The Desert Suns

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A Mandalorian is drawn to Tatooine after the fall of the empire.

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CH1

Life Is Temporary

As Cobb Vanth observes, everything is temporary.

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The deserts of Tatooine had two constants. 

The unrelenting sand, crawling through cracks in doors and unsuspecting walls, suffocating anyone foolish enough to brave a sandstorm.

How everything was fleeting. Dunes would only stay that way for an hour, and if you watched them for a few minutes, they shifted.

It was a constant reminder of how living worked. The prevalent metaphor allowed no one to settle in the denial present on other planets.

It was comforting, forcing people to live a life of seizing the moment. Sand would outlast them, burying their bodies and the memories of those they left behind.

Cobb Vanth lived by this, like the rest of Tatooine.

The Marshal sat on the doorstep of his semi-underground home. The suns, yet to deliver their scorching heat, were a faint line on the horizon.

His house was a few streets back from the main strip. If you could call it that. They’d named it Free Town, but Free Tiny Settlement was more accurate.

The harsh landscape bred resentment if you didn’t keep your head straight.

He never saw the people who passed through again. The Marshal had grown used to being left behind by the nomads of the galaxy.

Vanth had made his choice. These deserts would swallow him when the time came. Why couldn’t he breathe when the realization settled on his chest?

Why hadn’t he said something when that fool of a Mando had screamed off toward Mos Eisley, kid in tow, still dripping with Krayt Dragon bowel juice?

He’d been so desperate to depart, he’d refused treatment.

Cobb Vanth should’ve forced him to clean his armor. What if the acid got to the Mando’s skin? There was another reason he’d wanted that man to stay.

He had many friends. They’d built Free Town together.

Sometimes, there was a connection with others you couldn’t shake. It was rare he got along well with a stranger, as quiet and deadly as this one had been.

Pleasant events never last as long as you want them to.

He could curse the burnt-orange skies for eternity, but it would change nothing. Cobb Vanth had learned that the hard way. The bitterness would fade.

Some people made a bigger impact than others. Curse his old heart.

He had to be more careful. He’d be done if he got into a fight like ones he’d survived. Vanth’s breath hitched for the hundredth time that morning.

It had been great, but he’d been kidding himself if someone wouldn’t come for it. He’d count the lucky stars Mando hadn’t shot him and prided it off his dead body.

There were other good things too. The Tuskens weren’t hostile anymore, but he’d have to keep it that way. Why hadn’t he got Mando to teach him their sign language?

Enough stalling. He had a town to run. It was a new day, and there came the suns.

Temporary is the only thing he could count on.

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CH2

How Will This End?

Cobb Vanth is a troubled man, but he keeps going.

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Once the oppressed, now with the ability to oppress. Power is where one’s true personality shows. You passed the test, and people commend you.

You’re a good man. They see it in your eyes. They’re creased with age and the relentless Tatooine suns. Still, they’re kind. That’s what got you through.

You’re too hard on yourself. Decades of being denied every basic right takes a toll.

The townspeople feel it as you brush off their concerns of your health. No, you’re fine! How many times have you said that without lying?

You have sensible reasons. Who knows what would happen if people knew the Marshal of Freetown was out of commission? That’s what haunts you the most.

In your job, aging is the enemy. There are implants on your knees to stop you from groaning every time you bend over. There’s bacta, for when you get more involved than you should.

Hiding from the futility of life only lasts for a few decades. How much longer? Likely the rest of your life, if the past has anything to do with the future. It does, more than you’d like to admit.

You love hard, no matter how it scares you. The individuals you’d die for don’t know you.

Issa-Or is like a sister, but does she notice how often you break down? Jo is always ready with a helping hand, but has she seen the scars?

That Mandalorian. Does he recognize how much you need that patient silence?

Most see you as troubled, but generous with a smile on your face. When did you allow yourself to feel? You fear what’ll happen if you let go.

They expect things from you, expectations you set up. You dug yourself this hole, and it’s yours to climb out of. You’re happy in that abyss. Hiding is the simple part.

For the years to come, you’ll be fine. Right?

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CH3

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Try Again

Din Djarin needs a friend.

The modulator and that tin can of yours doesn’t hide it. Why else would the Marshal see through your lies? He struggles, too, but people know others like themselves.

That helmet is everything to you, as it is to any Mandalorian. Your soul, your skin. Don’t it use for what it never should be. It’s not a crutch.

Admit it. You’ve been lonely for a long time.

Grogu changed the course of your life. Things had meaning.

That didn’t last. Look inside yourself for a proper anchor. You’re drowning in endless grief and rage you don’t know what to do with.

It shuts you down, leaving you speechless for days. Will you suffocate?

You need a friend. You have several potentials, waiting for you with open arms in a dusty town on a dune sea. Try again. What’s the worst that could happen?

One day life will end, so make the most of it. You aren’t getting any younger.

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CH4

Hope’s In Sight

Din Djarin returns to Freetown, because he has a debt to repay.

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It’s a struggle. The endless night as you’re lost in a sea of stars. The universe used to be beautiful, but it reminds you of how far everything is. How alone you are.

It wasn’t always like this. You had the little child with the brightest eyes in this galaxy. He’s been gone for six months. You thought you could deal with it. No.

You’re standing on the street of a town you never guessed you’d return to.

“Mando,” a familiar drawl calls, lined with the roughness of the harsh Tatooine sands. It’s a relief to hear that nickname spoken with friendliness rather than being sneered with disgust.

There he is, all smiles and hands on his hips. He’s changed little, but the black streaks in his hair have disappeared, leaving it a pure silver. Hopefully, it wasn’t from stress.

“What’re ya doin’ ‘round these parts?” he asks, eyes full of unexpected pleasure. It’s rare to be greeted like this, and a ghost of a smile tugs at your lips.

His expression changes. “Where’s the lil’ kid?” Vanth asks, cocking his head as he stops a few feet away.

Explaining everything would take hours, and this man has a town to run. He doesn’t need you and your sorrow.

“With his people,” you croak, and something flashes through the Marshal’s eyes as he nods.

Sympathy? Understanding? You’ve always had trouble with people’s facial expressions, because you’re used to hiding yours.

You remember whatever’s left of your manners. “How have you been?”

Vanth looks down at his skinny frame and offers you a wry smile. “Far more careful.”

Familiar angst twists through your throat, leaving you gasping. The modulator hides these. You came here to set things right. Get it over with.

“What brings ya here?” the Marshal asks, trying to remain nonchalant but dying for an answer. How can you blame him? What are you doing here?

“I have a debt to repay,” you manage, mouth cracked as the ancient riverbeds you flew over on your way here. “May I buy you a drink?”

Vanth’s face splits into a wide grin. “Thought you’d never ask. Follow me.”

—–

Not much has changed in the bar, but someone’s added a mural of the krayt dragon skeleton beneath the rising Tatooine suns.

People are numbing the pain of another hard day. You used to be them. You haven’t drunk for ten years, and that’s one of the best decisions you’ve made.

He catches you staring at the artwork and nods in appreciation. “My deputy, Issa-Or’s niece, drew this. Right talented, she is.”

The Marshal sits at a table as the Weequay proprietor crosses the room to hand him a spotchka.

He knows better than asking if you’ll take anything. Vanth takes a long sip, smacking his lips and letting out a sigh. He focuses on you anew, and the uncomfortable feelings resurface.

“What was that debt you mentioned?” the Marshal asks.

Your throat is dry again. “Didn’t want you getting hurt. I had something made.”

He quirks an eyebrow, flashing you a serene smile. How is his good-naturedness effortless? You struggle to keep your voice on the best of days.

“What, ya care about me?” he teases, taking another gulp. Yes, you want to answer. The idea scares you. When did you last have a friend? Too long ago.

Vanth stares at you, concern creasing his already lined forehead. “Somethin’ wrong, Mando? You’re mighty quiet today.”

You bang your helmeted head on the table, digging your hand into the scuffed surface. A shuddering sigh escapes your lips.

His brow folds over itself, if possible. “Ya right?”

Dank farrik, what are you doing here? He’s got enough to deal with, let alone a sniveling Mandalorian turning up on his doorstep with no explanation.

“I don’t know what I’m doing here.”

“You’re missin’ your son, aren’t you?” he asks, eyes gentle.

“He’s not my-” you give up and nod, relaxing your grip on the table.

“My shift ended as ya arrived. Issa-Or’s managin’ the town tonight.”

“Who are they?” you ask.

That earns you a fond smile. “She’s my deputy, a Twi-lek who’s like my sister.”

“Was she the deputy when I was here last?” A slew of memories flashes by in your mind. Your concept of time is hazy.

“She wasn’t, ‘cause she was outta town. Came back and decided I could use help.” He gave a sheepish grin, gesturing at his armorless body.

Bile rises in your throat, and you cough, forcing it down.

The Marshal stands up. “C’mon, Mando. You need dinner and a good night’s rest.”

Who are you to argue? You follow, giving a polite nod to the Weequay, slipping him an extra tip. Got to pay it forward sometimes.

—–

He leads you to a modest home, apt for the man. It’s one of those underground houses, with the sand-swept entrance peeking out from a raised dune.

“Here we are,” Vanth announces, sweeping his hand over the building’s scope. “It ain’t much.” The Marshal dusts himself off before unlocking the door.

He ushers you inside, banishing the dust-choked air. It’s vacuum-sealed. How strange, but apt for the environment.

“Ya look like you’ve had a hard day,” he says. Is that his best guess? A challenging six months is more accurate.

“A spell in the ‘fresher should fix you up.” He points a thin finger to the left corridor leading off the entrance.

“I don’t have a change of clothes,” you mumble. Though you’d like that shower.

It doesn’t ruffle him. How unflappable is this man? “I have a few spare.” Vanth looks you up and down. “They’ll be on the long side.”

You already knew that, but you’re too tired to say.

He disappears into an open doorway, reappearing with a bundle of cloth. The Marshal tosses these at you.

“These were the only things I could find,” he explains as you look at what he gave you. A loose crimson tunic and faded black pants. They’re too big, but they’ll do.

“Is everything you own red?” you ask.

That earns you a smirk. “Pretty much.”

You sigh, the sound muffled by the modulator. “Thank you.”

You follow his directions, the relief of being clean is too irresistible to ignore.

—–

If he’s surprised to see you with no armor, he doesn’t comment. Nor does he acknowledge how ridiculous too-big clothes and a Mandalorian helmet looks.

Your hesitating shame is enough to deal with. You’re clothed, but you feel bare.

He joins you at the table in his cramped, cozy kitchen. He doesn’t fit his surroundings, hunching over when he enters the room.

The walls are covered with haphazard paintings of the Tatooine landscape like the bar.

Vanth confirms your unspoken question. “Issa-Or’s niece went wild in here. Sure brightens the place.”

“She’s talented,” you offer, and he grins.

His expression turns serious. It’s an unusual thing to see cross his face. “You’re human, right?”

You nod.

“Are all Mandalorians humans?” He’s not probing, just curious.

“It’s a creed, not a species.” Memories of your covert want to spill out like retched tidal waves. By some inhuman ability, you hold them in.

Satisfied, he moves to his next question. “That debt ya mentioned. What did ya mean?”

“I had something made. Let me get it.” You stumble to your feet, still unable to deal with the cold stone on your skin.

You find the package piled by the entranceway with your armor. It’s strange, sitting there, stacked in an organized huddle. Part of your body might as well be missing.

You trudge back to the kitchen, where he’s waiting with a curious expression, and you hand it over. “See if it fits,” you say.

He registers what you’ve given him, and Vanth’s eyes widen. “I thought this was against the creed?”

“It’s not beskar. It’s durasteel. It’ll still stop blaster fire.”

He relaxes and pulls out a gauntlet. It’s thin, delicate in appearance, painted a bright crimson, with pale red patterning.

Are his fingers trembling? You can only hope it’ll fit as he puts on the pieces, finishing with the chest plate. All you could afford was a torso and arms set.

The Marshal gazes at his armored reflection in the mirrored wall behind the oven. It fits. Dank farrik. Thank the universe.

All he says is, “Why?”

“Because the last thing this town needs is an injured marshal.”

That gets you a laugh, easing the festering tension. 

“You didn’t have to.” For once, he’s flailing for words.

“I know.”

Countless undecipherable expressions flash across his face. Until he recovers. “Love the patterns. Who did it?”

“I did,” you say. A time-consuming task provided a great escape from your raging head.

He lets out a surprised chuckle. “Didn’t take ya for the artist type.”

You haven’t painted in years, but everyone in your covert got taught.

“Thank ya. I don’t know how to repay you.” Vanth’s tone is vulnerable, and it hits you with a wave of emotions too difficult to decipher.

“It’s a gift.”

“Thanks,” he whispers, staring down at the details before snapping back to his usual self. “What do ya say to dinner?”

You’re happy to agree.

—–

Belly full and warm, you’re feeling better than you have in months. Vanth ate separately from you, leaving you to your meal.

He’s lying on the half-roof of his house with his hands resting behind his head.

The stars are huge on Tatooine. You’re used to how they look in space, you’ve forgotten why some people love stargazing.

What are the constellations here, and their stories? Growing up across dozens of worlds, fleeing persecution, never gave you a sense of connectedness to a planet.

Vanth? The sands run through his blood.

You sit a few feet away, running the sand through your bare hands. It’s still warm from the heat of the day. “Thank you, Marshal. I appreciate your kindness.”

“Quit it, Mando.” You hear the playfulness in his voice. “We’re friends. I’m Cobb.” He changes the subject. “Where are you flyin’ to next?”

“I don’t have a ship anymore.”

He sits, gazing at you with worried eyes. “There’s a story there. Not tonight.”

How is it possible for one man to give air to your suffocating lungs?

“I’ll find work in Mos Eisley. A mechanic is trying to locate something.” You’re unsure what Peli will turn up.

He nods. “You’re always welcome here, Mando,” Cobb says, squeezing your shoulder.

“Din,” you correct. After everything he’d done, he should know.

“What?” he asks.

“My name is Din Djarin.” No turning back now.

He smiles as he tests it on his tongue, deciding he likes the sound of it. “Nice meetin’ ya, Din.”

Cobb stretches his lanky arms before lying down, focusing on the stars above. “Stay a while, won’t ya? We could use another pair of hands ‘round here.”

You’re glad to agree. There’s always hope in sight.

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CH5

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Still Alive

After the fight for control of Mos Espa, Din struggles after learning of the Marshal’s death. Is he missing something?

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You know endless despair well. Like your helmet, or the scars etched across your knuckles from childhood play-fighting. Your mind is wily, an expert at getting your attention.

Tonight it succeeds and wallows in disgusting feelings. You’ve learned to untangle yourself from your thoughts. They don’t affect you as much as they had.

The last two suns sit low on the horizon, burning red on your silver helmet. For the stories travelers tell about Tatooine, they neglect the harsh beauty.

The desert wears deep lines in people’s faces, and aches in their bones, but it fills them with unshakeable kindness.

It’s an unfair life. Why does the Marshal’s death hurt? 

You’ve learned not to get attached. Though you’d thrown that out the moment you saw the kid. Was it the silliest or the best decision you’d made?

Grogu sits on the wide railing of the balcony, occupied by a stuffed Loth Cat toy Fennec presented him. You appreciate the sentiment.

Adults thought they were smart, but they were only good at overcomplicating everything.

A man with little words has a loud mind. You aren’t moving, but your brain screams.

Many good things have happened. Grogu returned. Tatooine is safe from the spice trade.

Cad Bane, who you’ve never had the misfortune of facing, is dead. Boba Fett offered you a well-paid job, with food and board included. Dare you say you’re living among friends?

Any day you breathe is good. Being raised a Mandalorian makes one an excellent pragmatist.

Everything pales compared to the weight of the Marshal’s death.

You’d hoped you could call the Marshal a friend. One regret in a lifetime of many.

One thought suggests leaving the planet and never returning. That’s running away from your problems!

A steady job with accommodation is helpful. Your new starship is only good for fast transportation. You’ll stay.

—–

After one difficult mission, Boba wanted you to rest. 

You don’t fare well without something to do. Fennec recognizes that.

For a woman versed in weapons, her people skills are surprising. She makes you organize the weaponry inventory. When your hands are busy, your mind rests.

—–

The days turn into weeks, and you wake up realizing it’s been a month. Grogu scrambles out of bed, demanding to be held.

You agree as he squeals in delight, settling atop your head to play with your unruly curls. The child has a fascination with hair, and you’re grateful he’s gentle.

Today’s assignment is tedious but not unwelcome. Surprising, but this job doesn’t involve much violence. Sure, there’s the occasional skirmish to break up, or disagreement to settle.

Most of the tasks you perform are spaceship maintenance, and meditating trade negotiations.

You and Fennec agree it’s mind numbing, though Boba insists it’s necessary. 

It’s a waste of your skills, but it’s a blessing on your tired bones. The armor is heavier than it used to be. An unwelcome feeling, but one needing acknowledgement.

You’re used to the violent life you’re unsure what to make of this existence, but you enjoy it where you can.

—–

You and Fennec develop a strange routine. Each night, there’s a briefing over dinner in the main hall. Boba leads the discussion, and his employees gather round.

The motley crew has grown since Boba seized power. He says to trust them, so tolerate them you do.

You still don’t eat in public. Not now, not yet… Never? You’re still working on the last part.

It’s painful, so you ignore it, and the concern in Fennec’s eyes whenever it arises. She’s decent enough not to push it.

You’ve developed a clever system of sneaking into the kitchen beforehand, and swiping a small serving with no one noticing. 

Until Fennec caught you and started having them delivered to your room. You haven’t had a space to yourself in a while. You relish the quiet and the stark comfort. 

Grogu eats with everyone else, sitting on Drash’s lap, to your surprise. Despite her aloof exterior, she’s taken a liking to the kid, and finds his antics charming.

Only because she doesn’t have to care for him, you thought at first, but you’ve warmed to how she treats him.

After the plates have been cleared, most chat long into the night, and drinks are passed around. You take that as a queue to disappear outside for air.

You can only deal with so many people.

One night, Fennec caught you out on the balcony, and invited herself to the impromptu sunset gazing session. That’s how it’s continued since.

You welcome her company, and she doesn’t mind sitting in silence. Thank the stars, because you need that peace like air. 

—–

Tonight feels different, and it’s not only the weather.

Fennec smiles at you, sipping from her quarter-full bottle of spotchka. She’s more careful with her intake than the Marshal’s desperate gulps.

“You don’t have to stay,” she says.

“What?” You lift your head, focusing your full attention on her for the first time that evening.

“I know you swore an oath to help us, but the conflict ended months ago. You don’t have to continue,” she tries to sound kind, but the words sting.

“I like it here,” you mumble.

The desert isn’t an ideal climate for wearing shiny beskar. It’s light years away from the nearest water source, and there’s always a mess to clean up.

It’s better than anything has been.

That gets you Fennec’s quintessential throaty chuckle. “You must be desperate if you’re willing to put up with this rock.” She’s joking, thank the universe.

“Boba’s the only Mandalorian who hasn’t wanted to kill me,” you protest. “Plus, I get paid.”

“It’s about the money,” she says in mock-disapproval. “I respect that.”

You shake your head, and replies fail you. She laughs when you give up and sigh.

Fennec falls silent, taking another thoughtful sip of her chosen beverage. She turns to you, her expression pensive. “Do you know why I’m working for Boba?”

“A debt,” you guess.

She shakes her head. “It started out that way. Though I fulfilled my end of the bargain months ago.” Fennec makes a weighty pause. “It’s nice to have a life not built on transactions.”

“Getting a split of the profits doesn’t hurt, either,” you can’t resist adding, and she laughs again, giving your pauldron-covered shoulder a shove.

Ironic that a woman you were sent to capture could become an ally. Dare you say a friend? Call it that and leave it. You’re too old for second-guessing.

—–

You’re halfway through scrubbing the rust off Boba’s scratched ship when Fennec saunters in, hands full of buckets and paintbrushes.

From atop the spaceship’s hull, you glance at her.

She grins. “Boba’s got another job for you. He saw the work you did on the Marshal’s armor and decided his ship could use the same treatment.”

You suck in a sharp breath, and your lungs constrict, squeezing your ribs. To work so hard to make peace with his passing. Why does it hurt?

She gazes up, worry in her eyes. “What’s wrong?”

The longer this goes on unspoken, the longer it affects the quality of your work. And your mental state, which is more important.

“I’d be happy to,” you say instead, the vocoder doing little to disguise the pain in your voice.

She hears it and frowns. “Din, what is it?” Fennec only addresses you by name if it’s serious.

“I know it’s been weeks since..” your breath hitches, but you force yourself through the rest of the sentence. “The Marshal’s death, but I blame myself for it.”

There, you said it. Wasn’t hard.

Her face splits open with surprise as she stares at you in silence. “You don’t know.”

You’re about to ask what she’s on about when she drops the tools with a clatter. “There’s something you need to see.”

“I haven’t finished yet,” you argue, but who are you to deny her orders when there’s curiosity burning?

She beckons you down and you scramble off the side, following her into the palace.

—–

You’ve never been to the wing of the building Fennec charges through. She’s a ball of unrestrained energy, and you half-run to keep pace.

The walls are stripped of their former decor like the others; the carpet ripped up to expose the mudbrick. Boba insisted on selling the finery to improve Mos Espa’s infrastructure.

One of the many smart business decisions that’s also won him public favor.

He left the stained glass windows in, though. The harsh suns filter through the thick frames in pretty colors, bringing the drab space to life.

“In here,” Fennec says as she ducks under a curtained off section, and you follow, pushing the rich red textile aside. It’s blowing in the breeze. 

Why would the windows be open during the day?

She leads you into a cavernous room overlooking the valleys below, though the half-open windows are covered with fluttering curtains like the one you entered through.

It’s empty, and appears to be a temporary medical bay, with supplies set up on floating crates. A bacta tank takes center stage beneath the wide windows.

Someone’s inside. Someone you never thought you’d see again. A shock of silver hair floats above a face obscured by a breathing apparatus, his frame lithe and too long for the tank.

The Marshal. He’s… alive?

“How?” you whisper, unable to think, move, let alone breathe. “Taanti said he was gunned down in cold blood.”

Fennec nods. “They were sure he wouldn’t make it. He’d lost a lot and went into a coma.” She sits on the long window seat, patting the space next to her.

You join her, anxiety and relief coursing through your veins. 

She continues. “Boba decided the least he could do was get the medical droid to assess Vanth’s condition. The droid decided he was-”

“DANGEROUSLY WEAK, BUT HE’D MAKE IT,” announced a mechanical voice with glitching vocal chops. 

You turn as the droid teeters into the room on unstable legs, one set of pincer fingers clutched around a vial with green-colored liquid. 

Fennec’s voice softens. “How’s he doing?”

“HIS VITALS ARE PERFORMING WELL, AND HE ONLY REQUIRES A FEW MORE DAYS IN THE TANK. I AM MAKING PREPARATIONS FOR REMOVING HIM.”

“Has he been unconscious this whole time?” you ask, dread lacing your bones.

The droid nods. “THIS IS A COMMON REACTION TO A SUSTAINED, SUDDEN TRAUMA. HE SHALL WAKE ONCE OUT OF THE BACTA.”

The knot knitting your shoulder bones together unravels, and you slump.

“See?” Fennec says, grinning. “Nothing to worry about.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Where there might’ve been righteous anger, there was only numbing confusion. 

“I assumed you knew.” Fennec shrugged, “It’s hard to keep anything a secret around here.”

You nod. What else is there to say?

She gestures towards the open doorway and prepares to stride off. “Now there’s nothing for you to mope about, back to work!”

As you follow her, you say, “Thanks for looking after him.”

The droid nods. “IT’S A PLEASURE.”

You leave lighter than when you came in.

—–

Days later, you haul your dust-ridden, exhausted self off the speeder bike and stumble into the palace after a long mission.

The refresher is calling.

“Look who it is,” says a drawl you’d thought you’d never hear again.

You turn and see him silhouetted in the doorframe, leaning against it in that careless way of his. He’s got Grogu cradled in one arm, the kid asleep nuzzled against his worn shirt.

Only until you realize he can’t stand. 

“What are you doing out of bed?” are the words tumbling out of your mouth as you ease the sleeping child from his grip, and support his weakened frame.

“Not ya too,” Vanth grumbles, accepting your help regardless.

You left a different man behind to rally a town those months ago. His presence is different, like the Marshal has realized his age has caught up with him.

“How are you feeling?” you ask, unsure of what to say. 

He chuckles, a dry sound in the back of his throat. “Like I got run over by a bantha.”

“You need to rest,” you point out.

“You bounty hunter types think you’re scary, but all you’re good at is tellin’ me what to do,” he says, rolling his eyes and trying to escape your grip, only for him to collapse under his weight.

He grits his teeth in frustration, clawing at the smooth mudbrick wall for anything to grab hold of. You pull him up, guiding his hand over your shoulder to grasp your pauldron.

The other hand is in a sling, and you’re careful not to touch it.

“Where’s your room?” you ask, and he nods at an open door a few meters down the hall. How fortunate. 

Vanth grumbles to himself as you drag him into an airy space, and sit him upright on the bed. He glares at you as you set Grogu down beside him, who’s still asleep.

It’s a modest room, reminding you of his home in Freetown.

You get a good look at him and realize how much life has been sucked out of him. 

Patches of white are in the new stubble where they shaved off his beard, and his silver mop of hair is a short fuzz. His face gives a new definition to the word haggard.

“This place is full o’ short people,” he scowls, tugging on the ends of his too short orange sleeves, black pants not making it past his shins. 

You try to smother a laugh when you realize he’s wearing a conglomeration of Fennec and Boba’s pajamas. He glares at you, aware of how ridiculous he looks. 

Seconds tick into moments as you settle into a chair opposite his bed, regarding him. Vanth lifts his chin and breaks eye contact, attempting to maintain his dignity. He fails.

“If this is a starin’ contest, ain’t much o’ a competition,” he points out, caught between spite and trying to make a joke.

“Are you angry at me?” you ask, dreading the answer. If he is, he has every right to.

To your surprise, he shrugs. “No. You didn’t shoot me.” 

“They told you what happened?” 

The Marshal nods, leaning against the medley of overstuffed pillows, letting tension eek from his exhausted body. “Fett said I don’t owe him anythin’. Maker knows how much this cost?”  

He gestures to the arm in a sling with his free hand. 

“What about it?” you ask.

He scowls, surprising anger present on his cheerful face. “Woke up a few days ago to a lung, part o’ my ribcage n’ my arm replaced.”

You can’t help gasping. Vanth loves his secrets, and with the little you know of his past, making a non-consensual change would invoke many nasty feelings.

“You’ve got cybernetics?” The question spills from your mouth before you think.

“Dank farrik, yes!” he yells, pounding his flesh arm on the soft mattress before wincing.

You flinch. 

He stares at you before giving up, the energy draining out of him. “Sorry, partner. Ain’t your fault. I should be grateful.”

The wind whistles through cracks in the open windows, engaging the curtains in a gentle dance. Vanth closes his eyes, letting his head loll to the side. 

“You can’t escape your past,” he murmurs, so soft you have to lean forward to hear it. “When you live most of your life in a body that ain’t yours, it triggers old memories.”

There are many questions you want to ask but wouldn’t dare to. You have no right to know what happened.

“I’m half the man I used to be, but I’m still alive.” He opens his eyes again, flashing you the first familiar smile in a long while. “That’s what matters.”

You’re unsure what to do, so you jump up, and a tinge of disappointment flashes through his expression. As you sit back down, he waves you away.

“If you’ve got things to do, off with ya!” 

You shake your head. “No one’s said anything.”

The Marshal smiles. “Sorry ‘bout earlier. Haven’t been feelin’ great.”

“I understand.” To cheer him up, you offer, “I’ll get you clothes at the second-hand emporium tomorrow when I run errands for Boba. Red?”

Vanth laughs, shaking his head. “You know me well.”

“I’m glad you’re recovering, Marshal.” Your words speak volumes you don’t know how to say.

He shakes his head in a mixture of friendliness and exasperation. “For the last time, Din, I’m Cobb.”

Cobb’s wry smile is relief enough. The galaxy has been kind to you these last years. You don’t know how much longer it’ll last, but you’ll appreciate it.

⤌ ✺ \ 🌌 / ✺ ⤍