The kid was alright, and for that Din was eternally grateful. He should have thought more before agreeing to Ahsoka's request, should have remembered how healing had affected him in the past. There wasn't much to be done about it now, but it certainly didn't help Din's feelings of inadequacy.
Ahsoka's old soldier friend seemed to be doing better, too. He wasn't screaming from the other room any more, which seemed like a good sign. Din briefly considered getting up from the couch and checking on Ahsoka and Rex, but he had a feeling they wouldn't appreciate the encroachment on their privacy. Din didn't begrudge them their happiness, but being around two people who obviously had some kind of romance developing between them was uncomfortable and he'd rather avoid that situation if possible.
The child's cooing drew Din's attention, and he looked down at the kid's giant black eyes staring up at him from the pram. The child tilted his head, one large ear folding gently against the side of the pram, and Din couldn't help a wry half-smile. He was fond of the kid, there was no use denying it.
"What?" Din asked, leaning closer to the pram. "You got something to say?"
The kid burbled and shook his head, and Din laughed, reaching a hand out to bat at the child's other ear.
"That's what I thought," Din said.
The kid and Ahsoka would get along well, Din could tell. Din could always tell if the kid liked someone, and these past few days had shown Ahsoka to be a smart, compassionate person well-equipped to train someone like the child. He'd miss the kid, of course, but at least Din would know he was in good hands.
The kid's burbling suddenly dropped to a low tone, and something shifted in his dark eyes that seized Din's attention. Brows furrowing, Din stared back at the kid, feeling as if the child could stare right through his helmet and into his mind. The kid slowly reached out a hand toward Din, and whether by the Force or of his own volition, Din's hand moved to meet it. The child's tiny claws reached around Din's hand, grabbing as much of his large palm as his tiny fingers could reach. Din could even feel the claws through his gloves as slight points of pressure on his hand.
The kid cooed again, low and serious, and Din couldn't look away from his wide, earnest eyes. Din swallowed.
If you ask my personal opinion, the child will only benefit from having a father who cares about him as much as you do.
Din turned his head away from the child, but couldn't bring himself to pull his hand from the tiny grip. The child was practically glowing with loving affection, and Din couldn't stand it. I don't deserve this.
"I'll find the best place for you, kid," Din said, believing that the child would somehow understand his intentions. "I promise."
The child let out a single, plaintive cry, and Din gently pulled his hand away, getting to his feet and walking to the other end of the room. The air was suddenly suffocating, and he could barely stand the confines of his helmet.
Laughter filled the room as Rex and Ahsoka walked in, large smiles plastered on their faces. It was obvious that something had happened between them, but in that moment Din couldn't care less.
"When are we leaving?" he asked, and Rex and Ahsoka both looked over at him in surprise, their good humor interrupted.
"I hadn't really thought about it yet, but we could leave any time," Ahsoka said, looking to Rex for confirmation. He nodded his agreement.
"Then where should I take you? Where do you want to start the kid's training?" Din asked.
"Oh, well, I'd have to give that some thought-"
"You have a ship on Hosnian Prime, right? I'll just drop you off and you can figure it out from there."
Ahsoka looked at Din in concern. "What's the rush? Don't you want to know where we'll be going?"
Din turned his head away and looked at the ground, his fists balling up at his sides.
"Din? What's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong," he said a little too sharply. "It's my responsibility to see the kid settled, so I want to get that done as soon as possible."
Rex walked over to Din and clapped him firmly on the shoulder. "Don't worry, brother. We'll make sure everything's sorted out. I think I can be ready to leave by tomorrow. How does that sound 'Soka?"
"Yeah…" Ahsoka said hesitantly. "I guess there's no reason to linger."
"You're coming too?" Din asked Rex.
"Yessir, if you wouldn't mind an extra passenger. I'll be leaving this place for good, so help yourself to whatever you want in my cellar before we go."
Din actually did mind last minute additions to his passenger list, but he supposed Rex could pay for his passage with a generous helping of weapons and ammo. "Fine."
"I'll make dinner. We can eat early so we can get an early start tomorrow," Rex said, already heading for the kitchen.
Ahsoka made to follow Rex, but Din paused her with an outstretched hand.
"Do you mind watching the kid for a minute? I need a breath of fresh air," Din said.
"Sure, no problem."
Din turned on his heel and left the claustrophobic house, fleeing to the wide metal platform on which the Razor Crest parked. He walked to the edge of the platform and sat down, his legs dangling off the edge over open water and his arms resting on the lower rung of the protective railing. There was something profound about the endless ocean stretching out in front of him, but he still wished he had more options for locations to brood.
He wondered idly what his covert would think of him now, hiding out in the middle of nowhere with a Jedi baby and two Clone War veterans while they tried to negotiate child care for the kid. The Armorer herself had declared that Din was to look after the child until his people could be found, so no one could argue that this wasn't The Way, but it still felt pretty far removed from what he'd been trained to do. Death Watch in particular was always talking about the importance of strength, how might was the ultimate form of moral correctness. Whether that was true or not, combat training didn't feel particularly useful to his current task.
Din's thoughts wandered to his conversation with Ahsoka several days ago. She hadn't thought much of Death Watch, and as he'd grown older Din had also come to realize some of the imperfections of the group that had saved his life. Despite all that, he didn't regret the life they'd given him. No matter their weaknesses, they'd made him believe that there was still someone left in the galaxy who gave a damn about him; they'd helped him feel like he had purpose and direction. If they'd found a living uncle or cousin of Din's who'd been willing to take him in, Din would have said no.
Perhaps the kid felt the same way?
Din stared down into the churning ocean beneath his feet, their bottomless depths reminding him of the kid's eyes. The kid was… he was a source of light in Din's harsh, violent life. He was strong, stronger and braver than any child his age had any right to be. And whether Din liked it or not, those dark, weighty eyes seemed to see him as a father.
Din shook his head to clear his murky thoughts and got to his feet, turning his back on the ocean and walking back into the house. He nodded his head to Ahsoka, who was playing her floating catch game with the kid, and passed through the living room and into the kitchen.
Rex opened up the cellar at his request, and Din spent the rest of the afternoon with Rex's extensive collection, deciding which pieces he wanted to add to his own weapons locker. It was a meditative sort of activity, and Din took his time appreciating each piece, getting a sense for its quality and history before making his decision.
At the end of the bunker-like cellar Din found a set of old GAR armor, the white and blue faded and terribly out of date in design. It was the helmet that stuck out to Din—it had that oddly angular look the older Clone Wars armor had, and just above the t-shaped visor lay a pair of sharp jaig eyes.
"Hey Din, dinner's ready," Rex called from the ladder into the cellar.
"Hey, what's this?" Rex asked, picking up the helmet.
Rex climbed down the ladder to see what Din was holding and smiled once he saw the armor.
"That's just my old helmet from the beginning of the war. It was a nightmare to get back but I'm glad I managed it," he said.
Din's gloved finger traced one of the hawk-like eyes. "Why does it have jaig eyes?"
"Oh, that," Rex said. "Well, us clones had our own sort of culture between us, but we didn't really belong to any particular society. Some of the boys like to fill in the gaps with Mandalorian traditions, since we were cloned from Jango Fett and the early clones were trained by Mandalorians."
Din decided not to bring up the controversy around the Fetts and whether or not they could claim Mandalorian heritage. Jango had certainly considered himself Mandalorian, and it didn't seem right to begrudge the clones their adopted heritage. By all accounts the clones had been skilled, dedicated warriors, and most of them had died in battle. If anyone embodied the Mandalorian spirit, a group of men born, raised, and sacrificed for war would.
"How'd you earn them?" Din asked.
"In officer training right here on Kamino. The Republic hired some Mandalorian vets to train us, and somehow I impressed them." Rex shrugged, crossing his arms across his chest. "I like to think I really earned them at Geonosis, though. Training is one thing, but you can't really prove much until you've actually been tested in battle."
The jaig eyes were a sign of great honor and respect among Mandalorians, and as brief a time as Din had known Rex, his instincts told him they were well-earned.
Din nodded and set the helmet back down. "You said something about dinner?"
Din followed Rex back up to the kitchen and helped him set out the food. Soon enough Ahsoka, Din, Rex, and the child sat around Rex's square table, a plump roasted fish laid out on a platter between them. Din helped himself to a hefty chunk of fish meat, then held a forkful out for the kid. The kid eagerly ate up the fish, his surprisingly sharp teeth making short work of it. He wrinkled his nose a bit as he swallowed, and Din knew it was because he preferred his meat raw.
"Oh, he really likes meat!" Ahsoka said, surprised.
"Yeah, the little guy's definitely a carnivore," Din said.
"We'll have to make sure we have the right food stocked for him when we head out," said Rex.
"I was thinking of going to Ossus," said Ahsoka. "I heard rumors of an old Jedi temple there. There aren't many settlements, but plenty of easy prey for the little guy to eat."
Rex grimaced. "You're a little odd, Commander."
"Stop calling me that," Ahsoka said, though this time it sounded more perfunctory than angry.
"You're right, I really shouldn't use military titles for my wife," Rex said.
Din dropped the piece of fish he was about to put in his mouth and his eyes darted over to Ahsoka. She looked just as surprised as he was. "I didn't realize you two were married," Din said.
Ahsoka looked at Rex with raised eye markings. "We're not…"
Rex returned Ahsoka's confused look with a flustered one. "Apologies, Comman- Ahsoka," he corrected. "We both grew up in communities without any kind of marriage traditions, so I assumed lifelong commitment would be equivalent."
Ahsoka's lekku darkened in what Din assumed was the togruta equivalent of a blush. "Oh… I suppose that's true. It still seems like we'd need to formalize it somehow before it's official."
"With what kind of ceremony? It's not like I've ever seen a clone wedding or a Jedi wedding."
"I see your point," Ahsoka said thoughtfully. "And I don't really remember what the togruta traditions are."
Din thought Ahsoka's primary concern would have been that Rex had never bothered to actually propose marriage to her, but that didn't seem to bother her. Misunderstanding aside, they seemed in complete agreement on one thing: they wanted to be married. It was kind of sweet, if a bit uncomfortable for Din to be in the middle of.
"Why not exchange Mandalorian vows?" Din asked. Rex and Ahsoka turned to him in surprise and he shrugged. "They're quick and simple. You could even say them right now if you wanted."
"How does it work?" asked Ahsoka.
"You just recite the pledge. Mhi solus tome, mhi solus dar'tome, mhi me'dinui an, mhi ba'juri verde."
Din had always liked the wedding vows—simple and powerful, like the Mandalorian way. As impossible as it seemed, he hoped that one day he might be able to say those vows himself.
"What does that mean?" Ahsoka asked. "I wouldn't be promising my children to Mandalore or anything like that, would I?"
"You don't have any children, Ahsoka," said Rex.
"That's beside the point."
"It translates to 'We are one when together, we are one when parted, we share all, we will raise warriors,'" said Din.
As he spoke Din wondered why he was getting invested in their relationship. What did it matter to him if they got married? It all seemed pretty last-minute and impulsive to him. If he was being honest, though, Din found himself eager to see the two of them happy. He saw a lot of himself in their tired eyes and weary souls, and if they could be happy then maybe there was hope for Din.
"Well Ahsoka, what do you think? Are we going to raise warriors?" Rex asked cheekily.
Ahsoka grimaced. "Maybe not in the Mandalorian sense. But I guess I'd like to think that anyone we raised would fight for what was right."
It was a fast and loose interpretation of the vow, but Din figured it was good enough. The Mandalorian wedding vows were meant just for people like Rex and Ahsoka: warriors with little time or inclination for elaborate ceremonies but with strong desires to solidify affection, loyalty, and commitment.
"Ok then let's do it after dinner," Rex said, an infectious smile on his face. "Then I can finish packing."
The kid burbled happily, and in no time they'd finished off the fish. Din cleaned up the dishes while Rex and Ahsoka went to find nicer clothes to wear. Din told them dressing up was entirely unnecessary for the ceremony, but they both seemed to want to make it special in whatever small ways they could.
They met in the living room, Ahsoka wearing a short maroon dress with several daring cutouts and a bronze headdress. Rex had buzzed his blond hair short and was wearing an old officer's dress uniform that must have been at least several decades old. It was an odd combination, but the happiness on their faces was undeniable. Din tried to set himself at ease to not detract from the joyful atmosphere, but he wasn't exactly in his element. The kid floated in the pram next to him and he seemed to soak up the positive feelings from the ether, giggling happily and waving his hands enthusiastically at the bride and groom.
Rex held Ahsoka's hands up between the both of them. "You sure you want to be stuck with me forever?" he asked, then his joking tone turned serious. "You deserve better than an old soldier who's seen too many battles for his own good."
One corner of Ahsoka's mouth raised in a wry smile and she looked up at him with clear eyes. "I've never been more sure of something in my life." She raised a hand to his cheek. "And I get to decide what and who I deserve."
The slightest of smiles graced Rex's lips, and Ahsoka's hand returned to his. He squeezed her hands tight and recited the vows.
"Mhi solus tome, mhi solus dar'tome, mhi me'dinui an, mhi ba'juri verde."
"Mhi solus tome, mhi solus dar'tome, mhi me'dinui an, mhi ba'juri verde," Ahsoka repeated back to him.
Rex beamed down at Ahsoka, and she pulled him in for a fierce kiss, her arms wrapping around his shoulders and her hand threading through his short hair.
"That's not part of the ceremony," grumbled Din under his breath.
Ahsoka pulled away from Rex and the light of adoration shone in both their eyes. It was a relief to see that two people who'd been through as much as they had could still feel this kind of joy.
"Congratulations," Din said.
The kid squealed in delight, his version of congratulations communicated even more effectively.
"Thank you," Ahsoka said.
"Thanks, brother," Rex said.
Din smiled at the couple, though they couldn't see his expression. Seeing Rex's hand in Ahsoka's felt right, even though Din still barely knew the two. He thought of communal meals in the covert, of Sorgan, of simple pleasures.
Wanting to give the newlyweds a bit of privacy, Din gave his excuses and walked the kid into the kitchen, then leaned against the wall and wondered how long he should give the couple before getting back to preparations for their departure. The kid looked up at him with wide, delighted eyes, his tiny mouth turned up into a pointy-toothed grin. Din couldn't help but love the kid's smile, and he thought about what it would be like when he walked away from that smile for good once he dropped the newlyweds and the kid off on Ossus.
Din remembered the child's scared cries when the client took him away after paying Din his camtono of beskar. Din hadn't been a much more trustworthy caretaker than the client at the time, but the child still hadn't wanted to leave him, still had some instinctual sense that Din wouldn't hurt him. Poor kid didn't even know what was good for him.
The kid's eyes focused more sharply on Din and he grabbed onto Din's cloak, tugging down on it to get Din's attention. Din met the child's gaze and was overwhelmed by a sense of grounding, like a tree planting roots deep into the earth. A weight settled on him, and he felt drawn towards the kid like a moon towards a planet. Somehow Din knew what he was feeling was coming from the child, and though the child's thoughts still couldn't quite coalesce into words, his meaning was clear. Stay.
Din frowned, heat stinging at his eyes. He couldn't stay. It was for the best. The kid would understand, in time.
The child's tugging grew more insistent, and he let out a plaintive cry. Stay.
Din screwed his eyes shut and his fists balled up at his sides. Ahsoka's words came to his mind, I get to decide what and who I deserve.
Din held out against the child's entreaties for as long as he could. He wasn't right for the kid. He'd screw things up. The kid would be better off without him. He knew that. He knew that.
The memory of the child's scared face as the Imps took him away hammered at Din's defenses, and like a dam Din's denials burst. He couldn't abandon the child now, not after all they'd been through together, not after what the kid meant to him. Worthy or not, he couldn't just disappear from the child's life forever. Worthy or not, he had a duty, a responsibility, a privilege.
Din crouched down so his face was level with the child's and he carefully extricated the kid's fingers from his cloak, taking the tiny hand in his.
"Don't worry, kid. I'll always be here for you," he said.
The kid beamed at him, and Din felt all the tension drain from his body. He wasn't confident that he could be what the kid needed, but at least the kid believed in him.
"Hey, Din," Rex said, as he and Ahsoka walked into the kitchen. "You can start moving whatever you want to take from the cellar onto your ship. Let's try to get an early start tomorrow."
Din rose to his full height, but he kept the child's hand in his, wanting the kid to understand that he wasn't going to change his mind. "Already back to packing?" Din asked.
Rex shrugged. "I came here to die. Now that I suddenly got an extra few decades and a new life, I don't see any reason to stay a minute longer."
Ahsoka's lekku blushed and she shoved Rex lightly on the arm. "Who knew you could be so sentimental."
"Only with the right inspiration," Rex said.
Ahsoka choked in surprise, her lekku flushing even darker. "Anyway," she said, attempting to change the subject, "Din, I was thinking we could go straight to Ossus tomorrow. There's a small spaceport on the northern hemisphere that you can drop us off at."
"Sure," Din said easily. He felt so much more relaxed now, so much freer. Funny how more responsibility could somehow make his burdens feel lighter. "I can stay with you for awhile, too."
"Oh?" Ahsoka asked, surprised.
Din shifted from one foot to the other. "Yeah… I might not be able to stay all the time, but I'd like to come visit and check up on the kid. Frequently."
"That would be great," Ahsoka said, smiling. "I'm sure Little Green would love that."
"'Little Green'?" Din asked, a slight frown on his lips.
"Yeah," Ahsoka said. "If you think I'm going to call him 'kid' all the time, you're crazy."
A word came to Din's mind, one he'd been thinking of frequently but whose meaning he'd consciously avoided.
"Dral," Din said.
"His name. His name is Dral."
Ahsoka and Rex exchanged glances.
"So you decided to name him?" Ahsoka asked.
"If I find his people and they tell me he already has a different name, they can use that," Din said, "but this is the name I give him as his father."
The kid burbled from his pram, and Din crouched down by his side, looking seriously into his face. "Do you like it, kid? Sorry I didn't ask you first."
The child smiled, and Din took that as permission.
"It's a good name," Rex said. "Suits him."
"Dral…" Din said, holding a finger out for Dral to grab and testing the name out on his tongue. He liked it. It felt right.
"I think it will be good for you to come see him often," Ahsoka said. "I might be his master, but you'll always be his father."
Din looked up at Ahsoka's face, a warm, gentle expression on her face. "Yeah," he said softly. "I think you're right."