Chapter 1: unimportant screws
His jetpack spluttered one or twice and superficially softened the blow as he crashed into the sand.
Behind his eyelids, the Mandalorian saw the flickering afterimage that he cherished so. Her shilouette; the painfully familar outlines of his daughter. Her tiny frame. The way her ashen hair lit up in broad daylight. It made him wanna keep his eyes screwed shut. In his heart he knew that if he could reside inside that memory, he'd do it in a heartbeat.
And maybe he would.
Maybe he would die out here.
3,25 meters. 365 kph. Imperial steel under a thin layer of mud. A shabby, shabby paint job that's been scratched off over the years and – thank god for that because who in their right mind would want to be seen sitting on a limegreen Aratech? Ugh.
Certainly not Jaskier but beggars can't be choosers, now, can they? He was (temporarily) short on cash and in need of a speeder bike, so when his local mechanic offered him one for merely a month's worth of pay he immediately agreed.
1,500 Imperial Coins for a subpar vehicle?
How else was he gonna get to his gigs? By foot? Yikes! No, thank you.
The laughably low price came due to its curious origin. The bike's been recovered from a nearby planet called Nevarro after a certain... incident took place. No one, not even the bravest mercenaries dared to address it. A guild or a clan in shiny armors have gone rogue which seemingly ended in a shoot-out. A brutal one, by the looks of it. Yeah, it must have been. He'd seen them – the tiny splotches of blood all across the control panel and handlebars. It's taken him literal weeks to scrub them all off and now they were gone, but... it didn't... really feel like it, somehow.
Life goes on.
He had more urgent things to worry about; that being – a promising new opportunity. He was to play at a government-funded tourney with a wonderful troupe that he's already worked with before. The job was well-paid, among all things, and they would hire him for three whole weeks. He only needed to sign the contract. What more could Jaskier possibly ask for? Nothing! Yet, what soured his mood was the fact that the location was a good six hours away from his village. Six hours! On his bike! Across the piping hot desert! The ride was gonna be a terrible bore and he already hated it but goddammit, he needs that coin.
Jaskier repeatedly tugged on the strap across his chest to see if his beloved string instrument (a seven-string hallikset) was still snugly pressed to his back, and, yes, it didn't move an inch. Perfect. Now, for the worst part... The hatch at the back of his bike – that stupid, stupid thing – refused to let itself be closed and sprang open multiple times after he'd stuffed all of his six (yes, six) bags into the arguably tiny cargo department. He completed sending off a prayer to each known deity before it finally surrendered under his iron will. Lastly, he pulled on his helmet, goggles and a pair of over-sized gloves. When he turned his little key, the engine came to life and the speeder released a pained, metallic groan before slowly lifting its corpus off the ground. As per usual, the ascend was far from smooth and Jaskier swayed in his seat as if he were riding a feral bantha.
"C'mon, you can do it... Don't die on me now...", he murmed, furrowing his eyebrows.
The machine responded by spitting out a few (hopefully?) unimportant screws – but, nevertheless, it eventually managed to find its balance.
Jaskier smirked. "Thatta girl."
He hit the gas (or rather gently nudged it) and sped away. That violent, immediate accelaration still made his heart flutter as if it were a panicked bird.
Approximately three hours have passed since his depature.
That glowing, yellow spot on the horizon, Pos'Ada, became a soothing little marker with which he could track his progess. The dunes did not offer much diversion so he made his peace with the totalitarian monotomy of sand, hot air and nothingness.
Jaskier merrily hummed to himself under his clammy helmet. A little tune and fragments of a song he'd come up with earlier that day. He was unsure whether it was worth pursuing since he couldn't even think of a proper chorus.
Toss a coin to your... wookie? No, what would a wookie need coins for? To get more fur? Hmm... Your, your... Trooper? Ugh, no... Those guys reminded him of toothpaste tubes. Toss a coin to your...
He'd passed his millionth dune when he saw something so odd, so grotesquely out of place that it flicked off the autopilot switch in his brain.
A large chunk of metal. In the middle of a desert. Covered in a near-transparent veil of sand.
Or was it...
Jaskier's heart dropped.
A person. It was undoubtedly a person.
He swung around his bike and pushed the brakes so hard it nearly threw him off. He wasted no time and hurriedly staggered over to the figure that was laying at the center of what appeared to be... a crater?
The situation was getting weirder by the minute.
Jaskier was merely a few steps away from the body now and close enough to assess the "large chunk of metal". It had been their armor – and what an armor it was. Perfectly symmetrical with delicate edges; almost wrecked beyond repair. It was decked out, too, with numerous weapons and blasters. They were all in various stages of destruction.
Something suddenly dawned on him and Jaskier froze dead in his tracks.
This... this war machine has been armed to the teeth and whoever – or whatever – killed them must have surely been a force so lethal that nothing could withstand its power. Not even a one-man army. Jaskier frantically looked around to see if he could spot anything or anyone in the distance except for all that fucking sand, but – no, not even a ship. His eyes fell back on the body which still didn't move.
"Oh, dear... Just what happened to you?", Jaskier rasped.
Finally, he broke under the sheer pressure of it all and decided he could no longer bear his goggles nor his helmet, hell, not even his silly gloves so he stripped them all off and let them fall into the sand.
The young man squinted nervously against the sandy gusts of wind, feeling naked but in a good way. Perhaps that would somehow cool down his overheated head. It was so terribly hot.
The likelihood of that person being still alive dwindled more and more. Not only were they injured but also scorched by the raging sun.
But then, the unimaginable – the corpse coughed. Heartily. Yup, that was most likely a man and not deceased (yet), just in the middle of dying.
Jaskier didn't just flinch, he quaked.
Abandoning his fear and rationality, he began to sprint towards the guy. Self-preservation be damned, this person needed his help! Jaskier fell to his knees and proceeded to tear at man's stupidly tight collar so he could check his pulse. He blindly tapped at his neck with his middle and index fingers, trying to locate the – what was it called again? The carotid artery? Jaskier let out a shaky sigh when something pulsated under his fingertips. Dreadfully slow but steady. He'd make it. Perhaps.
Jaskier straightened his back with newfound confidence. "Can... can you hear me?"
No response, but there was something... a twitch – no, a nod. Good. Good, good, good.
"Don't be scared, I'll remove your helmet. It's daytime, in case you can't tell. The sun might hurt your eyes but I just wanna check your head to see if there's any injuries. Don't worry! I know what I'm doing. My father's a medic! I mean, granted, that doesn't make me a medic, but I'd like to believe that..."
Suddenly the dying man's gloved hand shot out from underneath to grab Jaskier by his wrist. "Don't.", he asserted, his voice barely above a whisper. He sounded completely wrecked by dehydration. How did this man even find the strength to produce words?
Jaskier blinked at him, stupefied. "L-Listen, I know it's gonna hurt but I'd like to – Ugh. I need to see if you fractured your skull. And I'll have to look at your eyes. If they're bloodshot, we have a problem. I promise, I'll make it quick."
Jaskier placed his free hand at the bottom of that silvery helmet but before he could give it even the slightest push the man's grip tightened – painfully so. Jaskier gasped at the sharp wave of pain and lunged for his aching wrist. "Stop! You're hurting me!"
The man reacted surprisingly quick to his command and let the pressure cease all at once. "You can't.", he croaked and lowered his arm. "I failed her... It's not..." The man took a sharp, pained inhale. "Leave me be."
Upon hearing that, Jaskier's white-hot fury dissolved into a multitude of quieter feelings – well, dumbfoundedness, for starters – and the cogs in his brain began to turn.
"You are... one of those who fought in Nevarro, yes? You're... you're a Mandalorian." The words clumsily fell from his mouth, one by one, against his better judgement.
A Mandalorian. Of course. It all made sense. That apprehension to show his face, the T-shaped visor, his armor... Jaskier retracted his hands as if he'd dipped them in acid.
He recovered someone from an acient clan of warriors.
His initial awe was brief, though.
"Wait! I don't care who you are!", Jaskier bellowed, loud enough enough to make the seasoned fighter flinch. "You're dying and I'll help you, whether you want it or not! I don't care who you failed or what your mission is. That stupid helmet's gotta–" He completed his monologue with an undignified yelp because a laser beam flew right by his face and missed him by a hair's breadth.
A small (but clearly fatal) blaster was protruding from the Mandalorian's forearm – possibly the only thing that was still intact. The man didn't give Jaskier time to figure out whether this had been a warning shot or a failed murder attempt.
"Go. Or I'll kill you."
Jaskier pushed himself to his feet in a flash of anger. "Then die for all I care! I've had it!"
He turned on his heel and stormed off... which proved to be quite an awkward endeavor since he was shakily treading through piles of sand. "No oath is worth dying for! You hear me?", he yelled as he collected his belongings. "To think a Mandalorian would wallow in his own self-pity!" How silly. How stupid. How utterly undeserving. Jaskier halted for a second. "This is not a warrior's death! It's a bloody shame, is what it is!"
The Mandalorian, of course, did not respond. How could he? The man was barely still alive. And in pain.
Jaskier chewed on his lower lip all the way back to his ride. If he mounted that speeder, the Mandalorian would be as good as dead.
His father would be so disappointed.
Not his real father, that shitty aristocrat, but his chosen father who took him in as one of his own and let him peer over his shoulder when he treated his patients. Jaskier fondly remembered an certain occurance in his early youth. "If you think about it, making medicine and making music... They're actually one and the same.", he'd once said when little Jaskier was curiously eyeing a busker that humored a small group of villagers. They all seemed to adore her. "One heals your body, the other one heals your mind. That lady with her flute and I both get up early in the morn' because we're doing our peers a favor. Granted, it's a whole lotta work and sometimes it ain't fun but helping others – I guess that's our calling. Eventually, you'll figure out if it's yours, sonny."
Jaskier rubbed at his face and let out a sigh. "Ah... Fuck it."
He abandoned his gear in favor of pulling out various supplies and necessities. Water, a towel, some first-aid kits and whatnot. Then, he scooped them all up in his arms (some fell, some did not) and hastily began making his way back to the Mandalorian. He would simply force his helmet off. He'd do it, somehow! If that man died because of him, Jaskier would sleep unwell for the rest of life.
"I'm back! And I'm not scared of you anymore, Mando!", Jaskier announced ceremoniously as he hovered over the unmoving body. Again, no response. Not even a tired sigh. "...Mando? Mandalorian?"
Jaskier let his supplies tumble into the sand as he sat down to check his breathing. Even weaker that it had been before, but, luckily – there it was. His pulse, his heartbeat. Persistent and stubborn. His body didn't want to die.
Somehow it put Jaskier at ease.
He propped up the man's upper body against his knees. "I'm not sure if you're passed out but I'm nervous so I'll keep talking. It helps." Jaskier gently curled his fingers around the rim of his helmet which was nearly sharp enough to cut flesh. "I'm assuming this thing is part of your identity, right? I'm sorry but it has to go. I want you to live... for whatever reason. You must feel vulnerable, so I'll tell you something that makes me feel vulnerable. Everyone calls me Jaskier, but that's... not my real name. It's Julian Alfred Pankratz. Frankly, I think it's rubbish and a mouthful. Only my father knows my real name. Well... he knew. He's dead now – so it's just you and me, I guess." He lifted the thing with little to no effort. "We're even now."
Chapter 2: brief but cathartic
DID YALL USE GOOGLE TO SEE WHAT A HALLIKSET LOOKS LIKE? its a mf space banjo! i'm crying
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Long, white hair began to pour out of the helmet like liquid platinum. It was the first thing he'd noticed. The warrior's face still bore the remnants of pain and his eyes remained screwed shut. Jaskier wanted to run his fingers over the devilishly sharp jawline, see if his trimmed beard was more soft or coarse.
"You look marvelous.", Jaskier breathed.
"I'm dying, Julian.", the man replied, dryly.
Jaskier winced with embarrassment and his face turned crimson red. "I, uh, I didn't think you were listening.", he offered, feeling sort of mousy. Jaskier began to busy himself with his initial plan – to look for signs of blunt force trauma.
His fingers skillfully inspected the head, starting from the crown and working his way down from there. He tilted him when needed, careful not to cause a headache. Luckily, Jaskier didn't find anything that required immediate attention. No cuts, no sunken spots – just a moderate bump at the side of his head. It lifted a humongous weight off his shoulders.
"Do you feel nauseous?"
"Do you remember how you got here?"
Jaskier hummed, approvingly. "Your face is burning up but you got away pretty damn good. Guess it's just a mild concussion... paired with a sunstroke. Both won't kill you. I'll check your torso and legs once I figure out how to peel off your, uh, tin can suit... or rather, what's left of it. Welp." He paused. "I know you're gonna hate this, but... Can I see your pupils?"
The Mandalorian made a sound that Jaskier placed somewhere between a groan a whine.
It could not be helped, that much was clear.
The man warily cracked open his eyes and Jaskier forced himself not to stare because immediately he felt drawn to them. Seriously, how could he not? The Mandalorian's irises were shimmering gold and Jaskier had been born into wealth.
The brunette allowed himself to smile. "Your eyes are okay." More than okay. They were marvelous, too. "Alright, then. Let's get you some water."
After getting patched up and taken care of, the Mandalorian fell into an uneasy slumber and awoke when the sky over Dol Blathanna was doing what it always did during the darkest stage of twilight – it radiated a purple-ish hue that was shockingly vibrant and unlike anything he's ever seen.
He slowly pushed himself into a sitting position, stiffling a groan. Fuck and Ow were his two most reoccuring thoughts. While he was out cold, Jaskier had almost entirely undressed him (save his pants) and thrown an exessive amount of blankets over his body to shield him from the incoming temperature drop. His armor, including the helmet, was neatly stacked into a pile not too far from his makeshift bed and Jaskier had even applied a cooling oinment to his chest because two of his ribs did not survive the crash. The swelling didn't hurt as much as it should, thanks to him.
All that care was... touching.
It really was.
If he were another man – a better man, he could've embraced a simple act of kindness. But, alas, he wasn't and so he quietly wondered if there was a catch. His thoughts ran wild. Maybe Jaskier would rat him out to the authorities or use this as an opportunity to blackmail him.
He pondered a lot. Pondering was the reason why he was still alive but not once did the Mandalorian stop to ask himself if he even still a man at all – or just some bounty hunter machine who had not only lost his tribe but now his precious daughter too?
Sometimes the lines began to blur.
"How's it feel to be alive?"
Jaskier posed this question without looking up from his hallikset. He pulled at the strings haphazardly without sticking to any particular song or rythm. He'd been playing it for hours on end. A poorly disguised attempt at masking his anxiety.
"Painful. Very painful.", the silver-haired fighter noted.
The sound of Jaskier's laughter was strangely melodic. "That's mighty profound."
They sat at a "safe" distance from each other, considering their unfortunate circumstances (ahem, a certain attempted murder) but the Mandalorian still allowed himself to soak in Jaskier's therapeutic presence. He observed the way the way his eyes softened when he managed to produce an exceedingly nice chain of sounds or how he would ocassionally blow away a dark lock of hair that shadowed his eyes – and the fact that he'd almost eradicated his existence made the warrior sick to his stomach.
Jaskier suddenly spoke up again. His curiosity got the better of him. "Pray tell, what exactly happened to you? Was it the Imps?"
The Mandalorian rubbed at his neck. "Well, yeah. I hid my ward in Nevarro and then hell broke loose so we fled. Even managed to stay hidden for a couple of weeks. Then, we were en route to Redania when things took a turn for the worse."
"They hijacked my ship and pushed me off. I crash-landed here."
"Ah. The usual." Jaskier made an exasperated face.
The life of a bounty hunter did entrail strangeness. As much strangeness as the galaxy had to offer.
Their brief talk was followed by a moment of silence which was neither comfortable nor awkward.
The Mandalorian needed to get something off his chest, though – and so he did. "I'll repay my debt to you. You have my word."
Jaskier stopped his music for the first time in forever to throw him a dirty look. "There is no debt, silly. What are you blabbering on about? I helped you because I wanted to."
The Mandalorian was quick to counter this with a bewildered "But why?"
Jaskier chose to buy himself more time to think. He rose to his feet and walked a few steps towards the Mandalorian before slumping down right next to him in the sand. He was still closely pressing the hallikset to his chest as if it were an extension of his natural body. "I don't know why – but what I do know is that I didn't go sign my contract in Pos'Ada today which means that I'm fired so I should be very, very cross with you – and yet, there's not even an ounce of frustration in me. Did I really want that job? Or did I just tell myself I wanted it? Did I truly wanna spend my day patching up some half-dead warrior instead? I can't answer any of these questions. I just... sorta... do stuff? And I guess it's 'cause I haven't figured out what pleases me. I need to work on that."
Earnest. So goddamn earnest.
"You don't understand, Jaskier. I tried to kill you. It can't be undone. Let me pay you at least. It's the honorable thing to do."
Jaskier scoffed and shook his head. "You fell on your head, Mando, I think your decision making skills were at least slightly impared. And, well, I almost killed you too by throwing the towel."
"See, my pops used to tell me grandiose stories of these legendary warriors in their shiny, shiny suits who fought against the evil Jedi but never in my life would I have guessed that you guys could be so terribly grouchy. Just say thanks and move on! Does being knuckleheaded come with your profession or is that just you?"
The Mandalorian could hardly believe what he was hearing. This cilivian was bickering with him. He couldn't decide if Jaskier was being stupid or fearless.
"Are you doing this because you like my face?", the Mandalorian retorted.
And that, admittedly, was a low blow but he simply couldn't stand Jaskier's holier-than-thou smugness.
The younger man's composure visibly folded.
"I– What? No! No, gods, don't flatter yourself.", Jaskier stammered with reddened cheeks. "If– if anything I find you hideous! Extremely hideous. This lack of empathy towards yourself is downright appalling."
But was it cruical? Did he need it to survive?
"That is something I can do without." The Mandalorian glanced at his armor. Honor above all. They had drilled this into him. "My sense of self... It's tied to my culture. You wouldn't understand. I don't expect you to understand. There's no me, there's only us."
This is the way.
(Or was it?)
They barely realized that the sky had darkened.
It's what it always did.
And the stars blinked for no one in particular.
The Mandalorian was overcome with the painful awareness that his certainty, his purpose and even his constant need for punishment and denial were resting on shoulders that could no longer bear the weight.
He was tired. He felt heavy.
And if he shrugged – it would all come undone.
Jaskier could sense this and crashed into him like a tidal wave. "Again: I don't care who you are, Mando. I think you're a person. Not many, just one. And I think you must allow yourself to want things."
"I only want what is best for my creed and my ward."
"Is that so?"
"Why are you staring at my lips, then?"
(Because he was attracted.)
Jaskier's voice went from dulcet to ravenous and it was unbecoming, dishonorable and, above all... so painfully enticing.
The Mandalorian became – for the first time ever – acquainted with what actually hid under his helmet. The person that piloted this body of his was, indeed, a man. Not a bounty hunter, not some devoted, nameless member of his creed; just a man in his perplexing entirety.
He'd figured that out when Jaskier pressed a tender kiss to his lips – persumably in the spur of the moment because, again, he was on a journey to figure out what pleased him – and the Mandalorian's first reaction was not to push him off (as he should) but to let it happen.
It was brief but cathartic.
Jaskier pulled back, eventually, and it was as if it never happened.
But it did.
One could pretend to be without a past for only so long.
"I can't want for anything until I have my daughter back.", the Mandalorian explained with a deeply pained frown.
Jaskier offered him an apologetic smile. "Of course. I understand."
The Mandalorian reached for his belongings and started to get dressed; which was a horrible, painful ordeal because it was dark and his body screamed at him with each and every micro movement but despite his circumstances, he patiently managed to slip into each item of clothing and disappeared again under his helmet.
It was time to go and sleep was out of the question. They were both wide awake.
Jaskier was already gathering his things, too.
They were gonna head to Pos'Ada and see what comes of it. The Mandalorian needed to see a medic – a real medic and an armorer. An arms dealer, too, and most importantly: Find a way to get off this goddamn planet.
He was gonna track down his ship.
He simply had to.
And Jaskier, well...
"I'll go with you.", he declared as he struggled (again) with that stupid hatch at the back of his bike.
It didn't take a genius to figure out that the Mandalorian was shooting him a deadly glare under his tinted visor. "No, you won't? I'm chasing an Imperial devision, Jaskier."
The hatch finally gave in with a satisfying bang. "Uh, yes I will, Mando.", he retaliated. "I do whatever the hell I want. Besides – you cost me my job, remember? The least you can do for me now is not be a total mudscuffer and let me stick around. Maybe you'll inspire me to write better songs? Honestly, who knows. I've grown tired of sitting on my ass, waiting for opportunities to arise."
The Mandalorian crossed his arms over his chest, thinking of how to best articulate his disdain. "Impossible. That's–"
"Ah, ah, ah." Jaskier waved his hand and cut the impending monologue short. "Let's continue this conversation in Pos'Ada. I'm tired of all these stupid dunes. I think I somehow managed to get sand up my ass. I'm miserable. I wanna get out of here." He made a point out of hopping on to his speeder, as if to say well, are you coming?
Suddenly, the words of his mentor Vesemir echoed through his head: you can't fix stupid.
The Mandalorian let out a heartfelt groan before joining him on the uncomfortably narrow seat. He wrapped one arm around Jaskier's waist and placed the other one on a flat surface closely behind him – in case he was gonna get thrown off mid-ride.
(Jaskier didn't have to know that the Mandalorian was wary of his driving skills.)
"Pos'Ada, we here come~", Jaskier cooed as he turned the ignition key. The Mandalorian readied himself as the engine began to stutter – but the tell-tale whirring sound did not occur. As luck would have it, the vehicle refused to move even a single inch.
Jaskier let out a colorful string of curses.
He turned and turned and turned the key but nothing came of it. Eventually, the musician collapsed into the control panel and let out a miserable sob. "Why's it not working..." He sniffed. "1,500 Imperial Coins...."
The Mandalorian slid out the seat and crouched to inspect the bottom part of Jaskier's speeder. "That box where the power cell sits is wide open. Some screws must've fallen out. Thing's chock-full of sand."
Jaskier commented on this with louder whine.
"Get a grip. We'll walk. Grab your bags."
"You can't walk, you're injured!"
"Don't hmm me, you buckethead!"
And so – they walked until their feet hurt. The exhaustion didn't kill them, even though Jaskier insisted that it would.
directed by taika waititi