider it. I’ve considered it, and the answer is still no. Are you changing the terms again?”
Bo-Katan glares, but remains silent.
“Great, glad that’s settled,” says Fennec, all business. “We should start for the hangar, then. Kryze, Reeves, good working with you. The offer of a ride still stands. Last chance.”
Koska shrugs and looks to Bo-Katan.
“We’re staying,” Bo-Katan says, drawing herself up to her full height. She manages to look down her nose at Din despite not being any taller. “Our planet still needs to be retaken, with or without the...Mand’alor’s support.”
Irritation breaks through the fog in his brain, and Din seizes it, lets it fill him for just a moment. “I’m not...Look, if you have to win it in combat, fine. We’ll fight, I’ll lose, you can take it.”
Bo-Katan lets out an empty laugh. “Oh, yes, that will win me support. ‘Bo-Katan Kryze wins the Darksaber in a thrown fight, from a warrior in pure beskar who defeated a Purge ISB officer in combat while defending his foundling.’ Do you even realize what you’ve done? I couldn’t top that if I tried.”
“I could...not throw the fight?”
“At this point, I’m not even sure that would matter. Kriff, I’m not even sure killing you at this point would make this situation any better, because I’d still have to explain where I got it.”
“Then just take it. I will tell anyone who asks that you defeated Gideon. I don’t care about a dead planet. I only care about the child.” And the child is gone, he adds silently.
No. Not gone. He’s safe and protected and getting the training he needs. Just....not with him. There’s a twinge behind Din’s ribcage that makes him wonder for a split second if Bo-Katan has actually stabbed him.
But Bo-Katan has made no move to attack, though her stance indicates she clearly wants to. “I’ll know. Koska will know. Gideon will certainly talk.”
Still lugging Gideon’s body, Cara shoves herself between the two Mandalorians. “If you’re not going to take the saber thing, then we’re going. Mando? You okay?”
Not even remotely, Din thinks, but he nods.
He follows Cara out, limbs moving as mechanically as a droid. Fennec takes up position behind him, her blaster rifle at the ready. How is it, Din wonders, that he trusts two aruetti more than what should be his vod?
The door shuts behind them without incident, although as soon it shuts Din thinks he hears the frustrated clang of a beskar helmet being thrown into a wall.