He feels the low whine of another ship breaching the atmosphere almost as much as he hears it, and he knows without looking up that it’s Imperial. It’s a distinctive sound; but more than that, he should’ve known that they’d send more than just two transports of stormtroopers. His ship lies in ashes behind him, but that was never their priority, and so it can’t be his either. At the top of the mountain, the blue light has vanished. At the top of the mountain, the child is alone. Vulnerable.
His jetpack is where he left it - it’s been knocked around, kicked into one of the rocks, but it’ll take more than that to leave even a scratch on beskar. It slots into place on his back with all the relief of wrenching a joint back into the socket.
He’s too slow - even as he launches himself up, even as the roar of his pack and the wind around his helmet drown out his racing thoughts, he knows he won’t make it to the child before the black-clad figures. They land only moments before him, but it’s enough - they are ruthlessly, terrifyingly efficient, and they are back in the air in seconds having already dismissed him as no threat.
That is their mistake.
His visor focuses on the child - his child, his son - almost before he has consciously given the command, and his heart screams to see the careless way this new trooper grips him. He opens up the fuel lines for his pack as far as they’ll go, pours everything he can into them, but it isn’t enough. The troopers are pulling away from him, towards the cruiser that hovers above them, and he won’t be able to make up the distance on power alone.
But he is Mandalorian, and he knows how to fight with more than just power.
For a split second - barely a breath, just long enough that a chill sweeps him from head to toe, though his aim never wavers - he is sure that the whipcord is too short. That the troopers have already pulled far enough ahead that he can’t reach them even with this desperate hope. Every plate of his armour feels suddenly heavy in a way it hasn’t since he was a child and still unused to the weight, slowing him and trying to drag him back down - but then the line connects, hooks around the foot of the lowest trooper, and he instinctively reels himself in.
The trooper tilts its head down, and the cold lights where the eyes should be are
standing over him as he huddled at the back of a storage bunker -
swivelling between him and the door and the child and the blaster and -
meeting his gaze through the visor as his vision dimmed and a voice said, so gently for a droid, I am not a living thing -
not enough to make him stop, though his every muscle wants nothing more than to freeze, locked in place.
In the trooper’s arms, the child looks down at him; that means more than the terror, more than the anger, more than any of it. The child needs him. The child trusts him, trusts him to be able to get them safely out of this - he doesn’t understand what he has done to earn such an unwavering faith, only that he can’t fail the child.
He hauls himself close enough to hook an arm around the droid’s leg, and stares up past it, past the blank face shaped in a mockery of a helmet, to the droid that holds his son. Their ascent has slowed now that the troopers have taken notice of him. Now that he is perceived as a threat, he knows that his window of opportunity will be short.
Taking aim and firing in a single, smooth motion is second nature. He hits the propulsion system of the highest droid’s foot, and something within it explodes, knocking it momentarily off course. It corrects itself easily enough, compensating by ramping up the power in one of its hands, but he has already switched targets, aiming for vulnerable spots in the armour of the droid he clings to, even as he braces his feet against it. He fires twice in rapid succession and launches himself off, grappling line singing as he is pulled closer to his son -
He’s almost near enough to reach, and blaster fire glances uselessly off the beskar, leaving only the familiar smell of metal hot enough to burn -
He’s almost near enough to reach, and his son stretches down towards him, claws scrabbling uselessly at the air between them, hope and fear and exhaustion in every line of his little face -
He’s almost near enough to reach, and he’s wrenched back; his whipcord sliced through with a vibroblade that looks like it’s still too new to have seen combat -
He’s still near enough, and he doesn’t see the trooper behind him, but he can hear the whine of the propulsion well enough to take aim over his shoulder. He doesn’t miss, he knows he doesn’t miss because he never does and he can hear the ringing impact of the bolt against metal, but there is still a crushing grip at his throat moments later -
He’s near enough to see the child begin to struggle, near enough to hear the wail as the trooper rips the jetpack from his back and tosses it aside -
He’s near enough that he can stare down the barrel of the blaster that the droid holding his child aims at him. Though he knows the beskar would hold up, he also knows that isn’t where the shot will hit.
There’s enough time for him to hope, to shout out with everything that he is, that his son looks away. That he doesn’t have to see this, that his last memory of him isn’t
desperate hands pressing him down into the darkness and closing the doors of the bunker, wearing smiles that are no less loving for their finality -
this, please, let it be anything but this.
The drop and rush of freefall is an old friend that curls itself around him as he is thrown down, and a terrible heat tears through his throat. His vision flares white, brighter than anything he’s seen before, and he’s dead, he knows he’s dead, but still the ground rushes closer, and though he can’t see anything or hear the wind whistling past, he knows when he’s seconds from impact, and -
Luke jerks awake with a gasp, and immediately gags.
Artoo whistles a question behind him, but he can't give a better answer than the groan behind his clenched teeth. He shuts his eyes and swallows hard a few times until he's sure he isn't about to throw up in his lap.
There isn't much recorded about Force visions anymore - at least, not anywhere that Luke has looked - but he knows that what he saw wasn't a dream. Not really. Shaking, he presses a hand to his throat, running his fingertips over the unmarked skin there, where he swears he can still feel the impossible heat of blaster fire. There's no way of knowing if what he saw has already come to pass, but there's a twisting deep in his gut that tells him they're too late. He can't tell if it's the Force reaching out to him, or simply his own fears, but the cry for help that echoed across the galaxy to him had jolted him from meditation hours ago. There is every chance the child is long gone; their Mandalorian defender long dead.
But Luke, for all his faults, has never learnt to quit while he's ahead. Until he reaches Tython, until he finds the child, there's still a hope that he can't quite abandon.
"How much further, Artoo?" He asks, and tries to subtly clear his throat of the rasp left by sleep. Artoo is quiet for a couple of seconds, and when the answer comes, it sounds almost apologetic.
"Half an hour? I guess it could be worse - at least I managed to sleep for most of the journey." Though his neck certainly isn't thanking him for it. He stretches as best he can in the cramped cockpit, and settles back into the chair with his head tipped back to watch the blur of hyperspace pass by.
The child's Force signature still lingers in the back of his mind, too weak now to connect to, but too present to completely block out. It's just… there, impossible to forget or ignore, even as he tries to turn his thoughts to planning for what he'll do when he reaches them. It's selfish, maybe, but with no way of reaching back to them, and the flashes of a grief so deep it would drown him if it lasted longer than a few seconds at a time, he doesn't know what else to do.
In this respect, Artoo is no help at all; something Luke dryly informs him of after the droid tells him for the third time to get out of his head and back in the cockpit. The beeps he gets in reply sound distinctly insulting to Luke's entire family history, but he doesn't bother to fully translate the binary. He's pretty sure he's heard it all before, and from Artoo at least it's always said with great affection.
More time passes than he must realise; by the time he gives up trying to follow the thread of the child's connection back to them, Artoo is already prepping them to drop out of hyperspace just outside of Tython's atmosphere. He settles back, and grits his teeth against the sudden jolt as they re-enter normal space. He's long used to it, and Wedge had always said he was a natural at handling the transition. Now, though, with tension already rattling his frame and the beginnings of a headache behind his eyes, it feels like the first time all over again.
Before them, Tython looms - it’s an unimpressive planet in every respect, except that its presence in the Force hits him like a battering ram. Luke is just glad that he’s visited before, under less fraught circumstances, and knew to prepare himself for the assault across his mind.
It isn’t malicious, or even intentional, he reminds himself as he winces. As with so much of the Force, it simply exists, uncaring of how Luke feels about it.
Focusing through the Force takes more concentration than Luke remembers, though; or maybe that's a result of whatever happened on the planet's surface. He can feel it, a jagged tear that’s still bleeding, still in agony. Unlike the rest of the planet - overwhelming but bearable, something that Luke could understand once he’d experienced it, once he knew the shape of it - this feels deliberate. Something about the torn-off edges of it are familiar in a way that sickens him down to his core.
Everything in him screams to pull up, to guide the X-wing far away, to jump straight back into hyperspace and comb the galaxy planet-by-planet for the child if he has to. Anything to get away from this.
He doesn’t; instead, they set down not far from the seeing-stone the child had used to call him. There aren’t many places wide and flat enough for a ship to land, and even before he opens the cockpit, he can see the telltale signs that another craft has been here recently. Though the ground is hard, the landing gear had dug welts into the earth - one set he’s unfamiliar with, but when he pops the hatch and looks carefully around, he can see the markers of an Imperial transport not far away.
The breath he drags in shakes, and tastes of smoke.
Jumping down from his ship throws up a cloud of dust - he shivers, and takes a couple of steps, kicking up more and more of it as he goes. It’s soft, and grey, and it clings to his clothes and shoes and skin and hair and -
And Luke presses a hand to his mouth when he realises that it isn’t dust at all.
He moves slowly through the ash, trying to disturb it as little as possible. There’s so much of it, concentrated over a relatively small area; when he tentatively reaches out through the Force, he has to lock his knees so that he doesn’t fall to the ground at the sudden rush of lossfuryfear. This isn’t the source of the wound in the Force, but it is similar.
Behind him, Artoo beeps a rapid question. Luke is almost selfishly glad that the droid has stayed in the ship - it’s bad enough that he’s already trampling this place. There’s little wind on Tython, particularly here cradled between the rocks, and so the only new signs of disturbance in the ash are from Luke’s steps. He swallows the urge to apologise to whatever it was that had been destroyed, and turns towards the seeing-stone.
The rocks are still and silent, but Luke can’t shake the feeling of being watched. Gritting his teeth against the wave of pain still echoing through the Force, he reaches out to stretch his senses across the mountains. All it does is confirm what he had already known - he is the only living thing for miles in all directions.
And yet - he glances over his shoulder. Of course there’s nothing there.
He barely makes it past the first couple of rocks before he starts finding the bodies.
The stormtroopers have been abandoned where they fell, and it shouldn't come as such a surprise; the Empire had never held any of its troops in high regard, much less the footsoldiers. They've always been seen as expendable, easily replaced. Luke knows that the loss of these men probably won't register as anything more than an expense. Wasted supplies. A single line in a report, if they're lucky.
Maybe, after all this is over, he'll come back and do what he can for the bodies. Leaving them to rot out in the open doesn't sit well with him, even as the way the sun catches on bright plastoid sets his heart racing. He's still jumpy, still checks over his shoulder every few steps. Eventually he gives in to the growing sense of unease, and rolls one of the bodies over to take a closer look.
There's carbon scoring on their arm where the trooper had been grazed with a shot, and more in the centre of their chest that must have knocked them off their feet - but the killing blow had been forceful enough to shatter their helmet and the skull beneath it, leaving a bloodied mess that has Luke crying out and stumbling back.
It isn't that the trooper is dead - it isn't even the remains of their face that Luke had glimpsed between the sharp edges of plastoid, though it makes his stomach roil. He's seen death before, in the Rebellion. He's killed people before.
But it had never felt so personal as this. As a helmet, caved in with such intimate strength. He thinks, briefly, of the Mandalorian in his vision, and wonders if he had been the one to do this. If these are the lengths he would go to in defence of the child he considered his own.
Remembered heat and the false pain of a dream pulse in his throat, and he swallows heavily. This, Luke thinks, is the least of what the Mandalorian would have done.
A wave of grief crashes over him for a man he's never met - will never meet - even as he tries to quash the guilt that immediately chases it. He'd come as fast as he could, he tells himself. There was nothing he could have done to help the Mandalorian; all that's left, all he can do, is finish what he'd started and get the child back. Every moment he spends on the surface of Tython puts more distance between him and the Imperials. If they've been in hyperspace all this time, they could be halfway across the galaxy by now.
Yet, Luke finds himself facing away from the X-wing and the wreckage it had landed in, towards the seeing-stone.
There’s no real path. Perhaps there had been, once, when the temple was newly-built and still thrumming with life, but now all Luke can do is follow the trail of bodies between the rocks. He doesn’t stop to look at any of the others.
Every step up the mountain is harder than the last; Luke finds his breath coming short and sweat beads on his forehead, though the exertion isn't physical. He'd trained with the Rebellion - he'd trained with Master Yoda - and compared to that, picking his way up the mountain is nothing. His muscles don't ache, there's no strain on his body. If Han were here with him, he'd be relentless in his mockery of Luke's inability to climb a hill without getting breathless, as though Luke didn't spend hours each day training until Han claimed to feel exhausted and nauseous just looking at him.
But the further he walks, the closer he comes to the wound in the Force; he can taste the salt of tears in the back of his throat when he swallows, though the agony that lingers here isn’t his own. Nor is it for him. It existed before he arrived and will still exist when he leaves, carved deep into the rock for anyone to find.
Somehow, he thinks that makes it worse. That there’s no purpose to it - it isn’t calling out to him, it isn’t even aware he’s here, isn’t aware in any way that Luke can really understand. It just… hurts.
Luke has to stop before he reaches it. He’s almost panting, doubled over with his hands on his knees as he squeezes his eyes shut and tries to will himself to press on. Some part of him already knows what he will find, just as he knows that he won’t be able to leave the planet until he has seen it for himself; and he can’t afford to delay. The child can’t afford for him to delay.
There’s an urgency to the thought that Luke isn’t entirely sure belongs to him; it’s enough to jerk him upright, spine straight and chin tilted up. When he steps forward, his body barely feels like his own. It’s too light; he moves too easily, even against the pulsing edges of the Force.
He only wishes he could be surprised when he pulls himself up onto one of the rocks and finds the bones.
For a moment, he can’t bear to look at them. The flood of fear - the Mandalorian’s, the child’s, his own when he first heard the call - is overwhelming. He stares up at the sky, instead, and remembers how it felt to fall back, knowing there was nothing there to catch him. Knowing that he would be dead by the time he hit the ground and that there was nothing he could do to stop it. The Mandalorian’s final moments play out behind his eyes over and over - the memory of them is branded as deeply in the earth here as it is in Luke’s mind.
A childlike anger squirms in his chest - he wants to shout, wants to cry that it isn’t fair. That it isn’t right that the Mandalorian is dead and the child is gone and Luke was too late.
It isn’t fair, but Luke isn’t a child anymore. There will be time to mourn and reflect later.
For now, he crouches beside the ash and charred bones - reaches out carefully, murmurs an apology to the man he doesn’t know, and brushes reverent fingers across the dome of his skull. It's cold; no trace of the incredible heat that had scorched it remains. He doesn't think this was the work of Imperials. They might have taken the armour, but they wouldn't have taken the time to deal with the body beyond that; not when even their own soldiers weren't afforded such treatment. Though there’s little vegetation on Tython beyond scrubby grass and a few stunted trees, Luke can still recognise the remains of a hastily built pyre. Vaguely, he wonders if this is what the Mandalorian would have chosen for himself. Wonders if whoever stripped his body of its armour knew him well enough to allow him the respect he deserved.
He hopes so.
Jedi funerals, such as they were, were relatively simple even during times of peace. There are no words Luke can offer, no more he can do for the body, no rites to perform. He doesn't know anything about Mandalorian culture, doesn't know what the man believed would happen to him after his death - if he believed anything at all. His last thoughts had been consumed by the image of his child's face. There had been no place for concern over his own fate.
Luke stands slowly, bows his head, and ignores the way his skin prickles.
He follows his own steps back down the mountain in a daze. This time, he hardly notices when caked earth gives way to powdery ash, except -
Something stops him, before he reaches his ship. Artoo's furious scolding rings distantly in his ears as he turns on the spot, looking for… he doesn't know. Looking for something in the wreckage. Eyes drifting closed, he tries to feel his way forward, swallowing against the way the Force batters at his mind's defences. There's something here, something calling to him -
A few steps forward, a step to the left, and the tugging at the back of his mind yanks him down to his knees. It's as though his feet have been swept out beneath him. His eyes fly open in shock, and immediately settle on the glint of metal, turned almost fiery red by the low sun.
It could be anything. A useless scrap fallen from a ship's damaged hull. A piece of a trooper's blaster kicked away in the desperate scramble back to the transport. A discarded slugthrower shell. Anything at all.
Luke’s fingers close around a ball, smooth and cool against his skin.
Even beneath the coat of ash, it catches the light like nothing Luke’s ever seen. He brushes it clean on his shirt and holds it up, turning it this way and that. It looks like the end of a lever - when Luke blinks, he can almost see the cockpit it would have come from. Rattling and humming, held together with nothing more than years of dedicated care and stubbornness. He can see armour, reflecting starlight. He can see wide black eyes, reflecting the reflections.
His eyes open, and he sees Artoo, his X-wing, Tython.
Luke swallows hard and staggers to his feet. The ball finds its way into his pocket.
As they leave the planet behind and make the jump to hyperspace, he doesn't look back.
It’s cold, on the ship. At least, it seems so to him. Different to the cold of Maldo Kreis, that bit at his skin even under his kute and threatened to freeze his breath in his lungs. This cold has seeped down through skin and muscle, into his bones. He imagines it’s like nothing so much as open space, without the protection of a sealed hull and rumbling engines.
Fitting, he thinks. A ship like this offers no protection at all, not to them.
Outside the cell, he thinks he can hear sharp footfalls and lowered voices echoing down the long, grey corridors. None of them come close, and no-one tries to open the doors. He doesn’t know if he’s glad of that or not. Doesn't know what he would be able to do if someone did come in.
On the metal bench next to him, the child sits slumped, the only signs of movement his soft breaths and flickering eyes. He seems undisturbed by the whispered apologies or pleas to wake up, to open his eyes. Normally, a gentle touch to his shoulder is enough to rouse him, and should that fail, lifting him to be cradled against cool beskar works every time. Now, though, there seems to be some sort of a barrier between him and the child. It is gentler than the column of light on Tython, at least - it only turns his touch away, instead of hurling him back to collide with the durasteel walls.
The breath he lets out is too soft to be picked up by his vocoder as he sinks to the ground. He lets his head tilt back to rest against the bench, and lifts a hand, tucking it as close to his son as he can.
There’s no way for him to know if this sleep is natural - if it is exhaustion after pushing himself too hard on the planet’s surface, or if it is a side effect of the magic the kid uses. Maybe it’s because of the cuffs around his wrists, that even now glow faintly with an energy he can’t hope to understand. Maybe the child is still searching for a Jedi, silent on the surface and screaming out with his powers, the way he had spoken to Tano.
Until the kid wakes, or someone comes to the cell, he won’t know for sure. All he can do is get up and pace, restless as a caged loth-wolf. On each pass he pauses, and runs a careful hand over the space above the kid’s head, as close as he can reach.
The child doesn’t stir, but he thinks - he hopes - that some of the strain eases from around his eyes.
His own exhaustion can’t be ignored forever. It curls around the cold that has settled in his marrow and leaves his armour feeling unbearably heavy. He thinks longingly of the cockpit of the Crest, of the deepest rooms of the Covert, of the few places he has ever felt safe enough to strip away every piece of beskar. Of all the times he watched the child sleep, helmet lifted just far enough to release the seal so that he could listen to him breathe without the slight distortion of the audial. It was the closest he could bring himself to come to breaking his Creed.
Regret is a sharp pain, he has learnt - as hot and quick as a blaster bolt to the throat.
He sits in front of his son - as though this time, maybe, he will be enough to protect him - and closes his eyes.
Waking up isn’t as jarring this time, but it still leaves Luke with a phantom ache in his chest that makes drawing breath an ordeal. He tugs his cloak tighter around himself and sinks back into the shadows of his hood. No-one pays him much attention - not many beings are willing to show their faces in a place like this, so cloaked figures are a common enough sight - but he remains wary. Even this far out in the Outer Rim, a decommissioned X-wing is unusual.
What had initially started as a quick fuel-stop had turned into a layover lasting hours when Luke realised that not only had he not eaten or properly slept in almost two days, but he had also failed to check in with Leia as he had promised. It had taken him a lot longer to convince her that he didn’t need the backing of a full squadron of New Republic fighters than he had hoped.
It had taken even longer than that to convince her that she and Han didn’t need to leap into the Falcon and come after him themselves; mostly because a large part of him didn’t want to tell them no. Something about this - the dreams, the child, the fear - has opened a yawning pit in the hollow of his stomach. More than anything, he wanted to be able to bury himself beneath the reassuring weight of their love, wanted to tie himself to the bright spot of Leia’s presence in the Force and draw all the strength he needed from them.
But that ran the risk of slowing him down even more - and now that he is awake, the same dreadful urgency that had gripped him on Tython is back.
Following the child is painstaking, laborious work. He can’t risk keeping them in hyperspace for more than an hour at a time, before he needs to drop back to sublight and cast his senses out again, feeling for the new direction they need to head in. The calculations are long and infuriating, even with Artoo’s help, and three times already he’s overshot, putting them further and further from the child each time.
More than once, the child’s presence had faded so much that he’d been sure he’s too late - that they’re already dead, and Luke is chasing nothing more than a fading signal. But each time, after a few minutes of breathless mourning, the light had returned and brought hope with it.
Luke is so tired he can barely see straight, but still the dreams grip him every time he closes his eyes.
From the little he has read about Force visions, Luke has never heard of anything like this. He’s sure that the dreams are from the perspective of the Mandalorian; equally, he is sure that the man is dead. That the bones on Tython had been his, that the shot and the fall each would have been fatal. There’s no way the man could have survived, and so they can’t be visions of the future.
But they don’t feel like memories, either.
As though following some long-forgotten instinct, his hand slips into the pocket of his robes to trace the silver ball he’d found in the wreckage.
Maybe it’s nothing more than his guilt. The visions themselves feel too real, too vivid to be simple dreams, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be twisted around by his own mind. The first one that had come to him had been the Mandalorian’s dying moments - and all the ones that have followed since have been caused by his obsessing over his failure to reach Tython in time to do anything.
He voices his conclusions softly to Artoo, who beeps derisively and asks what the point of dreams is, anyway. Artoo has never dreamt, he points out, and he’s doing just fine. Objectively, he’s doing better than Luke, in fact.
Luke ignores him, and not only because he’s right.
They don’t have long before they need to leave - the hangar is only paid up for another hour, and Luke wants to run a full diagnostic before he even considers leaving atmo. He doesn’t know how long it will be before they catch up to the child, or if there’ll be another inhabited planet before they get there, if something should go wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s held a limping ship together with the Force long enough to make an emergency crash landing, but that doesn’t mean he wants to do it again, if it can be avoided.
Besides - he’s not sure he trusts that mechanic as far as he could throw her without the Force.
A quick glance at his commlink shows a new message from Leia - she reports that there’s been nothing new from her information network that might even hint at where the child is being taken. The message is brief, and there’s nothing of any use; but then, Luke hadn’t really expected there to be. If the Imperial remnants have managed to expand this far, for so long, under their noses, there’s no reason to think they’ll suddenly change their tactics now.
He sends his thanks anyway, blowing out a hard breath as he pushes himself to his feet and glances quickly around. For the most part, the eyes of the crowd skim over him and move on to other, more interesting things. There’s nothing about him here that marks him as a Jedi - someone might recognise him as ex-Rebellion, but this far into the Outer Rim, it’s unlikely that anyone cares. As far as people outside the Core Worlds are concerned, anyone like him is more trouble than they’re worth.
Despite all of that, the feeling of being watched has returned.
“Artoo, have you noticed anyone… suspicious?” He asks. Normally he wouldn’t second-guess himself like this, but he’s so off-centre that he can’t help it.
Everyone here, including you, is Artoo’s immediate reply. His dome spins just far enough to give the impression of a judgemental sideways glance. Something he sees - Luke’s posture, the restless twitch of his fingers, the way his mouth is drawn into a tight line deep in the shadow of his hood - must convince him that the situation is serious. He pauses, whirring gently as he thinks.
Not anyone that’s seemed interested in us, he says at last. Something got your wires crossed?
“Not sure,” Luke murmurs. “I thought I felt something on Tython too, but there was no-one there with us.”
Should’ve let me come with you. I could’ve double checked.
“You’d’ve hated it,” Luke says, and in spite of everything, he laughs a little. “You’d’ve spent weeks complaining about getting ash in your chassis.”
You don’t know that.
“I do know that.”
How? Your Jedi magic banthashit tell you so?
"Keep it down! And no, for your information; you're just predictable."
Artoo screeches, a long string of binary that would have had Aunt Beru slapping her hands over Luke's ears. Luke grins and forces himself to think past the churning in his gut. He knows they haven't been followed by any ships through all of their jumps, and he knows that there had been no-one with him on Tython. Even if there is someone watching him here, it can't be the same as whatever had him so unsettled before.
Doesn't mean he wants to hang around here any longer than he has to. No sense in risking it.
He haggles briefly with the mechanics when he gets back to the ship - it's almost a tradition in these parts, and paying the asked price would make him much more memorable than bargaining the costs down - but his mind is elsewhere. The pre-flight checks all go as smoothly as they ever do, something that surprises him a bit, and he lets Artoo handle their takeoff while he starts to feel for the direction of their next jump.
It could just be wishful thinking, but the child's presence seems louder. Clearer.
Luke punches in the calculations for a short jump and allows himself to smile as he tips his head back to stare at the stars. Even as they begin to blur and stretch into the familiar blue tint of hyperspace, the smile doesn’t fade. They’re getting close - he can feel it.
Soon, the child will be safe with him.
The thought doesn’t feel entirely his own, but Luke doesn’t have time to examine it before his exhaustion catches up to him again and drags him to sleep.
Death isn’t much like he’d imagined, inasmuch as he’d imagined anything at all. Mandalorians don’t fear death, and neither had he, mostly - there had never been any illusions that he might live to an old age and pass peacefully in his bed. When he took on the mantle of the tribe’s beroya, it had been as good as a prophecy; he would work, and he would fight, and one day his work would lead him to a fight he couldn’t win. It was to be expected. It was to be accepted. His thoughts had never lingered long on the concept of an afterlife - either marching ever on as part of the Manda, or what little he remembers of the teachings he had grown up with on Aq Vetina. What would have been the point? There were a thousand and one things that needed his attention, especially once he had the kid. Better to focus his efforts on surviving than on worrying what would happen when he inevitably didn’t.
He thinks he loses time, but without a way to track it, he can’t be sure. The cell on the Imps’ ship is unchanging, and sometimes he blinks and finds himself somewhere else. Nowhere solid enough for him to recognise - even when he’s there, the place feels half-formed and hazy, like trying to remember a dream.
Sometimes he hears the rumble of a ship’s engines, and the whirring beeps of Binary. Heat beats down on him from a sun far brighter than any he’s used to, and does nothing to chase the cold from his bones. Out of the corner of his eye he thinks he sees the snap of a black cloak, and he thinks of Ahsoka with a pang of futile regret. If he had insisted she take the kid, he would have been safe with her. There’s no way the Imps would have got past her twin laser swords to him.
Maybe she had heard the child’s call, heard his fear from across the parsecs. Maybe she’s already on her way to them, now that he can’t interfere with the child’s training anymore. It can’t matter how much he is attached to a dead man - and even if it does, that can’t be enough to stop her coming to rescue the child. She has too much honour for that, he thinks.
Whether she chooses to train the child or not doesn’t matter to him anymore. As long as his son is safe, the rest can wait.
His son’s - Grogu’s - eyes drift closed, slower and slower to open again as he comes close to the edge of sleep. Around them, the world slides away from his sight, like trying to focus on a distant heat-haze.
Can the Jedi hear someone that doesn’t have their magic? Can they hear someone screaming if there’s no seeing stone to send out the call?
Din doesn’t know, but as the world tilts away from him, he finds himself crying out with everything he has left in him for Ahsoka - for anyone - to hurry.
If Luke dreamt at all, he doesn’t remember it when Artoo’s sharp whistle wakes him. There’s a lingering chill that has him pulling his sleeves down over his hands - even though the X-wing’s life support is rumbling merrily and throwing out as much heat as it always does - but nothing else. He yawns wide enough that his jaw cracks, and shakes his head to clear the fog in his mind.
Useless meat sack, Artoo grumbles. He's impatient, systems humming constantly while Luke tries to focus on the direction of the child's call. Not that Luke can blame him. He's ready for this to be over - for the child to be in his reach, for the visions to stop, for the chance to sleep in a bed with his family nearby and the Force singing around them all.
Of course, Artoo doesn't much care for any of that. He just wants to be back planetside; somewhere with a decent gravitational field.
It is, Luke muses, something of a flaw in an astromech.
He closes his eyes and tries to empty his mind of snide jabs at his droid, whom he loves dearly. There's a time and a place, and this isn't it.
At first, Luke can't pinpoint a direction. His next breath shudders, and he has to will his hands not to shake. If he allows himself to panic, then he'll be no use to anyone, least of all the child. He can't believe that he's too late, not again - they've been getting closer and closer with each jump, and the child has been feeling stronger each time Luke brushed against their presence.
It isn't until he's stretched his awareness out, searching for any sign of the child that he finally realises why he couldn't make out the shape of them. It's the same reason he wouldn't be able to see the shape of a dune after being buried by a sandstorm. The child is everywhere.
They're close enough that they won't need another jump, Luke's sure of it. His hands move as though guided by someone else, and the ship adjusts course almost before he has a chance to touch the controls. Once, he might have blamed Artoo; once, he might not have noticed it at all, just written it off as the luck that sometimes followed him like Sand People following water. A lot has changed since then, though, and he knows better than to simply dismiss it.
Maybe it's the child or maybe it's something else, but Luke doesn't sense any danger from whatever it is.
Only an insistent hurry!
So - despite Artoo's protests that he's being even more of a reckless idiot than Artoo has come to expect of him - Luke hurries.
They really are close. The child's emotions - brighter now that Luke holds the connection between them open in his mind - are almost overwhelming. There’s so much fear that it’s difficult to believe it can all be coming from one being; but behind that, there’s an odd sense of peace. Of certainty. As though, despite everything, the child knows that they - that he - will be alright. Rather than reassuring Luke, it leaves his jaw clenched tight as he coaxes the X-wing ever faster. He knows he's flying recklessly, but he’ll never forgive himself if he’s too slow again, if the child’s faith in him is misplaced again
When he comes into range of the light cruiser, he braces himself for an attack that never comes. There are far fewer lifeforms than he thought there'd be, even allowing for the fact it's likely running a skeleton crew, and the cruiser is… dark. He pulls alongside and starts searching for a docking bay without any reaction from the ship at all. No tractor beam, no weapons, not even a hail.
"Is it just me, or does this feel too easy?" He mutters to Artoo, who snaps at him not to jinx it.
“That’s exactly my point Artoo. This isn’t right - yes, I can see the bay, you don’t need to shout - I’m just not sure if it’s a trap or not. I mean, it doesn’t feel like it is, but…”
But you’ve been wrong before, Artoo cheerfully reminds him.
Anytime. Happy to help.
Luke brings in the X-wing in gently; so slow that by the time he lands he’s almost shaking. He can’t feel any lifeforms immediately nearby, but he doesn’t lower the shield he’s pulled around the ship. Imperial remnants have been known to repurpose old battle droids, and he doesn’t want to risk his ticket out of here falling foul of them. Artoo beeps a warning when he pops the cockpit hatch, but the docking bay is perfectly still.
There's a Lambda-class shuttle at an alarming angle and still smoking gently ahead of him. Below it, there are deep gouges in the metal flooring where it must have come in too hard and fast - was it being pursued? Or had it taken damage and this was the most controlled landing the pilots could manage? There are no other crafts that he can sense nearby; the cruiser itself, though quieter than he'd expected, doesn't look like it's suffered a large-scale attack.
He lifts Artoo down from the X-wing, where he spins briefly, servos whirring in the droid equivalent of a joint-popping stretch after a long, cramped journey. Together, they start to move through the room, past the dented hull of the shuttle towards the doors.
Luke isn't completely surprised to see the bodies of uniformed officers, but he’s not sure he was really expecting them either. Most of them look to have been killed by blaster fire - taken by surprise, he thinks, by someone who is a very, very good shot. The only exception is the woman by the comms unit. Her arm is bent at an unnatural angle, and the pool of blood around her head is still damp. As Luke watches, a drop falls from the tips of her hair, and the pool spreads a little further.
He thinks of the stormtrooper on Tython with their helmet crushed, and revises his assumptions that the Mandalorian had been the one to kill them. More likely, he thinks, it had been the one that had mourned the man enough to build him a pyre.
And now whoever it was is here. For revenge? For the child? Luke doesn’t know.
Trying to feel whoever else is on the ship isn’t quite an exercise in futility, but it is frustrating. The child’s signature is so strong, so overpowering that everything else barely registers as more than a blip on his radar. Even focusing on them as hard as he can, he gets little more than flashes; impressions of emotion. Grief. Pain. Fear, that he thinks might belong to the Imperials. Anger, so dark and deep that Luke could mistake it for his own - for a moment he’s stood before the Emperor, stood before his father, he’s poised and ready to strike, his saber is in his hand, and he’s -
Still on the light cruiser, Artoo bumping repeatedly against his leg. His left hand trembles when he rests it on the cool metal of the droid.
It takes a couple of tries before he can speak.
"Think you can access the ship's systems from down here?" He asks. The look Artoo shoots him is both incredulous and deeply insulted.
'Think you can access the systems,' he says, Artoo grumbles, barging past Luke and examining the controls for a moment. What do I look like, Threepio? Of course I can.
"That's not very nice."
Don't distract me.
"I'm not distracting you Artoo, I'm just saying -"
Less talking, more Jedi magic banthashit.
Luke can take a hint. Leaving Artoo to his slicing, he nudges the machinery in the doors until they slide open easily - any alarms connected to the doors wouldn’t recognise it as a forced entry, though Luke doubts there’s anyone around to care if it did.
“Be careful!” He calls over his shoulder, and grins a little at Artoo’s immediate hypocrite! before he rounds a corner and is out of earshot.
It’s been a long time since Luke’s been on a light cruiser - the New Republic doesn’t often call on his help now that the larger Imperial footholds in the Core and Mid Rim have been overtaken or abandoned - but most Empire vessels follow the same sort of logic, so he’s pretty sure he knows where he has to go to reach the child. He can sense him, knows the direction he needs to head, and the corridors all seem to follow the patterns he’s used to. It means he can move quicker than he’d thought. Not running, not even he’s quite that reckless, but the restlessness that’s been prickling at him is eased by the speed. His skin feels like it fits better over his bones now, like he isn’t about to shake out of it at any moment.
The sound of blaster fire banishes all thoughts of caution. Luke breaks into a run and skids around the corner, saber in hand and ignited just in time to deflect a stray bolt. He cuts down the towering droid almost before he has a chance to recognise it as one of the figures from his first vision.
It crumples, sparking faintly, and doesn't move again.
There are four more of them; two have turned to face the new Jedi-shaped threat, while the other two continue to fire at the figure taking cover further down the hallway. Luke throws one into the wall as it approaches, and slashes at the second. It’s faster than he expected, faster than the droids he is used to, but he manages a clean cut through the chestpiece - it doesn’t go down, but it jerks towards him slowly enough that he can crush it with a clench of his fingers.
The smell of too-hot metal is overpowering. Luke tries not to look at the mostly-human shape, at the almost- familiar helmet twisted and crumpled at his hand. If he looks at it for too long, his vision starts to blur and his ears start to ring, and his grip on the child's force signature starts to slip, and -
He misses the blaster bolt that comes from the droid he'd slammed into the wall.
These new models must be sturdier than he's used to, a distant part of him notes, even as he twists his hand and rips its head from its body. He hadn't expected it to still be functioning at all, much less capable of firing a blaster at him. Droids feel different in the Force from lifeforms and, overwhelmed by the child, he hadn't thought to check that it would stay down. It isn't a mistake he'll make twice.
There's a line of fire below his ribs where the shot grazed him, but it isn't life threatening. Nothing a few hours of bacta won't fix. Nothing worth slowing down for.
The two droids still firing at the sheltered figure must know he's there - if they aren't all connected to each other, Luke will eat his cloak - but whoever it is must be giving them enough trouble that they don't turn to face him. It makes it easy to cut them both in half in a move that Luke would consider efficient and Leia would consider unbearably flashy.
From behind a doorframe, Luke sees a flicker of movement.
"Hello there!" He says, careful to keep his tone light. There's no reply, but a figure steps cautiously into view, visor tilted to watch him.
She's smaller than he'd expected, and slighter, though Luke knows better than to assume that means anything. She'd been holding the droids at bay even if she hadn't managed to force them back, and though he doesn't recognise the rifle slung over her shoulder, he can tell it isn't anything standard issue.
Her helmet - a different shape to the helmet in the Mandalorian's memories, but Luke doesn't know enough about them to know if that means she isn't one too or not - tips as she warily eyes him. Luke can't help but be a little insulted that she doesn't offer him any further consideration than that. It isn't as though he isn't used to being underestimated, but that doesn't usually last once people have seen him with a saber.
He doesn't react outwardly when she lifts her wrist to her mouth. Maybe she's impressed by that - maybe she isn't. Her helmet is inscrutable, and she's a remarkably still point in the Force unless Luke wants to go digging deeper. Which he doesn't, at least not while he can't sense any obvious hostility from her.
“We’ve got company,” is all she says, unhurried and unconcerned. The commlink crackles and hisses for a moment before the reply comes.
It’s a voice that gives the impression that its owner has spent every day of his life eating sand and chasing it with the kind of spotchka that Biggs always swore could leave you blind. The man on the other end of the comm sounds about as worried by the situation he’s found himself in as his companion, despite the telltale staticky sound of blasterfire. Something about it nags at the back of Luke's mind, but he can't quite put his finger on what, exactly.
Luke wonders what he’ll do if the woman changes her mind about that and tries to get in his way. He doesn’t want to hurt her, and he’s already certain that she won’t be susceptible to any gentle suggestions in the Force.
The man grunts; Luke can't tell if it’s acknowledgement or exertion.
“I’ll take it,” the man says. “Send ‘em my way.”
“He just took out five darktroopers,” the woman says - Luke would like to say that she sounds impressed, but he suspects that’s wishful thinking. If anything, she sounds like she’s delivering a warning. “They’ll be coming for him, now. I’ll head to the bridge.”
“Copy that. Make sure Kryze leaves some pieces of the Moff for me.”
"You give me all the best jobs."
The connection cuts out, and the woman turns her attention back to Luke. She lifts the visor of her helmet just far enough for him to meet her dark eyes head-on. There’s something heavy in them - something solemn that’s at odds with the dry way she spoke.
Not too long ago, Luke would have taken her scrutiny personally. He would have tripped over his words in an effort to convince her that he means no harm, that he’s here to help. The words would have been earnest, his voice sincere, and he doesn’t know if it would have endeared him to her or not. Truthfully, she doesn’t seem the type to be swayed by an idealistic plea.
But then - he’s been wrong before.
"There were forty of those things," she says briskly, adjusting her rifle. "I don't know how many will be coming for you and how many will stay after the others." Luke nods to show he understands, but doesn't offer her anything else. Her eyes narrow shrewdly.
"That's a Jedi's weapon," she says next. Interesting phrasing, Luke thinks - as though she hasn't assumed that he is a Jedi. He nods again.
"It is," he agrees, and hopes that she isn't calculating what it would be worth on the black market. There's still no aggression from her - at least not aimed at him - but he's met enough mercenaries over the years to recognise the look of someone weighing their odds against him. For a long, tense moment, neither of them move.
Then, she scoffs.
“Should be interesting.” She slides her visor back into place and brushes past him, towards the bridge. Luke doesn’t get a chance to reply - or to ask her what she and her companion are doing here, or why she seems so unsurprised by him - before she disappears around the corner. He stares after her; would have started to follow her, if it weren’t for the child’s murmuring in the Force. It’s calmer now than it was, a gentle breeze instead of a panicked storm - that isn't enough to stop Luke hurrying.
None of the impressions he’s received from the child so far have made it clear if he can understand Basic, but Luke still tries to send a feeling of I’m here, I’m coming, you’ll be safe soon. Communication through the Force is subtle; easy to misunderstand even when using words, but Luke can feel the child settle so he hopes his message was clear enough.
He doesn’t find any other signs of life until he’s two floors up - the child is close, but there is someone else closer. Someone brimming with anger that's almost enough to overshadow the pain cutting through them. Whoever it is, they're injured. Whoever it is, they're furious, and likely to shoot Luke first, ask questions never.
Lightsaber held up and at the ready, he prepares himself for the worst. There are more droids here - only two, but that's still two more than he really wants to be dealing with right now.
Luke rounds the corner and freezes just in time to see one of the two droids slump as a spear is tugged free from its chest by a man in Mandalorian armour. Very familiar Mandalorian armour. It’s been years, but the memory hasn’t faded with time. When he’d last seen it, it had been disappearing from sight into the maw of a sarlacc, and Luke had - foolishly - assumed that would be it. He’d grown up on tales of the pits; he knew as well as anyone from Tatooine that nothing came back out of a sarlacc.
Except, something had. It's just Luke’s luck that that something had to be Boba Fett.
It’s troubling, but not so troubling that Luke is too caught up in his thoughts to crush the droid that turns towards him. Sparks fly as the metal chassis grinds and compacts, severing wires until the power abruptly dies out. It leaves just the two of them alone in the corridor; Luke’s palms begin to sweat, despite himself.
How many years has it been since Luke’s spared more than a passing thought for the bounty hunter that had tracked them so ruthlessly across the galaxy? Even then, Luke had been confident in his abilities, in his connection to the Force. He wasn’t so arrogant as to think he couldn’t lose a fight to someone like this, but he also knew that he wouldn’t go down easy.
Now? Luke's sure that if Fett somehow manages to take him down, he won't be going alone.
Uncaring of the maelstrom of Luke's thoughts, Fett watches him, spear held easily at his side. His feet are planted, his stance wide and shoulders squared. He looks like he couldn't be moved by anything smaller than a rancor.
Luke is willing to put that to the test.
"Thought you were supposed to be friendly," Fett says, and that's his voice that Luke had recognised over the comms - rougher than he remembers it being, but no less chilling for it. Luke bares his teeth in something that he's pretty sure can't be called a smile.
"And I thought you were supposed to be dead," he replies. "But today is full of disappointments."
Somewhere in the back of Luke’s mind, a voice that sounds suspiciously like Han warns him not to antagonise the vicious bounty hunter that not only has reason to hold a personal grudge, but also comes from a race known for their martial prowess and extensive wars with the Jedi. In the front of Luke’s mind, he tells himself that Han never listens to his own advice, and so soundly ignores it.
Fett doesn’t make a move to attack; he doesn’t move at all, watching Luke closely through the visor of his helmet. Luke had always assumed the man to be calculating, as cold as the metal that encased him, but he’s paying attention now. He can feel Fett now. The man is a solar flare, bright and furious in the Force, mere moments from erupting. Luke waits for it; braces himself to weather the inevitable explosion, saber gripped tight in both hands.
And then he… keeps waiting.
“Bet you thought the Empire was dead, too. Not a great track record. What were you hoping to achieve here, Skywalker?”
"What does it matter? I won't let you stop me."
There's something there, bubbling beneath Fett's anger, but Luke can't quite pinpoint it. Between the helmet and the - unfairly - impressive shielding the man has, Luke can't get a decent impression of his thoughts.
"Stop you what? If you wanted to send us the same way as the Death Stars, you’d’ve been better off staying in that little ship of yours.” Fett’s head tilts - the flickering lights of the corridor dim, and for a moment Luke imagines he can see past the visor, straight into his dark eyes. “But I don’t think that’s it. You and your Republic have done as good a job stamping out Imps as your predecessors.”
Luke’s mouth has always moved faster than the rest of him, without any of Han’s rough charm, or Leia’s lifetime of political training and eloquence. It’d gotten him into more scrapes than he can possibly remember back on Tatooine, where starting ill-conceived trouble is a time-honoured tradition. These days, people don’t tend to start trouble with him; not unless they’re planning on ending it. So far, Fett has shown no sign that he falls into the latter category, and so without thinking, Luke speaks again.
He’d forgotten, in the years since he left that old dustball, that his mouth had never been much good for getting him back out of those scrapes.
“We can’t have done too bad a job, if the remnants have taken to hiring relics ,” he snaps, and something in Fett ripples, his spine stiffening like a soldier called to attention. “What did they offer you this time? Glory? Power? A place in their ‘new order’? The promise of credits they don’t have? Or is it just that no-one else would throw even the smallest of scraps your way, once word got around how the great Boba Fett met his fate.”
Even before he’s finished speaking, Luke knows he’s made a mistake he can’t take back. Already churning beneath the surface, Fett now feels untethered in the Force; the anger is a tumultuous mess, and Luke doesn’t have time to try to unravel it from the thousand other thoughts that he can sense rattling around in that horribly familiar helmet before Fett starts laughing.
Doubled-over, leaning his weight on his spear, apparently uncaring of the way Luke stares at him in mute confusion, Fett laughs like the sound is being strangled from him. He laughs like he doesn’t remember how. He laughs like he doesn’t care that he doesn’t remember how.
He laughs like he’s proving a point, except Luke has no idea what that point is supposed to be.
It takes a few moments of this for Luke to realise that he’s lowered his saber to his side. Despite everything, Fett doesn’t feel like a threat - at least, not right now, slowly straightening up as his laughter dies away.
“The Empire could barely afford me when they were at their height,” he wheezes, and lifts a shoulder in half a shrug. “And only fools expected glory or power from the likes of them.”
Every other week, Leia thinks of some new thing that she swears will be the death of him. His stubbornness, his curiosity, his lack of forethought, his habit of dropping in on New Republic training facilities and goading the instructors into shooting at him because he’d figured out the patterns the droids used and practicing against them was boring.
If anyone were to ask Han what will be the death of Luke, though, the immediate answer would be that he is utterly determined to follow a lost cause through to the end.
And Luke has to know.
“If not the Empire, then who are you working for?”
There’s still so much that Luke doesn’t understand - about Fett, about the visions that have been haunting him, about what remains of the Empire. He doesn’t know how many answers he’ll be able to find here, but he can at least ask this much.
“I work for no-one, Skywalker.” Fett stops for a moment, and shifts his grip on the spear in his hand. Luke doesn’t recognise it, is certain he’s never seen it before - yet, something about it feels familiar. Like a story that isn’t his, but he’s been told so many times he can still recite it word-for-word. “My reasons are my own, and my allegiance is useless now.”
A wave of almost-grief hits Luke so hard he staggers. Grief for a man he never knew - for a man he will never know. Grief for a child that watched, powerless, as his father was taken from him.
Clarity comes softly, after that.
“The Mandalorian,” Luke says, and it isn’t a question. Fett bows his head for the space of a great, heaving breath.
“I owe him a debt that I can’t repay,” Fett says heavily. The sound of the spear slamming against the ground doesn’t make Luke jump, but it’s a near thing. “But we made a deal, and I’ll see it through. ”
There’s no ash on Fett’s boots or his armour - his robes don’t carry the lingering smell of smoke and burning fat. Regret clings to him enough that it doesn’t matter; Luke knows, now, who cared for the Mandalorian after he tumbled back to Tython’s surface. He knows who built and lit the pyre, who kept the armour from the hands of the Imperials.
It’s a cold comfort.
“I’m not here for you and your companions - to help or to bring you in,” Luke cautions. Fett huffs out an echo of his laughter.
“I think I can live with that,” he says - he doesn’t lower his spear, but he half-turns from Luke, offering him the barest sliver of his back. In turn, Luke doesn’t extinguish his saber, but when he steps forward, it’s on the side furthest from Fett. It eases something in him, to be moving again - towards the child, towards his purpose here. If Fett feels anything similar, he gives no sign of it, moving with the wide gait of a man accustomed to the shifting sands of a desert.
Politely, Luke pretends not to notice the nauseating pain that races through him with every other step. If Fett wants him to know about it, he'll say something.
“Left here,” Luke murmurs at the end of the corridor, only to find that Fett is already turning that way. Fighting a flush, he curses himself. Of course Fett would have studied the cruiser’s blueprints before stepping on board - not everyone has a direct connection to the child’s presence to guide them. Fett had come here with backup, and at least some measure of a plan, which is more than Luke can say for him and Artoo. Beyond reaching the child and getting him safely out, he hadn't had much of a chance to really consider what else might be waiting for him.
Still, there's no time to dwell on such regrets - and, Luke consoles himself, there's no possible way he could have planned for this. If he'd been given a hundred years of quiet meditation to contemplate what he might find on the cruiser, he's still sure that he could never have predicted a temporary alliance with Boba Fett.
And not just because he'd been certain the man was dead.
"What was his name?" Luke asks, unable to stop himself. He's seen through the Mandalorian's eyes, has felt the man die; it seems like such a small thing in comparison, but it doesn't feel right to not even have a name to remember. There's a flash of disbelief from Fett, though he doesn't break his stride.
"Who?" He grunts, as though Luke would be asking about anyone else.
"The Mandalorian. Who was he?"
For a few steps, Fett says nothing. Luke thinks he hears the click as the man swallows heavily, but it could be his imagination.
As though he's heard the question as well, the child's presence swells, thrumming with warmth. Although Fett can't have felt it - Luke may have been distracted each time they've met, but he would have noticed if the man had the Force sensitivity the Maker gave a womp rat - his head tilts slightly as an answering warmth curls up beneath his armour.
Like a tame tooka, Luke thinks, and immediately banishes the thought. He's felt enough of Fett’s mind to know the comparison is a poor one at best.
"I don't know," Fett says, the words slow and heavy. "Didn't get a chance to find out. He might not have told me, anyway - we didn't start out on the right foot. Dune probably knows more, or Kryze, but it didn't seem right to ask."
It’s something that Luke hadn’t considered; that Fett may know almost as little about the man as Luke. Somehow, he’d just assumed - from the fury that burns beneath Fett’s skin, from the tightness of his voice when he spoke of the Mandalorian, from his willingness to work with Luke - that this is personal. How many more times is Luke going to make a fool of himself misreading Fett like this? Surely there has to be a limit - uncaring though the universe may be, there must be a point when it will take pity on him.
Pity, in this case, comes in the shape of a small squad of stormtroopers.
Distracted by unpicking the tangled mess of Fett and the Mandalorian, Luke almost doesn't feel them before he runs right into them. He stops dead, and to his credit, Fett stops less than a second later, already drawing his blaster at the expression on Luke's face.
The first trooper to round the corner goes down before they have a chance to take in the scene and aim. Fett's blaster smokes gently; Luke swallows as he reminds himself that, for now at least, he is working with Fett. Whatever else the man may have done, whatever else he may do, Luke has allied himself with him. It would be poor form to kill him while his back is turned, while he’s defending them.
Not to mention, it would be terribly hypocritical of Luke - he’s killed his fair share of stormtroopers over the years. Not without remorse, not without mercy, but such things don’t matter to the Force, and they don’t matter to dead men.
“Three more,” he says resignedly, and Fett nods.
The other troopers are more cautious after seeing the swift demise of their comrade, but it doesn’t make any difference. Two blaster bolts ricochet off Fett’s armour, and Luke deflects one with his saber before Fett gets off a good shot, and another trooper hits the ground. The Force ripples with their death - Luke can feel it rattle his teeth, a sensation he’s long used to pushing aside.
“Going to make me do all the work, jetii ?” Fett asks, the words tight and clipped as though coming from a clenched jaw. Luke doesn’t answer him, except to wave his hand and yank the immobilised troopers out from the corner they had been sheltering behind. Panic floods the corridor, sour and sudden when they realise they can’t move - Luke doesn’t have enough time to feel guilty before Fett has cleanly shot them both. Maybe that’s a sort of mercy, in his own way.
The Force doesn’t care. The dead men don’t care. Luke tells himself he doesn’t care.
He can’t afford to care, not when the child is so close.
“Useful trick,” Fett says, begrudging admiration audible even through the flattening of his vocoder. “Got any for getting into the kid’s cell?”
Leia has an unimpressed glare that would leave Fett withered in his armour - Luke has never quite mastered it, but he does his best anyway. There’s no reaction from Fett, outwardly or in the Force.
“Yes. I call it ‘having a droid that can slice into the ship’s systems and let us in’.” He pauses, and considers. “Or a lightsaber through the wall. Both’ll work.”
They turn into a corridor that is identical to the previous three, except for the way the child’s presence threatens to drown him.
Fett jerks his head towards the door. “Tell your droid to get a move on, or start cutting. I don’t want to still be here when the rest of the darktroopers catch up.”
With a cheerful beep that Luke is certain no Imperial craft has ever made before, the door slides open before the last word has a chance to fade from Fett’s mouth. Artoo has no doubt been tracking their progress, though whether he waited to open the door until he was given such a cue on purpose or not is anyone’s guess. If he were inclined to put credits on it, Luke would say yes.
“Just send the droid next time,” Fett says. “It’ll be more helpful. Less of a pain.”
“You wouldn’t say that if you knew Artoo.”
The door doesn’t shut on Luke as he walks through, but that’s purely because he anticipates the attempt. It hits the Force shield he’s pulled around himself with a dull thud of metal striking air that wasn’t solid mere seconds before. Fett doesn't turn around at the sound - he's already crossed the room and knelt before the child, where he sits half-slumped on a metal bench designed to hold an adult humanoid.
Force, but he somehow looks even smaller like this than he did in the Mandalorian's memories.
Luke shudders as he glances around the room, the feeling of being watched seeping into the back of his neck like frostbite. A quick glance around the cell reveals a camera in the left corner, and Luke's sure there are more hidden. It doesn't explain Tython, or any of the times since, but he still crushes the thing into a ball the size of his thumbnail with a distracted twitch of his fingers.
The feeling doesn't ease, and Luke's nerves don't settle.
He takes a deep breath - makes himself focus on the odd tableau of Fett holding out a hand to let the child grip at his glove. When he speaks, his voice is almost too low to be caught by his vocoder, and gentler than Luke had thought possible. The rasp is tempered by a smile, the bite of his consonants softened by the way he bounces his hand in the three-clawed grip.
“Hello, little one.”
Speaking in the Force is something that requires training, dedication, focus. Even with Leia, to whom he shares a connection that he doesn’t have the words to describe, any complicated idea or emotion can easily be lost or twisted if he isn’t careful.
From a being that experiences the world as Grogu does - a child of a species that Luke is barely familiar with, who's entire self is so deeply rooted in the Force that it has seeped into every one of his senses - the sudden communication is almost overwhelming. It's nothing like the call that had echoed across the galaxy from Tython. Luke can't process the sensation the way he suspects Grogu does. It isn't that he doesn't understand what the child is trying to tell him, but Grogu hears his name in a way that human ears - human minds - simply don't, wrapped up with the impression of a man in armour of colours that Luke's eyes can't register.
It's dizzying, and if Luke didn't already know the man from Grogu's memories was the one he had watched die over Tython, he's not sure he would ever be able to make the connection.
And then, the link fades to a background hum. Luke's mind snaps back the neural pathways it's familiar with, and for the life of him, he can't quite recall how the Mandalorian sounded to Grogu's ears, how he looked in his eyes, how he felt to the senses that Luke doesn't possess and doesn't have a name for.
But it had been his voice that Grogu had chosen to speak his name to Luke, and that means something. It has to.
"He says his name is Grogu," Luke says, and his voice is almost as hoarse as Fett's. He tries to subtly clear his throat, but he needn't have bothered. Fett doesn't acknowledge he's spoken beyond a faint tilt of his head and a murmured,
The child considers him, wide-eyed and silent.
“Bah,” he decides seriously, and allows Fett to lift him. Shifting the spear to the crook of one elbow, Fett tucks Grogu between his chestplate and the sharp edge of his helmet, where the child settles comfortably like there’s no safer place he could be. It must be a familiar spot, Luke realises as Fett turns back to face him - a soft place between the hard metal to rock a child to sleep, where Grogu could press his face against cloth or skin to curl in close to his father’s scent.
Luke’s stomach lurches sickeningly when Grogu taps his little claws against Fett’s armour and the chime of his cuffs on the metal sings.
“Looks a bit different to the last time you saw it, eh?” Fett says, knocking his own knuckles against the side of his helmet. Grogu hums agreeably - Luke has the briefest impression of a man who feels nothing at all like Fett wearing the armour, but it’s not the overpowering noise and colour of before. Barely a feeling, shared through the connection of the fledgling bond.
“Can that droid of yours do anything about the cuffs?” The question is for Luke, but Fett doesn’t turn his attention from the child. It would be deeply unsettling, if Luke couldn’t feel the tug of sorrow that even Fett can’t manage to shield from him. However little he may have known the Mandalorian, something about the child has struck a chord in him, and it’s echoing now.
Artoo likely won’t be able to do anything about the cuffs from his position in the docking bay - Luke doubts they’re connected to the ship’s systems in any way. He’s never seen a pair of Force-dampening cuffs in the flesh - so to speak - but he can recognise them easily enough.
It’s almost unbelievable, he thinks, what the child has been able to do with them sealed around his wrists. Then again, he doubts whoever made them was much concerned with the more nuanced uses of the Force - as long as the wearer couldn’t hurl their enemies into the nearest wall, that was likely considered a success. From the exhausted way Grogu tilts his head against Fett’s shoulder to blink over at Luke, he thinks that the child hadn’t stopped trying anyway. Not for a long time.
Tentatively, Luke reaches out, watching Fett from the corner of his eye. The man doesn’t move, doesn’t even tense, but Luke isn’t so naive as to think that means he trusts him.
Beneath his hand, the cuffs feel entirely unremarkable. A heavy plastoid blend, maybe, but nothing special on the outside - and, similarly, the locking mechanism is uncomplicated. Easy enough to break, for someone not trapped in them. They unlatch with a soft click and Luke flings them away before the mechanism has even had a chance to power down. Fett’s shoulders shift with his sighed relief; in his arms, Grogu slumps, ears low and movements sluggish.
“I’m guessing you know how to get to the bridge from here?” Luke asks, moving cautiously through the door in case Artoo is still holding a grudge. He knows the right direction, he’s fairly sure, and it wouldn’t be too difficult to navigate the ship, but if Fett really does have the plans memorised, then it will make everything much simpler.
“Yeah. Just let me -”
He juggles the child and spear so that he can activate his comm - Luke almost offers to help, to hold the child, but something holds him back. He doesn’t think either of them are ready for that just yet. Grogu pats at Fett’s shoulder, over the painted skull, apparently content to amuse himself.
“Still alive then?” Comes the crackly voice of the woman Luke ran into before. She sounds neither surprised nor impressed to hear from her - subordinate? Boss? Friend? Temporary ally?
“Luckily for you,” Fett says.
“I wouldn't go that far.”
“I’ll remember that next time I find you mostly-dead in a desert.”
Yeah, no, Luke doesn’t really want to know what’s going on there, morbid curiosity be damned.
“Next time I’m mostly-dead in a desert, just leave me to die of the shame.”
“You'll be lucky if it isn't me that puts you there, after the stunt you pulled. Skywalker, Fennec?”
“Can’t afford to be too picky about allies these days, you know how it is.” There’s a burst of static - muffled chatter from the other end of the comm that Fennec ignores with professional aplomb. “We have the bridge, but there’s been no sign of Gideon. Sections of the ship are dark, and we don’t have a location on the darktroopers. I’ll keep looking, but you’ll be blind most of the way back.”
Luke gets the impression that Fett isn’t through with his complaining, but all he says in reply is,
“Understood. Comm me if anything changes.”
“Hurry up, and I won’t need to.”
The connection cuts out with a whine, and a part of Luke wonders if the commlink in Fett’s vambrace is as old as the armour itself. The whole thing is a wonder of craftsmanship that he would be a lot more appreciative of had it not haunted so many of his nightmares after Han was taken by the hunter. He shakes the thought away, shifting his weight restlessly as he waits for Fett to catch up.
They make their way towards the bridge, Luke half a step ahead of Fett with his saber drawn, relying on the bounty hunter to tell him if he’s about to take a wrong turn - so far, he hasn’t. There’s no more sound from Fett’s comm - no sound except their echoing steps and Grogu’s soft chattering. It’s barely audible, and doesn’t seem to be aimed at either Fett or Luke. Self-soothing? Luke reaches out to the child, only to find that he’s wrapped himself so completely in his focus that even in the Force, Luke can barely catch his attention.
It may be a perfectly normal response to whatever the child has been through, Luke tells himself. There’ll be time to work with him, to help him, to keep him safe and reassure him. There’ll be -
Luke jumps as the doors ahead slam closed.
“That better’ve been you,” Fett snarls, but he’s already looking warily around, Grogu tucked tighter against his chest and spear in his hand.
At Luke’s side, his comm beeps with a message from Artoo.
Incoming. Don’t know how long the door will hold.
“I’ve changed my mind, your droid can kriffing well -”
Now that Luke is paying attention - now that he isn’t distracted - he can feel a single lifeform, surrounded by more of the droid troopers, and something else that feels unsettlingly like a kyber crystal.
Grogu must feel it too - from the corner of his eye, Luke can see the way the child shrinks back, can hear how his murmuring quiets. He’s scared. He’s angry - so angry, in a way that leaves a metallic taste on Luke’s tongue. He’s resigned. He thinks of his father, of the Mandalorian’s voice, telling him not to be afraid; of the man’s every action, giving him reason not to be.
Luke lifts his saber higher, a mirror of Fett’s spear.
The doors don’t open, and it is only years of fighting battles that should be hopeless, outnumbered more times over than he cares to think about, that has Luke deflecting the first blaster bolts.
The doors don’t open, but there is a blade slicing through them - dark enough that it seems to swallow the light around it and crackling like lightning - and shots following the melted path with uncanny precision.
The doors don't open, but they fall away from the walls with a screech of metal that sets Luke's teeth on edge, even as he lifts a hand to mangle the first trooper that steps through. His saber flashes, angling the blaster fire away from Grogu - Fett can't draw his own blaster without letting go of either the child or the spear, and from what Luke's seen, a blaster wouldn't do much against the darktroopers anyway.
Which means it's up to Luke to destroy as many as he can before they get in striking range of Fett.
At least Fett can't accuse him of not pulling his weight this time, Luke consoles himself grimly as three darktroopers march through the hole. It works in his favour as a bit of a bottleneck, limiting the numbers that can attack him at once - but it limits the numbers he can attack in return. His side burns every time he stretches too far, and he can feel the days spent catching what little sleep he could in hyperspace dulling his reflexes. The droids don’t react like human fighters, but they don’t feel like normal droids, and it throws him off balance. He can destroy them - he knows he can - but it’s draining him.
Maybe that’s why he doesn’t stop to wonder why he can feel the lifeform with it’s kyber crystal moving away from the doors. Maybe he wouldn’t think anything of it anyway - it’s a natural reaction for a sentient to want to get as far away from the spinning lightsaber as possible. It's hard enough trying to keep track of the droids, and he feels a couple of them retreat as well. To act as bodyguards? He doesn't know.
Behind him, Fett shifts his weight - deliberate, purposeful, not the agitated fidgeting Luke might expect from anyone else in his position. It makes sense. Fett's a seasoned warrior and bounty hunter. He must thrive under high stress conditions like this.
Fett moves again, cautiously putting weight on his injured side and breathing through the lancing agony. Luke's distracted by the pain that isn't his - it's only when the black saber hisses to life and is met with a low roar as Fett blocks it that he realises they've been flanked.
As though sensing his moment of inattention, the darktroopers attacking Luke amp up their fire, and Luke - his focus can only be split in so many ways. The kyber crystal in the strange blade is loud, it’s deafening - the saber itself cracks and spits against the spear as Fett dodges another blow, but the crystal bellows into the Force like nothing Luke has ever heard. Even his father’s saber hadn’t felt like this.
Luke swears under his breath as he cuts two more droids down, and barely manages to avoid a heavy blow from a third. The Imperial feels frantic - even without turning to look, Luke can feel how sloppy his strikes are. Too wide and inefficient, a graceless hacking that, with any other weapon, would be pitiable. But he has a saber - one that carries centuries of history and blood on its blade - and so Fett is forced back on the defensive. With Grogu tucked against his chest, he only has one hand free to use the spear, and though his armour seems to protect him, Luke knows all too well that there are vulnerable places; places the metal doesn’t cover.
The next trooper that steps through the door is thrown back by a blast of the Force that tears it’s chestplate open like flimsi, knocking back the droids behind it and pinning them to the floor for a precious few seconds. It isn’t the sort of move that wins a fight on its own, but it gives Luke enough time to fling a hand out behind him, calling to the saber. If he can give Fett the advantage over the Imperial, then he’ll be able to keep Grogu safe.
In the Force, the bellow sharpens to a screech as the kyber fights back.
It isn’t that the crystal wants to stay with the Imperial, inasmuch as it can want anything. The saber hates the hands that hold it now - enough that it warps the blade, heats the handle until it must be almost unbearable - but not enough that it’ll go meekly to the first Jedi that calls it. Luke bares his teeth and pivots, ready to attack the Imperial directly; he doesn’t think Fett will appreciate the help, but Fett can get karked. Getting a grip on the man’s twisting, oily presence in the Force takes all of Luke’s concentration, and it isn’t until he’s turned to face them completely that he understands what he’s looking at; rooted to the ground, breath coming shallower and shallower.
There’s no helmet, but the black cape moves in the same way around the man’s ankles as he presses forward. There’s no mechanical rasp to his breathing, but the flashing buttons on his suit follow a familiar pattern. This man doesn’t know how to wield a saber, but Luke’s wrist sparks with remembered pain, and he staggers back a step.
This man isn’t Vader - he feels nothing like Luke’s father, doesn’t even look like him after Luke’s blinked back the reflexive tears - but for half a second, he could be.
Half a second too long; the time Luke had bought himself is up, the droids advancing again. Fett is losing ground, and Luke can’t do anything to stop it when he feels him falter, injured knee buckling as he blocks a wild overhead swipe from the saber. He goes down with a grunt as Luke faces the darktroopers.
They’re coming fast now, and so Luke has to be faster - he can’t stop to think about the way Fett twists as he goes down so that Grogu isn’t caught between the plates of his armour. He can’t think about the ringing in his ears as the spear goes spinning from Fett's grasp. Fett’s in enough pain that it must be blinding - he can reach for his blasters, and maybe he’ll be able to get off a good shot before either the Imperial or one of the troopers guarding him kills him. Maybe he won’t. Either way, he’s prepared to try; prepared to do whatever he has to to protect the child, and Luke never thought he would have something in common with Boba Fett, but there it is.
Luke wonders if any of his allies will mourn him, or if it’ll fall to him to grieve for a man he doesn’t truly know, the way Fett has for the Mandalorian.
The Imperial might be talking, might be laughing at them, gloating, mocking - Luke can’t tell over the pounding in his head, the crushing weight of the Force as it thickens around him. He can just about feel Grogu - the child is exhausted but unafraid, staring up at what could soon be his death.
Still the darktroopers keep coming, and still Luke destroys them one after another, and still it isn’t enough when he hears the saber behind him hiss as it rends the air.
Indecision would be paralysing if muscle memory didn’t do half the work for him, and Luke keeps fighting as ice floods his veins. He wants to shut himself away from the Force so that he doesn’t have to feel Fett die, doesn’t have to feel that same wound rip open like Tython. He wants to scream out into the Force, to beg for something, anything. Shouldn’t he be able to protect one man and child? He’s a Jedi, this is what he’s for, and he’s never felt as useless as he does now, even as he carves through another droid. Luke throws as much of himself as he can outwards; directionless, purposeless beyond a plea, asking all he can of the Force, demanding all it can give for the sake of the child.
Communication in the Force is subtle - easy to misunderstand. Communication with the Force is almost incomprehensible at first, and it isn’t until Luke whips his head around at the snarl of plasma against beskar that he realises he has been heard.
The world around Din is distant and barely-there.
And then it isn’t.
At first, Luke doesn't truly register what he's seeing. He can't - it makes so little sense that he dismisses it out of hand. A trick of the light, or his exhausted mind finally admitting defeat. The Mandalorian is dead. Luke knows he is; he felt it, he saw it, the child saw it. Fett had burnt him down to bones, and carried the grief and the debt with him to the cruiser.
But - he is here. His edges seem smudged, indistinct, but the hands that grip the spear are solid enough to drive forward in a strike that would have dislocated the Imperial’s shoulder if he’d been a second later lifting the saber. Luke can see the reflection of the blade in his helmet, lined in blue. When he reaches out in the Force, Luke can feel the wound of his presence spilling over like blood.
The Imperial’s face is slackly horrified, and his hands shake as he scrabbles back. Behind the Mandalorian, Fett has already pushed himself to his feet and drawn his blaster, though his helmet never turns from the ghost as he takes aim at the nearest darktrooper.
Dragging his eyes away, Luke rips the heads from the next three droids with a jerk of his hand. He thinks of Yoda, of Ben, of his father’s ghost; of their consciousnesses stitched into the Force without even a crease to show where their lives ended. The Mandalorian is nothing like that, all frayed and tangled up, a snarl of a man that could unravel at the slightest tug, the pattern of his thoughts smoothed away into the vast warp and weft of the universe.
Luke feels like he could unravel too, like he’s about to be torn apart at the seams.
At last, the final trooper marches forward - Luke barely has a chance to twist his saber in his hands before the Force ripples behind him, and the droid folds in on itself. Grogu’s exhaustion bleeds across the fragile bond so suddenly that Luke sways, and has to catch himself against the wall before he manages to build a careful shield around the connection. He swallows hard, draws himself up to his full height, and forces himself to look back at the Mandalorian.
The Imperial is losing ground. The Mandalorian may as well be a desert wind beating at the canyons Luke had grown up exploring - it doesn’t matter how strong the Imperial thinks he is, how long he manages to stand against the inevitable, he is being worn down.
Anything the Imperial had been saying to Fett - any deals he had tried to make, and threats he’d made against the child, any boasts he’d made of the Empire’s crumbling strength, have dried up now. There’s no way he can stand against the Mandalorian, and he must know it. In his hands, the kyber shivers and twists the handle of the saber against the spear bearing down on him. Luke recognises the wild look in his eye as he stumbles out of the Mandalorian’s reach only to back into the wall.
There’s nowhere for him to go - if he tries to run, Luke or Fett can drop him in moments and he knows it. His fear is jagged and ugly. It cuts at him, and something in his stance shifts. The Mandalorian must see it too - he hesitates, and in the momentary peace, the Imperial deactivates the blade and spins the hilt around in his hands. His thumb edges over the switch, emitter pointed at his chest.
Luke could try to pull the saber from his hands again, but he can sense something like satisfaction in the crystal, and he knows that it will resist him with everything it is. He could lock the Imperial’s muscles in place, but right now he doesn’t know if he has the control he would need to only freeze the muscles he needs to and not the man’s heart and lungs too. He could attack - the shock of it might be enough to -
The Mandalorian is faster, and he doesn’t falter.
His weight drops as he slides forwards, slips the spear up and under the Imperial’s guard, twisting it viciously a moment before the blade ignites. It clatters harmlessly out of his hands - the Imperial stands, unarmed, trying to pull the tattered remains of his confidence back around himself. The point of the Mandalorian’s spear sits in the hollow of his throat; if he swallows, it’ll cut deep enough to bleed.
Killing the Imperial would be easy, and Luke can’t honestly say that he doesn’t think the man would deserve it. A judgement like that isn’t his to make, for the most part, and if he were in the Mandalorian’s place, he doesn’t think he would go through with it, but -
But Luke wouldn’t blame him if he did.
Slowly, the Mandalorian straightens to his full height, spear coming to rest at his side. The Imperial gasps and gulps and has to clear his throat before he can speak again.
“You’re letting me live,” he says, like he can’t quite believe it. Luke isn’t sure he can quite believe it himself. From Fett’s incredulous snort, neither can he.
The Mandalorian considers this in silence, helmet tipped to one side. His only answer is to lash out, quick as a vine snake, the spear connecting with a sickeningly solid noise against the side of the Imperial’s head. He crumples, and Luke falters briefly, unsure if the vicious satisfaction he can feel is emanating from the Mandalorian or Fett; or if it’s his own, deep in the anger that sometimes bubbles until it’s boiling over and he has to immerse himself in the Force until he feels he can safely release the pressure. The Mandalorian looks like he might be trying to do something similar, shoulders bowed as he stands over the unconscious Imperial, useless breaths heaving.
Grogu is the first of them to snap out of the stillness that has descended - Fett almost loses his grip as the child starts squirming and batting at his vambraces. The Mandalorian doesn’t react; doesn’t seem to notice anything around him until Grogu starts grizzling, loud and insistent.
It’s like the man’s been hit by a blaster - he flinches, a full-body motion, head whipping around to track the noise.
“Grogu?” To human ears, his voice is hoarse - a little low, a lot careful. Luke thinks he can understand how even the memory of it could bring Grogu such a feeling of security. Grogu tips forward in Fett’s arms, reaching out with both hands, and the Mandalorian jerks forward like he’s been pulled. He doesn’t seem to notice the spear falling from his lax grip; Luke halts it before it can hit the ground and sets it carefully aside with a small wave.
The Mandalorian starts to take Grogu from Fett, and hesitates. One hand lifts, shaking, to stroke the length of the child’s ear.
“Grogu,” he says again; this time a sigh, a sob, and he lifts his son from Fett’s arms though he looks like he should be about as substantial as a holo. Grogu purrs, something Luke hadn’t been aware his species is capable of, and probably could have been content not knowing about. The thought of Yoda doing that, sat in his little hut, is -
Luke is grateful for the distraction of the Mandalorian’s wet laughter when Grogu stretches up to tap his hands against the helmet. The noise his claws makes is far more muted than when he did the same to Fett, as though it’s coming from a great distance.
Love bleeds into the Force so strongly that Luke almost can’t feel the strangeness of the Mandalorian’s presence anymore.
“Thank you,” the Mandalorian says, dragging his attention from his child to briefly glance at Luke, before turning to Fett. He must already be several inches taller than Fett, but he lifts his chin, tilting his head until his vulnerable throat is exposed. Or - not vulnerable anymore, Luke supposes, but something about it feels personal. Like he’s offering Fett the chance to put a vibroblade to the soft place beneath his chin, and trusting that he won’t take it. “Thank you. I am in your debt.”
Fett considers this for a moment, before he sighs and lifts his helmet from his head, tucking it beneath his arm - Luke manages to control his expression, but Grogu must feel the ripple of his shock through the Force, and flicks a curious ear his way. He’s rarely seen a human so scarred and still alive.
The Mandalorian gives no sign that he’s as surprised as Luke. Grogu burbles softly to himself as he looks from the helmet to Fett’s face, an echo of not allowed, not right filtering into Luke’s thoughts.
“The debt is mine,” Fett says; without the vocoder, Luke can hear a warmth he hadn’t imagined the man capable of. His eyes are dark, and sharp, but there’s something wry in the tilt of his smile. He nods at Grogu, “I promised the safety of you both in return for my armour - I couldn’t keep my word on Tython.”
“You came for my... for Grogu. My Clan.” There’s a weight to the way the Mandalorian says clan that makes Luke think the word means more to him than just a different way of saying family. From Fett’s solemn nod, it looks like he understands what the Mandalorian isn’t saying.
“Then until he is of an age to claim it and take the Clan name, I will keep your armour safe, and our deal will be complete.”
The Mandalorian bows his head, until his helmet just barely brushes against the top of Grogu’s head. Luke can't help but feel that he’s intruding on something that was never meant for the likes of him - his dreams start to slot into place, and he knows now that the Mandalorian had died believing his son and armour both lost to the Empire. No wonder he shudders once, overwhelmed.
“It’ll be a long wait,” the Mandalorian says, visibly pulling himself together. “He’s already fifty.”
“Patoo,” Grogu agrees smugly.
Fett laughs, weight settled easily on his good leg as he looks over the Mandalorian and Grogu with something in his eyes that Luke can't quite put a name to.
The Mandalorian tucks Grogu into the soft place between his helmet and shoulder, and turns to face Luke. He's silent for a moment, and Fett steps closer, until they face Luke as a united front - the Mandalorian's helmet tilts.
"Are you a Jedi?" He asks, and Fett snorts. Luke carefully smooths his expression into something a great deal calmer than he feels.
"I am," he says; Fett snorts again, louder this time.
The Mandalorian swallows; his grip tightens on Grogu. The child coos, steady gaze fixed on Luke.
“You heard him. At the… seeing-stone,” he says, and Luke inclines his head. Luke waits while the Mandalorian looks around, at the darktroopers, helmet swinging back and forth. "You can protect him."
So could you, Luke wants to tell the man. It won't help, he knows - even with as little as he knows about the Mandalorian, it's clear he's not the sort of person to be comforted by a stranger's words, but Force, Luke wants to try. Wants to tell him that he did everything he could for his son, that it means more to Grogu than all the stars in all the galaxies. That Luke knows what it is to lose a father who died protecting him. That the Mandalorian didn't somehow fail Grogu.
But all of that feels too much at once, and Luke is fairly sure the Mandalorian wouldn't take it well.
"I can't promise that he'll always be safe," Luke says instead, carefully. Fett huffs. Even as he tenses, the Mandalorian tips his head in acknowledgement of the point. "But I would give my life to protect the child."
It's a cheap thing to say to the man that already has given his life protecting Grogu, Luke knows. But it must have been the right thing to say - the Mandalorian relaxes, flickering as his presence in the Force shifts. Grogu wriggles restlessly in his father's arms, one hand coming up to cling to his thumb.
Luke watches as the Mandalorian hesitates, caught on the edge of some decision that he can't know the shape of without prying into the man's thoughts. Somehow, it still comes as a surprise when he pulls the helmet off, quick and smooth like he may change his mind if he doesn't just get it over with.
Even without Grogu's wide eyes and wondering 'buh?', even without Fett's sharp breath, Luke knows this is significant to them. Maybe the polite thing - the right thing - to do would be to look away. To give them some privacy, to tear his eyes away from the Mandalorian's face as he looks down at his son with his own eyes, for what may be the first time.
But Luke can't. He thinks of Vader - of his father, pale and scarred, of the respirator and the slowing lights on his suit as he died. Thinks of the machinery that kept him alive for so many years, and how small he had seemed without it. After all that time - all of the terror he inspired, the collective fear and fury of the Rebellion - the reality of Vader beneath the mask was a man. Just a man.
The Mandalorian is just a man, too. A human, closer to Han’s age than Luke’s - tired and worn, like even before he died he hadn’t slept for a week. His eyes must have been dark, and his skin must have been warm, but Luke will never know for sure.
Grogu reaches up to touch his father’s cheek, and Luke hadn’t realised until now that it’s possible for ghosts to cry.
“You heard him, kid,” the Mandalorian says thickly. “He can take care of you. Teach you your magic.”
“Buh,” Grogu says again, more insistently. His claws dig into the Mandalorian’s cheeks, and the man’s expression collapses a little further. He looks seconds away from folding to the floor - Luke doesn’t know if the Force will let him catch a falling ghost. Maybe - probably? He’d rather not find out, if he doesn’t have to.
At the Mandalorian’s side, Fett’s lip curls.
“He doesn’t want to go with you, Skywalker,” Fett says, and if he doesn’t sound smug, it’s only because the anger in his voice drowns it out. Like he thinks Luke would just take the child, regardless of what Grogu or the Mandalorian wanted. But then - Fett might think that, Luke realises after a moment. From the pained way the Mandalorian clutches Grogu to his chest, like this is the last chance he’ll ever get, it looks like he thinks the same thing.
It takes a few steadying breaths for Luke to steady himself enough to speak again. He stretches out his awareness, past Grogu’s delight at being in his father’s arms, past the unconscious Imperial, past the Mandalorian’s impossible signature and Fett’s simmering fury, to the other lifeforms on the ship. They are all fierce and steady - used to combat, he thinks. He wonders, if Fett attacks him over this, whether any of them will join him. The woman, Fennec - he thinks she probably would, but Luke has no way of knowing how deep the others’ loyalty runs. To Fett, or to the Mandalorian and his child.
“I wouldn’t make him, if he decides he doesn’t want to.” Luke chooses his words carefully, picking over them. Fett scowls disbelievingly, but the Mandalorian doesn’t so much as glance away from Grogu’s serious gaze. A smile threatens at the corner of Luke’s mouth as he watches them. “But I think he mostly doesn’t want to leave you.”
Grogu hums, and the Mandalorian squeezes his eyes shut.
“We talked about this, kid,” he says, voice hitching. “You - I’m dead, but you’re alive, Grogu. You can - you can go with him. He can train you.”
Stubbornness is a trait that Grogu shares with the only other one of his species Luke has ever met. He reaches to Luke across the Force, and this time Luke is better prepared for the utterly foreign shape of his thoughts, for the sudden rush of sensation and emotion that Luke can’t properly process. Beneath it, though, there is a single thought, wordless but clear nonetheless - that Grogu will not, cannot go with Luke unless the Mandalorian is welcome too. The child is unrepentant, twisting in his father’s arms to stare Luke down.
Yoda will be furious, he’s sure. Ben and his father - they’ll understand. Leia would never forgive him if he didn’t at least offer the Mandalorian a place with his son.
Attachment, as the old Order understood it, was dangerous in a fully-trained Jedi; and to a point Luke can understand why they would think so. But he can’t bring himself to agree - not when his father had died with crystal-blue eyes and a smile on his lips as he looked at Luke. Not when the Mandalorian had been shot down trying to save his son, and stands now before Luke tethered only by half-unravelled knot of the Force.
“You’re welcome to come with us,” Luke says, and smiles a little when the Mandalorian’s head jerks up, mouth falling open in shock. “I’m sure the other ghosts will be able to help you adjust.”
Ignoring Fett’s mutters of other ghosts, and jetii osik, Luke watches as the Mandalorian struggles to clear his throat and wrestle his expression back under control. He blinks a few times, clearing his eyes of the tears that cling to his lashes, faint and barely-there.
“Won’t it - the other Jedi, she wouldn’t train Grogu because of me.”
So - at some point they’re going to have to come back to that, because he isn’t entirely sure who this ‘other Jedi’ could be, and he’d really really like to have a word or ten thousand with her. That can wait, though. Whoever she is, she must still follow at least some of the old teachings.
“The old Jedi Order would have agreed with her,” Luke says, and doesn’t pause long enough for the Mandalorian’s despair to start dragging at his shoulders again. “But the old Order is gone, and I would be the worst sort of hypocrite if I tried to enforce all of their ways. I can train Grogu, and when he’s old enough to make the decision for himself, he can choose the path he wants to follow.”
Luke isn’t sure how old that is, for Grogu’s species. There’s a faint memory tickling the back of his mind, of Yoda claiming that he’d been training Padawans when he was around a hundred - but according to the Mandalorian, Grogu is already fifty and still very much a child. Will Luke still be alive by the time he’s ready to make his choice?
Does it even matter whether he is or not?
The Mandalorian is silent as he turns this over. Luke would be more offended that the man is clearly looking for a trap in his words, except he would be doing exactly the same in his position.
“What do you think, you little womp rat?” The Mandalorian asks finally, and Grogu burbles cheerfully back, wordless even in the Force with his joy. “Sound like a good plan?”
Grogu grins up at his father, all of his sharp little teeth on display. Tension unspools from Fett as the Mandalorian smiles back, and he turns away from the display to pick up the spear and saber that had been abandoned after the fight with the Imperial. The spear he slots onto his back - the saber he stares at with an expression Luke can’t parse, lips pressed into a bloodless line as his hand tightens around the hilt. For a moment, Luke thinks he might throw it against the wall - that he might find the nearest airlock and seal it outside the ship.
Then the moment passes and Fett laughs.
“Here,” he says, holding it out to the Mandalorian, who hardly spares it a glance. “You won it. It’s yours.”
The Mandalorian looks at Fett like he’s lost his mind.
“I’m dead,” he says again, as though it may have somehow escaped Fett’s notice. Like he could have forgotten. “I don’t need a laser sword. You should hold onto it, for now at least.”
Fett’s expression unfolds in shock, but he doesn’t argue - just adjusts his hold on the saber and nods, once. He doesn’t turn to face Luke when he says, “if you need a ride bigger than that X-wing of yours, I can give you a lift wherever you need to go.”
The offer is clearly not for Luke’s benefit, and Luke can’t tell if Fett would rather he accepted it or not.
“I appreciate it, but I hope you understand why that will literally never happen,” he says. Fett shrugs.
“It really isn’t.”
“What’s your backup plan, then?”
Luke tries not to feel judged by the Mandalorian’s bemused gaze as he watches them.
“This ship’ll have a long-range comm - I have a few contacts that I trust. One of them’ll be able to pick us up.” He doesn’t mention that most likely it’ll be Han coming to get them. He thinks Fett would stick around for the sole purpose of scaring the shit out of him, which would only make Leia want to kill the man even more, which would be a very poor way of showing his gratitude.
Fett smirks like he knows every thought that’s just run through Luke’s mind, and he finds himself checking - again - that Fett hasn’t somehow managed to hide Force sensitivity all these years.
Shrugging off the discomfort that comes with the thought, Luke lifts the unconscious Imperial with a belated wave. He’ll have to warn Leia about that, before she and Han come tearing across the galaxy to him. Maybe it would be better if the Imperial travelled in Fett’s ship - but Luke has a distaste for carbonite that runs too deep to entertain the thought for long, even with someone like this.
“Coming then, Mando?” Fett asks, and the Mandalorian jolts. He hesitates, lifting his helmet, before lowering it again. He doesn’t put it back on. In his arms, Grogu settles deeper into his hold, and Luke can feel the heavy pull of sleep around the child.
This is - this decision feels right, the way Han and Leia felt right, the way sometimes he would just know what it is he has to do, where he has to go, who he has to trust. Whatever else may come of it, this feels right, and maybe Luke’s been wrong before but he doesn’t think he is this time.
The Mandalorian’s edges blur, and his form flickers, but Grogu never slips in his grasp.
“I - yes. Yes,” he says, and starts to follow.