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Pain

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The funny thing about pain is that, after a while, he didn’t feel it anymore. Sometime during his life, pain stopped becoming something he felt and more like something he knew. It became a companion, a friend, or at least something he could depend on even when he couldn’t depend on those around him.

He figured it started young when his life was ripped from him in the span of mere moments. His home ravaged, parents gone, he was sure that would be the end. And then the Mandalorians found him, took him in. But still, the pain from that day followed him through the galaxy.

And then came the pain from his job. Being a bounty hunter wasn’t the safest career choice in the galaxy, and he came back to his ship beat up and bruised more often than not. That pain would settle deep in his bones, exacerbated by his inability to take even one day off. Endless days of brawls compounded into the pain becoming one with him, something that was there in the back of his mind but could be ignored. Especially helpful when he was in the bowels of the ship, cauterizing his particularly bad wounds, further littering his skin with jagged scars.

Loneliness was a different pain, but one that was more easily ignored. He’s used to being alone, very rarely joining others in an attempt to capture a particularly hard to find bounty. He was fine being alone on his ship, no one to worry about seeing him without his helmet, defenseless. It wasn’t until he would stop to visit the covert, give what he could to them, that the pain that comes with loneliness felt almost deafening. His people were scattered, their community ravaged. A community that took him in and raised him themselves. That loneliness hurt worse, but over time he managed to compartmentalize it, let it push him to work harder, to provide for them more.

So Din knew pain, knew it intimately. Knew how to handle it, how to embrace it and move on. He was comfortable in his pain, even.

Which is what made taking the kid in so hard.

He knew how to take care of himself and his own run-ins with pain, but he didn’t know how to shield the kid from those same horrors. Yet here he was, the child entrusted to him indefinitely while Din maintained his career. It was hard, harder than he had ever even expected, but he made it work. As much as he could, that is.

But the kid was apparently more in tune with his emotions than Din had ever been. For some reason, the kid’s favorite way to spend his time (aside from eating and using his weird powers to steal the ball on top of a lever in the cockpit) was crying. Those big bright eyes would fill with tears at a moment’s notice, the wailing following closely behind. Din tried to comfort him, giving the kid the metal ball he seemed so enamored with, carrying him, but nothing seemed to help. He just tired himself out, waking up feeling just as playful as ever.

So Din couldn’t quite help fight off that pain, but at least it wasn’t outward pain. That, Din could protect the kid from, always putting himself between any danger and the child. Even still, the crying tore at Din’s nerves every time the kid had another fit, but he was handling it.

Or he thought he was, until the child had a week long crying fit. Din tried everything he could think of to calm the child down, get him to relax even a little. Nothing worked and Din had to let him cry himself to sleep to finally get some peace and quiet in the ship. He thought he knew pain, knew how to handle it, but the pain in his eardrums while the child cried was almost unbearable.

While he was hesitant to be planetside while the child was dealing with this sudden onset of emotions, Din had no other options. He had to restock on food and hunt down leads to find the child’s kind. Luckily, the child was asleep in his pod as Din landed, and he was intent on going to the market and back as quick as possible. He could handle the child’s crying on his ship, could attempt to help him through it away from prying eyes, but he was sure that when he was in public it would be a different story. With the child asleep, he should be able to go to the market and get back to the ship quickly.

But Din’s luck has never been that good.

The market was busy, almost too busy for his own comfort but the child was asleep and quiet for the first time in a week and Din was intent on making the most of it. Halfway through the market, though, the child’s soft cries started spilling from the pod and Din quickened his pace. The crowd thickened as he made his way through the market and he cursed under his breath as the child started crying louder.

He was turning to check on the child, ensure his pod was following closely enough not to get lost, when a man distracted by a few stalls down the way ran bodily into Din. His vambrace took the worst of it as the man in question stumbled to right himself, mumbling apologies to the mandalorian standing before him. Din waved him off before turning back to the pod. The pod that was now open. The pod that no longer contained the child.

Din cursed under his breath, moving quickly through the crowd around him to find the child. His pulse was pounding in his ears, eyes scanning every bit of the market in hopes of finding the child. Desperation was beginning to sink in as Din moved further into the market, ears straining in hopes of hearing the child’s cries.

Finally, as Din neared the last few stalls of the market, he caught a glimpse of the child’s green form through a curtain as it flapped in the breeze. And he wasn’t alone. Din slipped quietly through the curtain and took in the scene before him, hand resting on his blaster just in case. You were crouched on the ground, the child wrapped in your arms as you tried to soothe his tears.

“Hey little guy, it’s okay.” Your voice was soft, quiet, as you rocked the child in your arms slowly. “It’s been a long day for you, huh? Do you have a mommy? Should we find her?” The cries that had started to slow we’re gaining in pitch again and you followed quickly, “or a daddy? Where’s your dad?” The child cooed, waving his hands in the air between the two of you, tears forgotten. “Yeah? You wanna find your dad? Is he….green, too?”

Something akin to a laugh came from the child then as you stood up and Din stepped forward. “Where did you find him?” he asked, watching through his visor as the child clutched onto one of your fingers in his tiny hand, a smile on his face.

“He came toddling this way,” you explained, eyes narrowed at the mandalorian in front of you. “He was crying, I thought he was hurt.”

“He’s not hurt,” Din said quickly. “Not…physically, at least.” At your raised eyebrow, he sighed and continued. “He’s been crying nonstop for a week. I haven’t been able to calm him down.”

“What’s the matter, you little womp rat? You just need some attention?” Your attention was back on the child, Din standing in front of you awkwardly. The child seemed attached to you already, babbling excitedly as you nodded along with whatever he was saying.

“Do you need a job?” Din asked suddenly, visor tilted so he could meet your eyes. Your head rocked up sharply and he noticed you clutching the child slightly closer.

“What kind of job?” you asked, voice laced with suspicion.

“The child, he needs someone to care for him. I can’t keep taking him out when I’m going after bounties and he obviously likes you. I’ll pay you, of course,” Din explained as you stood up, moving towards him.

“Why not?” You shrugged, tapping the kid on his nose before handing him over to Din. “I love a good adventure.”

That was all the explanation you offered, and the look you gave him told Din that you wouldn’t be elaborating any time soon. He understood the need to leave a planet at the first opportunity, however, and you didn’t exactly owe him your life story. Maker knew you wouldn’t be getting his.

The Crest was noisy all the time now, filled with the sounds of you and the kid. Din never thought about that, about how adding another person to the ship would alter his way of living so much. He wasn’t used to hearing another person’s voice carry through the ship, wasn’t used to the child’s babbling being met with an answer so quickly.

Not that it was a bad thing, of course, but it definitely took some getting used to.

At least you never expected him to fill the space in the ship with words of his own. You had quickly managed to decipher the meaning of each tilt of his helmet, requiring very little actual words from him. Still, he found himself answering questions you threw at the child more and more, questions about the kid’s family (no one seemed to know anything about that), what the kid’s favorite food was (gotta keep him away from frog eggs), what the kid’s name is (also unknown), and what his name was (you can call me Mando, everyone else does).

So Din was getting used to having you around, to opening up more. You were respectful of his needs and gave him as much privacy as you could in the small ship, and the kid had fewer breakdowns than he had before you hopped on ship. And now Din could go after higher paying bounties, ones he’d passed on when he had to take the kid with him.

Of course, with one more person on board the ship, that meant Din had one more person to shield from any pain. It was hard, harder than he’d anticipated, for sure. Maintaining the child’s safety was easier, he never had to worry about him asking too many questions or venturing off on his own and putting himself in harm’s way. You were a human, grown, with curiosity in your eyes and a penchant for wandering whenever you could.

That was fine with Din when his job led him to safer planets, allowing you to take the child off and see what the planet had to offer while Din got to work. But on the seedier planets, the mere idea that you would journey off by yourself made Din’s heart seize in panic. He couldn’t shield you from pain if he was hunting down a bounty and you were gallivanting across dangerous planets.

It was for this very reason that he still found himself accepting only the smallest bounties from Karga, ensuring he never took you and the kid anywhere too dangerous months into your partnership. He told himself it was so you could settle into a rhythm on the ship, that things wouldn’t change too much for you. But he knew the real reason was that he couldn’t even consider how much pain he’d have to deal with if something were to happen to you and the child when he took a larger bounty.

What he didn’t expect was you calling him on it, on his inability to let go.

“Either you’re just too good a bounty hunter or you’re still only accepting the smaller bounties,” you mused aloud, the child cooing happily in your lap from the copilot seat in the cockpit. “I suspect the latter.” Your eyes settled onto the beskar covering his head, cocking your own head to the side as he sat up impossibly straight, tension settling in his shoulders.

“I’m very well known,” he answered finally, voice even. “Bounties haven’t been putting up that much of a fight.”

“Whatever you say, Mando.” He could hear the roll of your eyes in your voice, head tilting to the side almost imperceptibly as he heard you begin to stand up. “Come on, kid, let’s leave your dad alone so he can practice scaring the big bad bounties into submission.”

And then you were gone, and Din released the tension from his shoulders, letting out a long breath. He could no longer pretend he wasn’t protecting himself rather than you and the child, and the three of you could use the financial stability the rougher bounties afforded.

Your voice, followed by the happy chirps from the child, filtered up from the bowels of the ship into the cockpit and Din sighed, knowing he couldn’t keep putting it off. He had handled juggling the child’s pain with his own, he could handle one more person’s. He was the Mandalorian, after all.

Din spent almost too much time going over safety protocols on the Crest, quizzing you time and time again on what you would do in different situations before he ever left the ship the first time he had to follow a bounty to a planet he deemed too dangerous to allow you or the child out without him there to protect you. You rolled your eyes at him the whole time, exasperation rolling off of you in waves, but Din refused to cut corners regarding your or the child’s safety.

As it turns out, he had no real reason to be so scared about leaving the two of you alone. There weren’t any major issues, and the minor ones that had arisen you handled with ease.

It was these moments - the ones where Din returned with a bounty and you regaled him with stories about how you took a stranger out with his spare blaster when they got a little too close to the kid or how the power had gone out during a freak storm and you managed to get it back up and running - that Din realized he didn’t know much about you at all. Neither of you knew each other, not really, and probably never would.

Din never regretted his life as a mandalorian. It was all he knew, where he was comfortable. Being a solitary being allowed him certain freedoms he wasn’t sure he’d be afforded if his life were any different. He had never really had a reason to think his life wasn’t giving him everything he needed.

That is, until you ended up in his life.

Everyday, he heard you bond with the kid, telling him stories about your life before you came aboard the Crest. He would find small reasons to leave the cockpit, joining you and the kid during these times, learning what he could about you. He was desperate to connect with you, even just a little, and that fact startled him more than he thought it would. And the more he learned about you, the more he wished he could tell you about himself, open himself up to you the same way.

Granted, it’s not like you ever asked him to. Sure, he caught your sideways glances at him as you played with the child, rambling to him as you got him his snacks, but Din wasn’t sure you wanted to know anything about him. And it’s not like the information he had gathered from you was purposeful on your part, he was just eavesdropping on you and the kid.

But Maker, there was just something about you that had Din regretting his solitary life more than ever, a small pang of pain hitting his chest. He would never turn his back on his family; they had saved him, took him in as a foundling and raised him. But he wished he was able to be more open with you, allow you to tear down the walls he had so carefully constructed around himself.

He doesn’t have too much time to dwell on this new kind of pain he’s feeling, not with the hunt for the kid’s, or Grogu, as Din had learned earlier, people growing more urgent, more serious. Until it wasn’t just the search for Grogu’s people that was serious, but the search for Grogu himself. The Crest was gone, obliterated, Grogu had been kidnapped, and Din was feeling lost, feeling his pain in a whole new way.

All of the pain he’d felt through his life up to that moment had been underlying, even the physical pain had merely become a part of himself. He hadn’t had to deal with any pain about lost people or belongings, those were just things that would happen in his life and he’d have to move on, he knew exactly how to move on. But missing Grogu made it feel as if someone had ripped Din’s heart right from his chest and stomped on it in front of him. He had to attempt to make himself comfortable on Boba’s ship, relying on him and Fennec for help, and pretend like he wasn’t missing Grogu to such a paralyzing extent. And not just Grogu, but the home he had made with Grogu in the rust bucket of a ship he called his own. It was all a lot to handle, more than Din thought he was able to.

And that wasn’t even accounting for the pain he could tell you were feeling. You were good at hiding it from him, good at putting a mask over your emotions and doing whatever work was put in front of you. He caught your sideways glances in his direction every time there was another small detour you all had to make, another crisis that must be averted, yet you never showed any weakness. But when you were able to get free time to yourself, Din knew you spent a good chunk of it crying to yourself, mourning Grogu’s loss. On some level, Din knew you had grown to love the child, to enjoy your time on the Crest with his small family, but to hear your emotions break out freely, tears streaming down your face when you thought no one was around was enough to make Din’s heart break even more.

But with that pain he was feeling came a more intense need to recover the child, to bring a smile to your face once again. Din would do anything to see a smile on your face, to see you snuggling with Grogu and telling him stories.

He just never expected to see it again like this.

The two of you got separated when you boarded Moff Gideon’s ship with your small legion of friends. Din wasn’t worried, he knew you could take care of yourself, and having the two of you on the hunt for Grogu would surely mean you would find him in half the time. Even if he had wanted to, there was no way Din would even have time to worry about your safety when he found himself fighting Gideon and facing off against a dark trooper. But he knew you were in safe hands, could find your way back to Cara if you needed any help, so he pushed the thought of you out of his mind to focus on the task at hand - saving his son, saving Grogu.

It wasn’t until everyone was on the bridge of the ship, watching as dark troopers stormed the ship in droves, that Din realized you were nowhere to be seen. The panic began to set in then, worry heavy like a stone in the pit of his stomach. Even Grogu looked worried, ears down as his eyes filled with tears. As much as Din wanted to leave the relative safety of the bridge to find you, Gideon’s commentary on how futile it would be to square off against the dark troopers was ringing in his ears, and he knew it was true. He could only hope you managed to evade them, to find safety somewhere.

Things changed quickly, the energy in the bridge going from tense as the troopers moved ever closer to the bridge to anticipatory as Din’s ragtag group all watched as the ship was boarded and dark troopers were taken out with ease by the stranger. And then the Jedi, Luke as he had introduced himself, was taking Grogu away and Din was sure his heart had physically cracked. He was still, slipping his helmet back on his head slowly, focused only on the fact that he had found Grogu only for him to be taken away mere moments after. Nothing around him registered in his mind until Cara was escorting Gideon back to Boba’s ship. As the two of them stepped into the elevator, Gideon’s eyes raised to meet Din’s through his helmet.

“Oh, Mando,” he called, voice sickeningly sweet. “You might want to find your partner. I haven’t seen them since you stormed my ship. There’s no telling what they’ve had to endure.”

The pain in Din’s chest turned to pure, unbridled anger and his vision went red as he started toward the elevator, ready to throttle Gideon. He sounded as if he knew something about you, something Din had refused to even consider. The smug look on Gideon’s face as the elevator door closed before Din could reach it only made him angrier and his fist met the metal of the wall beside it. How could he have let himself forget, even for a moment, that you weren’t on the bridge with him, that you were missing? His anger was growing, not just toward Gideon, but toward himself as well. He could only hope, once again, that you were safe, that he could find you and tell you that Grogu was fine, all things considered, even though he wasn’t nestled in the crook of Din’s arm like usual.

He left everyone else behind, still on the bridge, and he focused on finding you. Pushing Grogu out of his mind for now, he was safe, Din decided he could commiserate with you about him being gone when he found you. Dodging dark troopers’ bodies littering every corridor of the ship, his head was on a swivel searching for even a glimpse of you, hoping he would find you moving through the ship trying to find him.

What he didn’t expect, or maybe didn’t allow himself to even consider as an option, was finding you slumped over in an alcove, empty shells of three dark troopers blocking you mostly from his sight. He called your name softly, panic seizing his chest. You weren’t moving, weren’t responding to his calls. Panic and pain gave way once again to rage and Din ripped his helmet off, throwing it forcefully against the wall, scrubbing his gloved hands over his face.

And then a wheezing cough interrupted his moment of self hatred and his eyes shot up to look at you once again, your head still lolling awkwardly upon your neck, eyes hooded with the ghost of the smile he had been so desperate to see for so long gracing your face as you looked up at him.

“Not fair,” you spoke through a series of coughs wracking your body. Din tilted his head at you, one eyebrow raised and you couldn’t help but think if he raised that eyebrow under his helmet as well, despite the fact no one could see him. “I knew you were too damn handsome under that helmet,” you answered his silent question. Another series of coughs took over and the crack in Din’s heart widened as you took one more wheezing breath before your eyes slipped closed and it was silent.

Din knew pain, prided himself on his intimate relationship with it. It made him a better bounty hunter, made him unstoppable in battle. Pain didn’t even register for him, not really, not anymore.

But in that moment, he was sure he’d never felt real pain. His knees buckled, body collapsing onto the ground in front of your lifeless body. He had lost his son and you mere minutes apart, and he had never felt like this before in his life. He let out a guttural scream, a sound he’s sure he’d never made before, tears falling freely from his eyes. This was pain, real pain, pain coupled with a level of anger Din thought impossible. It was heavy, unyielding, and he wasn’t sure he could shoulder the weight of it, not alone. He has finally let himself leave his self imposed solitary lifestyle just for it all to be ripped away from him. He was alone again and he wasn’t sure he could do it, not again.

But he had no choice. There was no other option than to revert back to being alone, to not needing anyone. This time, at least, he would have more than pain to keep him company. This time, he would have the rage that came with it, and he was looking forward to befriending it as well.