“...And that button’s for landing,” Din explains. “More specifically, on this ship it starts the folding cycle for the wings. We could probably also use that if we needed to fit this ship through a tight crevice in a chase, but that would be dangerous. We’d be better off shooting them down, unless we’re outnumbered.”
Chepi nods, satisfied, and takes another bite of her sandwich. She’s sitting in Din’s lap in the cockpit of the Imperial ship they’ve stolen. Din’s not sure when exactly this turned into a lesson on piloting or strategy. Mostly he’s just grateful that Chepi is less prone to pressing buttons without permission than Grogu.
A light on the dashboard flickers on, and Chepi switches focus to point at it instead. “What’s that light mean?”
“It’s part of the navigation system. It comes on when we’re ready to drop out of hyperspace. If you finish your sandwich, you can help me with that part if you want.”
Chepi immediately stuffs the last of it into her mouth, cheeks bursting as she struggles to chew. Din watches her carefully to make sure she actually swallows it. Grogu has never had a problem with swallowing things half the size of his head, and Din’s not entirely sure he remembers what to do if Chepi actually chokes.
They’ve been traveling now for hours, with only one quick stop to fuel the stolen ship and send Cara to get food. (Cara had jumped at the opportunity to get off the ship. Apparently, she had not been lying when she said she didn’t do the kid thing. Din thinks Paz might be a little heartbroken over that.) It had also given Din and Paz the chance to search for and destroy every tracker, transmitter, or device on the ship that might let Imperials follow them.
Mag and Saldvis have finally fallen into a nap, after exploring every tiny cranny of the ship and using Paz as an armored jungle gym for most of the trip. Chepi, on the other hand, has gravitated to Din’s side as he pilots, studying his every movement as if committing it to heart. She reminds Din a lot of himself when he’d first been found by the Mandalorians: scared of the whole world, but eager to learn so she can face it again and come out on top this time.
She also reminds him of Grogu in the first few months after Din had found him, quiet but observant. Watching his every move intently, and silently demanding an explanation of what all the buttons on the Razor Crest did. Chepi, at least, is a lot better at voicing those questions instead of directly pushing buttons against Din’s dire warnings.
It’s really nice to have someone to explain things to again, if nothing else.
“Don’t choke,” Din warns, but Chepi’s managed to half-unhinge her jaw and swallow. Din tries not to think of Grogu similarly (but more successfully) swallowing a live frog.
Chepi looks up at him hopefully, lips still covered in grease. Din wipes her mouth with his cape. Then carefully, mindful of the bruising on her arm, Din guides her hand onto the lever they need to pull. “Okay, nice and slow...there, you got it.”
The streaks of light outside snap back into pinpricks as they leave hyperspace. Yavin 4 is already visible, swelling to fill the view as they near closer and closer. Din’s breath hitches as he takes in the moon’s mossy greens and splashes of blue. Grogu is down there, getting closer with each second.
“It’s so big!”
Din smiles, although he knows she can’t see it. “Not really. But it’s bigger than the ship you were on, that’s for sure. There’s not a lot here, besides some Ewok villages and the school.”
Chepi is still quiet, hands massaging her lekku like human fingers brushing through hair.
“It’s okay to be nervous.”
Chepi looks up at him, then back down at her knees. Her lekku curl a bit tighter. “I...I don’t know if I want to go to school.”
Another set of bright eyes, wide and pleading, looking up at him. He wants your permission.
“You don’t have to go. If you want, I can adopt you instead, raise you to be a Mandalorian like me. I would know you as my child, train you like one of my own.”
Chepi tilts her head, considering. “Do I get a helmet?”
“If you train and swear the Creed, yes.”
“But my lekku won’t fit.”
“There are special helmets and headgear. It can work.”
“Will you teach me how to beat mean doctors and giant droids and protect Mag and Saldvis?”
Din nods. “If you want me to. But you should at least consider the school first, okay? There are other kids like you there, with the same abilities. The Jedi trainer is very nice, and he can teach you how to use your powers properly. Not a lot of people can move things with their mind, but you could.” Chepi still looks skeptical, so he adds, “If you don’t like it there, you don’t have to stay. But check it out first before you make your decision.”
He hears a throat-clearing sound, and turns to see Cara, in the doorway of the cockpit.
“Hey.” She slides into the co-pilot chair. “Paz sent me up here. Said he wanted to eat something before we land. Not that the twins left a lot of food untouched, but I guess there’s still some sandwiches left.”
Chepi perks up.
“You want another sandwich?” Din asks. Chepi nods shyly. He’s not surprised; all three kids clearly hadn’t been fed much on the Imp ship, a fact that makes his blood boil inside him if he thinks about it too hard. “Go ahead, take one. Make some noise before you go down there so everyone knows you’re coming.”
Chepi seems a little reluctant to leave the safety of Din’s lap, but she finally climbs down and scurries off. Din listens a moment to make sure she’s noisy enough that she doesn’t catch Paz off guard and helmetless, then lets his head fall back against the headrest, eyes drifting blissfully shut. Just for a moment. Today had taken a long time to plan, and the day isn't over yet, but at least everyone is safe now. The Raus got the closure they needed, which is what he had set out to do in the first place, and the covert has new members. Including, possibly, his own new foundling.
That is, if she wants to be a Mandalorian instead of a Jedi. Or be like Grogu, with a foot in both worlds, leaving his Jedi training on occasion to be with his vod and getting Mando'a lessons from Din when he visits. He'll have to see what she chooses.
“So that’s Yavin 4,” Cara says, shaking him out of his thoughts.
“Do you think it’s going to be a problem that we’re on an Imperial ship?”
“This ship doesn’t have their call codes, and Paz and I ripped the transmitter apart. I couldn’t signal them if I wanted to.”
“So we’re going in hot?”
Din takes a deep breath, sits up, and takes hold of the controls. The ship has breached the atmosphere, and he needs to actually steer. “They don’t have any heavy arms that could take this ship down, against my best advice. And anyway, Skywalker will sense the kids.”
“You’ve been there before.”
Din says nothing, but Cara seems to understand his silent acknowledgment anyway.
“How’s your kid?”
“He’s...good. Learning a lot. Building stamina.”
“Stamina? What, has he grown?”
“Stamina as in, he doesn’t pass out anymore.”
“Well, that’s...handy.” She hesitates a moment. “You know, I don’t think I get you. Or Paz. Mandalorians in general. I thought I did, but now I’m not sure.”
“...What’s there not to get?”
“The kids. I heard what you said to Chepi. Paz told the twins something similar. Are you seriously going to adopt her?”
“...Yes? If she doesn’t like the school. I think she will, though. My kid likes it there.”
“How do you just...take a child in?”
Din lifts his head to look at her incredulously. “It’s a child. How can you not?”
“But that’s...I thought the green kid, he was special. Unique.”
“But these kids...You and Paz didn’t know they existed this time yesterday. And now you’re willing to make this huge, lifelong commitment and adopt a kid you just met?”
Din frowns beneath the helmet, not quite understanding what Cara is getting at. “You don’t have to raise every child you find. If you don’t have the resources to care for the child, another of your clan can do it. And some of them still have parents or people they need to be returned to.”
“But that! That too! You’re upending your entire life almost on a whim and then you just...let them go?”
“Are you saying we should kidnap them?”
Cara makes a frustrated sort of groan. “You know what I mean. I just...Last time, after the kid left, you were devastated. And you’re going to do that to yourself again?”
Din stares at her, not sure what’s so hard to understand here. “It’s not about me. It’s about what Chepi needs. And what my son needs. He made his decision. And Chepi will make hers.”
“Even if that means leaving you?”
“Even if that means leaving me.”
“But doesn’t that...hurt?”
Din’s not sure what to say. He thinks of Grogu, hugging his helmet, leaving sticky trails down his visor. Grogu climbing out of his hammock and snuggling next to his side as they both drift off to sleep. Grogu holding on to his thumb as Din carries him through hunt after hunt, through distant moons and bustling planets. Grogu on the cruiser, clinging to his leg, wanting to train but not wanting to leave.
But he also thinks of Grogu, staring down an enemy right alongside him. Grogu’s face scrunched in concentration as he tries to lift something with his powers. Grogu’s determined little waddle to Skywalker’s droid, scared but willing to take the leap. The last time Din had been to Skywalker’s school, when Grogu had shown off how much stronger he had grown, eyes shining proudly back at him as Din showered him with praise.
Din misses him every day, and he knows Grogu misses him too. But Grogu has grown so much stronger and more confident and at peace with himself, and Din knows in the depth of his heart that it was the right choice.
He’s not sure how to put that all in words that Cara will understand. He’s not sure he has words for it himself.
Skywalker’s school is visible below them now, and Din pulls the ship level for a landing. He glances back at Cara, who is still staring at him expectantly.
“This is the Way,” Din finally answers as the ship touches down.
Din’s relieved that his guess about Skywalker sensing the kids is right; the Jedi is already making his way over to greet them as they exit the ship. If Skywalker is surprised at seeing Din emerge from an Empire ship, with friends and foundlings to boot, he doesn’t show it.
Chepi keeps a tight grip on Din’s hand as she follows him out of the ship, but her grip relaxes as they get closer to the cluster of buildings that make up the school.
“This place doesn’t look very magic,” Paz half-whispers to Din. “Is that the Jedi? That’s the fierce warrior you said took out a whole squad of Dark Troopers? He doesn’t really look like much.”
Din pointedly looks down at the kids in Paz’s arms. Mag is pointing at Skywalker and tugging on her brother’s arm, while Saldvis nods excitedly and gestures, despite not saying a word.
“Fair point. Guess the magic makes up for it.”
Din shrugs back. He doesn’t really understand Skywalker or this place either, but Grogu’s powers are flourishing here, so apparently the place is magical enough.
“It’s nice here,” says Chepi, looking around in wonder. “It feels...safe. Like a friend.”
Din squeezes her hand as they near where Skywalker is waiting in front of the nearest building. “See? I told you you’d like it here.”
By the time they’re close enough, Luke is waving cheerfully. “Hello, Mando!...Mandos?”
“Two Mandos,” says Paz, helmet slowly moving as he sizes Skywalker up. His grip on the twins tightens the tiniest fraction. Din feels the corner of his lips twitch. He's very familiar with that exact feeling.
Luke tilts his head at Cara. “Weren’t you there on the light cruiser when I picked up Grogu?”
“...Grogu?” Cara blinks. Din suddenly realizes he never actually told her the kid’s name. Great. She’s definitely going to chew him out for that later.
Chepi hasn’t let go of Din’s hand, but she’s inching forward. Her lekku swish as she turns back once again to Din to gauge his reaction to the new situation. There’s something very familiar in the gesture that makes his chest twinge.
“It’s okay,” he urges. “You don’t have to go, but you can if you want to. He’s a friend. You said you could feel that, right?”
Chepi nods as Luke turns back to Din. “Hey, Mando, good to see you! I sensed someone, but I didn’t realize you’d be with them. Who have we got here?” Luke bends over slightly, hands on his thighs. He frowns as he takes in the bruises trailing down Chepi’s arms.
“Chepi,” she says confidently.
Luke holds his hand out. “Hello, Chepi. Pleased to meet you.”
Chepi reaches her other hand out, and Skywalker takes it gently. They both stay like that for a long moment, completely silent.
Meanwhile Saldvis loudly whispers that Mag likes it here. Paz keeps meeting visors with Din, silently asking what the kriff is happening what are they doing while Din inclines his head ever so slightly back at him. Just go with it. Cara looks like she’s caught somewhere between an incredulous laugh at the entire scene or the desire to shake Din until more answers fall out.
Suddenly, Chepi lets go of Din’s hand and flings herself at Luke in a hug. Din pulls his hand back and feels his shoulders ease down as he watches them. He’s prepared for the rush of pride, relief, and loss that swells through him, but that doesn’t decrease the feeling’s intensity.
Luke pats Chepi’s back. “Hey, hey. It’s okay. You’ve been through a lot.”
The twins wriggle in Paz’s arms as Saldvis waves. “Hi, I’m Saldvis! And this is Mag. We’re twins!”
“Hello. I’m Luke. I’m a twin too.”
“Do you have rockets too? Or a big laser sword? I wanna get a big laser sword and make the big walking things go—” He waves his arms, miming the AT-AT crashing with loud, hissing sound effects.
Luke smiles. “Just a normal laser sword, sorry. Sounds like you’ve had a big adventure as well.” His neck cranes as he looks up and up at Paz. “May I?”
Paz stares at Skywalker a long moment, than glances at Din, deeply skeptical. Din nods back at him. The Jedi stuff takes some getting used to.
Paz dips his head in a short, reluctant nod, and Skywalker takes the twins’ hands in each of his. He stares deeply into Mag’s eyes for a moment, then smiles and looks back up at Paz.
“Mag’s very grateful to you for taking care of her and her brother. She’s sorry she ate so many sandwiches. She meant to save you more, but they were really good.”
Paz’s shoulders slump. “Oh, hey, no, no, adi’ka, don’t worry about it. You can eat all the sandwiches you want. And I’m sure that includes the sandwiches here...or whatever food is here. You do have food for them, right?” The last bit is aimed at Skywalker, and has the air of threat.
Skywalker chuckles. “Don’t worry, we’ve got plenty. Why don’t you all come in? We can get Chepi and those two settled, and you,” he points at Din, “Can go ahead and find Grogu. Or just stand in place while he finds you. He probably already senses you’re here.”
They make their way toward the nearest building. Apparently Skywalker has passed Paz’s initial inspection, because his hold on the twins has loosened considerably. Chepi holds Luke’s hand, but looks back at Din again and holds out her other hand in question.
Din takes hold of her other hand and squeezes. “You’re good, right, kid?”
Chepi nods. She seems content to walk between them.
Luke smiles down at her then looks back at Din. “I’m not sure where they were before, but...it wasn’t good. Thank you for bringing them here.”
“We found them on an Imperial ship. Seems like Moff Crail wanted to pick up where Gideon left off. We have more information too, that you can pass on to your contacts.”
Luke raises an eyebrow. “You’re telling me this so I can pass it on to the New Republic? You’re being weirdly cooperative today.”
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Seems like they’re trying to take Imp bases down too. Might as well let them know.”
“Actually, I was thinking instead of telling me, you could tell my sister. She’s here visiting as well. More like been camping out here, actually.”
“Leia Organa. She’s a senator for the New Republic. Fair warning, she’s been trying to find a Mandalorian to talk to for a while now—”
Cara bursts in, “Did you say Leia Organa? As in, Princess Leia of Alderaan? She’s here? And she’s your sister?!”
“Yes, yes, yes, and long story, but yes. Are you from Alderaan too? I’m sure she’d love to talk to you as well.”
Fantastic, Din thinks, steps a little lighter. Now he won’t have to talk to the New Republic senator. She can talk to Cara, and he can just tell Luke what he knows about the Imperial ship. Or better yet, make Paz do it.
Paz couldn’t care less about Skywalker’s senator sister. Instead, he seems intent on putting Saldvis to shame, bombarding the Jedi with questions—he said there was food, is he feeding the kids a balanced diet? Does he give individual attention to each child, how does he protect the school from external threats, do they get regular medical check-ups, what sort of training do the kids get, what is this Force thing anyway? His tone indicates that if Skywalker’s answers are not to his satisfaction, he’s fully prepared to keep the kids and possibly shoot him in the face.
Luke, at least, doesn’t seem perturbed by the interrogation at all. By the time they enter the building and wind their way down a hall, even Paz seems to be at least a little mollified. It helps that the twins are both squirming, indicating they’d like to be put down, and Paz finally does.
“Some of the kids are practicing over in here,” Luke explains, opening a door to let them inside.
The room is tall, light, and airy, with large windows that let soft sunlight in. There’s some squashy cushions on the floor that look like they were once aligned in a perfect circle, but have since scooted around considerably, possibly because some of the cushions are floating in midair. They are held up just above the small hands of three children: a rosy-cheeked human, a lanky Miralan, and a green Rodian. All three of them drop their cushions as soon as the group enters to swarm around the exciting newcomers. Chepi lets go of Din’s and Luke’s hands to approach the Miralan, who looks about her age. The twins wave brightly at the other kids as Saldvis asks if the cushion will still float if he’s sitting on it.
Din scans the room for a different green face, but Grogu’s not here. But then, Din thinks with a touch of smugness, Grogu is leagues ahead of all of these kids. Bet none of these kids can lift a mudhorn. Grogu’s probably...somewhere else. Lifting an entire X-wing or something. In a more advanced class.
Luke beams at all the kids. “Hey, everyone! We’ve got some new students to welcome...Leia? Where’s your cushion?”
Behind the kids, a short human woman pushes aside a stray strand of brown hair that’s escaped from the elaborate bun piled on top of her head. “I’m afraid I may have lost patience with my cushion. The kids are picking it up a lot faster than I think I ever will.”
Luke’s shoulders sag. “Come on, Leia, you know you can do it.”
“I’m trying, but—”
“I told you, don’t try, do!”
Leia’s head tilts back a bit, eyebrows raised. “Oh, you did not just—hold on. Hello!”
Luke sighs, then sweeps his hand out towards Din’s group. “Leia, meet Cara Dune, of Alderaan, and uh…” He waits, as if expecting Din or Paz to give their names. Din joins Paz in staring back at him, silent and unmoving. “...Mando and Mando.”
“Pleased to meet you.” Leia pushes past Luke. She smiles warmly and nods at each of them, then settles on Cara. “Good to meet a fellow Alderaanian. Now, more than ever, is the time to band together.”
“It’s a great honor to meet you,” says Cara, more reverent than Din has ever seen her, almost starstruck. There’s something far-away and sorrowful in her gaze, but also hopeful.
Leia smiles warmly. “Likewise. Let me buy you lunch sometime. I know a place that still serves roast Gorak. And you…” Her gaze switches between Din and Paz. “I’ve been looking for a Mandalorian for a while. Luke mentioned one of his students had a Mandalorian father.”
“The student is a Mandalorian too,” Paz points out sharply.
“Yes, of course. My apologies; I didn’t mean to imply your son—”
“He’s my son.”
Leia switches her laser-sharp focus to him. Din’s nearly a foot taller than the senator, but something about her makes him not feel like it.
“My apologies,” says Leia once again. “I simply meant that I’ve been trying to find a Mandalorian to contact, and a child is not likely to have any answers for me. I’ve been hoping to catch you here. We have a lot of things to discuss.”
“Do we?” Din says wearily. He glares at Luke, and the Jedi at least has the decency to look sheepish. “I was assured this school is neutral territory.”
“That’s correct. This school is under the protection but not jurisdiction of the New Republic.”
“Great. Then I would tell you that this school is also under the protection but not jurisdiction of the Mandalorians.”
Leia nods. “Fair enough. I didn’t come here to interfere with Mandalorian access to the school. I came here to establish a line of communication on behalf of the New Republic so we can negotiate, maybe exchange information. Your people are notoriously difficult to track. I’m hoping you can pass on the New Republic’s intentions to your government. Do you have a leader?”
“We do,” Paz answers.
“Great! I’m not as familiar with your customs or system of government as I’d like to be. The Empire and pre-Empire records indicate the mode of government changed frequently. But I’d like to learn, if you let me. And if possible, I’d like you to put me in contact with your leader directly.”
“...I can do that,” says Din reluctantly. Beside him, Paz shifts slightly in a way that lets Din know he is stifling a laugh. Cara looks between them like staying silent is causing her physical pain.
“That would be great. Like I said, we have a lot to discuss.”
Din’s hands clench reflexively, but he forces them to relax. “If this is about the arrest warrants you have for some of the Mandalorians on Vlemoth Port—”
“Not at all. I’m actually in favor of dropping the charges, if we’re able to create an alliance. On behalf of the New Republic, I’d like to formally apologize for interfering with Mandalorian sovereignty. We invite you to join us, but recognize that the Mandalorian government and its citizens therein are not currently under our jurisdiction.”
Paz’s helmet tilts minutely, and Din knows he thinks what Leia just said was a load of bantha fodder. Din’s not sure if he agrees, but he is very sure that he would like to leave this conversation immediately.
“...Besides,” Leia adds, looking directly into Din’s visor. “You and I both know the Vlemoth Port group is no longer gathered there.”
Din sees Paz twitch and shoots a warning glare at him. Luke, and Cara for that matter, will probably not appreciate Paz retaliating to what was likely not intended as a threat.
Leia frowns slightly as her eyes dart between the two of them.
Luke eases forward, hands out, exuding calm like an almost palpable force. “...Ooookay, let’s step back a bit. You both have a common enemy. Mando here says they found these kids on an Imperial ship.”
Din glances back at the kids. Chepi, Saldvis, and Mag are all loosely playing or chatting with the other Jedi children, all of whom have decided to collectively ignore whatever the boring adults are talking about.
“Yes,” Din agrees. If nothing else, it is worth telling the senator that. “A group of us tracked some of our members to Moff Crail’s ship in the Esstran sector.”
“Moff Crail? We’ve been looking for his ship. He was killed yesterday in a skirmish with some of our pilots, and we weren’t able to get the ship’s location out of him. It’s supposed to be one of the most heavily manned ships the Empire has left, and we’d very much like to find it.”
Luke beams at both of them. “See, perfect! You can work together on that. Glad we’re all getting along.”
Leia nods. “Let’s compare notes then—”
The door crashes open, shoved by an invisible force, and Din and everyone else whirls. Most of the others look at eye level for a moment before lowering their gaze, but Din fixes his gaze downward immediately to where he knows his son is. Every heavy feeling he’s ever felt evaporates as his breath catches and his vision tunnels to focus on the most wonderful person in the world.
“BOO!” Grogu screams joyfully, and runs straight at him.
Din’s half-bent to pick his son up without another thought, but his hands never actually reach Grogu. Instead, when the kid has gotten a little closer, he leaps up into the air and keeps going, slamming into Din’s chest like a tiny green missile and knocking him back so far he almost tips over. Din yanks his arms back in to keep Grogu from slipping down his chestplate, then bends over to throw himself forward with just enough momentum to keep from falling onto his back.
“That’s new,” says Din, a little out of breath for more than one reason.
Luke grins. “He’s been getting frustrated with not being able to reach things, so I thought we’d work on jumping. He’s been very excited to show you.”
“Boo-wee?” Grogu says again, slightly worried.
“No, that was so good! I just wasn’t expecting...you’re doing so, so good! I’m so proud of you.”
Leia says something else, something Din vaguely registers has the cadence of a question, but he doesn’t care. Grogu is grinning up at him and waving his arms, enthusiastically explaining something with syllables Din doesn’t quite understand.
When Grogu finally pauses for breath, Din hears, “...So are we in agreement?”
Right. Din finally tears his gaze away. There’s a senator here. He should probably do something about that.
Leia’s expression softens. “Your child is very cute.”
Grogu waves at her.
“I realize that you’d rather spend time with your son. Perhaps you could at least give me the name or some contact information for your leader? I do still have a lot of questions.”
Din nods. He knows exactly how to handle this. “That would be the Mand’alor. You should talk to him. He’s right here.”
And without further ado, he swiftly shoves a sputtering Paz forward, then sweeps out of the room, Grogu pressed to his shoulder and giggling.
“You’re a great kid, you know that?” Din murmurs. His voice is clear with no distortion. The helmet is off, as are his boots and gloves, laid carefully against a rock to his left. He sits at the edge of the pond Grogu has taken him to, calves dipped into the water. The water feels nice. He’s not used to the feeling of mud squished between his toes, but Grogu’s gotten him used to a lot of things he never thought about doing.
The pond is Grogu’s favorite place here on Yavin 4. It’s quiet, surrounded on all sides by building-sized trees, but not too far from the school. Din had been worried the first time Grogu had taken him out here—Skywalker let him go out here? Into the woods? By himself?!—But there aren’t a lot of predators in these woods, according to the Jedi. The nearest settlement of the locals, Ewoks, are miles away. And Grogu’s got a good enough handle on his powers now that he can shove away just about any animal that dares to cross his path. (And choke them. Or snap their neck. Din’s not sure if Skywalker’s realized that part, but he doesn’t seem the type to encourage that. Fair enough. It’s probably a good idea to make sure the kid’s got a firm grasp on who’s an enemy first. Din does not want another repeat of the arm-wrestling debacle with Cara.)
Luke has told him that Grogu likes to meditate here. Din’s pretty sure the real reason this is Grogu’s favorite place is because he likes to grab tadpoles from the pond and slurp them up whole as if he’s never been fed in his life, even though Din has checked and double-checked with Luke that Grogu’s getting plenty enough to eat. Din likes it here as well, because it’s secluded and quiet enough that he can hear anyone coming. Being a bounty hunter and being a Mandalorian both mean there is danger everywhere, and some part of Din is always, always on guard. But this place, with just him and Grogu...it feels the same as being in the middle of covert, completely safe.
Grogu’s eyes are closed, but at Din’s words, one eye peeks open. “Eh?”
Din smiles. “Sorry, sorry, keep going. Six, resol...”
Grogu refocuses on the flattish rock he is floating through the air and carefully places it atop his tower of six other stones. The stones aren’t particularly big, but the fine control required is much improved from Din’s last visit.
“Seh! Eh-ta!” Grogu says triumphantly, checking back to make sure Din saw that.
Din’s smile widens as he nods encouragingly. “You want to go for eight? Sh'ehn?"
With a sharp cry, Grogu shoves his hand through the tower, knocking the whole thing down.
“Guess not. You’re done with tower-building, huh?”
Grogu coos in agreement, then climbs onto Din’s knees. He leans over to look at the pond a moment, ears twitching, eyes gleaming....
And snatches a tadpole out of the water, then slurps it down.
“You know if you keep doing that, there won’t be any frogs later,” Din comments with only the barest hint of disapproval.
Grogu tilts his head back up at him, ears raised in blatant skepticism.
“What? It’s true.”
Grogu scoffs at that, then leans over and snatches another tadpole. This time, however, he scoots himself around and holds the wriggling thing up to Din’s face.
“No, thank you.”
“Boo-weer!” Grogu shoves the thing closer and nearly mashes it into his moustache.
Din leans away. “Whoa, whoa, kid! I said no thank you. You’ve got to listen when people say no thank you.”
The kid’s ears lower, and his lip trembles. He points back at Din’s helmet, then back at him.
“Grogu...It’s not the helmet. I just don’t eat tadpoles.”
Grogu’s lip continues to tremble. His bulbous eyes swell with the beginnings of tears.
“But you can. And I’m fine, I promise. And you’re doing a good thing, offering to share. That’s very good. I appreciate it. Thank you. But no. Nayc.”
Grogu scowls for a moment, any trace of tears vanishing. Then his shoulders lift in a sort of shrug, and he shoves the tadpole into his mouth.
Din’s head rolls back with a laugh. “You little womp rat! Does the Jedi ever fall for that trick? I bet he does, because you’re getting better at that too.”
Grogu looks slightly put out and glares back at him, betrayed.
“Hey, hey, don’t be like that. I’m all for it. Give Skywalker a run for his money.”
Grogu’s glare softens as he stares up at him for a long moment, then reaches into the depths of his little coat. He pulls out a tiny, silver ball, and hands it to him.
“Oh, right. It’s my turn with that, huh?”
Grogu nods solemnly.
Din puts it in a pouch on his belt. “Thank you. Same deal as before. I’ll bring it back for you next time, okay?”
Grogu warbles back at him, and Din carefully runs his finger along the length of Grogu’s fuzzy ear.
“Hey, I meant it, what I said before. You’re a great kid. I hope you know that.”
Grogu slowly reaches out for Din’s hand. Din holds very still while the kid curls his fingers around Din’s thumb. His gaze goes back up to Din's face, the wrinkles on his face deepening as he concentrates.
“Are you...trying to tell me something?”
Grogu keeps staring. His grip around Din’s thumb tightens, claws nearly breaking skin.
Din sighs. “Kid...Grogu, I can’t...I can’t do the Jedi mind-talk thing. I’m sorry.”
Grogu huffs and lifts his arms.
“You want up? Okay.”
Din lifts his son up until they’re at eye level with each other. Grogu blinks at him slowly, bright eyes gazing deep into his own. His fingers press up on the sides of Din’s head, right where the visor usually ends, and he leans his head in closer, eyes closing once more in concentration.
Din leans his head in too until their foreheads touch. His own buir had done this with him, before every mission and upon every return. If he thinks back even further, he thinks his parents did something similar, pressing lips to his forehead every night before they tucked him into bed.
Din only feels the cool dryness of the kid’s skin for a moment. There’s no burst of communication, no eloquent prose or even fully-formed words, but Din thinks he might sense...something. Something that roils and bubbles beneath his skin until it fills him, something bright and familiar and terrifying in its largeness all at once. The feeling is faint, but clear and distinct, like a battle cry from very far away. It builds until it crystalizes into one muddled sensation, then several of them, cool metal and soft flesh and sparkling stars and his mother’s eyes and his father’s smile and his buir’s visor—
No. His eyes, his smile, his visor.
Then the feeling snaps, and Din’s in the woods by the pond again. Grogu sags in his arms, tired but very pleased with himself. He looks at Din and smiles, eyes bright and shining.
Din kisses the top of the kid’s fuzzy head and smiles back. “I love you too.”