As far as Din was concerned, his entire world had shattered. First his clan, then his ship, his home, and now his son, all gone. The only comfort he found as he stood on the deck of the imperial star destroyer was that Grogu was safe, and that was because of him. For once, he had helped instead of hunted, saved a life instead of destroyed one.
Letting Grogu go had been one of the hardest losses he has endured.
His mind flashed back to his childhood where he had experienced his first loss: the last glimpse of his father’s face as the heavy cellar doors closed, and then the deafening explosion that claimed the lives of his parents.
Another memory blinked through his mind. This was one of whips and cuffs and harsh hands that did everything they could to break his spirit. In these years, Din had lost his freedom. In the wreckage of his home planet, scavengers had carted away anything valuable and that included him. With no one to claim him, Din was taken by slavers. His only saving grace was the kind slave boy who protected him through it all. There were only a few children their age among all the slaves in this sector, and the two boys clung to each other for comfort and protection for years. The Boy had been the one who had even given up his own chances of escape so that Din could get out of slavery.
A Mandalorian had come with the intention to liberate all of the enslaved children. When the slavers made it so only one child would make it out, Cobb Vanth did everything he could to make sure Din was the one to go.
Din had gained his freedom back and even found a new family amongst the Mandalorians, but even that came with a loss.
Din lost his best friend.
Din had promised Cobb that he would come back for him. He spent the next 20 years with one goal in mind as he trained to be a Mandalorian: Pay it back. Save Cobb.
He had spent years with that goal in mind, and he always intended to make good on that promise. But the universe seemed to be hellbent on not letting Din have what he wanted. The clan needed help and he felt honor-bound to provide for them while they struggled to survive.
So he became a bounty hunter, and while he was scouting the outer rim for his targets, he always kept an eye out for any sign of his old friend or the slavers who had held them captive as children. But they always turned into dead ends. The promise he made to save Cobb became a nagging thought in the back of his mind.
It would always resurface whenever Din felt proud of his accomplishments or prowess as a warrior, reminding him that as much as he grew, it wasn’t enough. You call yourself a mighty warrior. You, who had to be saved by another. And now you cannot even bring yourself to save him.
And then the universe gave him the child.
Part of him felt as if his mission to reunite the child with his own kind was a trade the universe had made with him. As if saying that if Din would not fulfill his promise to Cobb, it would give him no choice but to promise himself to help another lifeform.
And Din was at peace with that, happy even. He would complete this mission, he would hold to this promise. He poured every ounce of love and determination he had been holding back for Cobb into the child.
But oh, how the universe enjoyed meddling with even that.
Din was skeptical when he heard of a Mandalorian being all the way out on Tatooine in a little nothing town like Mos Pelgo. Even as he entered the dusty bar, he had his doubts. A Mandalorian? Marshal of this place?
Suddenly, the man in question appeared in the doorway, and Din could feel the confidence in his stance and the way he walked. Finally, a solid lead. Din was almost relieved. Almost.
When he removed his helmet, proving himself a false Mandalorian, Din felt something ache inside his chest. Something about that face was all too familiar for his liking. He needed to stay focused if things got ugly. This was a man who knew that he was capable of putting up a fight, even against someone like Din.
“Who are you?” Din had asked him.
“I’m the Marshal of Mos Pelgo,” the silver-haired man replied as he tipped his glass of spochka towards Din.
There was a twinkle in his eyes and confidence to the word Marshal as it passed the man's lips. Like he was proud of the title and preferred it to his own name. Din could imagine that on a harsh planet like Tatooine, you had to work hard to keep that title and still make it to the age of the man in front of him.
Throughout the entire exchange in the cantina, Din felt the ache of familiarity in his chest and in his mind. Beneath all of the silvery gray hair and scruffy stubble and rough skin from years exposed to the sand and suns, there was something there. The way the man spoke, the way he moved, even the wrinkle in his eyes when he smirked was some form of ghostly memory to Din.
Even the way his fingers twitched at the ready for the inevitable shootout struck Din as something he just knew.
Din was able to ignore that feeling for the most part. This was still a pretender wearing his people’s armor. If he had to, he would kill to get it back. This was the way.
All of that was interrupted by the rumble of the ground and the sounds of the entire world shaking. The two armored men stepped outside the cantina and witnessed the Krayt Dragon swallow a bantha like it was nothing and then disappear into the sand again. Both men felt the tension between them shift, and Din knew that he was in for a ride here in Mos Pelgo.
“Maybe we can work something out.”
Din was hoping intimidation alone would have made the man surrender the armor. He hadn’t wanted to peel this man’s body out of the armor, if not for the ache in his chest than for the fact that it seemed like this town needed a man like him. So he agreed to stay and help.
If Din had refused, if he had said no and simply took the armor by force and left, then maybe he wouldn’t have been dealt the blow that would come next.
“What’s your name anyway, stranger?” The Marshal had asked as they both packed their speeder bikes for the ride out to the Dragon’s lair.
Din kept silent. He didn’t need to be friendly with this guy to complete this deal. So he simply turned his head to let the dark visor rest its gaze on the Marshal. That usually worked to quell any unwanted conversations.
Apparently, this guy was different. He just smirked again and continued talking.
“Reckon we should at least know in case one of us doesn’t make it out. Most folks just call me Marshal, but the name’s Cobb Vanth.”
Thank the stars he had just strapped the child into the side holster or otherwise he might have dropped him out of shock.
That wasn’t possible. Out of all the planets, all the backwater towns, all the billions of people in the galaxy, it couldn’t be here.
It couldn’t be him.
Din was broken out of his stupor by the sound of the Marshal’s… by the sound of Cobb’s voice. He hadn’t realized how quiet it had been until Cobb cleared his throat. How long had Din just been standing there?
“S’pose Mandalorians don’t even give out their names, then.” Cobb sounded disappointed, sad almost.
Din had never considered intentionally removing his helmet, but this would be the first time he ever wanted to.
The ride out of Mos Pelgo was filled with nothing but the rumble of the bike engines. Din was still unable to process what had just happened. He was moving on muscle memory alone. Mount the bike, start the engine, follow the trail of dust ahead of him.
Suddenly, Cobb dropped in beside him and started speaking again. “You don’t know what it was like, what this town went through.”
Cobb dove into the story of how he attained the armor. He punctuated every sentence with a certain finality, like he was trying to convince Din that his having the armor was justified.
The thing was, Din didn’t need convincing. Cobb was a survivor, a protector. He never acted out of personal gain. That part of him hadn’t changed. It was all the things that had changed that sent that wave of guilt Din had felt pinch his brain for years to all come crashing down on him.
Cobb was alive but what must he have gone through to get to that point? How long was he held captive by the slavers? What did they do to him for all those years Din had been gone? Would he have been able to avoid all of this if Din wasn’t such a failure and had come back for him as soon as he was able? Would Cobb even want to see him now? Stars, he would probably hate him if he knew it was Din behind the beskar riding next to him.
It was almost too much. His priority was to the child, he knew that. But his soft heart had gotten him in way over his cool head. Now both head and heart were at war with each other over what to do.
On one hand, he could call the deal off and just leave, look for other Mandalorians elsewhere. If finding Cobb on accident had affected him so much already then who knows what will happen if things go on like this.
On the other hand, if he did call the deal off, Cobb would definitely be suspicious. A Mandalorian doesn’t break their word, anyone who had heard of them knew that. And with how Din was ready to shoot Cobb for the armor before they had struck a deal, Cobb would definitely find it strange if he all of a sudden wasn’t interested in getting the armor back. Cobb would ask why, and Din wouldn’t have the strength to answer.
No, there was only one option. Din had to see this through. He would not reveal himself to Cobb, but he would do everything he could to help him now. It could never make up for the years he never came back for Cobb, but it was still something.
Din would complete his mission to find the child’s people, and he would complete this mission to rid the people of Mos Pelgo of the dragon.
An old promise never kept leading to a new one that Din must fulfill, or die trying.
Din thought back to months ago on Tatooine. He remembered the pain he had felt upon seeing Cobb. Seeing him stand tall and strong and proud even as he thought he was going to die. He should have been happy for him. Cobb was a free man and had become a warrior in his own right. But all Din felt was guilt.
Cobb shouldn’t have had to endure all he did just to get to that point. Din should have come for him years ago.
Those feelings had suffocated Din. His guilt and grief were so great that he was ready to die in the belly of the dragon if it meant making it up to Cobb, even if the man himself would never know.
Din never had the courage to let him know.
But now, he felt different. The guilt never went away, it probably never will, but Din felt an odd clarity settle over his mind as he stared at the spot where Grogu once stood.
He had watched the Jedi leave with his son, and he was okay. Of course his heart stung with the pain of seeing another loved one leave his life, but this one was different. This wasn’t just an end, it marked a new beginning. A new beginning for the child, and a new beginning for Din.
He wanted that with Cobb, too. He wanted to tell him everything. He wanted to put an end to this pain that he had been carrying with him for years.
And if Cobb was angry and hated him, then Din would be okay with that.
He watched as Cara herded the defeated Gideon off the bridge and down towards the shuttle bay. Koska was helping Bo Katan up and supported her side as the two followed after Cara. The blaster wound Bo had received was not fatal, but still debilitating enough that she was no longer in any shape to fight, let alone challenge Din to the Darksaber.
Ah yes, the dark saber. The hilt suddenly felt heavy in his hand, but Din quickly steeled himself and hooked the blade to his belt. Another promise thrust upon him by the universe. He would deal with this one in time, too, that he was sure of. But he had another to fulfill before that.
Din thought again of the child, of Grogu, and he smiled. Din may have brought him to who he belongs with, but Grogu had helped Din and given him courage in ways he could never have imagined. He would be carrying that courage with him on his next journey.
Fennec came up to Din after everyone else had left the bridge. “So, what will you do now?” Her voice was softer than usual, if ever so slightly. It still held the cold indifference she had trained into it as a bounty hunter, but Din had learned to pick up on subtle changes in people. Fennec may put on a lot of bravado, but she was a softy at heart. Much like Din.
He sighed deeply before responding.
“I need to get to Tatooine. I have some unfinished business there.”
He heard Fennec chuckle beside him and he looked over at her. She had a smirk play at her lips as she spoke.
“I’ll see if Boba and I can give you a ride. We’ve got some unfinished business on Tatooine to tend to as well.”