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Our Souls Our Own

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The scorched sky stretched above him, twin suns glaring downwards. Sand swirled and eddied around his feet. An endless vista stretched around him, still and silent under the suns. Something called to him out of the wastes. Not a sound. A … A sense. A feeling of something waiting, out in the sands. Destiny, maybe. Or death.

One and the same, on Tatooine.

Boba wasn’t sure what it was about this place. Why it called to him. Vengeance, he might have said, once upon a time. On Jabba, on Fortuna. On his past self. Maybe there was a little bit of that even still. But there was … more. Now. Something else. That other thing. That waiting thing.

Not the Force. He wasn’t that far gone. But something.

Tatooine itself, maybe. You kill it, you claim it. The laws of bounty hunting. Tatooine had killed him, and Tatooine had brought him back. Something was owed for that, something bought and sold. His soul, or what little was left of it. He belonged here now, at least some part of him. That waiting thing was here and only here, out there in the sand. His destiny, his death, lay in these dunes.

Tatooine was a crucible. Always had been, always would be. The planet did one of two things to everyone who set foot on it. It ate you, or it made you. Or, he thought wryly, if you were particularly unlucky, a little bit of both. But if you survived here, a part of you belonged to it forever more.

Which was why he now wondered if it had been entirely wise to bring Din here.

He shifted slightly, sand crunching under his heels, and stared down at the small town below his ridge. Mos Pelgo. Or Freetown, as it had sometimes been called. The mechanic in Mos Eisley, Peli Motto, had pointed him here. A friend of Din’s. So many people were friends of Din. That wasn’t as surprising as it might once have been. He had … that effect. Effortlessly.

She’d been worried about him. The mechanic. And willing to defend him. It took a certain sort of courage, or a certain sort of loyalty, to point a blaster at Boba Fett on Tatooine. Even before he’d taken over the place. But Din inspired that sort of thing. Peli Motto had levelled her sights on him with perfect, suicidal belligerence, and demanded to know what the new crime lord wanted with her friend. She’d only softened when he’d admitted to some concern about Din himself.

When Boba got back to the Palace, he was going to see about drafting up a trade license for her. A writ of protection for her shop. He’d be happy enough to go to war for a friend of a friend like that.

She’d pointed him here. Back here. Back to where he’d first picked up Din’s trail all those months ago. His armour’s trail. There was something in that, some echo of that calling thing out in the sands. It made sense, of course. Rational, logical sense. Din had friends here. Din had friends almost everywhere, it felt like, but he’d fought for these people. If he needed somewhere to go on Tatooine that wasn’t the Palace, it made sense for it to be here.

But still. The scars from the sarlacc were itching under his armour. Something in the desert was tugging on his awareness. His soul. As little as Boba was given to superstition, or had been given to superstition, before the pit, before the Tuskens, before Tatooine had eaten him and then spat him back up …

There was something in the air. In the wind. In the sand. And that something was centred on Din.

If Boba didn’t know better, if he wasn’t a rational man, he’d have said that the planet was hungry again. Looking to eat once more.

Fortunately, he was a rational man. He hoped.

He wasn’t alone, either. Peli had been worried too. More for Din directly than for Din-on-Tatooine, but she’d caught the air of something as well. Despair. That well of it since the child. Since the sword. Something in Din felt like a dead man walking, and had for far too long now. Peli’d noticed. She’d taken care to tell Boba that Din had taken a speeder. That he’d gone to Mos Pelgo. That he had a destination, that he wasn’t on foot, that he hadn’t …

Taken a long walk into the sands. The way that slaves did, when it didn’t matter anymore. When it was better to let Tatooine eat them than live another minute in their master’s grasp.

Everyone on Tatooine knew what it meant for someone to walk into the desert. And Peli hadn’t said that directly, she hadn’t actually voiced her fear, but the emphasis on the speeder, on the destination, had told Boba more than enough. The thought had been there. She’d let Din go, but a part of her had wondered if she should.

And that thing in the sand was calling Boba. That echo of the Pit of Carkoon. He’d left with her blessing, and come straight here.

Back to Mos Pelgo, and a man who’d worn his armour, and a man who’d saved it.

It meant something. He didn’t know what, yet, but it meant something. Not just to him, but to Din too. It must do. A running man goes somewhere that means something. A man wanting to die … only more so. Something had called Din to Mos Pelgo specifically. And something else had called Boba after him.

And he would find neither thing standing here.

It was a long walk into town from the Slave. They watched him all the way in. People tended to, out here. Any stranger was a danger. There was recognition in some of the faces. He wondered if it was recognition of him, personally, from the good old bad old days, or recognition of his armour instead. It meant … something different here. He knew that. He’d watched it. He still wasn’t fully sure how he felt about it. Which reaction he would prefer. Fear, if they knew him, or … that other thing. If they knew the armour.

These people were friends of Din. The latter might be more useful. But he didn’t know how he felt about it.

Or about the man standing in the street to meet him, either. A tall, gangling man in red, hand warily on the blaster at his hip. A man Boba had watched, for quite some time, from a position on the ridge. Though he’d looked different then. He’d been wearing something else.

“… Well then,” Marshal Cobb Vanth said wryly, when Boba came to a stop in front of him. His eyes skated over the armour, an odd expression in them, but only briefly. He’d seen too many firefights to let himself give too much away. Boba tried to tell himself he didn’t approve. “I’d say ‘hello stranger’, but I think most folks on Tatooine have learned who you are by now. Boba Fett, right? Or … guess you might prefer ‘Your Excellency’ these days?”

He was smiling as he said it. A little queasily, a lot defiantly. The same sort of spine Peli Motto had had. Boba wondered if Din inspired that, too, or if he was just drawn to it instead.

Could be it was just required, to survive any amount of time in Din’s orbit. No offense to the man, but he found trouble the way other people found sand in their boots. Constantly.

Vanth didn’t falter under Boba’s stare, the implicit threat of it, either way. And Boba let himself stare. Just a little bit. Just for a few moments. This man had worn his armour. His father’s armour. Had touched it, worn it, laid claim to it. Had felt he had a right to. The scars from the sarlacc weren’t the only things itching under Boba’s skin at the sight of him.

And yet … Vanth’s chin tipped up. The longer he stared. Something flickered in his eyes, a sort of wry despair. An old, familiar look. His hand drifted towards his blaster. Familiar too. A man unarmoured, unprotected. Determined to die fighting.

Facing the armour he had freed his town with. An armour that … meant something different here.

Something twisted in Boba’s gut. Something he’d like to blame on Din. Lots of people blamed lots of things on Din, one more wouldn’t matter. It was the sort of thing he inspired, after all. But Boba tried not to lie to himself too much since the sarlacc.

He moved. Ignoring Vanth’s flinch, the sudden worried grip on a blaster. Boba ignored that, and lifted both hands towards his head. Away from his weapons, to Vanth’s clear confusion. Towards his helmet, instead.

The hush that blanketed the street when he tugged it off, baring his face and scars for all to see, felt a lot heavier than Boba would have preferred.

“… Fett will do,” he grated finally. While Vanth stared at him, something stunned in his eyes. “I’m no Bib Fortuna. Aping a slug holds no appeal for me.”

And he meant that, too. By the time he was done, his name would be enough of a title in itself. He had no need to demand false, cloying pleasantries like some Core-world senator of old, or some sycophantic ex-lackey, clinging to his old master’s titles as if they would grant him even a fraction of the power Jabba had held.

If Jabba had been a slug, Fortuna had been less than a worm. Boba felt no need to echo either of them.

Something twitched across Vanth’s face. Something complicated. Something that might, possibly, bear some cautious resemblance to hope. His hand moved a little away from his blaster.

“… Heard that,” he said at last. Cautiously. “Heard you let slaves go. Out at the old Palace.”

Slaves. Somehow it always came back to slaves. On Tatooine. On Kamino. On Galidraan. On karking Mandalore, probably. The galaxy at large. Everything in Boba’s life. His father had named his ship Slave One. He’d done that for a reason.

And Boba had hunted bounties for the Empire and for Jabba the Hutt, and Vanth had used his father’s armour to free a town.

That thing in his gut twinged again, and Boba tucked his helmet hard against his side. Under his arm.

“I did,” he said roughly. “I’ve no need for slaves. And no need to help anyone else keep them either.”

A promise several decades too late, probably. But maybe there was a reason it had been Tatooine, of all worlds, to buy what was left of his soul.

Vanth … He didn’t shuffle, not quite. But he looked like he wanted to. That thing stuttered back across his face. And he looked … down. At the armour. A faint smile flickered across his features. A tired and wary sort of hope.

“Not gonna lie,” he said, taking his hand off his blaster and smiling openly at Boba, “that’s good to hear. We, ah. We heard a Mandalorian had taken the Palace. You hear things even out here. Thought for a minute it might have been … Uh. A different Mandalorian.” Din, of course. Always Din. Vanth glanced at him, as if to check he knew who was being referred to. Boba only raised an eyebrow, and Vanth shrugged easily. “Wasn’t sure what to think when we heard it was you instead. You, uh. You’ve got a reputation. Not necessarily for freeing slaves. But, ah …”

He trailed off, his eyes glancing down involuntarily, and Boba felt a thin, dark smile curl his own lips. A presentiment. A call in the sand. He could guess what Vanth had almost tried to say.

“But the armour held true?” he asked grimly, and Vanth did flinch. Just a faint twitch, but it was there. His eyes flicked up again, half wry and half shamed, and the hand that had darted back to his blaster came slowly and deliberately back off it. He slumped.

“Guess I don’t got the right to say that, huh?” he said softly. “Not my armour. Not my right to decide what it means.” A pause, and then he straightened again. Chin up, just like before. Ready to die. “You here for me, then? Came out to have a word about borrowin’ and the … prices thereof?”

And he looked so casual about the question too. All easy charm and rock-solid spine. There was a certain sort of calibre to Din Djarin’s friends. Wasn’t there.

Boba shook his head. Not even bothering to make the man sweat first. He felt old, suddenly. He felt like an ancient and half-made thing, torn apart and badly put back together again. The scars itched across the top of his scalp, the marks of them stark under the twin suns.

But he felt cleaner, he thought, than he had in a very long time. Scoured. Sand-blasted. Tatooine’s methods of rebirth were harsher than most, but you couldn’t fault their effectiveness.

“No,” he said, and easily. “This is Tatooine. Salvage is salvage. And if it had to end up with anyone … You weren’t the worst. I’m not here for you.”

He hadn’t been even before Din. He’d been on Tatooine since the sarlacc, more or less. He’d heard the rumours of a Mandalorian defending some tiny mining town long before Din had. He could have come for armour at any time, once he was healed and strong enough. He just … hadn’t. For reasons.

There were, truly, so many things he’d like to blame on Din. But there were no lies in the sand and the acid. None worth anyone’s while.

Vanth blinked at him. Faltering. Disbelieving. Most people in the Rim, let alone on Tatooine, knew the vanishing rarity of a lack of violence. A lack of punishment. Fen had looked the same, when she’d realised that the hands in her guts weren’t pulling things out, but putting things in. Putting her back together, instead of taking her apart. She’d looked just like this. That pale disbelief, when fate came to rescue the wretched.

Vanth ducked his head, a wry smile on his face. “That’s, ah. Good. That’s good.” He huffed, and lifted his head to flash a grin Boba’s way. “I’d hoped so. I told Mando to tell you the damage wasn’t my fault. Got it like that from the Jawas. Worse, mostly.”

Boba snorted faintly. “I know,” he said. He did. “They pulled it out of a sarlacc, off what would have been a barely breathing corpse at the time. A year or more in the acid. Barring you got caught in a rhydonium explosion or a starship engine, there wasn’t a lot worse you could have done to it.”

The Marshal paled a little bit. “A sar—” he started. “You got out of a sarlacc. Of course you did.” He shook his head. “You know, a year ago I wouldn’t have believed that. Do you Mandos got a thing about getting eaten by things or something?”

Boba blinked a bit, and then laughed. A rough, gravelled sort of noise, but genuine. Ah, yes. The Din Djarin method for killing a krayt dragon. He’d seen that. He’d watched that fight avidly.

“It does appear to be something of career hazard,” he allowed, still smirking faintly. “At least on Tatooine. There’s a bit of a shortage of sarlaccs and krayts to get fed to most other places.”

Vanth’s expression changed at that. He had been smiling. A little disbelievingly, but smiling nonetheless. Something about that sentence sobered him, though.

“… I didn’t,” he said. Slowly. Falteringly. “Didn’t mean to get him eaten. You know? Didn’t figure he’d … I mean, folks don’t do that, right? Don’t just go up to things and let it eat ‘em. That wasn’t … It wasn’t on purpose on my part. I wouldn’t have asked him to do that, just for …”

Ah. And Boba sobered too.

“For my armour,” he said quietly. Vanth flinched a bit again.

“I didn’t … He was gonna shoot me for it. Which, you know. Mighta been fair. I just needed to protect the town. I didn’t figure he’d give me the chance, but he … Dealing with the krayt was the deal, but I didn’t figure he’d actually get eaten for it. I wouldn’t have asked that.”

Because no-one sane would. Because no-one sane would do it, to start with. You didn’t give people orders you knew for a fact they wouldn’t obey.

Except Din … Din might have. Even if Vanth had asked directly. Boba had seen Din do … so many things now. Sacrifice everything. Fight anything. Mostly for the child, but …

Anything he believed in, he’d give the same. And he believed in armour. In honouring the armour. Even Boba’s. Even if he’d known in advance what Boba was, who the armour belonged to, he’d probably have given the same. Boba had seen that by now. And the town, too. He would have given as much to protect the town, as well. He was willing to protect a lot of people, was Din Djarin.

And that was … There’d been a moment, in that krayt fight. Boba had been watching it so closely, as much as he could from that distance away. He had good equipment, an excellent, mostly new set of binocs. He’d seen … a moment. Right before that last gambit. Right before Din let himself get swallowed.

He’d seen two armours standing together. Vanth and Din, side by side. A missile freshly fired. And then, with the krayt bearing down on them, he’d seen …

A strike to a jetpack. Deliberate, careful. And a green-armoured figure arcing clear of the danger.

The same strike that Han Solo had used to send Boba into the pit, Din Djarin had used to send Vanth to safety. The same, the exact same vulnerability in the armour. In the hands of Han Solo, a year’s worth of agony, and a life changed forever. In the hands of Din Djarin …

“… He didn’t give you the option to ask,” he rasped finally. Looking at Vanth, Cobb. At the wide-eyed look of a wretched man rescued by fate. Or a Mandalorian. “He didn’t give you an option at all, from what I saw. Seems to be a theme with him. Our friend is very good at taking hits meant for other people. Yes?”

Vanth blinked at him. And then exhaled, his shoulders slumping in wry agreement. “He is at that,” he nodded. “He’s sure something.”

And so did Din Djarin make friends. The length and breadth of the galaxy. Or at least the Outer Rim.

“I’m looking for him,” Boba said. Feeling a shift in the air. A stir of sand about his feet, a hungry Tatooine wind. “He left the Palace some days ago. A friend of his told me he was here.”

Vanth stilled. Boba watched him. Watched the same sort of instinct that had Peli Motto reaching for her blaster. Wary camaraderie filtered away, and in its place came protectiveness, rock-spined reluctance, and easy liar’s charm.

“That so?” Vanth asked. Smooth and easy. “Why? He skip out on a job or something?”

Boba didn’t bother answering that. He arched a scarred, hairless brow instead. Unimpressed. But there wasn’t despair in the way Vanth tipped his chin up, this time. There was a mulish, stubborn determination. Not to die, but to defend. The Marshal stood hipshot, one hand easy and steady beside his blaster.

“Look,” Vanth said. “I’m not trying to get in the way of your business or anything. Just … maybe you could find someone else for whatever it is. Yeah? Call it a bad time. I’m sure he’ll make it up to you later. Mando’s pretty good about that.”

Boba took that. Let it settle in the air. In the swirl of sand and the heavy hum of all of Tatooine’s sun-scoured, hungry attention. That call throbbed in his head. That sensation of something waiting.

“… Is he hurt?” he asked finally. Heavily. “Or something worse?”

Because Din had been a ghost since the cruiser, a spectre haunting his Palace, and then three days ago he’d been a spectre vanished into thin air. Gone without a word, and only an off-handed mention of a mechanic named Peli Motto days before to give Boba something to go on.

Whatever had happened on that cruiser, maybe everything that had happened since Tython, had carved the man’s heart right out of his chest. And there was something on Tatooine that called to people like that. There was a waiting thing out in the desert, a vast silence that promised to gently swallow you up, break you down, and leave nothing of you behind but sun-bleached bones and scrap for Jawas. Peace under the twins. Destiny in the dunes.

Vanth blinked at him. Vanth tilted his head and looked. At something. For something. Boba didn’t know, and he didn’t care. But whatever he found, Vanth swallowed faintly, and let his shoulders soften again.

“Depends,” he said softly. “What are we calling ‘worse’?”

Boba met his gaze steadily. “His friend in Mos Eisley wanted me to know he took a speeder,” he said. “As opposed to taking a walk. A nice long walk. Into the Dune Sea.”

And Vanth … was not surprised by that. Not at all. He grimaced faintly, a small tick of his jaw. And then he angled himself towards the cantina behind him, and gestured with his head for Boba to follow him inside. Off the street, maybe. Away from prying ears. But Boba wasn’t sure anymore if they had that kind of time. He stood his ground, and Vanth grimaced again.

“He didn’t,” he said, leaning all the way in instead. Quiet and adamant, into Boba’s space. “He’s not here, no. He went out, up to the old krayt. Early this morning. But he’s not walking. I know, okay.” He smiled, bitter and thin. “Trust me. I’ve taken a walk or two myself in my time. I … I made him promise. Said I’d have a drink ready for him when he came back, made him promise to take me up on it. He’s coming back. Ain’t never met a man whose word was better than Mando’s.”

And there was an edge on that, a hint of more hope and desperation than surety, but it was also … a fair point. Din’s word was good. None better. If he said he’d be back …

“Why the krayt?” Boba asked finally. Instead of … anything else. “What’s left up there that could help him?”

Vanth shook his head. “Kriff if I know,” he said. Leaning back out of Boba’s face, settling tiredly back onto his heels. “Wouldn’t have said there was anything, myself. But that’s where he was going, and he didn’t much look in the mood to be questioned about it.”

Sand swirled again. Boba’s scars all but crawled across his skin. And it could just be worry. It could be nothing but his own mind, rattled and scarred by the sarlacc as much as the rest of him, throwing up phantoms from his worry for Din. A rational man would say it was exactly that. Nothing more, nothing less.

But the desert called. And Boba wasn’t sure anymore how rational a man he might be.

“… I’m going up there,” he rasped. Something strange, something distant in his voice. He could hear it himself. “Word or no word. Something’s wrong. I’m going after him.”

Vanth caught his arm as he turned. A rough, hard grip, right on the vambrace. The only thing that kept Boba from triggering the vibroblade was … Well. Something. He turned his head back towards the Marshal, the old Boba Fett climbing up beneath his skin. But Din’s friends were made of stern stuff. Vanth didn’t flinch. Or not much, anyway.

He looked at Boba instead. Studied him, a strange, pained look in his eyes. He fingers were tight and familiar around the armour. Settled into the grooves like they knew where to fit. For a moment, Boba deeply and truly wanted to kill him.

And then Vanth stepped back a little bit. Straightened up. His hand didn’t let go of Boba’s arm, but it did loosen. Shifted, from a possessive, quelling hold, to just the grip of a man trying to hold your attention.

“… Not alone, you’re not,” he said finally. Something strange in his voice, too. “I don’t know what’s happening here. Don’t know what sort of … knowledge or feeling or whatever you got. But that man came to my town. He came here for somewhere safe. If you’re going up there, I’m coming too.”

To protect him, was the rider. And, unspoken: To protect him from you.

But fine. Just fine. Boba wasn’t going to pick a fight with one of Din Djarin’s friends.

“We’re taking the Slave,” he said, putting his helmet back on. Taking a dark little mote of joy from the Marshal’s expression at the name. “My ship. I don’t have time to waste with speeders.”

A ship. Boba Fett’s ship. Out in the desert, on a speeder, Vanth had a chance to run. To fight. Feet on the ground and ready to die like a free man. But on a ship. Alone. Unarmoured. No means of his own to come back from wherever Boba might send him to. He’d have to fight Boba and win, kill him and take the ship itself, to come back from that. If it came to it. If Boba turned on him. A man from Tatooine, taken out on a ship named Slave.

But Vanth had worn his father’s armour for a time. Vanth had worn it well. All he did was square his shoulders, and gesture back the way Boba had come.

“Well then,” he said, all the bitter, easy charm of a liar and a slave. “Lead on.”

Kark. How much did Boba wish he could blame it all on Din.

It was silent flight. And short, thankfully. Vanth’s footsteps echoed strangely in the Slave. Boba felt him in the space, in a way he hadn’t felt any of the others. Not the princess and her crusade, not the shock-trooper and her weapons. Not the ex-imperial. Not even Din, in some ways. Not like this. Din hadn’t worn Boba’s armour. Carried it, but not worn it. Din didn’t tread all over again through all of Boba’s history, all the scars inside and outside his skin. Din was a shape against his senses, yes, a feeling like that calling thing in the dunes, but not the same way Vanth was.

Maybe he shouldn’t have pressed the issue. Like pressing one of your own wounds, to make someone else hurt. Stupid. But it was too late now. And neither of them had broken from it yet.

They circled wordlessly up over the crest of the ridge behind the krayt pit. Over the mountain top the krayt had burst through, all those months ago. Hadn’t that been a sight. If Boba had been in any doubt where his quarry was, that had answered it neatly. He cruised across the scar, now. Looking down onto the sand plain below, the pit where the staring ribs still arched upwards, the line of bleached spine up towards a massive skull.

Krayts made excellent landmarks on Tatooine. The sands would still cover them eventually, but even the Dune Sea needed a bit of time to swallow a dragon.

“… There,” Vanth said beside him. Standing up in the cockpit, one arm braced overhead. He pointed, down towards the krayt. “Beside the skull. S—”

See. Yes. Boba did see.

The silver figure looked tiny, sitting next to the vast white shape of the dragon. Remote and tiny and alone. Worrying enough. But more worrying was the fact that it wasn’t all silver. There was a dark shape on top. A bowed, curly head. Where Din sat alone in the sand with his helmet off.

He didn’t look up at the sound of engines. The Slave was quiet, but not that quiet. Din heard them come in. He didn’t move.

“… Shit,” Vanth whispered. “All right. I’m seeing why coming up here was a good plan, now.”

Boba didn’t answer. He just scanned for sand firm enough to set the Slave on.

Tatooine surged in around them as soon as he opened the door. Heat and sand and hunger. Boba could have closed his eyes right there and pointed to the Pit of Carkoon, miles away across the sand. Sarlaccs didn’t nest close to each other. He was miles from where he’d died. But the way the desert was singing under his skin right now, he could have pointed to it unerringly anyway.

This was a different pit. A different hunger. Pointed at a different man.

They couldn’t see Din’s face from here. Even if he’d had his head up, it would have been too far. But Din knew they were here, that someone was here, and he didn’t move to cover it back up. Didn’t move to put his helmet back on.

Boba worried briefly that he might be unconscious. Passed out in the sun. He was upright, sure, but that didn’t necessarily mean much. His fingers itched to bring his rangefinder down, to scan over and check. But of all people in the galaxy, Din Djarin was the last he would dishonour without the man’s leave or knowledge.

But if Din was unconscious, they would have to go down to him anyway. And if he wasn’t …

“So,” Vanth asked quietly beside him. The same expression on his face, when Boba looked at him. Half worry and half trepidation. He grimaced faintly. “What do you want to do? Most of me, my whole body, says go down there and get him. But a man don’t come out here and sit in the sand if he wants other people showing up and poking at his broken bits.”

No. No, a man didn’t. Boba thought about it for a second. His eyes fixed on the hunched silver figure.

And then he turned around, walked back up the ramp of the Slave, and calmly fetched his cycler rifle from the weapons cabinet. Vanth stared at him as he came back out, half alarmed, half incredulous, and backed up a hurried step, one hand on his own weapon, when Boba smoothly brought the rifle to his shoulder.

“Now, wait a minute!” the Marshal started. “What—”

Boba ignored him. He stared down the length of the barrel at the figure in the krayt’s shadow. No rangefinder, no visor magnification. Only his own eyes. And then, without shifting his gaze at all, he swung the barrel slightly to one side and fired, all in one smooth movement. The slug cracked off the krayt’s ribcage, ricocheting off into the sand somewhere. The report from the rifle echoed off the mountain, along with Vanth’s bitten-off curse.

And Din, beside the skull, flinched automatically, his head darting up to track the slug. Boba grunted in satisfaction, lowering the rifle.

“He’s conscious,” he stated baldly, slinging the rifle over his back, ignoring how Vanth stared at him like he was a lunatic. “Knows we’re coming. His choice what he wants to do about it from here.”

Vanth stared some more. Just to make a point. “This a Mando thing?” he asked incredulously. “Do you all ask your questions with weapons?”

Boba didn’t bother glancing at him, already heading down the slope. “Worked, didn’t it?”

Gave them all the answers they needed. The target, Din, was conscious. Had heard them come in. Was still sitting down there. And still … still had his helmet off. Even with Boba coming down the slope towards him. Even with Vanth muttering under his breath and sliding after him. That was … That was a choice. What it meant, how good of a choice it was, they’d have to see. But at the very least Din was conscious enough to make it.

The knowledge didn’t stop Boba’s stomach from tightening up anyway, the closer he got. Din didn’t move, only shifted slightly. Kept his head bowed, his arms braced on bent knees. Boba hoped that meant he’d recognised the Slave. Hoped it meant he knew who was coming, and not … that he’d just have sat there anyway. For anyone. Enemies as much as friends.

There were three things lying in the sand in front of him. Not his speeder, or his spear. He must have left those up under the cliffs somewhere. Only small things, here, shining faintly in the sand.

One, maybe the worst, was his helmet, silver and stark under the twin suns. Slightly to his left, the black visor staring hollowly back at him. Another, darker, was the hilt of the darksaber, a foot or so to the right. Near his weapon hand, a little, but placed just that little too far forward to be any use.

And the third, in pride of place between his feet, where he could still see it even as hunched as he was, was a small silver ball.

The ball was what Din was looking at. What he’d fixed his gaze straight back to, once the echoes of Boba’s shot had died away.

For one horrible, breath-stealing moment, Boba wasn’t stuttering to a halt near a krayt pit on Tatooine, but … somewhere else. Another sandbowl, on another world. An arena on Geonosis. Metal gleamed in front of him. A stark echo of grief. He slowed. Stopped dead. Just shy of the …

Of the offerings, maybe. Whatever ritual Din was mired in. Boba stopped in front of them. Was careful not to … not to let his shadow touch them.

He opened his mouth. The word Din on the tip of his tongue, the name, a hint of desperation curled behind it. He trapped it just in time. Vanth, still a silent shadow at his back, had been using ‘Mando’. Boba didn’t know if Din had trusted him with his name yet. He didn’t know why Din had trusted him. Why he’d said it, rough and ruined, all those months ago after the cruiser. But it was a trust, whatever the reasons for it, and Boba wouldn’t betray it. He trapped the sound in his throat.

So what came out instead, as rough and disused as it would have been straight out of the sarlacc, was: “Vod.”

Din twitched, faintly. Maybe ‘flinched’ would be a better word. His shoulders hunched tighter, pulling his chin tight against his chest. Almost a gesture of shame. Boba groped silently through the emptiness in his head for an answer to that. He wasn’t sure if he found one or not. But his hands, without leave or direction, reached for his helmet. He crouched down carefully in front of Din. Across the line of objects in the sand.

“Vod,” he said again. A little softer, a little stronger, without the helmet’s shield. The name burned on his tongue, but he didn’t say it. “Look at me. Please.”

He didn’t know if he’d get an answer. He didn’t know if he should get an answer. Showing his face was as bad as someone using his name for Din. Worse. Maybe it would have been more reassuring if the man had refused.

But, after a long, long second, Din didn’t. He curled his fingers into fists at his knees, but slowly, steadily, raised his head. Looked up, with an expression as raw and stripped bare as it must have been on that cruiser. When the Jedi took his child.

Behind him, still standing, Boba heard Vanth suck in a breath.

Din didn’t speak. Looked down again, almost immediately, his eyes sliding down and to the side, the effort of holding eye contact clearly too much without a shield. He took an unsteady breath, and …

Reached out, one-handed, and touched the tip of his fingers to his helmet’s brow-ridge.

Boba curled his own fist to keep from reaching out in turn. From touching that hand. Catching it. Shoving the helmet roughly back into it. He brought his own down by his side instead. Rested it, facing Din’s, in the sand, as Boba carefully knelt down beside it.

He couldn’t hold a crouch the way he used to anymore.

“I …” Din started. Swallowing almost immediately, his voice rough and thick. “I took it off. To save him. I can’t … I shouldn’t have put it back on. It’s not the Way. I shouldn’t have …”

Vod,” Boba interrupted. Desperately. Din’s name pressing so hard against his teeth. Nothing else. There was nothing useful he could add. Din closed his eyes. Pressed them shut, his chin drifting down to his chest piece. When he opened them, they’d moved back to that other thing. To the ball, lying small and innocent between his feet.

“It was worth it,” he said. And as rough as his voice was, as hollow, there was strength in it there. Certainty. Absolute, unshakeable. His hand drifted, and brought the ball to his chest. Cradled it there, like a treasure. Like a gift. “To see Grogu safe, to see him free. It was worth being dar’manda. That … I don’t know what that makes me. It was … It was worth my soul to see him safe.”

There was nothing in Boba’s head. Nothing useful or useless or anything else. Tatooine hummed around them. Wrapped close. The slow creep of a desert that could eat even dragons. He leaned forward helplessly.

And then … Vanth. Behind him. Hushed and hoarse.

“It makes you a damn good father,” he said roughly. His voice cracking in the middle. “It makes you a good man, Mando. I don’t … I don’t know about the other things. About being Mando or not. But … Here on Tatooine. To my people. A man who’d sell his soul to see you free is worth … A lot. One hell of a lot. And only more so to a kid.”

Din closed his eyes. Took a breath. “A man,” he said quietly. “A man. Not a Mandalorian.”

Something crested in Boba’s chest. A fury like he hadn’t felt in years. A blind surge of empty rage, ancient and festered. “If you are not Mandalorian, Din Djarin,” he hissed, his caution obliterated by his anger, “then Mandalorian is not worth being. You have done everything. Everything. If you failed, it was for the sake of a child. Does your creed not value that? Doesn’t it care?”

Din flinched. Fully. Recoiling back, enough to almost make Boba regret it. His hand curled tight around the ball. He pulled it reflexively, protectively, into his chest.

“Children are the future,” he stuttered, half-rote, tripping over the words. “They are … It does care. It does. Children are the future. This is the Way.”

Boba took a breath. Pulled it in, around the acid in his gut. Not the sarlacc’s, for once. An older burn. His from birth. Though not as much as it had been his brothers’.

“If that is true,” he growled, harsh and thick. “If that’s true, then you haven’t betrayed it. It was done to see him safe. To save his life. If your creed must be kept even at the cost of a child’s life, it’s worth nothing. If your honour requires the sacrifice of a child, it’s not honour.”

And that was at least half pointed at the Jedi. He knew it even as he said it. It wasn’t pointed at Din. Never Din. Din had made the right choice. But the Jedi. The Kry’tsad. Everyone else. Every group in the galaxy that sold or stole or destroyed children and still somehow called themselves honourable with a straight face. The rage was ancient. Vicious. It clawed in Boba’s chest. He’d thought himself too tired for it. But somehow everything always came back to slaves.

And at the thought. On the heel of it. Vanth reached out, behind him, and rested his hand on Boba’s shoulder. Half to quell, tugging him back a little from Din’s space. But half for … something else. Vanth squeezed lightly over the armour.

“Can’t say I disagree, Mando,” he said quietly. “Like I said, I don’t know anything about this. This probably ain’t my place. But honour without anything behind it is just a pretty word. Better a man who’d save a kid, than … than some empty armour that don’t mean nothing.”

He flinched a little even as he said it. His hand spasmed on Boba’s shoulder. The armour didn’t mean nothing to him. Maybe it didn’t mean what it meant to Boba, to Din, but it didn’t mean nothing either. He’d made it mean something. And he knew, at least a little bit, what it meant to them too. He knew how vile, how vicious, those words together were for Din.

But if it came down to it. If it came down. The armour didn’t matter more than the man in it. There was a reason Boba hadn’t killed Vanth to get it back. Or the child. Or Din.

Which, in its own way, maybe wrapped back around to Din’s Creed. Just wearing the armour didn’t make you Mandalorian. They agreed there. You had to be worthy of it. They just … might have different ideas of what made you worthy.

Vanth had been worthy of Boba’s. He hadn’t said it. Wouldn’t say it. But Vanth had been. Maybe more so than Boba. Maybe, as scouring and acidic as it felt to think it, maybe more so than Jango.

And there was no one, in the whole galaxy, more worthy of Din’s armour than Din.

Din tipped his head back. Into the suns. Into the scouring heat of Tatooine. His eyes were closed. They would have been damp, Boba thought, if not for that heat. He breathed in short, ragged bursts. Not sobs. Not quite. But close.

“I thought,” he rasped hoarsely. “I thought maybe I could earn it back. The armour. Bo-Katan, she … The darksaber. Mandalore. If I got it back for our people, maybe that would …”

He trailed off. Boba twitched, violently, and set his jaw. And of course he might think that. Of course Bo-Katan karking Kryze might have suggested it. While he was vulnerable. While he was stripped of everything, ripped naked and raw at her karking feet. Tipping her failure over onto him. Making it his responsibility, his fault. Talking about duty, since he’d stolen her heritage from her. How to be a worthy Mandalorian in Duchess Kryze’s eyes: die for her cause, and handily leave the throne in her hands in the process.

The next time they met, Boba wouldn’t bother with words, or even blows. Or even a meeting. He’d see if he could have Fen put a bolt through her throat from half a mile away instead.

But Din tipped his head down again. Opened his eyes, brown and wet, and met Boba’s with a surprisingly steady gaze. There was something in them. Lucidity, strength. And something else. Boba blinked, and had to gather his nerve not to avert his eyes himself.

“It felt wrong,” Din confessed. Looking at him. “It just … Felt wrong. I don’t … I don’t know if we can earn …” He paused, and Boba felt the stone drop in his stomach. Knowing, suddenly, where this was going. Nowhere he hadn’t gone himself. Nothing he hadn’t thought.

“If we can earn our souls back,” he rasped, with half a wry smile curled across one scarred cheek. “If a man who’s lost his soul and his honour can ever earn it back. Right, vod?”

Din flinched, and looked down. “It doesn’t feel right,” he said again. Reaching down, to pick up the darksaber with his other hand. Dangle it uselessly. “Not like that, anyway. Some quest to … It doesn’t work like that. I don’t think so. Do … Do you?”

Boba laughed. Black and thick, from the sand-scoured depths of Tatooine. A man reborn, with or without his soul. With a desert inside his skin instead. “You tell me,” he said, and entirely honestly. With a quiver in his throat. “You tell me, Din. You were the one who gave me back mine.”

Vanth had earned it more. Vanth, with his hand still on Boba’s shoulder, had worn it with more honour than Boba had in decades. But Din had returned it anyway. Din, with all his honour and his creed, had given it back.

And now Din was looking at him. With that strange, lucid thing in his eyes.

“… I didn’t,” he said softly. “I … It wasn’t mine. Not to give back or take away. All these … I thought I knew what a Mandalorian was. Who should wear the armour. But I can’t. It’s not mine. None of it. The armour was your father’s. Yours. Your soul is your own. I can’t decide that. It’s not for me.”

And that was … that was more than anyone had said to Boba in decades. Mandalorian or otherwise. Your soul is your own. Said to a clone. To an echo of Jango Fett, one among three million. I can’t decide that, said Din. The Mand'alor. The most honourable man Boba had ever met. I can’t decide that. It’s not for me.

If not for you, Boba thought distantly, then sure as hell for no one else.

“… I would have abided by it,” he whispered. “If you’d decided I wasn’t worthy. I … I hope, anyway. I think. I wanted it back. It’s all I have of my father. But I think … I wouldn’t have killed you for it. Same as I didn’t kill Vanth. Tatooine … it brings you back different, here. I would have killed either of you, both of you, once upon a time. But not anymore. Not even for my armour.”

It was worth my soul to see him safe, Din had said. Of the child, yes. But it … echoed. In the space inside Boba, the hollow carved by Tatooine’s scouring winds. It was worth my soul to see him safe.

He couldn’t kill them. Not even for his armour.

Vanth’s hand tightened on his shoulder. Stuttered, a little, fingers spasming in shock. But then it tightened. And held on.

Din swallowed faintly. Still holding Boba’s gaze, with all the courage of a naked man. Scoured and scarred. “I can’t decide it,” he said again. Soft and tired. “For either of us. By my creed, I’m dar’manda. We both are. And I … If my creed is right, then I am dar’manda. I can’t earn it back, because I don’t … I don’t think I was wrong. It was worth my soul to see him safe. I gave it willingly. I don’t think I can come back from that. I don’t … I don’t know if I want to.” He paused, and pressed his lips together. Tight with grief. “If … If my creed was right, then I no longer want my creed. And if it is wrong … then I don’t know what a Mandalorian is. Or how to be one.”

And there was … there was no way to answer that. How could there be? But Boba felt he had to try.

“I’m beginning to think,” he said wryly. Tiredly. “I’m beginning to think, vod, that in all the thousands of years there’s been Mandalorians, not a single one of us has ever truly known what it meant to be one. We all had different ideas. Your tribe. My father. My grandfather. Bo-Katan. Her sister. You haven’t heard of her, but … There’s never been one Mandalore. Never. And with that said …” He smiled, a little thickly, and leaned forward to wrap both hands carefully, so carefully, around Din’s shoulders. “I think if anyone is what every Mandalorian pictures when they think of our people, it would be you. Mandokar incarnate. I meant what I said. If you are not Mandalorian, Mandalorian is not worth being. You saved a child. You gave my soul back to me. Refused to take it from others. That … That has to count for something. For everything.”

If only, he thought, because Din was the first person since his father died who made him want to be one. A Mandalorian. Who made it feel like something worth claiming once again.

Din looked down. At the helmet, this time. At his … sacrificed soul. He had his son’s silver ball in one hand, the darksaber in the other. No hands left to pick it up. Had that been by accident, or by instinct? His face twisted. Something tired, something strange in it.

“Is that a reason,” he asked quietly, “or an excuse? I don’t … I don’t know who deserves to wear the armour anymore. I can’t decide for anyone else. But I don’t … I betrayed my creed. It might not be many Mandalorians’, but it was mine. And I chose to betray it. Whatever a Mandalorian is … I don’t think that’s what one does.”

You’d be surprised, Boba thought blackly. A little hysterically. You’d be surprised what many, many Mandalorians had done, and betrayed, across the years. But that wasn’t the point. The point was honour. The point was how honour was so often, always, turned against itself. How the thing that made Din Din, the most Mandalorian person Boba had ever met, was the exact same thing that wouldn’t let him accept it.

There’d been a reason he’d turned away from it, all those years ago. From any creed owed to anyone else. No one could sustain one. No matter how good, how honourable, how virtuous. Look at the Jedi, yet again. Either they failed, shattered apart on their own creed, or they turned away from it, or they turned to a hollow, empty facsimile of it instead, acting out a pious façade of honour while the galaxy fell apart around them, thinking that good enough.

You couldn’t sustain honour. Not the extremes of it, not the pitiless, virtuous absolutes. No one could.

Not even Din.

“… Did you really betray it?” another voice asked finally. Vanth. Boba half-startled. He hadn’t … forgotten him. Not exactly. He’d just … Well. Been stuck somewhere else. Vanth had kept quiet. Let them work it out, when it wasn’t … when he’d say it wasn’t his place. Though, honestly, Boba would trust Vanth’s opinions over most of the Mandalorians left. “I’m … I’m just asking, here. But did you really betray it, Mando, or did you just choose something else more important than it?” He smiled, the tired, queasy smile of an ex-slave. “Just to go back a bit here. To your kid. To saving your kid. You said your creed values those. If you … If you’ve got to choose between two terrible things. Removing your armour, or betraying your kid. Which one is worse, according to your creed?”

And that … yes. That was the heart of it. Boba reached over. Took his hands off Din’s shoulders and brought them down Din’s arms, to the silver ball still in Din’s hand. He squeezed it gently.

“Tell me truthfully, Din Djarin,” he said roughly. “Answer us this one question. No ifs or buts. Your first instinct. Does a Mandalorian, any Mandalorian, leave a child to die for the sake of his armour. Leave his child to die. For the sake of anything.”

And he knew, when Din closed his eyes again, when the tears slipped silently down his bare cheeks, what the answer was.

“… No,” Din whispered. “Ni ceta, Grogu. Ni ceta. No.”

Then he folded forward, and all but fell apart on Boba’s chest. It took a hasty lunge, an untangled arm, and a pair of warm arms leaning down from Vanth to keep him from falling into the sand. The darksaber tumbled unheeded from his fingers, while the silver ball was gripped with a dying man’s ferocity between his hand and Boba’s. It hurt. Din Djarin did not lack for strength. Boba didn’t let go regardless. A part of him wondered vaguely if he would ever be able to again.

The desert was still around them, while Din fell apart. Silent. Yet Boba could feel its hungry, oddly gentle fingers nonetheless. Tatooine’s sandy, scouring form of rebirth. Break you apart. Eat you down. And leave what was left to crawl forward once again.

It might have been Tython that broke Din. Tython, Morak, the cruiser. They might have been what killed him. But it had been Tatooine his ghost had come to, and Tatooine that would see him reborn. As one thing, or another.

“My soul is my own,” he whispered roughly. One hand cradling Din’s nape. “You said that to me, vod. My soul is my own. My armour is no one’s to take from me. If my words mean anything, then I say it is the same for yours. Your soul is yours, Din. If you choose to give it up for your child, then that is your choice. And if you choose to remake it. To take it back up again. Then that is yours too. I didn’t earn mine. You took it from a better man to give it back to me. But I am not whole without it, and I will honour it better now than I ever have.”

“… Ain’t about better men,” Vanth murmured beside them. Kneeling in the sand too, a hand on each of their shoulders. “Wasn’t ever about that. I took something that didn’t belong to me, because I needed it. I needed it desperately. But it still wasn’t mine. And when you took it … you gave me the thing that mattered most first. My town, my people. Their safety. That was all I ever wanted the armour for in the first place. That was more than worth giving it up for. I’m not going to keep someone’s … someone’s soul from them, when I’ve already got all I need and more.”

Boba laughed softly. Tilted his cheek over Din’s hair to look at the man. He still found it amusing that Vanth wore red. Accidentally. Meaning nothing. But the man who’d worn his father’s armour wore the colour of honouring a parent, and there was something in that that might be fate, or only the calling thing in Tatooine’s dunes.

“You’re a better man and a better Mandalorian than most I’ve met, Vanth,” he said wryly. “My father was enslaved once. You did more to honour his armour defending your town than I’ve done in decades. I went for revenge, you see. So did he. We both ended up in a sandy grave for it, and all my brothers … all my brothers enslaved.” He lifted his lip, half smile and half sneer. Regret. “I wouldn’t have killed you for my armour. I would have let you keep it. Knowing that.”

Vanth stared at him for a long second. That stunned thing in his eyes again, from when Boba had first taken off his helmet for him. And then he blinked, just the once, and smiled again.

“That’s a thing,” he murmured. “That’s definitely a thing. I’m, ah. I’m honoured. But I’m just … I’m just thinking here. If you’d let me keep your armour. Either of you, both of you. If you’d done that, who would have been there to help D-Din here rescue his kid?”

Boba blinked. Slumped. Half a laugh on his lips. That was … That was a point too. Definitely.

Not the Force. He refused to believe in the Force. Call it Tatooine instead. Call it actions, decisions, made within its hungry, ferocious grasp, that left you scarred and changed and remade forever more. Call it destiny, half death, as only this planet could make it.

Din shuddered faintly in his arms. Eased down, his grip softening on Boba’s hand. His forehead resting gentler against his chest piece.

“… I needed it to save him,” he rasped hoarsely. Half nonsensically, Boba would have thought, but he carried it forward. Explained it on. “The … The armour. I would have died trying to rescue him without it. I needed it. But … It couldn’t do everything. I had to take it off, needed to act without it. And … and I needed other things too. I needed you. Cara. Fennec. Even Bo-Katan.” He paused, thinking it through. Boba let him, smoothing his gloved fingers through the man’s surprisingly curly hair. “… The armour wasn’t enough alone. We need it to survive, but it can’t protect us on its own. We need … aliit. Aliit first. Family. Wear the armour. Not … Not always, maybe, but enough to do the rest. To defend yourself and your aliit. That’s … That’s Mandalorian.”

Boba’s breath shuddered out of him. A creed. He recognised a creed in the making. A softer one. Hopefully.

“Ba'jur bal beskar'gam,” he murmured. “Ara'nov, aliit, Mando'a bal Mand'alor— An vencuyan mhi. Getting there, Din. You’ve half the Resol’nare. All you have to add is education, language … and a king.”

The darksaber gleamed darkly in the sand. Shining up at them from Tatooine’s sand. Destiny in the dunes, maybe. Or only accident, like everything else.

Din sighed too. Sitting up, leaning back. Exhausted even by the thought. But he reached out, once more. He took the blade gently in his hand.

“It still doesn’t make sense,” he confided softly. “This is supposed to make a king. That doesn’t feel right. A sword. It doesn’t feel right. Maybe as a promise to fight, to protect your people, but … We’re not swords. Mandalorians. We’re not swords. We’re armour.”

Boba’s breath caught in his chest. So did Tatooine’s. The call. That calling thing. That waiting thing. It went still. Froze, a hungry, leaning, waiting thing. Something had called Din here. Something was leaning all its vast, hungry attention on him now.

“And … what’s armour?” Vanth asked. Sitting in the sand, something of that waiting thing in his tired eyes and easy, liar’s charm. “If it’s going making kings. What’s armour do?”

Din looked at him. At them. The darksaber in one hand, and in the other …

He lifted his child’s ball up to his face. Let his expression slip. Let all his grief shine out of him, just for a second. And then he kissed it, briefly, a press of his lips, and stowed it safely back in his belt. Lifted, instead, his helmet. What was left of his soul. He looked at that, too, for a moment. And then, shoulders straight, with all a king’s resolve … he put it on.

“It protects,” he said, echoing through his armour. “It protects people. Not just … us. Everyone. Everyone that matters. It keeps them safe. It keeps them free.”

His child had been Jedi, not Mandalorian. Or both, maybe. Most of his aliit, the ones remaining to him, the one he’d made, were something else. And besides. That was a promise to Vanth. So clearly. To Vanth, to Boba, and to Tatooine.

Because if you died here, if you were remade here, some part of your broken soul was owed here. The laws of bounty hunting. The laws of Tatooine.

“… I’m planning to take the Hutts,” Boba said distantly. Strangely, from a light, hollow place inside him. “Tatooine first, a free Tatooine, but the rest if I can too. The Hutts, the corporations. If I can manage it, maybe the whole karking Outer Rim. Me and Fen. No one cares about us out here. The Republic didn’t, the Empire didn’t, the new one probably won’t. But I was reborn here. I owe it something. If that’s just a job I should have started decades ago, well. No time like the present.” He tilted his head at Din, while Vanth stared wide-eyed at them both. “If Mandalore wanted in on that, I’m sure Tatooine wouldn’t say no.”

Din looked down at the saber, and nodded his head. “I’ll have to take Mandalore first,” he said wryly. “I’ll have to find … what’s left of our people. But … if I am Mand’alor. If I am still Mandalorian, and this sword means something. A free Rim … would be a cause worth fighting for. And protecting.”

Vanth barked out a laugh. A stunned, breathless thing, staring between them. That look. That so-familiar look on Tatooine. The pale disbelief, when fate came to rescue the wretched.

“I don’t know what we’re talking about here,” he said faintly. “I’ll be honest, I haven’t known what we were talking about since we started. This is … one helluva lot bigger than me and my town. But if you mean that. If either of you mean that. Hell. Whatever I’ve got, you can have.”

Din glanced at Boba. A quick, half-furtive thing. Boba raised an eyebrow back. Din reached out and slowly, carefully, rested one armoured hand on Vanth’s knee.

“You already gave it,” he said, with the heart-breaking honesty that only Din could manage. “I … There’s a reason I came here. Of all places. You and Boba … You showed me what armour could mean. Outside of my creed. To more than just me and my tribe. I … It was the only place I could go. I lost everything. This was the only place where I thought … something might make sense again. I don’t know if it has or not. But … It’s enough. I hope. Thank you.”

And so, Boba thought helplessly, did Din Djarin make friends of half the galaxy. Or possibly more than friends. At least on Tatooine.

Vanth looked at him. Wild-eyed, stunned. Looking for sanity. Boba shrugged. His scars were quiet on his skin. His soul settled, between his armour and Tatooine.

“You’ve both carried my armour,” he said quietly. “Given back to me more of what it means than I’ve had in decades. I’m not a man to say thanks in words. But if I can kill your enemies for you, and drive slavery off your planet, I will. I’m planning to.”

“… Oh,” Vanth said. Distantly. “That’s, um. Oh.”

Din tilted his helmet down. A smile. “Come on,” he said, moving his hand from Vanth’s knee to cup under Vanth’s elbow instead. “Time to go back to town. I think I’ve gotten a sunburn.”

Boba snorted, heaving himself off his knees with a groan and scooping his helmet back up to replace it. He gathered Vanth’s other elbow. Helped Din pull the man to his feet. “I’m surprised you haven’t gotten sun fever,” he said, with rough amusement. “I’m surprised you’re not dead. The next time you decide to have a crisis of faith, Djarin, try and do it in the shade.”

“Noted,” Din said, after a beat. The smile obvious even behind his helmet. “I’ll … do my best.”

“… You know,” Vanth said. Braced between them, all easy charm and rock-solid spine. Like the best of Din Djarin’s friends. “I’m starting to think that lunacy is what makes a Mandalorian more than anything.”

And well, Boba thought. Feeling Tatooine’s sated hunger curling under his skin. Knowing how much of a rational man he wasn’t, and never could be, anymore. And looking at Din Djarin, the accidental Mand’alor, who’d won Boba’s soul by jumping into a krayt’s maw.

Lunacy. They couldn’t exactly argue with that. Either of them. Could they.

“… You get used to it,” he decided finally. “Galaxy’s a strange karking place. You either adapt to that or you die, and I’ve tried the latter already. Didn’t stick. Might as well try lunacy now.”

His destiny would catch up to him again eventually. Death in the dunes. The only thing Tatooine could promise.

But here. Now. He had two men, some friends, a reforged soul, and job to do first.

A job to do well. For the first time in decades.

Oya, Tatooine. Oya, Mandalore.