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Close Encounters of the Dad Kind

Chapter Text

Somewhere in New Mexico...

Tires squealed, grating on ex-FBI Din Djarin’s ears. “Hold onto something!” He shouted.

“The door’s gone!” Cara Dune gasped, in the front seat.

“What?!”

“The fucking door is gone! What part of that do you not understand?!” She snapped.

Din hazarded a look, and realized she was right. The door to his tiny, ancient Chevy had been torn off by the crash with the armored car just seconds earlier.

Lightning flashed, lighting up the landscape for a split second-the endless desert, punctuated by dried out brush, and military trucks. He caught a glimpse of himself in the rearview mirror for a second as well. Haggard, unshaven, and wild-eyed like a rabbit in a snare, so desperate to flee he was only choking himself.

A man on the run.

Thunder crashed, so loud it made Din’s ears ring, and there was a pitiful cry from the backseat. The kid, dear God. He must be scared to death.

Din pressed down harder on the gas pedal, his foot now flat against the floor. The engine roared, and Din could smell the fumes as the car worked overtime to meet his high standards for speed. The windshield wipers were a joke, far too slow to wipe away the endless torrent of rain that battered the window. He was essentially driving blind.

Gunfire interrupted the sounds of the engine and rain, making Din and Cara duck down. There was no way to tell where it was coming from. It seemed to be all around them. Based on the amount of people chasing them, it probably was.

“LOOK OUT!” Cara screamed.

Out of nowhere, a massive armored car appeared in front of them, prepared to run them down. Din swerved in a panic, slamming the brakes, but the car went into a tailspin, and Din’s side of the car crashed into the armored one, sending them careening over the edge of the road, into a muddy ditch.

When the car started to roll, spiraling uncontrollably, Din decided there was no way this was real. It didn’t feel real, certainly. It was like watching a movie of someone else, someone else who was almost certainly about to die. A very disappointing way to end a movie, if Din had any say in it.

Distantly, as glass flew around him and he heard the kid wailing in pain and fear, he remembered a stupid icebreaker question he had heard once. He didn’t remember where, it didn’t matter.

If you could write a script for the rest of your life, what would it say?

It was a stupid question, and there were stupid answers. How was Din supposed to know how he wanted the rest of his life to play out? Things changed, and they would change no matter what he put on the script now. What he wanted now was almost certainly going to change from day to day, even if it was in small ways.

Okay, Din thought to himself as he heard metal squeal, and something sharp-glass most likely-slash his face, dangerously close to his eye. Okay, if I could write a script for the rest of my life right now, I’d like to survive this, for one, with minimal injuries if possible. Oh no? The director calls for mutilation? Oh, alright, I suppose. I’d like to get away from these guys, and go far, far away somewhere safe, and get the kid home, and maybe the aliens will be so grateful they’ll erase everyone else’s memories so Cara and I can go back to our lives. Oh, the director says that’s not possible? This is a tragedy? Well, let me tell you, I’m fucking sick of writing tragedies.

Din closed his eyes tightly, wondering what death was like.

The car slammed into something hard, and Din’s head jerked roughly to the side, hitting something hard. Stars appeared before his eyes, he heard someone shout and-

Everything was quiet.

Chapter Text

Some time earlier in Washinton D.C...

The coffee pot sputtered, spraying boiling liquid across the countertop. Din jumped back, wincing when some splash onto his hand, stinging painfully.

He sighed deeply. Great. A truly great start to a monday morning.

There was snow falling from the sky when Din left the apartment, nearly bumping into his neighbor. What was her name? Carrie? He was fairly certain it was something like that, though after having lived in the building for a year and a half, he was too embarrassed to ask now.

He really didn’t know anything about her. She used to be involved in the military, he knew that, based on the mail he had accidentally gotten one time. Whoever dealt with their P.O boxes was an absolute mess.

“Sorry.” She mumbled, dodging around him. He didn’t respond, digging into his coat pocket, hoping he still had a scrap of paper in there. He pulled out an old receipt from Walmart, hoping he could scourge up a pen in his car.

Walking outside was like entering a different planet. He went from the warm, mildew smell of his apartment building to the frozen air outside, smelling like fumes from the countless other people trying to warm their cars up before they went to work. Din glanced at the time. He had twenty minutes before he needed to be at work. Not enough time to grab coffee.

He sighed deeply, already feeling a stinging headache coming on. He found a pen in the cup holder of his car, and scribbled onto the receipt.

Note to self: fix coffee pot

*** *** ***

A year and a half ago, Din was...well, happy wasn’t exactly the right word.

He had worked in the FBI for years, and while the job didn’t make him happy (dealing with drug cartels and gangs wasn’t exactly something that filled people with joy) he was good at it, and he knew he was doing something worthwhile.

Then the budget cuts came.

“It’s really out of my hands, Djarin.” His superior had said, having the grace to look apologetic, although Din knew damn well he was just happy it wasn’t his ass on the line. “I tried asking the government for more funds, but you know how it is. We can’t exactly cut back on investigations, so we have to let some agents go-”

“You’re firing me?” Din had asked, incredulous. “You’re kidding, right? This is a sick joke, I’m this close to finding a major supplier-”

“I know, I know.” His superior had said. “Someone else will take the case-”

“Someone else will fuck it up.” Din insisted.

His superior had made a face. Later on Din would find out he was taking the case, which explained why he had taken offense.

“You’re not being fired.” His superior said. “Just...moved.”

“Moved?” Din asked.

“The Paranormal and Unexplained division.” His superior said.

Din blinked, and looked around the room, entirely convinced someone was about to jump out and yell ‘April Fools!’ even though it was July. “You’re joking.” Din said, barely able to cover the anger in his voice. “You have to be joking.”

“At least you’re not being fired.” His superior said helplessly.

“That division is useless. They’re all chasing ghosts and aliens. They’re Scooby Doo with guns.” Din said, voice rising.

The superior’s mouth twitched, like he was trying not to smile at the comparison. “My hands are tied. It’s either this, or you’re out of the job.”

And thus, Din was not out of the job, and was now a part of the Scooby Doo gang, much to his chagrin.

On the bright side, most of his coworkers weren’t UFO nuts as he expected, and seemed just as irritated to be here as he was. The ones who were crazy were always out on wild goose chases, usually in the desert. Everything always seemed to happen in the desert.

He ducked into the building, stomping his feet on the carpet. The snow had picked up quickly, and Din already knew they were going to be in for a bad blizzard. Driving home was going to be hell.

“Djarin!” Din winced at the loud noise. His superior, a guy named Greef Karga, strode up to him, smiling. The man was famous for his pompous attitude, and one of Din’s coworkers told him in passing one day he was fairly certain Karga graduated from Julliard. Based on Karga’s demeanor, Din wouldn’t be surprised if this turned out to be true.

Karga was nice enough, however, and didn’t seem to be a conspiracy theorist. “Can I see you in my office?” He asked Din, still smiling.

“Am I in trouble?” Din asked. Karga chuckled.

“Not today, no.”

That’s not ominous at all, Din thought, but followed Karga back all the same to the tiny office. “Have a seat.” Karga said, and Din obeyed, mentally going through a list of everything he had ever done wrong in his life, searching for a reason to be called in.

“We’ve had some reports of strange activity a few miles out from a town in Utah.” Karga said, and Din almost laughed. Right, right. That was his job now; to indulge people’s delusions.

“And you want me to go out?” Din asked. “Why not ask Terry? He’s a sucker for this alien shit-that’s what I’m assuming it is now anyway.”

Karga smiled slightly. “It is. Terry’s in Oregon. A Bigfoot investigation of some kind.” Din fought the urge to roll his eyes.

“Great.” Din said. “So what, I go out there, write a quick report, and come back? Try and debunk this?”

Karga shrugged. “Essentially.” He offered a thin manilla folder to Din. “Flight leaves first thing tomorrow. I’m still trying to find a partner-”

“No.” Din said quickly. He was never a fan of working with others, even when he had his old job. Someone else on his tail meant he was slower, more likely to make a mistake. He could figure things out on his own. It was less complicated that way.

Karga looked surprised. “Usually we send agents out in pairs.”

“I’ll be fine. I’ll probably be out less than a week.” Din said.

Karga looked unsure, but finally gave a small shrug. “I suppose I could make an exception. It’s a low profile case anyway.” Karga paused. “Just out of curiosity...I know you don’t want to be here, and frankly neither do I, but...do you believe in aliens?”

Din paused, thinking. It was funny, no one had actually asked him since he got here. “...I know there’s bacteria on one of Jupiter’s moons.” He said slowly.

Karga looked amused. “Real aliens, Djarin.”

Din paused again. “...I mean...the universe is so big. It’s...not impossible there’s intelligent life far, far away. But no, I don’t think they come to Earth in flying saucers to make funny designs in cornfields and stick silver sticks up people’s asses.”

Karga laughed at that, although Din didn’t see what was so funny about that. “Is that all?” Din asked.

Karga nodded, still chuckling. “Good luck.”

Din stood up, about to leave the office. “What about you?” He asked, surprising himself. “What do you think in regards to aliens?”

Karga smiled, although it looked a little strained. “Me? I just hope to God that there aren’t any. I wouldn’t know what to think if there was.”

Chapter Text

Annabella, Utah

Very few things scared Din.

That was expected, after all. He was regularly in highly dangerous situations where cracking under pressure would only get him killed.

(Or at least, he used to be…)

But one thing he had always been picked on at the academy was his absolute fear of heights. He had no idea where it came from, but something about being up high truly scared him.

And planes…

Planes were a different hell altogether. Planes were thin metal tubes, suspended thousands of feet up, ready to explode at a moment’s notice and fall to the earth in a whistling, fiery inferno-

The plane he was on bounced, and Din gripped the armrests so tightly his knuckles turned white. He grit his teeth, reading through the case again, anything to distract from the plane.

Evidently, there had been trespassing on cattle ranches (why was it always cattle?) and most people assumed it was teenagers. However, when a cop went to investigate, he was found miles from the sight, unconscious and with a broken collarbone. He had claimed something had thrown him.

Din thought the guess of teenagers being to blame was a good one.

The plane shuddered again, and he flinched. The man next to him chuckled, and glanced at him. “First time flying?” He asked.

“Yeah.” Din lied, trying to save himself from the embarrassing truth that he did this every time.

Landing, leaving, and driving out to his destination went off without a hitch. Din looked distantly out at the desert landscape, half-amused.

I suppose if I lived out here in the middle of nowhere all my life, I’d be desperate for a little alien excitement too, He thought with amusement.

He pulled into the tiny police station, flipping down his sunglasses. The noon sun was hot and bright, making him squint even with the glasses on.

“Can I help you?” The receptionist asked him when he walked in.

“Din Djarin.” He said, flipping out his badge. “FBI. I was told you had some trouble with trespassing…?”

The receptionist looked amused. “Ah, right. That whole show. A bunch of hogwash, if you ask me.” She shrugged. “You’re in luck. It’s Officer Hawkins’ first day back. I’m assuming you’ll wanna speak to him…?”

Din nodded. The receptionist nodded. “Make yourself at home. I’ll go grab him.” She stood, rushing off into the main part of the station, and Din sat down on one of the uncomfortable chairs, hoping this wouldn’t take long.

A few minutes later, a tall man came out, grey eyes darting across the room. His arm was in a sling. Din stood up. “Officer Hawkins, I’m-”

“I’m not crazy.” Hawkins immediately said.

Din blinked. “I didn’t say anything.”

Hawkins scowled. “I can see it in your eyes. You don’t believe me.”

Din shuffled, slightly uncomfortable with being called out. “Well, you must admit, it is a bit outlandish.”

“I know exactly how it sounds. I didn’t believe in any of this crap either until…” He gestured to his sling.

“Mhm.” Din said. “Can you tell me exactly what happened?”

“I got a call for trespassing. Not a crazy call, we got teenagers who run out at night to make out and smoke pot. Not usually a big deal. Most of ‘em get off with a slap on the wrist. It was around…” Hawkins paused. “I wanna say one in the morning? I don’t know. I went out, searching, calling out and saying that if they came out I’d let them off with a warning. I heard something in the brush and went to investigate…” Hawkins trailed off.

“And?” Din prompted.

Hawkins shook his head. “I don’t remember what happened too well after that. Something threw me back, and I woke up in the hospital with a broken collarbone.” He scowled. “So, Mr. FBI, explain to me how that’s possible?”

“You could have been attacked by an animal.” Din said.

Hawkins shook his head. “I’ve been jumped by everything from a snake to a coyote. This isn’t anything like that. Something picked me up and threw me as if I were a feather. But nothing was touching me.”

“You’re brain just might not be piecing it together.” Din argued.

Hawkins scowled. “You might not believe me, but I know what did this. Something not of this Earth, that’s what.”

“Sure.” Din said, uneasy despite the extremely vague and unreliable details of the story. “Can you show me to the spot where this all happened?”

Hawkins looked unsure. “It’ll be getting dark soon. You sure you wanna face that thing at night?”

Din smiled slightly. “I think I’ll be alright.”

“If you say so.” Hawkins shrugged. “Just don’t come crying to me when you bust your head open because of it.”

*** *** ***

The desert was loud.

Din was sure there were at least a billion crickets, each one absolutely determined to be louder than everyone else. Owls hooted, low noises sending chills up Din’s back. Every once in a while, a mournful howl broke through the cacophony, a warning to turn back before it was too late.

Din shook the thought from his mind. That was ridiculous. It was a coyote, and he had a gun.

Hawkins had refused to accompany Din on his search, only saying that he had alerted the owner of the property that he would be there, and thus was free to search. Din intended on doing a large sweep of the area in question, find nothing, and then going back to the hotel.

Maybe if he was lucky he could catch a few hours of sleep before he left town.

Probably not.

The coyote wailed again, sounding almost human. Even armed, Din shivered, mind unconsciously going to whispered of demons called Skinwalkers lurking the desert. Sources seemed to vary depending on what he heard, but from what he could gather, Skinwalkers were bad news.

And not real! He practically yelled at himself. There’s nothing out here!

The sound logic did nothing to calm his mind. His heart rate went up, and he grit his teeth, entirely unsure why he was so jumpy.

SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHK!

Din jumped, flashlight bea, darting frantically until it came to rest of the culprit for the noise: a huge rattlesnake, staring at him with empty eyes. It was at least six feet long, diamond pattern body coiling and uncoiling almost hypnotically, puffed and ready to strike. The tail shook so fast that it was just a blur.

SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHK!

“Shit.” Din muttered, trying to conjure up a solution. There wasn’t any. He wasn’t wearing much in the way to protect himself, just tennis shoes and jeans, not the tall leather boots that the other cops had been wearing. Din had thought they looked silly, but hey, they weren’t about to die of snakebite due to improper clothing.

Cause of death: snakebite due to not wearing cowboy boots, Din thought hysterically.

SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHK!

Din shifted his foot back, ready to turn heel and run-

SHK!

With one last rattle, the snake lunged, fangs bared. It was so fast he didn’t even have time to blink, and Din felt his heart stop in the way one does when they realize there are no options, just failure, like the awful feeling of falling from a very high up place-

The snake froze mid-lunge, sharp fangs so close they were just touching Din’s pant leg. Even the snake looked surprised, eyes bulging, or maybe that was just how they always looked when they attacked.

Din felt nearly frozen too, wondering if he was already dead, and this was some bizarre out of body experience. Cautiously, he took a step back. The snake remained frozen in the air.

“How…?” Din said aloud, feeling dizzy. The snake suddenly jerked back, and Din jumped, wondering if this was some kind of ploy. It took him a second to realize the snake had been thrown back, and it was now slithering away, deciding its wellbeing was worth more than its pride.

Only, Din hadn’t seen anything actually pick up the snake.

He stood still, the desert night eerily silent, as if waiting for something. Waiting for an answer that it already knew, and now it was Din’s turn to see.

He heard a soft coo, like a baby, hidden in the brush behind him. Heart hammering, Din turned, walking towards the brush as if he were walking on eggshells. Something shuffled inside it, and poked its head out.

It was a child-that much he was sure of-but other than that, Din was at a loss.

It was less than a foot tall, with big brown eyes staring at Din in wonder. It had a wrinkly little green face-not old wrinkles, toddler wrinkles as if it had not entirely grown into it’s skin yet. It had long, almost donkey-like ears, and the ears perked up when they saw Din. Its mouth turned up into what Din hoped was a smile, two tiny white teeth visible.

It wasn’t human. It wasn’t an animal. And somehow, someway, Din knew it was responsible for stopping the snake.

“An alien.” Din said, to himself, as if to confirm what his head already knew. “My God.”

The alien baby cooed again, as if amused by Din’s shock.

“My God.” Din repeated again, and black spots danced before his eyes, and his knees suddenly felt rubbery, shaking. He felt himself drop to his knees, not listening to him any longer. The alien baby cooed, this time sounding more concerned as white noise filled Din’s ears, and everything went dark.

Chapter Text

Salt Lake City Airport, Utah

Din had been lucky to get a flight so quickly.

After waking up to a sunrise in the desert and an alien child on his chest (who somehow managed to look offended when Din pushed it off) he had unceremoniously stuffed the kid in his bag and called in to D.C to say he would need a private flight, immediately.

It had been a blur to get on the plane, clutching the bag with the tiny alien tightly. The pilot-ex Air Force-had given him a strange look at his shaky stature, but didn’t question it, leaving Din alone in the back of the tiny, tiny plane.

Din nearly collapsed in the seat, barely aware of his surroundings.

Dear God, Din thought. This is real. A real, life-sized alien, that can move and doesn’t have to be viewed with a microscope. Shit shit shit, what if it has alien diseases? What if it tries to eat me? What if-oh my God, it hasn’t moved. Is it dead?! What-

The plane lurched violently, and Din gasped out loud, startled from one unpleasant train of thought into another.

Din grit his teeth, furious when he saw his hands shaking. What was wrong with him?! He was bigger than this!

The bag gave a soft coo, and the alien poked its head out, regarding Din with a content curiosity. He stared back, entirely unsure what to make of it. It wriggled, and Din set his bag on the ground so the alien could crawl out. It seemed safer than keeping it close against its will.

The alien babbled, surprisingly emotive, waddling around the floor of the plane before looking up at Din with a curious ‘ah?’

“A plane.” Din said, feeling instantly stupid for speaking to it. “It-” The plane lurched again, and Din winced again, this time biting back a gasp.

The alien looked unconcerned, but tilted its head at Din’s reaction. It toddled over, and Din tensed. It reached out its tiny, three fingered hands, waving as though trying to flag a jet. It whined when Din stared at it blankly.

Oh. It wants me to pick it up.

Din had absolutely no experience with children, much less alien ones. (He had decided this was a child). The child gave another little whimper, this time making grabbing motions along with its waving arms.

Slowly, as if expecting an explosion, Din picked the child up, stiff and nervous. The child cooed, as if congratulating him. Hoping he wasn’t making a mistake, Din set the child on his lap, and the alien made itself comfortable, snuggling up against Din easily, closing its eyes with soft, sleepy babbling.

Din blinked, instinctively leaning back.

This was insane. This was absolutely insane. An alien baby was taking a nap on him. An alien baby was taking a nap on him, Din Djarin, FBI agent who didn’t believe in anything supernatural.

Somehow, by some sort of instinct, he knew the child was the reason the snake hadn’t bitten him. How exactly the child did this, and why he chose to do so was beyond Din. He tried to tell himself it was part of some sort of long-con by the child, but it was hard to keep that hypothesis with the child sleeping quietly on his lap.

Besides, if it wanted to hurt him, it had already had many opportunities to do so.

The child seemed to have passed out quick enough, finding Din very comfortable. He supposed the plane was more pleasant than the desert. How long had it been out there? Had it been scared? Sad? Had it been left behind? Did it have a family who was panicking, looking for it?

I can’t believe my life has likely become the plot of a Steven Spielberg movie, Din thought with little humor.

The child slept through the rest of the flight, only waking when they started to descend, giving a big yawn and looking up at Din with absolute content, as if waiting for their next adventure.

“Okay back there?” The pilot called, and Din jumped, stuffing the child back into his back despite it’s insulted squeaks.

“Sh!” He scolded it. “Yeah, I’m fine.” He called back.

“Do you need an escort or something?” He asked.

Din grit his teeth. Right, Karga was expecting him back. His bag wriggled, and Din bounced it nervously, trying to get the child to stay still. “No,” Din said slowly. “I’m alright. Nothing happened there, anyway.”

Why am I lying?!

“You sure? You wanted to get out of there pretty quick.” The pilot said.

“The town smelled like cow shit.” Din said dully, and the pilot laughed.

Why am I lying? Why am I lying? Why am I lying?

He would simply drive himself home. He would still take it to Karga (of course) but...well, he was curious. There was nothing wrong with curiosity. He would simply take the kid home, observe him for a bit, and then drop him off. Karga would be none the wiser.

The child cooed, and the pilot stuck his head back, having landed the plane. “Did you say something?”

“No.” Din said, bouncing the bag once more. “No, I didn’t.”

*** *** ***

Washington D.C

Din made a few discoveries.

One, the child liked bananas. He had eaten one himself, and seeing the curious gaze of the child who was now toddling after him in his tiny apartment, he offered another to it. The kid ate it, peel and all, biting into it like an apple.

It seemed wrong, somehow, but whatever. It wasn’t going to starve, and that was what counted.

Second, it liked TV. It had managed to find the remote for Din’s crappy TV and had a good time pressing buttons until it was distracted by a cartoon that Din was not familiar with; something with a golden triangle in a top hat.

Third-and this baffled Din-the child was never more than a few feet behind him.

If Din left to go throw away a banana peel, the child would be right behind him, causing Din to trip and let out a slew of curses he hoped it wouldn’t repeat. If Din went to call Karga that he would be coming sometime around seven in the evening, the child was right there, seemingly fascinated by the phone call. Even when watching the cartoon, the child would look around as if to check and make sure Din was still there.

It was amusing, and-dare he say it?-rather cute.

Well, it was cute until the incident.

Not long before Din was going to set off to meet Karga, there was a sharp knock at the door. Din froze, instantly on high alert, heart pounding. The child looked at the door with interest, and then looked to Din, curious on what his course of action would be.

Quickly turning off the TV, Din looked out the peephole. The neighbor-Carrie, it was definitely Carrie-stood there, looking vaguely bored. Din cracked the door open. “Can I help you?” He asked, unable to keep his voice from sounding short.

“I got your mail again.” She said, holding out a small stack of letters.

“Ah.” Din took it. “Thanks.”

He shut the door, and that should have been the end of the conversation. He turned, frowning slightly when he saw the child was no longer sitting on the couch. He glanced around his feet, wondering if they had wandered near him, but it was nowhere to be seen.

A loud scream echoed in the hall, and Din’s heart sank. Surely he wasn’t that unlucky?

He threw the door open and saw that he was, indeed, that unlucky. The child stood in the middle of the hallway, looking up at Carrie with curiosity, while Carrie stumbled into his apartment, having been pressed up against the door moments before. Din grabbed the child, who squeaked at the rough handling. He slammed the door shut, realizing too late he had trapped Carrie with him by accident, which would ultimately lead to questions.

“WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT?!” She yelled, staring at the child with horror. The child made a sound that sounded like giggling in response.

“An alien.” Din said candidly. “I think. I’m not sure.”

“You’re not sure?! You’re not fucking sure?!” Carrie asked shrilly.

“It’s complicated.” Din said quietly.

Carrie sputtered in disbelief, staring at the child with mounting confusion and fear. “It’s not dangerous!” Din said quickly.

“Fuck it isn’t! It’s an alien?!” She snapped.

“W-well, yeah, I-no no wait!” He said quickly, seeing Carrie turned towards his door. “Don’t freak out! It’s not gonna hurt you!”

“How did you even get it?!” She asked.

Din made a face. “I...I work with the FBI. The Paranormal and Unexplained division. They sent me out to Utah to investigate some stuff and I found this thing.” He gestured helplessly to the child, who waved its arms in response.

“S-so…” Carrie said, voice weak. “You just took it home?”

“Technically, I haven’t called in it yet.” Din said.

Carrie blinked, looking at him as if he were insane. He probably was. “He’s not gonna hurt you, Carrie.” He said softly, putting the child down. It toddled over to the couch again, beginning the arduous task of climbing into the cushions.

“You can’t know that. It-” She paused. “Did you just call me Carrie?”

Din’s face grew hot. “No.” He lied.

“My name’s Cara. Cara Dune.” She sighed, her fear being taken over by irritation. “I’ve been living here for over a year.”

“Yeah? What’s my name then?” Din challenged.

“Din.” She said immediately. “Our mail gets mixed up all the time. You don’t know my name by now?”

Din sighed. “Whatever.”

The child cooed happily, having managed to climb up onto the couch. It looked at Din, seeming to look for praise.

“So what? You just have a pet alien now?” Cara asked.

“No, I’m not keeping him. I’m taking him in soon.” He said. “I just...I dunno. I was curious. I wanted to see him wander around? I’m probably never going to see him again, this is my one chance to see an alien.”

“What if it has alien diseases?” Cara asked.

“He doesn’t.” Din said.

“How do you know? You’re not a doctor.” Cara argued.

Din huffed. “I would have gotten sick by now if he did.”

Cara made a face. “I don’t think that’s necessarily how diseases work.”

“Well, how do you know, you’re not a doctor either!” Din snapped.

Cara glanced at the child again, who babbled eagerly, as if trying to tell the two something. “It...sounds like a toddler.” Cara said, unsure.

“I think it’s a baby. But I don’t know.” Din said.

Cara was quiet, watching the child babbled endlessly, happy smile on its face. “So...you’re just gonna turn it over?” She asked.

“Of course. There’s not much else I can do, even if I wanted to do something stupid.” Din said, and for some reason his heart felt heavy at the assessment. It was stupid, of course. Taking the child to Karga was the only logical thing to do.

“What are they gonna do with it?” Cara asked.

Din stalled, having no idea what the child’s future held, and at the same time knowing exactly all the bad things that were coming. “...I don’t know.” He said lamely.

Cara glanced at him, quiet. The child squealed in delight, holding up a dime it had found between the cushions. It immediately put the coin in its mouth. “Hey! No! Spit that out!” Din rushed forward, but he was too late. The child had already swallowed the dime. Hopefully it wasn’t allergic to metal alloy.

Cara chuckled. “It’s definitely a toddler.”

He glanced at her, suddenly concerned. “Ah...this is a bit awkward to ask, but you won’t...call the police or anything?”

“You are the police.” Cara said incredulously.

“Well, kind of, but you know what I mean.” Din picked up the child, setting it back on the ground before it could find more coin snacks. “I don’t think I’m technically supposed to be doing this, and I’d rather not get in trouble…”

Cara sighed. “No, I won’t call the cops and say my neighbor has an alien baby. They’d laugh at me anyway.”

Din sighed in relief. “Thanks.”

She nodded shortly, still unable to tear her eyes away from the child, who now was chewing on the TV remote. “You know, it is kind of cute.” She admitted, before leaving. The door shut with a quiet click.

But to Din, head swirling with half-traitorous thoughts of the alien child, the door sounded louder than a gunshot. It was the gavel of the judge, the jury staring at him, waiting for him to make a move.

Chapter Text

Washington D.C

Din shivered, stepping out of his car. The child cooed, nestled in his bag. It wriggled, clearly wanting to get out and explore.

“I know.” Din said, feeling incredibly guilty. He tried to chase the feeling away with logic. What did he think was going to happen? He couldn’t keep the child without serious consequences. This was a matter of national security, after all. And even if he could keep the child, he had no idea how to care for it.

Din sighed, staring at the child as it made grabbing motions at him, wanting to be picked up. Hesitating only for a split second, Din flipped the top of the bag down, covering the child. The child wriggled, babbling in quiet protest.

Din ignored it.

He walked into the building, trying to feel confident, with no success. Every step was a step farther down his sins, a commitment to abandonment of this child to whom he had...well, he was a bit attached to it, despite his best efforts.

You know what abandonment it, what grief is. Why are you inflicting it?

Din grimaced as the unwelcome revelation crossed his mind, almost as though someone had said it aloud to him. He gripped the bag tighter to his body, pausing in the hallways. The fluorescent lights suddenly seemed too bright, the lavender bleach the janitor always used pungent and overwhelming. For what felt like the millionth time, Din found himself shaking.

Funny how easily this alien child destroyed his defenses like they were made of tissue paper.

Din forced himself to continue forward, seeing with relief that Karga was in his office. He shuffled over to the man, knocking quietly on the outside of the door frame. Karga looked up, and smiled amiably. “Ah, Djarin! What did you want to see me about? The curiosity has been eating me up.”

Din ducked inside the office, closing the door. “I...went to Annabella. And I...sort of found something.”

Karga raised his eyebrows. “What are you saying?”

Din figured he might as well rip off the bandage. He set the bag on the desk, and lifted the flap. The child poked his head out.

The reaction was immediate. Karga reeled back, trying to scream and gasp at the same time, but the two actions didn’t compute, so what came out of his mouth was more like a ‘hragh’. The child cooed, confused. It tilted its head, big ears drooping slightly.

Karga stood still, open mouthed for a moment. “What…” He said hoarsely.

“It’s an alien.” Din said. “I think.”

“You think.” Karga repeated lifelessly.

“Unless it’s some kind of super-mutated coyote.” Din said.

Karga didn’t respond for a long moment, still staring at the child. “My God.” He said. “My God.”

Din was quiet.

“I’ll have to make some calls.” Karga said.

“Where do you want me to put it?” Din asked.

“Oh, damn, right right right.” Karga said, straightening up suddenly. “Er...put it in one of the holding cells. Don’t let anyone see it!” He said quickly, picking up his phone and punching in the number.

Din grabbed the bag, flipping the top down so the child was covered once more. He heard it whine in protest. “What are they gonna do with it?” Din said suddenly, surprising even himself.

“What?” Karga asked, in the middle of a conversation already.

Din told himself to walk out, listen to Karga, forget this happened. It was the most logical explanation after all. “I asked if you know what they’re gonna do with it.” He gestured to the bag.

Karga scowled. “That’s hardly the concern right now-”

“I’m just curious.” Din said evenly, staring Karga down.

“What the hell do you think?” Karga said impatiently. “This is a huge discovery. We need to know everything we can about this thing. The fate of the world could be on the line. You don’t want this to turn into War of the Worlds or some shit, do you?”

Din was quiet for a very long moment. “No.” He said. “No, I guess not.”

*** *** ***

Cara opened her door at around two in the morning, bleary-eyed and ready to yell at whoever was pounding at her door. Instead, she saw her neighbor, Din, standing at her doorstep, disheveled and sketchy as hell in dark sunglasses. In his arms he was holding the weird alien child, who was looking oddly serious in similar sunglasses that were too big for him, wrapped in an old hoodie.

Cara blinked. “No.” She said, and slammed the door.

The knocking outside continued. “Come on, Cara!”

At least he remembered her name. “I’m not babysitting that little gremlin!” She said, refusing to open the door.

“I-it’s only for a few hours-”

“He’s wearing a hoodie!”

“I didn’t want him to get cold!”

“GO AWAY!” Cara shouted, very close to beating Din up if he continued. She winced slightly, hearing a soft, high pitched crying. It had to be the kid.

She heard Din saying something softly to it, sounding defeated. Cautiously, she opened the door, not removing the door chain. Din was still there. He looked exhausted. “I just need a place to crash until morning. And then I’ll be out of your hair.”

“Your apartment is five feet to the left.” She said.

“Yeah, but I’m pretty sure someone is following me.” He said.

“You do realize how paranoid that sounds, right?” Cara demanded, attention drawn to the kid when it sniffled pathetically. She sighed deeply. “Fine. But only until the sun comes up.”

Din practically sagged in relief, giving her a thumbs up. Cara unlocked the door and let him in.

Her apartment was similar to Din’s in the way it was extremely plain. No decorations, no knick knacks, just a couple scattered photographs that Din assumed were her family. The biggest difference was that her apartment was fairly organized, as opposed to Din not having cleaned out his place since he moved in.

Also there was a handgun on the counter.

“So, what happened to make you go from taking this child to the feds to suddenly wearing a shitty Avengers’ disguise and bothering me in the middle of the night?” Cara asked.

Din set the kid down, who immediately toddled off-in the opposite direction of the gun, thank God. “I don’t really know, actually.” Din said slowly. “My boss told me to put him in one of the holding cells, and I just...couldn’t do it I guess. I got in my car and just drove around.”

“You think someone’s following you?” Cara asked.

Din shrugged, leaning back against the counter. “I mean, to be fair, I am feeling pretty paranoid. But I did see the same black car at least three times. I didn’t catch the license plate, but it was the same make and model.”

“So the thing in movies with the government using only black cars is real?” Cara asked. Din shrugged again. “So...you’ve just been driving around aimlessly for...how long?” She asked.

“Since this evening. The kid was fussing, and I just...kinda needed a place to collect my thoughts and come up with a plan. A place that wasn’t my car.” Din said, sounding sheepish.

“How are you still awake?” Cara asked.

“Spite.” Din said, in a voice that was dead serious.

Cara stood for a moment, and then went over to the tiny kitchenette. “I’m making coffee.” She said.

“You don’t have too-” Din started, but Cara shook her head.

“Nah, now I’m nervous. I’m not gonna go back to sleep until you two are gone. Does he drink coffee?” She nodded to the kid, who was sitting under a chair, passed out.

“I don’t know. I don’t want to risk anything.” Din said. He didn’t want to see what would happen if caffeine affected the kid in the way it affected other toddlers. “We shouldn’t have come here.” He said, guilty.

“I’m sure it’ll be fine.” Cara said, sounding like she was trying to convince herself. “As far as they know, you’re just a recluse who doesn’t talk to their neighbors, and doesn’t know their names, right?”

Din winced. “You’re still mad about that?”

“I’m getting changed.” She said. “It’s gonna be a long night.”

*** *** ***

It WAS a long night.

At least the kid was asleep. Din himself was pacing, skittish at the slightest noises. Cara was similar, sitting cross-legged on the counter top, staring at the clock as time passed at the speed of molasses. “So, do you have a plan?” She asked.

“I mean, short term, yeah. I’m just gonna keep moving with the kid, withdraw everything from my bank account, and then disappear.” Din said. “Long term, I think I’m going to try and not get arrested.”

“Do you have family that you can stay with? Family that won’t snitch?” Cara asked.

Din was saved from this accidental can of worms by the kid, who suddenly woke up, whining. It looked around, panicked when it didn’t see Din immediately.

“Hey, kid.” Din said softly, picking it up. The child sniffled, looking upset. “You’re fine. Nothing’s wrong.” Din assured it.

There was a loud BANG! from Din’s left. There was a hole in the wall.

“GET DOWN!” Cara shrieked, grabbing the handgun from off the table, arms pinwheeling in an attempt to keep her balance. Din hugged the child tightly, immediately dropping to his knees and curling around it protectively.

The child yelped in surprise.

“Can you explain to me why the FBI is destroying my apartment?!” Cara said, sounding panicked. She managed to get over to Din, kicking over a coffee table to use as cover.

“I took the alien baby!” He said, gesturing to the kid. “We established this!”

“Yeah, but then why are they just going straight into trying to kill us?!” She snapped.

Din opened his mouth, but another round of gunfire interrupted, peppering the wall with small holes. Plaster dust rained down on them. “Why’d you have to take him?!” Cara said, glaring at Din.

“They were gonna experiment on him! I can’t just leave him!” Din said helplessly. The kid cooed, obviously unconcerned with being the center of chaos, as long as it was also the center of attention.

“We need a plan.” Din said, setting the kid down to dig for the tiny handgun hidden in the interior of his jacket. “Is there-”

“Shit!” Cara yelped, peeking out from behind the table with horror.

“Wha-oh my God.” Din said, looking as well. The child had waddled away from Din the second he had set it down, now on top of the counter, looking out the broken window. We need to get him a bell, Din thought, hysterical.

Din heard shouting from outside, and the child raised its arm, and closed its eyes. Din lunged out from behind the table, trying to grab the child, ignoring Cara’s warning shout-

There was a massive explosion from outside, just as Din managed to grab the kid. Din fell roughly on his side, holding the kid close, seeing a fireball from the apartment complex parking lot. The child looked up at him, suddenly looking sleepy.

There were no more gunshots.

Slowly, Cara crept forward, peeking out the window. “Oh my God.” She muttered, and Din forced himself up to look out as well.

The snow had been burned away by several cars having exploded seconds earlier, and the agents were either hiding, lying prone on the ground, or shouting for backup. Din could hear the expletive laden tirade of the landlord, who was shouting at the agents fearlessly from his window, calling them communists.

Din looked down at the sleepy alien baby. Had it done that? What else did it have the power to do?

“I…” Din said, feeling panicky. “I need to leave. I gotta get out of here before they come for backup, I didn’t think they’d try to kill us, I-”

“I’m coming too.” Cara interrupted.

Din blinked. “I...what?”

Cara shrugged. “I’m already an accomplice, right? If they came to my apartment, they suspect me and I’m pretty sure they know my face. Might as well go all the way with it.”

“You don’t have too.” Din said, feeling like the situation was spiraling out of control.

“You’ll need me. You can’t take care of yourself, much less an alien baby. I saw you eating cereal out of a styrofoam cup once.” Cara said.

Din made a face. “That was one time.”

There was the sound of squealing tires outside, and Cara froze. “Oh, shit.” She muttered. “We gotta go. Right now.”

“Cara, seriously.” Din said. “You don’t have to come. You shouldn’t.”

“Shut up.” Cara said, which was probably her equivalent of a long speech about doing the right thing and all that jazz. “Did they blow up your car?”

Din shook his head. “No, I hid it in an alley a few blocks away. I climbed up the fire escape to get it. We can take it the same way out.”

Cara nodded, putting the safety on her handgun. “Then we better get going.”

Din snuck out of the apartment building, having lost a lot. He lost his home, his badge (at least in legal terms; he did still have it in his pocket) and the freedom of not feeling anxiety every time he saw a cop car.

Although, he also gained the kid. Guilt no longer weighed on him like a sickness, and despite the logic in his head screaming that this was a mistake, it was easy to ignore it when he looked down at the sleeping child, who every so often cracked its eye open to make sure Din was still there, still looking at him with absolute trust.

And Cara followed him, checking corners to make sure they were clear, starting the car for him while he buckled the kid to the best of his ability, and in her own weird way chasing away at least some of the anxiety. He supposed he had gained a friend, and it had been a long time since he was able to say that.

They sped off into the rising sun, no destination in mind, no real plan, just the knowledge that at the very least, this was the right thing to do.

And that would have to do for now.

Chapter Text

Somewhere in Maryland

Pop music blared through the loudspeaker of the gas station, and Din felt incredibly exposed under the fluorescent lights. He also had a migraine, and the smell of a recently bleached floor only made him nauseous.

A few days on the run hadn’t done many favors for morale. The kid was always on edge, and Cara and Din both had dark circles under their eyes. All three of them suffered from frayed nerves, moods shifting at the drop of a hat, small disagreements or issues quickly spiraling into screaming fights that made the kid cry louder than the two adults.

“Uh, you okay there, man?” The clerk asked. He was pretty young, maybe late teens or early twenties, an air of nervousness around him. Din couldn’t tell if he was always like this, or if it was just his own presence.

“I’m fine.” Din said, looking at the forty dollars and twenty-seven cents he and Cara had managed to take out of their wallets. No doubt the feds had already frozen their bank accounts, and if they hadn’t, they were probably watching so they could get an alert the second either of them used their credit card.

Before he had been moved to the paranormal division, Din used to have large amounts of cash stashed in various places, in case he ever needed to go into hiding, for any reason. After he got moved, the habit just sort of died, as Din assumed nothing would ever happen that would require him to run.

Look where you are now, huh? The irony is suffocating.

Finally, Din managed to gather up some crappy food. His total came to fifteen dollars and sixty three cents.

Din walked out to where his car was parked, arms full of old powdered donuts and stale beef jerky sticks. Cara stuck her head out the window, looking disappointed. “Alright. So I rooted through your car, and found some change, and the kid tried to eat this.” She held out a bright yellow object, covered in slobber. A lemon Starburst wrapper. “Dude, what’s wrong with you? Only psychopaths like the yellow ones.”

Din would have either brushed off the teasing or picked a fight (it was always a fifty-fifty chance) but he paused. “I...I’ve never eaten Starburst.” He said.

Cara’s light smile vanished, and she looked around. There was no way anyone was with them now, no way anyone could have searched his car when he snatched the kid.

Someone was watching me even before this whole debacle.

The kid was clueless to their plight, cooing, making grabby hands for the wrapper. Cara crumpled it up, throwing it out the window. “Let’s go.” She said. Din nodded. Leaving immediately sounded very appealing.

Only when he was speeding down the empty road did he realize they were basically broke. And low on gas.

“Any plans to make sure we don’t starve?” Din asked.

Cara paused. “You could be a stripper.” She suggested.

“Oh, ha ha. Any real plans?” Din asked, migraine getting worse.

“I’m serious. They give you cash.” She said, unfortunately seeming to be very serious.

“We’ll file that under last resort.” Din decided. “But seriously, anything that’s not going to suck for us?”

“I don’t know. We could sleep in the car, but that doesn’t solve the broke problem.” Cara said.

“Happen to stash any cash anywhere?” Din asked.

Cara gave him a sideways look. “No Din, because I am not a sketchy person.”

“It’s not sketchy,” Din argued. “It’s security.”

The kid cooed, instantly diffusing the situation. It was getting good at that. “See? He gets it.” Din said.

Cara glanced back at the kid, who was sitting precariously in the backseat. “This cannot be safe.” She said. The seatbelt was nearly choking the poor child, the belt part pressing on his neck.

“I don’t have anything a kid could use.” Din grumbled.

Cara opened her mouth, and then froze. “Oh my God. Why didn’t I think of this before?!” She looked out the window, trying to see a mile marker. “Turn off at the next exit, I need to find a map or something.”

“What? Why?” Din asked.

She glanced at Din. “I need to pay my sister a visit.”

*** *** ***
“Eleven years?!” Din said, glancing over to Cara in shock.

“Eyes on the road.” Cara said, looking embarrassed.

“No no, it’s been eleven years since you’ve seen your sister?!” Din said, voice betraying his shock. He’d always wanted siblings growing up, asking for an older brother for Christmas once when he was very young and unaware of how such things worked.

“I’ve been busy.” Cara said lamely.

“God!” Din said, unable to think of a good response. “Did she kill your dog at some point?”

“Ha ha.” Cara said. The kid babbled.

“Seriously, what happened? You don’t just...do that for no reason.” Din said. Yeah, like you’d know.

Cara looked uncomfortable. “I mean...the last time we saw each other was at my mom’s funeral. She had just had her baby, and...I don’t know. We were never really close growing up...my dad died when I was in high school, and I was really close with him. I don’t think my mom ever wanted kids, so everyone’s relationship just kinda spiraled downhill from there. I left when I turned eighteen and enlisted.”

Din was sorry he asked. “Oh.” A quick glance at Cara confirmed she was similarly uncomfortable sharing such details. “I...I’m sorry.”

Cara ignored him, reaching back to fiddle with the kid’s seatbelt, despite the fact that it needed no adjusting. “Oh, her name’s Omera, by the way. Her husband is John, and her daughter is Winta.”

“Gotcha.” Din said, immediately forgetting all three names.

“And before you ask, I did go to their wedding. John’s creepy brother hit on me.” Cara said, suddenly snappy again.

“Has it been eleven years since you’ve seen him as well?” Din asked, already ready to fight over something stupid again.

And they were at it the entire drive there.

*** *** ***

“This is the right house?” Din asked, staring at a little suburban home in a tiny neighborhood. A huge oak tree stood in the front yard, outfitted with a tire swing. A bike was toppled over near the garage, and colorful chalk drawings covered the driveway. It made Din oddly nostalgic and sad, even though he had no memory of ever doing any such activities during his childhood anyway.

“I sure hope so.” Cara said, getting out of the car. The sun had set not long ago, and the streetlights were turning on with their orange glow, like fire. Cara paused, glancing back at Din with a strange expression on her face. Din made a motion for her to keep going, realizing only after she turned away she had been looking for encouragement.

He watched her open the door, and then turned to the kid, who had started fussing. “It’ll be fine.” He told it, not actually knowing if it was going to be fine. “We’ll get a good night’s sleep. You’ll have to go in the bag again...but it’s okay.” He said quickly, seeing the kid;s face scrunch up at the prospect of going back in the bag.

He jumped a bit when there was a knock at the window. Cara, with a funny look on her face. “We can stay.” She said. “I didn’t really give many details...keep the kid hidden.”

Din nodded, grabbing the kid and gently placing it back in his bag, feeling guilty. The kid protested loudly, and Din shushed it. “I know, it’s not for long. We don’t want Cara’s sister to freak out.”

He glanced up, and saw Omera-that was her name, he hoped-standing at the front door. She really didn’t look anything like Cara. Her skin was a little darker, and her hair was long and wavy as opposed to Cara’s short haircut. She didn’t look like a professional wrestler. Just a normal woman who looked very uneasy with allowing her estranged sister and a stranger in her house.

She’s pretty.

Din grit his teeth, forcing the thought away. He needed to focus. He held the bag close, trying to look as non-threatening as possible when he followed Cara into the house. “Winta’s asleep.” Omera said in a quiet voice. “Try not to...make noise.”

Cara’s posture stiffened. “Where’s John? On a trip or something?”

Omera’s cautious demeanor instantly changed into one of extreme defensiveness, so quickly Din nearly flinched. “John’s gone. He has been for years.” She said tersely.

“O-oh.” Cara looked like she wanted to melt into a puddle and disappear. “I-”

“You know where the guest room is.” Omera said, turning around, leaving before Cara could say anything. Din was half-tempted to make a comment, but something stopped him.

Cara stood still for a long time, silent.

Oddly enough, the fact that there was only a singular bed in the guest room didn’t turn out to be a problem. Din was up most of the night with the kid, who was crying and fussing, and when he did finally fall asleep, he was sprawled on the carpet, kid curled up in the crook of his arm.

Chapter Text

Charles, Maryland

Din woke up with the sun shining in his face and a kink in his neck. His mouth tasted fuzzy, like he had stuffed it full of old cotton balls. He patted the bag gently, relieved to find that he felt something in there. Thank God the kid was still asleep.

He glanced at the clock in the corner, and saw the red numbers were blinking uselessly at 12:00. Broken digital clocks always gave Din a vague anxiety. He couldn’t place why; maybe it was the sense of disorder and timelessness that a working digital clock already gave off. A broken, blinking one made him feel as if he had stepped outside time itself, and he was out of control. It was stupid, but all the same, he didn’t like not knowing the time.

He sat up, wincing slightly, seeing Cara was gone. She must have woken up before him. He forced himself to his feet, feeling very old when his body protested from the night of sleeping on the floor. He fixed his sunglasses, feeling foolish for not having taken them off, but he kept them on anyway. They were a mask, a comfortable shield that kept others from seeing his eyes. He was good at hiding emotions, but all the same…

Din stumbled to the kitchen, seeing Cara sitting at the table, across from a young girl. The girl looked exactly like Omera, with the same skin tone and long, dark, wavy hair. She was still in her pajamas, a stuffed blue fish sitting next to her on the table. What was the girl’s name? Something with a W? Winta. It was Winta, he was nearly sure of it.

Winta swung her legs, staring at her aunt, who was poking lifelessly at a bowl of Cheerios. Her fascination immediately switched to Din when he entered. He ignored her, going straight to the coffee pot, which was already half empty.

“Cups are in the far left cabinet.” Cara said, breaking the heavy silence. Din nodded, grabbing a cup and filled it to the brim, gulping down a huge mouthful. The bitter drink burned his throat painfully, but Din was too tired to care.

“Why are you wearing sunglasses?” Winta asked hesitantly, looking at Din. Din shrugged, already having decided he was going to try and stay silent this entire stay.

“He thinks they make him look cool.” Cara said.

“I do not.” Din said defensively. Dammit. He’d already broken his vow of silence.

Winta nodded wisely, seeming to take Cara’s statement as fact. She stayed silent for a long moment, taking a large bite of her waffle. “Are you guys criminals?” She asked.

“No.” Cara said.

“Yes.” Din said at the exact same time.

Cara glared at him, and Din shrugged again, taking a long sip of coffee. “Technically, we are-”

“Okay!” Cara said loudly, cutting him off. She turned to her niece. “Mr. Djarin did all the illegal things, sweetie.” She said. Din snorted. Mr. Djarin?

“Are the police bad guys?” Winta asked.

Cara made a face. “It’s...a little complicated.”

“Is it because of the green thing?” Winta asked.

Din choked. “What?!”

“A little green thing with big ears came into my room last night. He likes my fish tank. He ate all the fish food.” She made a face.

“Shit.” Din said.

Winta’s eyes widened. “That’s a bad word.” She said, her voice a mix of awe and horror.

Din didn’t answer. He sprinted to the guest bedroom, terror striking his heart like a spear when he opened the bag and saw that, instead of the kid, a pillow was stuffed inside. Was the kid really that cunning?!

He sprinted upstairs, ignoring Cara’s calls for him, looking around wildly. Oh God, oh God...

He heard a soft coo, and jumped, seeing the kid at his feet, waddling behind him, carrying a stuffed giraffe. Din let out a sigh of relief, adrenaline making him shaky. “Don’t do that. My God…”

He picked the kid up, and turned. Omera was staring at him, mouth open in shock. Din froze, heart dropping.

“What,” Omera said, voice hoarse. “What the fuck is that?!”

There was a small gasp, and Din turned again, seeing Winta, looking more shocked at her mother’s language than the tiny green being in Din’s arms.

*** *** ***

“You stole an alien.” Omera said in a dead voice, staring at the kid that Din was still holding tightly. The kid whined, wanting to be put down, but Din was too worried about how Omera would react.

“Technically, he did.” Cara said quietly.

“And you went along with it!” Omera said, suddenly frantic. “Why would you do that?!”

Cara winced. “I...felt bad.” She gestured to the kid. “He’s a baby. He was gonna be experimented on.”

“Because he’s an alien!” Omera said. She wrung her hands, looking like she wanted to leave.

The kid cooed, and Din bounced it, nervous. He hoped Omera wouldn’t kick them out. It was the most logical thing for her to do, sure, but Din found he wasn’t quite ready to make himself go on the run again.

“Mom?” Winta poked her head in the kitchen. “Can I come in now?”

Omera started, looking surprised. “Winta-”

“Can I play with him?” She pointed to the kid, who babbled excitedly, wriggling to be put down.

Omera’s eyes widened. “Absolutely not-”

“He’s not dangerous.” Din said quickly, and Omera glanced at him nervously. “Promise.” Din said, carefully setting the kid on the ground. Winta grinned, looking pleased to see an adult on her side, waiting for the alien to follow her before she raced out.

Omera watched her daughter leave, biting her lip in nervousness. “...can I talk to you in private?” She asked Cara.

Din stood up, relieved to have an excuse to leave. “I’ll go.” He ignored Cara’s glare at him, likely for leaving her in such a volatile, emotional situation. But it wasn’t Din’s sister, was it?

He walked out of one problem and straight into another however, coming face to face with Winta, who was setting up a card game. The kid was busy trying to shove cards into his mouth. Winta glanced up when Din entered, looking at the kid with mild disappointment. “I guess he’s too little to play.” She said sadly.

Din nodded awkwardly, wondering which he would be worse with; a lonely child or two sisters hashing out years of emotional baggage. It made him miss the FBI. At least you got training for the sort of situation you came across there. Winta glanced up. “Do you want to be on his team?” She pointed to the kid, the message clear: Please play a game with me, I’m bored.

“...I guess.” Din said, sitting down on the floor, taking the cards from the kid. They whined in protest, evidently having looked forward to a meal of plastic. “What game is it?”

Winta looked shocked. “You’ve never played Uno?”

Din shrugged. The game sounded familiar, but he was fairly certain he had never played. Winta shook her head, as though Din had just spit on her, but she was taking the high road. “It’s okay. It’s not hard.” She quickly explained the rules, though Din was more focused on making sure the kid didn’t reach for another card to chew on.

“I think I’ve played something like that. I called it Crazy 8s.” Din said once Winta finished her spiel.

Winta giggled. “Why? That’s a weird name.”

Din shrugged, grabbing several cards.

And...well, he let Winta win the first two games, and then decided to win to mix things up a bit. Except, Winta won once again. She kept getting him on the whole ‘calling Uno’ rule, and she would call it before he could even finish placing his card down. This went on for a few more games, Winta winning every time except for once, and Din was fairly certain she let him win that round.

“Are you letting me win?” Winta asked.

“Yes,” Din lied immediately, relieved to have this out. “Let’s play something else.”

Winta made a face. “Go Fish?”

“Do you have a pack of real cards?” Din asked. “I’ll teach you a real card game.”

*** *** ***
Winta would have made bank in Las Vegas had she been old enough. Din wasn’t a pro at card games, but he certainly considered himself above the level of an amateur. Winta beat him out at nearly every game, sometimes even having the gall to bait Din into a risk, only to strike him down like a cat swiping at an unsuspecting bird. She had something to prove, and she was taking no prisoners.

“Don’t tell your aunt about this. She’ll never let me hear the end of it.” Din said, joking, but also entirely serious.

Winta frowned, staring at her cards intently. “Are you friends with Aunt Cara?” She asked.

Din paused, suddenly uncomfortable with where this conversation was going. “I suppose,” He said.

“Why hasn’t she been around?” Winta asked. “Does she not like us?”

“N-no, of course she likes you.” Din said, suddenly horrified. Losing to cards was one thing, accidentally making Winta hate her aunt was an entirely different type of loss.

Winta pursed her lips. “I dunno. I never even met her. Or at least I can’t remember meeting her. Did she say anything to you?”

Din reached for the kid, despite the fact that they weren’t trying to eat anything inedible. He was just trying to stall his answer. “It’s...not really my business.” Perfect. Vague and a signal to end the conversation.

Winta didn’t take this answer easily. Her frown deepened. “That’s what adults say when they don’t want to talk about something.” She said, sounding disappointed. “She would come around and visit if she liked us.”

Din shuffled, extremely uncomfortable. Why did he agree to play that damn game with her? Kids were way above his pay grade. With his luck, the kid’s alien parents would launch an attack on Earth because Din accidentally killed their child through incompetence.

“So is he an alien?” Winta asked, looking at the kid. “Like, a real one?”

“I think so.” Din said. “Unless you happen to know what it is.”

Winta giggled. “He looks like the Gremlins. Like, when they turn evil. But he doesn’t look scary like them.” She poked the kid’s nose gently, and the kid cooed happily. “Is he a baby, then? Where is he from? Does he have special powers like E.T?”

“I think he’s a baby, yeah. I don’t know where he’s from, and…” Din trailed off, thinking of the rattlesnake and the fiery explosion of cars. He had no idea how the tiny being was able to do such feats, and he wasn’t entirely sure if it scared him or not. “No powers to my knowledge.”

Winta didn’t look entirely like she believed him. “Are aliens gonna take over the world?”

“Of course not.” Din said, knowing full well that was a distinct possibility.

“He likes you.” Winta said, saying it as though stating a fact not up for debate.

“Hm.” Din said noncommittally. As if insulted by Din’s lack of agreement, the kid shouted a stern ‘Ah!’ and stuffed several cards into his mouth. Din sighed, beginning to wrangle out the slobbery playing cards.

“What are you gonna do if bad guys come?” Winta said. “That’s why you and Aunt Cara are here, right? Do they want the baby? Like in E.T?”

“Uh.” Din said, feeling more uncomfortable than ever.

“Winta?” Omera stuck her head out, and Din let out a breath he didn’t realize he had been holding. “Can you come here?”

Winta frowned. “Am I in trouble?”

Omera smiled slightly. “No, no. I just...you can help me make lunch.”

Surprised, Din glanced at the clock on the wall. It was almost one o’ clock. Winta had been kicking his ass at cards for hours. When was the last time the kid ate? Guilt bloomed in his chest. No wonder the child was trying to eat the cards.

He stood up, grabbing the kid. “Do you need help?” He asked, surprising himself with the offer.

Omera smiled slightly. “No, it’s fine. Um...are sandwiches okay?”

Din nodded, starting in surprise when the kid made a kamikaze leap for a housefly that buzzed by. He barely caught them. “Y-yeah, that’s fine.”

Winta gave Din and her mother an unidentifiable look before rushing out to help Omera with lunch. Cara ducked out, an odd look on her face. “You were in there a long time.” Din said.

Cara shrugged, looking uncomfortable. “We had a lot to talk about.”

Din nodded, sensing she didn’t want to divulge any details.

“We can stay.” Cara said. “Even though we...you know.” She motioned to the kid.

“How long?” Din asked.

“She didn’t say.” Cara said. “But I think we need to leave before the week is out. You know, for safety purposes.”

Winta’s bleak outlook on her aunt echoed in Din’s mind, but he didn’t say anything. “Yeah.” He said, looking down at the kid, who looked straight into Din’s eyes, quiet gaze seeming to stare straight through his soul. “Yeah, I guess so.”

Chapter Text

Charles, Maryland

Winta fought strongly against going to school on Monday, wanting to play with the kid as opposed to furthering her future.

Omera finally managed to force her out, Winta still scowling even as she boarded the bus. Din couldn’t entirely blame her for not wanting to leave. It was cold outside, and raining. But it was just warm enough to keep the rain from turning to snow, and even opening the door made Din wince at the unpleasant temperature.

The kid whined, though from missing his playmate or something else, Din didn’t know.

Omera glanced at him, expression unreadable. Din shifted, trying to think of what to say. “She’s not gonna...tell everyone. Right?”

Omera smiled slightly, managing to look somewhat amused by Din’s nervousness. “No. I explained to her that she can’t tell anyone at all. She won’t. She’s a smart kid.”

Din nodded, a small weight off his shoulders. He felt something tug at his pant leg, and saw the kid gripping his pant leg in his tiny, three fingered hands. He cooed when he saw he had Din’s attention, reaching up to be picked up.

Din sighed, indulging them. By the time he got them back to their parents, they would be spoiled rotten.

If you get them back. If you find them. If they even want him back. If this isn’t some ploy to take over the world. If they don’t kill you or they aren’t dead or you aren’t dead-

“I wanted to thank you.” Omera said suddenly.

Din blinked, a bit surprised. “I’m sorry?”

“For playing with Winta yesterday while me and Cara were talking.” She smiled slightly. “She really enjoyed it.”

Din paused, trying to process this. It wasn’t as if he had taught her to drive. He played card games with her and taught her a few new ones. “It’s not a big deal. She was just bored.” Din said, then immediately worried he sounded rude. “I mean-”

“She’s just...been a bit lonely lately, I think.” Omera said. “Little things like that mean a lot to kids.” She glanced at the kid, maybe unconsciously.

“Oh.” Din said. He shifted nervously, realizing the kid was chewing on his shirt. He sighed. “Sorry if you’re missing any pocket change.” He said.

Omera smiled, looking amused. “That’s how small children are. You never realize how many things are choking hazards until you see them try to eat everything they can get their hands on.”

The child looked up at Din, an innocent grin on his face. Din realized with a jolt this little monster would eat bullets given half a chance, and unfortunately had access to them if Din wasn’t careful.

“I have some toys for him.” Omera said. “Things Winta doesn’t use anymore. I can clean them off, he can use them.”

“I-I don’t want to take any of Winta’s stuff.” Din said, strangely embarrassed to take charity from Omera, despite knowing he desperately needed those sorts of things. He ran through a mental checklist of things he wished he had: food that he knew was okay for the kid, some extra clothes (for all of them), toys, some blankets would be nice, and a carseat would soothe Din’s worries that the seatbelt was going to strangle the kid if he took a turn that was too sharp-

“It’s fine.” Omera interrupted his mental panic at his own incompetence, and Din was grateful for it. “I have lots of baby stuff that I never really got rid of. I meant to donate it, but I’m glad I didn’t now.”

“You really don’t have too.” Din said.

“I want to.” Omera said, voice serious. That shut Din up, although he couldn’t place why.

“...thank you.” Din managed to say. “I…” He laughed with no humor. “I really have no idea what I’m doing.”

“He seems happy. That’s a good start.” Omera said. She poked her head in the kitchen, where Cara was dozing at the countertop. Omera sighed, throwing a balled up napkin at her sister, hitting her in the back of the head. Cara jerked up, startled, and scowled slightly.

“You could have asked nicely.” Cara grumbled.

“Mhm.” Omera said. “Come on, I need your help.”

*** *** ***

“My God, the younger the target audience, the more difficult the set-up.” Cara said, frustrated over her lack of success in putting together a car seat.

Omera glanced down from the attic, looking amused. “It’s really not rocket science. Snap the pieces together.” She passed Din another box, this one seeming to be full of books.

“Yeah, but what if I break it?” Cara asked.

“You won’t if you’re doing it right.” Din said.

“You two are talking in circles, trying to humiliate me.” Cara decided.

“You don’t need my help with that.” Din said, unable to resist a large grin.

Cara kicked at him, and he darted away. “How many coins has this kid eaten?” She asked.

“Hey, for all I know, metal could be an important part of his diet.” Din said.

“It was under your couch! That’s disgusting no matter what!” Cara said. The kid laughed at their argument, seeming to take pleasure in the light-hearted banter as opposed to the screaming car fights.

“I might have directions to it buried in my junk cabinet if it’s that difficult.” Omera said.

Cara threw her hands up in disgust. “Why the hell didn’t you lead with that?!” She huffed, gathering the scattered parts of the carseat and making the journey downstairs.

The kid wriggled to be put down, and Din obliged, smiling when he saw them immediately climb into the box and root through the books, giving an excited ‘Ah ah ah!’ when they found something they liked. The tiny claws held up a thin picture book that was nearly the size of them, looking excited.

“Whatcha got there?” Din asked, grabbing it. The cover featured a rather disgruntled looking bat, toppled over a tree branch as though it had crashed.

“Stellaluna.” Din muttered the title aloud, amused by it. The kid babbled excitedly, waving their arms, perhaps pantomiming what they imagined the plot of the book to be.

“You don’t say.” Din agreed amiably. He glanced up to the still open attic. “Doing okay up there?” Din called. There was no answer.

Din paused, and passed the book back to the kid. “Omera?” He called. Still nothing.

Worst case scenarios flooded his mind, and he glanced at the kid. “Stay here.” He told them, and they tilted their head, seeming to understand, but having no intention of obeying if a better option came up.

Din carefully climbed the ladder into the attic, feeling like this was an invasion of privacy. It was cold in the attic, and dim too, his eyes straining to make out boxes, chairs, and a hanging coat that he thought was some sort of ghost for a moment.

“Omera?” He called.

Something shuffled, and he glanced behind him to see Omera emerged, her face odd and pale. Din felt nervous. Was she sick? Hurt? “You okay?” He asked.

Omera nodded. “Yeah.” She said, her voice thick. She rubbed her eyes. “Just...got distracted. Sorry.”

Din climbed to the top of the ladder, sitting to face her so he could still keep an eye on the kid. “I...thank you. For all this. I...I really appreciate it.”

Omera shook her head. “Really, it’s fine, all this has just been collecting dust, it’s about time I got rid of it.”

Din looked around, desperately trying to make conversation. His eyes fell on the coat. “I thought that was a person when I came up for a second.” He said, feeling stupid the second it came out of his mouth.

Omera followed his gaze, and burst out laughing. “That...that used to be my dad’s. I don’t think he ever used it, it just...sat on the coat hanger. If I had a dollar every time it scared me…” She giggled, and Din saw with some shock her eyes were misty.

“One time…” She paused to collect herself, breaking into laughter just from the thought of the story. “One time Cara snuck out, and no one noticed she was gone. Then, in the middle of the night, we heard this awful screaming. My...my dad ran down, and saw her screaming in horror at his stupid coat because she thought it was a murderer.” She broke down into laughter again, and Din smiled too, picturing the scene.

“Did she ever sneak out again?” Din asked. Omera shook her head.

“I don’t think so, and if she did, she didn’t scream when she saw the coat.” Omera rubbed at her eyes again. “God, sorry, I’m a mess-”

“It’s okay.” Din interrupted. “I...are you alright?”

She nodded. “Yeah, just...a lot of memories, you know?” She took a deep breath. “I...did Cara tell you…?”

“About your parents?” Din asked delicately. “Yeah, she did. I’m sorry.” He said. An apology felt ridiculously inadequate. What did it fix? Nothing. Condolences always felt empty and awkward.

But Omera smiled slightly. “Thank you. I...it just kinda comes up sometimes. When you don’t expect it. And I’m happy Cara is here, I am! I missed her. It’s just...I don’t know when I’ll see her again after she leaves. Especially with her current situation.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to drag you or Cara into this.” Din said.

“It’s not your fault.” Omera said. “You were doing the right thing. So was Cara.”

Din nodded. It certainly didn’t feel right to drag this family through more when they had already been through so much. Omera paused, and grabbed a box. “Here.” She said. “I’m guessing you didn’t have time to grab any clothes.” She handed it to Din. “They were...some of John’s, and I never got rid of them. I don’t know why-”

“Oh, no.” Din said. “Oh no, I can’t take this.” He tried to hand the box back, but Omera shook her head.

“It’s time I got rid of them. And like I said, I’ll be happy knowing they got some use.” Omera said, voice wavering, but only slightly. Din didn’t know if her husband had died or left, but he certainly wasn’t going to ask. Although the lack of photos of any man in the house gave him a rough idea of what had transpired.

“I…” Din swallowed hard. “Thank you. I...I don’t know how to repay you.”

Omera smiled, rather sadly. “I got to see my sister, at least for a little while. That’s more than enough.”

Din opened his mouth, unsure what he wanted to say, unsure how to express it-

“Hey.” Cara’s head poked up into the attic, and frowned when she saw the two. She looked like she wanted to say something and then decided against it. “So...there’s good news and bad news. Good news is, I got the carseat together. Kid’s already sitting in it.”

“And the bad news? I-oh.” Din said, already knowing.

Cara nodded. “There’s a weird black car sitting outside.” Her eyes widened when she saw the coat. “Holy shit, the ghost coat!”

*** *** ***

Dust tickled Din’s nose, and the kid squirmed, but he refused to loosen his grip.

The trio was huddled in the attic, hiding behind a chest as Omera allowed the agents through her house, chatting to them with surprising ease. She was so nonchalant that Din would have believed her normalcy had he not been hiding in the attic himself. He could see where Winta got her poker face from.

“One of the fugitives is your sister. How long has it been since you’ve seen her?” A voice said, horrifyingly clear. They were right under them.

Din was relieved that he had least had the foresight to switch his license plates. He may no longer have stashed money, but he never got rid of his extra license plates.

“Oh…” Omera’s voice sounded wistful. “It’s been years. We...we aren’t exactly close. I would probably be her last resort.”

Cara winced as though jabbed with a knife.

“Anyway, is that all? My daughter will be home from school soon, so if we could wrap this up…” Omera trailed off, probably hoping the agents would take their cue and leave.

“Is that an attic?” One of them asked, and Din felt nauseous.

“Oh, yes.” Omera said, her voice shockingly causal. “I can’t remember the last time I went up there. It’s not finished, you know, so it’s not exactly stable to walk through.”

“We’ll be the judge of that.” There was rustling, and Din heard the floor creak, and the folded ladder began to move.

“Sir, I’ll have to ask you to stop. I let you in without a warrant because I wanted to help, but you can’t just go through my private space.” Omera said.

“Sounds like something a person with something to hide would say.” An agent said, nasty. Light peeked through the floor. Din didn’t have his gun on him. Curse child safety!

“Sounds like something a person who wants their rights respected would say!” Omera snapped back.

“It’s a matter of national security.” The agent argued, poking his head through the attic entrance. His head swiveled around the room, locking eyes with Din. His face with slack with shock-

And then he blinked, and a glazed look went through his eyes. “Nothing up here.” He said in a dead voice, still staring straight at Din.

Din didn’t dare move. There was no way the agent hadn’t seen him, but why was he ignoring him? Why did he look as though he was sleepwalking?

The agent climbed down the ladder, and the attic entrance closed. “Let’s go.” The blank-eyed agent said.

“Sir? Are you sure?” His partner asked, sounding surprised.

“I’m sure. Let’s go. They’re not here.” The agent said, voice just as devoid of feeling. But the other seemed to listen, and Din heard them leave.

He felt the kid shift in his arms, and looked down to see them slumped over, looking exhausted. Just like when they blew up the cars…

Din felt a flash of fear go through him at the kid’s powers, but he filed it away as something to worry about later. Right now, he needed to focus on getting out of here with the kid.

After what felt like a million years, Omera came into the attic. “They’re gone.” She said, sounding confused. “How…?”

“It doesn’t matter.” Din said, even though it did matter, very much. “What’s important is that they suspect you. We can’t stay here.”

*** *** ***

Winta was considerably worse at hiding her sorrow than her mother.

When she returned from school and saw Din quickly packing his car, she burst into tears. Her emotions quickly spread to the exhausted kid, who took her grief as their own. Between Winta and the kid’s sleepy sobbing, Din felt like bursting into tears himself.

“Got everything?” Cara asked, carefully placing a box filled with supplies in the back of the car. Din nodded.

“Do you have to go?” Winta asked, pressed against her mother.

“It’s not safe for us to be around you. We don’t want you and your mom to get in trouble.” Din said.

Winta sniffled. “I’m gonna miss him.”

The kid gave an unhelpful wail.

“Thank you again.” Din said to Omera. “Are you sure there’s nothing I can do to repay you?”

Omera shook her head. “How many times do I have to tell you? I don’t want payment.”

“Then...I can only say thank you.” Din said.

Omera smiled. “You’re welcome.”

Din climbed into the car, and paused, glancing at Cara, who was staring at her nails in the passenger seat. She caught him staring, and looked embarrassed. “What? Do I have food in my teeth or something?”

“You should stay.” Din blurted out.

Cara blinked. “What?”

“You should stay.” Din glanced out to Omera and Winta, who looked surprised by his statement. “I mean...if it’s okay with them, obviously-”

“Aunt Cara’s staying?!” Winta said excitedly, as though a trip to Disney had been announced.

“Din, I...I can’t, it’s not…” Cara said weakly, but Din shook his head.

“They’re not looking for you. They want me and the kid. And we’ll be fine.” Din said.

Cara bit her lip, looking a mix of hopeful and guilty. “I…”

“Cara.” Din said softly. “Please. You’ve been alone for a long time.”

“So have you.” Cara argued.

“I got the little gremlin.” Din motioned to the carseat, where the kid had already passed out. “What more could I need?”

Cara was still, seeming to think it through. Finally, she smiled slightly. “You just want to get rid of me, don’t you?”

Din smiled back. “I’ve been waiting to drop your dead weight since D.C.”

“Jerk.” She laughed, and climbed out of the car. Winta cheered, rushing up to her aunt and hugging her tightly. Cara looked surprised, stumbling back, but slowly returned the hug.

“Don’t do anything stupid.” Cara said. “And call me if you get into trouble.”

“No promises.” Din glanced at Winta. “Beat your aunt at poker for me, okay?”

“Uh huh.” Winta nodded. “Don’t forget about us!”

“I won’t.” Din said. He glanced at Omera, locking eyes with her for just a moment. In that moment, he was so close to saying to hell with it, throwing away everything, content to stay and hide in the attic if he had too-

The kid shuffled in their sleep.

“Thank you again for your kindness.” Din said.

Omera smiled, warm but full of melancholy.

“See you around.” Din said.

Cara nodded. “See you around.”

*** *** ***

Outskirts of Baltimore, Maryland

It was three in the morning, but Din could not fall asleep.

He wondered, uselessly, what the others were doing. Omera had surely put Winta to bed by now. Did Cara help? Maybe. Probably. Actually, Din was nearly certain Cara was doting on her niece, making up for lost time. He doubted Winta would hold it against her. She was a good kid.

He smiled at the thought of Winta demolishing Cara in card games.

There was a soft whine from the backseat, and Din turned, seeing the kid wriggle around. “Just woke up?” He said softly. “Yeah, I bet that trick with the agents wore you out. Nice job.”

He leaned back, unbuckling the kid, letting them sit on his lap. The kid looked up at Din, eyes still filled with trust, but also sadness.

“Yeah.” Din said. “I wish we didn’t have to leave too.”

The kid wriggled suddenly, wanting to be put down. Din let them crawl away, and they rummaged through a few of the boxes before calling out with an excited ‘Ah ah ah!’, lifting up a thin paperback book nearly as large as they were.

Stellaluna.

“Did you steal that?” Din said, lifting the kid up and setting them in the passenger seat. “I’m gonna have to arrest you now. Sorry, those are the rules.”

The kid laughed, though whether they were laughing from the joke, or just happy to be present, Din had no idea. They waved the book.

“Alright, I get the message.” Din took the book, pausing when the kid made a protesting sound, reaching up...reaching up to be held.

Slowly, heart aching for a more domestic setting, Din picked up the child, letting them snuggle into his side, getting comfortable before he opened the book to the first page, positioning it so the kid could see every picture.

Din cleared his throat. “In a warm and sultry forest, far far away, there once lived a mother fruit bat and her new baby…”

It was an odd setting, reading an alien child a story about bats and birds, sleeping in a parked car hidden behind an Arby’s, and on the run from agents who would likely kill him and do unspeakable things to the child.

Little things like that mean a lot to kids.

It was very little, this tiny picture book. But it meant the world to the kid. And the child’s presence, trusting and content, meant the world to Din.

Din fell asleep immediately after finishing the book, dreams filled with complex card games and bats that ate bugs.

Chapter Text

Baltimore, Maryland

George Usher sighed, rushing back into the office building.

He had already had to stay late, having been forced to work on the newest pack of finances. His company had recently gone through a rather large merger, and while he welcomed the higher salary that came with his business, he detested the extra workload.

And now, having left his phone in his office, he was forced to march back through the sludge to retrieve it. The sun was going down, giving the alleyways an unpleasant shadowy look that made every object taller than three feet look like a crouching figure.

George shivered, rushing back into the office building. His shoes clicked rhythmically on the linoleum, replacing the constant chatter of voices and buzzing of phones. It was strangely disconcerting, and George quickened his pace, flicking on the bright lights to his corner of the building.

He ducked into his office, rummaging through a few drawers before he paused. The buzz of the air conditioner-or thermostat, or whatever the constant hum of all establishments was-was loud, and more rhythmic. The sound was ragged, concentrated in the vents in the far corner of his office.

Someone was breathing, hiding.

By the time George came to this conclusion, he was already dead.

*** *** ***

Din hated living.

Or rather, he hated the act of it.

It was complicated. He disliked cities, with large crowds and constant noise, but he felt isolated and paranoid in open spaces, such as the country. The only place he had felt comfortable in years was…

Well, he couldn’t go back there.

The kid whined, waving his tiny arms uselessly at the door lock. “I know you want out.” Din said. “But you can’t jump out of a moving car.”

He had been driving in circles around Baltimore for hours, trying to find a motel that was shady enough to let him in, but nice enough to not get stabbed while he slept. Such a balance was difficult to find, especially in this shithole part of the city.

He sighed deeply, wondering if it was worth it to sleep in the car again. Probably not. He had already had a run in with a cop, who had rapped his knuckles on the windows and told Din to move along. Din had agreed to leave, and there was no incident, but he was left shaking hours afterward. If the cop had just moved his head a tad to the left and seen the kid…

He shook the thought away.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a small motel. Small, with no cars in the front. He smiled slightly. Perfect. He rolled into the parking lot, suddenly hit with a wave of exhaustion so powerful he nearly passed out on the spot.

“Sorry kid.” Din said, turning to spot the little green baby, who made a face. “Yeah, I know. But you gotta go in the bag. It’s only for a minute.”

The kid whined, but didn’t protest too much when Din put him in the ragged messenger bag that served as their makeshift baby carrier. Din locked his car, stumbling forward to the motel entrance. The receptionist, a young woman with hair dyed a hot pink that hurt Din’s eyes, glanced up.

“Can I help you?” She asked. Din half wanted to snap at her, ask why else he would be in here, but he decided against it.

“What’s the rate?” He asked, fishing through his pocket for the crumpled money that he had either found or made doing random odd jobs-shoveling driveways free of snow was a popular one. He dreaded to think of what might happen when spring came.

“For a single room?” The woman asked. Her name tag said ‘Deidre’. It was oddly unfitting for her bold hairstyle, in Din’s opinion. “Ten bucks a night.”

“Great.” Din brought out a crumpled ten dollar bill and dropped it on the counter, Alexander Hamilton’s smug face mocking him. “I assume you have a vacancy.”

“Hmph.” Deidre said, eyebrows raised. Her eyebrows were pink too. “Yeah, alright. Just tonight?”

“We’ll see.” Din said. “I’ll pay as it goes.”

“You better.” Deidre said, glancing at a clunky phone sitting next to her that looked like it belonged in the 90s, but no doubt worked, and could be used to call the cops. She rummaged through a drawer, pulling out a key with a yellow tag on it. “Room eight.” She said.

“Thanks.” Din said, holding the bag close to him. He felt the kid wriggle in it, clearly uncomfortable. He rushed down the hall, and ducked into room eight, locking the door and pushing a chair against the wall for good measure. He set the bag on the ground, and the kid tumbled out, looking grumpy.

“Sorry.” Din said, stumbling over and collapsing on the bed. He heard a whine, and forced his eyes open to see the kid looking up at him with sad eyes. “I’m sorry.” Din said again. “I’m too tired to play now.”

The kid blinked as though Din had claimed to have an extra head. He whined, waving his arms, wanting to be picked up. Din sighed, leaning over and hauling the kid next to him. “I’m serious. I can’t play now.”

The kid’s ears drooped, but this time seemed to accept that now was not a good time. They squeaked, managing to snuggle up between Din and the crook of his arm. Din sighed. “Alright. I’ll try not to roll over on you.”

He was asleep before the kid could respond.

*** *** ***

Paying for a few bananas at the front of the convenience store a few blocks away from the motel suddenly took a turn when Din realized he was being followed.

The cashier handed him back his change in nickels, and Din saw a man behind him, his face obscured by a hat, watching him closely. He seemed familiar, although Din couldn’t place how. And he didn’t care.

Silently glad he had left the kid in the motel room, Din took off, hugging his jacket close to his body. He glanced in a window, and saw the man was still following him. He took a sharp turn into an alley, nearly sprinting when he knew he was out of the stalker’s line of sight.

It proved to be a bad choice quickly. He was quickly met with a dead end.

“You’ve gotten yourself into a lot of trouble, haven’t you, Djarin?” A voice said. Din winced. Now he recognized the voice, and he almost wished it was an anonymous cop, ready to take him in.

Din turned, glaring fiercely, recognizing his old captain anywhere. “Hello Ran.” He growled.

The man smiled, his beard more unruly than ever. “So you have. Any other day, I’d take you in and reward myself with the rest of the day off…” Ran’s smile widened. “But I hear you’re talented at cases like these.”

“Cases?” Din asked.

Ran pulled something out of his bag. A manilla folder. A thin one, at that. Ran’s smile never dropped. “How do you feel about serial killers?”