Din Djarin was tired. He sighed as he trekked through the cave system that he had been hired to retrieve an artifact from, ducking his head to avoid the ceiling occasionally.
He was tired, but he had to focus, on the job, on the artifact, on anything but the empty ship waiting for him when he returned from his hunt.
It had been three months since he gave the kid to the Jedi, and Din had filled up the time with work; taking bounties, reclaiming artifacts, avoiding Bo-Katan and her challenges for the Dha’Kad’Au(1) on his belt. His friends were worried about him, he knew. Cara and Geef had stopped giving him bounties after he’d brought them three in four days, citing fear for his health, so he’d taken a few from Boba and Fennec in the meantime until they stopped giving him jobs for the same reason. Then he’d switched back.
He knew it wasn’t healthy, to want to be working all the time, but it was better than the alternative of sitting alone on a ship that was both too quiet and too loud at once.
He was leasing a ship from Geef, one which had been taken in payment when some starjockey tried to stiff his mechanics their pay; it was serviceable, about the same size as the Razor Crest, a bit faster, but lighter armed.
It was also too quiet, when he was the only one aboard. No rustling of little feet in the hold, no cooing, no playing keep-away with the knobs and levers in the cockpit. It was worse when he tried to sleep, because the quiet turned into a cacophony of unfamiliar hums and creaks.
He’d gotten used to the noises the Razor Crest made over the years he lived in her, could tell the normal creaks and pops of hyperspace wear from the sounds of an intruder or catastrophic failure. This new ship made different noises, different groans and stattaco thuds that always kept him on edge when he tried to rest.
He didn’t sleep much.
So he kept out on jobs, and avoided his friends. He’d given up the kid anyway, and most of the people he knew only really liked him for the kid in the first place. He hadn’t dared show his face at Peli Motto’s garage, and he limited his contact with Geef as much as possible, only to get bounties. Same with Boba, though he could tell the older Mandalorian was getting worried. He’d probably have to fight his way out of the palace next time he visited, or be forced to spend the night and actually sleep.
He’d started taking more artifact retrieval jobs lately, going to the back end of the galaxy and wandering through ancient temples to find bits and baubles for rich collectors. He’d developed a knack for dodging the traps, and it reminded him of the kid, walking in the places where his people once worshipped.
He wondered about the other Jedi, the blond human that was training Grogu, and the Togruta he’d run into before that. Tano, her name was.
He thought over what she said about attachment, how it led to heartache and ruin. He could understand a little better now. He’d been well and truly attached to the kid, and his heart...
Well. He understood.
He took a turn around a sharp corner only to see a weird shrine. In the center was a tiny glowing cube, about the size of a large gambling die, made of transparent crystal yet somehow luminous, with indecipherable carvings on the planes.
That was his target. He reached out to grab it, momentarily forgetting that he’d lost his glove to a trap a couple klicks back. He’d cut himself along the way too, and his blood smeared red on one of the faces.
Whoops. He’d have to clean it before turning it in to the client.
He tried to put it in his belt for the trip back, but accidentally fumbled it against the Dha’Beskad. There was a small clink as it made contact, and then he heard a distant humming noise. He froze, fearing a trap, only to remain frozen when the humming noise resolved itself into voices, a thousand voices, all speaking Mando’a.
There was a mysterious rumbling, and he thought he could hear marching feet in the distance. The cavern started to shake, small pebbles coming off the ceiling.
Din started to run. He couldn’t get to the entrance in time, but if he got to a point where the cavern was near the surface maybe he could dig himself out when it collapsed.
As he ran, he couldn’t help wish he wasn’t alone. If he had the kid here, he wouldn’t have set off the trap, or maybe Grogu could have defused it. Maybe Boba could have told him how to deal with unstable artifacts; he knew the older hunter had done retrieval missions a couple of times. Cara could stitch him back together, telling him how stupid he was with every wound closed. Even Tano could help, she was a Jedi, this was one of her temples.
But there was no one here. He was alone.
He didn’t want to be alone.
He allowed himself to think of the kid one more time as something hit his helmet and he pitched forward. Then, it all went dark.
He woke up with light in his eyes.
Light? In a cave? He tried to take stock of his surroundings, but found to his unease that the information he was getting from his body wasn’t making sense. He was lying on something warm and soft.
Where was his armor?!?
He bolted up and was nearly blinded by the sun. His helmet, where was his helmet? He patted around him frantically.
He still didn’t take off his helmet much. He may not be a real Mandalorian anymore, but it was a comfort that he couldn’t bear to give up. Boba and Kryze both took their helmets off and put them back on, so why couldn’t he? He ignored the part of his brain that said he was picking and choosing the rules for his own benefit. He’d lost enough, he couldn’t lose his identity too.
Eventually he noticed something else odd; instead of the brown and black close-fitting spacer clothes he wore under his armor, he was wearing... red. Red, loose robes, with embroidery on the hems. He hadn’t worn this style of clothing since he was a child. It had died with his parents.
And his hands were all wrong, too, smooth where years of weapons training should have left callouses. He looked around once he adjusted to the sun’s glare, and found himself in a medium-sized room with a high ceiling; at least twice his height.
He was on a large bed, higher up from the ground than was usual. Sunlight was streaming in through a window, revealing the rest of the room to be bare of furnishings save two doors.
One opened, suddenly, as he was wondering at the scale of everything; even the doors were almost twice his height. Someone walked in, and Din’s world turned upside down.
His mother, who had died when Din was ten, looked down at him with worry in her dark eyes.
“Are you alright, honey?” She asked, bending down to put her hand on his forehead.
He registered with a vague sense of horror the reason for the odd scale of everything in the room; they weren’t big, he was small. He was a child. He fisted his hands in the blankets, and watched the woman warily.
He must have been captured, and they were trying to drug him. There were whispers, among the gangs, of substances that could make you see anything an interrogator wanted. Some said that they were used by the Black Sun, others by Kanjiklub, but everyone agreed they were bad news.
The woman wearing his mother’s face fussed over him for a while, and then left, once Din had convinced her he was just tired. It was difficult, with how panicky he felt. As soon as she was gone, he bolted out of bed, out the window, and down the street, desperately trying just to get away.
After a while, reason started to kick in, and he ducked into an alley to think, wrapping his arms around himself. He needed to get away, someplace safe. Someplace he hadn’t been much, so they couldn’t try to hijack the hallucination, but also someplace he’d been to before, so he knew what to expect.
And first, he needed transportation. He crouched further behind a garbage pail as he heard a noise at the end of the alley- Dank Farrik, he missed his armor.
His armor. The covert.
The covert at Aq Ventina had been in the tunnels underneath the twin, much like Nevarro. That was the entire reason the Mandalorians had been there when the droids attacked, the only reason his buir had been able to adopt him. However, you couldn’t park a ship in the sewers, so their ships were parked with the rest of the tiny spaceport at the edge of town.
Destination decided, he cut through the alley and made his way to the port. When he got there, he almost collapsed.
The Razor Crest was there, gleaming in the sun. She wasn’t new, even in this half-hallucinated world, but she was whole, with significantly fewer dents than she had picked up over the years of bounty hunting under the Empire’s radar. It had been his Buir’s ship before his, which was why it was here.
Din spared a thought as to whether in addition to a hallucinative mother he had an imaginary father and buir walking around the town too. He felt his eyes water at the thought. He felt very much a child at the moment.
He couldn’t stop himself from walking closer, noticing the blinking that meant the lock was engaged. He tried the combination his buir had taught him, and it worked.
That man had never changed the codes for anything.
He ducked inside, and locked the door behind him. And then he almost cried, because everything was the same as he remembered.
He hadn’t changed much about the layout of the ship after buir died, he hadn’t needed to. The layout it already had worked well. Even when the kid arrived, he hadn’t done much other than put a hammock in the berth compartment. He hadn’t realized just how much he missed this ship until it was gone; it was his buir and his ad wrapped up into one. He hugged himself again, still shaken by the foreign texture of the red robes. His Buir’s ship, his mother and father’s clothing. He climbed up into the cockpit, and there was the hypershift lever, with the knob the kid loved so much. He clutched it to his chest, and hid a sob.
He needed to find the kid. He had no clue where to even begin, but first he needed to get out of this place.
He needed to go someplace he hadn’t been often before, with people he knew well enough to make it difficult to impersonate them.
Navarro. Cara and Geef- no, he’d been there too often. And the covert was there. He couldn’t lead them to the place his people had lived.
Tatooine. Boba and Fennec. No covert, but... friends. He could really use a friend right now.
He looked at the ship’s chronometer as he took off. It matched the rest of this entire sorry hallucination; it was thirty-one years ago. He was eight years old.
He watched the stars blur into hyperspace and hugged himself again, and struggled not to cry. He was thirty-nine, he knew, but he felt very much eight years old.
Tyro Meljarek had been loading a gravsled on the other side of the port when his ship took off without him in it. He cursed, dropping the crate of... well, he probably shouldn’t have dropped something that explosive. He ran to the berth, but the ship was long gone.
How? He hadn’t received any of the tampering alarms in his buy’ce (2). He ran further to the dockmaster’s office, only to deepen the mystery.
His ship thief was a young boy, no more than ten. He looked scared out of his mind, but he knew the codes to enter the Crest, and evidently the ones to disable the trackers when Tyro checked. There was one camera, in the cockpit, that he’d missed though. Tyro opened the feed on his HUD and felt his heart break; the kid was curled up in a ball crying his eyes out. What had happened?
He was wearing the clothing of the locals here, lots of red, lots of fabric. Tyro decided to check the local Marshall, see if anything awful had happened in the town.
He ran into a couple out front of the Marshall’s office, both obviously distressed. The man was crying, and the woman was close.
“Our son has gone missing!” The woman told the Marshall, “We don’t know what happened!”
Tyro had an idea he did.
“Your son took my ship,” he told them, and grimaced mentally as they spun around with horror on their faces. He probably could have put that nicer.
“I’m not mad at him, the kid’s obviously distressed,” he tried to reassure them, “Do you know why?”
The woman shook her head, and the man tried to stop crying without success. From their behavior, Tyro took a wild guess that it wasn’t the parents the kid was running from.
“You can call me Mando,” he introduced himself, “I will help you find your son and my ship, just meet me here in one hour.”
He needed to tell the Armorer about his new quest, and then convince Visla to let him borrow his ship. He was never going to live this down.
“Rus and Etta Djarin,” the woman introduced, nodding respectfully. They exchanged contact information and parted ways.
Tyro walked back to the covert and wondered what exactly he was getting into.
Boba Fett stared at the ceiling.
You are not in the Sarlaac, he reminded himself, you are in your palace, far away from that karking pit. The Sarlaac was eaten, and good riddance. You are having a dream, or maybe a hallucination. Maybe there was some spice smoke in the ventilation ducts again.
This isn’t real.
‘This’ was the blank, white ceiling of his quarters at Kamino, where he’d lived with his dad. He’d glanced around, just a little, before curling up on his bed and resolving to stare at the ceiling until the hallucinations went away. The surroundings matched what he remembered of his childhood bedroom, the bookshelf and door were in the right places, as was the window. He hadn’t dared to look more.
The Sarlaac had liked to torment him with the few good memories he had, taking his dad’s face and voice and spitting invectives at him, taunting him with how much of a failure he was. Nothing he hadn’t known already, but to have his dad tell him that... well.
Thus wasn’t even a bad hallucination, so far. It was just the room, and the sound of the rain, and minor noises from dad cooking down the hall. It was nice, actually. If he wanted to, he could close his eyes, and pretend he was actually nine and his dad was going to wake him up with flatcakes.
It was his hallucination. No one would know. He might as well make the best of it before it went bad. He uncurled himself slowly and lay flat on the bed, fingers finding one of his favorite stuffed tookas. His dad’s flatcakes were the best, but he’d never been able to duplicate the recipe, spicy and sweet at once. He allowed himself to drift, clutching the tooka, until he smelled the flatcakes cooking.
He blinked. This was a very real hallucination. It got even more real when the door slid open and Jango Fett walked in.
Boba looked over at his dad, torn between trying to jam himself into the corner and trying to hug the man he hadn’t seen for thirty years. If the hallucination continued to be good, he wanted a hug, but he still didn’t trust whatever this was to twist his dad’s face and voice to call him just another Clone again.
He forced himself to get up, knowing he was acting odd but not really caring. He hugged his dad- and his dad hugged back, gently like he always did with Boba, and Boba decided that he was in no hurry to wake up from this particular hallucination.
The flatcakes were just like he remembered, and he made sure to savor every bite. They had just started to clean up from breakfast when the door chimed.
“Can you get that, Boba?” Dad asked, arms elbow-deep in dish water. Boba nodded, and ran to the door to open it.
He wanted to wake up now. Kenobi stared down at him impassively, just like he remembered in his nightmares.
“Boba,” he said evenly, “Is your father home?”
Boba tried to pinch himself. He didn’t want this dream anymore. He didn’t want to see the ending again. He stared up at Kenobi, trying to hide his terror, but he must have given something away, because the Knight frowned and started to kneel down.
“Are you alright, Boba?” The Jedi said, and reached for him, and that was the last straw. Boba ran, through corridors and halls he only half-remembered, until he finally came to the door he wanted. He registered a commotion behind him as the door whooshed open and he darted out into the rain.
The Slave I was there like he hoped it would be, in his father’s blue and silver instead of the patchwork colors he’d painted it. But, as he darted up the ramp and closed it behind him, it was his ship, and it still worked. He clambered into the cockpit and started the engines.
Where could he go? It wasn’t safe here. The Slave was safe, but he’d have to stop for fuel eventually, if he didn’t wake up first.
Fuel was cheap on Tatooine. He decided to steer there, for lack of a better destination. And maybe he could convince himself that he wasn’t in the pit if he saw it from the outside.
Jango grabbed the Jedi from behind and nearly threw him off the platform.
“What did you say to him?!” He screamed, “Why did my son run away?!”
“I don’t know!” The Jedi yelled back, trying to get away, “I simply asked him where you were!”
“He’s telling the truth, Jango,” Came the clinically even voice of Taun We.
Jango turned to her, still trying to wrestle down the violence in his heart as his HUD pinged a steady loss of all the tracking signals he’d installed in Slave I. He needed to hit something. He needed to do something. He needed his son back, Boba was the only family he had left.
“I need a ship,” he growled. The Jedi eyed him sidewise, but didn’t comment. Smart.
“I can offer one of our research crafts,” Taun We answered evenly. Her eyes betrayed no emotion.
Jango hated working with the Kaminiise (3). Any proper Mando’ade (4) would have scrambled an entire karking fleet right now, not a slow hulk of a research vessel. Boba could be halfway to Kessel before that thing even exited orbit.
“There’s my ship,” The Jedi said suddenly, then blinked like he didn’t believe he’d said it out loud.
Jango spun to face him.
“Aethersprite,” The Jedi outlined quickly, “Very fast, inbuilt astromech, one person fighter, hyperspace ring in orbit.”
“If it’s one person, where do I sit?” Jango countered.
The Jedi managed a somewhat sheepish look.
“Therin lies the rub, I’m afraid,” he replied, “You would have to ride in the Padawan compartment.”
Apparently, the Jedi explained, his jetii’ad (5) had a bad habit of sneaking away to missions he shouldn’t be on, so he had modified his fighter to include a small rumble seat behind the main pilot. It was cramped, but flyable.
“The last time we pulled it off, he was only a few centimeters smaller than I am,” Kenobi mused. The Jedi left it tactfully unsaid that this meant his hypothetical ad (5) was still several centimeters taller than Jango.
At this point, Jango was willing to try anything, watching the trackers on the ship blink out one by one on his HUD. Boba shouldn’t even know where half of these were!
“Fine, set course to Tatooine,” he growled, and followed the Jedi as he made his way back to the fighter.
“Set course for Tatooine, Arfour,” The redheaded menace told his droid genteelly. Then he hauled the cockpit canopy up and pushed his seat forward, revealing the promised makeshift seat. Jango still wasn’t sure that two people could fit in this fighter, but he was willing to try, for Boba’s sake.
It would be a long flight.
Cara Dune was dreaming. That was the only explanation that she could come up with, at the moment. She was walking with her parents like they did every morning before breakfast, wandering through the crisp pines and enjoying the still-snowy peaks in the distance.
It was all perfectly peaceful and normal, except she and the pines and the mountains and her parents were on Alderran, and Alderaan was gone, trees, parents, and all.
She had fallen asleep after a long day Marshalling Nevarro. Criminals didn’t punch themselves, after all. And then she’d woken up in her childhood bedroom by her mother shaking her shoulder and calling her for the walk.
That was another thing, Cara mused, she was also apparently six, if she calculated the date right from the chrono. And she looked six in the mirror that morning, definitely.
There were worse ways to dream, Cara mused, chasing away images of fire and flame. The rounded a bend in the trail and started back to their house, and Cara resolved simply to enjoy the dream.
They had a nice breakfast, Cara enjoying all the flavors of her childhood that you just couldn’t find anymore- syrup from the lowland sugar trees poured over slices of tenteks meat, both of which were native only to Alderaan. She enjoyed the little things she had almost forgotten about her parents, too, the way that her father’s glasses slipped down over his nose when reading the morning news and how her mother hummed old sunrise hymns while she cleaned up the kitchen.
Cara looked out the window, seeing the tufted songbirds chase each other up and down the tree, and started to wonder why exactly she was dreaming so deeply. She forgotten half of this, the tastes and smells of her home and the shape of the songbirds and the mountains drifting away like smoke no matter how hard she tried to grasp them.
The thing was, if she was dreaming, there should be gaps; pieces that didn’t quite fit, the things she forgot, but passed over with Dream-logic.
But there were no holes, no gaps or absences or jigsaw pieces from different times and planets stuffed into places they didn’t fit. Her father was her father, her mother was her mother, the mountains were the North Summer Range, like they should be, not the Tree Mountains at Endor or the Shore Ranges of Naboo.
Her mind was sharp, she also considered, she was able to comprehend this without the floating sensation of dreaming.
Something wasn’t right. She couldn’t do much but be on her guard, so she resolved simply to stay quiet and not let anything get by her.
Her parents might have noticed something when she agreed to do the dishes without complaint, but they said nothing, other than her father raising his eyebrow.
Well, they said nothing until she went into the kitchen. She almost missed the low tones of her father speaking.
“Maybe lessons with Aunt Pru are paying off,” He murmured.
Cara shuddered. Great-Aunt Prudentia had been the bane of her childhood. Aunt Pru was her father’s mother’s sister, a terrifying old bat with an obsession for manners and civilized behavior. She’s never married, never seeming to have the inclination, being perfectly happy terrorizing Cara and all her cousins with etiquette and rules for society. She was the matriarch of the family, a nominally ceremonial position on Alderaan, and practically she was the one to solve everyone’s problems, even if they did not wish them solved.
Even as a perfectly respectable and terrifying Republic Marshall, Cara had been more scared of Aunt Pru than any Imperial Officer.
Aunt Pru had died with Alderaan, just like everyone else. Somehow, though, that terror had never faded.
And, Cara realized with a sense of dread as she looked at the wall chronometer, it was Taungsday, which meant that she had lessons with Aunt Pru at ten sharp.
Well kriff that.
She did the dishes quietly and quickly, and snuck back to her room. She packed a bag with a blanket and some clothes, and snuck back through the kitchen a couple of times to get some snacks, until she had a fairly serviceable camping pack assembled.
Though it did lack in the way of weapons. Curse being seven.
She snuck out the window, willfully ignoring just how many rebellious children’s holo tropes she was emobodying, and considered her destination.
Navarro, maybe. She could get a job there, maybe try to find Din and Geef, be the first seven year old Marshall. Hey, it was a dream, why not? It’d be something to do until she woke up. She should get away from her parents; it would hurt to much to get used to them being alive again only to wake up.
She wandered down to the shipyards until she found a suitable ship, and then hotwired it.
She should have checked the fuel gauges first. She looked across the dash once she was in orbit and sighed. She only had enough to get halfway to Nevarro. She’d have to make a stop- either Nal Hutta or Tattooine.
Tattoine. Hot as Sith Hels and an overall cesspit, but at least there was only one Hutt there. She sighed again.
Bena Dune sighed as her husband’s aunt knocked at the door. Prudentia was a good enough woman, though stern and a tad overbearing, but she helped with Cara.
And heaven knew Cara was a handful, always running off into the forest and coming back with dirt on her face and skinned knees. They weren’t bad qualities in a daughter, just exhausting ones.
Cara was still young enough that she didn’t need to be decorous all the time, Bena and her husband weren’t high enough on the social ladder for that, but it was always an adventure trying to get Cara into a formal dress.
The last time they had tried, she had climbed a tree and refused to come down. That had been a fiasco.
She went to let Pru in, nodding politely to the older woman as she led the way to Cara’s room. She opened the door, only pause in shock.
Cara wasn’t there. Neither was the blanket on her bed, or her backpack.
“Tru!” She called her husband, “Have you seen Cara?”
“Not since breakfast, dear,” he called back. Pru, next to her, crossed her arms.
“Well!” She sniffed, “I can’t say it’s too much a surprise. Carasynthia has always been wild.”
Bena couldn’t argue with her, even as she ran to check the security holos. Their house had cameras mounted on the side facing the street, and she watched as Cara, with an unusually militant expression on her face, marched off down the road.
She hadn’t been worried until then. She hadn’t put it past Cara to take a picnic lunch and try to escape her etiquette lesson, but Cara didn’t seem like she was planning on coming back.
The next hour was passed in a blur. They had gone to the civil servants, trying to find Cara, and they managed to use their street monitoring cameras to track Cara to the spaceport.
It didn’t make Bena less worried. More, actually. Cara was dodging the cameras, like some kind of spy from the action holos. And she had hotwired a small fightercraft. Where had she learned that?
“Air traffic control registered their last trajectory as going toward Tattooine,” the civil servant assigned to their case told them. Tru went pale, and Bena felt her knees go weak. Pru, next to them, snorted.
“Naturally,” the older woman sighed, and then turned to Bena and Tru.
“I will meet you at the family cruiser in half an hour sharp,” She half-ordered, and turned on her heel to march outside, “We will find your daughter.”
Ahsoka Tano had not had a vision such as this in a while. It was pleasant. Instead of the fire and destruction she typically saw, both past and future, she was in the Jedi Temple. And not what the Emperor had made it, no, this was the Temple of her youth, full of light and joy, peace winding through every hall.
Most every hall, that is.
“Deero!” A paint-covered Wookie Youngling roared from next to her, “I’ll get you for that!”
She suppressed a wistful smile. Deero had been killed during the War, and the Wookie, Kkilida, had been a casualty of 66. It was a treat to find herself here, with them, playing children’s games in the crèche like none of them had ever left it to see the horrors of the galaxy.
She picked up a tapping on her shields, and looked around, curiously. None of the other younglings seemed to be looking at her, or even focusing enough to do the kind of Force manipulation that was required for such a thing. The tapping came again, from the other side of the crèche.
She slipped out the door of her clan’s room and wandered down the hall. She passed class upon class of Younglings and Initiates studying or playing, tapping down her knowledge of what happened to them. Finally, she reached a small, dark room, lined with bassinets.
Movement from one caught her eye. Ears swayed in excitement when she looked.
“Hello little one,” she murmured, “Why did you call me?”
Grogu sent a picture to her mind to answer; a tall, gentle man wearing beskar. His father.
“You want me to see your father when I wake up? I could probably do that,” she asked him, picking him up in arms that were much skinnier than she remembered them being.
Grogu was lighter than that Hutt, though.
The kid shook his head and burbled quietly.
‘It’s not a vision,’ he sent mentally, ‘Buir touched the wrong artifact. This is real.’
“This is real?” She whispered. For the first time, she allowed herself to truly reach out in the Force. Lights filled the ether around her, the life forces of her family and friends.
“They’re alive?” She whispered, tears filling her eyes. Her family was alive!
By reflex, she felt along the ghost-whispers of her bonds, bonds that had apparently not yet been made. Master Plo and Master Ti were both meditating at separate places in the Temple. Master Kenobi was far away, but calm. Anakin... Anakin was hurting, and angry, in the most awful way. He felt like Vader.
Ahsoka’s eyes snapped open.
“I need to get to Tattoine,” she gasped. Grogu blinked up at her.
‘Take me with you,’ he told her ‘My father visits Tattoine often.’
“Your Dad is probably ten years old, kid,” she told him.
‘If you don’t take me with you, I’ll tell the crèchemasters,’ he threatened, and took a deep breath to prepare to scream.
“Fine!” She grabbed him and darted off toward the hangar. She knew how to jump-start the fighters there, Anakin had taught her how and timed her until she could do it within thirty seconds.
Grogu cooed in contentment, and used the Force to open doors in front of them and close doors behind them. Little karker. She couldn’t contain her smile.
Plo Koon looked up when his door chimed.
“Enter,” he called, and his door slid open to admit Shaak Ti.
“Master Ti,” he greeted happily, “It’s lovely to see you today. Would you like some tea?”
Shaak shook her head, eyes serious.
“Sorry, Plo,” she replied, “This isn’t that kind of visit. Something’s wrong with Ahsoka.”
Plo immediately got up and followed her.
He’d loved Ahsoka as soon as he’d found her, and thought of her as something like his own daughter. He would never be her Master, as he was her Searcher. The Council had ruled that a Jedi could not apprentice any youngling that they themselves that brought to the Temple after Xanatos had Fallen. However, that did not prevent him from harboring affection for her, and he visited her occasionally. He hoped that he could have her and her future Master as friends, one day.
But she needed to grow up to be a Jedi, first.
“She’s run away?” He tried to make sense of what Shaak was telling him. Shaak nodded.
“And she took another Youngling with her, Grogu,” she replied, “She simply walked down the hall to the infant’s room, talked with Grogu for less than a minute, and took him to the hangar and left.”
“Did he appear distressed?” Plo couldn’t help but ask. This situation could go from bad to worse very quickly.
“No, the closest sign to distress on the security feeds seemed to be when she tried to leave without him,” Shaak frowned.
Plo frowned under his mask.
“Are there any suggestions as to why they did this?” He asked.
“Some Temple Guards they passed reported a slight change in Force Signatures. Ahsoka felt like she was shielding, while Grogu felt older,” Shaak reported, as they arrived at the hangar.
Pl blinked as they skidded into the control booth, where a distraught Padawan was waiting for them.
“I’m so sorry Masters!” He cried, wringing his hands, “She said she was authorized, and all her codes checked out!”
“Peace, young one,” Plo replied, “There is more here than is apparent on the surface.”
The Padawan nodded.
“Where did she go?” Shaak asked, gently.
“Her navcomp last logged Tatooine,” The Padawan sniffled miserably.
Plo felt ice surround his heart. Tatooine was full of slavers, who would love pretty young Force-sensitive Togruta girls.
He breathed out, and released his fear to the Force. There was more here than he could understand, he repeated to himself. Ahsoka was acting like one who had had a vision, and he must trust the Force.
He looked at Shaak and she nodded, and they both started sprinting for the nearest consular transport.
“Set course for Tatooine,” she ordered as she slid into the pilot seat as he started the engines from the copilot’s perch. He’d already almost finished inputting the coordinates.
Trust the Force, but verify.
Din looked up as the proximity alarm went off in the cockpit. He took a couple of deep, shuddering breaths, forcing himself to relax. He uncurled his legs, and convinced his hands to let go from where they had been clutching his robes. It was only then that they noticed an unfamiliar weight at his side.
He looked over, and felt torn between crying again and sighing. He was tired of crying, so he just gave one of the sighs that Cara teased were his signature.
“Even here I can’t escape you,” he told the Dha’Kad’Au. Predictably, it did not answer back.
He steadied himself some more and out down outside Mos Eisley. He almost requested to set down at Hangar 3-5 before he remembered Peli wouldn’t be there. Instead, he opted to dock in the main port, beside a hundred other ships in various stages of beaten up.
He secured his robe over his head, and pulled it in front of his face to protect it from the sun. He stepped out, and was nearly overwhelmed by the heat.
He missed his armor, and the thermal properties it had.
His gaze was drawn to another ship landing next to him. It was familiar- a firespray-class. The paint was different, but... was that Boba’s ship?
He’d almost convinced himself that it couldn’t be, that there was no way, when the boarding ramp came down and a kid not much older than he was walked out.
His hair was incredibly fluffy, and he was wearing a simple blue shirt and pants. Din, who still had Boba fixed in his mind as a grizzled, 40-something tank of a man, started to relax, until the kid turned around and pinned him with his gaze in a manner that was very familiar.
It was Boba. Or a version of Boba, at least, who must have noticed his odd reaction because he marched over with a scowl that would have looked perfectly ordinary on Boba the King of Tattoine but was a little odd on Boba the Ten Year Old.
“Who are you?” He asked, bluntly, “And why are you in that ship?”
“Din,” Din’s mouth said mostly without his permission, “It’s my ship.”
Boba blinked, and then grabbed his shoulders and inspected his face very closely. Din froze, unnerved, he felt naked without his helmet.
Boba evidently came to a conclusion.
“Beroya (7)?” He asked, in a tone of disbelief. Din nodded, hesitantly. He was surprised when he was engulfed in a hug. He patted back awkwardly, but was released just as quickly and his shoulder were grabbed again.
“What the kriffin’ kark is going on?!” His friend yelled, shaking him slightly. Come to think of it, Boba did look a little more wild around the eyes than usual.
“I could ask the same thing,” came another voice, surprising them both. Boba and Din both spun to see a young, dark-haired girl with her arms crossed at the bottom of the ramp, scowling at them.
“Who’re you?” Boba asked.
“Cara Dune, Marshall of Nevarro, we blew up a refinery together?” the girl introduced herself, and then abruptly locked eyes with Din and spun around.
“Sorry!” She squeaked, facing away from them, “But put your helmet on, Din, I need to talk to you.”
Din felt his shoulders sag.
“I... don’t have a helmet,” he said hesitantly, “Or my armor. I’m not Mandalorian yet.”
Cara turned around slowly, apparently processing this information. Before she could speak, however, they were interrupted by yet another new comer.
Boba didn’t recognize the Togruta rounding the corner at first. Then his mind made the connection. He made it his business to know Jedi when he saw them, after all.
“Tano,” he snarled. The girl blinked, started to smile, and then frowned.
Boba pushed past that. It happened a lot when he met people who had been around during the Clone Wars; they always thought the was someone else.
“Why are you here?” He snarled, trying to cover the fact that he didn’t have a weapon except for his blasters. He’d need his armor to fight Tano, he remembered how good she was.
“None of your business, Fett,” She said back, cool but with a snap in her voice.
“Tano?” Din questioned behind him, “Like on Corvus?”
“You know each other?” Dune questioned.
Tano tilted her head, and stepped a bit closer.
“Mando?” She questioned, and began smiling. Din nodded hesitantly, and Tano smiled wider and took off her backpack. Boba’s hands flew to his blaster, but Tano held up her hands before he could draw.
“No weapons!” She shouted, oddly cheerful, “Just someone who wants to see you!”
And then she reached into her pack and withdrew the most adorable creature Boba had ever seen. It was green, with huge eyes and ears, and made a cute cooing noise when exposed to the light.
The coo transformed into a scream of delight when it saw Din, who had stepped forward with a dumbstruck expression on his face.
“Grogu?” He asked, quietly, like he couldn’t believe what was in front of him. The creature, Grogu apparently, held its stubby little limbs toward Din and made a demanding noise. This must be Din’s kid.
Boba didn’t even see Din move, he was just suddenly down the ramp and holding the creature like one of them would disappear if he let go. Boba couldn’t help but be reminded of when his dad hugged him after a long job, affection bordering on desperation.
The reminder grew more prominent when Din lifted the kid a little more and tapped their foreheads together in a mirshmure'cya (8). The child cooed, and ran his hands along Din’s face, wiping away tears.
“It’s okay, ad’ika,” Din breathed, smiling, “They’re good tears.” The child cooed and settled against Din contentedly, and Din smiled at it a little longer before remembering that there were other people in the universe.
“Grogu,” he told the kid, “You remember your ba’vodu (9) Cara?”
Cara stepped forward with a sappy little grin on her face, and waved at the kid, who waved back happily.
“And this is your ba’vodu Boba!” Din introduced him to the kid, and Boba blinked. He’d never been an uncle before, but he smiled and waved at the kid like Cara had, and the kid waved back. His heart melted.
“Why do they get ba’vodu and I get ‘the nice lady’?” Tano asked, with a teasing tone inner voice. Din froze, and Boba stifled a chuckle. Cara didn’t bother hiding her snigger.
“Ah... you were very nice to us?” Din tried and turned to his kid, “You told her about that?”
The kid cooed smugly. Boba liked him even more.
They all jumped when a man’s voice shouted.
“Hey kids! What’re you doing here?”
Din’s eyes grew wide. Boba made a snap decision.
“Playing!” He shouted, hoping it was realistic.
“Who’s watching you?” A spacer rounded the bend. Boba didn’t like the looks of him.
“Our babysitter!” Cara chirped, motioning to Ahsoka, “My brothers get into huge amounts of trouble when mom and dad are at work if we don’t have one!”
“Really?” The spacer leered. Boba decided that he didn’t want to see where this was going, and promptly shot him.
No one came to see what the commotion was about. It was, after all, Mos Eisley.
“We should move,” Din muttered. Tano nodded, and turned to go.
“I need to get to my Master. There’s something wrong, I need to get to the desert,” she said, and began walking toward the desert.
“We should stay together,” Cara said, “Until we figure out what’s happening.”
“How fast do you think we can Hotwire that landspeeder?” Din mused, looking at a speeder at the edge of the tarmac.
Not very long, as it turned out. The Jedi had all the skills of a juvenile delinquent. She insisted on piloting, sending them out into the desert where nothing was. They conversed in fits and starts, until they came on the topic of Cara’s hasty excuse to the drunken spacer.
“Brothers?” Boba muttered.
“Trouble?” Din added.
“I panicked,” Dune shrugged, “And Din, you get into more trouble than anyone else I know.”
“I do not!” Din objected.
“When we first met,” Dune started to tick items off on her fingers, “You got us roped into fighting an AT-ST on foot. Next time was when Gideon threatened the kid, so we faced down a battalion of stormtroopers with air support. You dropped by Nevarro and took out another Imperial base that had no right being that well-staffed. Then the kid gets kidnapped, so we bust out a convict from prison, you infiltrate and blow up an Imperial Refinery, and then we board and capture an Imperial Frigate with a party of six, almost getting killed by the legion of droid death troopers aboard, and somehow becoming the rightful ruler of your people.”
“You killed a Krayt Dragon by getting swallowed by it,” Boba couldn’t help but add.
“You faced down a corrupt Magistrate and her gunslingers with only me and the kid for backup,” Tano added.
“And now we are here, thirty years ago, and I have a nagging feeling that you are involved here as well,” Dume finished.
Tano raised her eyebrow.
“I thought the Magistrate thing was a one-off,” she mentioned, “But it’s just how you live your life, isn’t it?”
Din nodded, cautiously.
“So,” Cara shrugged expansively, “What happened?”
Cara settled in to listen to Din’s story. It was sure to be a good one, Din’s always were.
“I was in the middle of an artifact retrieval job,” Din mentioned. Cara nodded. Geef had told her about the job, as well as several others he’d given the man, so they didn’t both give him jobs at the same time. He would absolutely ask for them.
“What?” Fett said, angrily, “You were supposed to be resting!”
Cara looked at him inquisitively, as he continued his rant.
“You brought in three bounties in the last five days, I told you you needed to take three days off before I’d give you more!” The pint-size bounty hunter spat.
“The last five days were his rest period,” Cara said in dawning realization, “He brought in five bounties seven days ago. Din Djarin! Have you been playing us to keep from taking a break?!”
Din shrank back into his seat, looking down at his kid. Grogu crossed his arms with a disapproving expression.
“He says that you should take care of yourself, and that he would be sad if he lost you,” Tano mentioned, evidently on behalf of the kid, “And I say don’t fight, or you get to walk back to Mos Eisley.”
“We’ll be good,” Cara muttered with ill grace, still glaring at Din. He could be so stupid sometimes!
Din looked like he was trying to shrink into his seat. His face was... vulnerable. It made sense, the man had spent his lifetime living in a helmet, of course he would wear his thoughts on his face.
“Where are we going?” She decided to abruptly change the topic, pretending not to notice Din’s grateful expression. She’s have to pull Fett aside later, work out a job schedule for when they got back to reality.
She wasn’t sure what was going on now that she knew that Din and Fett and the Jedi were apparently here too. Were they all dreaming? Were they captured?
“Where are we going?” Fett pulled her from her thoughts.
“My Master’s in trouble,” Tano called back, “We’re going to help him.”
“We’re saving your master in a hallucination?” Boba asked snidely, “How... helpful.”
“This isn’t a hallucination,” Tano shrugged. Cara froze. So did everyone else in the speeder, except for the kid, who burbled contentedly.
“I’m very sure it’s a hallucination. I’m not ten,” Fett said gruffly.
“The Force is telling me it’s real. Mando, what happened on that artifact hunt of yours?” She said calmly.
“I got the artifact, went to put it in my belt, but it started buzzing and rumbling when I put it next to the Dha’Kad’Au. The cave started to collapse, I tried to make a run for it and failed, and next thing I know my mom is waking me up,” Din shrugged.
Cara gave into the urge to clutch his arm.
“You are not going out without backup anymore,” she told him.
“Seconded,” growled Fett.
“My guess would be that artifact, combined with the Darksaber, triggered something,” Tano swooped the speeder a bit to the left to avoid a large rock, “Sent you here. Can’t tell you why Fett, Dune, the kid, and I are here though.”
Din looked down.
“I was thinking about you,” he said quietly, “That it would be nice to have backup, or someone who know how the Temple worked.”
Cara did not like this image, Din alone in the dark, thinking about his friends. Fett had grabbed the wrist Cara was not currently monopolizing tightly as well. Maybe they could work together to keep Din out of trouble.
It was sunset, and Tano jerked the speeder to a stop in front of a group of tents. They’d evidently just managed to catch up with an emotional-looking human teen, who had dismounted a speeder bike and run into the encampment. Tano followed him.
Ahsoka found Anakin sobbing over an older human woman- his mother. She was slipping away slowly, and was in a lot of pain. She knelt by her side, though Anakin barely registered her there.
“Ms Skywalker,” she spoke, “I’m going to try to heal you.”
She closed her eyes, put her hand on Anakin’s Mother’s stomach, and opened herself to the Force.
It was difficult, there was darkness all around them, but she managed to keep the fragile light that was Ms. Skywalker from guttering out. Then, another presence jointed her- Grogu, she registered- and Ms. Skywalker’s light got brighter and brighter until she knew there was little danger of it extinguishing. She disentangled herself from the Force, and carefully helped Grogu exit his trance, too.
Ms. Skywalker blinked up at them in wonder, not completely healed, but without the internal damage that was threatening her life. Grogu swayed a little next to her, and Mando all but swooped in to catch the infant.
“Who are you?” Anakin asked, with wonder in his voice. Ahsoka blinked. He’d never looked at her like that before.
Then again, her last first impression was of a snippy scrap of a thing always up for a fight, so maybe she just made weird first impressions.
“I’m Ahsoka,” she decided to tell him, “I’m here to help.”
“We got company,” Cara called at the entrance to the tent. She turned to see Fett trying to talk with a being wrapped in cloth at the surface of the tent. They were making some sort of signs at each other, but Fett was starting to look frustrated.
Mando tucked the child in his robes and went to make more signs, and even some absolutely awful noises, but instead of frustrated, he looked scared. Ahsoka didn’t like how the being jabbed his club toward the child.
“Can you run?” Cara asked Ms. Skywalker. Apparently she didn’t like the looks of things either. Ms. Skywalker nodded, eyes large, sat up, and Anakin scooped her u to carry. Mando nodded out of the corner of his eye, and they all took off towards the speeder, Fett bringing up the rear with some blaster shots.
Mando directed Anakin and his mother to the speeder, while Cara started it up and got it moving as soon as all parties were mostly aboard. Fett took the speeder bike and shot off behind him, swerving around and still firing to try to distract them from the speeder.
They were a solid crew. They must be absolutely fearsome when they were adults.
“What was that?” She asked Mando as soon as they were far enough away not to worry about pursuit. The man-in-a-boy’s-body looked at her gravely.
“Cult of the war goddess,” he said quietly, “They ritually sacrifice anyone on their lands to the third moon.”
“But she wasn’t on their lands!” Burst Anakin, “She was on her farm!”
Mando shook his head.
“She was left for them, at the edge of their territory, by an outsider,” he said quietly.
Anakin went pale.
“Someone did that to her on purpose?” He asked, voice growing dark.
“Calm down,” Ahsoka told him, “Do not give into your anger, it won’t help anyone.”
“How could you say that?!” He spun to her, wounded.
“All anger does,” Mando said calmly, “Is eat you up inside. And when it’s done eating you, it turns outward, to your family and your friends, causing them pain, until there is nothing but emptiness left and it is your own fault. Feel it, but don’t focus on it, and it will fade eventually.”
Well, apparently horror was a good way to snap Anakin out of being angry. Who knew? Ms. Skywalker also stared at Mando with sorrow in her eyes.
“I’m older than I look,” Mando tried to assure them, “I just... I lost my parents, all three of them, and I was so angry about it for such a long time.”
He cuddled Grogu closer to himself for comfort.
Anakin twitched, for a second, clutching his mother tighter. Ms. Skywalker reached out and smoothed a lock of hair back.
They didn’t say much more until they reached the moisture farm.
Obi-wan Kenobi couldn’t say that this was the most pleasant flight he’d ever had. It certainly wasn’t the worst, but not the best, either. He mostly tried to stay quiet, and not move much, very aware of the Jedi Killer in the rumbleseat, and also aware of the man’s rising panic.
He couldn’t blame Fett. He couldn’t imagine what it would have felt like if Anakin had opened the door to a stranger one day and just run for no reason.
He simply focused on getting them to Tattooine, where apparently the ship had been landed. Fett said nothing, barely even moved, until they reached Mos Eisley Spaceport and touched down. Obi-wan opened the cockpit, and Fett was gone. Obi-wan followed, cautiously. He felt responsible for this mess.
He found Fett in front of the Firespray that he had last seen blasting off of the landing pad at Kamino. He opened the biometric locks and ran inside.
Obi-wan waited at the foot of the ramp. He would be unwelcome in the bounty hunter’s ship.
His attention was grabbed by another group running to the Razor Crest next to them with similar urgency. The Mandalorian of their group hurriedly input a code and he and the human couple behind him rushed inside.
Obi-wan had a bad feeling about this.
“Have you seen a small human boy in red robes?” The human man of the couple rushed down the ramp fairly soon.
“No, I’m afraid I only just arrived here myself,” Obi-wan replied, “Have you seen a human boy in blue shirt and pants?”
The man widened his eyes and shook his head.
Jango came stomping out of his ship, still feeling panicky, playing a holofeed on his gauntlet. It was fairly clear, but it didn’t have sound.
“He didn’t turn off the security feeds,” the silver Mandalorian said, watching the holo intently. Obi-wan and the man’s faces both turned to him, mostly by reflex, but the man’s eyes lit up in recognition.
“That’s my son!” He pointed to a figure in the holo standing next to Boba, “Etta! Come here!”
The woman, Etta apparently, ran down the ramp just in time for them all to see Boba evidently recognize and hug the small boy quickly. Jango paused the holo in confusion.
“You know each other?” Obi-wan asked quietly.
“They shouldn’t,” the still-unnamed human man said, “Din has never left Aq Ventina before.”
“Boba’s never been to Aq Ventina,” Jango correlated.
“Why don’t we watch the rest of the holo?” Obi-wan tried to suggest, only to be taken aback by the gazes of all three parents on him. Nonetheless, Jango restarted the holo, only for a young girl to appear and startled the two boys.
“Any idea who that is?” Etta asked, watching intently. The girl evidently recognized at least one of the boys, but oddly enough turned around quickly. It wasn’t until Din spoke to her that she turned back around, and evidently introduced herself.
“Cara!” Another group of people wandered past them, “Have you seen a small human girl?”
They were Alderaanian, from their clothing, middle class, a head of family and a younger couple. Obi-wan was starting to have a suspicion.
Tru Dune was just not having a good day. His daughter had run away for no real reason as far as he knew, and now he was in a group of total strangers who were evidently in the same boat as him.
And now there was a Mandalorian. He seemed... on edge, though if his son was also missing, Rus could understand.
Tru and his family had wandered the port for at least half an hour. He’d stopped walking when he recognized Cara in a holo played by a group of strangers. They tensed when they noticed him.
“Our daughter is missing,” he explained, eyes on the projection.
“Let me guess,” the robed man said wearily, “It’s this young lady in the holo.”
Tru warily, and pushed his glasses back up his nose. Bena stood next to him and leaned in worriedly, but Aunt Pru marched up to the holo and examined it closely.
“Where did you get this?” she asked brusquely, “How long ago?”
“Cameras on my ship, three hours ago,” replied the silver Mandalorian, slightly taken aback.
“Where did they go?” Pru asked again.
“We’re trying to figure that out,” the robed man replied, trying to soothe all parties involved, but he soon got sidetracked himself when a Kel Dor man and a Togruta woman walked past.
“Master Koon? Master Ti?” he asked, bewildered, “What are you doing here?”
“Knight Kenobi,” the Kel Dor answered, “We have a missing initiate and youngling. We tracked them here.”
“A Togruta? And a little green baby?” Asked the red-robed lady, eyes glued to the holo that had restarted without their knowing.
“How did you know?” asked the Togruta woman. The lady nodded toward the holo, where the red-robed child was embracing the baby like a bereft father while the Togruta girl and the other children watched happily. They watched as the children had a conversation, the blue-clothed boy shot at something off-projection, and then they left as a group.
Tru felt his heart squeeze. They were in a group, without any projection. He knew the reputation of places like Tatooine. He prayed to the gods of his ancestors that he could find his daughter before the slavers, or worse, did. He could see most of the other adults in the group paling as well, though the Jedi simply shifted position.
“We believe that Initiate Tano had a vision, possibly Grogu as well,” the Kel Dor said quietly, “A terrible one, that panicked them and made them believe they had to run.”
The human Jedi nodded.
“I remember the visions I had at that age,” he shrugged, “I wanted to run several times as well, but I was always caught.”
Visions could be that awful?
“My son is not a Jedi,” the silver Mando said aggressively, taking off his helmet to glare.
“Certainly not,” the robed human agreed, “He’s a Force Null, which is what makes this a mystery. Why did these children all run so suddenly, on the same day?”
“I got audio!” came a shout from inside the Razor Crest freighter. Shaak Ti turned to face… a second Mandalorian, running down the ramp. This one was painted in dull blues and greys instead of the bright silver and blue of the first one.
The first Mandalorian was evidently even more surprised than the rest of them, hand immediately going to his blasters.
“Where is my son, you Death Watch scum!?” he yelled, suddenly very aggressive.
“Who did you kill to get that armor? Take it off!” the second Mandalorian yelled back, also going for his blasters. Shaak started trying to herd the non-Mandalorians away from the confrontation.
“You don’t get to ask me that, hut’uun (10)! Where is my son?!” screamed Mandalorian number one.
“I have never taken a child from their parents in my life!” screamed the second.
Neither of them expected the older lady wearing traditional Alderaanian garments to step between them.
“Be quiet!” she snapped, grabbing both of their arms, “Your mothers would be ashamed of you, fighting when children are missing!”
The Mandalorians froze. So did everyone else. The shinier one, the man without his helmet, rallied himself and pointed at the other.
“His people steal children!” he hissed. The Alderaanian slapped him on the back of the head.
“We just watched your son leave with the other children,” the intimidating woman berated, and then turned to the helmeted Mandalorian.
“Did you take the children?” she asked outright, too blunt to be a real insult.
“No! Why would I steal the child of a coward and a murderer? Who knows who he’ll kill next to get more armor?!” The helmeted Mandalorian shouted back. The older lady rapped him across the knuckles with her walking stick.
“Did you kill someone to steal that armor?” She asked the helmetless man, in the same blunt tone.
“No. I am a Mandalorian. My buir gave me this armor,” the man snarled, “The only men I killed for it were to get it back after it was stolen from me. By Death Watch.”
He glared at the helmeted Mando.
“Mandalorians do not take off their helmets, that is not the Way,” hissed helmeted Mando.
Both Mandalorians got rapped on the knuckles again. The helmetless one let slip a wounded expression, while the helmeted one simply scrambled away.
“Talk philosophy and old grudges after I have found my great-niece,” ordered the rather intimidating older lady, and turned to the helmeted Mandalorian again.
“You said you had an audio recording?” She asked in the same no-nonsense tone. The man scrambled to find it in his bracer.
“My friend Bail claims that this is the very reason that Alderaan is such a peaceful planet,” Knight Kenobi said quietly to Plo and Shaak, “Everyone is too afraid of their great-aunt to argue.”
Shaak wondered if they could recruit her for the Negotiation Corps. She resolved to ask Plo next time they meditated together.
The helmeted Mandalorian found the audio recording on his bracer. Hemet-less Mando checked the time stamp and restarted the visual holo from the same second, and they watched the odd meeting with sound. It was even odder.
“This is my ship!” The helmeted Mandalorian squawked in outrage when the red-robed boy introduced himself hesitantly, but quieted after a threatening look from the older lady.
“Beroya?” Asked the red-robed man hesitantly when the red-robed boy and the blue-clothed boy hugged, “What does that mean?”
“Bounty hunter,” the helmetless Mandalorian replied. The man blinked but stayed quiet, aside from frowning in worry. The helmeted Mandalorian tilted his head in thought.
“Marshall of Nevarro? Where’s Nevarro?” Asked the Alderranian woman in concern.
“Small outer-rim world,” Shaak answered, “Low population, mostly lava rocks.”
“Mandalorian? Yet?” The red-garbed woman appeared more and more worried by the moment. The helmeted Mandalorian also appeared interested, if concerned.
They all watched as Initate Tano walked up, and produced Grogu. The red-robed boy ran and clung to him like a drowning man, crying in joy.
“Grogu didn’t have any human family,” Plo murmured. The boy started to introduce the child to the others.
“Ba’vodu?” The red-robed woman said quietly. Her and her companion (husband?) both looked concerned.
“Uncle,” said the helmeted Mandalorian quietly, “He’s saying they’re his family.”
There’s a scuffle offscreen, and the children quickly agree to keep moving, mentioning hotwiring landspeeders.
“Who are they looking for? Ahsoka doesn’t have a Master yet,” the Kel Dor Jedi muttered. Etta Djarin had thought she looked too young to be alone.
“She might have seen her future master, in her vision,” the Togruta offered, and closed her eyes, “I will see if any other Force Sensitives are on the planet.”
The eyes popped open, after an oddly short time, and flickered over to the human man in the robe.
“Your Padawan is here,” she said.
Etta had never seen someone go that pale that fast before.
“What In blazes is he doing on Tatooine?” He asked himself, almost starting to run back to his ship, or presumably back to his ship. The Kel Dor caught him.
“He also seems to be with Ahsoka,” he noted, “So we had better stay together to find all of the missing children.”
“I’m starting to understand the rumbleseat,” The unhelmeted Mandalorian muttered. What was he talking about?
“We will pilot our consular to Initiate Tano,” the Kel Dor continued, “Master Kenobi, you can ride with us. The rest can follow.”
The helmetless Mandalorian stalked up the ramp of this ship and prepared for takeoff, only stopping to exchange tracking information with the Kel Dor. Mando did as well. The well-dressed group departed, presumably to their ship, and the brown-robed brings left in the other direction.
Etta held Rus’s hand as they walked up the ramp of the ship that apparently belonged to their Mandalorian. He had already started it up when they reached the cockpit.
He must have noticed their wary glances, because his shoulders slumped minutely.
“I promise I have nothing to do with this,” he said, with just the faintest hint of desperation in his voice, “I’ve never met your son.”
Etta nodded, and tilted her head. Rus leaned against her, and reached out for her hand.
“Why did the other Mandalorian call you a child-stealer?” She asked.
“I follow the Way,” Mando said, imparting importance to the word with his tone, “When a Mandalorian finds a child without a guardian, it is their duty to be a parent to the child until a suitable guardian can be found. If there is no guardian, the child becomes a Mandalorian.”
Etta nodded. That made some sense.
“Why do you think our son referred to himself as Mandalorian?” She asked. Mando shook his head.
“I don’t know,” he shrugged helplessly, “I really don’t. He acts like a full-grown warrior; the other child called him a bounty hunter, he uses Mando’a words. He behaves like a parent toward the baby. He seems like he’s used to wearing a helmet all the time, in the way he moves his head. If he was an adult, I’d say he was a dishonored warrior who had lost his armor- but he’s not. I really don’t know.”
Etta nodded, and patted him on the shoulder. He seemed genuinely distressed.
He also, evidently, wasn’t expecting the contact, staring at her for a moment beneath his helmet. Something in the set of his shoulders revealed surprise.
She exchanged a look with Rus. Was comfort really that odd to Mandalrians?
The dashboard beeped, letting them know the consular ship they were following was preparing to land. They landed with the other craft in their incredibly odd convoy outside a decent-sized earth-colored dwelling, next to a sleek craft polished to a reflective shine.
Din looked up from holding the child at the rumble of ships. Multiple ships, if he was right, landing next to the house. He looked up at Boba and Cara, who evidently heard the noise too.
He knew it was too good to be true. They must be looking for the kid. He rocketed past the family reunion happening in the sunken courtyard between the woman and her husband, barely noticing Tano joining them, and into the room with the sturdiest door that connected to a courtyard. It looked like a storage room. Tano barricaded the door, moving some crates without touching them, and then there was nothing they could do but wait.
“I miss my chain gun,” Cara murmured desolately. Din handed her Grogu, and put himself between them and the door. He took a deep breath and took out the Dha’Kad’Au. Beside him, Tano readied her laser swords. Boba climbed behind a crate and got out his blaster.
They were as ready as they would ever be.
A group of muffled voices sounded from the other side of the door. The baby cooed quietly, but Cara carefully muffled the noise.
“Those aren’t Imps or hunters,” she said, “That’s my family.”
“Jedi don’t have family,” Boba bit back, quietly. Tano shook her head.
“No, but that’s my Seeker, and my Hunt-Mother, and my Grandmaster and Master,” she replied, equally quietly, “They’re... they’re the only family I’ve ever known.”
A shout broke the silence, muffled by the door.
“That was my dad,” Boba said, wonder in his voice, “He’s alive.”
Cara tilted her head.
“Will he turn the kid in?” She asked, curiosity and wariness in her voice.
“My masters won’t let him,” Tano shook her head.
Another shout came from outside, “Carasynthia! Get out her this instant!”
Cara turned a bit pale.
“Great-aunt Prudentia?” She whispered. Din had never heard that tone of trepidation from her before.
That’s when the crate barricading the door was quickly pushed aside by invisible hands, and the door burst open. Tano and Din ignited their swords, and Boba fired a warning shot above everyone’s heads.
“Easy!” Yelled a voice that Din heard in his remembrances, “We don’t want to hurt you!”
“Buir?” Din couldn’t help but ask, trying to peer through the dust that had been disturbed from the scuffle.
There was a pause.
“I don’t have any children, yet,” his buir said hesitantly.
“Din?” Came another voice, a voice that Din had last heard screaming.
“Mom?” He half whispered, stepping out of the storeroom, “You’re real?”
And there she was, just like he remembered her- her robes dusty from the desert, but still fundamentally the same. And next to her-
“Dad?” He started to run forward. It had been so long since he had hugged his parents, both of them, properly. They both hugged him as soon as he came within range, and he allowed himself to relax since the first time he woke up that morning. Tano said they were real. He would enjoy this as long as he could.
He started to pull them toward the store room, grabbing Buir on the way. The older Mandalorian followed confusedly.
Tano had stepped cautiously outside, and seemed to be engaging in a stare down with a Kel Dor and a Togruta. A human man in brown robes was in the middle of berating the younger human whose mother they had saved. Din paid them no mind.
“You have to meet Grogu!” He said, pulling them past Boba, who appeared to be having a small crisis. He paused for a moment.
“Boba, talk to your dad,” he shoved his friend out of the storage room. Boba made an inarticulate noise that managed to convey uncertainty and threat of violence at the same time.
“Will he be alright?” Mom asked him with a faint tone of worry in her voice. Din waved his hand as he walked toward Cara.
“You should go see your parents, too, Cara,” he told her, “I don’t know when we’ll wake up.”
“It’s not my parents I’m hiding from,” Cara grumbled.
Din took his kid from her and pushed her out of the storeroom. He turned to face his parents, all three of them, and held up Grogu.
“This is your grandchild,” he said.
“You’re eight,” Dad said flatly.
Right. He had forgotten about that.
Boba walked up to his father warily. Tano said this was real, and everyone else seemed real enough, but the Sarlaac hallucinations had seemed fairly real too, at the time. His dad knelt down and took his head off to look him in the eye, and Boba... just couldn’t. He ran forward and hugged his dad around the neck and refused to let go.
“This better not be to get out of trouble, young one,” his dad said warningly, but didn’t push him away, “You are grounded for at least a year.”
Boba shook his head, and hugged tighter.
“No,” he said, “Jedi don’t hurt kids. If I stay here, they won’t cut your head off.”
“Why would a Jedi cut my head off?” He asked, voice gentle but dangerous.
“It was a battle. You were shooting at him,” Boba shrugged.
If it was possible, Dad got even more still.
“Boba,” he asked calmly, “When was this?”
“What’s the date?” Boba replied. Dad told him.
“Tomorrow, then,” Boba said into his dad’s shoulder, “Don’t go to Geonosis, dad, please.”
Dad hmmed, and stood up with a grunt.
“You’re getting too big for me to pick you up,” Dad said mildly, “Why do you think I die on Geonosis? You’ve never been there.”
“I saw it happen,” Boba said, trying to find a way to explain ‘I’m from the future.’
“When?” Dad pressed. Boba sighed. In for a credit, in for a million.
“I’m forty-one, Dad,” He murmured. Dad stiffened.
“I grew up after you died,” Boba continued, “Made my way on the galaxy. Had a pretty good place for myself, but then Din got into trouble and pulled us back here with him. Thought I was hallucinating, at first.”
Dad nodded, jerkily.
“Forty-one?” He whispered, holding Boba tightly.
“Yeah,” Boba whispered back, “That’s the reason I ran when I saw Kenobi. I thought I was hallucinating, and last time, Kenobi arriving was what sent us to Geonosis in the first place. I didn’t want to watch you die again.”
Somehow, Dad was holding Boba even tighter. He couldn’t bring himself to mind, he didn’t think he would ever complain about being hugged by his Dad again.
“Your friends are from the future too,” Dad asked without it really being a question. Boba nodded.
“Yeah, Din’s a Mandalorian, I met him when his kid was kidnapped and helped him get the kid back, Cara is his friend- she’s good with a rifle, better with a chain gun, Tano’s annoying, we’ve met a couple times,” he murmured.
“He’s the Death Watch Commando’s son,” Dad muttered. Boba looked over at Din and his family, and something in his heart clenched.
“There are too few Mandalorians left to judge each other for the sins of our parents,” he said, “And he’s one of the few that regards me as worthy of the armor despite being a Clone.”
“I’m going to need some clarification of that rather ominous statement, son,” Dad said. Boba nodded, that was fair.
“I don’t know the whole story,” he said, curling his lip, “We’ll have to ask everyone else.”
He really didn’t. He hadn’t paid as much attention to politics when he was thirteen as he probably should have.
“Fine,” Dad muttered, “I’ll listen.”
Cara had mostly been trying to avoid Aunt Pru while reuniting with her parents. It wasn’t that she actually didn’t like her Great-aunt, but she just didn’t want her knuckles rapped with a walking cane.
Everyone had mostly settled into a circle, to try and convince the non-time-travelers of the group that yes, they were not making things up to get out of trouble. Some had more luck than others.
Fett, for example, seemed to have mostly convinced his dad, while Mando was still working on it. For Tano, it was difficult to tell. Mostly she was simply staring at the other Jedi. She could be talking with the Force, but who knows? Maybe they just wanted to see who would blink first.
Everyone eventually conglomerated together in a group, though Aunt Pru kept giving hard looks to the Mandalorians for some reason.
Cara definitely knew they needed to be watched, her best friend was a Mandalorian after all and look what kind of trouble he got into, but she didn’t know if it needed to go quite that far.
Fett (the younger) started talking first, outlining the events that led up to the battle of Geonosis. From his perspective, anyway. Fett the elder mostly seemed to be going all kinds of pale.
Kenobi wasn’t doing much better either, though he started paling at different parts.
“They had Kenobi, Skywalker, and the Senator in the middle of the arena when about 200 more Jedi dropped their cover. The arena went from gladiatorial combat to full-out battle in second,” Boba said quietly, with his eyes on the Jedi.
“Dad jumped down there after one of them got into the same box we were in. You were trying to draw them away from me,” he gave a brief aside to his dad, who really probably shouldn’t look that green, “Did okay for a while, managed to get one, then got your head cut off by Windu. I saw it happen.”
The green shifted back to white.
“Mr. Fett, sit down,” Aunt Pru snapped, “You’ll drop your son.”
Fett sat. Wise man.
“Another Jedi Master had picked up the older clones, and joined the battle,” Fett the younger continued, “Lost a lot on both sides. I kept my head down, found you after the battle, buried you in a cave and took your armor. Wore it as soon as I fit in it, much to a lot of Mandalorians’ chagrin.”
Fett the elder looked like he was regretting all of his life choices at once. Good. Fett the younger was a decent man, or a decent scoundrel at least, and no one’s dad should ever die like that in front of them.
“That was the beginning of the Clone Wars between the Republic and the Separatists,” Tano took over, “The Jedi were drafted as generals, and commanders, leading Clones into battle. I was assigned as Padawan-Commander to Knight Anakin Skywalker in a year’s time.”
“Anakin’s barely eighteen,” the redhead said in horror, “He shouldn’t be a Knight by then.”
“I’m ready now!” The brunette objected.
“Anakin,” the redhead replied quietly, “I almost wasn’t Knighted at twenty, even with the circumstances surrounding it. It was considered much too early.”
“We needed Generals,” Tano shrugged. The redhead was still pale, with the brunette looking at him with resentment and curiosity.
“The Clone Wars lasted four years. Both sides committed atrocities. The Clones, my friends, didn’t have a chance to do anything other than fight; the Separatists called them the Slave Army,” Tano continued, “The Sepratists didn’t care about civilians at all, and caused a lot of collateral damage. They even sold people as slaves to fund their war effort.”
Ahsoka was surprised when the tiny Mando spoke up.
“My village was attacked about two years from now by Sepratist battle droids. They killed everyone. My parents managed to hide me in a storage cellar, but died in the process,” he explained, voice wobbling slightly. The red-clad couple looked horrified.
“I was rescued by a Mandalorian, and adopted and raised as one,” Mando continued softly, “This is the way.”
“This is the way,” the blue-and-silver Mandalorian repeated, in the tone of one speaking by rote. Ahsoka decided to take over.
“The Clone Wars ended when the Republic was dissolved and reformed into an Empire. The new Emperor used biomechanical override chips in the heads of the Clone soldiers to force them to kill the Jedi with no warning. My best friend was a Clone; we went from laughing together to him trying to put a blaster bolt through my head in two seconds,” Ahsoka said quietly, “I survived. Most Jedi didn’t.”
She nodded towards Master Plo and Master Shaak Ti.
“Master Plo, you were shot down by your men. They loved you like a father. You called them your sons. But that all turned off when Order 66 went live. Master Ti was harder to track down; the most prominent rumor was that she died in the Temple, defending the Younglings.”
“The Younglings?” Master Plo whispered. Kel Dor couldn’t pale, but his face was slack in horror. Ahsoka nodded.
“I travelled the galaxy after 66,” she said, “I could count the Jedi who survived one year past Order 66 on one hand, mostly padawans whose masters sacrificed themselves. The Empire killed the rest.”
“Why?” Master Ti whispered.
“The Emperor is a Sith Lord,” Ahsoka told them.
“What’s a Sith?” Asked the red-clad woman. Ahsoka blinked.
“They’re... evil Jedi,” Ahsoka tried to explain. Force use and the theology thereof was always a tricky subject, especially when talking with laypeople.
“What’s a Jedi?” Asked the Death Watch Mandalorian.
Boba Fett almost fell out of his father’s arms laughing.
“Are you telling me,” He wheezed, tears in his eyes, “That the rock you have been living under is hereditary?”
“That’s uncalled for, Boba,” tiny Mando said, tone sharp, but he turned his face up to the Mandalorian all the same.
“Jedi are an order of enemy sorcerers,” he explained very seriously. Older Mando nodded back, also seriously.
Ahsoka choked on her spit. Even Jango Fett looked a bit pinched.
“Din, your brain is a weird and wondrous place,” Dune sighed.
“That’s what my goran (11) told me!” The Mandalorian (?) child defended himself.
“Wait,” Boba said in a tone of realization, “You asked me if I was a Jedi when we first met!”
Jango Fett choked on his own spit.
“Well, I didn’t know what a Jedi looked like, and you weren’t being very friendly,” the other boy reasoned, “So I went from what goran told me.”
“And goran would surely know,” older Mando backed him up, “But why is it a bad thing that our enemies are dead?”
“The Jedi are pretty insufferable,” Boba shrugged, “The Sith are worse. Jedi don’t go around choking their own people.”
“The Empire eventually turned its sights to Mandalore, for its beskar and its unwillingness to bow to Sith,” Din sighed, “They purged us too, and glassed the planet, again. Buir died then, when I was fifteen. The survivors handed together in coverts far off in the edges of the Outer Rim. I ended up on Nevarro, with a covert of around forty. I was their Beroya for years, staying under Imperial radar.”
“The Jedi, Mandalore, Kashyyyk, a thousand other planets. The Empire had been in power for almost twenty years, all of it tyranny, when a turning point happened,” Dune sighed, “One of their superweapons blew up Alderaan for no real reason.”
“Blew up... Alderaan. Blew up a planet,” the Alderaanian man was understandably distraught, “Blew up the entire planet?”
“They called it the Death Star,” Cara nodded, “I was the only survivor of my family, I was offworld on vacation at the time.”
The Alderaanians all went pale.
“There was rebellion before that, of course, but that single action told the galaxy that there was no use in trying to capitulate peacefully to the Empire. Every surviving Alderaanian I knew joined the Rebellion, including myself. We fought hard, and started gaining ground. The Empire fell several years later,” Cara confirmed.
Ahsoka took joy in remembering that time for a moment.
Jango’s world was starting to crumble. All the decisions he had made for his family, for his dead, for Boba, had doomed the galaxy. He felt his shoulder hunch around his son. He was amazed Boba could still look hm in the face after all he had done.
“‘Course, that wasn’t the end. Imperial Remnants still skulked around the galaxy for years after,” Boba mentioned casually, “Occasionally, the incredibly incompetent ones would confuse me for Kenobi and try to jump me. That was always fun.”
Jango slowly looked between his son and Kenobi and came up blank on any similarities at all between them. Boba must have sensed his confusion.
“Kenobi’d hidden out on Tatooine for years,” Boba shrugged, “Before he got killed. I wandered the desert for a while, had to dress in Tusken robes. I guess they look Jedi enough to confuse the really stupid, and Imps were never the smartest.”
“Wouldn’t the armor put them off?” Jango wondered, carding his fingers through his son’s hair. He almost didn’t notice when Boba froze.
“I lost it,” Boba muttered. Jango blinked.
“Please tell me Hondo Ohnaka wasn’t involved,” his mind flashed back to a very muddled week on Florrum. That was when he had discovered that he shouldn’t play cards with a pirate, especially not while drinking the pirate’s rum.
Boba looked miserable as he shook his head.
“Fell into a Sarlaac,” He said into Jango’s shoulder, “Cralwed back out, passed out in the desert. Woke up in a Tusken camp without it. Jawas took it, sold it on.”
“You escaped a Sarlaac? No one escapes a Sarlaac!” The annoying jedtii’ad exclaimed, “Gardulla used to threaten to feed us to it ‘cuz of that!”
Kenobi looked very much like he wanted to kill something and was trying to suppress the urge. Jango sympathized. He toyed with the idea of finding Gardulla after this whole fiasco was over and using her court to work out his aggression. He hated Hutts.
He was definitely dropping a depth charge into that Sarlaac.
“Jetpacks are useful things,” Boba shrugged, “But yeah, Imp Remnants still wandered around.”
“It’s because of them I met the child, and then that we all met each other,” the red-clad kid said, “They put a bounty on him, due to his Force-Sensitivity. He’d escaped the Jedi purges, though I have no clue how. I was Beroya for my covert, the bounty was a full cartoon of beskar. I had not seen that much beskar in one person’s possession since the purge- the Imperials confiscated all they could lay hands upon. I also didn’t know the bounty was a child; all the Client gave me was his chain code, with his age. I assumed a fifty-year-Old would be an adult.”
“Members of Grogu’s species live for several hundred years,” The Kel Dor Jedi explained, “We have two other members in the Jedi of his species; both have lived for several centuries so far.”
“I know that now, but it was a surprise to storm the compound to find him,” the kid’s eyes dipped down to the baby in his lap.
“I’ll bet,” the girl muttered, “And you were mush for him immediately.”
“I’ll take that bet,” Boba countered.
“You’d both be wrong,” the red-clothed boy answered bleakly, “I turned him in to be experimented on. I told myself it was for the covert, for the foundlings, for my people.”
All three of the other children blinked at him. Jango felt his first clench.
“I went back for him that day, I couldn’t live with myself, but wasn’t able to get him out alone. My covert was forced to reveal themselves to help me escape,” the kid explained, “Most of them died soon after. I got my people killed. I went on the run, after that, with the kid. Met Cara. Met Tano. Met Boba. Found a Jedi to train and protect him, so I had to give him up. Started hunting again. Wound up here.”
“Force osik,” Boba muttered. Jango’s eyes flew wide. He definitely hadn’t taught his soon that word!
Rus Djarin was nearly at the end of his rope. His son was apparently a time-traveling middle-aged adult who had grown up in a completely different culture than the one Rus and Etta had known. He also had somehow acquired a whole other parent.
At least Mando seemed nice enough, incredibly withdrawn, but decent with kids. Rus could think of worse people to raise Din if the worst happened. But it somehow was another thing entirely to look another man in the eye- or, visor, anyway- and know your son also called him father.
Mando, to his credit, seemed to feel the same awkwardness. Rus sighed, and started trying to figure this situation out.
He’d never been one for talking, much preferring to act. When he couldn’t act, he had a hard time with it. He’d cried more in the last day when Din had gone missing than in the previous ten years.
He almost didn’t notice Mando discreetly stepping back to give them space. Well, that wouldn’t do. He grabbed the other man by the shoulder plate, ignoring the odd staticky noise that came out of his helmet’s vocoder, and towed him along, following Din and Etta.
“Congratulations! You’ve been adopted,” he murmured toward the Mandalorian.
“I think it’s supposed to be the other way around?” The Mandalorian murmured back.
“Cultural differences,” Rus said cheerfully, “We can ask Din.”
“About that,” said Mando, “I think there’s been a mistake. I’m the Beroya, we... aren’t generally encouraged to adopt foundlings. It must be some other Mandalorian.”
Rus raised his eyebrow. He was fairly certain he’d recognize his own father, regardless of any armor or lack therof, and was willing to believe Din could as well.
Besides, he had the feeling that more eyes on Din right now was not a bad thing. If nothing else, it would prevent the boy from vanishing again, theoretically.
“We’ll ask Din that as well,” Rus nodded, still plotting. He spotted his lovely wife rolling her eyes at him, and pouted at her. Etta just laughed, causing Din to look up from the baby curiously.
“Dad, Buir,” he greeted them, “What’s so funny, Mom?”
“Your father is plotting something again, dear,” she told him.
“Din, my boy,” Rus said, putting the first part of his plan into motion, “How do Mandalorians tell each other apart in armor?”
Din looked up at him like he was a little stupid, but answered anyway.
“We color it differently, have different individual pieces, sometimes patterns or designs,” he said, “Voices. Height. Fighting styles. How much they irritate you, in some cases.”
“Irritate?” Etta couldn’t help but ask.
“Paz Vizla is a jerk,” Din shrugged.
“I think all Vizlas are jerks,” Mando said hesitantly.
“Hear, hear,” said the other Mandalorian, who still had his son in his arms some distance away.
“I don’t think that your big plan was to ask a question you know is silly,” Din said perceptively, leaning against Etta.
“You would be able to tell this nerfherder apart from any other Mando, right?” Rus jerked his thumb over at Mando.
“Of course,” Din said, “Blindfolded, if need be.”
“Kid, I’m the beroya,” Mando said evenly, “I’m not the one who takes in foundlings, I bring them to new families.”
“And if the foundling will not settle unless you’re in the room?” Din challenged, looking up at him, “I was ten and you were the one to rescue me. I wasn’t having anyone else.”
Then he made an unnatural shrieking and honking sound. Rus jumped at least a foot in the air, and even Etta startled.
Mando, however, knelt in wonder.
“I taught you Tusken?” He asked, quietly. Din nodded.
“What the kark?!” The youngest Jedi had gone on alert. So had the residents of the house.
“Language, Padawan!” Admonished the redhead.
“Sorry!” Din called, “False alarm!”
“Before I was Mandalorian, I was Tusken,” Mando explained quietly, “My clan was wiped out during a raid and I was found by Mandalorians.”
“Every Mandalorian child knows Mando’a. How many know Tusken?” Din smiled at the Mando, leaning against Etta. Somehow, the set of Mando’s shoulder conveyed joy and wonder. Rus decided that his very well-thought put, logical plan needed a minor adjustment, and scooped them all up in a bear hug.
It was a sign of the success of his plan that Mando only squirmed a little. Etta just sighed with a smile.
Cara smiled as Din’s dad managed to hug four other people at once. Din could stand to have a few more hugs in his life.
Aunt Pru cleared her throat, and Cara abruptly remember just why she had been so terrified of the old lady during her childhood.
“Mother, Father, Aunt Prudentia,” she gave the traditional half-bow for greeting.
“What were you thinking, young lady!” Aunt Pru started to lecture.
Cara automatically looked at her feet before she remembered that she was a Rebel Drop Trooper who had stormed multiple Imperial bases. She started to straighten up, caught Aunt Pru’s eye, and looked at her feet again.
Even Rebel Droppers were afraid of their aunts.
“And I don’t know what you’ve been thinking, young lady, letting your manners lapse so. You haven’t greeted anyone here properly except for us!” Aunt Pru continued.
“You haven’t either,” Cara mumbled.
“What did you say, young lady?” Aunt Pru asked, with a dangerous tone in her voice.
“There are two planetary rulers in this group and you haven’t greeted either,” Cara put her chin up.
Aunt Pru blinked.
“Where?” She asked, mostly curious.
“There,” Cara pointed at Din, and then shifted to indicate Boba, still carried by his father, “And there.”
She wasn’t expecting the rather explosive reaction from Fett Sr.
“I am a ruler of nothing!” he yelled, stepping back. Cara blinked at him.
“Boba took over Tattooine about two months ago, our time,” she said, “He’s the local warlord. There’s no Alderaanian etiquette for greeting warlords.”
“We’re notoriously not ones for etiquette,” Fett Jr. nodded.
“So planetary ruler is the closest,” Cara concluded, “What did you think I was talking about?”
Fett seemed kind of frozen in the focus of all the eyes that were on him due to his outburst.
“I am Mand’alor of a dead creed,” he said with an odd tone in his voice, “I am no one’s ruler.”
“You’re Mand’alor?” Din as Cara boggled. She wasn’t expecting that.
She certainly didn’t expect Din to detach something from his waist and all but chuck it at the Fetts. Fett the Elder caught it, looking at it in curiosity and then shock. It was the Darksaber that Kryze gave Din so much trouble over.
“No take backs!” Din snapped, and went back to cuddling his child. Boba Fett nearly fell out of his father’s arms laughing.
“I get the feeling,” Din’s Mandalorian parent said slowly, “That there’s been some things left out of the story you told us.”
“I’m honestly surprised you know what it is,” Cara told him, “Din needed it explained to him, and I don’t trust our source further than we can throw her.”
“Source?” Fett the elder looked at his son.
“Bo-Katan Kryze,” Din shrugged, “A good warrior, but willing to bend the truth when it suits her.”
“Also downright wrong on a lot of things,” Fett the younger adds, “But it’s not like there’s an abundance of material on greater Mandalorian culture, so we take what we can get.”
Fett the elder looked like he’d bitten into a sour fruit.
Cara liked spending time with Mandalorians. It was never boring.
Ahsoka ignored the chatter coming from the rest of the group. If no blasters were being pulled, then they would be fine. She instead settled into a meditative pose with Master Ti and Master Plo across from her, and they slipped into the currents of the Force. After a while, Master Obi-wan and Anakin joined them too.
She took a moment to indulge in the sensation of her family alive, and whole, in the Force, and then dove deeper. She vaguely registered surprise from the Masters; this was much too advanced for any Initiate.
Come and see, she broadcast in the Force, I have things to show you.
They followed her, and she walked the trails of her mind, and picked up memories to show them. Being assigned to Anakin; meeting him and Master Obi-wan. The Clones. The war.
She took some time to try to show them the Clones, to present them as people instead of soldiers. They were her brothers. They should never have been conscripted into the GAR.
So she showed them Rex’s determination and loyalty, and Echo and Five’s cleverness and creativity, and how loyal Jesse was and how protective Kix had been. She showed them Tup, and Dogma, and Hardcase and Boomer and Hawk. She showed them all her brothers, their similarities and their differences.
And then she decided to show her memories of other clones, ones that weren’t quite her brothers but her family nonetheless. Cody, and his patience and affinity for tactics and finding Master Obi-wan’s lightsaber.
Anakin had an odd reaction to that. She couldn’t help but think he was mentally sniggering.
She showed Waxer and Boil, and Woolley and Longshot and Crys. She showed the Wolfpack, and felt Master Plo’s prickle of interest against her shields. So she showed how Wolffe had mostly stationed himself at his General’s right arm, Sinker’s bad jokes and Boost’s enthusiasm, Comet’s boisterousness. She showed them a memory of one of their gunships: cartoonish heads of a Kel Dor and two Clone helmets with ‘Plo’s Bro’s’ painted on the side.
Master Plo watched all this with interest. He’d always loved teaching, Ahsoka knew, he often spent time with her in the Crèche even though he could not take her as apprentice.
Next she showed the cadets at Kamino, the thousands of identical little boys who looked at Master Ti like a mother, who grew up to fight for the Republic. She showed Rancor Squad, and how Colt had been brave and loyal to the last in service of the Republic. She showed some memories of Echo and Fives, again, talking about Shaak Ti to other troopers in the battalion when they didn’t know she was around.
“She’s the only mother we’ll ever have,” Echo had said, “And we couldn’t ask for a better one.”
Then she showed Order 66. She showed Rex trying to put a bolt through her, her men willing to die to kill her. Master Obi-wan’s message not to return to the Temple. She showed others’ memories, Grogu’s from the Temple, Caleb Dume’s from Kaller. War. Betrayal. Death. The Empire.
She felt their shock and horror, felt them releasing their fear into the Force. Anakin was struggling, so she reached out and helped him, giving him echoes of comfort and strength. She almost didn’t notice the shock from the Jedi across from her at the action.
Anakin froze. He’d never seen that technique before, helping another person release their emotion. The girl guided him helped him to feel his fear, and then helped him to let it go, in a way he hadn’t ever seen before. Then she sent him- emotions, but not overwhelming ones, just enough to encourage him and help him generate them himself.
A Whill technique, she sent, I did not stop learning when I left the Order.
Obi-wan was... troubled, through their bond. Anakin knew there were things his master had never shared with him, both about his feelings and about his past, and it chafed.
He does have a right to privacy, you know, Ahsoka sent him privately, Do you want him to know everything that goes on in your head?
He grimaced and conceded the point.
Ahsoka showed them more of her life; the Emperor and his Apprentice, the terrifying cyborg who choked his own people. She showed them the Rebellion, the huge losses they took. Alderaan. Hoth. How they started to gain ground, the victory at Endor, further victories, but with the nagging feeling that the Empire wasn’t gone. Searching out the remnants, trying to destroy them at the root. Not being enough. Knowing it would all happen again.
How can we change this?, Master Koon asked, Who is the Emperor?
Now that Anakin thought about it, the Emperor had never been named, he was just a shadowy figure of a wrinkled old man.
Ahsoka seemed oddly hesitant, before finally letting them see bits and snatches of conversation.
Chancellor Palpatine has consolidated the Republic into an Empire-
By order of Emperor Palpatine-
-and Emperor Palpatine will attend-
No, Anakin said, That’s not possible. He’s my friend! You’re lying!
I’m not, Ahsoka said, I was as hurt as you, I promise I’m not lying.
Anakin didn’t believe her, and he dove forward, trying to find the crack in the memories. They must be manufactured, there must be a way to show the truth!
Ahsoka didn’t fight as he examined the memories, at least, not until he poked at a certain one. The Emperor- it was not Palpatine!- was standing next to his Apprentice, the cyborg, in a holo, making a speech.
“I will send Lord Vader to hunt down the Terrorist Rebels-“ He was proclaiming.
There. Anakin poked at the memory, and Ahsoka started to fight him, but it was too late. They found themselves in another memory, a memory of a vision. An older Anakin asked Ahsoka why she left him, and then morphed into the cyborg.
They could feel Ahsoka’s horror, and the beginnings of realization. Anakin stopped trying to break the memory, tried to step back, but he couldn’t.
They were standing in a crumbling Temple across from the cyborg. Ahsoka was fighting, they felt her protectiveness and the fear she was releasing to the Force. Part of the cyborg’s mask fell off, and- his eyes.
They felt’s Ahsoka’s horror, memories flashing by of the destruction of the Temple, the enslavement of worlds, all done by Vader. Vader, the cyborg with Anakin’s eyes.
Anakin Fell. Anakin hurt people. He’d killed Younglings, slaughtered the Temple. He’d enslaved people. He’d killed his Master. He was evil.
Anakin fled the vision back to the real world, stumbling to his feet in the dusty courtyard. He considered running inside, to his mother, but shook his head. He was evil. He’d hurt her. He ran up the stairs, instead, past the ships into the Wastes.
He didn’t have a destination. He just needed to run. If he was lucky, he would get lost in the Wastes beyond finding, and never get close enough to another person to hurt them again.
Obi-wan fought his way back to consciousness as quickly as possible. Anakin’s hasty retreat from the vision had muddled the Force enough to make returning to the physical world difficult, like trying to find the surface of a pond muddied by silt. When he managed to wake, Anakin was gone, and he could feel his Padawan’s presence rapidly moving away from him.
“He went that way,” Fett told him, motioning in the direction of the main staircase.
“Take these!” Boba added, and tossed him the ignition starts for a hover bike. He caught them and raced up the stairs after his wayward Padawan, calling a short thanks as he went.
He almost didn’t catch the short conversation between the Fetts.
“Promise me you won’t be like that during your teen years,” Fett asked his son with a faint note of pleading in his voice.
“Oh, I was much worse,” Boba replied. Obi-wan didn’t hear the rest, as he had exited the dwelling.
It took too long to find Anakin. In this state, thirty seconds would be too long, but it was much longer than that.
Obi-wan had to abandon the speeder bike when he reached the edge of a series of winding slot canyons. It didn’t have the turning abilities to navigate in the narrow confines. He left it and started running, using the Force to augment his speed.
Even then, it still took him two hours to find Anakin. His apprentice was curled up in a small ball in a cave, invisible in the weak moonlight. There was a ruin there, as well, what looked like the foundations for a small hut. The entire place radiated despair in the force.
It wasn’t just from his apprentice, he realized, but from the place as well. It was a minor Nexus in the force, steeped in sadness from a tragedy long gone. He wondered what had happened to the inhabitants of the hut.
Anakin almost didn’t notice when Obi-wan sat next to him, and only curled up tighter when he tried to talk to him.
“Anakin,” Obi-wan said, “It’s not you.”
Anakin’s shoulders shook.
“I’m sorry! Master, I’m sorry!” He cried.
“It’s not your fault,” Obi-wan tried, “It was a possible future, nothing more. We can change it, you won’t become that.”
“I’m already that,” Anakin sobbed. Obi-wan froze.
“What to you mean, Anakin?” He said softly.
“The Tuskeins- they tortured my mother,” Anakin wept, “She was dying, Master! And they would have killed her! I was so angry, they’d hurt her, tortured her, for no reason! She didn’t do anything wrong! I would have killed them all, Master, and I wouldn’t have felt any remorse! I’m already a monster!”
Obi-wan froze. He... didn’t know what to make of this confession. Anakin seemed to sense his unease, as he tried to haul himself to his feet to run away again. Obi-wan’s hand shot out without his consciously telling it to.
“You have not done those things yet,” he said firmly, “And you know they are wrong. You are not a monster. Monsters don’t cry.”
“I’ll hurt people! I get mad and I lose control and I hurt people!” Anakin hiccuped. Obi-wan didn’t know what to do. He had certainly experienced his own anger issues when he was a Padawan, but his anger had been of a different kind.
Obi-wan’s anger was sharp and cold. He did not lose control when angry; he simply was angry longer. He held grudges. It had taken work to break that habit. Anakin ran hot, mercurial, had sudden and violent explosions of temper that Obi-wan didn’t know how to help him with. Obi-wan had a hard time understanding it, but there was one thing he did understand.
He’d failed his Padawan.
“I’m sorry, Anakin,” he said quietly, “I’ve not been a true teacher to you.”
Anakin looked away. Obi-wan braced himself, and pulled Anakin close to his side. Anakin had stopped looking for physical affection when he was around fifteen, but he still remembered when Anakin was young and had terrible nightmares. The best way to help him was simply to sit with him and hold him. Obi-wan hoped it would help even though the nightmare hadn’t vanished with waking.
Anakin froze for a second, and curled into his side. Obi-wan threaded an arm around his apprentice’s shoulders, and carded his other hand through the short, spiky Padawan haircut. Anakin cried. Obi-wan may have shed a few tears himself. They both promised to be better, and Obi-was quietly resolved to take them both to the mind healers. But for now, they simply curled together in a cave in the Jundland Wastes, reminding each other that they were not alone. The stayed there until the first sun started to light the horizon.
After the Jedi had made their dramatic exit, their group had settled back down. The two Jedi adults remaining fussed over the Jedi child for a while, and then each group had returned to their ships after a short talk with the owners of the homestead.
The owners didn’t want to take money simply for letting them park their ships, but Bena pressed some bacta bandages into their hands anyway, for the rather roughed-up woman sitting next to her husband. She would have to see if she and Tru could set them up with decent prosthetics. It would be hard finding good medical care here, she knew. She worked in the Alderaanian Commission for Compassionate Aid, and had heard more stories about Hutt worlds than she could tell.
They walked back to their ship, watching Cara with the two boys. It was an interesting dynamic. She teased the red-clothed one like a brother, the blue-clad boy joining in.
There had been the beginnings of a minor squabble between the two adult Mandalorians earlier, but Aunt Pru had dropped some scathing words about being good examples for children and acting older than said children. The children watched in fascination.
“Are all Alderaanian women like this?” The blue-clothed child asked Cara idly. Cara blinked at him.
“I mean, there’s you, the Marshall of Nevarro who keeps the criminals in line with her guns,” the boy flexed his muscles in a strongman pose and Bena had to keep from giggling, “And there’s Leia Organa, who despite being raised a pampered princess strangled Jabba the Hutt with nothing but a length of chain, and there’s your Aunt, who can keep two full-grown Mandalorians in line with just a look!”
Pru looked vaguely pleased, but tried not to let the children see it. The two Mandalorians pretended to watch the horizon in embarrassment.
“Alderaan is not peaceful because we agree on everything,” Cara replied, “It’s peaceful because we keep it that way, by force if necessary. How did you know about my reputation on Nevarro?”
“Please!” The blue child waved his hand, “Your reputation spread. I was hearing about Marshall Dune in the Palace. Is it true that you went head-to-head with three Zabraks and won?”
“No,” Cara said, and the kid slumped in disappointment, “It was only two.”
Bena stopped and blinked, watching as the blue child perked up again.
“Have you heard anything about a Marshall Cobb Vanth out of Mos Pelgo?” The red boy asked curiously.
“Vanth? He’s fine, he came in to renegotiate water taxes last week. The truce with the Tuskens is still holding,” replied the blue one.
A thought occurred to Bena, sudden and uncharitable, that this person was not her daughter. This was a woman in her little girl’s body, this wasn’t real. Little girls didn’t talk about fighting two people and winning. Little boys didn’t discuss taxes.
She pushed down the hysteria, but some of it must have shown on her face. Tru took her hand in solidarity. All the other parents gave her looks of comprehension. The kids wandered past the ships and out into the desert a ways, the blue one taking point and pointing out landmarks in the moonlight.
“We should form a support group,” Tru said, suddenly.
“Parents of Thirty-Something Time Travellers Masquerading as Preteens Anonymous?” Replied the helmet-less Mandalorian.
“Sure. Hello, my name is Tru and I am the parent of a thirty-something time traveler masquerading as a preteen,” Tru said easily, with an air of nervousness that meant he actually had strong feelings about the subject of the joke. Bena couldn’t help herself- she laughed, and she wasn’t the only one.
“Hello Tru,” the red-clad man intoned mischievously. His wife slapped him on the shoulder.
“We should probably actually introduce ourselves though,” Bena said thoughtfully, and covered her husband’s mouth before he could introduce himself again.
“I’m Bena,” she added, and stopped to glare at her husband when he licked her hand, “Our daughter is Cara, this is Aunt Prudentia.”
“Etta,” the red clad lady, and poked her husband on the side, “This is Rus, and...”
She looked at the helmeted Mandalorian uncertainly.
“Call me Mando,” the Mandalorian replied, also with a hint of uncertainty in his tone.
“Oh this won’t be confusing at all,” the helmetless Mandalorian snarked, “Jango Fett. I have the blue one, Boba.”
“Tyro Meljarek, then,” helmeted Mando said, “The kid in red, Din, is theirs, but he says that I adopted him in two years.”
He indicated the couple and the boy sitting on top of the dunes with the baby in his lap. Bena simply tried to quell the headache that the tense changes was causing her.
“We could start our first meeting now,” Rus said, mischief shining in his eyes, “Hello, my name is Rus, and I am the parent of...”
His wife poked him in the side again. They watched their children on the dunes until it was noticed that Din had fallen asleep sitting up, at which point the kids were ushered inside and tucked into bed until morning.
The next day brought work, as they were all expecting. Most everyone slept well past dawn due to the stresses of the day before.
Knight Kenobi and Padawan Skywalker had returned to the homestead in the early hours of planetary morning, though the dim light did not hide the redness of their eyes. Kenobi had sent his Padawan to catch a few hours’ sleep and had half-crumpled to the ground in front of Plo and Shaak.
“Masters,” He said quietly, “I need help.”
Plo exchanged a concerned look with Shaak, only for Kenobi to spill out the entire sorry story. The young Knight was convinced he’d failed his apprentice, and seemed to wait for judgement.
He didn’t seem to be expecting Plo to put a hand on his shoulder.
“There is no shame in asking for help,” Plo told him gently, “Only in recognizing you need help and not asking. I will be happy to tutor Skywalker in controlling one’s anger. I struggled with a similar type in my early Knighthood, even now sometimes.”
Kenobi blinked up at him in shock.
“Even Jedi Masters are not perfect, Kenobi,” Shaak reminded him with amusement, “To this day, I struggle with attachment as Plo does with anger.”
“Can you help him too?” Kenobi asked, turning wide eyes to her, “I... don’t always understand his feelings, and his reactions to them. It makes it difficult to help him.”
“There is no shame in that, either, Obi-wan,” Shaak told him softly, “Everyone feels things differently, and what may help one to deal with his feelings will not work for another. Get some rest, my friend, you look like you are fit to fall over.”
Obi-wan nodded, and stumbled up the ramp to the sleeping quarters.
“Skywalker has been visiting regularly with the Sith Lord since he was nine,” Shaak muttered in a troubled tone, “It’s a wonder he does not have more issues with anger.”
“Remind me again why we let an unaccompanied minor visit with a politician alone,” Plo replied, his voice tight. Shaak rested her hand on his shoulder, she knew he wasn’t angry at her, and sighed. Plo worked on releasing his anger to the Force.
“Because he had power over us, and he ordered us to,” she said.
“That needs to stop. Today,” Plo said, voice growing less angry as he spoke. He had always found that fixing a problem helped him be less angry about it. Shaak nodded sharply.
“We need to report to the Council,” she said, “I see no reason not at add your concerns to this report.”
They gave the emergency meeting as the second sun rose above the horizon, reporting the events of the previous day.
“The Chancellor? Are you sure?” Asked Mace Windu, not really in disbelief, but with faint echoes of despair.
“When you think about it, it makes a horrifying amount of sense,” Plo replied solemnly, “What better way to cause suffering on a galactic scale than to start a war and play both sides against each other?”
“He has been more militant of late,” Master C’baoth murmured.
“We need to separate ourselves from the Chancellor immediately,” Shaak said, voice strong, “And seriously reevaluate our relationship with the Senate. Ahsoka’s vision showed Junior Padawans functioning as Commanders in a full-out war.”
The Councillors were too centered in the Force to pale, but the sentiment was there.
“Is Kenobi available?” Master Windu said shortly, “He’s our best military strategist.”
“Kenobi is dealing with the fallout of a Sith Lord given unlimited unsupervised access to his Padawan for the duration of his Apprenticeship,” Shaak hissed, “He is not available.”
Master Yoda’s ears drooped, and the rest of the Council was mute in horror.
“It’s a wonder that Skywalker has not Fallen yet,” Plo rumbled, “We must distance ourselves from the Senate. There is absolutely no good reason for a politician to request to see a child alone, and that we didn’t think of at least one obvious evil motivation troubles me deeply.”
Shaak had gone a little pale.
“Force, we need to send him to the healers, make sure his mind was the only thing that horrible man tried to corrupt,” she said. The rest of the Council had gone pale as well.
“Immediately withdraw from the Senate, we will,” Master Yoda intoned, “Citing inappropriate contact between the Chancellor and an underage Padawan.”
“But now will we deal with the fallout? And why didn’t we think of... that possibility in the first place?” Master Windu said, not challengingly, but with a hint of despair.
“Influence of the mind, perhaps, the Sith were known for it,” Master Koth mentioned, “And we should withdraw all knights on noncritical missions. Koon, tell Kenobi that he and Skywalker will soon be pivotal for a case against the Chancellor...”
The meeting was long and arduous. When it was done, Plo and Shaak trudged to the bunks to try to meditate for a few hours before they needed to get up again for the day.
Plo paused in the doorway of the room and smiled. The consular shuttle they had taken was meant for two Master-Padawan teams, and had a berth compartment with four bunks inset into the wall, two on each side. Only one of those bunks was full, with Skywalker and Tano curled together in it. From the looks of it, Tano had climbed in after Skywalker had gone to bed. Kenobi was on the floor, leaning against the bulkhead, facing the door. He was asleep, but lightly, and holding his apprentice’s hand. He seemed to be standing guard.
Shaak and Plo settles in on the other bunks, and reached out to the Force. He felt the Light dancing around the lineage across the room and smiled.
Somehow, he knew that everything would be alright.
The next day dawned bright, but not necessarily early. Jango groaned and threw an arm over his eyes; he was still tired and didn’t want to get up yet.
He hit something soft next to him on the way, and it let out an indignant squeak. His eyes flew open and he looked over to see Boba curled against his side.
There was only one bunk aboard the Slave I. When he took Boba on missions with him, they shared. Though Jango was considering modifying that; Boba was starting to get big enough that it was hard to fit.
He was almost back to sleep before he remembered why exactly Boba was with him on the Slave. He bit back a groan, and simply tried to go back to sleep. This was not a problem to be faced on half a night’s worth of rest.
Evidently Boba agreed, because he rolled over and tucked his face into the pillow. However, no matter how hard they tried, the blinding light of Tatooine’s twin suns kept them from their rest.
“I can’t remember why I wanted to take over this planet,” Boba groaned, “But at least my Palace didn’t have windows.”
“I never claimed the Slave was a palace,” Jango muttered back. Boba just groaned.
They got up and dressed, and ate some ration bars for breakfast. Boba wrinkled his nose, and ate them without complaint.
“How did you make flatcakes, Dad? I never found another recipe like it,” He asked, absently.
“Flatcakes don’t taste like much to me,” Jango replied, “I modified an Uj cake (12) recipe.”
“Makes sense,” Boba muttered, “No wonder I couldn’t get them right.”
They were interrupted by a knock on the boarding ramp. Jango blinked at Boba, who lowered the ramp to reveal the Togruta girl.
“Boba,” She asked, “How many people did you see Darth Vader kill?”
Jango blinked at the violent non-sequitur. Boba scrunched his face up.
“Are you trying to give me a headache?” He asked.
“No, that’s a rather unfortunate side effect,” The girl shrugged, “Sorry. How many people do you remember seeing him kill?”
“I know it must have happened,” Boba said slowly, “I met him a lot, did bounty work for him. With him, even, sometimes. But I don’t remember ever seeing him kill someone.”
His eyes widened.
“I don’t remember seeing him at all,” he finished, with a look of discomfort spreading across his features. The girl was looking more and more delighted by the minute.
“I can’t remember seeing Dad die, I can’t remember Vader, I can’t remember falling into the Sarlaac,” Boba said in a rush, “Why can’t I remember? It’s all grey, like there should be something there but there isn’t!”
The girl actually hugged Boba and danced around, much to Boba’s surprise and discomfort. Jango was torn on whether to intervene or enjoy the show.
“That means we changed things!” She said joyfully, “Anakin won’t fall!”
She let go of him abruptly and charged out of the Slave I.
“What just happened?” Jango asked his son.
“Haran if I know,” Boba replied.
After Tano had woken them all up to ask what they remembered, they met in the courtyard again to discuss what had happened. Din watched as the younger human Jedi fussed over his mother, with the older human talking to them both with worry in his eyes.
“We’ve begun the process to get Chancellor Palpatine deposed,” said the Kel Dor serenely, with only an undercurrent of menace to his voice, “Due to inappropriate contact with an underage sentient.”
“He what?” Fett Sr. asked. Din’s buir also bristled and then spoke up.
“I don’t usually do assassinations, but I’d be willing to off him for free,” he said evenly. He received some concerned looks.
“Bounty hunter,” Fett Sr. spelled out, “Sometimes our jobs are less... savory.”
“I think Fennec might start working soon, we could ask her,” Boba said thoughtfully.
“Fennec Shand?” Asked Din’s Buir, “She killed one of the Magravines of the Torian System last week.”
“She’s a rookie,” Fett Sr. said flatly, “Good instincts, but not quite up to the Chancellor of the Republic. Cad Bane, maybe, and Bossk.”
“We would prefer not to have to resort to that, sirs,” the Kel Dor Jedi regained control of the conversation, “We’d like to ruin him politically and then take him into custody for information.”
Din nodded thoughtfully.
“And then we kill him?” He asked. Demagolkase (13) didn’t deserve to live.
“We’ll keep that option on the table,” the adult Togruata Jedi said diplomatically.
The redheaded human Jedi’s fingers twitched in Mando’a battlesign. I help you kill. Where did he learn that?
Tano gave a scandalized gasp.
“Master! Revenge is not the Jedi way!”
“When you try to take the Padawan,” the redhead replied serenely, “Make sure the Master is dead.”
Din really couldn’t think of anything to say to that. The younger human was looking up at the redhead with something like hero-worship on his eyes.
“Whether or not we will kill Palpatine, we need to get him into custody first,” the adult Togruta took back the conversation. Din settled with a grumble.
The adults mostly planned around the table. Din tried to keep up, but for some reason it was harder than it had been yesterday. He just couldn’t understand as much, and he got bored.
He noticed that he wasn’t the only one with the problem. Cara was fidgeting, and Boba looked ready to fall asleep. Even Tano was having a hard time sitting still. He was relieved when they took a break for lunch.
Rus watched his son perk up and run off immediately with the other children when lunch was called. He tilted his head.
“They’re acting more like children,” Etta said quietly next to him, watching them run and play tag in the sandy courtyard. Boba tried to tackle Din, but he dodged.
“They’re beginning to forget,” Fett said thoughtfully, “Boba said it’s like a grayness, that he knows what happened intellectually but he can’t recall the events. I can’t say I’m sorry, one of the things he forgot was watching my head get chopped off.”
“I count it as a sign of our success,” the Kel Dor Jedi said. The human teen and the Togruta adult had gone inside with the older woman who lived at the compound, something about Jedi Attachment training.
They decided to let the children keep playing when the meeting resumed. Etta and Rus weren’t as helpful as they wanted to be, but they could talk about problems in the Outer Rim that Core Worlders might not know about. The Alderaanian couple were able to talk about the Republic Government, and its relationships with its member planets.
The Mandalrians knew a lot of things ranging from useful to disturbing. He supposed it was part of the lifestyle.
And the Jedi, of course, were able to conglomerate a plan from all their disparate experience, and the bits and pieces they were able to get from the children, who seemed more and more actually childlike as the day wore on.
It was... comforting... to see Din smiling and laughing with his friends. It had torn Rus’s heart to see his eight-year-old son staring up at him with eyes that had seen too much, talking about living his life alone.
Sometime mid-afternoon, Cara and Boba had decided to wrestle Din into a pile in the shade, and sat on him until he slept. Rus wondered what that was for.
“He worked a solid three months before he came here,” Cara told them when asked, “Took jobs from both of us, when he was supposed to be resting.”
She gave a very significant glare at Din. Din had the wherewithal to look ashamed.
Rus wondered where he had gotten that habit from. Then he remembered that Tyro had given them his bed for the night. Rus had assumed he’d slept on the floor. One quick pointed question later, and Tyro was put down for a nap along with Din.
“That was something he didn’t really need to inherit,” Etta sighed.
“Behave, young man,” Prudentia said sternly, “Or you’ll go down for a nap too.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Fett replied quickly.
The Jedi came out of their ship after dinner, and told them the latest news from the Core. Evidently, the Jedi had been able to gather a warrant on Chancellor Palpatine’s home and office. While they hadn’t found evidence of child molestation, which was what the warrant was for, they had found a rather disturbingly vast collection of Sith artifacts, many of which were prevented by law from being removed from their home worlds. When faced with this charge, the Chancellor’s eyes had turned yellow and he had tried to attack his arresting officers with a lightsaber.
The Jedi had subdued him after a drawn-out battle, and he was imprisoned in a Force-blocking cell in the Temple under many layers of security. He had been stripped of his position, and the Senate was holding emergency elections for a new Chancellor as they were speaking. Bail Organa was considered the sure candidate.
Somehow, the Republic was changing because of their children.
Din wasn’t sure quite what was going on. He didn’t remember much anymore, just that Boba and Cara were his friends, that Ahsoka had helped him, and that he needed to take care of Grogu. There was a lot of gray when he tried to think about how he met them, so he didn’t try very hard. They were here, and they were friends with him, that was what mattered.
He knew that he’d been scared, that he’d run to Tattoine because something had frightened him. He just couldn’t remember what. He knew that bad things had happened to him, but he didn’t know what they were.
He ran over to his Mom and his Dad and his Buir, and tugged on Buir’s cape. The helmeted man looked down at him and tilted his head.
“Yes, ad?” He asked, a little uncertain. Din wondered why he was so uncertain, but then he’d remembered that Buir had just met him yesterday.
“When do I get my armor?” He asked.
He did remember his armor, glistening and silver, part of him like he was part of the Tribe. He kind of missed it. He knew he missed being able to protect his ad, being able to fight beside his vode (14), being part of a... a legend. People didn’t look at him and see Din Djarin, the shy kid that didn’t talk much, they saw Mando, fearsome warrior with a long history behind him.
But he also remembered being lonely. He didn’t know why, anymore, just had the sense-memory of loneliness aching in his bones whenever he delved too far deep into his head.
That was also another reason he didn’t try too hard to remember where he had met Boba and Cara. He looked at them, out of the corner of his eye.
Or, well, he tried. He still wasn’t quite used to having corners of his eye to use; another sense-memory, maybe, of the closeness of the helmet.
He didn’t miss everything about the armor.
Sometimes, when it got quiet in the evening, he thought Boba and Cara might deal with the loneliness too. Boba curled up next to his dad, stopped trying to interact with the world for a while and simply watched everyone else with large dark eyes. Cara did the opposite- she would run faster, jump higher, get into more trouble, and then would sit through the lecture from her great-aunt with an odd kind of resolution on her face.
“Ah,” Buir said, Din had almost forgotten he’d asked Buir a question, “When you swear the vows and become and adult. Probably around fifteen, for you.”
“Why not thirteen, like tradition says?” Din asked. Sometimes he knew things, now, like traditions from Buir’s side of the family, and that strange honking language that made all the nice settlers jump.
Buir looked down at him again.
“Right,” He said, “You would remember that.”
“He remembers Tusken, and Mando’a,” Mom pointed out “Why wouldn’t he remember?”
Din nodded, because why wouldn’t he remember it? Then Boba challenged him to a game of tag, and he was off. He vaguely resigered Dad muttering about Parents and Time Travellers. Sounded complicated, very adult.
Adult stuff could wait. His Buir and Mom and Dad could take care of it.
Everything would be alright.