Despite loving The Mandalorian and all its tropes, I'd somehow avoided reading or writing fics about it for years, even though watching Mando care for baby Grogu was what inspired me to continue Cupboards and Cryogenics, where the Soldier cares for a toddler Harry. I was toying with the idea of having Mando and Grogu meet Bucky and Harry from that story, but wrote this in one sitting instead.

The Asset is unsure which desert he is in, but he is rarely told his location beyond mission relevance. He does not recognize most of the technology surrounding him, but his few memories that have lasted through the wipes are often incongruous in terms of technology and devices. Some targets had small, handheld phones in their hands; others had only phones wired to the wall. Some memories of televisions are of boxy contraptions showing monochrome images; others are slim models with lifelike resolution.

The Asset does not recall spaceships in any missions, and comes to the conclusion that he has been in cryofreeze longer than he'd first estimated.

He pushes that thought out of his head. It is not his concern how he long he had been frozen, or how he got here. His only concern is the mission.

Several spindly robots with a large lens in the center of their domed heads swarm around the spaceship. They fumble inefficiently and smack each other. Their construction is not as sophisticated as the Asset's prosthesis, but the Asset does not recall seeing robots.

The robots are not targets.

The asset reviews the description of his target. Roughly 0.35 meters tall, green, large ears.

His handlers had not deemed it necessary to inform him that the target is an infant.

The creature stares up at the asset with dark brown eyes that dominate the tiny green face. Large, bat-like ears lift expressively as the creature lets out a coo.

The Asset scoops the infant up. It gurgles and reaches, fascinated by the Asset's shiny prosthetic arm.

The Asset holds the child. It looks to be some sort of experimental creature, and he wonders if HYDRA had created it and lost it.

The Asset thinks of the experiments he has undergone. Endless pain, harsh lights, scientists breaking him apart to put him together.

The infant is innocent. It has done nothing to deserve such treatment.

It is the mission.

Returning it will be easy. The infant is not resisting, is complacent, crooked the asset's prosthesis. The human woman who appears to run the shipyard is searching frantically for the infant, but it is all too easy to avoid her detection.

"Put him down,"

The Asset spins to see a man, roughly his height, dressed in silver armor from head to foot. The man's face is hidden under a helmet, rather than a mask and goggles, and he holds a gun that the asset does not recognize. A long staff is strapped to his back, over a billowing cape.

The Asset puts the infant down, not out of compliance, but to ensure the target's safety during the fight that will surely ensue. The armored man is standing ready, and clearly experienced, gun pointed steadily at the Asset's head.

"They sent you," the armored man says. His voice is measured, clipped, much like the Asset's. Another asset.

The Asset does not respond, other than to lunge at the armored man.

He surges through the air, then stops. The asset frowns. His feet are still in the air. He is levitating, lifted by an unseen force, centimeters away from the armored man.

The armored man quickly places himself in between the Asset and the infant, in the way countless parents shielded their children when the Asset hunted them down.

The child's tiny, two-fingered hands are raised. The infant swings its arms, and the Asset is thrown to the dirt. He rolls upon impact, and when he stands, the gun is in his face again.

The Asset dodges the shot, which is an energy bolt rather than a bullet.

The curly-haired woman who runs the shipyard rushes over, protesting. The armored man ceases his fire. The infant has toddled toward the Asset, reaching once again for the prosthesis. The infant blinks its large eyes, and turns back to the armored man.

"It's not armor," the armored man scoops the infant up, gun still trained on the asset. The ache in the asset's shoulder has lessened, inexplicably. "He's part droid,"

At these words, even more hatred and suspicion bleed into the armored man's voice.

He is an asset. He must complete the mission.

The infant squawks in protest, gazing at the gun aimed at the Asset.

"He is trying to hurt you," the armored man tells the child. "I won't let him."

This armored asset has made it his mission to protect the child.

It seems a more worthy mission than the one the Asset has been given.

The Asset's brow furrows. He is not supposed to question his missions, but thinking of the child's coos turning to cries and screams at the hands of HYDRA scientists makes his blood run colder than it does in the cryogenic tank.

The asset slowly raises both hands. "They want to hurt him," he says, and does not add that they hurt him. His pain is inconsequential.

The child whines, reaching toward the Asset. Its touch had somehow lessened the pain in the shoulder.

"He's not our friend," the armored man tells his son. The child squirms, still trying to reach the asset.

A sigh comes through the expressionless helmet. The armored man lowers his gun minutely, but does not put it in its holster.

The armored man checks with the woman that the spaceship is repaired.

"You will not follow us," he says, as the ramp lowers. The child totters up the ramp after his father, glancing once back at the Asset as the ramp raises.

A minute later, the ship takes off, disappearing into the sky. The Asset has failed the mission, will return to his handlers empty-handed. There will be punishment, and recalibrations, but the infant will not be harmed by HYDRA.

The asset wishes, briefly, that he'd been given the armored man's mission of protecting the child.

I put absolutely no thought into the logistics behind how the Asset ended up on Tatooine. But he doesn't know either.

Sorry it's not a happy ending for the Asset. But maybe he ends up slipping away and forges a life for himself on Tatooine.