“He seems nice,” Jaster says casually, and Boba just grunts, unimpressed, ignoring him in favor of stripping the corroded paint from his helmet.
“A strong fighter,” Jaster continues anyway, pacing around the small space, “devoted to his child, that’s good. Resourceful. Level-headed,” he adds, turning when he meets the wall as though he’s at all subject to the laws of the physical world. “Responsible, from what we’ve seen. Respectful, certainly. He’s smart, he’s kind, he’s cute—”
“You don’t even know what he looks like,” Boba points out, still working.
“Ha!” Jaster says, finally stopping to lean against the wall across from Boba, a glowing presence he couldn’t ignore even if he wanted to. “So you are listening to me.”
“Not like I have much choice,” Boba grumbles, but it’s halfhearted at best. “Captive audience doesn’t count, old man.”
“Well I can’t exactly talk to anyone else on this ship,” Jaster tells him, “but if you don’t want to talk to me I’m sure you could find someone else…”
Boba bites back a sigh. Jaster’s not wrong, Boba is definitely… intrigued by the other Mando on his ship, but—
“He’s grieving, Jaster,” Boba reminds him gently, and to his relief Jaster sobers immediately.
“Yes, of course,” Jaster agrees. “He needs a friend who understands, not someone to flirt with.”
“That’s where we’re going,” Boba says, double-checking the helmet to make sure all the old paint is gone. The blended beskar shines, good as new except for the dent, and Boba sets the cloth aside, re-seals the can of paint stripper. “To pick up his friend.”
Jaster doesn’t respond; instead, his silence grows more and more judgemental as Boba pulls his paints out from the supply cabinet and arranges them on the workbench beside him. Fortunately, Boba has a lifetime of experience keeping cool in situations far more uncomfortable than this. Unfortunately, Jaster is very good at judgemental silence.
“What,” Boba says finally.
Jaster shakes his head. “I’m sure having a friend with him will help.”
Boba pulls one of his chestplates into his lap, dipping his brush into the green paint. “But?”
Jaster sighs. “Well, she’s not here now, is she? He’s alone.”
“Fennec’s keeping an eye on him,” Boba reminds him, painting in broad strokes. Something in him settles as he covers the shining silver with his dark green once again, the act of repainting his armor familiar in a way that little else is, these days.
“Boba,” Jaster says, and something in his voice prompts Boba to look up at him. “He lost his child, to those— those—”
“Hut’uun’e?” Boba finishes. “Shabuir’e? Karking Imperial scum?”
“Demagolka’se,” Jaster spits, and it takes Boba a moment to remember what the word means but when he does, he can’t argue: it fits. Gideon is absolutely a war criminal, has committed atrocities that put him up there with the worst of the Imps, and now he’s literally stolen himself a child to experiment on. If anything, it’s too obvious a comparison, and given Gideon’s obsession with Mandalore, Boba wouldn’t be surprised if he sees Demagol as a karking inspiration.
They fall into tense silence again. Boba finishes painting his armor pieces and moves on to his helmet, staring at his own distorted reflection in the visor before heaving a sigh.
“I know what you’re going to say,” he tells Jaster, and Jaster just gives him an expectant look. Boba sighs again, dipping his brush into the paint. “He barely trusts me,” Boba protests. “He didn’t even know I was a Mandalorian.”
“He knows now,” Jaster replies.
“He doesn’t need a stranger butting in, acting like I know all his problems.”
“So don’t do that,” Jaster advises.
Boba shoots him a withering glare. “That’s not helpful.”
“Boba,” Jaster sighs, “Focus. What does he feel like, right now?”
“Like a wall of beskar,” Boba mutters under his breath, but it’s not entirely true. Sure, beskar interferes with the Force, but it doesn’t block it out completely. In fact, Boba’s been consciously blocking the other Mandalorian out of his mind the entire time he’s been on the ship, trying not to eavesdrop on emotions he likely doesn’t even know are escaping the privacy of his own head. There’s a despair there that’s almost too familiar for Boba’s comfort, an unmoored feeling, a loss and a lack of belonging that’s cutting him deep, and— yeah, Boba sees where Jaster’s coming from.
Still, Boba takes his time finishing his helmet, taking care to make sure the paint is even before setting it aside to dry with the rest of his armor. Jaster doesn’t even have the good grace to look smug when Boba digs out his armor maintenance kit and sets it next to his paints, rearranging the workspace to easily accommodate another person, so Boba doesn’t say anything when he steps past him to head to the cockpit. To be fair, after all those years on Tatooine with only Jaster’s ghost as company, they don’t exactly need words, but Boba is a man of principle. And pettiness, but he learned that from the best.
The atmosphere in the cockpit is tense, Fennec and Mando sitting in silence and ignoring each other in favor of staring out the viewscreen into hyperspace.
“All right, Shand?” he asks, leaning against the cockpit door.
Fennec turns to look at him, sparing a glance at Mando before answering. “We’re on track,” she tells him. “Should reach Nevarro within the next hour-and-a-half.”
“Good,” Boba nods, and he ignores Fennec’s pointed eyebrow raise to address Mando instead, making an effort to soften his voice from the brusque tone he knows he falls into far too often.
“Mando,” and the other Mandalorian startles minutely at being addressed, just the slightest there-and-gone-again tensing of his entire body. “I’ve got supplies, if you want to touch up your armor,” Boba offers.
Fennec clears her throat quietly.
“And food, and water,” he continues sedately, turning the full force of his attention on Mando. “A medkit. The fresher, if you’d like to get clean.”
“Thank you,” Mando says, his voice hoarse even through the vocoder. “I… yes.”
He doesn’t elaborate, doesn’t make any move to get up, and Boba’s a little amused despite himself.
“Yes?” he prods, and Mando shakes his head a little.
“Yeah,” he says again slowly. “Thank you, yes, I should— clean my armor. You have a kit?”
“In the main hold,” Boba confirms. “I was just touching up my own paint, myself.”
Mando nods distractedly, then gets up out of the chair with none of his usual grace. He isn’t moving like he’s injured, Boba thinks, but rather like he’s had his home and family and life ripped out from under him; still, he makes sure to snag the medkit on his way back down just in case.
Jaster’s cleared out when Boba palms open the door to the little supply closet he’s using as a workroom. Even with the recyclers whirring at full speed the room still smells like chemicals and paint, so he keys the door to stay open and lets Mando enter before him.
“Armor kit is over there,” he says, nodding to the other side of the workbench. “Make yourself at home.”
“Thank you,” Mando says again, and he strips his armor off mechanically.
Boba had brought up armor maintenance first because he’d thought Mando might need the familiarity, but watching him clearly running on autopilot makes him reconsider. “You sure you don’t want any food or drink?”
Mando shakes his head as he stacks his armor next to the bench, swinging a leg over to sit astride it. “Armor first,” he says, and Boba decides to take him at his word. If he passes out, from injury or hunger or dehydration, Boba will berate him for it later. They work in silence, Boba popping open another can of paint to work on his pauldrons, ignoring Mando at the other end of the bench.
Eventually, though, Boba runs out of armor to paint, has to wait for everything to dry before he can continue working on his accents, and so he leans back against the wall and watches Mando work.
“You grew up with other Mandalorians, right?” Boba asks, and Mando nods where he’s working dirt and debris out of the crevices in his chestplate. “What did they call you?”
Mando hums questioningly, and Boba stifles a smile. “Well, they were all Mandalorians. They can’t have called you Mando.”
“Ah,” Mando says, “no, they called me— hunter. I was the only one who ever really left the planet,” he explains, and Boba nods.
“Hunter,” he repeats, considering. “Or was it beroya?” he asks, and Mando stops detailing his armor to look at him. Boba smiles ruefully. “My father did teach me Mando’a when I was a child, though I’ll admit I didn’t have anyone to practice it with for most of my life.”
Mando hums thoughtfully, loud enough for his vocoder to pick up the sound. “You have someone to practice it with now?”
“I do,” Boba says, and doesn’t elaborate, mostly because he’s not sure how to say I’ve been talking to the ghost of my grandfather, who I ignored for most of life after my father died until I ended up in the belly of a sarlacc in the middle of the desert, alone and somehow not dead without sounding like a madman. Mando’s got a Force-sensitive kid, sure, but it’s still a lot to throw at him all at once.
“No names?” he asks instead, and when Mando visibly hesitates he adds, “You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to. This isn’t an interrogation.”
Mando stays silent, and Boba lets it go. Comfortable silence, at least, is one thing he’s good at, and his armor pieces have dried anyway, so he picks out a slim brush and starts inking out the details.
“It wasn’t safe,” Mando says eventually, and Boba hums, concentrating where he’s freehanding the mythosaur skull onto his pauldron. “Names, faces… if we didn’t know them, no one could use us to track the others down.”
“The Empire had your records,” Boba realizes, looking up.
“We hid away to survive,” Mando confirms. “We didn’t even know if there were any others out there, but searching would have meant giving ourselves up.” He heaves a sigh, dropping his head, and Boba can feel his exhaustion like a tangible thing. “Not that it helped them in the end,” he says, bitter.
“What do you mean?” Boba asks lightly.
Mando huffs a tired laugh. “The kid… he was a Guild bounty. I turned him in, but I couldn’t— the client, it was the Empire.” Boba winces sympathetically. “So I stole him back, and the Guild tried to stop me. The Covert, they revealed themselves to cover our escape. By the time I made it back, they were all either dead or scattered.”
“The Guild killed them all?” Boba asks, astonished. He’s no stranger to the myriad cruelties of the universe, and he’s certainly no fan of the Guild, but killing an entire population of Mandalorians…
“No,” Mando says, his voice hard. “The Empire.”
Ah. Boba has no idea what to say to that, so he doesn’t say anything at all, lets his silence speak for him.
“It was the right thing to do,” Mando continues after a moment, turning his attention back to his armor. “Hiding away, living in isolation—why do we do it, if not for the foundlings? We couldn’t just leave him.” There’s no hesitation in his voice, and Boba feels nothing from him but the strength of his conviction in his beliefs and that, at least, is a relief. Boba doesn’t know how to console someone, much less support them through a crisis of faith.
“We’ll get him back,” he says instead, and tries to instill the words with his own faith: in Mando, in himself and Fennec, in whoever they pick up and add to their rescue crew. In Mando’s kid, too.
Mando pauses, drums his fingers against his armor. “Thank you,” he says, and Boba opens his mouth to brush him off but he continues, “for everything. For helping, and for the ride, and— for listening.”
“Least I could do,” Boba mumbles dismissively, bending his head to look closely at the paint job on his pauldron, vaguely flustered and, embarrassingly, embarrassed about it.
“Most people don’t bother,” Mando says wryly. “Everyone’s got their own ideas about what my deal is, and they don’t care to actually talk to me about it.”
“Well,” Boba says, dry, “if I didn’t I’d be a karking hypocrite, Mando.”
Mando drums his fingers against his armor again, and Boba uses the pause in conversation to switch out his pauldron for his helmet.
“You can use my name, if you want,” Mando offers, and Boba nearly fumbles his grip on his helmet.
“What,” he says.
Mando shrugs, deliberately casual. “You said it yourself: can’t exactly be Mando around another Mandalorian, and you’re a bounty hunter besides.”
“I already use my name,” Boba reminds him. “No one’s going to confuse us for the other.”
“I trust you,” Mando says, devastatingly blunt. “Maybe I’m wrong to, maybe I don’t know you, but I do.” He looks down at his armor, running a gloved hand across the gleaming surface. “And I’m not protecting anyone, anymore. It’s just me, and I want you to use my name.”
Boba just stares at him, floored. What can he say to that? He knows he’s not going to betray Mando, but at the same time it feels wrong, Mando’s faith in him; undeserved.
He clears his throat. “If you’re sure…”
“I am,” Mando says calmly.
“I won’t tell anyone,” Boba assures. Not even Fennec. Not even Jaster.
“I hope so,” Mando replies.
Boba nods absently. “All right.”
They sit in contemplative silence until Boba finally clears his throat. “So, you gonna tell me, or…?”
“Right,” Mando says, and Boba can’t help but laugh at him a little, and then a little more when he buries his helmet in his hands.
“You don’t have to,” Boba tells him, still laughing.
“I want to,” Mando insists, head still in his hands. “I’ve just never done this before.”
“I’m honored,” Boba says, and he means it with the whole of his heart. “Really, it’s an honor.”
“I haven’t even told you yet,” Mando mutters. He groans to himself, then straightens back up and takes a deep, measured breath. “I’m Din. Din Djarin.”
“Din,” Boba repeats. “Well. Ni kar’tayl gai sa burc’ya, Din Djarin,” he says, and the smile on his face is genuine.
Din stares at him, but before Boba can rethink his words, he reaches out. “Ni kar’tayl gai sa burc’ya, Boba Fett,” he says, and Boba moves forward to clasp his wrist in a proper Mandalorian greeting. Without the armor in the way, he can feel the subtle shift of muscle in Din’s forearm under the rough canvas of his flight suit as he leans forward.
“Vor entye,” Din whispers, hoarse, and Boba shakes his head.
“There’s no debt, Din,” he says, pressing his forehead lightly against Din’s, cool beskar against warm skin, “not between friends.”
Boba moves back, then, and lets himself bask in the warmth spreading through his chest. He’d forgotten how it felt, being connected to someone by the weight of shared history and culture, an understanding deeper than words, and forging that connection now, here, with Din… it’s a gift that he’ll never be able to repay.
“Tell you what,” he decides, gathering up the supplies on his end of the workbench, “I’m going to make some food, and Fennec and I will eat in the cockpit so you can,” Boba waves his hand vaguely, “eat, use the medkit, detail your helmet, whatever you need.”
“You sure you trust me alone down here in your ship?” Din jokes, and Boba doesn’t need to touch his emotions to know that whatever anxieties he was stewing in earlier have settled, at least a little bit, alleviated in some small part by the camaraderie thrumming between them.
“If you can trust me with your name, I think I can trust you with my father’s ship,” Boba replies dryly. He gets as far as the still-open door before he turns back around. “Din,” he says, waiting for Din to look up at him. “Thank you.”
Din tilts his helmet, a smile in a language Boba hasn’t had to read in decades. “Hey,” he calls as Boba leaves the room, “when you say food, you don’t mean ration bars, right?”
Boba just laughs.