Chapter 1

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The rhythmic tang tang tang of the Armorer's hammer filled the forge. Behind his helmet Din Djarin closed his eyes, letting the sound and heat wash over him. The bare spots where his armor had been attached to the fabric suit were conspicuously light, the comforting weight gone. He flexed his fingers then once more let them rest on his knees and opened his eyes. The cuirass was slowly taking shape.

The fresh blood scent of warm metal filtered through his helmet. Familiar. Unnerving. Desolate.

Screams echoed dully in the back of his mind. The shower of sparks off metal filled his vision. Cascades of molten metal that mimicked the blaster fire seared in his memory. He forced himself to hold his gaze on the flames even as images filtered through along with a crushing weight in his chest.

Don't leave me.

Don't leave me!

The crash of the hammer on metal jolted him, the visage of the battle droid fading. He mentally shook himself and refocused on the Armorer as she quenched the heated metal. He'd more than earned the beskar, had nearly died several times to get it. It didn't matter what Vizla said. The Empire was no more and taking back the beskar was the right thing to do. It belonged to the Mandalore; it was only right to recover it by any means necessary. The heaviness in his chest sharpened to a needling ache. He took a deep measured breath and let it out, his battered ribs protesting the movement.

It was best to forget it. He'd done his job and done it well.

Coward.

He pressed his lips together. How dare Vizla call him a coward. They had to take what jobs they could get and this one had been incredibly lucrative and had restored part of their lost heritage. How was that cowardly?

Don't leave me.

His fingers clenched into fists on his knees. He bowed his head, his gaze drawn unbidden to the mended tear in the fabric of his sleeve. The wound stung every time he moved his arm. Another scar to add to the others. Though a first from a fellow guild member. Just how many fobs had the client handed out? Why pit the hunters against each other? Typical Imperial arrogance, ready to throw away countless lives in pursuit of their twisted agendas.

What could they possibly want with the kid? Did it have something to do with what had happened with the mudhorn? Part of him wondered if he'd hallucinated the whole thing courtesy of the beating the mudhorn had given him. But no, it had happened, or he'd be dead, trampled into the mud and the kid would likely be dead as well ...

The needling ache shot through his gut made him stiffen. An involuntary gasp escaped his lips as the pain he'd been ignoring flared.

"It will be some time yet before this is finished. Go to the infirmary and tend your wounds." The Armorer didn't look up from what she was doing. "There are spare bacta patches, you may use them."

He dipped his head and got to his feet more stiffly than he would have liked. The gold helmet tilted in his direction.

"Return when you are finished."

"Yes. Thank you."

The corridor outside was cold after the heat of the forge. He glanced about noting the quiet groups along the walls. A group of foundlings was engaged in a game that involved seeing who could dismantle and reassemble a blaster fastest. A pair of adults were playing dejarik at a holotable. Paz Vizla was nowhere to be seen.

The infirmary was nestled in an alcove past the armory away from the sleeping areas. Smaller than the forge, it held a single table, a med-droid and equipment. He entered and ignoring the droid he went to the far wall where the bacta patches were stored.

"Do you require assistance?"

"No."

Retrieving what he needed he headed for his sleeping alcove. It hadn't been used much lately as he'd been working for several months and only slept at the covert between missions. He twitched back the curtain covering the entrance. The alcove held a bed, a side table and a storage compartment. Soft yellow light filtered through a grate high overhead. Nothing had been touched. Not that there was much of anything in the first place. His personal belongings were on the Razor Crest. He set the patch on the table, removed his belt and eased himself down on the bed. He unclipped the beskar pauldron and laid it on the bed beside him. Next was the shoulder strap for his rifle, then his gloves. Cool air crept up his sleeves.

Letting out a soft sigh he reached up and started to remove his helmet when a noise just outside had him pausing. The curtain was pulled back and the massive form of Paz Visla stood in the doorway. The sharply angled helmet tilted to the side for a moment. Dyn started to get to his feet, wary though he had a feeling that Paz wasn't here to continue the fight. Before he could get up Paz was next to the bed a large hand on his shoulder pressing him back down.

Heart thudding in his ears he stared up at Paz who only gave the slightest shake of his helmet. Din gripped the edges of the thin mattress as deft gloved fingers undid the fastenings of his cloak. Those same fingers brushed his collarbones as it was removed, making his skin tingle with the contact. It was neatly laid to the side. Din watched in quiet fascination as Paz got down on one knee in front of him. To his chagrin, his helmet amplified his gasp as Paz reached up and began to undo the front of the jumpsuit. He realized he was trembling and clenched his fingers harder into the fabric of the mattress.

He was embarrassed, not by the scattered bruises, not by the scorch marks left by the Jawa's weapons, not by the cut on his arm. Those were all accepted as part of life as a Mandalorian. Only a coward left a battle unscarred. The embarrassment stemmed from Paz's comment about working with the Imps. It had struck a raw nerve and now he was second-guessing his actions. Something he couldn't remember doing in a very long time. Life as a bounty hunter was brutally simple in most cases but also a minefield of shifting allegiances, alliances, and potential threats.

Gloved fingers tugged the jumpsuit open and off his shoulders, the movement surprisingly gentle. He tipped his head forward, eyelids slipping closed as Paz eased his arms out of the sleeves. There was a soft huff and then the sound of the bacta patch being torn open. Din started at the coldness of the patch on his skin, but it immediately soothed the stinging ache. He relaxed, not having realized just how tensed up he'd been until the pain was gone. Exhaustion swept over him, the events of the last several days pressing down on him. Paz's presence only heightened his awareness of what he'd done. Was he a coward? Had he betrayed his tribe by working for the Imperials?

He sucked in a startled breath as a large hand took him by the shoulder and pressed him down on the mattress. He started to resist, worried that Paz meant to unhelmet him. Paz only pressed harder and gave a quick shake of his head. Dyn quit fighting him and laid back, the familiar bunk molding around him. He took a steadying breath and closed his eyes. He'd barely slept for days and now that he was safely home sleep pulled at him like a black hole.

There was a soft pat on his shoulder and then the room was empty. So empty. He reached up and slipped his helmet off before setting it next to where Paz had neatly arranged his other things. He was still staring at it when he drifted to sleep. 

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