The Child is his now.
In a more technical sense, Din supposes the Child had always been his, in a way; it was the reason, after all, for his abrupt decision to go rogue from the Guild in the first place. He would certainly not have done that if he did not consider, even in the slightest, the Child to be his own. But it’s official now. They are a clan of two, and—
There’s a coo from behind him, and three tiny fingers grasping at his armor.
“Alright, come on.” Din grabs the hood of the foundling’s robe, lifting it up with ease, and sets it next to the pilot’s seat. “But don’t touch anything. I mean it.”
This command, he has learned over the course of the last few weeks, is a fruitless one. Still, he says it anyways, and the Child merely stares at him as it leans forward, pressing against a lever on the control panel, ripping the small metal ball off again. Din ignores this.
It isn’t until the ball clatters to the floor of the Razor Crest, followed by a squeaky, distraught wail, that Din sighs in exasperation. He watches through his helmet as the Child shuffles back, dropping down to the floor itself to scoop up it’s toy-that-isn’t-a-toy.
“Hey!” His voice comes out grumbled and the Child peers up at him. “Get back up here, it’s dangerous for you to be-”
Din’s head snaps over so fast there’s a painful jolt that goes through the back of his neck. When he looks back, the Child is merely cooing again, big black eyes gazing up at him innocently.
“What did you just say?”
The Child stares at him. Says nothing. Had it just been a figment of his imagination? Perhaps his head has not healed as well as IG-11 had assured him it would. He grunts and turns back, focusing on the dusty skies and sand dunes around them, but he cannot help but glance back at the foundling sitting happily on the floor of the ship, the metal ball rolling between tiny green hands.
He must have just imagined it.
But— no. The Child speaks again just a few minutes later, and Din’s head spins.
“Eat this?” it asks.
The metal ball is no longer a toy. It is in the Child’s mouth now, and he has to release one of the controls to reach over, wrestling the ball out of its mouth and replacing it on the lever.
“Eat this?” It’s one of the switches now, one that it must have ripped from the control panel when he wasn’t looking.
He snatches it away. “No!”
There’s a beat of silence, and he focuses back on flying. Tries to ignore the way his heart still pounds at the Child’s first word.
Then, “Eat this?”
As days turn to weeks turn to months, he and the Child scour the galaxy for its kind, and Din begins to grow restless. There is paranoia sprouting in the back of his mind, stuck there like the rust on the outside of his ship, and he cannot seem to settle the nerves that emerge each time the Razor Crest lands on a new and unfamiliar planet.
The Child may be his now, but there is still something after it.
Or maybe they’re after him.
He feels it thrumming under his skin, the hair on the back of his neck standing up as they walk through new territory, and at times he wishes Cara was still traveling with them. At least then, if something happened, he would not be leaving the foundling alone.
An orphan, his mind supplies unhelpfully.
But then, the Child is not the only one that could experience loss, is it?
Almost six months into his search, the realization hits him out of nowhere, and it feels a lot like getting hit in the chest by a mudhorn without his beskar armor on.
“By creed, until it is of age or reunited with its own kind, you are as it’s father.”
He is watching the Child waddle along the ground they’d just recently landed on. It is soft, moist and muddy like a rain forest, and the Child trips, landing face first into the sludge before pushing itself up as though nothing had happened.
Din frowns beneath his helmet. Helpless being. His boots squelch in the mud as he approaches, scooping it up and holding it in front of his face. The front of it is covered in mud, dripping from it’s robe, and Din reaches down and plucks an insect from the top of its head, all the while shaking his own. The Child just cooes at him, small teeth poking out.
He knows what the Armorer said that day. He knows that this is not forever. He knows.
But that doesn’t mean he has to like it.
“You are a mess,” he grunts, wiping the Child’s eyes of mud with two fingers.
“Messy, I am,” the Child repeats back, and Din reels back. This has already happened several more times since the first word, and yet he does not think he will ever get used to it. The Child babbles, arms waving, and Din holds him close as he stalks back to the ship.
“Yes,” he nods. Does every kind of his speak this way? “Yes. Messy, you are.”
“Dad,” the Child cooes, a small hand brushing against the side of his helmet. Din’s hand freezes where it is on it’s left ear, and it takes him a few long moments to gather himself once more before continuing to wipe the rest of the mud off.
There it is again. Dad. He should not be surprised, he knows. This is what children do, after all, isn’t it? They learn words, and then they speak them. So he should not be surprised.
But he is. Because the foundling is calling him it’s father, and Din doesn’t quite know how to respond to that.
It hasn’t clicked in his brain completely yet, the fact that he is as the Child’s father, or that they are allowed to be together like this with no known threat. Despite what the Armorer had told him, it feels surreal, like he is still fighting to keep the Child out of the danger posed to it, like he is still a wanted bounty hunter who broke the laws of the Guild.
“Dad,” the Child says again, and Din’s eyes fall shut for just a moment before he opens them again and looks down at it. This baby that is his now.
“Okay,” he replies, and that’s all.
That night, he finds himself restless, unable to sleep.
The Child rests in his arms, curled up, and the only sounds able to be heard are the tiny, whistling snores that come from it’s nose. Din really should be sleeping as well — the two of them have a long day tomorrow, but instead he is wide awake, staring up at the ceiling of the ship.
Din grunts, rolling over on his side, quietly and gently enough so as not to wake the Child, who barely stirs in his arms. He can’t help but wonder just how long they have left together; and part of him, a part that was once deep down, is now rising to the surface with every new day, does not want to find it’s kind so soon.
He doesn’t want to think about it.
When he is merely a foundling himself, he dreams of war. Of fire, heat licking at his skin through the small wooden hatch, the wails of those still outside. The arm of a droid dragging him out, frail body unable to escape, and the barrel of a gun pointing right between his eyes.
He dreams of his mother’s face, often. Kind and warm, then gone with a flash. His father’s face is next, a bit on the rougher side, but just as kind. And then, like his mother’s, gone.
Now, a grown Mandalorian and a member of the Guild, he doesn’t dream much about anything that isn’t his most recent mission.
Here’s the thing — Din has never thought of himself as the type of man to become nothing more than what he was before the Child, and a father is one of the last things he could have expected. Deep down, he is still a bounty hunter. Bounty hunters are supposed to kill the assets if they refuse to go with him peacefully — it’s the same words repeated over and over in Din’s head since the moment he could comprehend the words, or maybe even before that.
You’re going to have to kill some of them, Greef had told him so long ago. That’s part of the job.
Greef’s words echo in his head all the time now, especially when there’s blood on his hands, crimson streaks on his armor. The bodies are always here, in his ship, frozen, and they haunt his dreams; he closes his eyes and their faces appear, eyes wide and mouths twisted in fear, bloody hands covering their throats. The sound of bones cracking and the feel of windpipes caving in under his palm, pulse slowing under his fingertips.
Sometimes the blood doesn’t wash off as easily as he’d like. Sometimes it sticks to his armor, stains it, but that’s okay. Part of him wants to remember. Wants them to remember, wants his assets to shiver at the sight of him, to feel so afraid they can’t move, because he can’t do his job well if he is not feared.
He’s killed for the job. He’s killed to survive. He’s never killed for an asset.
“What made you save it?” Cara had asked him one night in Sorgan, sipping slowly from her drink.
“Look at it,” he had answered, nodding towards where the Child was sleeping peacefully in it’s cot. “It’s just a kid.”
Din had seen many things in his lifetime, that number nearly tripling since joining the Guild, but the last thing he expected to see was an infant in the pod. Warm or cold. That was his motto, was it not? He was a bounty hunter, and he had tracked down the most valuable asset to the Guild. This was his job.
“You gave it to them at first, though,” Cara had pointed out, and Din’s throat burned at the reminder. “When did you make the decision to protect it instead?”
He didn’t need to think about it. “The decision was made the moment I shot the Phlutdroid that wanted it dead. And I will protect it as long as I am here.”
Now, a grown Mandalorian and the new guardian of a former asset of the Guild, he doesn’t have time to dream. Mostly because he doesn’t have time to sleep.
Eight months into their search for the Child’s kind, and he is put to the test to prove those very words to Cara. Because eight months into their search, they find something they weren’t looking for, and the Razor Crest crashes into a forest they weren’t looking in. The ground is hot and wet under his boots, a sharp pain bursting in his abdomen, spreading throughout his torso. There are gunshots blasting, a spray of bullets surrounding him, and there is a streak of blood on his helmet. His blood.
The ambush is over almost as quickly as it began. And the Child is not with him.