WARNING: This chapter is, like, SO long (and maybe partly an excuse to write lotsa cathartic dialogue and SKY DESCRIPTIONS). The Author extends her sincere apologies for this fact and also salutes you if you choose to continue reading anyway. If you do not choose to continue reading, she salutes you anyway for getting this far. :)


Approximately 28 BBY.

(Mando'a translations at end)


For the next two weeks, Din survived.

He woke up at daybreak every morning—courtesy of Paz, whom he now knew without a doubt couldn't be quiet if his or anyone else's life depended on it. He ate lunch at approximately the same time each day, finding Paz when the communal "kitchen" opened around noon, receiving his food, and then exchanging a few words with his burc'ya before they parted ways to eat in private.

And then at the end of the day, right after the last brilliant strokes of the sun leaked into a pool at the horizon, he and Paz returned to their hut and went to sleep.

Some nights he fell swiftly and easily into unconsciousness. When that happened, seldom would his sleep be interrupted by the bad dreams that had marked the first few nights following his departure from Aq Vetina.

Most nights, however, Paz fell asleep first and then snored with such rumbling intensity that Din had awoken on at least one occasion with a pounding heart, instinctively afraid they were being bombed or shot at or that some creature was getting ready to pounce on them.

But—as Din would always console himself as he laid back onto the bed—Paz being here and snoring was better than being here all alone in the quiet.

And he was truly grateful because after two weeks in the community, he knew more than ever what loneliness felt like.

He didn't like it.

There were seven other young Mandalorians here, excluding Paz. Five of them, Paz had helpfully supplied, were at a minimum of three years older than Din, and the other two were maybe four or five—twins, Din assumed based on their identical helmets and their behavior around each other. Regardless of age, however, every one of the Mandalorians-in-training spent the vast majority of their days working in the fields that surrounded the community. There, amongst the targets, weapons, and an ever-changing array of crude wood and metal obstacles, they practiced fighting.

Din would sometimes watch from a distance. He would sit on the knotted porch of one of the huts or climb the hill above the community and sit at the foot of the big tree that resided there, chin propped up on one fist, legs crossed in front of him. He still had to turn his head away when the Mandalorians got too rough or somebody got hurt enough to warrant a visit to the infirmary—which happened at least twice a week—but for the most part, he was able to watch them run and shout and fall and spar with nothing but a dull, twisting ache in his belly.

It was an ache that grew a little each day, that seemed to flare up with surprising energy every time Paz asked Din if he wanted to join the other Mandalorians in their fighting games or training, which also happened at least twice a week. Din responded in the same way each time Paz approached him about it—shaking his head vigorously and repeating that he wasn't a fighter and never would be—and each time Paz's posture seemed to sag a little at the response. He seemed disappointed in a way that made Din want to repeat himself more loudly—even as he apologized for saying no again.

But Paz never asked him more than once in the span of a day, and he never got angry at Din. Which only made Din feel worse, of course, because fighting and all the rough edges that came with it were obviously very important to the Mandalorians who lived here—and to his only friend in particular.

Regardless, in the two or three hours they weren't trying to hit each other or eating, the younger Mandalorians gathered in perhaps the nicest building the community had to offer. It was a type of school, apparently, but it was nothing like the school Din had attended a few months out of the year back on Aq Vetina.

Instead of charts that detailed growing seasons and the shifting prices of agricultural goods to be found in the commercial hubs scattered around the galaxy, the Mandalorian school sported murals of Mandalorians in the heat of battle and old maps that depicted empires and crisscrossing military campaigns that had long ago been reduced to stardust.

And instead of a teacher with a kind voice and an endless supply of patience for his charges, the Mandalorian teacher—Paz's Buir, apparently—was loud and rough. He stood each day in his classroom and told stories of blood and glory or drilled his students on their knowledge of Mandalorian history or urged them to practice speaking in Mando'a, the language of the Mandalorians.

Din tried attending the little school twice, mostly so he could try to understand the language Paz himself seemed to use so often—and so he could escape his own thoughts. But the first day, the teacher tried to get Din to introduce himself to the others, all of whom had inexplicably morphed into a sea of helmets he'd much rather see from a distance than up close, and he almost broke down into full-fledged sobs. No one came after him when he fled the room. He wasn't sure if he wanted someone to or not.

The second time he tried to sneak into the school-hut, nearly a week later, the teacher and even the other Mandalorians, to a large degree, ignored him. He liked that better, and he managed to last an hour before the battle epic Paz's father was describing became so vivid and lifelike that Din's thoughts kept jumping back to Aq Vetina, to all the chaos he had seen and heard and felt when he had been running away from his home.

He had begun to feel so queasy that even the teacher's assurance that the last half hour of class would be devoted to Mando'a ("for those who are interested," he had said pointedly) could not keep Din inside the stuffy, dark hut any longer.

Once again, he had fled to the tree that overlooked the entire community, and no one had stopped him.

Paz, despite his inattentiveness to some glaringly obvious aspects of life, noticed how reluctant—and maybe unable—Din was to integrate himself into life with the other Mandalorians. Din could tell it took more self-control than the other kid usually exercised to keep from asking questions or throwing out brash comments, like he did with the other younglings, around Din. But sometimes whatever it was that managed to restrain Paz would break, and he would give in to the temptation anyway.

"So, what do you do all day?" the young Mandalorian had asked confrontationally one evening, after they had eaten and laid down, the fire purring behind them.

"I think."

"What do you think about?" had been the perturbed and admittedly hesitant reply, as if Paz wasn't sure he really wanted to know.

Din had laid there in the quiet for a few seconds, hoping Paz would decide he didn't care to know after all, and then he had finally chosen an answer he knew would make Paz leave him alone. It was truthful enough to satisfy his friend, but it was vague enough to avoid getting into everything else Din filled his head with during the day:

"My parents."

And he was right. Paz did leave him alone after a quiet, "oh." He was snoring a few minutes later, too, leaving Din to think—now more awake than he had been before mentioning his parents.

Because he did think about them a lot.

He knew the community inside and out by now, as he had spent many hours quietly wandering about it, finding little nooks he could fold himself into and thus watch what went on without fear of being discovered. Mentally mapping out the community and the fields around it had taken no more than two days, and so he had spent the rest of his two weeks here just thinking.

Trying to figure out what to do—

Thinking about Aq Vetina—

Thinking about his mother's soft face smiling down at him, his father's lilting voice drifting into Din's bedroom in the morning—

Thinking about Binh, Mai, his grandamma and what life had been like before the mental image he had of life with them had been marked by smoke, screams, and fire—

Trying to figure out what it was that made him feel so wrong when a sudden memory of his parents would rise up in his head as he watched the Mandalorians fight down in the fields.

The feeling—that ache from before—would get worse any time anyone but Paz tried to strike up a conversation with him. Granted, the few clan-born Mandalorian younglings who had tried to talk to him about a week after he arrived had yet to try again after his dry mouth and clammy hands had made it impossible to look at them for too long. And the two adult Mandalorians who had bothered to check on him beyond a passing nod of acknowledgement—Paz's father and the Mandalorian who had talked to Raanan the first night they arrived—were so often absent from the community that even when Din entered their thoughts at all, he doubted it was for very long.

But when they had tried to talk to him—to ask him how he was settling in, what he thought of the community—all he could think about was how he had felt when he had been in the hatch and had begun to realize that his parents were leaving him down there.

That wrongness had been inside him then, too. And now it only grew, so that whenever a nice memory from the time before Din became a foundling began to come into his mind, it was immediately curtailed by that wrong feeling—and by an endless flurry of doubts and questions that he could do nothing but roll around in his head over and over.

Who were those guests in our house before the droids came?

Were they the reason my house was destroyed?

Did amma and dada know why the guests were here?

Did amma and dada know what was going to happen after they closed the hatch?

And, the biggest question of all, the one that dominated all the others and crowded out everything else when it crossed his mind: why did amma and dada leave me?

By the end of two weeks—even with Paz there—Din was worn out by the questions and the thoughts that just rattled ceaselessly in his head, with no escape and no way to be voiced. Din wanted so badly just to go home.

Or to forget that he had ever been anything but a Mandalorian foundling in the first place.

Or to do anything but sit in the grass and stare, mind numb, wrongness swelling inside him, his parents' faces blurring in his head a little bit more each day, so that trying to remember every detail of how they looked became a desperate mental scrabble for the pieces to a puzzle that he knew would never be whole again.

He was trapped in this cycle of thoughts on the evening of his fifteenth day there—the air around him feeling heavier than ever—when the roar of a ship passing by overhead made him look up sharply.

Raanan.

It was Raanan.

Raanan, who had left him.

Raanan, who hadn't even bothered to show him how to properly fit in here—hadn't bothered to do anything but take him from his home and dump him in a strange place with strange people.

Din scowled, and the wrongness rose up within him with such an intensity that his fists curled and his chest burned and his eyes watered. He did not get up from beneath the tree when the ship landed and Raanan emerged, hypocritical helmet securely in place.

He didn't get up when the Mandalorian entered the community, walked with a limp to Din and Paz's shared hut. Din just rested his chin on his knees and watched, eyes full of tears he would not let fall, and thought, I don't care.

Not anymore.

I won't.


After perhaps half an hour of quiet reflection, Din descended the hill.

He found Paz practicing his knife-throwing skills on the lintel of the door and, without preamble, calmly asked if he was ready to eat. Paz looked at him, head cocked, and then shrugged. Once again, some strange force seemed to very uncharacteristically keep him from asking any probing questions.

"I could eat, I guess."

The pair of them walked side by side down the dusty street, as they had done every evening since Raanan left. Except this time, they actually met Raanan limping towards him from the direction of the Vizsla house. He seemed frazzled, which Din could tell even though the helmet concealed his facial expressions; there was an urgency to his labored steps, a rigidity to his posture.

As soon as his gaze landed on him and Paz, however, that rigidity melted away.

"Kid!" the man exclaimed, his voice gruff.

"I've been looking everywhere for you—this womp rat right here told me you'd wandered off two days ago and hadn't been seen since…"

Din resisted the urge to turn towards Paz in incredulity at what he had done on his behalf and instead fixed his eyes straight ahead. Though it took every ounce of his willpower—and then some—he did not look at Raanan and he gave no indication that he had even heard him.

Paz seemed to move a little closer to his side, and as they stalked silently by a confused Raanan, Din's heart rate spiked and his hands began to tremble, as if he were doing something forbidden. But the wrongness (I know what it really is, but I shouldn't be I shouldn't be I—) rumbled in his chest and made him feel warm, satisfied, like he had done something right.

Raanan did not call after them as they entered the hut where the meals were dished out, and once they crossed the threshold, Paz clapped him on the back. Din let his pent-up breath escape him with a relieved whoosh.

"He left you, burc'ya. He deserves it if you ask me. That was brave," his friend said with a grin in his voice. Din didn't outwardly return his excitement, but it had felt brave, he thought. Ignoring Raanan had made him feel as if maybe he had a little bit of control over what went on around him after all.

So, for the rest of the night, he did just that: he pretended as if the Mandalorian who rescued him didn't even exist. Granted, he only saw the man twice more as he and Paz moved throughout the community, picking up the day's scattered training equipment amid Paz's grumblings and swearing or returning now-empty dishes to the "slop-hut," as Paz called the community's kitchen space.

But both times, Raanan paused and regarded the two younglings silently. It was impossible to tell what he was thinking—whether he was angry or confused or just a healthy mixture of both—but each time, Din felt a little jolt in his belly, a silent affirmation that made his fists curl and his back straighten. Paz positioned himself between Din and the man, too, so that Din was never worried that Raanan would forcibly try to stop them.

He was like a guard-dog, Din would think when they had passed Raanan by completely.

However, when night truly fell and Paz was yawning beneath his helmet, Din's "guard dog" finally stopped him in the street and planted both fists on his hips.

"Alright, I'm tired. What's the plan for tonight?"

Din looked at the ground, and the warmth that had brushed against him after they had passed Raanan for the final time that night seeped away. Paz persisted, as was his way—and as though to make up for the questions he hadn't asked earlier.

"Your cabur, Din…what's his name again?"

"Raanan."

"Yeah, Raanan. He went into our hut back there, so he is sleeping there."

Din nodded at Paz's observation and then glanced behind them, at the hut.

"You can sleep with your—your Buir if you want tonight," the foundling finally murmured.

Paz didn't reply and seemed hesitant to accept Din's suggestion despite his conspicuous desire to go to bed. He shifted from one foot to the other as he seemed, like Din, to consider what that could mean.

"Are you sure? I can stay in there too, no problem. He might be angry after what you did tonight."

The foundling looked up sharply at his friend, anger (the wrongness) flashing in his eyes.

"I don't care," Din said. His companion merely nodded sagely at the outburst, as if seeing Din's anger was all he needed to believe the foundling was actually satisfied with the night's sleeping arrangements. Or like he was just ready to sleep and get this over with for the night.

"Okay, burc'ya," Paz said. "See you in the morning. Jate ca."

Paz sprinted away virtually as soon as the words left his mouth, as if to confirm Din's latter theory. The foundling stood in the dark for a moment afterwards, listening to the dusty thump of Paz's feet retreating from him, and then he turned resolutely and marched to his hut.

He paused outside the door—just long enough to hear the quiet rumbles that, mercifully, meant Raanan was asleep—and then he slipped inside. He crawled into the bed, ignoring the dark lump on the floor that was the Mandalorian, and tried to empty his head, to sleep.

But that writhing feeling inside him wouldn't go away, and Raanan's snores didn't sound enough like Paz's to trick his brain into thinking things were "normal." He kept thinking about how he had treated Raanan since he had returned and what his parents would think if they had been there to see it. They probably would have frowned at him, told him to apologize and remember what it meant to be kind when no one else was, he thought darkly.

But, worse even than that, he kept thinking of the secret he had discovered in himself as soon as he had ignored Raanan that first time—

The secret that had begun growing in him at the same time as the wrongness but that he had only just identified, even after two weeks of living in his own head. It was a secret that made him feel sick in his belly, and it was one that kept coming back into his head no matter how often he tried to shove it away.

So relentless was the secret and the thoughts and feelings that accompanied it that he did not sleep properly the entire night. He would drift often into the gray twilight just between sleeping and waking, and then—just as suddenly—would be ripped out of it and become painfully aware of all the ways his fragile semblance of a routine had been shattered by Raanan's return.

After what seemed a lifetime of these moments of staring into the dark and then becoming a part of it again, he noticed it had actually begun to lighten outside—that dawn was coming. The darkness that outlined the doorway was now gray rather then tar-black. He wasn't at all sure what he was going to do once day truly broke, however, and it was upon this uncertainty that his newest set of anxious thoughts rested.

He was about to succumb to another period of lightless drifting even in the harrowing face of this coming morning when Raanan's voice suddenly punctured the dark.

"I know you've been waking up all night, kid. And I can tell you're awake now—you're breathing too fast."

His voice sounded grumpy, Din thought.

He tried to even and deepen his breathing by way of response, but Raanan just sighed at him.

"Whatever. Just get out of bed and get your shoes on. We gotta talk."

To his surprise—and in an unsettling parallel to the first afternoon he spent on this planet—Raanan led Din up a hill. This time, it was the hill the boy had been sitting on earlier, where the tree was.

They didn't talk. They just stepped through the ankle-high grass, letting the soft sigh of it scraping against their clothing blend with the numbing chorus of insect voices that sang in the far distance. The sky had actually grown darker, too, since the pair had started moving away from the hut. The white moon had dropped from the sky to their left with almost alarming speed, and in its place had sprouted a thin veneer of pastel pink.

As they climbed the hill and breathed in the soft dawn air, the spot of pink expanded, turned watery at the edges, and began spreading tendrils of creeping color out to either side of it, as if to encircle the whole line of the horizon.

It was beautiful, but all Din could think about was what Raanan could possibly have to say to him. That and whatever was in the bulging sack he had swung over his back—

"First things first, I'm gonnna ignore whatever the Malachor happened back there," Raanan said tightly without looking back at Din. The foundling quickly dropped his eyes to the sack rather than the back of Raanan's helmet, as if the man could feel where Din's eyes were even when he wasn't facing him.

Maybe he can

Raanan removed his helmet but still did not look back at Din, letting the headpiece dangle at his side from one hand.

"Secondly, this probably seems stupid and it's cold and it's basically freaking dawn, but trust me when I say that right now—when everything is quiet and nobody's around to watch—is the best time for this conversation to take place, yeah?"

Raanan turned around sharply and began, impressively, to walk backwards up the hill, leaving Din no time to avert his gaze. The man's face was ghosted eerily on one side by a white wash of the receding moon. His scar, too, seemed more prominent than ever, lurid and glaring in the strange light.

"Not to mention you didn't leave me many good options when I got here."

Din swallowed and after a moment Raanan muttered something in Mando'a and turned back around. He didn't say anything else until they were at the top of the hill and standing under the boughs of the tree, which were only scantily clad in silvery-green leaves.

They stood side by side there for a moment, staring at where the white rind of the sun was peeping hesitantly up from oblivion. Din, shivering from nerves and a slight chill, ran his eyes across the now-familiar community, which appeared strangely domestic, nestled as it was under the wings of predawn quiet, a bruising horizon looming above it.

"Now let's get this over with it," Raanan finally said, and though his voice was still hard, it didn't seem to have as much of a bite as it had earlier. Din peeped curiously at the man from his peripheral vision, refusing to let his shivers become violent enough for him to notice.

"For the record, I'm probably the most selfish, bucketbrained, kriff-faced son-of-a-bantha that ever tried to take care of a child."

The bubble of dark wrongness (anger) that had slowly been swelling around Din popped at those words, and despite himself, he looked over in astonishment at his elder. Even in the grayness, he could tell that Raanan seemed almost embarrassed of himself for voicing the words. The man didn't look down and over at Din, clearing his throat dismissively even as he pushed forward with his next statement.

"And just so you know, I spent a good while coming up with just the right words to describe myself, so hopefully you got all that."

Raanan stood there for another few seconds, breathing heavier than Din was. Din refused to say anything or, despite his earlier slip, acknowledge Raanan's words. He let the wrongness edge back into him and forced his thoughts to return constantly to how he had felt when Raanan left him—and to how hard the last two weeks had been.

Seeming to have finally had enough, the Mandalorian sighed and then sat down heavily in the grass with his knees up, like a kid himself. The bag made a dull thump as it collided with the soil.

"Anyway, kid. I'm…I'm sorry."

"You left me," Din blurted. Those were the words he had been wanting to say for a while now, and they slipped out of his mouth of their own accord. With them came the blooming of a now-familiar, sour dread in his stomach, the twisting cord of thoughts that reminded him of his secret—

The secret that was too closely connected to what Raanan had just said to cause anything but fear and anger to rise up in him at the Mandalorian's unexpected apology.

Raanan scrubbed a hand slowly down his face.

"Right. And that's one thing I'm sorry for, I guess. But I'm also sorry for your parents dying, your village getting crisped, you having to be here on your own to figger stuff out while I was gone—"

"I wasn't alone," Din snapped, crossing his arms and squaring himself against the dawn, as if he was defying it for bringing so much light into a world that should yield nothing but darkness.

The Mandalorian threw up his hands at the interruption.

"Dank farrik, kid! Whatever the case, I'm sorry, alright? Is that so bad?"

Din could feel Raanan's eyes on him, but he didn't so much as flinch. He let the few warm tears trickle down his cheeks and bit the inside of his cheek so hard he could taste blood. The anger made him tremble worse than any cold ever had.

When perhaps half a minute had passed, Raanan sighed yet again and then massaged the bridge of his nose. The dawning light—now tinted with yellow—gleamed off a singular silver ring on his finger.

"Sorry 'bout that," he muttered. "But Din, you gave me something to live for when I rescued you. Maybe that would make some other person jump for joy, but for me…ever since…after—"

Din might have risked a glance at Raanan during this pause because the man's voice actually broke. He could feel the anger slipping from his grasp again and, perversely, he scrabbled to retain his grip on it. He had a right to be angry at Raanan, Din thought. If only because it seemed like it was hard for Raanan to even apologize for something he had done wrong.

And my secret—

Raanan cleared his throat, and when he spoke, his voice was solid again.

"After Finian died, I knew living was nothing short of a curse for me. I thought that death in battle, brutal and bloody and honorable, was the only thing I had left to work towards. What father should have to live when his son dies?"

What father should have to live when his son dies?

Din felt more tears gather at the bottom of his eyes, overflow, waver down his cheek. And suddenly he was thinking of his father's face, so kind and warm and open—he was thinking about the sorrow he had seen in it the morning of the attack. A sob threatened to rise up in his throat, but he managed to choke it down, channel the tears someplace else.

What son should have to see his parents die?

And then Din's secret roared back to life—with that horrible, horrible wrongness.

"But you changed that. And listen, kid. I had to go off somewhere for a bit and beat those old notions out of myself, alright? I had to tie up loose ends, forget a glorious death, kiss my crikking dreams goodbye. And as bad as that sounds…it was probably good for me."

Din turned to face Raanan completely, dropping his hands to his side once more and leaving his aching, burning chest unguarded.

"You left so you could come back and…take care of me?"

Raanan stared into Din's eyes, his gaze liquid and distant. Since most of the sun had now emerged from the distant horizon line, it threw a stream of pale light onto one of the only pieces of armor Raanan was wearing over his flightsuit—the chestpiece—which in turn bounced it off again, dazzling Din's already burning eyes.

"Yeah. Basically. And… I had to go get something for you too."

Seeming not to notice how fiercely Din's face had transformed itself at his reply—or perhaps choosing to ignore it—Raanan sniffed and swung the bag off his shoulders. He set it down as Din watched, opened the top, and then reached inside.

Din's heart galloped inside his chest.

What—

And then Raanan pulled out something thin and shiny, something that glittered in the light almost as much as his armor. The Mandalorian didn't look at Din but extended it to him nonetheless.

A necklace.

A necklace of his amma's, half-melted, smudged with black, but still distinguishable as a brush-rose.

"It's all I could really find," Raanan said.

Raanan went back to Aq Vetina.

He went home. And he didn't take me back.

With a convulsive sob, Din reached forward and swatted the necklace away, flinging it into the grass, chest heaving.

"No!" he shouted, curling his fists.

"No! I don't want it! I don't want you here and I don't want that here and I don't care about any of it!"

He paused so he could pull in air, but the air seemed to turn to tears as soon as it swept inside of him. He trembled, staggered a few steps towards the necklace without thinking about it, unable to stop his gaze from landing on where it glittered in the grass.

Raanan stood up slowly, as if he were trying to keep from startling a raging, rabid animal.

"Hey, hey, kid. Calm down," he said quietly, eyebrows drawn over his eyes. Din just tore his gaze away from the necklace, pushed down a rising sob, and glared at Raanan.

I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry—

"Be angry at me all you want, alright, but that's your ma's," the man soothed, hands up. "You—you had to leave everything behind. I'm sorry it affected you like this, but I just thought—"

I'm sorry.

Those words, now spoken audibly rather than just in his head, were what finally pushed Din over the edge, burst the dam, and brought his secret out into the growing light of the day. Maybe Raanan had something to be sorry about, but Din had something even bigger he needed to apologize for—

A confession—

"I am angry at you," Din said, the sobs and the tears suddenly calming inside of him just enough for his voice to come out as a whimper. "But I'm angry at amma and dada too."

He didn't see Raanan's expression after this confession. Maybe it was shock, maybe it was more anger—all he knew was that after he said it, it felt like he was in the middle of the attack on Aq Vetina all over again. The light, the rushing in his ears, the feeling like he was about to burst apart at a moment's notice, even the smell of dust and smoke in his nose—

He vaguely remembered stumbling forward, and then his body met with something hard and cold. Something that wrapped arms around him and pulled him close—something into which Din instinctively buried his face as he cried, crushing both palms into his eyes and involuntarily inhaling gasping breaths that tasted of sweat, of metal, and of wild air.

For the briefest of moments, he even managed to pretend it was dada holding him.

Even though he knew it was Raanan.

Even though he didn't know why it was Raanan.

"Why did—why did they have to die?" Din choked.

"Why didn't they get into the hatch with me? Why did they leave me?"

He wasn't expecting answers to his questions, but he could feel Raanan's chest rumble beneath him as the man replied. His response was broken and distorted, though, and in that new language Din hated so much, the language of the Mandalorians.

"Why do I feel like I hate them?"

He didn't hear what Raanan ended up saying in response to his final strangled question, the one that had been plaguing him for two weeks. But now the Mandalorian rocked back and forth on his heels as they stood there together, Din clinging to him because he knew he couldn't do anything else at the moment.

And gradually, as the light turned orange and draped like a cloak around the two figures huddled on the hill, Din realized that he was calming down.

His secret didn't weigh on his mind so heavily now, and though he still shook and sniffed and felt salty tears dripping off his face, there was a spot of calm growing alongside the wrongness—the anger—that had been inside him for what seemed like an eternity.

It was like that strange moment when the sun came out after a fierce thunderstorm. Back on Aq Vetina, Din would cautiously open the door after a heavy rainstorm and peep out into the air that not long before had been livid with booms that had shaken the very ground beneath his feet. He would look in wonder at how quiet everything was, how it all dripped but was soaked in sunshine too. The birds wouldn't even be singing yet, and for just a few minutes after the storm had split the heavens, the ground would breathe quietly and uncharacteristically, waiting to dry out so it could resume life once more.

That's what it felt like now, Din thought.

Hesitantly, Din felt himself being gently pushed away from Raanan. As if realizing for the first time that the Mandalorian had hugged him and Din had returned the hug, the boy pushed away too.

He looked up without thinking, and there were tears glistening on Raanan's cheeks.

"I was angry too," Raaan said softly. "When my Nara and Finian died."

Raanan then raised his hand with a sureness that made it seem instinctive—as if he was compelled rather than chose to brush away the tears still leaking from Din's eyes. But halfway there, his expression seemed to pull, to tighten—his lips flattened and Din watched, utterly still, as Raanan dropped his hand again and looked down at the ground.

Din's stomach seemed to drop with it, but he swallowed the strange feeling down.

"But you ain't making yer parents any less proud of you by being angry, alright?" Raanan continued You have a right to be angry because what happened wasn't good or right or—or fair. They'd forgive you, just like I'm asking you to forgive me now, okay?"

Raanan lowered into a crouch so that he was eye-level with Din, and when the boy tried to shift his gaze away—to the pale grass, tinted orange with the dawn gleaming on it—he did reach forward to firmly pull Din's attention back to him.

The man swallowed, as if the words he was about to say were a lump he was trying and failing to keep down.

"I'm not going to leave you again, Din. I'm not going to ask you to call me dad or anything like that—you only had one dad, and I ain't ever gonna be him. And I won't even force you to learn to fight, if you don't want to…"

Din sniffed and rubbed the red sleeve of his tunic across his nose.

The calm inside him only seemed to grow as Raanan talked, and he didn't try to fight it this time. The warm sun—now crawling above a community that was slowly emerging from its cocoon of sleep—felt good on his cheek as he listened, numb in some ways but feeling so painfully alive in others.

"I'll teach you to be a mechanic, like I was before—before everything went down," Raanan continued. His voice was firmer, and he too wiped tears from his face. "If you'll forgive me, kid, and if you forgive your mother and father and yourself, I'll do it all. Maybe that means a load of Tusken crap to you, but I mean it. I do."

Din took a step back, and his eyes fell again to the discarded necklace in the grass.

Forgive them?

What did that mean? This wasn't a game where Mai accidentally hit him too hard and gave him a bruise—this wasn't Binh tripping him in front of the school and then laughing until he could find the seriousness to say sorry for doing it.

"How do I do that?" Din whispered.

Raanan looked down at the ground again, and Din watched his chin tremble as he fought back tears. Din almost reached out to touch his shoulder, to make him look up and stop crying, but the urge to do so passed as quickly as it came.

"You'll know how to when the time comes for it to happen. You don't have to forgive us now, right this second—just know that you're never gonna stop hurting unless you do it."

Din searched Raanan's crystalline eyes, and then he nodded, his head heavy.

"Okay," he whispered.

But he still didn't feel like he understood what Raanan meant.

Below them, in the community, someone shouted, laughed, and then two young Mandalorians burst from a doorway—two black specks thundering between the huts. Raanan cleared his throat and then resting his elbow on one knee, clasped his chin pensively in one hand.

Din turned back the way they had come, then looked at the bulging bag that still sat near them.

"What else is in there?" he asked, not entirely sure he wanted to know, his thoughts turning again to the necklace he really wanted to retrieve, to hold, to tuck close to his skin.

Raanan glanced absentmindedly at the bag and then shook his head.

"We've covered enough ground for this morning," he said tiredly. "Best leave that for later. I'll answer all the questions I know you'll have later, probably. But for now…"

"You'll tell me why you don't wear your helmet all the time? Why you were with those other Mandalorians?" Din asked, surprising even himself.

Something that Din might have interpreted as annoyance before this entire encounter took place flashed across Raanan's face, but then he shook his head again and sighed. He carded a hand through his short hair and looked at Din from the side.

"Sure, kid."

Din nodded, and then he turned to leave.

Just like that.

Everything that could be said had been said. It was time to return to the community. He didn't know what he would do, but Raanan was here now and had told him he would train him to be a mechanic. He still felt angry at the Mandalorian, but at least he wasn't going to force Din to fight. That was something.

Wasn't it?

Before he could take the first step, though, Raanan spoke up again.

"Din?"

Din turned.

"I have one last thing to ask of you, if you'll humor me. A favor."

Din's first thought was to shake his head and then leave—he didn't know how to properly respond to Raanan's tense gaze, and he had yet to fully understand everything the man had already told him. But there was something in Raanan's gaze—something still hurting and something that reminded him so much of his father that he remained rooted to the spot.

With reluctance, he nodded his head.

Raanan gestured with one hand for Din to come closer, and the boy obeyed, curious despite the bubbling tension beneath his skin.

"This is my last stand, alright? One more selfish thing—one thing I have to do before…before I show you how to live here. It'll be real quick. I just…it's not usual or anything—"

"I don't care," Din said quietly.

Raanan swallowed, looked at the ground. He couldn't seem to look fully into Din's face, and that fact alone would have made Din angry again but for the fact that such a sadness seemed to radiate off of him. The same type of sadness his father had carried—

A terrible, terrible sorrow that made Din's chest ache anew and that he knew could not and should not be ignored, even in a time like this—

"Okay. Right. Par gar," Raanan muttered, licking his lips.

And then the Mandalorian pressed his forehead against Din's, closed his eyes, and said in a voice that might have bled if such things were possible:

"Ni kyr'tayl gai sa'ad."

Raanan pulled away immediately after the words left his mouth, wiped the tears roughly off his face, and then stood uncertainly on legs that had too long been in the same bent position. He did not look at Din.

"What did you say?" Din asked, puzzled.

The Mandalorian did not reply immediately as he pulled on his helmet, shook his head, peered out at the simmering horizon.

"I'll tell you later. I promise. But for now, will you please promise me you won't try to figure it out until then?"

Din frowned, but as he watched the Mandalorian lean over and retrieve the mysterious bag from the ground, he noted how his every movement seemed slow, like the hobbling, arthritic steps his grandamma used to take.

He made a choice, then, a choice that he thought might be the beginning of that forgiveness Raanan had mentioned (even though I am still angry—)

"I promise."

Raanan regarded him for a moment and then nodded.

"Thank you," he whispered.

Daybreak chased happily after Raanan—playing along his armor—as he left Din on the crest of the hill, but Din did not know what it was he felt open up inside him as he was left behind once more. He knew Raanan wasn't going to leave him alone on this planet again—and he still had loyal Paz to watch his back—but there was still something inside him he didn't like.

He had thought that maybe it was calmness earlier, but now it seemed more like a…hollow?

Like when he was hungry and he could feel the emptiness of his stomach lurking inside him—

An emptiness that needed filling up for him to be whole again—

But with what?

What could fill this kind of hole up?

Din drifted over to where his mother's necklace lay on the ground and then picked it up gingerly, as if it might burn him. He looked at it, the anger rearing its irrepressible head again inside him, and then he tucked it into his pocket—not around his neck.

He would find what it was that he was missing.

This was just the beginning of a new day—he had time to look for it, didn't he?

Because he had to find it.

Because this emptiness would eat him up looking for something to feed on if he didn't.


Mando'a Translations:

burc'ya: friend

buir: mother, father (parent)

cabur: guardian, protector

jate ca: good night

par gar: "For you."

Ni kyr'tayl gai sa'ad: "I know your name as my child." Also known as the Mandalorian adoption vow (of foundlings).


A/N: Hello, guys! Sorry for the extended absence - I took a hiatus in February, and I'm just now getting back into my fics. Thanks for waiting! Maybe this 7,800 word monstrosity will make up for it some? *cringes*

Anyway. This chapter, y'all. So. ORNERY. And also, it's SO angsty and has SO many "aw poor Din" moments and so many "dang why is this author so BLEH?" moments that I kinda want to beg for y'all's forgiveness...seriously, WHY DO I WRITE THINGS LIKE THIS? Also: from now on, I'm going to stop chronicling every second of Din's early childhood and instead begin skipping chunks of time to give y'all glimpses of different phases of his life. That was the original plan, after all, and I just *had* to get this groundwork out of the way. :)

Thanks for reading! Please let me know what you think - even if you just want to rant about how crappy and angsty this chapter is. Feedback is feedback, man. It all serves a purpose.

I hope you all are doing WONDERFULLY! ;D


"If you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as the noonday." -Isaiah 58:10

"His anger lasts for a moment, but his favor lasts for a lifetime. Tears may last through the night, but with the dawn comes cries of joy." -Psalm 30:5