Inhale.

Pain flares along every nerve in Din's body, and he can feel hot blood pulsing from the jagged gash in his leg. There is blood in his hair, too, seeping from a laceration at his hairline, and it threatens to trickle in his eyes even as he stands here. He is swaying, trembling, breathing in great gasps—

But he is still breathing—

Grogu is still breathing—

Exhale.

He does not know how he did it or when it happened, but the Moff is dead. Din doesn't even care at this point that he has succeeded because there is only one thing that matters. There is only one way Din will achieve victory today—

If Grogu is breathing and uninjured and safe.

Right now, the baby looks only as if he is sleeping naturally, curled in the nook of Din's good arm. Din knows better, though. Or maybe the little one is conscious—it's hard to tell through his smoky, undulating vision and the way his chest is almost refusing to rise and fall at all.

Din looks down at his feet suddenly, at the man who was responsible for taking his adi'ka, for hurting him. He feels a rush of dark anger sweep through him, wrenching his uneven breaths back, into a tighter hold, but the sudden feeling of Grogu's chest rising sharply beneath Din's hand washes the feeling away just as swiftly as it comes.

The kid is all that matters.

Nothing else can be more important.

He looks down, searching the still green face, hoping to see those dark eyes slip up, gaze into his own. But the kid does not stir beyond a subtle wrinkling of his eyebrows and the tiniest whimper that creeps out with his next exhalation.

Din's anger returns, but he cannot dwell on it any longer.

This place will be crawling with Imps soon. It is a miracle he has not be overrun with them already. He must return to Boba Fett's ship so that they can put as much distance between these splinters of the Empire and themselves as possible. He must return quickly so that Cara and Shand and Fett do not have to fight a battle that is not theirs for any longer, risking their lives for the small being that has so inexplicably become his responsibility.

Din turns toward the door, but for some reason he can no longer see its outline clearly. Something warm and wet touches his eyelash, and he shakes his head, takes a trembling step forward, his grip on the kid in his arms tightening before it can unconsciously loosen.

But he knows what is happening to him—

Gideon was a skilled fighter—

Din tries to fight it with everything he has, but the blood spilling from his veins and the oxygen that will not sustain him and the blackness that will not weaken its grip is more than his unwilling body can deal with.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Din twists to the side as he falls, the world spinning away from consciousness like the stars he and the child would watch from the cockpit of the Razor Crest. He did not come this far to crush Grogu with his own body. If it is the last thing he does—

If the last breath he has is used to give his adi'ka even one more minute of life—

Then it is the least he can do.

Din does not feel it when he hits the ground, when his head collides with the floor, unhelmeted, unprotected, slick with the blood from his head-wound. The blackness has already claimed him, swept his last thought into oblivion with his consciousness.

Breathe, adi'ka. For me.

Grogu does not hit the ground. He remains tucked close to Din's side – the Mandalorian's hand still curled around him, tight with a grip that does not relax even in the darkness. The child sleeps on, ears still drooping, eyes still closed, sights he does not understand flashing across the blank surface of his eyelids.

His little chest swells with air, deflates again with a soft breath.

He is getting closer to waking up—Grogu knows this with a certainty that is beyond him. He may be locked inside his own head, unable to see or hear, but he can feel. He can feel warmth beside him, familiarity beside him—

He matches his breathing with that of the one who holds him.

Inhale.

Grogu's eyes open slowly. He coos. No one answers.

Exhale.


Cara does not know what pulls her forward as she runs down this corridor.

It wasn't in the plan they had created. It does not even make sense. She does not know her way around the ship and does not know where the little one is supposed to be kept. But something urges her to come this way, to abandon the post where she was waiting for Mando to appear because he needed her somewhere else.

She runs until she sees the stormtrooper.

He is standing in front of an open door, the body of a different trooper laid across his feet as if he has been flung against the adjacent wall. But he is not aiming a blaster or moving forward or even speaking on his comm system—

He is choking, hands scrabbling at his throat, and Cara knows the child is alive, that he is responsible for this, that he is trying to defend himself—

She shoots the stormtrooper and he drops. She sprints forward, jumping over his prone body, and freezes in front of the doorway. She only has time to glance at the situation—at the gleam of Beskar on the floor, smeared with red, at the shaking child propped against his chest—before she feels herself choking.

The breath is being squeezed out of her, her windpipe tight and pliable and sharp in her throat—

"St—stop!" she struggles to speak, hands wrapping around her own throat as if they can ward off the invisible hand crushing it.

She locks her eyes on the child, who looks worse than she has ever seen him. His eyes are half-closed, his tri-fingered hand trembling like the last leaf fixed to a barren branch. Black spots pockmark her vision, leave smears in their wake as they pop and reappear moments later.

Her tongue feels heavy, her jaw unable to move, but she speaks, one last line, a desperate plea, a breath

"Grogu!"

Mando told her his name, before they set their plan into motion. He told her, and when she uses it, the pressure retreats from her airway immediately. She can breathe, and she sucks in the biggest gulps of air she can, tasting its sweetness, letting the blackness recede.

But she cannot breathe for long because they have to move—they have to get out of here. She has to move the Mandalorian, move the child. She has to make them safe.

She steps forward and kneels at Mando's side, her breaths still hard and harsh in her own ears, and looks down at him, assesses his injuries, does not take the time to dwell on the fact that she is seeing his face—his matted dark hair, the ghost of stubble along his tan jaw, the thin moustache across his upper lip.

"We—we have to move him," Cara pants to the child.

But Grogu does not even coo in response. He is draped across the side of Mando's chestplate, eyes threatening to close completely of their own accord, shaking so violently that Cara is almost afraid he is seizing. She reaches out, her hands hesitating to touch him after the power she has felt take control of her air supply—twice now.

But then she does it anyway, cradles him close to her. She feels tears prick at her vision because suddenly she knows that she will not be able to move the Mandalorian on her own. He is too heavy. He is dead weight.

And even though she sees him breathing—inhale, exhale, alive—she cannot take both him and the child back to Boba Fett's ship. Even if she was willing to leave the child behind, she knows that he would never forgive her for choosing him instead. She has to leave him behind in order to save the one he would give anything to save.

She stands, Grogu in her arms.

Her tears slip down her cheeks even as she hears steps in the hallway, distantly registers the sound of alarms tearing throughout the ship.

"I'm sorry," she chokes, each word a lump she can barely squeeze out of her throat, and then she turns.

Each breath she takes stabs her chest, makes her wince, feel like her heart is bleeding. She reaches the doorway, forcing determination rather than grief to course through her every vein. She knows that if she can only get Grogu back to the ship, where her companions wait, then he will be safe.

She will come back for her friend, when Grogu is hidden and she can return.

She has to, even if it is only to discover his final fate.

But when she turns her back, Grogu stirs and makes a sound.

It is a broken, hoarse sound, but it a sound that unmistakably, inexplicably carries the sound of hope. Or urgency. Of prompting.

Cara stops—

"Grogu," a familiar voice says, from behind her.

She turns, and Mando is awake, his eyes are open. Brown eyes. Haunted eyes. A gaze that never once leaves the child in her arms.

It is a gaze that is not completely clear of unconsciousness, but he is alive, he is breathing, he is conscious. Cara can help him. She can save him and his child. She has to.

"Mando," she breathes.

And then she is at his side, helping lift him to his feet, taking as much weight as she can while keeping her grip on the child. Mando's arm is heavy around her, his feet shuffle, but he holds a blaster ready to fire at any enemy they encounter.

He breathes near her ear, eyes drifting whenever they can to the child she holds close to her body, partially shielded by the way the Mandalorian's body curls into her.

They leave the room, make it down the hall, ready, prepared.

They will give every last breath they have to make it out of here, to get the child to where he belongs, to make right what was made wrong.

Inhale.

The child drifts back into unconsciousness, and they move faster, knowing it is only a matter of time before Mando drifts away again, too.

Exhale.


Din wakes with a name on his lips.

"Grogu!"

Adi'ka!

His eyes snap open, and light stabs them until he is blinking and shaking his head and fighting the weight that pushes his eyelids down again because he knows that if does not fight it will be too long until they open once more.

He has to know where Grogu is. He has to know if his adi'ka is alive.

He has not breathed his last breath, which means that he has failed if Grogu is still on the Imperial ship or if—

A coo.

A soft breath on his skin.

Three gentle fingers that rest upon his jaw, trail up to his cheek.

The sight of two large dark eyes peering down into his own, framed by wrinkled cheeks and sprigs of wiry hair. A face that is somehow cute even though it would seem ugly on any other creature.

Grogu.

The panic rushes out of Din with a single breath, a single exhale that feels like the relief of waking from a nightmare or the soothing coolness of a bacta patch on a wound. He smiles, and there is something warm in his eyes—

It is not blood this time.

It is relief. Relief in the form of tears. Of water. Of oxygen and hydrogen and salt.

"Adi'ka," Din whispers. He cannot lift his head yet because he knows that the strength is not there, but he will be ready when the time comes for him to do so. "I am sorry, adi'ka."

The child coos, and in his eyes is something Din will never forget. A trust. A brokenness. A love. A hesitancy.

It is all of these things, and Din watches as the infant explores Din's exposed face with probing fingers, with a deliberateness that he has seldom seen in the little one's actions. He waits until Grogu is finished absorbing his buir's face, and then he leans back, out of Din's range of vision.

Din breathes in.

He lifts himself up into a sitting position.

He fights the boiling darkness.

And he wins.

He is in Fett's ship, down in its belly. There are bandages and supplies strewn across the light floor, blood on the wide table he now sits on—the table where the holograph had been recorded—the remains of a frantic rush to stabilize him once Cara got them off the Imperial ship. Din barely remembers what happened after he woke and saw that Grogu was with Cara.

But Din's eyes are drawn first to where Grogu perches on Din's lap, looking at him expectantly, ears lifted, head cocked.

"Unh?" the child coos.

Din smiles.

He breathes.

Inhale.

Grogu is safe. He is alive. Gideon is dead. The galaxy breathes around them, brimming with opportunities and hope and futures and with the knowledge that Din has not failed this time. He has rescued his little one, his adi'ka. What was wrong has been made right, and Din can face whatever comes next.

He will not let the little one go. Not again—not ever.

Exhale.

He should have done this a long time ago, when he first rescued the child from his Din's own mistakes. He should have done this before the child was taken, before he had to pledge his dying breath to the one he had wronged.

"Ni kyr'tayl gai sa'ad.," Din says.

The child watches him, and then reaches a single hand toward his buir's face, as if he senses the importance of what Din has never dared to say before. He probably does sense it. The Mandalorian smiles at him, takes Grogu up in both hands and lifts him to his face so the child can touch it. Din sucks in a deep breath.

I know your name as my child.

That's what he had said in Mando'a. The vow of adoption. The vow that has made uneasiness roll in Din's gut every time he has thought about it—

That has reminded him of when he was a child, of his buir

The vow that has been in his head ever since he first saw Grogu and the vow that he has been so unsure of, so afraid of, so uncomfortable with—until now.

"This is the way," he murmurs. "This is the way to breathe, adi'ka. To give your every breath to another."


A/N: AHHHHH. I couldn't help it - everyone's lovely support has given me a writer's high, and the feels from that last episode were still so intense that I went ahead and wrote a second part to this. I've really liked this style of writing - fragmented and not grammatically correct but raw and (hopefully) compelling - and I most likely went way overbroad and wrote 2,500 words worth of crap BUT I WROTE AND IT WAS FUN.

I hope you guys liked this second installment. It wasn't planned - but maybe it's worth something. I'm way too obsessed, guys. Help me. XD

~Roanoke
(Romans 3:25)