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The Crystal's Song

Chapter Text

i am one with the force the force is with me i am one with the force the force is with me i am one with the force the force is with me i am one with the force the force is with me

i am one with the force the force is with me i am one with the force the force is with me i am one with the force the force is with me i am one with the force the force is with me i am one with the force the force is with me i am one with the force the force is with me

i am one with the force the force is with me i am one with the force the force

            growing

i am one with the force the force is with me i am one with the force the force is with me i am one with the force the force is with me i am one with the force the force is with me i am one with the force the force is with me

            growing

growing constant slow steady steady steady

            new

            i am one with the force the force is with me i am one with the force the force is with me i am one with the force the force is with me i am one with the force the force is with me i am one with the force the force is with me

            malbus

            the guardian

i am one with the force the force is with me i am one with the force the force is with me i am one with the force the force is with me i am one with the force the force is with me i am one with the force the force is with me

            malbus

            I am one with the Force the Force is with me I am one with the Force and the Force is with me

            Malbus.

            Fluttering.

            His eyelids flutter open. They are unused to the light. It has been days. Yes. It has definitely been days this time. His knees tell that story.

            Swallowing, his throat parched, Baze rediscovers his hands. They are holding against the flesh of the Guardian. He has fallen against it at some point. Shutting his eyes again, he cups his left hand to the creature’s underbelly, the skin cool and dry and sagging, and with his right he strokes it. Back, forth. Back, forth. Slow, calm.

            At the edge of his consciousness, he hears the Master calling. Irritation flickers, but it is not the time. Not when he is with the Guardian. Besides, the more he returns into the world, the less he hears. He is himself again. It can be a lonely state, yes, but he still resides within a body. For now, he must live like this. Until the day arrives, whenever it might be, that he joins the Force, fully, leaving behind these worldly confines.

            When he feels that he has given the Guardian enough attention, Baze lowers his head to the floor. Very carefully, knowing the way better than if he were watching, he begins to crawl backwards. He does not open his eyes, though he knows the great eye of the Crystal Guardian is closed. It is a matter of respect that he keeps his eyelids closed.

            His knees. Oh, his knees.

            It matters not.

            He makes his way across the narrow bridge, and continues backwards until he has reached the opposite side. Once there, Baze puts his hands down to push himself up. When he does, his body shudders with the pain of days in meditation.

            Bowing, he keeps his head down until he has retreated fully through the doorway.

            Grabbing onto the wall, he has to cling to it so that he does not fall. His vision doubles, and even the dim light of the hallway seems too much for his unused eyes.

            I am one with the Force, Baze tells himself, and the Force is with me.

            The words help. He tries to swallow again, but it’s like coming up against a mouthful of sand. He slips two fingers inside his robe, finding the nutrient tube. It’s bone dry. It is meant to last five days. Has he really been gone a week?

            Pride begins to seep in, but he brushes the thought away. He does only what is needed of him. He has done his duty. No more.

            Putting his hands to his back, Baze leans backwards until his spine nearly cracks. Better.

            He starts the walk up the hallway. It inclines quickly, swinging right. The passageway goes back and forth over the cavern, bridges criss crossing. As he walks, Baze stretches. He pulls his left arm far to the side, yawning largely. Then the right.

            Coming back out into the cavern, Baze lifts his hand against the light. There is not much—a few lamps here and there—but they reflect off the crystal lattice that fills the lower walls. To his little used eyes, it can sometimes be unbearable when coming out of a cycle with the Guardian.

            Tugging on the sleeves of his robes, Baze murmurs, “I am one with the Force and the—“

            The Guardian suddenly throws open its third eye, and everything turns blue.

            As the cavern fills with sound, Baze dives down onto the earthen bridge, covering his head automatically and squeezing his eyes shut. What on—

            The crystals are singing. All around him, they echo with music. Their ancient melody rises into the air with all the power of a geyser, and he nearly presses his hands to his ears.

            Almost as soon as it begins, it stops.

            His pulse is racing. Cautious as always, Baze gives it near to a full minute before cracking his eyes open. The light has gone—the Guardian has closed its third eye. He peeks over the side of the bridge. It appears to have gone back to sleep.

            That was extremely odd. It has been years since the Guardian acted so unpredictably. The others might not understand its ways, but Baze does, and he knows the Guardian does not set the crystals singing for no reason. Something must have happened. Something he does not know about yet.

            Picking himself back up, he continues the walk along the bridge, and he simply pushes aside any trepidation he feels by doing what he always does when he is nervous.

            “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me. I am one with the Force and the Force is with me….”

 

He is thirty years old, and he has been a Temple Guardian for ten years.

            He was born on this planet, but he has not always lived here. He went away, but fate called him back. This was once a planet of many peoples, for many reasons, but it is not so anymore. The old routes of travel have been replaced by more direct ones, and now the only people who come to Jedha are the ones seeking what he has found.

            Something greater.

            As he reaches the surface, he comes out on the dark side of the temple, which is a blessing. When he was young, and thought everything around him was normal, he thought nothing of the cloudless skies and bleaching sun. But Baze has been to other worlds, worlds of rain and green and warmth. Not all places are like this—some places have balls of clouds that cross the skies. It is never one flat colour, like here.

            He takes his glasses from his pocket nonetheless. Strapping them around the back of his head, Baze pulls them down over his eyes. The black glass blocks the sun’s weak rays, and he does not have to squint.

            It is for the best, because as he emerges from the tunnel, he meets Master Yamari. If he came up from the ground with eyes narrowed like a cavern rat, she would smirk. Fine that she does, of course—he cannot control the behaviours of others, only himself—but still, Baze is not eager to give her any reason to do so.

            “Malbus,” she says.

            Lowering his head, he says, perfectly polite, “Master.”

            They wear the same black robes over tighter fitting cloth, and they both have shaved heads, as do nearly all Guardians of the Whills. But the Master’s robes are edged with red. Baze’s are hemmed with light blue, as is befitting his position.

            He does not know her race, nor as he ever asked. They are not so different, save her eyes. The irises are vertical instead of round like his own. When he first arrived at the temple, he called her Acolyte Yamari. After a year, he called her Guardian Yamari. For the past three, he has called her Master, as do all the other Guardians. She is the youngest to ever have the title in all the recorded history of this blessed place.

            It is not enough for her. He knows this. He wonders if the others suspect.

            No matter. He is responsible for himself, and the Crystal Guardian, and that is all.

            “We were beginning to think you had died,” Master Yamari says.

            Sorry to disappoint. “How long have I been gone?”

            “Seven and a half days.”

            No wonder his knees are struggling to heed instruction. “Ah.”

            “New record for you, is it not?”

            He walks by her side, keeping his eyes on the ground. “I am afraid I cannot recall,” he lies. “I can only aspire to my mentor’s devotion. Thirteen days spent in the—“

            “Yes, we are all very proud of Guardian T’kal’s accomplishments.”

            I am one with the Force and the Force is with me. He refuses to allow anger in. Even if she interrupted him in extolling his mentor’s virtues. “He was much stronger than I,” Baze continues. “I shall not ever be his equal, I can only aspire to his wisdom and dedication.”

            It is childish, and stubborn. Not entirely, of course. He will never be the equal of his late, beloved mentor; the notion has never even crossed his mind. T’kal was legendary, and Baze was honoured to have been chosen by him. This is absolute truth, and he will sing T’kal’s praises to the stars.

            Of course, he knows how Master Yamari really feels about him, even if she has never said. “Indeed,” Master Yamari replies.

            I feel no satisfaction at the tone of her voice, Baze tells himself. Absolutely none.

            It’s a sin to lie, Baze.

            All right, I feel a little satisfaction.

            “Is there anything I should be aware of?”

            Baze thinks of the Crystal Guardian opening its eye. The Guardian set the whole cave of kyber singing for reasons he cannot tell. He should tell her. It is the kind of thing that the master of the Temple should know.

            “No,” Baze says.

            “No news of the war?”

            “I’m afraid not.”

“Hmm,” she merely says. They walk alongside one another for a few moments, and she does not walk so fast that Baze has to struggle to keep up. “The new class of acolytes has arrived.”

            “Already,” he says with surprise.

            “As they were scheduled to.”

            He had forgotten. He pays little attention to such things. It is not his place to bother with the acolytes, save in demonstrations. All he must do as Protector of the Crystal Guardian is meditate and commune with the great creature, and report any knowledge it might wish to impart, and that is largely the sum of his days. The other Guardians, it is their responsibility to prepare the next generation.

            One day, when there is one who is worthy, he will take an acolyte as his apprentice. None has arrived yet who he has even considered. He has been Protector for two years, since the death of his mentor. T’kal did not take on an apprentice for forty years. Baze thinks that he may still have some time before such an act must be taken.

            “How many?” Baze asks, to make conversation more than anything. He is a touch light headed. He has not had any nutrients for two and a half days, and only years of conditioning his body for hardship allow him to walk and speak and behave as a person is supposed to.

            “Seven. Four women, two non binary, and one man.”

            “Seven,” Baze echoes. He does not have to say anymore. It is a large class. Usually they do not take more than four in a year.

            The Master nods. “Seven,” she says with a soft sigh. Baze does feel a rare pang of sympathy for her. She will be busy, and hers is not a position he would wish for.

            “The non binary—which pronouns?”

            “They both prefer plural.”

            He nods. He will remember. “You called me,” he says.

            “Well, we were concerned that you had died.”

            He does smile a little at that. Master Yamari may not like him, but he does respect her. She has a biting sense of humour that he appreciates. His own sense of humour is so deadpan that most think he has none at all.

            “You must meet the acolytes.”

            True. He must meet them, so that he can tell them about the Crystal Guardian. But that is not so pressing. It will be months before they are allowed in the cave.

            Master Yamari says, “You will take on an acolyte.”

            Baze stops in his tracks.

            Master Yamari stops as well, holding her hands behind her back. She gazes at him, and Baze sees the challenge there. This is—no. This is not acceptable. She is Master of the Temple, yes, but there are rules—there are rules that predate record—

            To see if he understands, Baze says slowly, “You want me…to choose an apprentice…from this class?” It is unthinkable. Such a thing cannot be rushed. It cannot be demanded, and there will be no time table for such a thing. If she asks it of him, he will refuse.

            Even the Master seems to know that. With a scowl, she says, “Of course not. Don’t be ridiculous.” What else could she mean, though? He has his responsibilities. He does what he is meant to as Protector. “You will mentor an acolyte.”

            She must be joking. Baze knew her dislike of him ran deep, but this is bordering on malicious. The Protector does not mentor an acolyte, save whoever they choose to succeed them. He is meant for prayer, for meditation. His life revolves around the Guardian. That is the way of things.

            To take him away from that—it is pettiness. Pure and simple. It is disrespect. He can think of no Protector who was ever asked to mentor an acolyte. It is beneath his station. He does not have the time.

            “Do you not think it important?” Master Yamari says frostily. “To teach the next generation of Guardians?”

            “It is important—“

            “Do you think yourself so very great that you are superior to the task?”

            Treading dangerous waters now. “No, Master—“

            “You may not have noticed, being so far from the surface, Malbus, but the galaxy is at war.”

            Yes. Yes, it is. Insult begins to bleed into embarrassment. All around him, other Guardians have made terrible sacrifices.

            “It is the first time in living memory that there are no Jedi at the Temple of the Kyber. The Guardians of the Whills do not exist outside the circumstances of our times. Our numbers are the lowest they have been in a millennia, and we must replenish those stores. With no Jedi here, we are responsible for the keeping of this place. Are you not named Protector, Malbus?”

            He knows she is enjoying this, but he is properly shamed. “I am, Master. Of course, I shall do all in my power to guard the crystal caves. I am honoured that you believe me capable of these extra responsibilities.”

            The Master nods curtly, and continues to walk. Baze catches up to her, his cheeks warm. Yes, he is Protector, but he is still a Guardian. He will do whatever is needed of him to keep this place safe, to keep the Crystal Guardian safe. Arrogance—it is a sin he has been guilty of many times, that he knows he must suppress. He is not too good for anything.

            He, of all people, knows this.

            “You will, of course, not be given the acolyte indefinitely,” Master Yamari says. “Guardians Hyush and Illisia have each had to take two themselves. I recognize that you have your duties to attend to in the caves; they will not be allowed neglect. When you cycle with the Crystal Guardian, Palasat will take your acolyte along with Acolyte Comra. Until then, we must all make due.”

            “However long I am needed, I am at your disposal, Master.”

             After a pause, the Master says, “Another Guardian will not be available for mentorship until Comra has completed her seventh duan.”

            If Baze recalls correctly, that would mean—two years.

            She is telling him that he is going to have to mentor someone for two years. He has never mentored anyone before—he did not think he would have to for possibly decades—and now he is going to have someone foisted upon him for two years

            The crystals.

            The crystals sang as he was leaving. He sensed something new, in the last moments of his meditation state with the creature. The Guardian even opened its third eye. Something—or perhaps someone—of importance was coming. Perhaps it or they are already here.

            Was that what the Guardian was trying to tell him? Maybe—just maybe—this is fortuitous. Maybe this acolyte is truly meant to be his acolyte. What if the Force has sent him the right person? The Master thinks she is irritating him, and admittedly she did, one must admit to one’s own faults—but what if this is exactly as the Force willed it?

            How extraordinary. Baze has seen the miraculous in his lifetime—he is Protector to the Crystal Guardian, how could he not?—but this would be an actual miracle.

            “Interesting,” he says.

            “What’s that?”

            Lifting his head, Baze smiles slightly. “I was thinking of what an interesting challenge this will be. Thank you for thinking of me, Master. It is a most original notion.”

            And if he enjoys the look on her face, like she has bitten into something sour, well, that’s between him and the universe, isn’t it.

 

They walk around the massive spire and Baze keeps pace. Usually, after so long in the caves, he would go back to his quarters, worry about how close to death his plants were, then go to sleep after a short meal and a long shower. He would take his meds so that his body could heal over night, and the next day he would begin preparing for his next trip into the caves.

            Now, though—now he has someone else to care for. Someone who might be important. His legs might be trembling, and stars only know what he smells like, but it is difficult to quell his excitement. The crystals sang, after all. This must be what was meant. They sang for the arrival of this acolyte.

            Don’t get ahead of yourself, a voice warns, but Baze cannot shake his certainty. He has spent eight years in the company of the creature. It knows what he cannot, connects to the Force in a way he cannot. This must be why it opened its eye. This must be why the crystals sang.

            What else could it be?

            He asks no questions about his acolyte. He wants to make his impressions based on observation, not hearsay. The Master offers no information, either, and this should make him wary. Any other day it would.

            Only the crystals sang. The Force is at work here.

            The Force is always at work. In everything. It binds all things, it works through all things. It is beginning, middle, end. It is all.

            I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.

            As they round the tower, coming into the light, Baze has to raise his hand against the light. Like most days on Jedha, the sky is somewhere between a hazy yellow and blue. Best that he has his glasses on. The hunger and sleep deprivation are already leaving him trembling. Any more light and he might have a headache too.

            Most of the Guardians reside within the temple. Baze does not. He prefers to be low to the ground, close to the creature. He has his own quarters, outside the training grounds. They were the home of his mentor, and someday it will be the home of his apprentice. This is a place of many traditions and rules and rites, and that calms him. It is a good place to be in these uncertain times.

            “The class is training with Guardian Gi,” Master Yamari says. “You will meet them, and your acolyte.”

            Baze nods. He adjusts his robe against the breeze. The days should be growing warmer soon, but exhaustion keeps him cold. He will meet his acolyte, he will know why the Guardian spoke, and then he will rest.

            The anticipation keeps him on his feet, keeps him moving. Things could be very different from now on. Of course they will be—he has never had an acolyte before—but they could be different in the way that his mentor promised him.

            “Closer to me than a son, you have been,” T’kal said in the last hours that he was able to speak. “Proud, am I.”

            To have that—to be mentor to another, the way that T’kal had been to him—Baze can only hope. He has come so far in ten years, that is undeniable, but he could never have done it without the strength of his teacher. He has a debt to pay. He must be that person for another.

            Master Yamari says sharply, “Guardian!”

            Baze looks up, wondering why she’s barking at him. He is not the target of her ire, though. Gi is scurrying across their path. He has a number of scrolls beneath his short arm.

            Blushing dark blue, Gi bows his head. “Master!” he squeaks.

            She might be the youngest Master of the Temple of the Kyber, but she has the glare of a Guardian three times her age. “Guardian Gi,” Master Yamari says, sweeping across the flat packed ground. “I left you—in possession of seven new acolytes—who have been at this temple for all of forty-eight hours. Where—are they?”

            “In—in the square, mum,” Gi shivers, nodding towards the fighting grounds.

            “And the reason you are not among them?”

            “I forgot—my, ah—my—“ He looks down at his scrolls, as if he has forgotten the word for them.

            “What instruction did you give them?”

            “In-Instruction—“

            “Yes, Gi, what instructions did you give them before leaving them unattended?”

            “I told them to remain in silent prayer until I returned.”

            Master Yamari stops looming over the much smaller man, smiling slightly. When she does that, it usually means that trouble is soon to follow. “Well. Let’s see how the newest of our numbers follow instruction, shall we? Malbus, come with me.”

            I was already walking with you, Baze thinks. He does not cast Gi so much as a look, as the small man takes up the rear of their group.

            The training grounds are all very much the same. They consist of flat ground, with wooden porches around each square. The buildings that surround them are low, usually little more than hallways to separate each space. They consist mostly of wood and faded turquoise paint that has been battered by the sun. There are some squares that have small ponds, and three that have trees, but water is a valuable resource on Jedha. The spaces with the trees are meant only for intense meditation.

            The fighting grounds are the largest open space outside the temple. There is nothing on the ground save hard sand. Weapons are kept indoors, and brought with their combatants, and expected to be put back exactly as they were. When Guardians are all brought together, they will go to the Meeting Hall in the temple. When acolytes are brought together, it is outside, under the harsh sun.

            As they approach the grounds, Baze can hear that they are not in silent prayer. Well, at least one of them isn’t. He hears an unfamiliar male voice speaking rhythmically.

            Is he counting?

            That will not be his acolyte. There are seven, and only one is male. Odds are his acolyte is non binary or female. His acolyte is sitting on the other side of the wall, in silent prayer, not allowing themselves to be bothered by their rude counterpart.

            Please, Force willing, let that be the case.

            They enter the grounds from the northern side, and Baze frowns. There are seven of them, and six of them are sitting. The seventh is not.

            He is standing on one hand.

            “Hundred three,” the man says, “hundred four, hundred five, hundred six—“

            One of the others hisses, “If you’re going to do this, at least count slower. You’re going too fast.”

            “Fine, fine.” With a neat little hop, the man jumps onto his other hand, and begins to count again, only slower this time. “One. Two. Three.”

            Baze can feel his uncharacteristic enthusiasm draining away. There’s a reason he’s a realist. It’s so moments like this don’t happen.

            He looks over at Master Yamari. “Let me guess.”

            She does not even bother to hide her smugness. “You said you were looking forward to the challenge, didn’t you, Malbus?”

            Baze looks at the man across the courtyard. And yes, he is a man. A full grown, adult man. There were arguments about whether to take Baze into the order, that he was too old, and that had been when he was twenty. This man is certainly older than twenty.

            “How old is he?” Baze asks.

            “Twenty-nine.”

            He stares at her.

            Raising a brow, Master Yamari says, “Yes, Guardian Malbus?”

            Are you out of your fucking mind?

            He’s glad that they are not Jedi. They cannot read minds. He is also glad for his glasses, which must mask some of his incredulity. “Interesting,” Baze says again, only this time his voice is faint. He looks back at the others, and his insides fall.

            A buffoon. An old buffoon at that. This is what he’s going to have to put up with for two years.

            Something must be happening with the war. Maybe that’s what the Guardian and the crystals were reacting to. It certainly as sky is not whatever’s happening here and now.

            Baze, though, is adaptable. His excitement was swift to pass, as is his disappointment. Reality now sets in. He has been given what the Master deems the worst of this year’s acolytes. All he has to do is hammer the man into something at least resembling a monk before trading him off to Palasat.

            “Time to meet everyone,” Master Yamari says, and the woman has the gall to sound chipper. She only ever does that when she feels like she’s won. Baze keeps his glasses on and steps into the courtyard after her.

            When she claps her hands, the acolytes swiftly rise. At the back, he sees the man flip onto his feet. At least the idiot didn’t fall in surprise. It’s not a good idea to start off by thinking of your acolyte as an idiot.

            He’s twenty-nine. If he doesn’t know better than to be showing off during silent meditation, then he’s definitely an idiot.

            The class consists of two Cereans, a Mirialan, three humans, and a species that Baze has never seen before, coming no higher than his waist and with pink fur and no mouth, but tusks. They all wear the robes of beginning acolytes, grey, no piping. They have taken up position, legs apart, right fist wrapped inside the left, heads bowed.

            When Master Yamari stops, so does Baze. He crosses his arms, looking them over. All of them save one of the humans are older than usual. There are definitely acolytes in the temple about to complete their seventh duan who are younger than some of the new.

            The Force gives us what is necessary. All is as it ought to be.

            “Acolytes,” says the Master. “This is Protector of the Crystal Guardian, Baze Malbus. He has just spent a week in seclusion with the Guardian.” He sees the glances they give each other, the glimpses they take at him. He gazes back, impassive, through black lenses. “As such, he will be unable to spend much time with you today, but I thought that you should set eyes on one another.” The Master tilts her head to the side. “Acolyte Îmwe. Come forward.”

            The man at the back slips through the others of his class, and stands at the front. He is in position, yes—his form is good, his body is all straight, rigid lines—but he is looking right at them from under his brows. And there is a hint of a smile on his face.

            Baze dislikes him on sight.

            It’s not fair, and he’ll have to work on it, but he cannot abide people like this. Just from looking at the man, he knows he will be near impossible to teach. He will be rebellious. Why he is here, the Force only knows. It is going to take more effort and time than Baze has to break this one down into anything useful.

            He is handsome, with smooth skin, and short black hair that sticks off to the right side, something that has obviously been cultivated. His eyes are dark brown, and they sparkle. This is a man used to getting his way.

            Say goodbye to that, Baze thinks grimly.

            “Baze Malbus, Chirrut Îmwe,” introduces the Master.

            The acolyte gives a quick bow of the head, then steps forward, smiling. As soon as he does, though, that puts him within three meters of Baze. Which means the stench hits him.

            The acolyte stops dead, blinking. He starts to raise a hand to his mouth, but stops, leaving it frozen in mid air.

            “I’ve just been in a cave for a week communing with a three ton animal,” Baze says evenly. “What did you expect me to smell like?”

            Recovering, the acolyte lowers his hand, and walks forward, smile back on his face. Stopping before Baze, he puts his fist inside his hand again, giving Baze another bow. “Guardian. It is my honour.”

            “Yes. It is.” He sees the flicker in the man’s eyes. The realization of, oh, this one’s gonna give me problems.

            You bet I am, Baze promises.

            Lifting his glasses, Baze sets them on his forehead. Narrowing his eyes, he takes in the man before him. Where to start? Seriously—where to start?

            “You’ve been here two days.”

            “I have.”

            “Why is your head not shaved?”

            “Sadly, Guardian, when we went to have our heads shaved, Acolyte Kine’nik attempted to join us, and there was a very small malfunction.”

            There is tittering from the group. Baze looks past his acolyte. The small pink one has a two-inch bald spot on their head. He’s gratified to see that not everyone thinks this man is funny. The Cereans are taking this very seriously, and the youngest human looks like she wants to die from embarrassment.

            Setting his eyes on his acolyte, Baze says, “You mean to tell me—in a temple of one hundred and twenty-three monks—in a city of several thousand beings—there was only the one working razor?”

            The acolyte’s cheeks flush slightly. “Apologies. I meant to take care of it later today—“

            “When I see you tomorrow morning, you will have taken care of it. And I do not like it when people say, ‘I meant to.’ What it really tells me is ‘I didn’t.’ I would prefer that to prevaricating. I have very little time to devote to what will obviously be considerable training on your part, and I don’t intend to waste any of that time reminding you of matters of basic grooming. Is that understood?”

            The smile has not left his acolyte’s face, but his eyes have definitely hardened. “Of course.”

            “I will call you—what is it? Chirrut? I will call you by your first name, because you’ve not proven to me yet that you can honour your family name. You will refer to me as Guardian or Protector. I will let you know when you are given leave to refer to me by my name. Is that also understood? Chirrut.”

            His acolyte pauses a moment. But if anything, his smile widens. “Of course, Guardian.”

            Baze nods. He looks past Chirrut to the rest of the class, some of whom look fairly pleased to see their classmate taken down a peg. “I welcome you all to the Temple of the Kyber, and to the Guardians of the Whills. You have much hard work ahead of you, but with patience and determination, you will always have a place here.” He bows to them.

            With one last look at the Master, he walks away.

            He doesn’t spare another look at his acolyte.

Chapter Text

He gets the impression that someone has been knocking on his door for some time.

            Baze finally begins to wake, murmuring, “Yes.” The knocking continues, unabated. Lifting his head from the hard, flat pillow, he raises his voice. “Yes.”

            The knocking stops.

            It’s early. Much too early. The sun is barely coming through his windows. Everything is cold and dim. His body still aches from his week on the ground. He has not slept long enough for the meds to complete their work.

            But someone is at the door. They all know not to come near his quarters after he has been below. It must be an emergency. So he throws off his single blanket, and plants his feet on the floor.

            He aches.

            Baze pushes himself to his feet, yawning. Wearing nothing but his sleeping trousers, he tiredly limps across the floor of his home, rubbing at his eyes. Everything is quiet, which means almost no one is awake yet. It must be very early indeed.

            Taking hold of the door, he opens it wide. What he finds does not impress him.

            At first, he does not recognize who he sees. The bald man in the acolyte robes. But then Baze sees the man’s dark, sparkling eyes, and he remembers.

            “Guardian,” Chirrut says brightly, “I did not think I’d wake you.”

            Leaning against the doorway, Baze rubs a hand over the back of his head. He needs to shave his own stubble, and then have another shower and eat. He needs to eat everything. “What time is it?”

            “05:45.”

            Blearily, Baze asks, “And why are you here?”

            “You told me to come see you in the morning.”

            A Guardian is known for their level emotional state. They feel, but never strongly. That is the way to chaos. “Allow me to…understand. You were able to ask where I lived, and found the place on your own. However, no one thought to inform you that I need sleep after I’ve spent a week on my knees in a cave without food and water. And you didn’t think to ask.”

            Cringing, Chirrut says, “You told me morning—“

            Shutting his eyes, Baze sighs, “Are the other acolytes even with their mentors yet?”

            “Not for another forty-five minutes. I was told you like people to be early, Guardian. I wanted to make a good impression.”

            Baze cracks an eye open. Why does he get the feeling that this man is laughing at him? Chirrut has a perfectly serious face, but those eyes—those eyes tell a different story. Leaning out his doorway, Baze looks up at the tower. “Which floor do you live on?”

            “The thirty second, Guardian.”

            “My mentor would have made me climb back up those thirty-two flights of stairs, and then come back at a more reasonable hour. Perhaps that’s what I shall have you do.”

            It feels like a minor victory when Chirrut swallows. But the man smiles, and bows his head. “If that is what you wish of me, Guardian. I am eager for any lesson you would impart upon me.”

            Baze is cold, standing shirtless in the sunless morning. He steps back from the doorway. “Well, I suppose you’re already here. Let’s see if you’re stronger with the Force than you are with common sense.”

            He leaves the doorway, and goes to the kitchen. His quarters are one large open room. They have curved white walls. Each corner has a succulent of some kind resting in it. His bed is near the door, on the ground. There is a table in the kitchen, and a small space for meditating around a small corner. It leads onto a closed off refresher outside, and a small shed for work.

            Baze glances back as the door closes. He lets out a tsk, and Chirrut stops. The acolyte is still wearing his slippers. Without another word spoken, Chirrut steps out of his slippers, pushing them lightly aside with his toe.

            “Have you eaten?” Baze asks, opening the cupboard and taking out the stand cooker. He sets it on the table.

            “No. I was waiting to see what you would advise.”

            “I advise that you eat whenever you can. You’ll need it.” Baze reaches on top of the shelves, and takes out his bag of crystals. Chirrut has taken a place at the table, as he was meant to. Baze sits across from him, and empties the orange velvet bag onto the table top.

            Picking through them, Baze pushes a few off to the side with hardly another look. All of them are unrefined, small shards that no one would ever miss. He picks up the squat, murky one, and shakes it by his ear, gazing into the distance. It’s silent today.

            When he puts it aside, he finds that Chirrut is watching all this with raised brows. “Have you never seen kyber before?” Baze asks, brushing more crystals aside.

            “Yes—I have. Just not….”

            “Not what?” Laid out on a table, being handled like they’re nothing more than rocks?

            Chirrut says, somewhat lamely, “Kyber is sacred.”

            The smallest of the crystals prickles against his ear. There. Opening the bottom slot of the cooker, Baze responds, “So is heat. Put your hand there.” Chirrut sets his hand on the base of the cooker. It won’t warm his hand, but the physical contact will activate the crystal. Baze pushes a button, letting the cooker heat, then begins to gather the crystals back into their bag.

            “How can—“ Chirrut gestures with his eyes at the bag. “You tell? Which one, I mean?”

            “I just can.”

            “But how?”

            He is going to take more time than Baze has to give him. Rising, Baze puts the bag back in place on top of the shelf, then he goes to get a shirt. He likes to sleep in as few clothes as possible—it is the only way he can find comfort. His trousers are cut off at the knees. He likes the cold. It makes the warmth all that much more welcome.

            Pulling a black shirt over his head, Baze fastens it shut at the neck, then begins to find the ingredients for porridge. Simple, straight forward, hardy.

            “Why are you here?” he asks.

            “You told me to meet you in the morning.”

            Baze looks back at him, unblinking. “You’ll find I’m not responsive to facetious answers.”

            Clearing his throat, Chirrut replies, “You could have asked why I wanted to be a Guardian.”

            “I assume I would have gotten a flippant answer no matter how I asked. But if that’s how you want to be asked. Why do you want to be a Guardian?”

            “I don’t seem fit for it, do I.”

            “You suggest the question to be asked, and then you don’t answer it. So that’s the kind of man you are.”

            “And what kind of man are you?”

            Pouring the ingredients into the pot, Baze answers, “The kind of man who notices when another avoids giving answers.” He stirs everything together, murmuring, “The Force does not give, it does not take. The Force is.” Tapping the spoon on the side of the pot, he sets it carefully down on the table before taking his seat. “What world are you from?”

            “Jedha.”

            “Jedha,” Baze echoes in surprise. “You don’t look like you’re from Jedha.”

            Slipping into their mother tongue, Chirrut replies, “Where do I look like I’m from?”

            “Not Jedha. I look like I’m from Jedha.” Baze sets his elbows on the table, holding his hands out. “Give me your hands.”

            Chirrut obeys immediately. That’s how it’s going to be with him. Sometimes he will do exactly as he is told, and other times he is going to run in circles. He needs to learn that only the former is acceptable.

            Baze takes Chirrut’s hands from the bottom, bending over them. He has strong hands, which tell Baze that he is not afraid of hard work. That, at last, is a relief. But his hands are pristine, not a speck of dirt on them. They have not a single scar.

            Baze’s hands are far more rough. His fingernails are permanently yellowed, and there are at least a half dozen small scars littered across his fingers.

            Letting go, Baze stirs the porridge. “So you come from money,” he sums up, nodding for Chirrut to set his hand back on the cooker.

            Chirrut does not seem too pleased by the observation. “I come from it,” he says after a moment. “I do not possess it.”

            “You’ve trained since you were a boy, but not for any temple. You trained as a hobby for a rich child.” He casts Chirrut a glance. “And now you’re here.”

            “There were a few steps between,” Chirrut says flatly.

            “How do I know that? You want to talk around why you’re even here. All I know about you is that you’ve been spoiled, you like to show off for women, and you pretend to be more of an idiot than you already are. First impressions have not been kind to you, Chirrut Îmwe.”

            He goes to get bowls and spoons. Chirrut clears his throat, and says, “Then I’ll have to work harder on my second and third.”

            “What makes you think you’re going to get those?”

            “You said yourself—anyone with the proper determination will always be welcome here. I intend to work very hard, Guardian. I will make you proud.”

            Baze lets out a bark at that. Not very kind, perhaps, but it’s early, and everything hurts. “You don’t need to worry about making me proud. You only need to worry about not invoking my disdain until you’re acolyte to Guardian Palasat.”

            When he sets down the bowls and looks at Chirrut, it is the first time he has really seen the man off his guard. Quietly, Chirrut says, “Guardian Palasat?”

            “The Master didn’t tell you?” Chirrut gives a shake of the head, and Baze shrugs. “You’ll find that Master Yamari has a tendency to leave certain details out. You have to know the right questions to ask.”

            “So I’m…not your acolyte.”

            He actually sounds disappointed. Baze would have expected relief. “You will be, until Palasat’s current acolyte completes her seventh duan, builds her lightbow, and is a Guardian in her own right.”

            “When will that be?”

            “Two years.”

            “Ah. So I am your acolyte.”

            “For two years.”

            “Two years is a long time.”

            “According to who?” Baze spoons equal portions into the two bowls, then sets one in front of Chirrut. He turns off the cooker, then folds his hands in prayer. “The Force does not give. The Force does not take. The Force is.” Picking up his spoon, he nods across the table. “Eat. We’ll talk afterwards.”

            Chirrut takes his spoon. “What are we doing today?”

            With a sigh, Baze says, “We’re seeing if you can get to the end of a meal in silence.”

            Chewing on his lip, Chirrut takes a moment, then starts to eat his porridge.

            Close to a minute passes.

            “This is very good,” Chirrut says.

            Baze sighs.

 

“Tell me the acolytes’ schedule.”

            “You don’t know?”

            “I’m Protector of the Crystal Guardian. I pay very little attention to anything beyond that. The schedules.”

            They walk along the outside of the training grounds. Baze just needs to get his legs moving. Someday, hopefully a long time from now, he will be as his mentor was. Unable even to walk. Baze had to carry T’kal down into the caverns, and back up, and wherever he wanted to go. The old man would chuckle from his position high on Baze’s back, “Faster, my steed.” Baze does not know that he will be so good tempered when the day comes.

            By then, though, he will have been in prayer so long with his hard edges will finally have been worn away. Like wind attacking stone. By then, he will no longer mind if he has to be carried.

            All that will matter is the Guardian.

            “We spend our mornings with our mentors,” Chirrut explains. “At 10 we spend an hour in silent prayer. We train in capradi for another hour. Fifteen minutes for lunch. Forty-five minutes silent prayer. Two hours training in zama-shiwo. An hour of silent prayer. One hour of the history of the temple with Guardian Heem. Then an hour of silent prayer. After that, back to our mentors, or whatever task they want us to perform.”

            “Heem,” Baze chuckles.

            “What?”

            Heem is going to despise Chirrut. “Oh, nothing. Just mind your manners.” He pulls his walking stick from inside his robes. He opens it with a flick of his wrist, then locks it by twisting it at the top. It certainly won’t keep him from falling over, but he likes to have something to lean on the first day or so.

            “Are you always this injured?”

            “I’d ask you if you always have this many questions, but it’s a fool’s errand to raise a question one already knows the answer to.” Baze hobbles along, poking the sharp end of his stick into the hard sand. “The injections I take after a cycle with the Guardian, they require a full ten hours of sleep. You woke me after seven. I’ll need another day or so before I am my usual self.”

            A few seconds go by, and Chirrut says, “I am sorry, Guardian.”

            Baze can detect no falseness in his tone. He nods, able to accept an apology when it is meant. “Everyone makes mistakes. It is when they are repeated that they become annoying.” Both hands around the top of his stick, he asks, “So. Why do you want to be a Temple Guardian?”

            He waits a long time for an answer.

            “So I’m certain, you’re not hard of hearing, are you, Chirrut Îmwe?”

            “No, Guardian. I don’t know why I want to be a Guardian.”

            It’s so bald an answer that Baze can’t quite believe he’s heard it. He does not reply, walking along slowly.

            The silence lasts so long that Chirrut asks, “Are you leading me to the exit?”

            “If you knew the layout of the temple, Acolyte Chirrut, you would know that the exit is in the opposite direction.”

            “Ah.”

            Baze nods to the great, dark spire. It dominates everything in the city. It is the center of the place. It is the center of this moon, this star system. “This is a sacred place. One of the most sacred of places.”

            “And I should have a reason—“

            “Some say, this is the birthplace of the Jedi.” Baze shrugs, pulling his glasses from his pocket. Pulling them on, he says, “I don’t know about that. There’s kyber, and the Jedi have always gone where the kyber is, and the linguistic similarities of Jedha and Jedi are obvious. But every half assed temple between here and the dark beyond the Outer Rim claims to be the birthplace of the Jedi. We don’t guard the myth of the Jedi here. We guard something far more powerful. This—“ He stops, tilting his head back to look up into the morning sky, at the very peak of the tower. “This is the Temple of the Kyber. We are the Guardians of the Whills. The Whills—that is much older than the Jedi.”

            “Guardian?”

            “Hmm.”

            “What are the Whills?”

            He can hear the defiance in Chirrut’s tone, and also the uncertainty. It’s a question that everyone asks when they arrive. Some sooner than others. Baze was perhaps the latest to ask. He had required purpose, not knowledge.

            Pounding the stick against the ground a few times, Baze squints towards the rising sun. “Let’s see if the others have made it outside, yet.”

 

After Baze has left his acolyte with the others, he makes his way to the communications room.

            Remmy is sitting at the console, staring vacantly at a vid of a scantily clad human dancing to unheard music. When Baze says, “Glad to see you’re busy,” Remmy almost puts his hand through the screen in an effort to shut it off.

            “Oh—fuck’s sake, Baze, it’s only you.”

            “Only me,” Baze mutters, folding up his stick. “I’ll start taking that personally.”

            Remmy rocks back in his chair, a wide grin on his face. His robes are wrinkled, and his hair has grown out nearly an inch. A scraggly goatee is dotting his chin. “You’re back.”

            “You’re a disgrace.” Baze kicks at his leg, and Remmy just snorts. The other man spins in his chair, not even having to ask who Baze wants to call.

            “You want to know everything that happened while you were gone?”

            “Not really.”

            “I mean, nothing as interesting as you having to take on an acolyte—“

            Going to sit in the holopod, Baze says, “Gossip is for the weak minded.”

            “I’m the weakest, I know. A blemish on the long and distinguished history of the Guardians of the Whills, on and on and on.”

            Pulling his legs up underneath himself, Baze waits for the call to connect. He brushes the dust from his sleeves, looking at the base of the projector. It lights up orange, but now he has to wait, to see if it connects.

            It’s all right if the call doesn’t go through. It’s getting late there and she might be in bed. She should be in bed. He can try again tonight, try to catch her before she rises.

            But the base flashes blue three times, and then Guela is standing there in short sleeping robes, trying to tie ribbons around her lekku.

            “Hi, Adda!” she says with a smile.

            “There is my beautiful binicorn,” Base says. His expression goes soft for her in a way that it would for no other.

            Embarrassed, the girl groans, “Don’t call me that.”

            “What? I can’t call you my binicorn?”

            “It’s a little kid name.”

            “And you’re my little Jedi, aren’t you?”

            “Not so little.” She flexes her arms. “Who’s champion?”

            Leaning forward, Baze asks eagerly, “Huzco?”

            “Crushed him like a rock.”

            “You find it easy to crush rocks?”

            Dropping arms, Guela pouts. “Adda. I’m the rock. He’s the thing being crushed by a rock.”

            “Of course you are. Were you gracious in victory, my little Jedi?”

            “Do you want to see how poised I was in victory?” Baze nods. Guela composes herself. Then she drops to one knee, raising her arms above her head, and roars like a wild beast until the veins pop on her neck.

            He laughs. He laughs longer and harder than he has in who knows how long. His life is much more strange and wonderful than he could have ever hoped for, but one thing is certain: the caves are devoid of laughter.

            When he gets himself under control, Baze brushes at the corners of his eyes. “I don’t know where you get that from. Certainly not your father.” He has to swallow another chuckle.

            “That’s what Master Moeli said,” Guela reports glumly.

            Baze quickly changes his tune, waving a dismissive hand. “Oh, what does he know? I’m sure, when your father was your age, he took as much pleasure in his victories as you do, youngling.”

            “Adda, I’m not a youngling anymore.”

            “You’ll always be a youngling to me. Little one, don’t worry about the ribbons, you look fine.”   

            She stops fussing at them, frowning. “Sorry, I—I wanted to look nice for you.”

            “You do.”

            Baze knows nothing about the ways of adolescent girls—you might as well ask him to chart a path through the center of a star—but he knows Guela. He knows she will want to be reassured that she’s pretty, but not too much. She wants to be told she’s strong, but not unfeminine. She wants to be teased, but she does not want to be teased too much about being young. It is always a balancing act, and more so as the years go on.

            “You were gone a long time,” Guela says, unable to disguise her concern.

            “Seven days.”

            “It’s been fifteen since you called.”

            “I didn’t think I’d be below so long. My apologies.”

            He bows to her, and she bows back. She smiles when she does it though. She likes when he treats her like an adult. He can not bring himself to do it all the time, though. The girl is only twelve, after all.

            “Have you listened to your master?” he asks.

            “I’ve tried.”

            “Guela,” Baze growls.

            Inhaling sharply through her nose, Guela stamps a foot. “Adda, he says that the crystals in Ilum are the best in the galaxy. He is proud.”

            “Strong words for your master.”

            “When I make my lightsaber, I won’t go to Ilum. I want to come to you. I want to come to the Temple of the Kyber. I want to see the Crystal Guardian.”

            He is startled. But then he is pleased.

            Careful, Baze.

            “You must do as your master tells you,” Baze says calmly.

            “Adda—“

            “But if you did find your way to the crystal caves—I think I might know someone who could help you find the perfect crystal.”

            She grins, showing jagged teeth. Baze tries not to smile back at her, but he fails.

 

Baze is unamused, but unsurprised, by the sight that greets him.

            Outside the library, Heem is leaning on his staff. His beard grazes the floor. His eyes have narrowed so much that Baze is uncertain as to how he sees. But the old man aims his face in Baze’s direction at his approach. “I was told,” Heem says, in his wavering voice, “that this one is yours.”

            On the ground sits Chirrut, who gingerly touches an eye that is bruising fast. Lips pressed together, he peeks up at Baze sheepishly.

            “I wouldn’t go that far,” Baze replies. “What did he do?”

            “He thinks he knows everything, this one does. Interrupted me as I was singing the ballad of the temple’s creation—“

            Chirrut pipes up, “I did not interrupt—“ The old man moves in a flash, the bottom of his staff slamming against Chirrut’s ribs. There’s a hollow sound as it connects, and Chirrut yelps. “Ayuh!” He grabs his side, staring up at the Guardian.

            Planting his staff back on the ground, Heem shakes his head. “We should send him back. On whatever ship he arrived on. Drop him in the desiccated tablelands.”

            “It’s a thought,” Baze considers.

            “Been some time since we fed an acolyte to the Crystal Guardian,” Heem says. “It must be near time again, is it not, Protector?” He smiles, with few teeth left in his mouth.

            Nodding, Baze says thoughtfully, “He may not have been made for history, but perhaps he will do for meat.” Putting a fist inside his hand, he bows low. “Forgive me, wise one, and my acolyte. He will not behave so rudely again in your presence. I will make sure of that.”

            “Hmm.” Heem looks down at Chirrut. “Well? Why are you still down there? And why on Jedha do you look worried about me?” Turning to slowly limp back into his classroom, Heem says, “He’s the one you should be frightened of.”

            Eyes widening, Chirrut looks after Heem. Then he raises his eyes to Baze.

            “Up,” says Baze.

 

“I can stay quiet,” Chirrut bursts out.

            Baze says nothing. He has not said anything in the last half hour it has taken them to walk down through the stairways of the temple and into the outdoors. He keeps his hands inside his sleeves, sedately, counting his steps as they go.

            Chirrut, however, is not having such an easy time of things. He spent the first ten minutes of their walk alternating between apologizing and castigating Heem for being boring, then claiming that he knew what Baze was doing by staying silent. There was more apologizing, then more defense of his behaviour.

            Then there is this attempt at silence. Every few minutes or so, Chirrut will break it almost petulantly, before lapsing into quiet again. He managed to make it all of four minutes this time.

            With a sigh, Chirrut says, “Yes, I’m not being quiet right now, but I don’t understand how never saying anything is supposed to help me connect with the Force. Every time I turn around, it’s silent prayer. For hours every day. And no one wants to hear what I have to say. I understand that I’m here to learn, but I have a voice, and my voice is valid.”

            The fierceness with which he says the last part is interesting. Baze raises his eyebrows, considering it, but keeps his mouth shut.

            “Would you please say something.”

            Baze nudges his elbow, guiding him up into one of the hallways. He leads Chirrut through the maze, until he finds the hall of the uneti tree. Baze walks down into the small courtyard, even as Chirrut pauses behind him.

            It is not a large space by any stretch of the imagination. The ground is covered in smooth white stones, and at the center is a pool of water. At its side, the tree grows. It curves deeply, then comes to stretch over the water again. It is not in season, so it has no leaves. When summer comes, it will be green and white.

            Standing by the water, Baze holds out a hand towards Chirrut. “Come here.”

            With a lightly furrowed brow, Chirrut walks across the stones, each step sending up a gentle crunch. Baze wonders if this man has any idea, whatsoever, of what he’s doing, or why.

            “You’ll only distract the others during their prayer, so you’ll pray with me. Until I’m done.”

            Face falling, Chirrut asks, “How long will that be?”

            “Oh, probably only four or five hours.”

            For a moment, Chirrut doesn’t react. Then he says, “Oh, is that all.”

            Baze comes shockingly close to smiling. He stops that dead in its tracks, frowning instead. “Let me see your form.”

            Despairing, Chirrut hesitates a moment. Then he sits down at the side of the pond. He has excellent posture. He draws his feet underneath himself, and puts his hands into three-point position.

            Looking him over, Baze gives his head a shake. He gets down on his knees, not having to wince like he would have earlier. “Feet in cradle position. You leave them like this, and you’ll either be fidgeting the whole time or unable to walk by the end.” Chirrut adjusts his legs, and Baze nods. “Hands on your thighs. Relax them.”

            Chirrut looks at him, like he can’t quite believe what he’s hearing. But then he moves, laying his hands lightly on his legs.

            “Mm. Better.” Baze sits down at a short distance, echoing Chirrut’s posture. “There is no one way to the Force. Anyone who tells you otherwise has closed themselves to possibility. You must learn to be silent. That is a requirement of a Guardian. There are other prayers, though.” Baze takes a deep breath. “And there is the only one that counts.”

            He relaxes in place, closing his eyes. His body is so prepared for this that his heartbeat immediately slows, and his body temperature begins to drop.

            “Meditation is a path to the Force, because it forces us to subsume selfhood in order to touch that which is beyond us. Some find it in silence. Some find that overwhelming, even frightening. So they find their way through prayer. Until you can learn to overcome your ego self, you will not attend silent prayer with the others. You will find a quiet place—by yourself—and you will repeat your mantra. It is the prayer my mentor taught me, and that his mentor taught him. You’ll say it with me as long as you can. If you can’t keep up, or your voice tires, stop. Try again when you can. No fidgeting unless you are in pain. Do not try and leave unless I tell you that you may. So. Let’s begin.” Baze inhales, already slipping under. “Your prayer is this: I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me. Repeat that.”

            “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.”

            “Good. Now say it with me. I am one with the Force—“

            “And the Force is with me.”

            “Good. I am one with the Force and the Force is with me. I am one with the Force and the Force is with me. I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.”

            They sit beneath the tree, and they say their prayers. Chirrut lasts about a half an hour.

Chapter Text

Baze puts a gentle hand to Ula’s back. She glances back. With a smile, she inches over. He slides onto the bench beside her, inconspicuous and silent.

            The acolytes are doing fight training across the courtyard. Baze has not seen what Chirrut is capable of before. He has not even asked, frankly. He’s spent the last few days just trying to figure out how to get the man to sit quietly during prayers.

            “Yours?” Baze says under his breath.

            “Kine’nik,” Ula breathes.

            He nods. He has heard that Kine’nik has a good grasp of the history of the temple, and is a joy during silent prayer. That might be because they’re incapable of verbal speech, but Baze thinks that even if Chirrut’s mouth was welded shut, he’d still find ways to distract the others.

            Chirrut and Wallene are sparring with bō. Baze has to admit, he’s pleased to see how well Chirrut is acclimating himself. At last, Baze can see something like focus from his acolyte. It is only in short, sharp bursts. Every time Chirrut lands a blow on his classmate, or even receives one, he steps back with his usual cocky grin.

            But for a few seconds, when he is fighting, his eyes narrow and he is completely within this moment and no other. He does not show off; he does not play. He moves with complete economy of movement.

            Perhaps, Baze thinks, he would be a better guard than a Guardian.

            Chirrut spins to avoid his opponent’s bō, bringing his own down across the back of her calves. As Wallene yelps, Chirrut dances away, smile on his face.

            With a huff, Wallene takes tighter hold of her bō, and circles Chirrut. He goes hand over hand with his weapon, gazing into her eyes. She keeps glancing at his feet, but Chirrut only watches her face.

            When Wallene comes at him, Chirrut twists to the side, slamming his stick against Wallene’s back. Then his knee comes up, landing against her chest. She’s staggered, and he uses the bō to sweep her legs. She hits the ground flat on her back, then lays there, coughing.

            “Match to Chirrut,” Guardian Naro says placidly from the side. He’s fanning himself, not moving much from his perch.

            As Chirrut turns away, he pumps a fist. Pride. He is going to take a lot of years.

            He’s only my problem for two of them.

            Chirrut comes back around, reaching down. Wallene takes his hand, and he pulls her up. He says something to her, laughing, and she nods. They bow lightly to one another.

            Hyush’s acolyte—Baze has not learned her name yet—murmurs to Chirrut. He glances back across the courtyard, seeing Baze. A moment later, he’s pretending not to have seen, but he starts walking in a slow circle, deliberately spinning his bō.

            “I hear he has a strong will,” Ula remarks.

            In other words, I’ve heard from everyone that he’s near untrainable and no one can figure out why he’s here. “He has much to learn. As do we all.”

            She smiles, askew. They watch as Naro calls up Zemall, one of the Cereans. She is quick on her feet, twirling her bō just as assuredly as Chirrut. She is obviously unimpressed by her classmate. She does not look at him with the affection that some of the others do.

            It will be interesting.

            Baze watches them fight, resting his hands on his knees. They are well matched. They have both had many years of zema-shiwo training, and they are in the physical prime of their lives. The two oldest of the acolyte group, they are the most experienced.

            There is a noticeable difference from the last fight. It feels far more acted from Chirrut. His movements are not so simple. They flourish. Almost like a performance.

            “He’s showing off for you,” Ula says.

            Baze holds back a sigh. “Well,” he replies. “I guess we know how to handle that.” He pats her shoulder, then gets up and leaves, going to find something to eat.

 

He opens his eyes. “I can hear you thinking.”

            “Can you?”

            The amusement in Chirrut’s voice is obnoxious. Baze casts him a look, and Chirrut puts his head down, trying to look abashed. It simply doesn’t fit on his face.

            Baze runs a hand over his head, taking a look up at the sky. The sun is strong through the haze today. It feels like it should be warmer, but it isn’t. He was trying to meditate, silently, but across the rocks came Chirrut, and though not a word was said, it might as well have been.

            “You missed my victory.” Chirrut speaks to him in Jedhan, as they usually do, unless they are with off worlders.

            “What victory was that?”

            Unfazed, Chirrut says, “My legendary defeat of the dreaded Zemall in armed combat. Truly, they will tell songs of our battle.”

            “Have you ever killed anyone?”

            That knocks him off step. After a moment, Chirrut shakes his head. “No, Guardian.”

            “Have you ever cut a person’s throat, and had to sit there, covered in their blood, trying to be silent and still as legions of your enemy pass by a few feet from your face?”

            “No.”

            “Do you know what a battle actually looks like, Acolyte Chirrut? Not on vid screens, but what it smells like, what it sounds like when it’s—“ Baze puts a hand by his ear. “This close to you and no further?”

            Shaking his head, Chirrut murmurs, “No, Guardian.”

            “Then I would be very careful about using a word like ‘battle.’ At the best of times it is ill advised. At others—such as when we are in the midst of a galactic war—it might be considered disrespectful.”

            Putting his hands together, Chirrut bows his head. “My apologies, Guardian. You are wise.”

            With a very long exhale, Baze says, “What I would like to see from you is twofold. First. I would like to see that you take something—anything—seriously. Secondly, I would like you to actually mean words like that when they come from your mouth.”

            “I do—“

            “You don’t—“

            “I do,” Chirrut says with sudden fierceness. “You are the Protector of the Crystal Guardian. You are wise.”

            This is all too perplexing. Baze stands, and Chirrut starts to as well, but Baze puts down a hand. “No. Stay there.” He moves until he is in front of Chirrut, then sits back down. He leans forward, so he can look directly into Chirrut’s eyes. They widen a little, and the other man’s eyebrows raise, but he makes no other movement. “Help me to understand you.”

            “I’m—easy to understand—“

            “That is untrue. How many mentors have you had before me?”

            Shaking his head, Chirrut says, “I’ve not—“

            “Do not insult my intelligence. How many?”

            After a long pause, Chirrut says, “I would say…there were three people that I would consider mentors.”

            “And did you ever listen to them?”

            “I obeyed my instructor. You can see that, in how I fight. Or you would have, if you’d—“

            “You listened to every instruction your instructor gave you? Never fought, never rebelled?”

            With a crooked smile, Chirrut answers, “I wouldn’t say that—“

            “You’re not meant for temple life. It’s obvious.”

            In a moment, Chirrut goes from kidding to stricken. “No—no, I am—“

            “You cannot listen to direction, and you don’t want to. That’s not unfortunate in and of itself. It is, however, if you intend to be a monk. You are a greater many things, Chirrut Îmwe, but we both know that a monk is not one of them.”

            Swallowing, Chirrut gives his head a shake. “I am.” He closes his eyes briefly. “I will be.”

            “Who are you doing this for?”

            “For? I’m—not doing this for someone—“

            “It must be someone. Someone has told you to do this, and so you’re here, going against your nature, wasting my time, and your time, and the time of a great many others.”

            “As my mentor, are you not supposed to support me?”

            “I am supporting you. I’m stating what literally every person in this compound can see. Even Renall can see it, and he’s blind. You’re not meant for this. You do yourself no favours by staying here.”

            Stubborn, Chirrut counters, “Everyone has a place here. Those are your words—“

            “Then why a Guardian?”

            “What else?”

            “A guard.”

            Chirrut silences, pulling his head back.

            Baze raises his shoulders. “Why not a guard?” he presses. “We need the guards. They keep the perimeter safe, and they allow us to carry on our work unimpeded. If you want to serve the temple, there are more ways to do it than to force yourself into a shape that you don’t fit.”

            “I don’t want to be a guard.”

            Patient, Baze says, “Several of the guards are former acolytes. The monastic life was not for them, but they’re loyal to the temple. There’s no shame in not being suited for—“

            “I will be suited for it,” Chirrut insists. “You will teach me. You will teach me, and I will be a monk, and that is what will happen.”

            This is just so peculiar. “Why do you focus on this?” Baze asks. “Why this one thing? You’re smart, even if you’re an idiot most of the time. You come from money, so you’ve more opportunities than most of us ever had. You have talents. You could do anything. Why is this the thing that you have decided to do?”

            Chirrut bends his head. He looks down at the ground. Baze can see his eyes moving back and forth, and it’s almost as if he can see the gears moving inside Chirrut’s head.

            At last, Chirrut says, “If I tell you…you won’t believe me.”

            Oh, thank the Force. There is a reason. “I have seen many things, and heard even more.”

            “No one has ever believed me.”

            Baze does not bother responding to that. Either Chirrut tells him or he doesn’t. He can’t shake it out of the man.

            Mulling it over, Chirrut says almost reluctantly, “I…have to be here. I saw it….” He lets out a long sigh, his shoulders slumping. “In a vision.”

            It’s a little bit before Baze can respond. He’s not sure what to say. So he simply echoes what Chirrut said. “A vision.”

            It is not possible. Visions are incredibly rare. He has spent the last decade surrounded by Guardians of the Whills, by Jedi. Not a one of them ever had a vision. Even his mentor never had one, in all the years that he communed with the creature. T’kal could see what is, but he could not see what would be.

            Baze never has either. He has never expected to. Unless, the Force forbid, the creature opens that third eye.

            Sensing Baze’s skepticism, Chirrut says, “There are days when I don’t even think it was true myself. But it happened. Much as I have tried to—avoid it—it can’t be avoided. So I’m here.”

            “Tell me.”

            Grimacing, Chirrut tucks his feet further beneath himself. He crosses his arms. It is the most blatantly defensive pose that Baze has seen him take.

            “When I was twenty, I got sick. Mozgren fever. I wasn’t supposed to survive. Everyone had come back to the house, to say goodbye. Even my sister came home, and she and my parents hadn’t spoken in years. I was in my bed, surrounded by my loved ones, and then—then I saw.”

            “What did you see?”

            Chirrut raises his eyes. He looks past Baze’s head, gesturing with his chin. “That.”

            Baze does not have to look back to know what Chirrut means. The tower.

            “I saw it in front of me like I was actually here. I looked down, and I was standing for the first time in days, only I was wearing—“ He gestures to Baze. “Those.” He makes a face. “Not—with the blue on it, but the black robes, with the red piping. I started walking, and I felt…a peace, that I’d never experienced before. My family, they don’t believe in the Force. They own a mining colony on the other side of the planet. If they ever talked about this place, it was about how stupid people were, spending their money on the temple instead of taking advantage of the ore.” Chirrut looks up at the temple and mouths, ‘Sorry.’

            “So I had never thought about…the Force, or my place in the universe, or anything like that. I never thought about dying until I was actually doing it, and I was terrified. I didn’t go quietly. They had to sedate me. I was ranting and raving, offering my parents’ fortune to anyone who would heal me. It was quite the spectacle. I was so scared—and then I was here. And I wasn’t just unafraid. I was….”

            Without even realizing it, Chirrut’s body begins to unfold. His hands still touch his chest, but he relaxes, his muscles remembering what he felt.

            “Part of something?” Chirrut says, confused about it even now. “Not just part, but—I could feel everything. It was all there, if I just reached out and touched it. Other things, other people—things I don’t even have words for. It was all there. I was where I was supposed to be. I knew it.” He shrugs, deflating a little. “Then I came back into the real world. Back into my body. Didn’t die. But that’s what I saw.”

            Ah. It could be entirely explainable. A rich boy, in a moment of terror, seizes onto whatever scraps of religious comfort he might have ever heard of.

            Or—it could have been a legitimate vision.

            “You were twenty?” Baze says for clarification.

            Chirrut’s smile returns. “I was brought back to life by the Force, but it took me a long time to begin to accept that. I tried telling myself it was just a dream. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It had been so real. Perhaps the most real moment of my life. I told my parents, and they said it was just a fever dream. I told a friend, and he made fun of me for it. Finally, I went to a monk. This crazy old woman living out in the desert. I told her what I had seen, and I asked her what it meant. She said it could only mean one thing. I was supposed to come to the Temple of the Kyber, and be a Guardian of the Whills.” Pulling a face, Chirrut admits, “I didn’t take it well.

            “I spent most of the last decade trying to outrun my vision. I left the moon altogether. I left the system. I’m smart enough, but I’m shallow. I know I am. I’m easily diverted by a pretty face, and I can’t stay still long. I did basically every stupid thing you’d expect of a rich young man pretending like life wasn’t something I had a responsibility to. Until—“ He sighs. “I almost died again.”

            “Again? How many times have you almost died?”

            “More than was probably necessary. Between us, a friend and I were drunk, and we decided to race speeders.” Chirrut rolls his eyes at Baze’s expression. “Yes, I know. Let me tell my story. So I crash my speeder into a lake. I’m upside down, about to drown, and I should have been scared. Except I wasn’t. I just thought of that.” He nods to the temple. “I thought of how peaceful it felt, in that moment. When I was where I should be. And I thought, I’m going to die here. I’m going to die, upside down, in a lake, half naked, in a speeder, all because I was trying to get away from that? What’s so bad about—“ He spreads both hands. “That?”

            Chirrut looks around, seeming, if not serious, at least not teasing, for once. “This is a beautiful place. And I like it. I know I’m not going to make a very good monk. No one’s ever made me sit still before. No one’s ever really expected that much of me before. I’ve never had to…behave, and I don’t imagine I’ll be very good at it. But when I got off that cruiser, and I saw the tower—“ He looks to Baze, his brown eyes pleading. “I’m supposed to be here. I’m supposed to be a Guardian. Even if no one else believes it, I believe it. Protector, please—I don’t want to be a guard. I want to be what I’m supposed to be.” Chirrut pauses, then adds, “Please.”

            Baze considers it.

            Reaching out, he cups Chirrut’s chin in one rough hand. He leans forward, and peers into Chirrut’s eyes. The other man bites his lip, but he looks back, eyes flicking across Baze’s face.

            After a good ten seconds, Baze releases him, settling back. “Very well.”

            Blinking a few times, Chirrut says, “You…you believe me?”

            “I believe you.” He does. He can tell when a person is lying, and Chirrut is not. Maybe it was a vision from the Force, and maybe it wasn’t. But this man’s heart is set on being a Guardian. When Baze came to this place, he didn’t have his heart set on anything. Chirrut has proven he’s capable of belief. That is something.

            Baze can work with that.

            Chirrut suddenly grins, wide and relieved. “So you’re crazy too.”

            “We’re all crazy here,” Baze says, “just in our own ways. So. You are meant to be a Temple Guardian. But this means you are going to have to work very hard. Whether the Force wills it or not, you must be willing to work for it. No vision is ever set. The future can be changed. If you do not pursue this with your whole heart, it will not occur. If, however, you choose to devote yourself to this entirely, then perhaps I am wrong, and you are meant to be a monk. I would be happy to be proven wrong.”

            The smile on the man is almost blinding. Putting his hands together, he bends his head deeply. “Guardian—please teach me. Teach me what I need to know.”

            That’s going to be a lot.

            But Baze says, “That can be done.”

Chapter Text

Over the next few weeks, Baze works harder than he has in years. And it is for the benefit of a reckless acolyte who can barely stay still.

            Baze wakes in the morning to find Chirrut sitting outside. Say one thing for the man, he’s an early riser. He will come in for breakfast, and Chirrut will ask questions. If they’re about the Force, the temple, the order, Baze will answer. When the questions are about Baze himself, he firmly pushes them away.

            They spend an hour in prayer. Chirrut settles into it more as time goes on. The key was definitely giving him a mantra. He cannot keep up with Baze, and usually must stop after a half an hour to rest his voice, take a drink of water. When he is ready, though, he continues, keeping pace with Baze’s fast murmured prayers.

            After that, Baze tells Chirrut stories from the temple. Heem is a good teacher, but he’s two hundred years old and doesn’t suffer fools. Baze does not admit to Chirrut, but he once fell asleep in Heem’s class, and woke up to a staff being dashed across his head. Baze always responded more to T’kal, who wouldn’t sing him songs, but tell stories.

            Chirrut prefers that as well. He needs to be able to ask questions. Sometimes, Baze has left out some important detail, and a question does need to be asked. But more often, Baze will say, “I’m getting to that part.” So long as he says it patiently, Chirrut will nod, and he will listen, avid.

            After that, Baze sends him off to classes with the other acolytes. Chirrut always looks slightly pained as he goes—they start with silent prayer, after all—but he has done as Baze says, and sits by himself, and says his prayer. Every few days, Baze will check in. So far, he has not found Chirrut fooling around. Squirming a bit, occasionally. One day, he lets out a sneeze so resounding that the acolytes, on the other side of the courtyard, turn to glare at him. Chirrut grimaces, then puts his head down and prays furiously under his breath.

            Baze, meanwhile, is reading every text that he never had to before. Every Guardian save the Protector is trained over the course of years on how to mentor an acolyte. He thought that in about five years, he would get to the book T’kal left him, on training an apprentice Protector. Now he has another person’s education that he’s responsible for, and so far he’s acted solely on instinct. He has tried to do what he has observed from the other Guardians over the years.

            But he didn’t train like the other Guardians. On his very first day in classes, hair all the way down to his shoulders, wearing the rags he’d travelled to Jedha in, T’kal had hobbled out to see them. With a glance around, he’d pointed with his cane at Baze. “You. Come with me.” Guardian Gi had looked beyond shocked, and Baze hadn’t a clue what was going on. He did as he was told. T’kal chose him without ever having heard him speak.

            Baze is certain that it will be like that for him someday. He will see his apprentice, and he will know.

            In the meantime, he has to educate a man his own age who might want this life, but doesn’t understand what it means. Baze has to flip through endless screens about shifting mentalities from acolyte to Guardian, how to prepare the body physically, the right foods to eat. He is a Guardian, yes, but he has done things very differently as a Protector.

            He is also preparing to go below again. Once a month is when he communes with the creature. He has eaten well, getting his weight up, and he exercises while listening to audio transcripts. He goes for runs, trying to keep his legs strong, and he’s back to doing a hundred push ups without losing his breath.

            Then Chirrut will come back to him. Baze has asked, does he not want to spend dinner with his friends? Chirrut will reply that he wants to learn. So they go over the lessons of the day, and talk about what Chirrut can do better the next.

            They return to prayer for two hours, and then Baze sends him away.

            Some nights he falls asleep reading mentoring manuals. Others he falls asleep doing as he ought to, which is murmuring his prayer.

            I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.

 

Baze stands at the doorway to the courtyard, watching with approval. The acolytes are practicing their capradi. All of them are upside down in green lily pose. It is peaceful, to see so many bodies in the same position all at once, to see how they take in breath at the same time.

            Abruptly, though, Q’qik falls over. They hit Wallene, who bowls over with a shout.

            It’s like a ripple is sent through the group, and the others begin to come out of pose.

            Rolling her eyes, Guardian Xero says, “And what do you think you did incorrectly, Acolyte Q’qik?”

            “Fell over,” Q’qik mutters, and there’s laughter. Chirrut’s is the loudest, which is unsurprising.

            “You miss the subtleties. The breath—it’s always the breath. Remember—count of four for green lily. One two three four, breathe. One two three four, release.”

            Q’qik does not look convinced, but they nod. “Yes, Guardian.”

            Xero sees Baze, and holds an arm out to him. “Guardian Malbus. You know something about green lily.”

            Nodding, he comes down the steps. “I do.”

            He stands beside her with his arms inside his sleeves. With a pleased nod, Xero tells the others, “Guardian Malbus once held green lily for eight hours.”

            “Seven and a half,” he murmurs.

            “It was seven forty-five, don’t sell yourself short. How did you accomplish such a feat, Guardian Malbus?”

            “I remembered my breathing.”

            “How long did it take you to recover?” comes a voice from the back. Chirrut, of course.

            Raising a brow, Baze replies, “Recover from what?”

            No missing the little grin on Chirrut’s face. He is strangely proud of his mentor. Baze has noticed that. He is unsure why.

            “You’re early,” Xero says.

            “It’s sixth day. I thought you could use the break.”

            With a look, Xero concedes that. “My lazy students can’t hold green lily for more than five minutes.”

            “Maybe you should beat them with a stick. Heem might loan you his.”

            “Tempting.” Inhaling, Xero says, “Acolytes. Silent prayer is cancelled for afternoon session.” No missing the happiness there. “Instead, you’ll return here, and Protector Malbus is going to tell you about the Whills.”

            They look amongst each other, excited.

            Xero glances at him, and says, “Thank the Force for that. Your acolyte won’t stop pestering people about it.”

            “Won’t he?” Baze asks, looking at Chirrut. His acolyte tries to step behind Wallene.

            Kine’nik raises their hand, and Xero says, “Yes.”

            They hold up a speaking pad. “We heard that you and Baze can do climbing vine formation.”

            Baze raises his eyes to the sky, as Xero replies, “I think we’ll leave Protector Malbus to better things than satisfying your endless curiosity.”

            “But can you?” Chirrut asks, peeking out from behind Wallene.

            “Of course we can,” Xero says, exasperated. She waves a hand at them. “Go. Eat. Meet back here after training.”

            As they disperse, Baze hears Chirrut say to Wallene, “I’d pay money to see that.”

            Baze lowers his voice, and asks Xero, “How’s he doing?”

            Equally quiet, Xero replies, “Of them all, he’s the most talented. His form is flawless.” She looks at Baze. “But he has no connection. Not even to himself.”

            Baze nods. He thought as much.

 

Baze silences them by saying, “Good afternoon, acolytes.”

            They face him, all sitting on the ground. “Good afternoon, Protector.”

            “I hope the Force finds you well this day.” He sits before them, folding his hands in his lap. He wears wrappings all the way to the base of his fingers today. He intends to spar with Ula later. Chirrut will have to eat with his classmates.

            He takes a deep breath.

            “You’ve been here for a month. This is, of course, only the very beginning of your journey within the order. I’m sure that you have very many questions. Some of you ask when the time is appropriate, some ask without considering such a thing, and there are those of you who do not ask. You wait for the Force to reveal itself to you.” He looks at Streisa, who sits at the front, watching him respectfully but with barely veiled eagerness. She is the youngest of them, at only sixteen. “I have been watching. You listen instead of speaking. This is wise.”

            She blushes, deeply, then gives a quick bow. “Thank you, Protector.”

            “You come to us from Eriadu, yes?”

            “I do, sir.”

            “That’s a long way to come. Why did you choose this place?”

            “I….” She glances around, looking slightly embarrassed, but she tells the truth. “I hoped that someday I could commune with the Crystal Guardian.”

            Nodding, Baze says, “That is a lofty goal. But it is not unattainable. Particularly for one so young.” He smoothes his fingers over the wrappings on his left arm. “I have only been here for ten years, and yet I’m Protector of the Crystal Guardian. My predecessor, he apprenticed for much longer before he took on the mantle. I am not his equal, in any way, but I will endeavour to impart what lessons I can to you.”

            He looks at the group of seven. “Besides Streisa, I have been told that each of you have asked a question. A question that is my responsibility to answer. Does one of you want to repeat it, or would you prefer that the Force reveal it to you in its own time?”

            Three seconds pass.

            Then Chirrut says, “What are the Whills?”

            Baze gestures to him with his hand. “What are the Whills,” he repeats quietly. “Here is the answer that is entrusted to me to give to you. The answer that you will keep to yourselves, as Guardians of this order, of this temple, of this sacred place. The answer is….”

            They all lean forward, even incrementally. Chirrut looks almost hungry for it. Even Streisa wants to know, though she appears slightly nauseous.

            Baze looks at them, and finishes, “I don’t know.” He smiles faintly. “That is the answer to your question.”

            They stare at him, expressions ranging from dumbfounded to terrified.

            Chirrut says sharply, “You don’t know.”

            His face has gone hard in a way that he’s never demonstrated before. All deference has fallen away, and he’s looking at Baze as an equal, not an acolyte to his mentor. This is man to man. Baze shakes his head. “No. No one knows.”

            Chirrut’s mouth falls open about an inch. He snaps, “Then what the hell are we Guardians of?”

            His classmates all take a collective breath. Zemall actually puts a hand to her tall forehead, closing her eyes.

            Seconds after he speaks, Chirrut remembers himself. He pales. “Protector—forgive me, I—spoke without thinking—“

            “At least I finally got to see what you’re like when you’re honest,” Baze replies. Now colour flushes into Chirrut’s cheeks. He looks at Baze, frustrated and trapped. Lifting a hand, Baze snaps his fingers. “A split second reply. Strange, how words can so quickly reveal a thing.”

            “Protector—“

            Baze puts up his palm, and Chirrut silences, bowing his head.

            “Words,” Baze continues, “also fail. This is the lesson of the Whills. This order is three thousand years old. Before us, there were others. All you need to do is go beyond this mesa to see that. When you came in on your ships, I’m sure they told you to look at the statues that have fallen in the sand. How many millennia they have been there—I cannot say. But long have they lain in the desert. Before that they stood. If you look at scans of the planet, you can see that there were once cities in the desert. Those lie beneath the sand. There were people here before us, and there were people here before them, and so on. There is one thing that remains constant.” Baze holds up his index finger. “The Force.”

            Everyone but Chirrut is listening intently. The acolyte sits with his head down, embarrassed. Baze can’t tell if he’s even paying attention.

            “The Force resides in all of us. In everything. It connects me—“ He puts his hand to his chest. “To you.” He holds his hand out to them. “It connects you to your loved ones. It connects you to the people you have lost. The truth is—nothing is ever actually lost. Things change. People grow older. They die. They rejoin the Force. People are born. They grow older. They rejoin the Force. We are atoms, in the great scheme, but we are part of something extraordinary. We are part of the Force.”

            Resting his hands in his lap, Baze explains, “Whills is a word that comes down to us through history. There are many different ideas about what it is. Some think that the Whills were immortal beings. Observers, who watched the turn of the universe. The great chroniclers. Others believe that the Whills is simply another word for the Force. There are even those who believe that the Crystal Guardian is a Whill. But whatever the Whills may or may not have been, that knowledge is lost to us. For now. As I said—not everything is ever truly lost. It could be that some day a junker is travelling through the desert, and comes upon a scroll that tells us exactly what we need to know. Or—more likely—we might never know. And this is the lesson of the Whills.      

            “Faith. This is what we guard. To each of you, the Whills may mean a different thing. To me, the Whills means faith. Just because I cannot see a thing, it doesn’t mean I can’t believe it. Just because a thing seems improbable, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I know the Force resides in all things, but I can’t see it with my eyes. So I have to trust that it’s there. I have to take the step from this plane to one that I cannot comprehend. We do that through prayer, we do it by training our bodies, our minds. We each of us connect to the Force in our own way. There is no one right way. We teach you the same things here at first so that you have a grounding in the life that the order leads. But one particular way will not lead you to the Force. It will not lead you to the Whills. You must each determine your path to belief.”

            “How did you?”

            Baze looks to the back. In this moment, Chirrut—strong as he is, defiant as he is—looks somehow vulnerable. Like the wrong thing could send him tumbling.

            “Each Guardian is different, as I’ve said. When I came to this place—“ Baze looks around, with affection for his home. “It was nothing more than a place to stay. I didn’t come here because I was devout. I was tired. Guardian T’kal sensed something in me, and took me in. I did as he told me. I trained, as you’re training. I did as I was told. I did not ask questions. That’s not why I was here. I was here simply to live. So I followed orders. I did not learn, as you’re learning now, what the Whills were, for two full years. I was here for a year before my mentor decided I was prepared for my first duan. Not once, in all those months, did I ever feel the presence of the Force.

            “But when I went into the cave—I understood that there was something far greater than myself here. Something older, something inexplicable. I did not feel the Force then either. I sat through my duan, I did as I was told, and then I continued my training.

            “I was here a year and a half, and then one day, I was sparring with Master Thom Saelthroe—a very brave man, a Jedi, who lost his life in the war that’s being fought now—and I was winning. I became calm in a way that T’kal had described to me many times before, but that I had never experienced. In that moment, I was removed from time. I could anticipate what my opponent was about to do, but not because I had studied him, or because he was not a worthy foe. I could anticipate what he was going to do because I felt the connection between us. For a few seconds, I wasn’t myself. I was me, and him, and the ground, and the people around us, and—the sky, even. I was part of everything. Then he knocked me unconscious, because I was too busy staring at the interconnectedness of it all.”

            There is some laughter. Most of the students have bent forward. They look more relaxed than before.

            “Some of you will come to the Force through meditation. You will have mastered your mind to the extent that you are free of self, and in that moment you will connect to a higher power. There are those of you who will find the Force through capradi. Your body so strained that your mind disconnects, and you will be with the Force. Then there will be those of you who are like me. Fighters. Instead of moments of reflection, the Force will come to you when you aren’t even thinking about it.

            “And yes. There are those of you who will never feel the Force.”

            Chirrut’s face has gone perfectly blank. If he is listening, he does not show it.

            “But,” Baze encourages, “this does not mean that the Force is not with you. When the wind doesn’t blow, I can’t feel air. But I still breathe it, it still exists. Just because a thing is intangible doesn’t mean it’s not real. There are those that the Force comes to, whether they want it or not. However, it is more likely to come to those who welcome it with an open mind and open heart. Those who have chosen to believe. Belief is a choice. That is why we are the Guardians of the Whills. We guard the kyber, we guard the temple, we guard the faith.” He puts his hands in front of himself. “Body.” He holds them up to the sky. “Spirit.”

            Folding his fingers together, Baze looks among them. “We travel in these vessels, but we are connected by a thing we cannot see. If you accept that, you become less beholden to these bodies we walk in while we are mortal. Faith creates miracles. Miracles should not create faith.”

            From within his robe, Baze withdraws a small knife. He uses it to cut through the wrappings on his left hand. He will redo them later. From his peripheral vision, he sees Chirrut start to sit up again.

            “When I came to this place, I believed in nothing. Now I have belief. With that—I can do anything. And so can anyone of you.”

            He takes a breath through his nose.

            His pulse slows. Murmuring under his breath, “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me,” Baze simply inhales and exhales for a moment, feeling his body slipping completely under his control.

            Taking the knife firmly in his right hand, he pushes the blade steadily through the flesh that connects his thumb to his hand. He feels no pain. Just a tugging sensation as the metal cuts through. It does not bleed.

            Once he has pushed it all the way to the hilt, Baze lets go. He holds out his left hand, turning it one way, then the other. The students watch, wide eyed.

            Baze takes the handle, and draws the knife from his flesh. There is no blood on the blade. Flipping it in his fingers, he slips it inside his robe. He takes the wrapping, pulling it around the clean wound, tucking it under the other fabric.

            “All things are possible with the Force,” Baze tells them.

            He believes it.

 

He is about to leave the courtyard when Chirrut calls out, “Guardian!”

            Of course. Turning back, Baze says, “I told you—“

            Catching up, Chirrut nods, giving him an almost dismissive wave. “Spend the evening with the others, I know. I have a question.”

            “All right. What’s your question?”

            “It really took you a year and a half to feel the Force?”

            “Yes.”

            Chirrut suddenly grins. “I’ll do it in a year.” He turns and jogs away to rejoin the others.

            Baze is left exasperated. “It’s not a race,” he says, but Chirrut is already gone.

Chapter Text

“You’ll do exactly as Guardian Palasat tells you,” Baze says, and not for the first time.

            “As much as I ever do.”

            Baze rounds on him, stopping Chirrut in his tracks. “No. You will do exactly as he tells you to do. For now, you are my responsibility. That means your failures don’t only reflect on you, they reflect on me.” He keeps walking, his head up as they climb the endlessly sloping spiral staircase.

            “You’re worried I’ll embarrass you,” Chirrut says, amused.

            “I’m not worried. I’m certain.”

            “Don’t worry.”

            “Acolyte, did I not explicitly say that I wasn’t worried?”

            “You don’t have to worry about what others think about you. It reflects on her, not you, as far as the others are—ah!”

            Baze has Chirrut by the arm, and is pulling him into an empty doorway. Pushing the man up against the wall, Baze digs his fingers into Chirrut’s muscled bicep, glaring into his bright eyes.

            Voice low, Baze says, “You—need to be exceedingly careful about your next words. That is the master of this temple you’re speaking about. The most powerful person on this moon, let alone the order. Whatever words were about to come from your mouth, consider them carefully before continuing.”

            Chirrut gazes back at him, unblinking.

            Then he says, “They say she wanted to be Protector.”

            Letting him go, Baze puts his hands together. He taps them against his forehead, sighing. “Chirrut.”

            “What? Why is it a crime to tell the truth?”

            “You’re not telling the truth, you’re spreading gossip. I don’t care for it. It’s beneath us both.” Baze continues walking up the staircase, uncomfortable. He pulls his robes tighter. He should be focusing on his journey into the caves, not the idle chatter of temple acolytes.

            Chirrut takes a few quick steps to catch up, and he doesn’t stop talking, because Baze hasn’t figured out how to train him without being cruel. He does not want to be remembered as cruel. “They said that’s why she made you take me on as an acolyte. To punish you.”

            “You perceive yourself as a punishment?”

            “I think other people do. I think you do too.”

            “Chirrut, I’m a Guardian. It’s my responsibility to train the next generation of—“

            “You’re Protector of the Crystal Guardian. You’re not supposed to do anything except meditate and live in a cave. Which I think is a waste of your talents, frankly—“

            “Acolyte!” Baze snaps, turning on him. Grimacing, Chirrut puts his head down. Anger. It has been a long time since Baze was properly angry. It’s not becoming of his position. This man—this irritating man. “I give you a long leash, but that can be shortened at any possible moment. Is that in any way misunderstood?”

            “No, Guardian,” Chirrut murmurs.

            Glaring at him, Baze bites off, “Good. No more talking.” They get about ten feet, and Baze can hear Chirrut open his mouth. “No. More. Talking.”

 

Palasat pours three cups of tea from a metal pot that’s discoloured with age. He passes them to Chirrut and Comra. To Baze, he gives a glass of water. Then he sits down with a smile, each of them to a single side of the low set table.

            ‘So,’ he says to Baze in Jedhri, the ancient tongue. ‘The troublemaker.’

            ‘Wherever he goes,’ Baze agrees, somewhat darkly. He is having difficulty shaking the encounter on the staircase. Chirrut angered him. That doesn’t happen. It’s beneath him.

            ‘What is his greatest failing as a student?’

            ‘An inability to take anything seriously. Even the things he thinks he takes seriously.’

            ‘And your greatest failing as a teacher?’

            ‘Everything,’ Baze says without hesitation.

            Palasat laughs gently. When he does, it shows off his missing front teeth. ‘Too hard on yourself. You’ve always been that way. My friend—what is it that truly troubles you? It radiates off you. I worry about you taking this into the caves.’

            With a frown, Baze admits, ‘That I’m failing T’kal. He was more than a teacher to me. More than a father. He was…my path to the Force. I do not mean to equal him as Protector, nor even as a teacher, but if I can’t get this one arrogant, self absorbed—‘ He stops himself, embarrassed. Those are the harshest words he’s used for Chirrut outside his own head. It’s not like him to speak about anyone like that, no matter his opinion.

            Palasat knows this. Gravely, he observes, ‘This man has unnerved you.’

            Baze nods. That is a good word for it. ‘He upsets my balance.’

            The old man wraps absent minded fingers around the thin string of his braided beard. Hair of any kind is typically frowned upon in the order, but the older one is, the less anyone says about it.

            ‘You must have balance to be of service to the Crystal Guardian.’

            ‘I know,’ Baze says, nauseous at the thought of failure.

            Palasat thinks about it for a long while. ‘We will call a prayer service for you.’

            Baze tries not to show his relief. ‘Short notice,’ he says.

            ‘To protect you is to protect the creature. To protect the creature is to protect the temple, and to protect the temple is to protect the Force. It is of the highest priority. You mean to go tomorrow morning?’ Baze nods, and Palasat waves a frail hand. ‘It is of little worry. I will make the call. Will four to eight be sufficient? Or should we go until ten?’

            He would love a six hour prayer service. However, he recognizes that the others have responsibilities. ‘Four to eight should be fine. Thank you, Palasat. You have always been so kind to me.’

            He bows his head, and Palasat says, ‘Your master would be proud of you, as I am proud of you.’ He switches to Common, leaning towards Comra. “We’ll be having a prayer service in the Black Lotus Hall for the Protector. Inform the others.”

            Without a word, Comra gets to her feet and goes to the other room.

            “She must be ready for her next duan,” Baze says.

            “Mm. She’s currently in her eighth week of silence. The Force is strong is with her.” Palasat glances at Chirrut. “You will also take a vow of silence while you are under my care.”

            Eyes widening, Chirrut replies, “I’m not sure if—“

            “That was an instruction, not a request. I am not Protector Baze. He is young, like you. He still asks questions, so he tolerates yours. For every word you say from now until he returns, you will stay with me an extra day.”

            Chirrut looks on the verge of rebellion. But he gives a curt nod.

            ‘Silent prayer doesn’t work for him,’ Baze murmurs in Jedhri.

            Twisting his beard around his fingers, Palasat amends, “You may say your prayers, but that is the extent of what I will hear from you until Protector Baze returns. You must know how to listen. You might be surprised at what you learn.”

            Chirrut looks extremely unconvinced. Baze wonders how long Chirrut will have to stay with Palasat, if those are the terms. Will it be days—or will it be weeks?

 

Baze sits quietly to the side of the hall, nodding to each person as they enter. Everyone bows, and many smile at him. As they come in, they take the next available space, forming a spiral working inwards. No one speaks. They settle, pulling their legs underneath themselves, arranging their robes.

            The hall is near the top of the temple, away from the noise of the city. There are no windows. It would comfortably hold two hundred people or more, but there are not nearly that many monks in the order these days. The walls are black, and the floor is recessed in the middle. At the top of the hallway is a podium for the crystal bearer to sit upon. Yaval hasn’t climbed onto it yet. She’s frowning, gently flicking the crystal, then putting her ear down low to it.

            Nearly everyone is here. It doesn’t surprise him, the notable absentee. She’ll be here. She would have sent word otherwise.

            His earlier upset has mostly receded, though it tickles at the edge of his consciousness. It is unlike him to be so angry about something.

            No. That’s not true. It’s unlike him now. When he was younger, he was angry all the time.

            “Malbus.”

            He looks up, a slight smile on his face. “Master.”

            She stands with her hands behind her back. “Why did you not inform me that you were having difficulties?”           

            Oh, don’t even….

            Calm.

            “Difficulties?” he says, with an air of confusion. “With what?”

            “Yes,” Master Yamari says, and she looks so pleased about it. “Why did you not tell me you were having difficulties, this close to communing with the creature?”

            Baze pretends to think about it. “I cannot say that I have any problem, Master. What gave you that impression?”

            Her eyes narrow. “Come now. There’s no reason we have to spend four hours in prayer for you?”

            If he was a better Guardian, a better person, he would tell the truth, regardless of his personal feelings towards her. But Baze, and he knows this, still has plenty of work to do before he is truly the person he wants to be. “Guardian Palasat was kind enough to suggest a service for me. He is most thoughtful. Of course, I understand that you are very busy, and there’s no reason to inconvenience yourself. Four hours can be a long time for some to spend in prayer.” He gets up, giving her a light bow of the head. “I wish you well, Master. Thank you for concern.”

            He walks away before she can say anything.

            You’ll pay for that.

            What will she do? Give me another acolyte? It’s not like they’re beating down our doors.

            Baze carefully walks to the center of the room. Everyone is facing him. When he first began, he was bothered by being at the center of attention. Now it is simply another aspect of his life. He is the Protector. This is what he does.

            He sits down in the middle of the spiral, facing the podium. Back straight, hands on his thighs. He looks to Yaval.

            Without any further prompting, she takes hold of the podium and hops up onto it, though it’s nearly as tall as she is. A crystal, two feet in diameter, sits in the middle. Yaval sits with it between her legs, raising her hands above it.

            Baze cradles his hands in his lap, closing his eyes.

            Yaval lets out a single clear note, attuned to the frequency of the crystal. It echoes her, filling the hall. Like that, every person in the room focuses on the crystal, and it begins to sing with their thoughts.

            I am one with the Force and the Force is with me. I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me. I am one with the Force and the Force is with me….

 

Yawning, Baze comes in through the door at half past eight. He doesn’t have a care in the world.

            Shedding his robes, he puts them in the cleaner. Pants next, then shirt. Wrappings take a moment, but he’s in no rush. He feels loose and light, half asleep already. He tosses in his small clothes, then presses the button. Everything will be ready for him tomorrow morning.

            He pads across the meditation space, naked. The air moves over his skin. He feels it. He feels everything.

            There is a small mirror at the back of the house. Baze turns on the light over it, and finds his razor. Bending forward, he looks into the mirror.

            When he was a young man, he hated the sight of his own face. Well, perhaps not his face—his ears specifically. They stick straight out, instead of folding back like most humans’. As a child, he would plead with his mother not to cut his hair short—the other children teased him relentlessly. They called him jug, they called him elephoth. The first bone he ever broke was a boy who mocked him for his ears. Baze hit him over the head with the first thing he could grab, which was an iron bar off the ground. He fractured the boy’s skull. They were both seven at the time.

            And when Baze ran away from home, away from Jedha, he grew his hair long. No one could see his ears. No one called him names.

            It was one of his great insecurities when he became a Guardian. He had been willing to do anything that was asked of him—what else was he going to do?—but he had balked at shaving his head. Anything but that. He had done it, of course, but it took him years to be comfortable with it. Even now, there are days when he looks in the mirror and thinks, if only they didn’t do that.

            Tonight, though, he looks at his ears, and he thinks of how they listen. They take in sound. He can still hear the prayer of the crystal echoing in his mind.

            Rubbing a hand over his head, he starts from the back. He shaves right down to the scalp, feeling with his fingertips over and over to be sure that he misses no spots. His head begins to feel smooth, the way he likes it. At this point, he wouldn’t know what to do if he had any hair. He’s been without it ten years.

            Baze shaves off the stubble from his cheeks and chin, carefully moving the razor around his mouth. When he’s old, he wonders, will he grow a beard like Palasat’s? Maybe he’ll braid beads into it. He smiles crookedly at the thought.

            That done, he takes a few minutes in the sonic shower. It’s cold, but after all, it’s outside, and evening has set in quite firmly. He barely notices. He feels warm, truth be told.

            Sleepy, Baze comes back inside, rubbing a hand over his right arm. His bed looks like the most welcoming thing in the world, even though it’s a blanket over a mattress about an inch thick. He pulls back the blanket, and crawls into bed. Everything is tingling softly. Rolling onto his stomach, he puts his arms beneath the pillow, and closes his eyes.

            He falls asleep, feeling cradled by the Force.

 

He wakes earlier than usual without needing an alarm set.

            He makes his bed, then puts on the porridge. While that’s cooking, he gets dressed. It’s dark out, and will be for a few more hours. Baze sits down at the table, and reads from the Protector’s Manual as he eats.

            Then he sets it on audio, and cleans his dishes. With that finished, he takes a piece of sandstone off the shelf over his sink, about the size of his hand. He takes it back to the table, and pulls out his knife.

            “The Protector is free from worldly attachments,” he recites along with the book, cutting away at the stone. Grains of sand fall to the table. “They have no family. They have no lover. They have no children. They are permitted friends, but only from amongst those who belong to the Guardians of the Whills. If this attachment grows too strong, it must be severed. The Protector is meant for one purpose. The Protector is the conduit to this world for the Crystal Guardian. The Protector is free from worldly attachments.”

            Baze spends about a half hour carving and listening to the book, simply relaxing. He ends up with a little figure of a man, seated in prayer, with a long, skinny beard. It makes him smile. He goes to put it in his meditation space, with the few others. He never keeps them long. After a few weeks, he crumples them up, and starts a new collection. That’s the nature of corporeal things—they’re transitory.

            He goes about stringing tubes through his robes, attaching them where needed. He pops a pill that will turn the food in his stomach to liquid, eliminating the need for solid waste. He gets his nutrient pack, and hooks it up to the central port at his waist. It begins humming immediately.

            The last few things he needs are his walking stick and his glasses, so he finds those, slipping them inside his robe. He takes one final look around the house, to make sure nothing is out of place. He walks over the kitchen floor, to make sure the seams in the compartment aren’t visible or would creak.

            No. Everything safe and secure.

            So he leaves the house, unsure when he will see it again.

 

There are no guards outside the door to the caves; however, no one goes in unless they are given permission by Baze. If they do so, it’s at their own peril.

            He walks down the maze of bridges, hearing the occasional ping of a crystal. Other than that, the cavern is silent. It’s dark, and it’s peaceful.

            When he comes to the bottom, Baze closes his eyes. Rounding the corner, he comes out on the edge of the cliff. How far down it goes, he cannot say. He dropped a crystal down it once, and did not hear it reach bottom. All that connects it to the other side is the bridge, which is approximately two feet wide.

            The Crystal Guardian is breathing. Baze bows, then goes to one knee. “I have come to receive your wisdom, Temple Guardian,” he murmurs.

            With that, he stands up, and walks across the bridge. He does it without hesitating, or opening his eyes. He knows the way.

            On the other side, the Guardian opens its mouth, and lets out an echoing noise somewhere between a yawn and a moan. Baze reaches out a hand, sensing how near it is. His fingers come up against dry, aged skin. It is rough, and wrinkled. He smoothes his hand over it, and the Guardian calls out again.

            “I am one with the Force,” Baze murmurs, “and the Force is with me.”

            He steps closer, and leans against the Guardian, burrowing his face against its skin. And like that, he loses himself.

Chapter Text

He stumbles through the dark.

            His feet don’t understand when they will hit ground. Every time it is a surprise, and his upper body begins to sway. He corrects, managing to get another step forward.

            Night. They call this night. Why does this even have a word? There is the truth of space, and there is the lie of light. If they need to call the lie something, let them, but the truth of the universe is that it is dark. That is the truth….

            Baze.

            His ankle twists, and he hits his knees before he knows what’s happening. He cries out, not from pain, but because he’s startled. He has legs. Yes. He has legs.

            Baze Malbus. My name is Baze Malbus.

            “Protector?”

            He can barely see the ground before him. There is too much. He can’t take it all in.

            A hand slides along his back. “Protector,” says an unfamiliar voice. It’s small. Female, maybe. “Protector, can you stand?”

            “I don’t know,” he rasps.

            He hears her breath. “Well—you can’t stay out here.” His arm is lifted around her shoulder. It’s fragile, even bird-like. “Come on. Use your legs.”

            It takes close to a minute, but he manages to get himself upright. Once he does, he remembers to put one foot in front of the other.

            Squinting at the night sky, Baze asks, “What is the hour?”

            “One past midnight, sir.”

            He looks down at her. She is human, with a red breastplate. That he can see in the dark. She’s struggling to hold him up, but she’s nearly a head short than he is, and probably twenty kilos lighter. “I don’t know you,” Baze says. “Do I?”

            “No, sir. I’m a guard, sir.”

            “Then…you’re away from your post.”

            “I am, sir. But it’s cold. I couldn’t leave you outside.”

            “Is it cold?” Baze asks.

            “Very, sir. Cold front came in three days ago. You’re not dressed for it.”

            “I can’t feel it.”

            “No, I don’t imagine you would. Come on now. Halfway there.”

            The tiny woman manages to drag him all the way to his home. Baze is not much help, and he knows it. His head is a whirl, filled with the world that is, and the world beyond. The universe…it’s convulsing. The Force ripples. He can’t remember if it’s supposed to do that or not.

            When they reach the house, Baze murmurs, “I have it.” He grabs onto the column, and climbs up the two steps. His whole body is shaking. But he is young. He trained for this. He can take it. Turning, he looks down at the guard. She’s pale in the night, with short dark hair and worried eyes. “What is your name, friend?”

            She looks taken aback to be called that, but then she smiles. “Hela, sir.”

            “Hela of the guard. Thank you for your kindness. May the Force be with you.”

            “And you, sir.”

            Baze opens the door, and slips inside. He uses his body to close it.

            For a moment, he leans against it. He tries to remember what he needs. What is his body telling him?

            His body doesn’t know.

            Water. Meds. Food. Yes, that sounds like the right order.

            He takes a step, and frowns at the crinkling under his feet. There’s something on the floor. Taking hold of the door handle, he clings to it and lowers himself slowly down. He reaches out.

            His fingers come up against paper. He closes his hand automatically, and realizes there’s several small sheets of paper that have been left inside his doorway.

            His head swoops with sickness, and Baze knows that he doesn’t have much of a window. Struggling up, he starts towards the kitchen. Water. He needs to at least get water—

            He makes it about four steps before passing out on the floor.

 

…with the Force and the Force is with me I am one with the Force and the Force is with me I am one with….

            He feels sunlight.

            Baze grumbles, turning over to press his face further into the pillow. He’s still sleepy. It’s daytime, yes, but who will really miss him?

            Nothing hurts.

            Confusion sets in, and Baze opens his eyes.

            He’s lying in bed. It is late in the day—mid day even. He remembers coming home last night, but he certainly didn’t end up in this bed. Didn’t he—

            Yes. Yes, he definitely lost consciousness in the kitchen.

            But he feels fine, if not a little tired. He has been changed out of his robes, left in his shirt and pants. His wrappings have been removed. He hears a humming. Pulling aside the blanket, Baze sees that his nutrient pack has been replaced. They must have given him his meds as well. The usual headache is nowhere to be found.

            Well. This is a first.

            Something catches his eye. Next to the bed, on the little table, is a neat pile of papers. They’re being held in place with a small stone. And beside that is a water packet.

            Pushing himself up a few inches, Baze winces. His legs still need some work. They’re usually the ones that take the most damage. He doesn’t remember how he got out of the cave, or what position he came to in. He supposes it doesn’t really matter.

            He takes the water packet, tearing off the corner. Sucking from it, Baze’s eyes close with pleasure. His body can stand a lot of abuse, but it doesn’t mean it does not like to be repaired.

            After taking half the pack, he looks at the pile of paper. It’s in a thin, beautiful script he doesn’t recognize. Setting aside the stone, Baze picks up the papers, and looks at them.

 

Dear Protector,

            It has been one day since your absence and Guardian Palasat has hit me with his stick a total of three times. He informs me that this is as many times as he has ever hit Comra in all her years at the temple. I’m determined to create even more of a record for myself. Tomorrow I’ll see if he hits me four times.

            I haven’t said a single word today, though it was very hard. Comra says more with her eyes than I do with my mouth, and she despises me. Oh well—I will win her over. My first goal: to make her smile.

            I might not be allowed to speak, but I’m certainly not going to be uncommunicative until your return. To that end, I’ve acquired this pen and paper at great personal expense and hardship and I fully intend to leave everyone notes so that they don’t forget I exist.

            And this is the first one! I hope that you are well, and I already look forward to your return.

            Your exceedingly humble servant,

            Acolyte Chirrut

 

Baze realizes he’s laughing, and he makes himself stop.

            Chirrut. Damn him.

            He flips through the pages. Each day, the message gets increasingly longer. Unconsciously, Baze counts them. When he reaches the end, he is struck.

            Eight. Eight messages for eight days.

            He was in the cave eight days.

            Unease works through him. As quickly as he’s able, Baze pushes it down. Eight days is an accomplishment. Anyone would be proud, would be thrilled, to have communed so long with the Crystal Guardian. He has nothing to worry about. This is his duty, his purpose. This is what his life is for.

            Nonetheless, he sets aside the first message, and begins to read the second, ignoring all thoughts regarding the rest of his life.

 

He has just read the line, ‘A new record! Guardian Palasat hit me six times today AND told me I was a disgrace to the order,’ when a knock comes at the door.

            Before he can reply, it cracks open, and Chirrut sticks his head in. He sees Baze, and his mouth spreads into a delighted smile. Baze can’t remember the last time anyone looked that excited to see him, except maybe Guela. “Ah! You’re awake.”

            Then he pulls his head back, and closes the door.

            Three seconds later, he knocks again.

            Rolling his eyes, Baze says, “Come in, Chirrut.”

            His acolyte almost bounds inside, pushing the door shut. He steps out of his slippers, and says, “Welcome back.”

            Baze lifts the papers. “In ten years, I’ve never seen Palasat hit anyone with a stick, and by my count he hit you a total of twenty-six times in the last eight days.” With a nod, Chirrut turns. He drops his robes off his bare shoulders. They’re covered in bruises. “For—Chirrut, I’m starting to think you liked it.”

            Pulling his robes tight, Chirrut just grins and says, “Oh, maybe in my younger days.” He winks—actually winks—at Baze, then heads into the kitchen. “Have you eaten yet?”

            He has a bag with him. “No.”

            “Good. That means you haven’t discovered that I’ve hidden your porridge.”

            “You what?”

            “You can’t subsist on porridge and nutrient packs alone. It’s strange and unhealthy.”

            Mouth open, Baze says, “Have you forgotten who the mentor is here?”

            “No, but it’s my responsibility to make sure that you live long enough to make me a decent monk.” Chirrut takes some bizarre purple fruit out of the bag, putting it on the counter. “Can you catch?”

            “What—“ Something is flying across the room at him. Baze grabs it one handed out of the air. It’s a liquid pack of some kind. He can’t read the writing. “What is this?”

            “Poison. I’m trying to kill you.” Chirrut opens the drawers, looking for something. He takes out a knife. “Just drink it. It’s good for you. Lots of vitamins.”

            Dubious, Baze takes the straw off the side, and stabs it into the pack. He has a sip, and starts to gag. “Lots of sugar,” he counters.

            “Of course. It’s for children.”

            “Why are you giving me—“

            “It’s what they’d give me when I was little and wouldn’t eat. It’s good for you, it’s just disguised.” Chirrut chops up the fruit, with quick, sure motions, then he takes a plate from the cupboards. He uses the knife to pile the fruit onto the plate, then tosses the knife in the sink. He looks completely at home, even though he obviously doesn’t quite know where things are. How does he do that? Walking across the room, he puts a piece of fruit in his mouth, and chews it. “Hmm. It’s a little under ripe, but it’s fine.”

            He holds the plate down to Baze. Too taken aback to do anything else, Baze accepts it. Chirrut goes to the end of the bed, sitting on the ground and pulling his legs up underneath himself.

            Baze looks down at the plate, then Chirrut, who’s waiting expectantly. “You pulled me off the floor last night.”

            “Of course. Who else?”

            “Why?”

            “Well, no one else was going to do it. They’re too intimidated by you. You should hear the stories.” Chirrut raises his hands. “I know. You hate gossip. But I can’t help it. I haven’t been allowed to speak in over a week.”

            “I didn’t give you leave to come into my home.”

            “Then I’m sorry.”

            “No you’re not.”

            Chirrut shakes his head, shameless. “No, I’m not.”

            Baze sighs, and picks up a piece of fruit. “The day you learn where the boundaries actually are, I think the stars will fall from the sky.”

            “They might. At least you have a cave to hide in.” Baze gives him a look, and Chirrut amends, “Not that you’re hiding in the cave! You’re doing important work in the cave. Or, at least, I think you are.”

            “What does that mean?”

            Chirrut cocks his head to the side, looking at Baze from under his brows. “You know what it means.”

            “Enlighten me, since you seem to know everything today.”

            He expects Chirrut to continue. Instead, Chirrut ducks his head. The man actually starts to blush. “Apologies, Protector. I know I’m acting inappropriately. I’m only pleased by your return, is all.”

            That’s the problem with Chirrut. He can be so obnoxious and sure of himself, and then he’s suddenly submissive. He’s wildly unpredictable. That’s about the only thing about him that can be predicted.

            “Guardian Palasat can’t have been that bad,” Baze says.

            Chirrut looks at him, and Baze sees the deep frustration in those usually bright eyes. “He doesn’t understand me.”

            “Or he does, and you did everything in your power to rebel against that.”

            Chirrut obviously does not believe him, but he says, “Perhaps, Protector.”

            Baze chews on the fruit. It’s good. Not sweet, like he had been expecting, but tart. Much more to his liking. Right away, it stains his fingertips purple. “Where did you get this from?”

            “I have my ways.”

            They’re not allowed to leave the compound. That’s the agreement the acolytes made. For the first year, they stay on temple grounds. “Chirrut.”

            With a quick smile, Chirrut says, “I asked a guard if they’d do me a favour.”

            “What were they getting in return?”

            He shrugs. “Nothing.” Chirrut leans forward, saying confidentially, “I can be quite charming, according to some.”

            “If you ever find evidence of that, please let me know. The universe seems to be short on miracles these days.” And Chirrut smiles at that, nearly beams, like Baze has complimented him instead of mocking him. Baze takes another piece of fruit, and says, “So you want to know about the Crystal Guardian.”

            “No,” Chirrut says, starting to back up. “You’re tired, you’ve only just—“

            “I’m fine. You gave me my injection too, didn’t you.”

            Chirrut nods. “Did I do it properly? The instructions seemed straight forward, but I confess, I had concerns about paralyzing you.”

            “I feel quite well. We can discuss the Crystal Guardian.” Baze looks at Chirrut, and snorts. “Why do you look nervous?”

            “Last time you answered a question like this, it turned out there were no such thing as Whills.”

            Dropping his hands, Baze lets out a groan. “Is that what you took away from that? For the love of—“

            “I’m kidding! I’m just kidding. Calm down.”

            Baze glares at him, then shakes his head. He mutters under his breath in Jedhri for a moment, then pops the fruit into his mouth. Once he’s swallowed, he puts the plate in his lap, and picks up the water.

            “The Force moves through all of us. Not all of us can feel it. Some are more in tune with it than others.”

            “Because of midi—“

            Baze throws a piece of fruit at him. Chirrut dodges, snatching it. “Do not…use that word,” Baze says flatly.

            “It’s just a word—“

            “It’s in contradiction to everything that the Guardians of the Whills stand for. We are an order based on faith. We do not study the science of the Force, we accept it as it is in all its mysteries.”

            Stubborn, Chirrut says, “The Jedi use the word.”

            “Well, you’re not a Jedi.”

            A shadow crosses Chirrut’s face. “No. I suppose I’m not.”

            Hmm. Something to examine at another time. “As I was saying. The Force is in all things. In some it is stronger than others. For reasons unknown.” He says the last word as a threat. Chirrut just inhales, keeping his head down. “We all carry the Force within us, and we move through the Force. There are those who can communicate with the Force, who can even use it. Those people are rare. Rarer still are creatures without speech who are strong with the Force. Such as the Crystal Guardian.” Baze has a sip of water. “I know for a fact that Heem’s already sang the Ballad of the Crystal Guardian to you.”

            “Every note out of his mouth is the exact same, and he sings in a monotone.”

            “That’s the point,” Baze says with exasperation. “You’re supposed to sink into it, to let the song enter your consciousness—“ Chirrut just gazes at him blankly. “All right, we’ll get back to that. I’ll find you a text copy of the song, though that’s not how you’re supposed to learn it.”

            Putting his hands together, Chirrut says, “I would be most grateful, Protector.”

            Impossible. “The Crystal Guardian has been in the caves for time out of mind. As long as we have known about the caves, the Guardian has been there. When people first broke through the surface, and found the kyber, the Guardian was waiting at the bottom. They approached the creature, and it seemed docile enough. It’s large.” Baze nods to the ceiling. “Higher than this house. Its legs aren’t made for running, or for even moving that far. I’ve never seen it move more than two meters. It’s trapped on a space, only a little larger than itself. The first people down into the cave, they thought it was harmless. It was trapped, after all, and the Force only knows how it got there in the first place. It had gone blind in the dark. They could see that it had the two eyes, but they had gone—“ Baze passes a hand over his face. “White from lack of use. They held a lantern up to its face, and then—it opened its third eye.”

            He stops to have some more water. He feels better than usual after a cycle, but his throat is sore from lack of water.

            “When the Crystal Guardian looks upon a person with its third eye, it unleashes the full power of the Force upon them. It concentrates power much in the same way kyber will, but not nearly so focused. We can put kyber in machines, use them as tools, direct them. But the Guardian—there have been times when it opens its eye, and the light from it will fill the entire cavern. The original people who went into the cavern, save one, were all killed by the eye. It’s too much for a person to bear. The one who survived, he only did so because he closed his eyes fast enough and jumped out of the way. He got back to the surface, and told his compatriots what had happened. So they decided to kill the creature.

            “That didn’t go well. The creature communes with the crystals. It can set them singing to the extent that the song will make your brain dribble out your ears, can activate them with sound instead of touch.”

            “Really?”

            “Yes, Chirrut. Why do you think you’re not allowed down there any time you feel like it?”

            “Thousands of years of rules that no one can remember why they were created in the first place?”

            “Force help you,” Baze mutters. “The Guardian will kill anyone who comes into the cave that it doesn’t approve of with crystal song, or if you get close enough, it will just look at you, and that’s the end. It can crack the crystal too. There was a period, about two hundred years ago, when the Protector died before training an apprentice. They sent people in, full suited, earplugs so they wouldn’t be killed, but the Guardian sang, and the crystals began to—burst.”

            “Honest and true?” Chirrut asks, amazed.

            Baze nods. “The Guardian is very particular about who goes into the cave. The first person who was allowed in, and who made it out again, was a young girl. She was strong with the Force. Not a Jedi. One of us. She went in on her knees, her eyes closed, and crawled her way to the bottom of the cave, which is no mean feat, let me tell you. I’m sure you’ll complain about it endlessly when it’s your turn, if the Guardian lets you in that far. But she came before the Guardian with all due reverence, and said many prayers for it. It let her come and go. She continued this for a long time, until finally she dared come close enough to touch it. And then she felt what the Guardian felt.”

            “What does the Guardian feel?”

            Baze pauses.

            He has some water, and a few more pieces of fruit. He considers the question, aware that Chirrut is increasingly on edge.

            Finally, Baze shakes his head. “I cannot describe it to you.” Chirrut sighs with exasperation, and Baze shakes his head again. “You can only commune with the creature to truly understand. I’m sorry, but I cannot put it into words for you.”

            Frowning, Chirrut says, “I’ll just have to commune with the creature, then.”

            “Chirrut.”

            “Yes?”

            “A reminder: never go into the cave without my permission. If you do, you’ll die. There’s nothing I’ll be able to do about that.”

            “I’m not going to—“ Chirrut sees Baze’s expression, and exclaims, “I’m not! But you can connect, directly, to the Force, by communing with the Guardian. Yes?”

            “In a way.”

            “Well—I want that. So I’ll have to just—study, and do my best, and when it’s time, you’ll give me permission.” Tossing up his hands, Chirrut says, “That’s all there is to it.” He takes a deep breath, looking around. When his eyes return to Baze, he pulls his head back. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

            With a grimace, Baze says, “Because I can’t tell if you mean it or not.”

            Smiling cheerfully, Chirrut says, “I’ll just have to prove it to you.”

            “Yes,” Baze says. “You will.”

Chapter Text

And Chirrut does.

            Over the next five months, he throws himself into any book he can find. Admittedly, he retains next to nothing that he learns from Heem, but every person learns differently, and if he remembers the stories by reading them then Baze sees no harm in it. Chirrut reads at a truly staggering rate, and what he reads he remembers. Whenever they meet in the morning, Chirrut will want to discuss some old song or story.

            The questions. Stars save them all, Baze has never known a man who asks so many questions. Baze has to remind Chirrut, continuously, that the entire premise of the Guardians of the Whills is that they are an order based on faith. It is not an empirical religion. They don’t study the kyber, they don’t quantify their surroundings. They live, they take things on faith. All things are as the Force wills it.

            But still, Chirrut asks.

            He is the best in his capradi class, and in the second month the decision is made to move him into the intermediate class. Baze expects him to be proud of himself, to brag, at least a little. Chirrut merely says, “Good. I want a challenge.”

            He can make all the motions. He moves beautifully, both in the internal martial art and in zama-shiwo. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that he will be an asset when it comes to defense, and that’s likely why fewer conversations are had about asking him to leave.

            Those still happen. Usually once a month. In the fourth month, Master Yamari calls Baze to her office, near the pinnacle of the tower, and asks him if he really thinks this is the place for Chirrut. The man is clever, and dedicated, but he is erratic. One day he will be perfectly well behaved in prayers, off to the side and murmuring his mantra. The next he’ll have secretly moved around behind Guardian Gi to make faces at Kine’nik and Wallene, his two closest friends. He’ll tell inappropriate stories at dinner that offend the monks—not when Baze is around, but he quickly hears about it second-hand. He still doesn’t take everything seriously, and Baze is unsure if he ever will.

            Still, he remembers what he told Chirrut: anyone who wants to be here is welcome to stay. So he smiles, and tells the Master that he is certain that this is the place for Chirrut.

            A month later, Palasat pulls him aside the morning after Baze returns from the caverns. The old man looks uncharacteristically dour. “That cretin will never be a monk,” Palasat says.

            Brows raised, Baze asks, “What did he do?”

            Scowling, Palasat draws aside the screen separating the rooms. And there is Chirrut, sitting on the ground with a datapad. A sash has been tied firmly around his mouth, preventing him from speaking. When he sees Baze, he gives a happy wave.

            “You—“ Baze looked at Palasat. “Put a muzzle on him?”

            “He did it to himself.”

            “Why?”

            “He said it was the only way he could keep his vow of silence.”

            Baze waits for the other shoe to drop. “And did he?” he finally asks.

            Palasat’s bushy brows furrow. “Yes,” he admits.

            Baze spreads his hands. “Then what are we even talking about?” He gestures for Chirrut. “Troublemaker! Time to go!” Chirrut eagerly gets to his feet, removing his gag. “Did you learn a lot from Guardian Palasat?”

            “Absolutely,” Chirrut replies. He sets the sash down. “I’ll just leave that there.”

            They’re about ten steps down the hall when Baze smacks Chirrut so hard over the head that his own hand hurts. “Ayuh!” Chirrut yelps, ducking.

            Baze hisses, “That man is going to be your mentor in a year and a half. Try a little less hard to alienate him.”

            All wide eyes, Chirrut protests, “I knew I wasn’t going to be able to stop myself, so I found a way to keep myself quiet. I kept my vow. What does it matter how I got there?”

            Baze stops, lifting his hands.

            To his surprise, Chirrut stops, and takes hold of his wrist. “I’m kidding,” he says quietly, then lets go of Baze. “I know that I’m supposed to learn how to control my tongue. That patience leads to the Force. I want that. I want to know the Force and its ways. Palasat doesn’t like me. He expects me to be foolish, so I behaved foolishly. It was petty, and I apologize. But I did keep my vow for six days. I’m not an idiot, Protector.” Chirrut stops, and rolls his eyes. “Yes, I’m an idiot. We’re all idiots, though. We’re all learning. I just feel like—everyone’s trying to tie me up as tight as they can, and it’s smothering. I thought maybe if they could see that, they would realize how ridiculous that was. Apparently my message was not received.”

            With a sigh, Baze says, “You’re here to learn, not to teach.”

            “If they’re not here to learn, then they’ve missed the point even more than I have.”

            Touché. Damn him.

            Chirrut sees that he hit his mark, and he grins. “I like it when you think I’m right.”

            “I didn’t say a thing.”

            “I can tell.” Chirrut points at his face. “Just by looking at you.”

            For a moment, they don’t feel like teacher and student. They feel like two men, of the same age, having a conversation.

            Baze likes it.

            No.

            He continues walking, and Chirrut jogs to catch up. “So you’re back.”

            “How astute.”

            “So that means….”

            Baze barks. “Keep dreaming.”

            “You said—you said six months. It’s been six months.”

            “And you honestly think you’re ready?”

            He waits for an answer. It takes a surprising length of time to come. “Do you think I’m ready?” Chirrut asks, somber.

            “You asking me that tells me you don’t—“

            “No. I’m asking you, as my mentor. Do you think that I will be more ready than I am now?”

            There’s a question. If the question is if Chirrut is ready, as an acolyte, to go into the caves, then the answer is probably no. But if the question is if he’ll ever be more ready, the answer again is no.

            Perhaps it would be good for him. An encounter in the caves has changed many an acolyte. Baze was not amongst them, even though he was apprentice to the Protector, but he had classmates who were completely different people after they went into the crystal caverns.

            Baze smoothes his hand over his head a few times, considering his options. In all of this, one thing about Chirrut has been unwavering: he wants to be one with the Force. Of his class, Baze thinks that there are others who are more desperate for it. Zemall’s eyes practically go hungry when she hears about it. But Chirrut has stayed constant on this one thing and this one thing alone.

            It could do him good.

            “All right,” Baze says.

            Chirrut is staring at him. “Sincerely?”

            “But Chirrut, remember—not everyone—“

            “This is fantastic! I can’t wait to tell the others!” Chirrut turns and starts running in the other direction, calling back over his shoulder, “I’ll see you after dinner!”

            Baze gazes after him, and finishes, “Has a Force experience the first time.”

 

So the next week, he gathers the acolyte class together, along with their mentors, at the sunny base of the temple.

            “Acolytes,” Baze says, “you have made us very proud. With your hard work, your commitment—your seriousness about the tasks which you take.” Most of you, at least.

            He is in his ceremonial robes. The blue of the Crystal Guardian’s third eye overlays the bottom right of his black robes, and it’s the same shade as his wrappings. His glasses are strapped around his head, the lenses propped up on his forehead.

            All the acolytes are in their proper outfits too. None of the usual shortcuts. Even Chirrut has done his wrappings to perfection. He is almost bouncing, he’s so eager. The mentors wear their black and red robes, trying not to look nervous.

            “Today you take an important step. It is the first time any of you have viewed the kyber caves. For some of you, this will be the day your life changes.” Baze raises his shoulders. “For the rest of you, this will only be another day. And that’s fine. You cannot rush a connection to the Force. It comes to you not when you wish it, but when you are ready, and not a moment before. There have been years when no acolyte had a Force experience their first time in the cave. I didn’t, and now I’m Protector. This is not a test, and there is no right or wrong outcome. Only what you make of it.”

            He looks over their faces, and he can’t tell which of them, if any, will have an experience today. If he had to lay money? Streisa. She’s going to go far, that one.

            “This is what we’re going to do. You will enter the cave with me, one at a time. The sessions could last anywhere from a few minutes to an hour. This could take all afternoon. You will need to be patient. When you’re sitting, waiting in the antechamber, there will be no fidgeting, no discussion. Your energy could affect the experience of whoever is currently in the cave. Your mentors will be watching, but if I come back and find that a single one of you is not doing exactly as you are told, you will not return to the cave until it is time for your first duan, and possibly not even then.

            “The Guardian is generally very quiet, and very gentle. We’re not going to visit it today, but we will be visiting its home, and so we are going to be very respectful. However—the Guardian does not act according to our ways, but its own. If I say that it’s time to leave, it is time to leave. You will listen to everything I tell you to do, not only for your safety, but mine as well. If the Guardian wanted to, it could bring down the cave on our heads, and that would likely bring down the temple as well. We want to avoid that. Guardian Sahar and I were in the same acolyte class together, and were present for the last acolyte who disobeyed instructions on their first visit to the cave. Who knows what happened to that young man?” After a moment, Streisa hesitantly raises a hand. “Acolyte.”

            “He fell off the bridge and impaled himself on the kyber.”

            Nodding, Baze says, “Yes he did. Anyone here eager to repeat that experience? I thought not. All right. Follow me.”

            He leads them around the temple. They walk in procession, single file. Baze silently prays as they go, hoping they have good days. Hoping the ones who don’t aren’t stricken by disappointment.

            The doors to the antechamber are twice his height, images of crystal carved into the black doorway. He pushes them open, and lights flicker on. There are benches along both sides of the room. At the back is the open doorway leading into the dark.   

            “Everyone have a seat.” Baze goes to light the lantern. It comes to white life, buzzing softly. Lifting it off the wall, he has a look at the assembled acolytes. Not the ones who are desperate, no. And not the ones who are scared. He needs someone under control, so that the others calm down. After a moment’s thought, he raises a hand. “Wallene.”

            She looks up with surprise, glancing at Sahar, then she gets to her feet and walks quickly to him, her head bowed. “Protector,” she murmurs.

            From his peripheral vision, Baze registers the dismay on Chirrut’s face. He can’t worry about his acolyte right now. He has to concern himself with the whole class. Withdrawing another set of glasses from his robe, he hands it to her. “Put these on. It won’t be every time, but just this once, as a precaution.”

            She does as he’s told, then looks at him through the heavy black lenses.

            “Do you trust me?”

            “Yes, Protector.”

            He holds out a hand, and she takes it. “May the Force be with you.”

            He leads her into the cave.

 

They come out twenty minutes later. Wallene pulls off the glasses. Biting her lip glumly, she gives a shake of the head to the others.

            The Guardian did not so much as stir below. The crystals were silent, nor did they light. Instead, Baze and Wallene sat on the bridge the entire time, and talked about what her expectations were for her first duan.

            “Thank you, Protector,” Wallene says, holding the glasses out to him.

            He smiles encouragingly. “You did well. Next time will be easier.” She nods, and goes to sit down. Baze doesn’t miss the quick squeeze Chirrut gives her hand.

            Are the two of them—they sure as hell better not be.

            He can worry himself about that possible catastrophe another time. To distract himself, he chooses the person he’s really interested in. “Streisa.”

            The girl’s head shoots up. She looks like she’s going to be ill. She just stares at him, stuck to her seat.

            Baze waves her forward. “Come now. No one’s going to bite.”

            “Of course—“ She scurries over to him. “Sorry, Protector. Sorry.”

            The girl is trembling. She’s not that much bigger than Guela is, though she’s four years older. Swallowing, Streisa stands before him with lowered eyes.

            Baze takes a look at her head, then murmurs, “Let’s make these a little smaller, shall we?” He tightens the strap on the glasses, then puts them over her head. “Tell me if they’re too tight.”

            “They’re fine, Protector,” she whispers.

            He can’t help himself. He holds out his hands. After a moment, Streisa places her hands in his. Wrapping his fingers around hers, Baze bends down to look in her eyes. “There is nothing to fear. There is no right or wrong answer. Everything is going to be just fine. I’ll be with you every single moment.” He squeezes her small hands. “You are one with the Force, and the Force is with you.”

            Breathing deeply, Streisa echoes, “I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me.”

            “Good. Come along.”

            On a hunch, he leaves the lantern on the ground.

            They walk down the short set of stairs, almost immediately plunging into the blackness of the cave. Baze walks with his eyes closed, more comfortable that way. He’s not using his glasses. He just wears them to make the others feel more at ease.

            Streisa clings to his left hand with both of her own. “Are you all right, Acolyte?” he asks. He hears a tiny noise of affirmation, and he smiles.

            They get a few steps onto the bridge, and Baze feels the first hum. He stops, carefully turning around. When he opens his eyes, he fills with contentment. The cave is beginning to light, slowly, softly.

            “Look around you,” Baze murmurs.

            It takes a few seconds, but Streisa forces her eyes open. When she does, she gasps.

            They stand at the top of a cave forty meters high, and twice that in width. All around them, crystals grow upwards along the walls. Flickers of light are travelling through them, flutters and twinkles. Each one reflects off another crystal, gathering in strength.

            “Oh,” she breathes.

            Baze decides it’s safe. He reaches out, and puts the glasses onto her forehead. “There. You’ll see better like that.”

            “It’s—it’s so—“

            Below them, the creature stirs.

            Baze wraps a hand around Streisa’s arm, getting ready to pick her up and run if he must. But after a moment, the Crystal Guardian opens its jaws, and calls out once, a melancholy, longing song.

            As the crystals pick it up, Streisa suddenly shudders in his grasp. Baze looks at her. Even in the low light, he can see that her pupils have dilated. She looks shocked by something, not quite seeing him. Baze grins, watching her reaction. He feels it too.

            Her eyes find his, and she says, “Oh.”

            He nods, happy. “Yes.”

            The Force moves through them, amplified by the crystals. He can feel himself, he can feel her. He can feel the crystal song in his own heart. The song echoes around them, rising like a chorus. With every second, the light brightens.

            Streisa looks down at his hand on her arm, and laughs. “Look at—can you see—no, can you feel—?”

            “Yes,” he says, and he is grateful for this. It has been a long time since he saw someone be greeted by the cave like this on their first visit.

            Perhaps—perhaps she is the one. Perhaps she will be his apprentice.

            Like that, the cave fills with song and light. Streisa starts laughing, covering her mouth. She’s weeping. All Baze can do is smile. It feels strange on his face, but he could not stop himself for all the worlds. She reaches for his hands, and he takes them.

            It sounds like a hundred voices rising in harmony.

 

He carries Streisa into the chamber nearly an hour later, facing wide eyes. He has one arm under her legs, and she’s burrowed against his chest, worn out from the experience. Sahar is on her feet as soon as she sees them.

            “She’s all right,” Baze reassures before a word is spoken. Tenderly, he sets her down on the bench, her small body boneless. She’s barely conscious.

            As he cups a hand to the back of her head, gently slipping off the glasses, Guardian Willik asks, “What happened?”

            Suppressing the urge to beam, Baze answers, “The Force is strong with this little one.”

            As he moves back, Streisa catches his sleeve. “Protector,” she whispers. Her eyes are half shut. “Thank you. Thank you.”    

            He has been moved by the whole thing. There is no denying it. It’s the most positive experience he’s had in the caves with an acolyte since he took on the mantle of Protector. Bending down, Baze places a light kiss on the girl’s forehead. “Thank you, little one.”

            When he draws away, a tear falls from her closed eyes, but she smiles.

            Taking a deep breath, Baze says, “Zemall. You’re next.”

           

He goes through the rest of the acolytes, leaving his own until last. He is doing all he can to teach Chirrut patience, but somehow he thinks he might need the full power of the Force to do that.

            The only other acolyte to provoke a reaction from the kyber is Kine’nik. They tap their tusks a few times, and several of the crystals light, reflecting on them. They pat Baze’s knee, which he takes for a sign of pleasure, but he can’t be sure. None of the others, though, make the crystals so much as flicker.

            At last, he comes back into the chamber. It has been close to three hours, and when Baze last went in, Chirrut was beginning to look troubled. But now that he is the only one left, he is all smiles, looking to Baze hopefully.

            “Your turn,” Baze says, and Chirrut is on his feet immediately. He takes the glasses that Baze offers, quickly putting them on. “You stay with me. You stay on the path—“

            “Yes—“

            “Listen. You do exactly as I say, or you are never coming into these caves again. That is a promise.”

            Chirrut nods, vibrating with excitement.

            Baze feels a tickle at the back of his consciousness. Instinct. It is saying stop.

            The others have all gone in. They’ve been fine. Chirrut will be just fine too.

            Baze picks up the lantern, and holds his left hand out to Chirrut. “Come then.”

            Chirrut looks at his hand, not taking it for a moment. Then he smiles, and puts his hand in Baze’s. It fits quite nicely, his hand ever so slightly thinner than Baze’s.

            With something like dread pooling in his stomach, Baze turns, and carefully guides Chirrut through the short hallway, and down the staircase into the dark. He leads Chirrut down the stairs, and they come out on the ledge at the top of the cave.

            It hits him then. Like a note too low to be heard, but it rattles his teeth. For a moment, Baze wonders if he’s going to vomit.

            The caverns fill with blinding blue light as the Crystal Guardian throws open its blue eye, then raises its mouth to scream.

            Baze has reacted in a split second. He knocks them both to the ground, tossing the lamp aside in the process. He covers Chirrut with his body, shielding his head. “Keep your eyes shut!” he roars over the noise.

            “What’s happening?” Chirrut yelps beneath him.

            “Hold still!”

            His stomach drops when he hears the first crack. The crystal. The Guardian is breaking the crystal.

            “Close your eyes,” Baze commands, dragging Chirrut to his feet. “Close your eyes, hurry, hurry—“ He keeps his hands to Chirrut’s back, and his own eyes closed, knowing the way in the dark. He pushes Chirrut up the stairs.

            A moment later, they both trip into the antechamber, where everyone has risen to their feet in shock. One hand still protectively on Chirrut, Baze looks back the way they came. The cavern is bright blue, and even from here they can all hear the Crystal Guardian screaming.

            “What happened?” asks Guardian Grahm.

            I have no idea. “Everyone wait here. Move towards the door. If I say so, you all run.”

            “Baze—“        

            “If I say so, you run!” he yells.

            Pulling down his glasses, he jogs back into the chamber. Everything trembles with the strength of the creature’s upset. Baze can feel its emotions. A combination of anger, fear—disgust? The crystals have stopped breaking, but the creature is still letting out a terrible cry.

            Baze falls to his knees, and begins to pray. “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me, I am one with the Force and the Force is with me, I am one with the Force and the Force is with me—“

 

He prays for fifteen straight minutes before the creature settles, and the cavern goes silent and still.

            Baze is shaken. More than that, he’s shocked. He’s never seen the Crystal Guardian respond to someone like that so abruptly, not in all his years at the temple. They barely got beyond the stairs—they didn’t even reach the bridge.

            He can’t come back in here.

            No. He can’t.

            Gathering himself, Baze walks back up the stairs to the chamber. Everyone is still where he told them to be, near the door. Chirrut stands by himself, his brown eyes wide, and for the first time fearful.

            “What was that?” Zemall asks.

            He doesn’t know how to sugar-coat the truth. “Sometimes—we don’t know why—the Guardian reacts strongly to certain individuals. I don’t think it’s safe for anyone save myself to enter for the time being.”

            He can see the heartbreak on Chirrut’s face. His acolyte puts his head down, his throat working. Then he says gruffly, “Excuse me.” He turns, pushing his way through the others, and disappears through the doorway.

            Baze needs to go back inside. He needs to appease the creature. He’s looking at a good six hours of prayer, if not an unscheduled cycle.

            But he has more than the one responsibility now, doesn’t he.

            “Sahar,” Baze says, walking to the door, “watch the gateway. Send everyone back to the training grounds.”

            She calls his name, but Baze is already outside. He looks from side to side. In seconds, he finds Chirrut striding away, not the way they came, but towards the guards’ quarters, where the monks never go. They keep building supplies there too. It would probably be a good place to hide.

            Baze runs after him, under the shadow of the temple. He calls Chirrut’s name, but his acolyte does not stop. He’s not going to sulk about this. Baze refuses to let him drape himself in self pity after all these months.

            He emerges into the late afternoon light. Catching up, Baze says, “Chirrut—“

            He takes the man’s arm, turning him around to start lecturing him—running away is never an option, nor is ignoring your mentor when he calls your name—but Baze is shocked into silence. Chirrut is fighting back tears, and failing.

            “May….” Chirrut swallows, gazing down at the ground. “May I have a few moments alone?”

            He doesn’t know what to do. What is he supposed to do when an acolyte has faced such a disappointment? “Chirrut—this doesn’t mean anything—“

            With a hiss, Chirrut throws off his hand. “How can you say that? How am I supposed to do anything when I can’t even get inside the fucking cave? I won’t be able to sit my duans, I won’t rise to the next level, it’s all been for nothing! I’m such an idiot, I thought I was supposed to be here—“

            Baze doesn’t think, he just acts.

            He grabs Chirrut by the sides of his head, forcing him to be still and to look into his eyes. “Listen to me,” Baze says calmly. “Not everything will be easy. Most things aren’t—“

            “This is impossible—“

            Shaking him once, Baze insists, “It isn’t. If you want it, it will come. But you must work for it, and it might not take days, it might not take months, it might not even take years. It could be the work of a lifetime. You are strong enough for that.”

            Closing his eyes, Chirrut says, “No, I’m not—“             

            “Yes you are. I believe you are.” Chirrut grimaces, and a tear courses down his cheek. He brushes it away, angrily. His whole body is taut and tense. Baze looks at him, and sighs. “I was eleven years old when I killed someone for the first time.”

            Chirrut opens his eyes. “What?”

            “Vendor, on the street. He caught me stealing food. So I grabbed his blaster, and I shot him in the head. I was arrested about five minutes later. Do you know what they said about me? Monster. Born bad. Not worth anyone’s time. Will never be anything. Throw that one away. He’s worthless. And that man was not the last I killed. Not by a long shot. I thought I was beyond redemption. I believed all the things that people said. When I came here, no one thought I’d be anything. But one man did. One man believed in me, and ten years later—my life is more wonderful than I could ever imagine it being, than I could have ever deserved. The Force does not work along the time tables we give it. We give ourselves over to the Force, to the belief that others have in us, and that is how we grow. That is how we become the people we are meant to be.” Baze frowns. Using his thumb, he wipes a tear from under Chirrut’s eye. “Do you understand what I’m trying to say to you? This won’t happen the way you believe it will. It will happen the way it must. Trust in me. I will take you where you need to be. Not where you want, but where you need to be. Tell me you understand. Say, Baze, I understand.”

            Warm brown eyes merely blink at him a moment.

            Baze takes a breath. “Just this once, you have my leave to use my name, until you earn it. Now tell me that you understand.”

            Drawing in a long breath, Chirrut says, “Baze, I understand.”

            Leaning towards him, Baze asks, “Do you trust me?”

            “Of course I trust you.”

            Baze sets their foreheads together. “Then no tears. This is a set back, and nothing more. There is no one way to the Force. I did not find my way through the caves. Nor shall you.” His hand to the back of Chirrut’s head, Baze reminds him, “I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me.”

            Finally, he feels Chirrut begin to settle. He echoes Baze’s posture, putting his own hand to the back of Baze’s head. “I am one with the Force,” he murmurs, “and the Force is with me.”

            Baze breathes deeply through his nose, prompting Chirrut to do the same. For a moment, they simply breathe together, underneath the light of the waning day.

            At last, Baze steps back, asking, “Good?” Chirrut nods, with a weak smile. He looks far more grounded than a moment before. “Let’s get back to the others.” Baze puts a hand to Chirrut’s back, gently pushing him forwards. “Have some dinner, talk with your friends, do some reading. Tomorrow we start again.”

            With a sigh, Chirrut agrees, “Tomorrow we start again.” He glances over. “Thank you.”

            Baze pats him on the back. “It’s my pleasure.”

 

When Baze gets home, it’s nearly ten. His knees hurt, and his back isn’t much better.

            Tomorrow he’ll have to explain what happened to the Master. Won’t that be a treat. He managed to avoid it by spending the entire evening praying in the cave, but she’ll expect him in her office as early as possible to explain why the whole temple trembled.

            It’s not a good omen. Baze has no idea why the creature reacted with such hostility to Chirrut. He tried asking, but the creature rarely responds to questions through language. When he approached, the Crystal Guardian began stomping its feet on the ground, and Baze quickly retreated across the bridge.

            His prayers weren’t much help either. All he felt was antipathy. The creature does not want Chirrut in the cave. Baze has the impression that it doesn’t want Chirrut on the moon. There’s no knowing why. Maybe it sees something in Chirrut that Baze can’t.

            What could be so terrible?

            It’s not a good time for this. He really shouldn’t.

            Oh, to hell with it. It’s been an awful day.

            He walks tiredly to the kitchen, and presses the black out button for his windows. He sits down on the ground, fingers finding the seam in the ground. Finding the notch, he presses on it three times.

            The compartment pops open.

            Reaching inside, Baze takes out his lightbow. It’s been a long time since he even touched it. It feels good in his hands. It’s the traditional weapon of the Guardians of the Whills. He constructed it after his seventh duan, when he became a Guardian. It’s folded down to conserve space. With a flick of the wrist, the apparatus springs open. However, it does not power on.

            He smiles at the stubborn old thing.

            Folding it back down, Baze sets it aside. With a touch of guilt, he reaches into the compartment, and lifts out the end of the large blaster. It’s part of a heavy repeating cannon. It belonged to Guevar, Guela’s father. It is the only thing that Baze has kept, all these years. Hidden away, under the floor.

            It has to be. He’s reconfigured the power cells for kyber. If anyone found out—if they knew he had experimented with the crystal—there would be no end of lectures. They would probably put him in the box for a few weeks, or they would if he wasn’t Protector. And the weapon—it would surely be dismantled. Baze can not allow that to happen. It’s all he has left of Guevar, save the girl.

            He’s not strong enough to carry it. He has the body of a monk. In hand to hand combat, he has few equals, but he’s a vegetarian whose form has been designed for endurance in prayer, not battle. If he put the tank on his back, he’d probably last about thirty minutes before needing a breather.

            It’s a shame. That he’ll never use it. He’s a good shot—no, he’s a phenomenal shot, modesty be damned. But there aren’t many opportunities to use a heavy repeating cannon in the temple. The Force keep it that way, too. He worries about calling the war down on their heads, with thoughts like this.

            Not that he’s so important. He’s just another atom, part of a greater organism.

            He misses Guevar in that moment, with an ache that is unreasonable. He was so young. And it was just a crush. But Guevar was kind to him. He would have made a good mentor. He was a good mentor. It was because of him that Baze came to this place, and stayed here.

            Then he had T’kal. Another person who saw his worth.

            They’re gone now, though. In a sense, Baze is alone again. That’s how the Protector is supposed to be. No worldly attachments.

            He should take the rifle apart, and throw away the scrap. If he was a better person, that’s what he would do.

            Instead, he gingerly places it back into the compartment, along with the lightbow. He is very careful as he puts the cover back in place.

 

He’s not been asleep that long when he wakes. Baze grunts, sensing another’s presence.

            “Protector,” comes an urgent whisper.

            The door’s open, and the cold’s coming in. “What’s wrong?” he asks, rubbing his eyes.

            When he looks up, he finds Ula kneeling at his side. She’s distressed, pulling her lower lip into her mouth. “I didn’t know who else to go to—I was worried about Kine’nik. They didn’t take what happened in the caves well. None of them did, save Streisa. So I went to their quarters, to check on them. And they’re gone.”

            Now Baze is awake. “What?” he says, sitting up.

            Looking nauseous, Ula continues, “Their things are still there, but they’ve gone. And so is Wallene—and so is Chirrut.”         

            Baze has ten years of training under his belt. It has been said by more than one of his fellows that he is the most devout of their order. He is known for his patience, and his composure in the face of difficulty.

            All that being said, nothing stops Baze from exclaiming, “Son of a bitch.”

Chapter Text

Stalking towards the gate, wearing his plain black robes, his hood up, Baze takes a good hard look at the two guards standing on either side of the door. They both wear tan jumpsuits, with red armour over top. He recognizes the woman—she helped him home once—but he is unfamiliar with the man, who’s quickly standing at Baze’s approach.

            “Hey,” the guard says, “our job is to keep people out, not keep people in.”

            Glaring at him, Baze orders, “Open the door.”

            Pulling a face, the man does as he’s told. The gate, twenty feet across, cracks open in the middle, opening out onto an alley. It’s been two years since Baze left the compound. He hasn’t had to leave. He hasn’t wanted to.

            “Did they say where they were going?”

            The man scratches the back of his neck. “Uh—not exactly—“

            “Dal,” the woman says. She looks up at Baze with apologetic eyes. “They asked where a good bar was. He said Movari’s.”

            Baze is very still for a moment. He turns back to the man, who looks queasy. “You sent three acolytes…who are not allowed out of the compound…to Movari’s.” As the man opens his mouth to protest, Baze steps closer, cutting him off. Voice a low growl, his voice a promise, Baze says, “Your bags need to be packed by the time I return. Or I will break…every bone…that exists inside your skin.”

            He brushes past the guard, striding out into the alley.

 

He moves through the streets like a ghost. There aren’t that many people out, but those who see him coming swiftly step out of the way, going silent at his approach. The streets are cold, and everyone has moved inside, doing what they will.

            Baze walks with purpose, anger curdling inside. He should have known better. He should have fucking known better.

            Movari’s is visible from three blocks away. It is loud, and lit up with spotlights. There aren’t many places to go for pleasures of the flesh in Jedha City. It’s a place for pilgrims, for spiritual seekers. However, when they do concede to their baser natures, they go as low as possible. Movari’s is willing to accommodate.

            The closer he gets, the more people he meets, drunks of all species who laugh and call out to him. Baze ignores them, and the pounding bass of the music he walks towards just makes the vein in his forehead throb.

            There’s a line to get inside, but he walks right up to the doorway. There’s a man blocking the way, a head taller than Baze, and about a hundred pounds heavier. He puts out a hand, saying, “Eh, spirit, you stay in line just like—“

            Baze reaches up, pushing back his hood, and the man silences. Gazing into the man’s eyes without blinking, Baze says, “I have three acolytes inside. Do you want to try and stop me?”

            The man steps aside, immediately submissive. “Enter, Guardian.”

            Baze brushes past him, and into the bar.

            He’s quickly plunged into a world of darkness and flashing lights. Bodies. Bodies moving too close, reaching out. He moves through them, struggling to hear himself think amongst this chaos. He’s unused to this level of noise.

            I am one with the Force and the Force is with me, I am one with the Force and the Force is with me, I am one with—

            A hand slides down his front. Without even looking, Baze grabs it and twists it back, shattering the wrist. He hears a squeal, but he continues walking deeper into the club, searching for the missing three.

            This one might be trouble. A man in a slick white suit is walking directly towards him. Everything about him is artificial, with a sheen. He looks more plastic than man to Baze.

            “Guardian,” he says. “Welcome to Movari’s. What’s the occasion?”

            Baze says, “I have three acolytes in here. I get them back in the next five minutes, or you’re going to have fifty monks in your bar, every night, not ordering drinks, and judging everyone with their eyes.”

            After a moment, the man smiles. “Of course, Guardian. Anything for the temple.” He gestures with his hand. “Let’s see if we can locate them, shall we?” Baze follows him, glowering at anyone who dares approach.

            They emerge into a large room that’s basically a receptacle for sin. Hypothetically, one could call it a dance floor. To Baze, it looks more like an orgy. At a glance, he can see exposed genitals, and one trio having enthusiastic sex in the corner. His skin crawls to look at this place.

            The Force is not here. These people struggle for connection, but they repudiate it with their actions. These people are lost. They don’t deserve to be found.

            The man gestures for him to follow, and leads Baze up onto a stage, where a man is playing some massive electronic instrument. Leaning over, he yells, “Do you see them?”

            Baze looks past the multitude of sins being played out before him. Wallene and Kine’nik are relatively easy to locate. Hard to miss someone who’s bright pink. Kine’nik is on Wallene’s shoulders, and they’re jumping up and down with the music.

            That’s two. Where’s the third?

            When Baze finds Chirrut, his face hardens into a painful grimace. His acolyte is in the middle of the mass, his arms above his head. He has a drink in one hand. Alcohol. Great. Another strike. Chirrut is dancing with slightly drunken abandon.

            Then he turns, laying a sloppy kiss on a man pressing up against him.

            Baze’s stomach turns. And anger becomes rage.

            “I see them,” he growls.

            “Excellent!” The man pulls a thin piece of tech from his pocket, and points it at the ceiling.

            Simultaneously, the music stops, and the house lights go up. The crowd turns, letting out a collective sound of disappointment.

            Baze does not look at the three he’s come for. He just looks over the crowd, and says, calmly, but in a voice that carries, “Any acolyte who doesn’t want to be on the first ship off world tomorrow will be outside in thirty seconds.”

            He turns and walks away.

            I am one with the Force and the Force is with me. I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.

            I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.

            He gets outside first, and seconds later, the acolytes stumble after him. They’re all in civilian garb. Baze doesn’t want to know where they got it. Chirrut is dressed all in black, wearing suspenders. He looks frightened, as do the others.

            Baze wants to scream at them. He can’t believe they would be so reckless, so stupid.

            “If you so much as say a word until we return to the compound, you will never set foot in the temple again. I want to be very clear about that.” He looks over their faces. Flush with drink, struggling to catch their breath. Baze swallows, and says, “You have behaved—so selfishly. Not only have you dishonoured yourselves, with this behaviour. You dishonour the temple. You dishonour the order. You have brought shame and embarrassment to the mentors who have counselled you, who have cared for you. And for what?” He points at the bar. “What does this bring you?”

            “Protector—“ Wallene protests.

            He sets his eyes on her. “Gone,” he says. He gestures to the alley that passes the bar. “Go where you will. You are no longer an acolyte. You are nothing to me.” He gestures to Chirrut and Kine’nik. “You two. Back to the temple. I hear a word out of either of you, you’ll face the same consequence.” Baze nods to Wallene. “Your belongings will be mailed to your last place of residence.” No one’s moving. He barks at Chirrut and Kine’nik, “Move!”

            Startling, they inch away from Wallene. They can’t believe he’s doing this, that it’s happening.

            “Protector—“

            The second she touches his arm, Baze whirls around. He slams the butt of his palm into her sternum, and she goes flying backwards. The others cry out, but Chirrut actually bites into his lips before he can say a word.

            Baze shakes his head at Wallene. She’s lying on the ground, hiccupping for breath. “You are a traitor to the order, to the Whills, and to the Force. You have no place here, and you will not speak to me. You knew the rules, you chose to break them. You are now nothing to us.” He turns to Chirrut and Kine’nik. The short acolyte has wisely distanced themselves from Wallene. But Chirrut is clearly torn, his body language showing that he yearns to help her up. Unsympathetic, Baze says, “Touch her and share her fate. Come now, say nothing, and you might be spared.”

            The struggle is palpable. Chirrut’s mouth works. He looks between them both, breathing quickly through his nose.

            Then, shamed, he puts his head down and moves to join Kine’nik.

            Baze nods. “Follow me,” he growls, and leads them back to the temple.

 

One two three four five six seven eight nine ten.

            Baze counts his fingers. They’re splayed on his thighs. It was something he did as a child to calm himself down. Count his fingers, over and over. Maybe that’s why praying came so easily to him as an adult. The same words, over and over, comfortable repetition.

            His insides are swimming. He did not sleep. How could he? He had to figure out how to make something of this mess that’s been made.

            He’s not allowing himself to be angry anymore. He must deal with what’s in front of him. Emotions are a distraction from the real work.

            I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.

            One two three four five six seven eight nine ten.

            The doors open. Erein bows lightly. “She’ll see you now.”

            Deep breath in. Deep breath out.

            Pride is a distraction. The Force is what matters.

            Baze stands, and follows Erein into the room.

            The Master’s office is a little larger than his house. Her desk sits in the middle of the recessed floor. Old tapestries hang here and there, but they don’t fit with the black walls. It always feels like a cold place in here. Devoid of emotion.

            Master Yamari sits at her desk, typing. “Protector,” she says without looking up.

            This is a test. A test of his capabilities as a monk, as a Guardian, as a human being. He must rise above his own pride.

            Baze walks down the two steps, and does not pause. He goes down on his knees, and lowers his head to the floor. He clasps his hands above his head, remembering to breathe steadily.

            There’s a surprised pause from the Master, but she recovers quickly. “This is interesting. I’ve seen this many times from Gi, but never you. I wasn’t sure if you knew how.”

            “I must beseech forgiveness from you, Master. I have failed you, and the order.”

            Another few seconds pass by. It’s early. Baze has been sitting outside the office since three in the morning. She hasn’t heard yet. “In what way?”

            “I must take responsibility for my acolyte. He left the compound last night in the company of two others. They drank alcohol. I collected them, but the one was disrespectful. I forbid her from returning to the temple. I take complete responsibility for the actions of my acolyte. Any dishonour he has brought the order is because of my failings as an instructor.”

            He hears the chair turning, but Baze keeps his eyes on the ground. It’s black, with grains of sand embedded in it. “Which other acolytes were involved?”

            “Kine’nik and Wallene. Wallene will not be returning.”

            She says nothing, but he can feel her anger. He hears her tapping fingertips on the desk. “I’ll assume he was the instigator.”

            “I do not know, Master. I confess, I was upset with them. I sent Chirrut and Kine’nik to their quarters without further discussion.”

            “This is…not ideal.”

            “No, Master.”

            “You had to get rid of Wallene, didn’t you.”

            “Master?”

            “We had to be rid of one of them to send a message, and you couldn’t let it be yours, could you.”

            He briefly closes his eyes. “She disobeyed a direct order, and she grabbed me. It was not a matter of deciding which I liked the most. I will remind you, Master, that as Protector, I already have a full schedule outside of mentoring an acolyte. If I was going to get rid of anyone, it would have been—“

            “Enough.”

            Baze shuts up. He wonders. If Chirrut had spoken last night, what would he have done? Would he have let it slide, like so many other times? It’s apparent to him now—he has been much too easy on Chirrut. He tried to follow T’kal’s example, tried to use a light touch. But Chirrut is not going to be Protector, he’s going to be a Guardian.

            He might be a Guardian. If he’s lucky.

            “So that’s why Ula is outside as well.” The Master pushes herself to her feet, walking away. She stands so still that Baze can’t even hear her breathe. With a sigh, Master Yamari says, “We cannot afford to set anymore loose. Our numbers—foolish, selfish children.”

            He couldn’t agree more. Chirrut might be his age, but Baze feels like a lifetime separates them.

            “They’ll have to be punished.” He hears her sucking on her lips. “A week in the box for the both of them.”

            “Master, I said I take responsibility for his actions.”

            “Yes, I heard you—“

            “I should be punished, not him.”

            Incredulous, the Master says, “You want to be in the box for a week?”

            Swallowing, Baze thinks, no, I certainly do not. “When I was in my third year, I drank alcohol, and I was caught. I expected punishment. T’kal took it for me. It was more effective. I never incurred another infraction. Punishment can be borne. Shame cannot.”

            “Malbus—be serious. Îmwe will never be a Guardian, and he’s too self absorbed to see you going into the box as anything but good fortune. He’ll think he got away with something.”

            “If he’ll be a decent Guardian, he won’t. And I should be punished. His failing is my fault. I am not a good teacher, not a good mentor. It makes sense that I bear this, not him.” Baze sighs, and sits up. He looks at Yamari. She’s standing with one arm around herself, chewing on the thumbnail of her other hand. “Admit it. You’d love to see me in the box for a week.”

            Her mouth twitches.

            “Regardless,” the Master says. “At some point, we must come to an agreement about what is to be done about Îmwe.”

            “Yes.” Baze inhales through his nose. “If Palasat does not think he is ready by the time Comra becomes a Guardian, we’ll cut him loose. No matter our numbers.”

            The Master thinks about it. Then she nods. She walks over to the desk, pressing a button. “I need two guards to my office, please. They’ll be escorting Protector Malbus to the box.”

            Of course. They’re going to make a production of this. They have to. “What?” the voice on the other end says.

            “You heard me.”

            Baze says, “If we wait fifteen more minutes, everyone will be leaving breakfast and going to the training grounds. More people will see me go in then.”

            The Master sits down, saying offhandedly, “I never figured you for a martyr.”

            “I do what I must,” Baze replies.

 

They do not take his arms. For that, at least, Baze is grateful. He walks in front of the two guards, his eyes on a point in the distance.

            He ignores the people who stop to look, who murmur. He is used to being looked at.

            They walk him through the middle of the crowd leaving the temple for the training grounds, as instructed by Master Yamari. As was accepted by him when he devised this punishment.

            He deserves this. He has not been a good teacher. Anyone would have been better. Chirrut has shamed him. Best that the humiliation be as public as possible. Baze will remember this every time he has to interact with Chirrut from this moment forward.

            People call his name, asking what’s going on, but Baze keeps walking. The guards are both heavily armed, befitting his status as dangerous. He certainly has no plans to make a fuss, but were he ever to really need a guard, these two wouldn’t be nearly enough.

            They come outside, and almost immediately Baze is faced with the box. Right now it just looks like a cargo container with grey walls. But that will change once he’s inside.

            The guard to his left, a tall Twi’lek man, says, “Food and water comes in twice a day, at eight and six. Put anything dirty into the drawer when you’re done. Remember, everyone can see what you do except for the toilet—“

            “I’ve been here ten years,” Baze sighs. “I know the rules of the box.”

            There’s a commotion from behind them. Baze doesn’t turn. He knows what it is.

            “No!” a voice yells from far back in the crowd. “No, I was the one—I’m the one—“

            “Can we speed this up?”

            The guard shrugs, tapping in the combination for the door. “If that’s what you want. Any questions?”

            Baze shakes his head, and steps inside. The door closes behind him.

            For a moment, he stands in the cool, dry dark. There’s a single source of light overhead, through a small hole in the middle of the ceiling. The box is about fifteen feet long, and six feet wide. About eight feet high. A stained mattress lies on the ground. A small cubicle hides the toilet.

            Faint, he hears a humming sound, and the lights in the box rise. It’s not much. Just enough so that they can see him on the outside. It’s a trick of the walls. He can’t see out, but they can see in. The box is soundproofed, so he’ll hear nothing from the outside.

            And here he’ll stay for a week.

            He lets nothing show on his face. Public shaming, and a chance to pray with complete focus. He can work with that.

            Baze shrugs out of his robe, carefully brushing any dust from it. Next, he takes off his shoes. The ground is cold under his feet, cold even by Jedhan standards. So he lays down on the mattress. If one can call it that. It might be more comfortable to sleep on the dirt floor.

            Fanning his robe overtop of himself, Baze thinks about how many people might be watching him right now. Embarrassment rears its head, and he sighs.

            “I’m one with the Force,” he murmurs, and shuts his eyes.

 

When he wakes, he spends the rest of his first day praying. He sits with his hands cradled in his lap, his eyes closed, and he focus on the Crystal Guardian.

            He sleeps again.

           

On the second day, he strips down to his pants. Stretching first, he murmurs the song of Kalalei under his breath. Then he remembers—no one can hear him. So he says it, his own voice the only thing he hears.

            Once he’s limbered up, he gets into cal tras pose, knees on the ground, back arched down. He raises his back, then down again. When he rises, he folds backwards, until his hands are on the ground, and his body forms a circle. He breathes. That’s the most important part of capradi.

            With a push of the hands, he lifts his legs, until he’s upside down.

            I wonder how long I could hold position on one hand.

            Scowling, he instead twists and turns, doing the standard movements of cal traste, third level. He intends to get to sixth level within the next two hours.

            By the end of the day, he has reached seventh level, and held it for an hour.

 

The third day, he has two hours of silent prayer. He ignores the food sitting in the drawer. It’s grain mush. Not exactly appetizing. He waits until he’s recited the ballad of Ch’na’to in his head before eating.

            He alternates between exercise and prayer for the rest of the day. He does push ups and sit ups, gets to seventh level in cal traste again.

            He thinks little of the outside world.

 

It’s on the fourth day that Baze begins to feel the smallness of the room.

            He was born and raised on Jedha. He’s used to huge skies and space. He needs room to move about in, and this room—it’s suddenly very, very small.

            He lied to me. He put me in here.

            Scowling, Baze tells himself that he put himself here. This is his punishment, for being a poor teacher. For being naïve, and thinking that his acolyte could be trusted. His acolyte doesn’t need to be trusted, he needs to be broken. It’s how the other Guardians have done it for centuries. He can’t be T’kal. He wasn’t born with a light touch.

            You’re getting irritable because of the claustrophobia. Calm down.

            Calm down. How is he supposed to do that in this place—this small, poorly lit place—

            They can see you.

            Baze inhales through his nose and exhales through his mouth.

            He must be stronger than this. He can exist in the cave for a week at a time. He can outfight any person on this compound, if it came to it. This is not bragging. This is remembering his accomplishments, so that he doesn’t go mad during his short stay in this place.

            “You are the Protector of the Crystal Guardian,” Baze reminds himself. “There is one person in the entire universe who can say that.”

            The smallness of the room means nothing. His mind does not exist in this room. He is one with the Force, and the Force is in all things.

            Baze looks up. There are two rods across the ceiling. He doesn’t know their purpose, but they look sturdy enough. He can use them.

            He backs up into the corner, studying the space. Yes. This is doable.

            He inhales, then runs the length of the box. Jumping, he leverages himself off the side of the compartment, and spinning, kicks off the other wall with his left foot. He’s able to get himself enough height that he can grab onto one of the rods. It doesn’t even creak with his weight.

            Taking hold with the other hand, Baze concentrates, and lifts his body, slowly bringing up his legs. He hooks his ankles over the bar, then gets all the way to his knees.

            Good.

            He hangs upside down for a moment, letting the blood rush to his head. T’kal always said, if the view doesn’t suit you, look at it another way.

            Baze puts his hands behind his head, then starts doing sit ups.

 

On the fifth day, he prays, and works out, and it’s not enough.

            It’s the feeling of being trapped. Stars, not the feeling—he is trapped. He can’t get out of here. He literally cannot get out of—

            Focus.

            I am one with the Force and the Force is with me. I am—

            For fuck’s sake.

            Baze covers his eyes with both hands. He has to get a hold of himself.

            He’s angry. He’s so damned angry. At himself, at Chirrut—at the Master, for putting him in this position in the first place. He’s not suppose to teach, this isn’t what he’s supposed to be doing—

            You do whatever you’re told—

            Why?

            Oh, this is dangerous. This is dangerous, and the old voices—the voices that want to know, that have so many questions, they’re starting to rear their ugly heads.

            Right now, he thinks that if he tries to pray, he’ll give up in frustration, and that seems worse than not starting at all. He has to do something to get rid of this energy. People are watching. It’s mid day, there must be people about.

            Baze sighs. Fine. Fine, if he has to.

            He goes to where he set his wrappings, all coiled up. Picking up the one, he takes a look at it. Then he rips it in half with his teeth.

            Using the one side, he wraps up his knuckles of his left hand. That done, he moves onto his right. It leaves the ends of his fingers stiff, but his hands protected. It’s been a long time since he’s done this. He won’t be surprised if he hurts himself.

            Baze goes to the short end of the box and gives it an experimental tap with his fingertips. It gives a dull thud. He’ll be more likely to chip his own bone than put a dent in the wall.

            Putting up his hands, he bounces lightly on his feet. Oh. After a decade, it comes back far too easily.

            He hits the wall with a half open hand, so fast the motion can barely be seen. He starts slow, relatively. He hits the wall with open hands and loosely closed fists. The first time he strikes his knuckles, it hurts. Not the slow burning ache of hours on his knees, or the strain of capradi. This is a short, sharp shock.

            Memories.

            It’s been so long. A part of him thinks, too long. And that’s dangerous. It is so dangerous, and it would be so easy to fall back into old patterns.

            Just until I get out of this box, Baze promises himself.

 

Sixth day, his hands hurt, and it’s a welcome distraction. He sits in the corner, flexing his fingers again and again to feel the sting. And to make sure they’re not broken.

            “You can be anything you want,” Baze remembers. He smiles faintly. He doesn’t realize how bitter it looks.

            When he thinks he can take it, he gets back up and returns to the wall. Muscles that haven’t been used in too long protest, but he lifts his arms, thinking of all the bouts he won in his teens. More than that, he thinks of the ones he lost. Those were the ones that taught him something.

            He beats the wall until he bleeds through his wrappings.

 

The seventh day, he makes himself sit in the center of the room, and he prays.

            Give me the strength to be better.

            Give me the strength to channel this anger.

            I am not this person. I am better than this.

            I will recommit myself to my training, my devotions. I will not be distracted by worldly things. I am Protector of the Crystal Guardian. I have one purpose in this life. No other.

            I am one with the Force.

            The last words stick in his throat, and he finds himself opening his eyes. “I am one with the Force,” Baze says firmly.

            Why does it sound untrue?

 

The door opens early the next morning. The same Twi’lek who put him in is letting him out. Baze has been awake for several hours. He is more than ready to go, dressed, with his shoes on.

            “Time’s up.”

            Baze feels the urge to say something sardonic, but he lets the cliché slide. He’s one of the most well respected people in the temple. He has to get whatever is happening to him under control. Standing, he walks to the door, his head down.

            It is still early morning. The sun is just risen over the horizon. It’s not like when he comes up from the cave. He does not need to shield his eyes.

            Baze takes a moment solely for himself. He tilts his head back, and appreciates how truly gargantuan the sky is. What a beautiful universe in which they live. The morning is cool and dry, and he can’t hear voices. They’ve let him out before everyone is finished breakfast. Interesting choice. He would have made sure that everyone could see him leave.

            The truth, though, is that he’s grateful to go home, unaccosted.

            Baze turns to leave, and comes up against an unwelcome sight.

            Chirrut is on the ground, on his knees. His forehead is pressed to the dirt, and he says nothing, his hands clasped above his head.

            Baze considers him a moment. Then he walks around him without a word.

            He gets about twenty steps before he hears the patter of feet on the ground behind him. Baze doesn’t even think about it. Turning, he snatches Chirrut’s wrist out of the air, a second before the man can grab his arm.

            Considering the man’s brown eyes, Baze lets numbness sink in over the swirl of emotions he’s dealt with the last few days. This man means nothing.

            Still, his grip tightens, and he sees Chirrut’s mouth twist at the pain, but the man holds steady.

            “Protector,” Chirrut says.

            Baze tosses him off, and keeps walking.

            Chirrut dogs him, saying, “Hit me. I can take it. If it makes you happy, hit me as many times as you need to.”

            “That would be futile.”

            “My father did it plenty, it worked for him—“

            “Yes, but he cared about you. I do not. Striking you would imply that you or your actions mean something to me.”

            There’s a short pause, then Chirrut says quietly, “I understand I’ve upset you—I would have taken the punishment, you didn’t have to do that—“

            “I did. Whatever fault lies with you is your own to deal with. My fault is that I believed I could do as my mentor did, show you the Force as he did me. It was hubris. You are not capable of learning, and I am not capable of teaching.”

            He hears a short exhale from Chirrut. When he speaks, it’s as though he’s working to keep his voice steady. “This is not true. You’re a fine teacher. I—I made a mistake. Would you stop and look at me a moment?” When Baze doesn’t stop, Chirrut sighs with frustration. “Baze—“

            That stops him dead.

            Turning on Chirrut, Baze puts his face about ten centimeters from the acolyte’s. “I did not give you leave to use my name. Once—I told you, once. That is not an honour you have earned, nor ever will again. My name is for those who respect me, who I respect, and you are neither.”

            Eyes lowered, Chirrut murmurs, “I’m sorry, Protector—I’m sorry.”

            Just looking at him, Baze feels emotions trying to crest his surface. Shoving them down, Baze says, “I do not trust easily. It is a fault, and a strength. I allowed myself to trust you, and you were unworthy. I learn from my mistakes, unlike you.” He leans closer, until he knows his breath can be felt on Chirrut’s face. The acolyte closes his eyes. “If you have questions, ask Palasat. I have better things to do than humour a silly rich boy who’s not content to waste only his time, but everyone else’s as well. If you prefer otherwise, I suggest doing everyone a favour and leaving now. In the meantime, stay out of my way.”

            He walks away.

            Chirrut calls, “I’ll prove you wrong,” but of course he does, and Baze doesn’t believe him for a second.

Chapter Text

Narrowing his eyes, Baze decides that these are not the crystals he’s looking for. They’re far too small, too uniform. No, he needs something a little more impressive.

            Loosening the knot, he lowers himself ten feet down the cave wall. When he gets to a new location, he ties himself off. He hangs a good fifteen meters off the ground, above a cluster of stalactite crystals that would surely kill him were he to fall on them.

            The Guardian lets out a soft moan, and Baze says, “Hush, great one. All is well.”

            He doesn’t know that. For all he knows, the Crystal Guardian could be watching some terrible battle occurring light years away. But for now, here, they are just fine.

            Baze is wearing dark vision glasses. They study the purity of the crystal, but that’s not really what he’s concerned with. He’ll know the right one when he finds it.

            He runs his fingers over the sharp, flat planes of the kyber. Some of them shimmer gently under his fingers. Others are completely still and unreactive. They will not sing for him.

            And that is fine as well. He’s not looking for himself.

            He finds one that’s cracked. It’s not even long as his pinkie finger. Getting his knife out, he gently chisels it out of the wall. Once it’s loose, he plucks it free. It tinkles slightly, going a pale pink. With a smile, he slips it inside his shirt. With a little work, he can use it in his cooker. “Thank you,” he tells the universe.

            Baze continues his survey of the wall, stopping every now and then to tap at crystals with the end of his knife. He listens to the sound they make. Every time, he shakes his head, and keeps looking. He’ll know the right one.

            Below, the Guardian lets out a noise that sounds suspiciously like a sneeze. Twisting on the ropes, Baze looks down at it. “Are you ill, great one?” The Guardian just plops down on its belly.

            From up here, Baze can see through its skin. Its spine glows the same pale blue of its third eye. Baze is uncertain how the Guardian truly works, and it’s not his place to ask. One does not question the Force. One exists within it.

            He comes across a tiny piece of kyber, no longer than an inch. But it’s split off in two directions, perfectly symmetrical. “Oh, yes,” Baze murmurs.

            Running a fingertip along it, he watches a small streak of light follow his touch. When he flicks one of the ends, it bursts inside with blue. Perfect. Entirely perfect.

            Painstakingly, Baze spends the next fifteen minutes detaching the little piece of kyber. “Thank you,” he says. “For your many gifts. Not least of all her. Not least of all this.” When it begins to jiggle, he gingerly holds it between thumb and middle finger, working it free.

            Once it’s loose, he wraps his hand around it. Lifting it to his ear, he listens as it whispers a soft song. He smiles. Yes. He has chosen well.

            Putting the kyber into a pouch, he secures it in his pocket, then begins the climb back up to the ledge.

            Baze collects the ropes and pulley, putting them away. He pushes the apparatus back into its space in the wall, then pulls off his glasses. He puts them in their cubby. After a quick stretch, he walks up to the antechamber.

            His robes are waiting for him. Slipping into them, he ties his belt around his waist. With a frown, he pulls out his knife, slipping it into the inner pocket of his robe. Better.

            “May the Force be with you,” he says, to no one in particular, and walks out the doors.

            It’s getting warm. Well, warm as it ever is on Jedha. He could comfortably walk without his robes, and he’s taken out all the windows in his home. Still no rain, though, but it will come.

            He stands on the steps of the temple, taking in his surroundings.

            He sees the class of first year acolytes, walking away from the guards’ quarters. Baze has no idea why they’d be there, but Ula is with them.

            Baze does not give them anymore than a glance. He has had nothing to do with the acolytes for two weeks, and he doesn’t intend to until it’s time for their first duan.

            As he turns away, though, he sees Chirrut’s hopeful look. He ignores it, and walks on.

 

“Adda?”

            Baze blinks, smiling automatically. “Sorry, little one. What were you saying?”

            Guela frowns, crossing her arms. “You’re not paying attention to me.”

            “I’m not? Am I not sitting here? Am I not looking at you?”

            “You’re not listening, and that’s what’s most important.”

            He pauses, then nods. “Too right. I’m sorry, padawan, I’ve been distracted lately.”

            “You never call me padawan.”

            “Well—you’ll be thirteen soon. As you’re always reminding me, you’re not a youngling anymore.”

            She chews on the side of her mouth. “Adda—you know I don’t really mind when you call me a youngling, right?”

            Furrowing his brows, Baze says, “Are you sure? Because you’ve been pretty insistent these last few years. You weren’t lying to me, were you?”

            “I was…exaggerating.”

            She reminds him of Chirrut. He hadn’t realized it until this morning, but that’s what’s been eating at him. It’s not a fair comparison. Guela will be a Jedi. She is smart, and competent, and she is meant for this life. Chirrut—Baze can’t be bothered.

            “Adda!”

            “I’m listening!” he insists. “You were exaggerating. I heard you.”

            “To not be in the world is an act of disrespect.”

            “Are you really going to lecture me, young lady?”

            “Yes,” Guela says, and Baze smirks. “You’ll be on a Guardian cycle soon, and I might not see you for weeks. Be here with me. Right now. Not wherever you are.”

            “That’s fair. That’s more than fair.” Baze puts a fist inside his other hand, bowing his head. “I make the same mistake all adults make. Believing that age is the arbiter of wisdom. You are correct, and I am not. I ask your forgiveness.”

            Guela is blushing. “Adda,” she says uncomfortably, “don’t be so formal. It’s weird.”

            “But remember. Someday this is how we will speak to one another. You will be a Jedi. I, a mere monk.”

            “That’s ridiculous. You’ll always be my adda.”

            After a moment, Baze smiles. “And you’ll always be my binicorn.”

            She rolls her eyes at that, the way only a young girl can. “I change my mind. Anything to stop being the binicorn.” She shifts, rubbing her arm. “Is your acolyte still being difficult?”

            Inhale through the nose. Exhale through the mouth. “He’s no longer my acolyte.”

            “What? Why?”

            “It’s a long story, little one.”

            “Is that why you’re distracted?”

            “Guela,” Baze sighs.

            “I’m just asking!”

            “I decided that my attentions were being too divided. My primary concern is the Crystal Guardian. That must be my focus.”

            Guela crosses her arms, giving him a hard look. “Adda. You didn’t—give up—did you?”

            “Young lady—“

            “You told me to never give up. Every time I don’t think I can do something, you say—“

            “Guela,” Baze says sharply. She lowers her eyes, biting into her lip. He feels bad immediately, but it’s not a subject he’s going to go into with her. “Some things are not for young ears. Some things cannot be understood by you now. Someday they will. Until then.” He tucks his feet further underneath himself. “We will discuss other things.”

            “Like what?” she asks quietly.

            “Like what you plan to do for your birthday.”

            It doesn’t take long before she bursts out, “I’m not supposed to, but.”

 

When the call ends, Baze climbs off the seat, and goes to Remmy. He pulls the little box from inside his robe, and says, “I have a favour to ask.”

            Remmy looks at the box, then arches a brow. “Birthday?”

            “Mm.”

            “I know you took the same vow of poverty that I did.”

            “Yes. Hasn’t stopped you from making all those trades.”

            Remmy sighs, and takes the box. “I’ll get it to her in three days.”

            Baze pats his back. “Thank you, Guardian.”

            “Uh huh.”

            Baze flips his robes off his wrists, walking to the door. It’s early afternoon. He can meet Chantara for sparring, and still have time to say his devotions before dinner. Maybe tonight he’ll carve. He really hasn’t done anything with his free time these past few weeks save pray and—well, pray some more.

            The universe does not fall apart if he takes a night off.

            He’s barely taken two steps into the hall when a voice says, “Protector.”

            The Force does not give. It does not take. It simply is.

            Baze turns to look at Chirrut. The man has obviously been waiting for him outside the communications room. He is dressed for fight training, in pants and a sleeveless shirt, no robes. The stubble on top of his head has grown too long. He needs to shave.

            Not my problem.

            “Yes?” Baze says, because he can be civil.

            Chirrut steps forward, keeping his gaze just beneath Baze’s eyes. “The Master asked me to fetch you.”

            “Fetch me,” Baze echoes.

            “Ah—that is to say, collect you—“

            “She used the word ‘fetch.’ Fetch me where?”

            “She wants us both at the training grounds together.”

            Baze can only imagine what awaits him. He never went to the Master and told her that he was cutting Chirrut loose as an acolyte. He hasn’t said anything except to Chirrut. Baze has just lived his life as though he has no acolyte, and no one has remarked upon it.

            It couldn’t last forever, though. He supposes this is where he admits to Master Yamari that he is incapable of teaching Chirrut. No, not just Chirrut. Anyone. He will train his apprentice, and that is all.

            “Very well,” he says, and starts to walk to the elevator.

            Chirrut says nothing as they descend. He puts his hands in his pockets, and tries very hard to stay still. Baze can tell he’s trying. There’s a difference between someone who’s trying to stay still and someone who naturally does it. It’s mostly in the eyes.

            Halfway down the tower, Baze asks, “How is your training?”

            “Good,” Chirrut replies. “Very good.” He clears his throat. “Thank you for asking.” He frowns slightly, looking down. Still trying to hold himself in place.

            “Gi said you reached fourth level in standing vine.”

            Chirrut does not speak a moment. Then he smiles, and nods. “Yes. Yes, I did.” He bites into his lower lip, and looks down, and he looks so pleased. This is a man who is sometimes obnoxiously arrogant. How can he take such pleasure from the mere fact that Baze noticed something?

            They say nothing else until they leave the temple. Once they’re outside, Chirrut makes a little noise in the back of his throat.

            “Yes?” says Baze.

            “I…didn’t know you were trained in silathe.”

            Baze thinks back to the days he spent splitting his knuckles open on the walls of the box. “That was a long time ago,” he says quietly.

            Shockingly, Chirrut doesn’t push. He keeps his hands in his pocket, and follows a half step behind Baze.

            Baze tries not to think about him. He thinks instead about what awaits him when he reaches Master Yamari.

            Whatever it is, it won’t be pleasant.

           

Chirrut walks with him right to where Master Yamari stands. She is on the far end of the training grounds, watching the acolytes sparring with bō. Baze glances at him, but Chirrut keeps his head down. He must have been told to bring Baze directly to the Master.

            She doesn’t look away from the grounds. Her strange eyes follow the movements of the acolytes. “That will be all, Acolyte Îmwe.”

            He bows, back straight and from the waist, and goes to join the others.

            Baze stands next to the Master, slipping his hands into their opposing sleeves. It might be warm, but he’s glad he wore his long robes today. It gives him a place to hide his hands, so he can’t be seen to fidget.

            Without looking at him, the Master says, “It’s come to my attention—“

            He sighs.

            Turning her head, Yamari says, “Yes, Protector?”

            “Just taking a breath,” Baze says. “You were saying?”

            “I’m told you haven’t been training your acolyte.”

            He should have an answer. He’s had two weeks to think about this. Three, if he counts his time in the box. But, Force save him, Baze has absolutely no idea what to say now that the moment has come.

            And any answer suddenly seems foolish. I was upset and didn’t feel like I could continue. He’s unteachable, and I felt like instead of doing something about it, I should just keep my mouth shut. He betrayed my trust and instead of forgiving I deferred to my worst instincts. Of course I’m not training him, I have no idea how to do that, what did you expect?

            He finds himself saying, “Interesting. Who would say such a thing?”

            Tilting her head, the Master says, “So you deny having abandoned your responsibilities as a mentor.”

            I really shouldn’t, because I absolutely have abandoned my responsibilities.

            “I wouldn’t say I’ve abandoned my responsibilities. I’m trying a different approach.”

            “And what approach would that be, Protector?”

            Yes, Baze, what approach? “A light touch. I’m letting him make his own mistakes so that he can come up with his own solutions.”

            She’ll never buy that.

            “And how precisely does that differ from abandonment?”

            She is definitely not buying it. “I continue to watch him, to collect information on his performance. If I detect a serious misstep, I will step in to correct it. But this method gives him more freedom, which seems to be what he requires for personal growth, and it allows me the time I require for the Crystal Guardian. The latter is the far greater task, and Chirrut obviously cannot take priority. This seems to be the arrangement that suits us both.”

            He waits.

            “Hmm.”

            What does she mean by that? Better that Yamari use words, to let him know if he’s actually succeeding in this sham. Or failing spectacularly, which seems far more likely.

            Baze watches as Chirrut is called up. He’s paired with Zemall again. They bow to one another, but neither of them go as low as they should. Zemall is glaring at Chirrut—he’s been her most challenging competitor. Chirrut is half smiling, his gaze challenging. He isn’t showing the proper respect.

            When the word is given, Zemall quickly steps back, lifting her bō vertically. Chirrut is almost lazy moving backwards, twirling his weapon. Even from a distance, Baze can see a flash of teeth.

            Baze has a sinking feeling in his stomach. Don’t, he wants to warn Chirrut. Not in front of her. Don’t take that risk.

            But it’s for naught, because when Zemall strikes, Chirrut spins around her and hooks his foot around her ankle. As she goes down, he whacks her on the rear end with his staff.

            Baze closes his eyes.

            “He knows no respect, for himself of his opponent,” the Master says as Zemall gets to her feet, looking murderous.

            “He’s learning.”

            “He’s showing off,” Yamari counters as they circle one another.

            “Humbleness can also be learned.”

            “He’s showing off for you.”

            Taken aback, Baze says, “I doubt that.”

            “I’ve come to watch him every day for four days. This is the first time he’s pulled a stunt like that.” Master Yamari crosses her arms. Her eyes narrow briefly, and that sensation of dread only deepens. “Perhaps you are right. Perhaps this new method of yours, this looser hand, is what he responds to. He seems to value your opinion.”

            Baze just responds, “Hmm.”

            “Would you not agree?”

            “One hopes their acolytes takes their lessons to heart. I cannot say that I’m much of a teacher, though—“

            “No, Protector, I think perhaps you sell yourself short. I think that if you taught Îmwe a lesson, he would remember it well. In fact—“ She turns to Baze, her expression giving nothing away. “I think all of the acolytes would remember it. Things have a certain weight when they come from the Protector of the Crystal Guardian, wouldn’t you say?”

            What is she getting at? He can tell it’s going to be awful; the question is how much. “The position comes with a certain level of authority, of course—“

            “Precisely. I think it’s time the acolytes all learned a lesson, and since you believe yours is at such a point to learn from his mistakes, you will use him as an example.” Master Yamari looks Baze square in the eyes, and says, “You will teach him mortality.”

            She can’t be…she can’t possibly be serious. Except she is. Baze knows she is. He does not have to ask, he does not have to seek clarification. She means it, and this is his punishment for not doing what he was told. It’s Chirrut’s punishment as well, for simply existing.

            Baze does not know how to reply. He needs to say something. He can’t just stand here looking at her. There must be words—what words could he use for this situation—

            Arching a brow, Master Yamari says, “Do you think you’re incapable, Protector? Should I have Ula teach this lesson instead?”

            Stars save them—Ula is a fine teacher, and a fine Guardian, but she doesn’t have the dexterity for the task.

            “No,” Baze says, and his voice is surprisingly even. He gives a light bow of the head. “I’m honoured that you believe me capable of this. I will endeavour to please you, Master.” Stepping backwards, he turns away and walks down the steps.

            Baze is praying so quickly in his mind that the words almost blend together. IamonewiththeForce. TheForceiswithme. His heart rate has sky rocketed. As he walks around the outside of the square, he pays no attention to the fight happening, or to the gaze of the Master upon him, or to what life looks like ten minutes from now.

            All he need do is get through this. And get Chirrut through it too.

            My good opinion, Baze despairs. So much for that.

            Walking around the acolytes, Baze goes directly to Naro. The man frowns, and turns halfway from the match, so that he can meet Baze.

            Bending forward, Baze murmurs in his ear, “The Master wants me to teach Chirrut the mortality lesson.”

            Naro looks at him sharply. He searches Baze’s face, then gazes in the opposite direction of the Master, hiding his face from everyone but Baze. His hands twist around his staff as he struggles to get his emotions under control.

            Finally, he gives his head one swift nod. Baze steps away as Naro returns to the acolytes.

            Naro puts his fingers into his mouth and whistles sharply. Chirrut and Zemall stop, their bō in mid air. Baze is undoing his belt, rapid prayers running through his head.

            Pounding his staff on the ground twice, Naro says, “Acolyte Sova, have a seat. Acolyte Îmwe, stay as you are.” Naro pauses before speaking. “I want everyone to pay close attention. Protector Malbus is going to demonstrate a very important lesson for you, with Acolyte Îmwe’s assistance.”

            Baze hears the murmurs as he shrugs out of his robes, but he doesn’t look up. Folding his robes, he sets them down on the ground. As he passes Naro, they trade looks. Naro doesn’t have to speak to get his point across.

            I know, Baze replies.

            Chirrut is standing there, obviously eager. Baze has never sparred with him. Chirrut has asked, but frankly, Baze always thought that he’d hurt the acolyte, and he prefers to fight with people on his level.

            I can do this. I have to do this, or someone less capable will.

            “Take off your shirt,” Baze says gruffly.

            Chirrut is quick to comply. He tosses the shirt to Streisa, who blushes. He’s all muscle, but a lot of it is for show. He’s never had to fight for his life.

            Standing at a two meter distance, Baze says, “No weapons. Your task is to strike me.”

            With a little smile, Chirrut says, “That’s all?”

            Baze nods. “That’s all.”

            The Force is with me, I am one with the Force, the Force is with me, I am one with the Force

            Chirrut starts to bend from the waist, but Baze waves a hand. “No. Don’t bow.” Chirrut stops, a crease forming between his brows. Beckoning him forward, Baze instructs. “Just hit me.”

            Perplexed, but with a little smile on his face, Chirrut says, “All right.”

            He takes a few cautious steps forward, raising his hands. He’s doing exactly what he’s been trained, watching Baze’s face. His feet are perfectly positioned, and he looks like he could dance back out of the way at any second. In every way, Chirrut looks like the perfect example of a well-trained acolyte.

            Chirrut gets about two steps from Baze, who hasn’t moved a hair. Chirrut’s eyes rake him over, and his smile widens. “Are you just going to stand there—“

            Before he can get the entire word out of his mouth, Baze has darted towards him, grabbing Chirrut around the waist and yanking him forward. In the same movement, he draws his knife and plunges it into Chirrut’s ribs.

            Baze looks into Chirrut’s eyes. This is the closest they have ever been, body to body, face to face. Like this, Chirrut’s eyes wide with shock, Baze can see how his irises are flecked with gold.

            Ripping out his knife, Baze shoves Chirrut back with one hand, and the man falls to the ground.

            Done, Baze tells himself, relieved, as the acolytes cry out, some starting to rise. Done, it’s done.

            “Stay seated,” Baze orders, not looking at them. He wipes his bloody knife off on his shirt. When he raises his head, he sees five pale faces staring at him. Zemall is still frozen, halfway up. “I said sit.”

            She drops, staring at Chirrut in horror.

            The man is writhing on the ground, grabbing at the puncture in his side. Blood spurts through his fingers. He’s hissing, on the verge of hyperventilating.

            Baze ignores him, focusing instead on the other acolytes. “This is not a game. We are not training you for fun. We are doing it because your lives will depend on it. The galaxy is at war. It hasn’t come to us, but who’s to say it won’t? We sit upon one of the most sacred stores of kyber known to sentient kind. One day, they will come. And when they do, you must be prepared to die to protect this place.”

            Baze glances down at Chirrut. The acolyte coughs, and stains his teeth and lips with blood. “I’ve stabbed him in his lung. I’ve missed his heart—I think. Or maybe I haven’t. Maybe I’ve pierced his left ventricle. His lung is filling with blood. He’ll drown in it. I’ve done this because my master asked it of me. If she had asked me to stab you—“ He nods at Streisa, and she recoils. “I would have done it. Or you.” He nods to Kine’nik. “Or any one of you. I do as I’m told, because I know what is at stake. And if she asked me to lay down my life, I would not hesitate. I would die for the temple, I would die for you, I would die for the Crystal Guardian. I will kill for those things too. That is what we are. If you see this—“ He points down at Chirrut, who’s starting to choke on his own blood. “And you find that you cannot bear it, you need to leave now. This is the price we must pay to be one with the Force. We must be willing to sacrifice everything for it. There can be no sentimentality, no attachment. A Guardian cares not for these things. A Guardian is whatever is needed. This will be needed. So do not ever—ever—act as though any of this is not serious. This is what happens when you forget.”

            He sticks his knife back into its slot on his belt, and nods towards Chirrut. “Take care of him.”

            As he goes to pick up his robes, he hears the acolytes jumping to their feet, racing to their fallen comrade. He slips back into his robes, walking past Naro, who gives him a knowing frown. Baze doesn’t look to see if Yamari is still there.

            Frankly, he doesn’t give a shit.

            He walks calmly up into one of the hallways, nodding to people who pass him, who’ve no idea what he’s done. His blood-stained hand hides in his robe.

            Baze manages to walk for about two minutes until he finds an empty square. Once he does, he holds onto the railing, his knees giving out, and he throws up.

Chapter Text

It’s so quiet.

            The quiet is supposed to be his friend. It’s supposed to be the space in which he finds peace, where he can focus until he reaches the Force. Baze spent so many years in chaos, noise all around, that the temple has seemed like an incredible respite from the universe. He is appreciative of silence, and the opportunities it affords.

            Not tonight.

            He has not left the house in two days. He gets up, he eats, he prays—he tries to pray. He tries and he tries and he tries. But the silence is filled with the gasp Chirrut let out not as the blade went in, but the moment after. It’s filled with the sound of blood bubbling out of his mouth.

            He didn’t cry out. He didn’t scream or wail. He took it. He took it as a monk should.

            Baze lets out a hiss, lifting his head. He’s sitting on the floor of his meditation space. A piece of kyber about the size of a fist sits on a pedestal before him. He’s been struggling to focus on it for at least an hour. His mind, however, drifts.

            This is pointless. How long does he intend to hide?

            I did as I was told. The Master of the Temple gave me a direct order. I obeyed. I have done nothing wrong.

            I stabbed my acolyte.

            Baze shoves himself upwards, rubbing his hands together. He takes a few steps towards the kitchen, then turns around. He wanders, aimlessly, through his home, and his thoughts are as disordered as they’ve ever been.          

            He must work this out. He cannot continue like this. This last half year, ever since the Master foisted Chirrut on him, things have been—not as they should. He knows why Master Yamari gave him an acolyte, though he’s had no training. It was from spite. Chirrut spoke the truth that day—Yamari wanted to be the Protector of the Crystal Guardian. It is one thing to be Master of the Temple. She is the most powerful person on the compound, in the city, and therefore on the moon.

            But to be Protector—he controls access to the kyber. That is where the real power lies. Not in politicking, in scheming. He communes with the Crystal Guardian, he says who goes in and out of the caves. Without the Protector, the Guardians of the Whills would not exist.

            He did not know, for months, when he first came to this place, why the woman with the reptile eyes glared at him with such barely veiled disdain. He did not ask. If T’kal wanted him to know, he would say. Finally, Ula pulled Baze aside and told him what her mentor had told her. Yamari had tried to cultivate a relationship with T’kal for years. She had done everything short of outright saying that she wanted to be T’kal’s apprentice. Then along came Baze, a disaster of a young man who knew nothing about the Force, and T’kal had plucked him from obscurity.

            So Yamari hates him. Yamari will always hate him. It doesn’t matter that she’s Master of the Temple of the Kyber. It might be an honour—an incredible honour—but it was not the one she desired.

            She threw Chirrut to him from spite. A difficult man who was likely untrainable. A thorn in Baze’s side, a budding embarrassment. She miscalculated. Chirrut has proven resilient. He is everything Yamari hates: flippant, talented, and quick to recover. Now she needs to get him out of the temple, and Baze made a mess of that by dismissing Wallene instead of Chirrut. If he had just exiled his acolyte, Yamari would have gloated—without precisely saying the words—and that would have been it.

            Now, though. Now she must make them both suffer.

            He’s been so stupid. Blind, even. He’s not a brilliant man—he’s tough, and he has enough wiles to get by—but he could have figured something out. He should have stuck by Chirrut instead of casting him aside. He has played directly into the Master’s hands.

            T’kal would be ashamed of him.

            Baze puts his face in his hands. His skin is hot to the touch. He has failed. His allegiance does not lie with the Master, it lies with the Force.

            “Fuck,” he mutters.

            It’s a harsh word, and it cuts through the silence of his home. Baze lifts his head, feeling uncomfortable in his skin, in this place where he lives.

            Enough.

            He goes to grab the carving from his collection.

 

He steps into the clinic, and the first thing that comes to mind is T’kal. Two days before he died, he broke his wrist, and Baze carried him here. His mentor barely weighed more than a child by then, and he said little but smiled much. He sat quietly in Baze’s lap as the healer worked on the broken bone. Baze had been overcome with love for him, and, almost as if he could feel it, T’kal patted his arm with his free hand.

            He can see the bed where they sat.

            Healer Capprasa rises from her seat, coming to meet him. “Protector,” she says affectionately, her voice low.

            He bows his head. “Healer.”

            “What brings you to me? You look quite well.”

            “I was wondering if Chirrut Îmwe was still here.”

            Nodding, she looks back over her shoulder. The clinic has six beds, and only one is occupied. Baze can see the top of Chirrut’s head. He lays flat, unmoving. He still needs to have his head shaved.

            “I shouldn’t be surprised,” Capprasa says. “I don’t know that any of my patients have had as many guests as Acolyte Îmwe. I’ll have to start stunning them.”

            Baze steps back. “If he needs rest—“

            “No, I think it would do him good. He won’t see anyone, to be honest with you.”

            “Sorry?”

            Raising her shoulders, Capprasa says, “Many people have come to see him, but he’s asked that I let none of them in. Of course, you’re welcome. If he knew that the Protector was coming, then I’m certain he’d feel differently.”

            Don’t be so sure. “His injury?”

            Capprasa shudders. “Whoever performed the lesson had a steady hand. The wound was clean. Terrifying for him, of course, but it was the work of an hour for me. Still.” She crosses her arms, frowning. “It’s a barbaric custom, and one that’s beneath us. Don’t you think?”

            Baze nods, amazed that he doesn’t blush. “Indeed.”

            “I’ll likely release him the day after next. He’ll need more time to recover, but I’m sure he’ll be happier doing it in his own quarters.” Capprasa smiles, then reaches out. She touches Baze’s arm. “Please, Protector, go say hello. Perhaps you will know the words for him. I think he’s waiting for something, but my skills lie in healing the body, not the soul.”

            He’s certainly not going to accomplish that task, but Baze nods. “Thank you.”

            He walks across the clinic. Everything is clean and white. The lights have been lowered a little, but there is a window that faces onto the mesa. Chirrut doesn’t look at that, though. He’s staring at the ceiling, his hands on his stomach.

            When Baze comes within his eyesight, Chirrut glances over. His face hardens, and he turns his eyes upwards again. His mouth forms a thin line.

            Baze takes a chair, pulling it over to the bedside. He sits down, smoothing his hands over his robes. He looks Chirrut over. The man is pale, dressed in grey pajamas. The top looks a bit bulky, the bandages peeking out.

            Neither of them say anything for a good long spell.

            It’s Baze who cracks first. Folding his hands together, he says, “I understand your anger.” He looks at Chirrut, who does not respond in any way. Perhaps Baze really has done something irrevocable.

            Of course you have. You stabbed him.

            “When I was young—I trusted people I shouldn’t have. People who said they would take care of me. They hurt me when I least expected it. I wear the scars. Inside and out.” Baze exhales through his nose, gazing at the ground. “I did as the Master told me. I’ve learned how to follow orders. Orders I don’t always understand, and orders that I understand, but don’t like. It’s a strength. One should know when to listen, and when to obey. Nonetheless…I regret that I listened. I regret what I have done to you.”

            Silence. The quiet is supposed to be his ally. But right now it simply feels like an accuser. It asks questions that he does not want to give the answers to. It doesn’t want his apologies.

            “Chirrut, I—“

            “I’d like to rest now,” Chirrut says without expression.

            That’s really all he needs to say, isn’t it. Nothing forgiven, nothing forgotten. It hurts. As it should. And it’s still not nearly what Baze deserves.

            With a nod, Baze murmurs, “All right.”

            For a moment, he wonders if he should bother. If it will mean anything. Or nothing at all. Will it cause more harm than good? Baze simply doesn’t know.

            He’s come this far. Reaching into his pocket, he takes out the box. Inside, it holds a sandstone figure of a man, holding himself up on one hand. It balances perfectly. Baze puts the box at Chirrut’s bedside, then gets up and leaves.

            Forgiveness can not be demanded, and one cannot expect it. One can only ask.

 

He comes to the side of the bridge, his eyes closed. The Guardian is shifting, huffing. But Baze does not cross the bridge. He sits down, cradling his hands in his lap.

            “Why is he not welcome to in your temple?” Baze asks.

            The Guardian lets out a roar, and Baze can sense its third eye opening. However, he has taken precautions. Not only has he kept his eyes shut, but he wears his black glasses on top. The opening of the great eye sets loose a humming that he can feel even in his teeth, but it does nothing to harm him. He must look the creature dead on for that to happen.

            “He came here with good intentions. I understand that he is not like the others. He is silly when he should be serious, and reckless when prudence seems to be the only option. He is not what we picture when we think of a monk. But he is here, and he is well meaning, and I must ask that he be allowed into the caves.”

            The creature’s cry reaches a new pitch, and Baze grimaces. Much further, and the crystals might begin to crack.

            “I have asked you for very little. I understand that it’s not my place to ask you anything at all. You are the Crystal Guardian, and I am your servant. Servants do not ask, they serve. This time, though, I must stand firm. I have failed this man, who is my responsibility. He must be allowed into the caves so that he can continue his training. He will be a Guardian of the Whills. This is inevitable.”

            The sound is almost unbearable.

            Baze snaps, “Stop that.”

            The Crystal Guardian silences abruptly. Baze can feel the shock echoing off it. He’s shocked by himself, truth be told.

            “I cannot know what you know. My mind does not comprehend things the way that yours does. I have done my best to serve you, but I am not a martyr. I cannot give endlessly without expecting something in return. I cannot serve without logic. Unless you are willing to share with me why you don’t care for this man, I will not accept your denial of him. He must be allowed into the caves.” Baze swallows, then says, “I demand it.”

            That sets the creature off again. It stomps its feet, and the ground shakes beneath Baze. He wonders if the bridge will give. It wouldn’t surprise him. After all—he, a mere mortal, giving orders to the Crystal Guardian? This is as close to blasphemy as he has ever come.

            “I said stop it,” Baze growls, and the creature shrieks. “You will speak to me, or I will do as I please without your consent. And if you damage the crystals, you only harm yourself. You bring this cave down, you do it on your own head. Chirrut Îmwe will be allowed in the kyber caves. This is not negotiable.” The ground booms, and Baze straightens his shoulders. “You will do this or I will not commune with you again. You will be alone here. I am the only one in this galaxy who has trained to be your conduit to the world. If you want to be alone in the dark, you will have that. Or let me bring in Îmwe. Those are my terms. I have said my piece. What say you?”

            No.

            It is not so much a word as an impression. It is almost a wall of thought bearing down on Baze. It is a repudiation of all that he has just said.

            Gritting his teeth, Baze gets to his feet. “Very well. Stay here, alone. May the Force be with you.”

            As he turns to leave, the creature lets out a keening cry.

            Baze pauses. “Yes?”

            It takes a long moment. Baze can feel the indecision on the air. There is something going on, something that he does not understand, that the creature is refusing to let him understand.

            But finally, the Crystal Guardian groans, and Baze feels its acquiescence.

            He smiles faintly, and bows his head. “Thank you, Guardian. I will join with you in a week’s time. Until then, I wish you well.”

            He walks away, never once opening his eyes.  

 

Baze takes a seat beneath the uneti tree. It is nearing the end of summer, and its leaves are as colourful as they will ever be. They alternate, green and white. It is mid day, and the air feels heavy. As a Jedhan, he can anticipate what’s coming. Rain. It’s a rare occurrence, and a time for celebration, but he finds that he does not want to be with others. He would rather be here.

            This is where he brought T’kal, the day before he died. Baze did as he was told, and laid his mentor down beneath the tree. It was late spring, and the branches were just beginning to bud. For close to an hour, T’kal had studied the tree, full of peace, his mouth curved gently upwards. He could barely move by then, but he reached out, and touched the trunk of the slender tree.

            Then Baze carried him down into the caves, until he breathed his last.

            Sitting alone now, Baze puts his fingers to where T’kal’s once were. This tree shouldn’t thrive here. It’s a desert moon. It’s cold, and dry. This tree comes all the way from Coruscant, and it should not live. But it’s strong with the Force. Somehow, it lives.

            I’m sorry, he tells T’kal.

            His master watches him. He believes this. People revere the Jedi, think that they are the only ones who are one with the Force. But in all his life, Baze has never known anyone who was more devoted to the spiritual than T’kal. No Jedi was more devout than he. T’kal gave everything he had to this place, to worshipping the Whills, whatever that might be. He gave and gave until his body simply withered away.

            Baze knows that he’s failed him. He cannot compare to T’kal as a mentor; he never shall. He believes in the Force—after all, he has seen through the eyes of the Crystal Guardian—but he has his doubts. He has questions. It is not in his nature to voice them. To others, he knows he appears devoted, and respectful. But he must work every day to be the man he believes he should be, instead of the man he is. T’kal—he was inherently good. Inherently holy. Watching Baze now, he must be so disappointed.

            That was not his way. He knows that you try. He loves you, even now.

            Frowning, Baze squeezes the trunk of the tree, then lets go. He looks up to the sky. The usual haze has turned greyish, and the sun is completely gone. He can feel the moisture on the air.

            I want to honour you, Baze tells T’kal. I want to be the man you thought I could be.

            For the longest time, Baze assumed he would be what T’kal wanted. His master said it was so. And so it would be. These last six months, though…things have not been as Baze meant. He cannot control all things, but lately, it’s felt like there is little that he can control at all. Old thoughts, old habits, have crept in. Misgivings he would not have imagined before have arisen.

            He thought he knew how his life would proceed. Now there’s this element…this walking agent of misrule. He’s been shaken. He sees that.

            If only he knew what to do about it.

            When Baze hears the sound of rocks clicking together, he stills. He knows by the footfalls who approaches, even if the gate is slightly uneven. He keeps his head down, and looks at the surface of the pool. It takes a decade of training to stay calm.

            Gingerly, Chirrut lowers himself down by Baze’s side. He’s wearing his acolyte robes, but he wears no shoes. From his peripheral vision, Baze can see that he’s shaved his head, down to the scalp. He has to use his hands to pull his feet into place, then protectively smoothes his robes down over where his injury is.

            Baze waits uncomfortably. So this is what it’s like—to be forced into silence—

            Chirrut punches his arm with all the strength in his body. Startled, Baze exhales, and grabs his bicep, leaning away.

            But when he looks at Chirrut, he sees no hatred, and no hesitation from the other man. There’s exasperation on his face, yes, but also…no. That can’t possibly be affection hiding there. Can it?

            With a sigh, Chirrut turns his eyes down to the water. “Well. I got you thrown in prison for a week. You stabbed me. I suppose we should call it even.”

            He’s stunned. He expected recriminations. At the least, he thought Chirrut would despise him. Only Chirrut seems as calm as Baze has ever seen him.

            At a loss, Baze says, “If that’s the case, why did you hit me?”

            “Because I’m not a monk yet, and I don’t have control of my emotions. And I wanted to hit you.” Shrugging, Chirrut says, “I’ve gotten it out of my system.”

            Baze is astonished. How can Chirrut be so serene about this? Baze stabbed him.

            Taking a deep breath, Chirrut speaks quietly. “I’ve behaved badly ever since I came here. You were right. I haven’t taken things seriously. I spent so long—running from this place…that I couldn’t even stop once I got here. I’m not saying you should have nearly killed me.” He casts Baze a sideways glance. “But I am apologizing for what I have and haven’t done. I’ve been spoiled my whole life. I know that. Everyone knows that. Except I’m not a child anymore. I’m a man. I haven’t acted like one, though. I’ve retreated when I should have stood my ground, and stood my ground when I should have retreated. I have been a fool. I haven’t honoured the Force the way I should. Or myself. Or you. And for that, I am sorry.”

            Overcome, Baze continues to say nothing.

            Dropping back his head with a dramatic sigh, Chirrut says, “Now is when you say to me, ‘I’m sorry I almost killed you, Chirrut, saying that I was just following orders is a ridiculous excuse—‘”

            “I am sorry,” Baze says, and he cannot convey how deeply it is meant. Chirrut looks at him, and his eyes are so serious for once that Baze suspects that he might know. Baze bows his head. “Acolyte Îmwe. Please accept my apologies.”

            Snorting softly, Chirrut replies, “Only if you promise to never call me that again. I know you thought you were being very strict and proper from the beginning, but I actually hate being called by my family name.”

            Baze simply can’t take it anymore. “Why are you being so kind?”

            Furrowing his brows, Chirrut studies him a moment. Baze wonders what he’s looking for. What he sees. Then a devilish glint enters Chirrut’s eyes, and he looks back down at the pond. “As I see it, we’re the two people most hated by the most powerful person on this moon. We should probably stick together.”

            Baze lowers his head. His mouth wants to do something. It wants to smile, is what, but he can’t let himself do that. “Perhaps,” he concedes.

            Chirrut turns back to him, agape. “Protector. Saying such harsh things about the Master of the Temple of the Kyber. Are you not ashamed?”

            “You’re going to get us both killed one of these days,” Baze says with consternation.

            “They’ll have to catch us first.” Chirrut pulls his lips into his mouth, his eyes losing some of their brightness. “I need you to promise me something.”

            “What’s that?”

            “Never endanger me like that again. I understand that…some day, I might die to protect this place. That I can live with. But…I trust you. I don’t want to feel like that trust is misplaced.”

            It is almost the least he could possibly ask. So Baze hooks his hand around the back of Chirrut’s neck, and rests their foreheads together. Closing his eyes, he promises, “I will never place you in harm’s way again. No matter the circumstances. This I swear.”

            Chirrut’s skin is warm, and Baze can feel stubble beneath his fingertips. “That’s quite the promise,” Chirrut murmurs. “What do you swear on?”

            “The Force itself,” Baze says softly.

            He hears the noise coming from across the city, and breaks away from Chirrut, lifting his head. A thousand thousand tappings, and joyous cries from every citizen. A moment later, the rain hits the courtyard in a sheet. They’re struck as if someone had dropped a pail of water on their heads, and it doesn’t stop.

            Baze tilts his head back, laughing. It’s an automatic reaction. Everyone laughs when the rain falls. It’s so rare, so exotic. It hasn’t rained like this since the beginning of summer. He thought they’d see nothing else like this for another year. He turns his face up to the sky, grinning.

            He hears Chirrut at his side, chuckling. “I didn’t know your face could do that!” Chirrut says over the rain. Shaking his head, Baze gives him a light shove. Chirrut hisses, overdramatic. “Ayuh. Be careful of me. Some damned fool just stabbed me.”

            He never stops, does he. Right now, Baze doesn’t care. The rain, and forgiveness, it washes over him. He runs his hands over his shaved head, holding it, and raises his closed eyes to the clouds.

            He smiles.

Chapter Text

“No,” Baze says, before the “Yes” has completely left Chirrut’s mouth.

            “Yes,” Chirrut repeats patiently. “I’m fine.”

            “You’re not breathing properly.”

            “I would be if you’d stop distracting me and making me speak.”

            Baze’s head falls back on his shoulders. “The day when that’s the truth, the stars might actually fall from the sky.” He tilts his head, taking in Chirrut’s form. His acolyte is resting on his head and his hands, legs twisted in the air. He’s straight lines and strength. With a shake of the head, Baze reaches out and shoves him over.

            Chirrut hits the ground with a disgruntled yelp. He starts to turn over, but winces. “What was that for?” he asks.

            “Does it hurt?” Baze waits, his brows raised. Chirrut begins to open his mouth, and Baze sighs, “Chirrut. Lies are not the way to the Force.”

            Rolling his eyes, Chirrut admits, “It hurts.” He pushes himself onto his backside, sitting up.

            “Then you’re doing it incorrectly.” Baze taps his staff on the ground. He’s only a day out of the cave, and his knees are sore. “If you’re in cal vas’tara for ten minutes and it hurts, you’re not breathing correctly.”

            “I was breathing properly.” Chirrut looks up and amends, “I thought I was breathing properly.”

            “In threes and fours, Chirrut. One two three breathe, one two three four breathe.” Baze goes to sit down in front of him on the ground, but his knees protest, and he can’t hold back his grimace.

            Chirrut rolls upwards, taking Baze’s hand in a tight grip. “Careful, old man.”

            Unamused, Baze says, “I’m a year older than you.” But he leans on Chirrut’s strength as he lowers himself down. When he sits, he lets go. He sees the concern around Chirrut’s eyes, though another might not be able to decipher it. “I’m fine.”

            Chirrut looks at him from under his brows. He doesn’t believe it, but he doesn’t have to say it. He tends to express about as much with his eyes as he does with his words, which is to say a hell of a lot.

            He’s much calmer than he used to be, though. This past year, he has come further than Baze would have ever imagined.

            “So what you’re saying is that you’ll be able to demonstrate for me,” Chirrut says.

            Snorting, Baze lays his staff across his lap. “Yes, and then I’ll run up and down the mesa stairs. It’s a miracle of the Force.”

            “Disrespectful,” Chirrut sighs.

            Baze starts to lift his staff. “I’ll hit you with this.”

            “Doubt it. Your arms are probably weak too.”

            “Do you know what I never miss when I’m those caves? You.”

            “Protector, lies are not the way to the Force.”

            Baze doesn’t smile, but he wants to, and he sees that’s enough for Chirrut.

            They sit quietly for a little while. Chirrut is leaning back on his hands, stretching his shoulders occasionally. Baze watches the sky. It’s early morning, late summer. He is glad to be in the open air. It was eight days below ground, and somehow he’s really felt it this time. When he climbed out of the crystal caves, it was as if his skin craved the light.

            Chirrut says, “I have a question for you.”

            “Must be serious,” Baze responds. “Questions are usually all you ever have, and I don’t remember you asking for permission lately.”

            “It’s a personal question.”

            Surprised, Baze studies Chirrut. He doesn’t see the old hungry curiosity there. If he declines to answer, he doesn’t think he’ll see disappointment. Chirrut will accept the refusal, and they’ll move on. “You haven’t asked me one of those in a long time.”

            “I tried plenty of times when I first came here, but you weren’t exactly forthcoming.”

            “We don’t talk about your past either.”

            Chirrut waves a hand. “My past is boring. And embarrassing. We can talk about it if you want. I didn’t think you were interested, honestly.”

            Baze doesn’t know that he is. He doesn’t need to know who Chirrut was. He knows who he is now, and that’s what counts.

            “Ask your question,” Baze says.

            Watching him carefully, Chirrut asks, “Who’s the girl?”

            If Chirrut had asked him last year, Baze would have been angered. He would have thought it intrusive. Now, though, he simply arches a brow. “Do I even want to know how you know about that?”

            Chirrut grins, showing off his perfect teeth. Much as Baze has tried to discourage it in him, Chirrut has become one of the temple’s primary repositories of information. He doesn’t openly gossip in front of Baze—he knows how his mentor dislikes that—but Baze hears from the other Guardians that they’ve learned things from Chirrut that they hadn’t heard anywhere else, wouldn’t hear anywhere else.

            “I listen,” Chirrut answers. “Isn’t that what you’ve been teaching me?”

            “I’ve been teaching you to listen, not to hoard what you learn like currency.”

            “That’s just being prudent.” Chirrut raises a brow. “You don’t seem upset with me, which is always welcome.”

            “Exasperated would probably be more accurate.” Baze wraps his hands around the staff, and says, “Tell me what you already know.”

            Chirrut takes a moment, then nods. “That you arrived here at the temple with her when you were twenty. You’d been told to bring her here. She was Force sensitive, so they took her to Coruscant, and she’s now a Jedi. You stayed. You became a Guardian.”

            Baze takes a few deep breaths. Chirrut waits, cautious.

            “You know, if you pull something like this when you’re Palasat’s acolyte, he will be far less accommodating.”

            A darkness flutters over Chirrut’s face. He gets like that every time Baze reminds him that this arrangement is temporary. In less than six months, Chirrut will not be Baze’s acolyte anymore. Life, for Baze, will return to how it once was. There are multiple senior acolytes completing their seventh duan at the start of the new year. There will be plenty of Guardians free to train the new class. Baze will not be called on again, and his life will belong solely to the Crystal Guardian.

            The smile relights Chirrut’s face. “I’ll have to continue my quest to win him over. Maybe he just doesn’t know yet how much he’ll really enjoy my company.”

            “I doubt that.”

            “Worked with you.”

            “I wouldn’t go that far.”

            “Lies, Protector.”

            “You shouldn’t call me a liar if you want to hear about Guela.”

            Surprised, Chirrut says, “You’re actually going to tell me?”

            Baze thinks about it, then nods. “I trust you,” he says simply.

            And he does. Chirrut sees that he means it, and the man beams. He expects compliments from everyone, but when Baze gives him one, he seems to view it as a triumph. Perhaps because Baze only gives a compliment when it’s true.

            Sighing, Baze rubs a hand over his head. “Guela’s the daughter of Guevar Mikso. He was a Jedi. Everything that one should endeavour to be. Brave, and kind, and true. He went against his orders, though. Had a child with a woman on the world where he was stationed. It was the middle of a civil war. She died shortly after Guela was born. Guevar never told me the mother’s name. Couldn’t bear to even talk about her. His love for her ran so deep. At the time, I was living in the capital city—conducting some business. He wanted to get off world, and I was in a position to do that for him.”

            “Where was this?”

            “You said the one question. I’m telling you about Guela, not about my strange past.”

            “I did not say only one question—“

            “Well, you intimated it, so it’s all you’re getting.” Chirrut shakes his head at the sky, and Baze continues. “I was making arrangements when the city was bombed. I was hit. The building collapsed on us actually.” Baze taps the lower left of his back, where his worst scar is. “That’s how I got that one. Guevar, he pulled me out. He saved me. Kept us all hidden as the troops came in, starting massacring all the civilians. No reason for him to do a thing like that. I was just some useless, violent nineteen-year-old who hadn’t done a single unselfish act in his life. But—sometimes, when you’re exposed to someone better than you—they raise you up with them. That’s what Guevar did for me. We survived for six months in the ruins of the city, as I tried to figure out a way to get us out, then just a way to keep us alive. He became my friend. He became the first person I knew, with absolute certainty, that would never hurt me. I’d trusted people before, but at the back of my mind, I always thought—watch this one. They say the right words, but when it matters, they’ll let you down. And they always did. Not Guevar. He kept the three of us alive those six months, and all the while—he opened my eyes.”

            “To what?”

            “To my own possibilities. He wanted to come here, to the temple. He thought that if he got here, somehow he could secure passage back to Coruscant or Ryloth. I was born here—not this city, but one of the settlements, so I didn’t know much about—“ Baze glances at their surroundings. “This. It had never really interested me. Out there—you’re just trying to survive. We don’t learn about the temple out there. I had to be light years away, in the middle of a war zone, and a Twi’lek was telling me about my own world. And the way he described it—the way he talked about the universe—at first I thought he was just naïve. I mean, this was a man who could fight five people single handedly, but I also thought he was remarkably naïve. Except the longer I knew him, the longer I listened. The longer I listened, the more I thought, maybe. Maybe there is something more. Maybe there’s…something for me.

            “We formed a unit, we three. Guela, she wasn’t even two yet. But a good girl, right from the start. No crying, no misbehaving. Mischievous, though. I thought that she’d get us caught for sure, and there were times when I thought she’d make a sound or do the wrong thing, but she never did. Strong with the Force. Even at that age. Guevar, he doted on her. He would tell us both stories about the Jedi, about the Force. It didn’t take long, and we were…a family, I suppose.” Baze pauses, then says quietly, “He was beloved to me.”

            After a moment, he looks up. Chirrut, for once, appears dumbstruck.

            Baze smiles crookedly. “What? Did you think I wasn’t capable?”

            “No! Well—I’d wondered—“ Chirrut puts up his hands. “You’ve never said anything about anyone.”

            “We’re monks. There isn’t anyone for us. That’s not the life we lead. But, once—a long time ago….” Baze shrugs, and says, “Not that we were together. He was ten years older, and I was…a disaster. As much of an idiot as you can be, and considering that you were probably far worse before you got here, it will never quite compare to how much of a disaster I was when I was young.”

            “You are incredibly kind, Protector, did you know that?”

            “Hm. Well—all to say, my feelings for him ran deep. He was the first person that I had actual feelings for. The only person, really. The others, that was always just physical.” Baze gets another look at Chirrut’s face and lets out a snort. “You thought I was a virgin.”

            Defensively, Chirrut repeats, “I wondered—“

            “And what were you wondering for?”

            Unsettling him, Chirrut winks. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”

            “Please. Keep it to yourself. So, it was the three of us for six months, and then Guevar was killed. Bombs. Like the one that nearly killed me, that he saved me from. I heard them coming, and I had a choice. Grab her and get out of the way or grab him. He was beloved to me, but…she was beloved to him. And without even thinking, I knew it was the right decision. I saved her, and he took a mortal wound. His dying breath, he made me promise to bring her to the Temple of the Kyber. I promised, he died. Two days later, the other side retook the city, and we were free to go. And I spent the next six months trying to get her here.”

            For a few seconds, as Baze says nothing, Chirrut chews on his lower lip. “I’m sorry,” he says. “That you lost someone you cared about.”      

            Baze bows his head, accepting the condolences. He inhales, passing his hand over the surface of the metal staff. “When it’s you and one other person for six months, a person that can’t care for themselves—trying to survive in a universe that doesn’t seem to want you to survive—certain feelings develop. She’s not my child, but there were many days that I went hungry so that she could eat. It was for him, yes, because he was beloved to me, but it was for her too. She is also beloved by me. I love her. She’s not my daughter, but I made sacrifices—I did things…I did things I can never speak of, so that I could get her to this place. And I did. I did as I promised. Then I got here, and the Jedi said, ‘She’s Force sensitive. We’ll take her now.’ And…they did.” Baze feels a twitch in his cheek. He scratches at his brow, avoiding Chirrut’s gaze. “That’s eleven years now. That’s the last time I touched her.” He clears his throat, straightening his shoulders. “But now she’s on Coruscant, and she will be a Jedi, like her father before her, and I am very, very proud of the young woman that she has become. And…that is who the girl is.”

            The expression on Chirrut’s face is strange. Is it sympathetic? Affectionate? Uncertain? Baze tries to decipher it without staring.

            “Why do you have to be like that?” Chirrut asks.

            Frowning, Baze replies, “Like what?”

            “Your usual self, and then just soft as clouds underneath.”

            With a roll of the eyes, Baze plants his staff on the ground and starts pushing himself up. “Oh, shut up.”

            “I’m being serious,” Chirrut responds, hopping to his feet. He reaches out to help Baze.

            “Touch me and you’ll lose a hand.”

            Laughing, Chirrut says, “You know, Protector, for a man so in tune with the Force, you have a terrible temper sometimes.”

            To hell with it. Shaking his head, Baze says, “My name is Baze, Chirrut.”

            He starts to walk away, leaning heavily on his staff. His knees aren’t responding well to their time folded up.

            From behind him, Chirrut says, “I’m sorry—have I earned the right to use your name?”

            Struggling up the stairs, Baze says, “Are you trying to unearn it in record time?”

            Chirrut catches up, putting a hand to Baze’s elbow, assisting him. Baze gives him a dirty look, but Chirrut just grins. “Only took me a year and a half,” he says with pride. “Just imagine what I can do now.”

 

In the past year, Chirrut has come leaps and bounds. There are those who still despise him—the Master, Heem—but he has ingratiated himself with other powerful people. His cheerful attitude and stubbornness tends to win people over, even against their will.

            He is much calmer than he once was. Baze would not say that he is predictable. He’s not sure that Chirrut will ever be predictable. But he can sit for hours straight in silent prayer, even if he prefers his mantra. Increasingly, he has displayed a patience that Baze did not imagine he would ever possess. He has learned to focus on a task. More than that, he’s learned what many can’t—to focus on more than a single task at once.

            He can talk through capradi without losing his position. He’ll copy down scrolls of ancient ballads while carrying on a conversation on an entirely unrelated topic. Chirrut will be running laps of the compound, then suddenly veer off to straighten a statue that’s tilted, before catching up and still surpassing the others.

            Of his acolyte class, Chirrut is the most advanced physically. Naro has moved both he and Zemall to the intermediate class, and in the first two weeks, Chirrut was limping most places, unused to the level of his competitors. But then he started winning bouts. When he fights, he pays attention to little else. Of course, it’s still him, so occasionally he’ll make a teasing comment, but it’s usually followed by a swift blow, before the other person can lose their temper.

            He sat his first and second duans without incident. When Baze took him down into the cave, they were both on edge. Baze took him to the edge of the first bridge, peering over at the Crystal Guardian. Something like a growl began to rise from the creature, and Baze put a hand to Chirrut’s chest, preparing to push him back. But that was the only protest the Guardian gave. So Chirrut sat, and Baze was able to bring in the rest of his class. They all prayed for two days, and when they were done, Chirrut actually did cartwheels outside the temple. Baze just put his face in his hand, then called, “You remember that we’re aiming for a stoic façade, right?”

            The second duan went just as smoothly, when Baze took them down to the second bridge. Zemall had her first Force experience there, the fourth of her class to have reached that milestone.

            Chirrut has not yet. He’s expressed no frustration, as Baze expected him to. When Baze finally broached the topic a few months ago, Chirrut just frowned, and said, “I didn’t really want to discuss my failure.”

            They were sitting in in Baze’s kitchen, eating dinner, and Baze had to sigh. “How many times do I have to tell you? You aren’t failing. It’s not a failure, to not connect to the Force in a certain way. Do you know how many times I was in the caves before I had a Force experience? More than you’ll probably go in a lifetime. And nothing happened. It just—came to me one day, for seemingly no reason. I wasn’t even anywhere near the Guardian.” Baze snapped his fingers. “It might just hit you, one night, without you knowing why. You’re working hard. You’re doing what you’re supposed to. That’s what counts.”

            Chirrut smiled a little, digging around in his noodles. “You know, you’re not as fearsome as people think you are.”

            “Yes I am. Eat your dinner.”

            They spend every morning and evening together, and often the resting day as well. Surprisingly, much of it is spent in silence or prayer. Baze has become used to saying his prayers in tandem with Chirrut. They can pray for hours at a time together, voices in sync. Baze will lose himself, entering a state of nothingness, existing only through the sound of their voices.

            Chirrut will sometimes come find him after lunch—he has an unerring ability to know when Baze will be meditating beneath the uneti tree. Without a word, he will sit at Baze’s side, and join in his prayers.

            The evenings, that’s usually when they talk. They’ll discuss whatever Chirrut learned that day, what he can do to improve, how Baze’s preparations for the next cycle are going; if some truly awful news about the war breaks through into their contained world, sometimes they’ll discuss that as well. But that is rare.

            They are comfortable in one another’s company. Baze has not spent so much time speaking to a single person since T’kal was alive, and that was nothing like this. T’kal was all wisdom and long silences and contemplation. Chirrut is questions and jokes and careless grins. Baze is glad to have a companion again.

            It will end soon, of course. As it should. He has his responsibilities to the Crystal Guardian. He is not one for worldly things. That’s not for what he was meant.

            That being said, he will look back on this time fondly. That’s not a thing he could have imagined a year ago. In truth—a truth he would admit to no one—Chirrut has begun to feel less and less like a student and more like a friend.

            It has been a long time since Baze had a friend.

           

“What in—“ Baze stops dead in his tracks, taking in the scene before him. The acolytes all look at him, with varying degrees of guilt. Except Chirrut, who has the audacity to look completely innocent. Baze puts up his hands, lowering his head. He counts to five, then looks at Chirrut. “Explain this to me.”

            Streisa, Kine’nik, and Missal, a year below them, are all hanging upside down from magnetic boots, against one of the walls. Chirrut is standing beside them, clearly the supervisor of the operation.

            “It’s like you told me,” Chirrut says. “If you don’t like the view, change your perspective. They were having difficulty with cal kara. I thought it might do them some good to hang upside down for a while. Get used to the sensation.”

            Baze rubs a hand over his forehead. He wonders what T’kal would have done in this situation. T’kal would have never been in this situation.

            “That’s one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard,” Baze tells Chirrut.

            Unfazed, Chirrut replies, “I think you’re exaggerating. I’ve done far stupider things than this.”

            Baze crouches down in front of Streisa, looking into her eyes. “I thought you would have had more sense than this.”

            Blushing, she says, “Apologies, Protector.”

            “They can’t tell when you’re teasing,” Chirrut says.

            “Who says I’m teasing?” Baze stands back up. “Well, if they’re already there, take a walk with me. They should be fine.” He turns, leaving the square. He’s two days out of the cave, able to walk without the staff.

            A second later, Chirrut’s clamoured over the steps, through the hallway, and back down over the next set of steps, catching up to Baze. However, he’s keeping a distance of well over a meter.

            “What are you doing?”

            Watching him, askance, Chirrut says, “You’re going to hit me over the head. I know when you’re about to hit me over the head.”

            “Have you finally had your Force experience? Are you psychic now?”

            With an unamused look from beneath his brows, Chirrut keeps the space between them. “That is not very funny.”

            “Neither is tormenting your classmates.”

            “I’m not tormenting! I’m helping!”

            “Why is it, when you’re ‘helping’ someone, it’s always Streisa? She’s seventeen, Chirrut, and not very worldly. You should be ashamed. And Missal, she’s fifteen.”

            “Well, she’s always hanging around Streisa.”    

            “And Kine’nik’s your friend, aren’t they?”

            Exasperated, Chirrut insists, “I am telling you, Protector, I was actually trying to help. They have a hard time staying in cal kara, because of the sensation of blood rushing to their head. I thought they would benefit from acclimating themselves to the sensation on a regular basis. Xero suggested sleeping face down on an incline, but then they can’t sleep. This is better.”

            Baze thinks that Chirrut even half believes what he’s saying. “Chirrut. Are you jealous of Streisa?”

            It’s a beautiful thing, when his acolyte is rendered speechless. “I—that’s not—“ Chirrut sputters. He shakes his head, unable to complete a sentence.

            “And I told you, my name is Baze.”

            Hiding his arms in his sleeves, Chirrut says, “I wondered if maybe you’d change your mind.”

            “It’s hard to change my mind once I’ve come to a decision. One of my strengths. And my faults. Chirrut, you know you’ve done very well—“

            Chirrut hisses, looking away. His ears are turning red.

            It’s so rare to see him disgruntled that Baze can’t help but push the point, a bit gleeful. Though not showing it, of course. That wouldn’t be befitting. “You have many advantages that Streisa doesn’t. You must allow her successes without bitterness—“

            “I’m not bitter,” Chirrut says tightly.

            “You’re not.”

            “Does it look like I’m bitter?”

            “It looks like you’re bitter.”

            “Well, I’m not. She’s a very good student, and she’ll make an excellent monk. Maybe someday she’ll be Master of the Temple. Good for her.” Chirrut glances over, and snaps, “Why are you smiling?”

            Baze cannot hold back his grin. He smothers it, hiding his mouth behind his hand and coughing.

            “No reason,” he says, once he’s gotten himself under control.

            They walk down into the square where fourth level is practicing with crossbows. Baze sits down. Chirrut is obviously unhappy, but he’s interested in what’s happening, and he takes a seat.

            At fifth level, they’ll graduate to practicing with a bowcaster. And in sixth level, they will start using the lightbow. When they’ve completed their seventh duan, they will construct their own lightbow, and they will truly be Guardians of the Whills.

            “I’m having lunch with Palasat,” Baze says.

            A flicker of a grimace crosses Chirrut’s face, but it’s gone almost as soon as it starts. “Do I have to accompany you?”

            “No. I merely inform you so that you can warn me of anything he might tell me.”

            “You know me better than that by now.”

            “I suppose I do. But for old time’s sake.”

            Chirrut rests his arms on his knees, leaning forward to watch the higher acolytes train. “There’s not much to say. We don’t care for one another. I don’t think he’ll be able to teach me as effectively as you can. But that is between you and I.”

            He catches Baze off guard. It’s rare for Chirrut to be so blunt. “You haven’t expressed it like that before.”

            “He doesn’t like me. When you call me an idiot, I know you don’t really mean it. Or at least you mean it affectionately. When he calls me an idiot, he actually believes I am. We are not a suitable match. The Master is placing me with him because she believes I will be miserable, and quit.” Chirrut looks uncommonly somber. “We shall see.”

            Stricken, Baze says, “Don’t say such things.”

            At that, Chirrut’s usual smile returns. “Of course. Ignore me. Thinking aloud. One of my many faults.” He elbows Baze lightly in the arm. “You must be happy to be rid of me. You can go back to your quiet life. You, the Guardian. Being the gate keeper. Don’t pretend like you’re not thrilled. I see through you.”

            For once, Baze doesn’t think that Chirrut sees through him at all. Baze watches a young human male step up, raising his bow. “I suppose I shall. It will be a relief to escape so many—“

            The human turns at something one of his classmates says, and suddenly a projectile is flying through the air directly at the two of them.

            Baze doesn’t think—he automatically turns to shove Chirrut down. But before he can, Chirrut has knocked him off the stairs, covering him with his body. There’s the twang of the bolt hitting the wall above them.

            The square is silent.

            Then it erupts in noise.

            Baze lifts his head, looking for the damned fool who nearly killed them. But instead, he sees Chirrut’s worried face hovering over his.

            “You’re all right?” Chirrut demands, hands patting him down for any wounds.

            Baze grabs his wrist. “Of course. I’m fine.” He rolls Chirrut off of him, and takes a look at the bolt. It’s lodged about two inches into the wall. Shaking his head, Baze mutters, “Well, that was—“ When he sees Chirrut’s face, he stops. The other man is pale, and trembling. He’s looking at Baze as if he has something to say, something on the tip of his tongue. “Chirrut, are you all right?”

            Chirrut opens his mouth. It stays like that a moment. Then he nods, letting out a small wheeze. “Been a while since I almost died,” he says, and laughs.

            “That was nothing. Just a careless acolyte. If I ever see you use a crossbow like that, I’ll beat you with a stick.” Baze gets to his feet. “Catch your breath. You’ve lost your colour. I need to go berate this fool.” Chirrut nods, and Baze heads toward the stricken acolyte with the crossbow.

            Halfway there, he looks back. Chirrut has closed his eyes, pressing his fingers to the bridge of his nose. His mouth is moving rapidly, and Baze knows exactly what he’s saying.

            I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.

            Strange. Usually he’s not so easily scared. No matter. Baze continues, preparing to give the man with the crossbow a piece of his mind.

 

After a quick chat with Guela—she’s halfway out the door to early lessons—Baze heads further up the temple to Palasat’s quarters. He’s thinking about what happened in the courtyard. The fact that he was nearly impaled with a bolt, that’s not what’s on his mind. It’s Chirrut’s reaction afterwards. Even when they walked back to the acolytes, who were still hanging upside down, Chirrut did not seem his usual self. He was pretending, but he was not really at ease.

            Baze tried to tell him that accidents happened, and reassured Chirrut that he probably wouldn’t have been hurt. After a look at the wall, Baze could determine that if the bolt had hit anyone, he would have been the one to take it. Chirrut did not seem particularly cheered by that, though he smiled tightly and said, “The Force blesses small miracles.”

            It’s not like he would have been worried about Baze. Baze can take care of himself. In the act of pushing Chirrut away, he would have been out of the bolt’s path. Baze has come so close to death so many times that he finds it easier to simply brush off as the years go on. This was just an accident—Baze once fell a quarter of the way down the mesa stairs after his second cycle with the Guardian. That was a hell of a lot more dangerous than this.

            Chirrut’s mind is his own, though. He must come to his own terms with mortality.

            Baze arrives at Palasat’s, and they all go through the usual pleasantries. The air is filled with the scent of something sweet, and Baze’s mouth waters. “That’s not….”

            “It is,” Palasat says, going to take a seat at the table.

            The bowls of cane soup are already out. As Baze sits down, he asks, “How did we accomplish this?”

            “My sister,” Comra replies, smoothing her robes beneath herself before taking the final seat. “She sent me cane from home.”

            “I’m honoured you would share this with me.”

            “It’s my pleasure, Protector.”

            They say their prayers, then Baze lifts the bowl in his left hand, cradling it, and takes the spoon in his right. He looks at the surface of the white, creamy soup, inhaling the scent of it. If anyone knew they were doing this….

            Oh, to hell with it. He has a little spoonful, and his eyes close briefly in pleasure. He is not one for sugary things, but this just barely flirts with it. It coats the inside of his mouth, lightly spiced as well.

            Shaking his head, Baze sighs. “This is extravagant,” he says, but it’s not a rebuke.

            “I’m inclined to agree,” says Palasat, and slurps from his spoon. Baze and Comra share a small smile.

            They talk about the cleaning of the Black Lotus Chamber, about the restoration of the crystal. They talk about the forecast—dust storms are expected next week, and Baze is already preparing to seal off his house. They talk about Comra’s plans for her lightbow—every senior acolyte has ideas about their lightbow.

            The discussion about the lightbows brings Baze around to the incident with the crossbow. Comra just shakes her head, clearly unimpressed with the class of lower acolytes.

            “Chirrut seemed very upset by the whole thing,” Baze says, still unable to shake his confusion.

            Palasat snorts. “The man almost took a bolt to the head. He’s not as unflappable as you, Protector, whatever he might pretend.”

            Baze thinks of what he and Chirrut were discussing before the accident, and Comra says, “Perhaps he was concerned for your safety.”

            With a short laugh, Baze replies, “I can more than take care of myself.” Setting down his half empty bowl, he takes a deep breath. Chirrut asked him not to say anything, but things can’t be allowed to fester. In sixth months, Palasat will be his mentor. They must resolve things. “I do have something I want to raise with you, Palasat.”

            Blinking, the older man sets down his bowl, and gives Baze his undivided attention. “Of course.”

            “You know that I hold you in the highest esteem, as did my predecessor. You are wise, and loyal, and a credit to the Whills.”

            “Flattery, my friend, is often prelude to an injury. I would prefer that we skip to the substance of the matter.”

            Palasat is a good monk. Many others here would need to be lubricated with compliments before they were able to hear what Baze needs to say.

            “I worry,” Baze says, “with the transference of mentorship approaching, about this antipathy between you and Chirrut. It must be resolved so that he can continue his training. And I will do anything I can to aid in the process.”           

            He expects Palasat to sigh, to admit that yes, it is time they all discussed it so that they can move forward. It’s been some months since Palasat last complained viciously about Chirrut’s performance, but Chirrut has said that the animosity continues. Palasat must know it’s not healthy, or conducive, for a student/mentor relationship.

            Instead, Palasat furrows his considerable brows. “Antipathy?” he echoes.

            Baze is about to speak, but he stops. He sees in Palasat’s face that the man is absolutely perplexed. He has no idea what Baze is talking about. Baze has some few skills, and not least of them is telling when a person is not being honest.

            “Yes,” he says carefully.

            Palasat looks between Comra and Baze, confused. “Protector—“ He spreads his hands. “Baze. I admit, in the beginning, I had deep doubts about Acolyte Îmwe’s fitness for the temple. He himself will own to poor behaviour, and he certainly tested my temper. But I have come to believe that he is a fine addition to the order. We need his kind of spirit, lest the order stagnate. I apologized to him for my earlier harsh words.” Palasat looks to Comra for confirmation. “You were there when I did so. He accepted my apology in honesty, did he not?”

            Comra bows her head. “He did, Master.”

            But Baze can see something in her eyes. She knows more than she’s saying. Perhaps more than Palasat knows.

            “Is he unhappy?” Palasat asks. “With my teaching? I confess, I believed everything to be going quite well during your cycles. I’ve been planning, these last few months, our lessons. I’ve been looking forward, very much, to the transfer.”

            Palasat is being completely honest. Baze has not ever known him to lie.

            He has, however, known Chirrut to lie. And he’s fooled Baze before.

            Suppressing his annoyance, and his embarrassment, Baze bows his head deeply. “Guardian Palasat, please forgive me. I completely misinterpreted the situation. I should have asked more questions instead of assuming I understood what was going on. I feel very foolish right now.”

            Palasat laughs softly, waving his hand. “None of that, young man. None of that. You had me worried, I confess. We all of us believe things without asking enough questions. Unfortunately, the order sometimes instills that in us. I think it will be good to have Îmwe here with me—I find that I ask more questions myself. It’s driving Comra mad, though she’s too polite to say.” Comra smiles affectionately at her mentor. “But there’s nothing I need to worry about?”

            “No, Palasat. I apologize for the misunderstanding.”

            “Oh, forgiven, forgotten.”

            Baze glances at Comra, then looks around the table. “Back to this delicious soup. I was thinking—do you still have any of those rice crackers we had last time? Would they not go well with this?” He picks up his bowl, taking another sip.

            Comra starts to push herself up. “I can—“

            Palasat waves her off, getting to his feet. “I can get them. You’re right, those would be excellent with the soup. And the dried berries from my niece. I should have thought of that.” Palasat walks towards the kitchen, behind the wall. “You young people talk about young people things while I’m gone.”

            Baze waits until he’s gone, before turning a hard eye on Comra. She’s looking down resolutely into her bowl. Voice low, Baze asks, “Why would Chirrut tell me that things were going poorly between the two of them?”

            She considers the question, stirring her spoon methodically through her soup. “Perhaps because he does not want to leave you,” she murmurs.

            Sighing, Baze says, “He must have a proper mentor. I am not trained for that. Palasat has mentored six Guardians before you, and all have become valued members of the temple. Chirrut must not be afraid of change. He must see that Palasat will teach him far more than I ever could.”

            Shaking his head, Baze continues eating as Comra says softly, “I—think it has more to do with his feelings for you.”

            “What feelings?” Baze replies, lifting a large spoonful to his mouth.

            “Well—he is in love with you.”

            Baze spews cane soup across the table.

Chapter Text

It takes a few minutes to clean up. Baze continues to cough, his skin deeply flushed. He can’t stop apologizing to Palasat for the mess, saying repeatedly, “Went down the wrong way—swallowed wrong—went down the wrong way—“

            Comra is bright red herself, murmuring, “Sorry, Protector, sorry,” as they both silently fight to be the one to clean the most.

            Palasat seems puzzled by the whole thing. “You’re all right?” he asks. “Do you need to see the healer?”

            Baze begs off. No healer. No—anyone. No. He just wants to figure out what the hell is going on.

            Somehow, he manages to get through the rest of the meal, by looking resolutely at Palasat as the old man speaks. Comra says very little, her head ducked over her bowl. She’s eating quickly, probably planning to say that she needs to do the dishes and then pray or study or anything other than be in their vicinity.

            Baze keeps Palasat talking about his first acolyte, which is always an easy feat, and keeps Comra in his peripheral vision.

            She must be mistaken. She has to be. They were all literally talking about not making assumptions without evidence, and even though that’s not what Baze actually did, it is definitely what Comra has done. Undoubtedly.

            It has to be.

            Comra reaches the bottom of her bowl, and says, “I’ll start working on the dishes.”

            “Let me help you,” Baze says, getting up.

            “Oh no, Protector,” she says weakly.

            He looks in her eyes and almost growls, “I insist.”

            They leave an obviously flabbergasted Palasat alone in the main room, and Baze pulls the door closed behind them. He is reeling. He has not felt this completely beyond control in—he can’t even remember when he last felt like this.

            He stalks over to where Comra is standing, nervously glancing back at the main room. Where to start? “What are you talking about?” Baze says, as if they never stopped their conversation.

            “I thought you knew,” Comra hisses.

            “Know what?” Baze replies, and it’s panicked. Good grief! He is not a man who panics. There’s nothing to panic about! She’s wrong. She’s said something that is wrong, and he just needs to make sense of it. “There’s nothing to know. You’re clearly mistaken.”

            But she looks at him from under his brows, as if he’s the one who’s in the wrong. “Protector,” she says, and it’s the same tone of voice Guela will use with him sometimes. It’s a tone of voice that only young women can use. It conveys affection, but also the conviction that the receiver is incredibly stupid.    

            “You must be mistaken,” Baze insists. He waits for her to admit it, to say that she is wrong. Comra does no such thing. Baze feels all the blood that rushed to his face now drain from it. “Has he…said…something to you?”

            “Not everything needs to be spoken to be understood.”

            Baze slumps. “Oh thank the Force. So you’re making assumptions. This isn’t based on anything.”

            Eyes widening, Comra yelps, “Not based on anything—“

            “Comra.” They jump apart. Palasat is standing in the doorway, clearly waiting for an explanation. “Why are you raising your voice at our guest?”

            Lowering her head, Comra says, “Apologies, Protector, I acted without thinking.”

            “I’ll say,” Baze replies, relieved.

            “What on Jedha is going on?” Palasat asks.

            Don’t tell him, Baze thinks. Don’t you dare. Don’t say it again, don’t even

            Comra sighs, and with eyes on the ground, admits, “I informed the Protector that Acolyte Îmwe might be reluctant to leave his mentorship because he’s in love with him.”

            Oh, stars. It sounds just as ridiculous the second time around.

            Palasat looks extremely unimpressed. “Comra. Is it our place to gossip about the feelings of our fellows? You certainly didn’t hear me telling Guardian Xero about the torch you carried for her all those years.”

            Jaw dropping, Comra protests, “That was two years ago—“

            “Comra.”

            She bites her lip, closing her eyes. “Sorry. Sorry, Master. You’re right. I’m sorry, Protector, it was not my place to discuss…what I said.” She winces.

            “Wait,” Baze says, and he looks at Palasat. “The issue here is not that gossip was being spread—I mean, it obviously is, but my issue has to do with a falsehood being perpetuated.” Why does he feel out of control? Like he’s in a jet that’s spiralling down. “That is the issue, is it not?”

            Palasat pauses, then says, “You were truly unaware?”

            “Unaware of what?” Baze cries out, frustrated. “This is not correct. Chirrut does not love me. I am not loved. No one loves me. This is ridiculous.”

            “My friend.”

            Baze looks at him, and that spiralling feeling just gets worse. “No,” he says quietly.

            Lifting his hands, Palasat says encouragingly, “These things happen. It’s not the first time—“

            Baze needs to put his hand on the counter. It’s not like he thinks he’s going to fall over or anything—he thinks—but he very much needs to hold onto something solid. Extremely solid.

            “This is not correct,” Baze says, very quiet.

            It isn’t. Chirrut is his student. His friend, even. He hasn’t said anything—he hasn’t done anything—has he? All of a sudden, Baze is trying to examine everything that’s happened between the two of them, and it is too much.

            Palasat is speaking, but Baze interrupts. “No. You use the word love, but that’s impossible. Acolytes, they have crushes sometimes. It is not love. That is not what we are discussing. A passing infatuation, that I could accept, but this is—no. This is not love.”

            Why does Palasat look so disappointed in him? “You dishonour him,” Palasat says, “by not accepting what he feels as genuine. Impossible though it might be, and unreciprocated. Do not deny the sincerity of what he feels. It will not end well.”

            Too much.

            “Excuse me,” Baze says, and walks away. Palasat reaches for him, but Baze slips by, and leaves the quarters.

           

He does not love me.

            It is preposterous. Chirrut is not in love with him. They spend time together because of circumstance. Baze is his mentor, and he feels that he has done an acceptable job. Chirrut has progressed so much further than anyone anticipated, and Baze is proud of him, incredibly proud. He enjoys Chirrut’s company, much as he might snipe at him. Chirrut teases him, but Chirrut teases everyone. He smiles for everyone. There’s nothing different between how Chirrut treats him and everyone else.

            That is an outright lie, Baze Malbus.

            Stars above. It’s his mother’s voice in his head. As a child, he would misbehave, and he would try to avoid responsibility, and she would stand over him with her hands on her hips and say those exact words. “That is an outright lie, Baze Malbus.”

            Yes, Chirrut listens to him when he doesn’t listen to others. But Baze is his teacher, Chirrut is supposed to listen to him.

            He doesn’t listen to his teachers the way he listens to Baze.

            Well, Baze is his mentor. They are supposed to have a closer relationship than the acolytes do with their general teachers.

            Do any of the other acolytes spend as much time with their mentors as Chirrut spends with Baze? They are together in the morning, in the evenings, on resting days. Chirrut will come find him after lunch. Baze didn’t think too much of it—after all, his every spare moment was spent with T’kal. But he was training to be Protector. Now that he thinks of it, he doesn’t believe any of the other acolytes spend their resting day with their mentor. Or their lunch. Or the majority of their evenings.

            That doesn’t mean anything. They get along. That happens. That’s all right.

            Has anyone in this place just gotten along with Baze?

            They’re too different for anything more. Chirrut, he’s—out in the civilian world, he would have anyone that he wanted. He’s handsome, that is undeniable, and charismatic. He’s smart, and funny, and that smile seems to open doors that Baze would never think of even touching. For pity’s sake, he was in that bar for all of a few hours that one time and he had his tongue down a stranger’s throat, and that’s only the part Baze saw.

            Baze, meanwhile—he’s not a person that anyone would want. Not like that. He has a calling, one that eliminates the possibility for romantic entanglement, which he accepted long ago, because it’s not exactly something he wanted. He’s fine being by himself. He is not a kind man, he doesn’t think, and his emotions—well, they were worse when he was a child, but he doesn’t exactly feel in control of them these days either. Baze is not the sort of man that someone would want. He’s not available, for one, and he’s not demonstrative with his feelings. He’s not much to look at either.

            After all—those damned ears.

            He growls as he strides across the yard, and anyone who sees him wisely moves out of the way.

            This is all supposition. Palasat and Comra, they’re incorrect, is all. Neither of them said that Chirrut had explicitly said anything. They could be wrong.

            How often have you known them to be wrong? And are you of all people saying that a thing can only be believed if it’s tangible? If so, you need to go to the Master and turn in your robes.

            Baze is struck with a sudden wave of despair, and he doesn’t even know why. He’s upset, yes, because this is all extremely unexpected, but why this sorrow that’s come upon him so abruptly? The confusion he can handle, the irritation, that’s fine, but this—what is this?

            He doesn’t know. He doesn’t care.

            He’s headed home. He just needs to get inside, and sit down, and meditate, and figure this out. If he can be in his home, and alone, and have the time to think, maybe this will make sense.

            How is that even possible? Baze wonders, and there’s that edge of panic again.

            Telling himself to calm down, Baze strides up to his house, and goes through the door.

            Now this—is not what he expected.

            Chirrut is on the floor of his kitchen. The compartment is open, and the lightbow is sticking out of it. Not only that, but the rifle of the repeating cannon is lying on the floor.

            They stare at one another.

            Baze very deliberately closes the door.

            Chirrut raises the index fingers of both hands. “I can explain.”

            Taking a step towards him, Baze threatens, “Can you?”

            Nodding, trying to look calm, Chirrut says, “I was bringing you back your copy of—“ He glances around quickly, then snatches something from behind him. It’s a scroll. The Ballad of Tessiki and Te’nai. Baze loaned it to him last week. “I was bringing this back, and I knew you were at lunch, so I was just going to leave it on the steps. But….”

            Baze takes another step, and he knows there’s murder in his tone. “But?”

            Chirrut hesitates, then says, “I heard the crystals.”

            That takes a little of the edge off, but not much. “You what?”

            “I was on the steps, and I heard crystal song,” Chirrut says quickly. “They’ve never sung for me before—not like for the others. I’ve never even had one light up. You know that. But I was standing there, and I heard this sound coming from inside, and I knew you were gone, so I knew that it wasn’t you. That and—it felt like—it felt like….” Chirrut drops his voice. “They were singing for me.” He swallows. “I thought this was it. I thought it was happening, so I followed the song.”

            Like that, any anger Baze felt disappears. He walks into the kitchen, and Chirrut looks up cautiously. But Baze just takes a seat, sighing at the sight of the heavy repeating cannon so exposed.

            “What happened?” Baze asks.

            Chirrut shrugs. “I came inside, and I could…I heard them under the floor. They were coming from right here. I thought—I thought this was the start of my Force experience. I’m sorry, I’m an idiot—“

            “What happened,” Baze repeats, but gentler.

            “I spent about ten minutes trying to figure out how to open the floor, and the whole time it was singing. It sounded like a voice, but not a human voice. I don’t know. Then I opened the compartment, and it stopped. I didn’t know what was happening. I wasn’t expecting…well, this.”

            Chirrut glances at Baze, and Baze just looks back, without apology. There’s more than just the lightbow and the repeating cannon in the chamber.

            “Did anything else happen?”

            Hesitating, Chirrut says, “The lightbow lit up when I touched it.”

            “It what?” Baze exclaims.

            Eyes widening, Chirrut pauses, then repeats, “The lightbow lit up when I touched it.”

            Baze covers his mouth with his hand, thoughtfully studying Chirrut. The man still can’t tell if he’s done something wrong or not, and he’s obviously waiting for Baze to tell him. Baze rubs his thumb over his cheek, considering the situation. “Did it do anything else?” he says around his hand.

            “It sang again. For a moment. I think that’s what I heard singing. But it stopped.” Chirrut shakes his head. “I’m sorry. I was so eager—I invaded your privacy. I should have waited until you returned. I’m sorry.”

            Any other situation, Chirrut would be relentless with his questions. Like why does Baze keep a small arsenal in his kitchen floor? But he hoped for something, and it didn’t happen.

            “All right,” Baze says.

            Chirrut looks at him, disbelieving. “All right? I broke into your—whatever this is.”

            “Better you than anyone else.” Baze watches his reaction as he asks, “Did you look at that?” He nods down at the repeating cannon.

            He wants to see if he can tell when Chirrut lies. He almost wants Chirrut to lie now, so that he can test him.

            But Chirrut drops his voice to nearly a whisper. “You put kyber in there,” he hisses. “You’ve put kyber in all these weapons.”

            Baze exhales. “I did.”

            “What happened to, we don’t experiment with the kyber, the kyber is sacred? We don’t question it, or study it?”

            “Do as I say, not as I do?” Baze offers.

            Chirrut stares at him, then breaks out laughing. He puts a hand to his face, looking inside the compartment. “This is…unexpected.”

            “Are you going to tell on me?”

            “Don’t be silly. I admit, I’m actually a little impressed. A little terrified too, but.” Chirrut shrugs. “That’s life.”

            “Are you scared of me?”

            And the way Chirrut looks at him. In that moment, Baze knows Palasat and Comra were not mistaken. They saw what he has overlooked.

            Chirrut gazes at him, and says, “Of course I’m not.”

            Dangerous. Dangerous, dangerous, dangerous.

            Baze turns his eyes away from him, giving his focus to the number of weapons he’s experimented on over the years with the little pieces of kyber that no one will miss. “Well. This is unexpected,” he says, and he doesn’t just mean the discovery of his playthings.

            “Whose lightbow is it?”

            “What?” Baze says, confused. He immediately closes his eyes. “Right.” He nods to it. “That’s mine.”

            Frowning, Chirrut looks to the lightbow that’s mounted above Baze’s meditation space. “I thought that was yours.”

            “No, that’s T’kal’s.” Baze reaches in, lifting out the lightbow. “I made this seven years ago. Only problem is it’s defective.”

            “It’s what?” Chirrut says flatly.

            Baze holds it up, demonstrating to Chirrut. “Look at it. I constructed it, and it seemed fine. I got through inspection. T’kal said it was a beautiful piece of work.”

            “It is,” Chirrut agrees.

            “Regardless, the day after inspection, it stopped working.” Baze snorts at the memory. “I picked it up, and—it wouldn’t light for me. I’m not a Jedi, I can’t make a crystal bend to my will. If it doesn’t work for me, it doesn’t work. And they are—particular. Some days they light for me, some days they don’t. I swear they have personalities. And this one—“ Baze opens the chamber of the lightbow. The chunk of kyber inside has sat in there for years. Baze pulls it out, tossing it into the air. He catches it, turning it over. Just a clear piece of crystal. “This is the kyber I chose for myself when I sat my seventh duan. It turned bright blue in my hands, and I heard—I saw…well. Then the day after I became a Guardian, it stopped working. It hasn’t worked since. No one has ever known other than T’kal. I was embarrassed. Maybe that’s why I’ve worked with the kyber, in these other pieces. To try and understand why this one will sing for me no longer.”

            Baze weighs it in his hand, thinking of how mortified he was when the crystal would no longer light. It’s been silent for seven years.

            He tosses it to Chirrut.

            Automatically, Chirrut catches it one hand. And the crystal flickers with blue and white light, paler than it ever was for Baze. Crystal song rises into the air.

            Chirrut almost drops it in shock, and Baze lunges forward, bracing his hand under Chirrut’s. “Careful,” he warns. “Careful.”

            Grimacing in apology, Chirrut studies the crystal. He brings it up to his face, and light swims across his skin. For a moment, the whites of his eyes look pale blue.

            Then he looks at Baze and says, “This is not my fault.”

            Baze barks, and shrugs. It is what it is. The crystals have an agenda of their own that he is not always privy to. He holds the lightbow out to Chirrut. “Put it inside.”

            Gingerly, Chirrut slips the crystal into the chamber, then closes the small door. The lightbow comes to life with a gentle hum in his hands. Curious, Chirrut brings the stock to his shoulder, aiming the barrel towards the floor, and Baze can hear the whine as it cycles up a charge.

            It works for him. It works for Chirrut as it would not for Baze.

            Before it can power up all the way, Chirrut puts it down. He checks that the safety is on. Good. “I am not sure what this means,” Chirrut says.

            He’s lying. Maybe not completely, but this time Baze is looking for it. It’s in the way that Chirrut doesn’t quite blink as naturally as usual. He thinks it means something.

            Baze might have an inkling of what that is.

            But that does not mean he believes it himself. “It’s not unheard of to find the crystal for your lightbow not in the cave, but elsewhere in the temple. Heem’s came from the tombs.”

            “Liar.”

            “I am heavily armed,” Baze reminds him, and Chirrut grins. “Do you really want to make that accusation?”

            “No, Protector.” Chirrut lifts his hands. “Baze, I mean.”

            “He did as you did. He heard the crystal call him one day. No one else could hear it. He followed it, down into the lower temple. Don’t tell him that I can’t remember which one, but one of the great warrior monks of old, his crystal was singing for Heem when it was time for him to build his lightbow.”

            “I’ve only sat two duans. I’m probably two and a half years away from my own lightbow.”

            “It is curious,” Baze agrees. He studies the lightbow, wondering what in the world the Force is trying to convey to them. “Well—you’re still several levels from learning with the lightbow, but—when the time comes, if you want to use this one in practice, that would be fine with me. And if this crystal is indeed your crystal, then—I will be honoured to pass it on to you. If it’s yours, then I give it freely.”

            Reluctant, Chirrut says, “Why do I feel like I’m cheating you of something?”

            “You’re not,” Baze says, and means it. He picks up the rifle of the repeating cannon, pounding it on with the side of his fist. It screams to life, and Chirrut leans back, though still fascinated. “I was never overly fond of the lightbow, though don’t spread that around. But this—“ Baze holds the rifle up, looking over its little dents, feeling like every one adds character. “I much prefer this. A lightbow, it’s one shot at a time. This, I can fire up to ten with one blast. Much more economical. This beauty got Guela and I across sectors. The kyber, well—alas. I couldn’t help myself. So it got an upgrade.” Turning it off, Baze shrugs. “To be honest, if you even just chose to use my lightbow instead of constructing your own, I wouldn’t be that bothered.”

            “That’s…quite the gift.”

            It is, isn’t it.

            Damn it. Baze is supposed to be trying to figure out how to react to this man’s—Force save him—feelings towards him, and then he goes and gives him his ceremonial weapon.

            Mixed messages, Baze.

            Putting the cannon back into the compartment, Baze says, “Yes, well—I have instructions for you that you’re not going to like. So you can consider the gesture me buttering you up.”

            “For what?” Chirrut asks warily.

            “This next month, I want you to spend every other evening with your classmates, as well as the resting day.”

            How could he have not seen this before? Chirrut, for one second, looks absolutely devastated. Then his usual smile is back. “In a rush to get rid of me, aren’t you?”

            “In a way,” Baze says, and no missing the flinch Chirrut gives. He holds out his hand for the lightbow, and Chirrut passes it to him. “In a few months, you’ll no longer be my acolyte. We spend a great deal of time together, and I worry that you’re too reliant on me personally. I want you to become more used to depending on your classmates, on your other teachers, in preparation for when you’re acolyte under Palasat.”

            Chirrut says nothing for a moment. Then he just nods with a smile. “If you like.”

            “I’m your teacher. I need to make sure that you are prepared for the continuing of your education.”

            “What about when you’re no longer my teacher?”

            “What do you mean?”

            “I mean, what will you be to me when you’re no longer my teacher?”

            Baze has to wonder if Chirrut has been bold like this before, and if he just hasn’t noticed. Baze thinks, I am one with the Force and the Force is with me. “I will be your ally. With determination, you will go far within the order, and find a place where you fit with the most happiness. I will always be there to support your journey as a Guardian.”

            Chirrut rolls his eyes. “You know, you could just say that we’ll be friends.”

            Baze finds himself saying, “Is that what you want? To be friends?”

            Bright brown eyes capture his, and Chirrut says easily, “What else would we be?”

            Somehow, Baze finds that he’s the one blushing. “Acquaintances,” he replies, reaching out for the door.

            As he shuts it, Chirrut says, “I suppose we’ll be friends, then.” There is something in his smile that says he knows something Baze doesn’t. But what is it?

            And why Baze, of all people?

Chapter Text

Over the next month, Chirrut does everything in his power to remind Baze why he gained a reputation for difficulty when he arrived at the temple.           

            Baze will not see Chirrut three evenings of the week, or on the resting day, but outside of that, there is absolutely no telling when Chirrut will pop up.

            Chirrut will arrive on his doorstep at 5:30 in the morning, bright eyed and smiling. “Shall we go for a run, old man?” he’ll tease. Other mornings, he comes with breakfast, and when he goes, Baze will sometimes discover that his porridge has been stolen.

            Chirrut will find him when he should be having lunch with his classmates, instead showing up chewing on something. “Good for the digestion to eat while you walk,” he says cheerfully. “That’s what my grandmother told me!”

            He’ll appear when he should be in class, any day of the week, at almost any time. “I was excused,” he says, all innocent brown eyes when Baze asks why the hell he isn’t in lessons. Chirrut has advanced so far beyond his classmates in so many topics that he’s managed to convince nearly all his instructors to let him out of class early. The day finally comes when Heem is the one giving permission, and Baze almost has a heart attack.

            “It’s like you don’t believe in my abilities,” Chirrut says with mock hurt.

            He will want to train with Baze, learn from him. “I want a challenge,” Chirrut pleads. “Who better to give me that than you?” Baze is not swayed. Most days, he tells Chirrut to stop sucking up, and sends him off to pray. Chirrut never complains about that. He’s fine to sit for hours at a time in prayer without being distracted.

            Then there are the days that Baze gives in and teaches Chirrut what he wants to know. It seems silly to withhold knowledge from him.

            And it isn’t like Baze doesn’t enjoy Chirrut’s company. He does. Immensely. There has not been another person who ever wanted to learn from him like this, who was a friend to him like this. They are wildly different, but strangely suited to one another’s temperaments. Baze doesn’t like that they spend less time together than before.

            But he did it for a reason. A reason he’s not allowed himself to think about. Short of putting it in a box labelled ‘not in a million years’ and shutting it away in his mind, Baze cannot address the information he unfortunately has learned. All he needs to remember is that he must acclimate Chirrut to a world without his presence. That is the first step to quelling his—infatuation, or whatever it can be called.

            So sometimes Baze is where Chirrut can find him, but more and more, he goes where he thinks he will not be found. The walls of the perimeter. The mesa stairs. The top of the tower.

            It’s all for naught. Somehow, Chirrut finds him. Every. Single. Time. He never says anything about it, just joins Baze in whatever he’s doing with a smile, like it’s completely normal that they’re having a conversation in the storage room of the music hall. Baze doesn’t know how to make it stop. He can’t talk about it. Talking would make it all so much more real. Instead, he runs.

            Baze runs, and Chirrut hunts his prey.

 

“Baze!”

            His jaw drops, and he looks back over his shoulder.

            Chirrut is walking across the stones, in his black robes with the grey panels down the lower right side. He looks completely unfazed by Baze’s incredulity. He’s swinging a flute in his left hand.

            Incensed, Baze tries to keep his temper under control. He doesn’t exactly succeed.

            “How?” he demands at last. He gestures to the uneti tree and its falling leaves. “This—this is where I come when I want to commune with the spirit of T’kal. This is a sacred place, a place for reflection, for sincerity and soberness, not hollering my name like we’re civilians trying to catch someone’s attention across the street.” Baze shakes his rigid hands at the curved tree. “This is the living embodiment to me of the memory of my master. This is the last place he had me bring him before I took him down into the caves to breathe his last. I told eight different people that I was spending the afternoon in the caves, inspecting kyber, and I know all of them are your informants, so that I could have just a few moments of peace alone with the memory of my beloved mentor. And you come in here like an utter buffoon, who doesn’t know the rules of this place, when we both know damned well that you do.” Baze throws an arm out at him, flushed. “What do you have to say for yourself?”

            Chirrut stands there a moment. Then he looks up at the sky and says, “Sorry, T’kal. I need to borrow Baze for a few minutes.” He sits down in front of Baze, nonchalant.

            Baze’s hands form fists, and he has to count to ten, like in the old days, to calm himself. “Force save us,” he says with frustration. “How did you find me?”

            “I implanted a subdermal tracking device on you.”

            Eyes widening, Baze says, “You did not.”

            One look at him, and Chirrut starts to laugh. “You think I’m serious!” he exclaims. He puts a hand up to his mouth, but it does nothing to cover his laughter. “Oh no! You thought I was actually serious!”

            Irritated, Baze reaches out and pushes him over.

            Chirrut just flops onto his back, still cackling. “Ayuh,” he giggles, putting his hand over his eyes.

            Damn it, why does he have to—Baze can’t help himself. He starts to smile too. Stop that. He makes himself stop, frowning instead. And he makes himself look away from the sight of Chirrut lying on the rocks, laughing.

            Huffing, Baze asks, “Don’t you have an appointment?”

            “I did! With Guardian Umulan. It went so well, he—“

            “Let you out early,” Baze finishes with a grumble.

            Sitting up, Chirrut says, “Exactly.” He pulls his legs underneath himself, laying the musical instrument across his lap. His eyes are still sparkling with merriment.

            Baze lasts a few seconds, then sighs. “Fine. Why do you have a flute?”

            Lifting it, Chirrut says, “Oh—this?”

            “No, the other one you have, you fool.”

            “I had my meeting with Guardian Umulan that you so thoughtfully arranged.” There’s an edge to Chirrut’s voice, but Baze holds steady. “We discussed all kinds of areas that I could go into once I’ve been fully initiated into the order. He asked if there were things that I’d been good at before becoming a disciple of the Whills.”

            Straight faced, Baze says, “I don’t imagine drinking and whoring were of much use to you.”

            “Surprisingly they weren’t, but I did mention that—“ Chirrut raises the flute. “I was quite the musician in my younger years. He asked if I’d demonstrate, and I was a little rusty, but—“ He leans closer to Baze, lowering his voice confidentially. “I nearly brought him to tears. He was as touched as I’ve seen him.”

            “This is the first time you’ve met him.”

            “Then it was definitely the most touched I’ve ever seen him.” Chirrut waves the flute to and fro. “Perhaps I have a future as a temple musician. Not what I expected, but—at least it might be the first time in my life I actually please my mother.” He lifts the flute. “Would you like to hear me play?”

            “No.”

            “Oh, say that you do. I’m really very good.”

            Baze shakes his head. “No. I can tell when you’re setting me up. I’m not buying it.”

            “Baze. I promise, I’m very good at playing the flute.”

            “Don’t do that. Don’t promise when you’re just telling me a lie.”

            Furrowing his brows, Chirrut says, “I’m not lying. I’m trying to play beautiful music for you.” He shakes his head, lifting the flute. “I don’t care if you give me permission or not. I’m playing anyways.”

            “Oh gods,” Baze mutters, dropping his face into his hands.

            He waits to hear something god awful. All he hears is silence. Hesitantly, after about ten seconds go by, he lifts his eyes, already wincing.

            Chirrut’s nodding his head slightly, counting to some imaginary beat. He lowers his full lips to the flute, and raises a finger.

            A horrifying, out-of-tune wobble lifts from the flute. Baze shuts his eyes, telling himself that he knew this was coming. Chirrut continues to play, clearly having never even touched a flute before today. The sounds he makes from the instrument are—ungodly. Every new note is a wince.

            Baze tells himself that he won’t play along. Chirrut is trying to get a rise from him. Same as always. He delights in tormenting Baze. He teases everyone, but he seems to get a particular pleasure from torturing Baze. Well, this time it’s not going to work.

            It’s not.

            It’s really not.

            The music screeches upwards towards a register that probably only a very small subset of animals could hear.

            Baze breaks.

            “For the love of the Force,” he beseeches. “Cease that infernal racket.”

            Lowering the flute a few inches, Chirrut asks, “You don’t like it?”

            Fine. Fine! If Chirrut wants to play, Baze will play. In complete honesty, Baze says, “That was one of the worst things I have ever heard in my life. I have had drills in my teeth, without anesthesia, that hurt less than that caterwauling. It was an abomination. It was the music that the Force forgot. It’s what’s left at the end of the universe to torment the last of the sentient before existence itself collapses inwards. I am embarrassed to have heard it, and embarrassed to even know you right now. If anyone asks me in the future if I know you, I’m going to say no. They’ll say, you know, Chirrut, with the flute, and I’ll say, no, I’ve never heard of him before. A blind man would deafen himself, would gladly rid himself of that second sense, to escape your terrible, toneless shrieking. Are you satisfied? Are you pleased to have made me suffer so deeply?”

            Chirrut just blinks a few times, then looks at the flute. “I’m sorry you did not enjoy it. Let me try again—“

            Baze lunges for the flute.

            But before he can, Chirrut sets his lips just above the flute, and blows gently across it.

            Music, melancholy and pure, emanates from the flute. It doesn’t sound like the same instrument. It doesn’t sound like the same galaxy of sounds.

            Baze sits back, stunned—and not knowing why he would be. It’s Chirrut. Of course it went like this. Of course.

            He listens to the song. It is unlike anything he has ever heard from Chirrut before. It is gentle and yearning. Perfect in pitch. It wraps around Baze’s heart, and he feels an actual…he feels an actual ache, deep within. In a place he did not know existed.

            He listens to the entire song, Chirrut’s head bent, his eyes closed, until it is done. When he finishes, Chirrut looks up, the corners of his mouth struggling not to upturn.

            Baze tosses up his hands. He shakes his head, with a laugh. “Why the game? Why the pretense?”

            Like he’s won something, Chirrut says, “Because I like to tease you. And I like when you tease me. That—and I made you smile.” He lowers his head, and begins to play again.

            It is the first time that Baze tells himself, I am not allowed to love him back.

 

It is a few days later, and Baze is walking across the yard, letting out a yawn. He fell asleep praying the night before, and now his back is sore. Knees, he’s used to. Back, not so much.

            “Protector?” a little voice asks.

            He turns, and smiles slightly. “Streisa.”

            The small woman—he has to remind himself to think of her as a woman, because whenever he looks at her, he can only think of her as a girl—approaches, pink cheeked and nervous. She puts a fist inside her other hand. “I’m sorry, sir. Could I have…a moment of your time?”

            He lowers his head a few inches in respect. “You are always welcome to a moment of my time.”

            Her complexion reddens even more, and she pushes her hands into her sleeves to try and hide her fidgeting. It doesn’t exactly succeed. “This is really silly, and I don’t mean to bother you, but…Acolyte Îmwe started a compliment chain.”

            Puzzled, Baze crosses his arms. “What is a compliment chain?”

            “He said…people don’t praise one another as often as they should, and when they do, they use the same compliments. So he’s daring people to compliment others on something he doesn’t think that anyone would have said before. All the acolytes are doing it.”

            “And why should I be concerned about that?”

            “N-no, sir. I wanted to…I wanted to compliment you.”

            He looks at her a moment, then lets out a laugh. That embarrasses her even further, and Baze says, “Streisa, I don’t need compliments—“

            “My—my father said that the person who doesn’t need reassurance is the person who deserves reassurance. I know that’s…presumptuous, sir. But you have always been very kind to me, so I wanted to…return the favour.”

            “You were dared to compliment me?”

            Her voice very small, Streisa says, “No sir. We’re allowed to choose…who to say something to. Then they’re supposed to go on and compliment someone else.” She quickly follows up, “You don’t have to, of course. I know it’s silly.”

            Baze puts his hands behind his back, standing widely. “It has been said that I do not take compliments well. It’s something I suppose I should work on. So. Do your worst.”

            Streisa inhales very deeply, forcing herself to look into Baze’s eyes. “When you took us into the caves for the first time, you made the glasses smaller for me. That was very thoughtful. And very kind. And when I think of you, I think of how you did that for me.”

            He looks at her a long moment. Then he puts his head down, and he smiles. He feels almost bashful.

            “Was that all right?”

            Baze puts a hand over his heart. “Streisa of the outer lands, I will hold that dear to me. Thank you.” She smiles, slightly dazed. “And I’m supposed to compliment someone now?”

            “Yes sir. It’s a chain, you see.”

            “Am I allowed to choose you?”

            Streisa’s mouth falls open. She stares at Baze long enough for him to wonder if she’s had some sort of seizure. Abruptly her mouth clamps shut. “Mm hmm,” she gets out through tightly pressed lips.

            Baze holds out his hands. Streisa puts hers into his. Her hands are about half the size of Baze’s battered ones. “I think that my mentor, T’kal, would have adored you. And that is the highest compliment that I have to give.”

            Streisa gazes up at him, eyes shining. Perhaps she is the one. It is not the first time he has thought it, nor the fifth, nor the tenth. He is waiting for some sign that she is truly meant to be his apprentice. Will it not happen that way?

            Squeezing his hands as much as she is able, Streisa says hoarsely, “That is…most generous of you, Protector.”

            “My name is Baze, Streisa. You have my leave to use it.”

            “I do?” she squeaks.

            “Of your year, I cannot think of any other who has done so much to earn it.” He lets her go. “Now, is it not your turn again? Find someone who looks like they could really use some cheering up.”

            “Of course, sir,” she says, and she smiles. Her face lights up when she does that. Baze wishes she would do that more. He nods to her, and continues on his way.

            Compliment chain. What will the acolytes come up with next?

 

As the day goes on, Baze is told that his robes are always impossibly neat. He’s told that he has strong hands. He’s told that he has a lovely smile, and he should use it more. He is told that he has a good heart.

            The whole compound feels lighter. Everywhere he goes, everyone looks cheerful. He even hears Naro laugh. The compliment chain has clearly done its work. The simple act of being randomly kind to other people is bringing life to the usually sedate temple.

            Through it all, Baze sees Chirrut flitting about. He seems to be the instigator of all the chains. Wherever he goes, smiles and laughter follow. No one seems immune to his charms.

            He is impossible. He can’t seem to help bringing the unexpected with him. This temple has been the same since the day Baze arrived here. Quiet, settled. Eternal. Chirrut, meanwhile, is very much in the here and now. Sometimes Baze thinks he might be the most alive person he’s ever known, in a certain way.

            After all, there are many ways of living.

            Baze manages to get through much of his day without encountering Chirrut. He has sessions with the sixth levels, and he needs to sit through an hour-long meeting of the senior temple staff regarding developments in the war. Baze pays only as much attention as is expected of him.

            The war is far from here. And his concerns are not with the world. His concerns lie with the Force. People will hurt each other in this war, and people will die. But there is always a war, and people are always dying. That’s just the way of corporeal beings. It might seem callous, except it’s how he was trained. As were they all.

            Even the Master looked uninterested by the envoy’s news, and she always manages to make outsiders feel as though they are heard. She knows, as they all know, that this will pass.

            Baze is walking home, and he thinks of Guela. He might be far from the fighting, but she is not. One day, she will be a Jedi. Jedi fight.

            Every time he thinks to himself, at least she’s still young, too young to fight in this war, he has to remember that one day she will be old enough, and there will be another war. Guela is fierce. She will want to fight.

            The expectation that they all do, though…he hadn’t thought of that when he brought her here. He was following Guevar’s orders. Get her to the temple. Get her to her own kind. Baze did not consider what they would raise her into.

            Much like he didn’t consider what he would be become.

            “Baze!”

            He turns, bracing himself at the sound of Chirrut’s voice. He knows what’s coming as Chirrut jogs over, with his ever-present smile. He’s a bit breathless. He’d have to be, considering how many places Baze has seen him around the compound today. And now, apparently, it’s Baze’s turn.

            Baze raises a brow as Chirrut stops in front of him, the other man smothering a laugh. He takes a deep breath, and says grandly, “You have glorious ears.”

            And Baze shuts down.

            He’s making fun of me.

            With a scowl, Baze steps away from him. He doesn’t register the surprise in Chirrut’s eyes. Blood rushing to Baze’s face, he can practically feel the air moving over his ears, the ears that stick out so boldly.

            “Do you not have better things to do?” Baze snaps. Chirrut opens his mouth, but Baze cuts him off. “The entire order is behaving ludicrously at your instigation. People listen to you, though the Force only knows why.” Baze points off to where he knows fight training is occurring. “You’ve disrupted an entire day of learning for your classmates, all because you had a whim. Dragging Streisa into such a thing—she might be my apprentice someday, and you have wasted her time. You disrespect me, you disrespect your classmates, you disrespect us all. You are thirty years old. You need to grow up.”

            He pivots and strides away. He feels his ears burning.

 

I am one with the Force and the Force is with me I am one with the Force and the Force is with me I am one with the Force and the Force is with me I am one with the Force and the Force is with me I am one with the Force and the Force is with me

            He rocks back and forth, taking in incense every time he breathes. Sitting in his meditation space, Baze pushes everything else out of his head, and focuses solely on the thing that matters.

            He is one with the Force, and the Force is with him.

            It’s only when the timer goes off that Baze lifts his head, bleary. How long has he—? Judging from the waning light that comes in from the back of the house, after eight at night. Baze rolls his shoulders, then pushes himself up.

            He’s only in his pants, though the days are getting colder. Baze has always liked the cold. It sharpens the senses.

            That being said, he’s going to have a cup of tea, do some reading, and then go to bed.

            Baze picks up his shirt, putting his arms through the sleeves but not fastening it. He avoids the mirror, and walks to the kitchen. As he pulls out his favourite mug, he finds that there is still a kernel of upset, right at his middle.

            Appearance is unimportant. Besides, he was only teasing. He teases you all the time. Why are you being this way?

            Likely because it was the first hurt. The first always lasts the longest. That is what T’kal taught him, among many other things. That must be why he is so bothered, even after three hours of prayer.

            As Baze stands absently at the sink, a small whisper comes from the entry. Leaning back, he sees that a piece of paper has been slipped under the door.

            He doesn’t want to go over there. Only one person leaves him messages like that.

            He might be thirty, but you’re thirty-one. You need to behave like an adult as well.

            Sighing, Baze puts down his mug, and goes over to pick up the paper. Like all the messages Chirrut has left him, the paper is nearly transparent, and slightly larger than Baze’s hand. It has been written on in tiny, graceful script. However, it is unlike anything Chirrut has ever left for him before.

            It reads:

 

I am a fool

and you are not

Though we both of us do foolish things

Though not in equal measure

I forget that you are human

I forget because you hide that part

You forget that I can be sincere

because I hide that from you as well

You are wise

But you forget

that you are vulnerable

And you don’t understand that I smile

when I give a compliment

because I am hiding

I think about how your ears listen

I did not think of them in any way other

than how they are unique to you

I am shamed to have hurt you

It is not a thing I can say to your face

because I would smile

and you would not believe me

Your ears are beautiful

and I am a fool

 

            Baze stands there, holding the delicate page in his rough hand. He blinks, and rereads it, from beginning to end. Then he rereads it again.

            It is the second time he reminds himself that he cannot love Chirrut.

Chapter Text

It is exactly a month since Baze told Chirrut to spend more time with his classmates, since he limited their time together. During those weeks, Baze has felt as though he has been hunted. And once the month ends, Chirrut begins his attack.

            Baze sits under the uneti tree. It is autumn, and the leaves have turned pale green and brown. He closes his eyes and listens to them rustling in the breeze. Occasionally, one will detach and he will listen to that as well. He will wait for the moment it touches the surface of the pond.

            This is T’kal’s tree. Strong and delicate at the same time. This is one of Baze’s favourite places in the entire universe.

            He is unsurprised to hear Chirrut’s footsteps across the stones. It is after class for him, a class he managed to stay in until the end. That’s rare these days. That being the case, Baze figured Chirrut would come see him directly after. He had hoped that Chirrut would continue the habit, would want to spend evenings with his classmates, or asking questions of his other teachers.

            Somehow, though, he knew.

            Chirrut sits down directly beside him, so his knee is touching Baze’s.

            Startled, Baze jerks away.

            Eyebrows placidly raised, Chirrut says, “I can’t have startled you that much.” With a crooked smile, he arranges his legs underneath himself. “Were you so deep in prayer that you didn’t hear my approach?”

            Embarrassed by how abruptly he reacted, Baze responds, “You plod like an elephoth. Of course I heard you.”

            “Do I? I always thought of myself as having a rather light step.” Chirrut frowns. “I shall have to work on that.” His face brightens. “Were you in silent, or do you mind if I pray?”

            “Whatever you like,” Baze says, not sure why he feels so conflicted right now.

            Chirrut nods. His whole body relaxes as he closes his eyes, and he sinks into prayer so easily that he is unrecognizable from the man who first arrived at the temple. The words spill from his mouth, rapid and rhythmic. “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me, I am one with the Force and the Force is with me, I am one with the Force and the Force is with me….”

            It takes Baze a moment to join in. He does not stumble over his words, but it still feels like something hot left a mark on his knee.

 

The next day, when it happens again, Baze doesn’t lurch away. Once is coincidence, twice is suspicious. He looks down at where their knees touch, and says, “Is there not an entire yard for you to pray in?”

            “What?” Chirrut looks down at where they are touching, and seems surprised. “Oh! Forgive me. I hadn’t noticed.” He smiles, then shuffles politely over a few inches. Cradling his hands in his lap, he begins to murmur, “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me….”

 

If twice is suspicious, three times is officially a pattern. Baze presses his lips together as Chirrut doesn’t say a word, just launches into his prayer.

            Stop being ridiculous. You’re barely touching one another. Ignore him. Pray.

            So Baze closes his eyes.

            He focuses on a vision of kyber. A perfect piece of kyber. Symmetrical in every way. It floats in blackness. Breathing slowly, Baze examines every inch of it in his mind. He imagines a light, flaring from deep within the crystal.

            Now he imagines it coming towards him. It will enter his heart. It will be one with him.

            “Could you please move?” Baze bursts out, surprising even himself.

            Chirrut actually jumps, startled, and Baze struggles not to blush. Chirrut glances at him in confusion, then down at where their knees are touching. But instead of moving, the bastard, he laughs at Baze. “Are you honestly so distracted by that? Aren’t you supposed to be the very important Protector of the Crystal Guardian? And that’s all it takes to distract you from your devotions?” Shaking his head, Chirrut closes his eyes. He even tsks. “You ought to be setting a better example for me.”         

            Jaw twitching, Baze stares straight forward.

            He squeezes his eyes closed.

            There is a piece of kyber. A perfect piece of kyber.

 

On the fourth day, when Chirrut sits down so that their knees touch, Baze simply moves away. He doesn’t say anything about it, doesn’t draw attention to it. He shuffles over, without even opening his eyes, pretending that he doesn’t notice a thing, and continues to pray.

 

He does this on the fifth day.

 

He does this on the sixth day.

 

On the seventh day, he moves over a few inches. He is imagining the eye of the Crystal Guardian. He has never looked at it directly—he’s still sane, obviously—but he has thought about what it might look like. He thinks it is like a piece of kyber, only round, and that it glows with the energy of a star, but blue.

            There’s the rustle of rocks.

            Chirrut’s knee is pressing to his.

            Baze’s teeth are suddenly worrying at his lower lip. He has not let himself think about this, because there’s nothing to think about. He has an acolyte with a crush. An acolyte who will be the concern of another Guardian in three months’ time. All he has to do is outlast Chirrut.

            He does not want to be cruel. He has been cruel to Chirrut before—sometimes he still is—but he doesn’t want to be that person.

            Opening his eyes, Baze says steadily, “Chirrut, please move.”

            Almost predictably, Chirrut doesn’t. Instead, he speaks. “I have a question.”

            “I’m trying to pray—“

            “Why are monks afraid of physical contact?”

            “What?”

            Chirrut leans back on his hands, shrugging. “I was raised in a family where there were always kisses. We were always being hugged. Touched. It’s how I am. I like to be contact with people. But Guardians—it’s like the only time they expect to be touched is during a fight or during a very important moment. I mean, look at you. You get very flustered if my knee even touches yours.” He pokes his knee into Baze’s. “What about that makes you uncomfortable—“

            Shifting away, Baze says in frustration, “It makes me uncomfortable because I am trying to pray. I come here to pray. This tree—“

            “Is the tree of T’kal, you’ve told me—“

            “Is important to me. It is a place where I seek serenity, not—“

            Chirrut gazes back at him, challenge in his eyes. A man’s not looked at him like that in over a decade.

            “Questions,” Baze finishes. He brushes off his robes, though they don’t need it, resettling himself. “Now, there are plenty of places in the temple for you to pray. Why don’t you find one of them?”

            He wants to growl when Chirrut shakes his head. “No,” he says. “This is my favourite place.” He studies the changing uneti tree with affection. “This is where my mentor first brought me to pray. This is the very spot he sat me down. This is where I will pray.” Retaking position, Chirrut says, “If it makes you happy, you can feel free to pray elsewhere, though it seems a shame. Plenty of room for the both of us, isn’t there.”

            With a smile, he closes his eyes.

            Don’t, Baze pleads with him. I’m begging you. Don’t.

 

This cannot continue. It is a cold day, the wind sliding over Baze’s shorn head. Almost all the leaves have come off the tree. He will still pray here. Of course he will. It is just as beautiful in winter as any other season, and the day will come when the tree buds again. He loves this place. He cannot abandon it because of a game a difficult man is playing with him.

            He has gotten through well over a month without addressing the bantha in the room with Chirrut. Baze thought to simply ride it out, until Chirrut was Palasat’s responsibility. Any other acolyte would have allowed that to happen. They would know their place, and they would accept the reality of the situation.

            Chirrut Îmwe is not like any acolyte Baze has ever encountered. He’s eccentric and not easily contained, yet he excels at nearly everything he tries. He follows some rules to the letter, but others he throws aside carelessly. Like he doesn’t even consider that they could apply to him.

            He will not take the quiet way. Baze will have to confront this. He hopes that it will be swift, but knowing Chirrut, it probably won’t be.

            Baze has not prepared. When it comes to Chirrut, it is usually hubris to think one can prepare. He will have to simply address the situation as it arises.

            So when he hears the sound of footsteps on stone, Baze does nothing. He keeps his head down, counting his breaths.

            Chirrut sits, once more, so that their knees are pressed together. There is some strange current there that Baze cannot describe. He cannot decipher if it is electricity or heat.

            It doesn’t matter.

            Without a word, he relocates nearly a foot away, mouthing his mantra and not losing a single syllable. Baze waits, knowing what is coming.

            It takes a little less than ten seconds. He hears the smooth stones begin to knock together.

            Opening his eyes, Baze says firmly, “Chirrut. No.”

            Chirrut’s hands are on the ground, to help him shift closer to Baze. The usual brightness is there in his eyes, but it dims a little at the tone of Baze’s voice. He pulls his hands into his lap, head cocked at an angle. Like he’s listening for something.

            Baze swallows, then speaks as gently as he’s able. He doesn’t want to hurt Chirrut. This is his friend. He doesn’t want him to be embarrassed, to be wounded by this rejection. It’s inevitable, of course it is, but Baze does not want there to be an irreparable split. “I’m sorry,” Baze tells him, watching Chirrut’s face. “But no.”

            In his lap, Chirrut’s hands are fidgeting. He’s gazing at the pond, as serious around the eyes as Baze has ever seen him. He knows what Baze is talking about. He’s heard him. Relieved, Baze starts to look away.

            Chirrut says, “Yes.”

            Closing his eyes briefly, Baze says, “Chirrut—I am sorry for the hurt you must feel. But…it is unreturned. You must live with that.”

            “No.”

            “Chirrut.”

            Steadily, Chirrut says, “There’s a thing that you don’t know. You cannot tell when I’m lying. But I can always tell when you are. Even when you don’t realize what you’re doing.”

            He cannot do this.

            Baze pushes himself up, but before he’s fully standing, Chirrut has grabbed his wrist. Baze pauses, looking at him. Chirrut is still gazing at the pond, but his eyes are hard as stone. His grip is so tight that it hurts.

            “Chirrut,” Baze says, patient as he’s able. “Let go.”

            Chirrut shakes his head once. “No.”

            Trying to dislodge his fingers, Baze finds Chirrut’s grip to be inescapable. “Chirrut,” he sighs, “you must let me go.”

            “No.”

            “It is not a question. It is an order.”

            “And I refuse.”

            “I will break your fingers if you don’t let me go.”

            Chirrut nods. “If that is your will,” he says softly.

            Baze hesitates. He doesn’t want to do this. He’s doing this so that Chirrut won’t be hurt anymore than he already insists on being. “I’ll do it.”

            “You don’t have to.”

            “I will if you don’t let go.”

            “You don’t have to run. Not from me.”

            Inhaling, Baze says firmly, “I am going to break your fingers, if you don’t let me go now.”

            “I understand.”

            So Baze takes hold of his index finger, and he snaps it.

            Chirrut flinches, biting his lips together. But his grip will not loosen.

            It takes Baze three fingers before he is able to escape.

 

Baze pauses at the doorway to the yard.

            Chirrut already sits beneath the tree. His back is straight, and he is praying at his usual pace. As he does, he rocks ever so gently.

            Baze has not seen him in two days. Chirrut did not come to his door yesterday morning, nor today, and Baze did not come to the uneti tree.

            It was hopeless to believe that he would get through this without having to directly say the words to Chirrut. He is not like the others. He’s not like anyone Baze has ever known, really. He will need to hear the rejection. It will have to be explicit and unequivocal.

            When Baze steps down onto the rocks, there’s a short pause in the prayer. Chirrut continues on, head nodding with the words.

            Cautiously, Baze sits down so that he can face Chirrut. His fingers are healed. It was a crime, to break them. They are long, with terrible strength. They are good hands.

            “Turn to look at me,” Baze says.

            Chirrut stops praying, slowly opening his eyes. He looks slightly dazed. He’s gone deep. How long has he been out here? Baze heard from Chirrut’s instructors that he hasn’t been to class since they last saw one another.

            Blinking a few times, Chirrut turns to look at Baze. “Pardon me?”

            “Turn to face me.”

            Realization comes to Chirrut’s face. He inhales, briefly, through his nose, then turns on the rocks. They look at one another, a meter apart.

            “You insist that we discuss this,” Baze acknowledges. “So we shall. I thought to spare you more harm by letting it fade. I forgot that is not your way.”

            “Fade?” Chirrut says, a chill to his voice.

            “Fade,” Baze echoes. “As it will. As you know it will.”

            “You’re mistaken—“

            “You are inconstant,” Baze says, without recrimination. “You will be a fine monk, if that is where your path leads you. But you change—so quickly. You evolve, so quickly. You know this about yourself. This is a temporary thing. Your friendship is very dear to me, and I hope that will not be a passing thing. Anything more that you feel right now—that you think you feel—it is the thing of moments, no more. Deep down, I believe you know this.”

            The more he speaks, the more Chirrut’s face changes. It is an expression that Baze has never seen from him before. Gone is the deference of the student, or the smile of the man who carries most of himself on the surface.

            This is the displeasure of an equal.

            “I think you need to reconsider who you’re speaking to,” Chirrut says flatly.

            “There is no point in being stubborn about this, just to prove a point—“

            “I am not some teenaged acolyte who knows nothing of the universe. I am a grown man, who had many years of experiences before coming here—“

            “Chirrut—“     

            “That you yourself cannot comprehend,” Chirrut says, and Baze silences. “I defer to you in matters of the order because you are my mentor. But you’re also my age, and in a great many aspects, I am more experienced than you, Baze Malbus. Do not presume to tell me that I’m some school boy with a crush who’ll simply mature out of it. You dishonour me. You condescend to me. It is not acceptable.”

            Of course this wouldn’t go the way Baze expected or hoped. Of course. “Chirrut—“

            “Apologize.”

            “Sorry?”

            “Apologize for disrespecting me. For assuming that my emotions are untrue.”

            For the first time, Baze sees an anger, burning deep in Chirrut. He smiles so often that it never occurred to Baze what he would really be capable of if he was furious. Now he wonders.

            “I apologize,” Baze says quietly. “I’ve not had to do this before. I did forget that we are equals in age. That was my error.”

            Mouth still in a thin line, Chirrut says, “And?”

            “There is nothing else to apologize for. I am trying to communicate to you—that what you ask is an impossibility.”

            “No.”

            Baze puts his hands together, breathing steadily. “Just because you wish a thing were true does not make it thus. I am sorry that you will be hurt. I’m sorry that I’m—unwittingly the agent of that hurt. I do care for you, as I do few others in this life. Not in the way you want of me, though. My friend, I am so sorry.”

            Uncertainty flickers across Chirrut’s face. It’s a relief to see it there.

            Except Chirrut shakes his head. “I do not believe you.” Sighing, Baze puts his head in his hands. “A man doesn’t break another’s fingers because he does not feel something. He does it to prove to himself that he doesn’t.”

            What is he supposed to do here? How does he convince someone of what is truly in his mind, his heart? He wishes, wildly, that they were Jedi. So that Chirrut could see the truth.

            It is the truth.

            Isn’t it?

            Fingertips graze his scalp. Without jerking away, Baze lifts his head. He takes Chirrut’s wrist, and carefully pushes it away. “Please do not touch me without my leave. I don’t want to be touched, and I worry about the hurt you do to yourself.”

            “If you were really worried about me being hurt, you wouldn’t have broken my fingers in desperation to escape me.”

            “I did that to show that I was firm in my position.”        

            Shaking his head, Chirrut says sympathetically, “You only revealed yourself.”

            Staying patient, Baze changes tactics. “Do you remember why you are here?”

            “Of course I—“

            “Tell me.”

            “To be one with the Force.”

            “Yes. To do that, you must leave behind worldly attachments—“

            “I don’t believe that.”

            Baze stares at him a moment, then says, “Then you are not meant to be a monk.”

            “There is no one way to the Force,” Chirrut says, parroting Baze’s words. “Do you know when I am most calm? When I feel—“ He taps his chest, as though that were the end of the sentence. “I’ve spent my whole life, running from one thing to another. Never still, never thinking further than how to get out of what trouble I’ve gotten myself into. When I am with you, that stops. That all stops. I feel a peace I didn’t know was possible. I believe that’s my way to the Force.”

            Shaking his head, Baze murmurs, “Chirrut….”

            “Do you know that I love when you say my name? You almost never say it when you’re pleased. It’s always when you’re disappointed, or upset, or mocking me. I don’t even care. My name on your lips means that you see me.”

            “I don’t know what to say to that.”

            “The truth.”

            “I’m telling you the truth, but you won’t hear me—“

            “Because you won’t listen to yourself.”

            “I’d ask you to examine the hypocrisy in that. You tell me to respect your feelings, but you will not respect mine.”

            “Because I know you. I see you. I don’t think you even realize it yet. But my time is running out, and I cannot wait any longer for you to have an epiphany.”

            He almost says Chirrut’s name again, but he stops himself. “You will be Palasat’s acolyte. That is not avoidable. You need to prepare for that—“

            “When I am, you will wrap yourself up in this—absurd notion that all life holds for you is the Crystal Guardian. Sacred though it is, important as it is, that’s not all there is.”

            Baze feels a door closing inside. “It is for me,” he says evenly.

            Chirrut leans forward, and Baze leans back. “It’s not,” Chirrut insists. He’s gazing at Baze, but Baze avoids his eyes. “There is more to this universe than duty.”

            “No. That is all there is. That you think otherwise says you have a long way to go in your training. You make the movements, you say the words, but you don’t understand what they mean—“

            “Then who here does?” Chirrut challenges. “Point to me the person you think is the most devout, and I will tell you how they don’t meet your impossible standards. No one here does. People aren’t perfect, Baze. They’re not flawless like crystal. They’re people. We’re allowed to be people.”

            “You don’t understand—“

            “Fine. Kascaterra. You’ve pointed her out to me as the closest to the Force of the choir. She eats herself sick on chocolate every Friday. When she misses a practice, because of that mysterious stomach ailment? It’s because of chocolate. Gluttony. Streisa—who you jam down my throat at every opportunity of the ideal of a perfect acolyte, your chosen one—she hides lipstick under her bed. I know because she asked me to get it for her. Vanity.” Chirrut points to the tower. “Heem—for stars’ sake, he has four—four!—children with a woman in the city under the age of ten, and gods only know how many more are scattered about. Lust. You hold people up to these unattainable standards—you hold yourself to them—it’s not realistic. It’s not good, for you or me or them, or any of us. People are imperfect. We must be allowed to be imperfect.”

            Baze is ready for this. “We are imperfect, yes. But the effort to be better, that is what counts. Overcoming our base natures—“

            “Love is not base. Love is sacred—“

            “What do you know about what is sacred or not? You use the word, but I don’t think you know what it means.”

            “I know what it means because I can feel it. This is as close to the Force as I have come. Maybe it’s the closest I’ll ever come, and that’s okay—“

            “You’ll never come any closer because you allow emotion to hold you back. You think that your feelings are more important than the Force—“

            “No, I believe that they are a part of it. The Force is in everything. How can you say it is not in my love as well?”

            This could be an argument of months. Knowing Chirrut, maybe even years. Baze needs to make himself very clear. “I will say this to you, and I swear—“

            “Don’t,” Chirrut warns. “You will hate yourself when you break that promise.”

            Baze looks at him, and he continues talking, but he does not use the word again. “We are fundamentally different people, with fundamentally different outlooks on life, belief, philosophy. I do not return your affections. Even if I did, there is no room for you in my life. I made my choice. I swore an oath, and I will uphold it. To be faithful—that means more to me than you can ever know.” Baze frowns, then says what he must. “You cannot understand, because you have not connected to the Force. I do not mean to be unkind, but it is the truth. If you had been truly one with the Force, you would know you ask for the impossible. Someday, I hope, you will understand that. But right now, you aren’t capable. I know I cannot make you understand what I’m saying, and that you’ll argue with me, because it’s what you do. I admire your tenacity. I only hope you will put it to use, healing from this wound.”

            For a moment, Chirrut closes his eyes.

            Then he opens them, faint smile curving his lips.

            “You are clever,” he says. “You’re stubborn—though not nearly as stubborn as I—and patient. We are different, and I think that is exactly as the Force willed it. You are kind, and strong, and loyal. And you are handsome. I like to just look at you—“

            Baze pushes himself up. He doesn’t want to hear this.

            “But you’re also a coward.” Chirrut looks up at him. His smile has not faded. “It’s safer to wrap yourself up in dogma and rules than to trust another person with yourself. It’s easier to make excuses than to consider for even a moment what I could offer you. What we could offer one another. This was meant, by powers far greater than you and I. But you hide. And I see you.”

            “You don’t understand,” Baze says. “You’ve never been one with the Force.” He walks away, because there’s no winning this fight except to let time take care of it.

            Chirrut calls after him, “You don’t understand. You’ve never been in love.”

            Baze stops. He hears the clacking of rocks as Chirrut turns back to face the pond.

            Heart pounding, Baze leaves the square.

 

He finds himself at the bottom of the cave. It’s the only place he could think to come.

            Baze walks across the bridge, and sits before the Crystal Guardian.

            “What do I do?” he asks. “What am I supposed to do?”

            The eye opens, and he covers his face.

Chapter Text

The notes begin after that.

            They show up under Baze’s door every morning. Chirrut will still come by at 6:00, but even before that there will be a piece of paper waiting for Baze when he wakes. They never discuss them.

 

You said my name sixteen times today.

 

Some day you will have deep lines along the sides of your mouth. They’re asking to be traced by the end of a fingertip.

 

When you tease me, pretending to be mad, your eyes smile.

 

I’ve never known anyone who denies me the way you do.

 

I want to spar with you even though I know I’d lose, just to say that I’ve moved with you.

 

            At first, Baze just collects them with a frown. He drops them into his bedside table, shoving the drawer closed, and he goes about his day.

 

I want to know what you would have been if you had not come to this place.

 

You must understand that I don’t know what I’m doing either. I pretend like I do. I’ve had feelings for people before, but not like this. Not to the point where I’m afraid. I am afraid of the days when I am not with you. Do you know what that is like? When I’m not near you, I’m thinking of you, and when I’m near you, I think of nothing else.

 

What are the words to make you see yourself as I see you?

 

I want to find the person who made you embarrassed of your ears and thrash them within an inch of their life.

 

If we were not in this place, and we did not carry these titles, what then? Imagine that we found one another along a different path. If we were just people, and not these impossible standard bearers. What would you think of me then?

 

            Baze doesn’t know.

            So he thinks about it. If he was just another person in the universe. And Chirrut was just a man that he came across.

            The truth is…he would wonder why Chirrut had chosen him. He is not in Chirrut’s league. It is not a thing he has had to think of in many years. Baze has never thought of himself as someone that another would pick.

            Chirrut, he’s so alive. He is handsome—more than that. He is beautiful. That is undeniable. He has the most expressive eyes, and his body has been carefully crafted through years of training. His smile—that is unparalleled. He is a very beautiful man.

            Even in another timeline, Baze would be asking himself, why me?

 

I want to make you laugh the way you laugh when it rains.

 

Your hands. I think about your hands.

 

Do you think of me? When do you think of me? Is it ever in anything other than frustration? Do you ever think of me and smile?

 

I thought things that I cannot write. Think them for me.

 

The moment I first realized I wanted you, it was of course a passing thing. A thought, and nothing more. You are, of course, desirable. A thing you do not realize, which is a shame, and a constant wonder to me. You were helping me with cal traste, and you set your hand on my back. I could feel your energy in my spine, your warmth. I felt steady and as though I was spinning. You took your hand away and I thought, ‘I wish he wouldn’t. I wish he would do that again.’

 

            Baze has organized the notes into a little pile in the drawer. It’s where he’s kept all the messages Chirrut ever left for him. Sometimes he’s taken them out to look at them. A marker to see how far Chirrut has come since arriving here.

            Now he finds himself rereading every message left for him, every night. He goes through each of them, trying to figure out when this happened. When this change occurred. He can’t see it.

            He simply can’t see it.

           

You watch me now, as if seeking something. What you seek is right in front of you.

 

To be mortal is not to be separate from the Force. We embrace our mortality, our personhood, and all that means, in effort so that we might one day reach understanding not only of the universe, but ourselves. (The Ballad of The Temple of the Kyber, Third Scroll, Second Paragraph, Line 2-3)

 

I do not seek to take you from that which you love, only to add to the number of things that you do.

 

The moment I realized I wanted you and no other was well over a year ago. I sat outside the box as you were trapped inside, for me, to teach me a lesson. I came to watch you every night. I watched your frustration growing. You were not meant for confines. You’ve placed yourself in them, and I don’t entirely understand your reasoning, though I long to. The universe is full of wonder, and yet you’ve trapped yourself. I do not mean to trap you with my affections, I do not mean to withhold you from the Force. I wish for your happiness, and if I am convinced that not reciprocating my feelings would truly please you, I would not speak of them again.

But I have seen you when you are in a box. I have watched you split your own hands open from frustration, I have seen you bleed from it. I have seen inside you, and I know you yearn for more than you have been told you deserve.

I cannot claim that I am what you deserve. You deserve more than a man who has led a life unworthy until he met you. Regardless, I am what the Force has brought to you, and I intend to honour the gift it has given me, and that is you.

I realized the depths of my affections when I saw that you were trapped, and realized how badly I wanted to set you free.

 

Am I in your heart?

 

            After yesterday’s note—the longest yet—the five words seem small. Baze has puzzled over them all day.

            He has not seen Chirrut today. The acolytes were taken to a twelve-hour prayer session in Grenara’s memorial chamber. So Baze was left on his own with these five words.

            And they will not leave him be.

            At first, he thought they would be easy to ignore. It’s sentiment, pure and simple. Simple to cast aside.

            But everywhere he goes, he hears them.

            Am I in your heart?

            What does that even mean? Baze tries pushing them away, carrying on conversations, lecturing the fifth levels. He speaks, and he moves, and he does as he is supposed to, and all the while, the words brush up against his consciousness, demanding to be heard.

            Am I in your heart?

            He prays to try and clear his mind. He says his mantra. I am one with the Force and the Force is with me. He says it, over and over.

            He hears, am I in your heart?

            Finally, Baze finds himself sitting on the side of his bed. He has the messages from the last twenty days in his hands.

            All these compliments…these sweet words. No one has ever had words like this for him before. When he was young, it was never about words. It was always just about sex. The one time he did have feelings for another, it was not returned. Baze never even let on. He knew his cause was hopeless. How is he to respond to this assault?

            He will change his mind.

            A voice pipes up, is that what you believe, or is it what you’re afraid of?

            Baze looks at the sheet. Am I in your heart? He is afraid. He is afraid in a way that he has never experienced before.

            What if the messages stopped? How would he feel if they did?

            It is a sin to lie, Baze.

            He would be sad. If the messages stopped. No one has ever done anything like this for him before. He knows he can’t do this. He can’t do what Chirrut wants of him. He swore an oath. The Crystal Guardian is his priority. He promised to eschew worldly attachments, worldly desires.

            T’kal did it. He lived a lifetime of worship, and chastity, and focus. He could do it. If he could, Baze surely could.

            I am not my mentor’s equal, he thinks for the millionth time. In any possible way.

            What is he more concerned by? The betrayal of his duties, or the thought that Chirrut really doesn’t mean it? That he’s making a point, and he’ll move onto the next distraction once Baze acquiesces? He doesn’t know. What does it mean?

            Can he have both? Would he even want to? Is this an actual choice he is considering making?

            He is the only person in the universe who is trained to commune with the Crystal Guardian. He cannot consider this.

            And yet, all he hears is, am I in your heart?

 

On the twenty first day, Baze wakes up. He tries to deny that he is happy to wake. That he’s usually happy to wake now. It means there will be a note waiting for him beneath the door.

            Rubbing his eyes, he sits up, looking to the door.

            There is no note.

            Baze sits there, trying to digest what he’s seeing. Which is nothing. It’s like the manifestations of his concerns. Chirrut managed to keep it up for twenty days, and no more. Of course. No one would have expected more of him. And this is for the best. He needs to move on from this, needs to focus on becoming a monk. It’s what Baze wanted. He’s not disappointed.

            He’s not.

            Swallowing, he turns to look at his bedside table, where he keeps all his messages. That’s when he discovers it’s open. Two inches, no more, but it’s open.

            Baze yanks the drawer open the rest of the way. The messages are gone. Every last one that he’s saved for nearly two years.

            You didn’t expect him to try forever. You can’t expect him to wait on you.

            Baze is on his feet before he realizes what he’s doing. He scrambles to the door in only his sleeping pants, and he feels a sudden clarity that is like kyber song. Grabbing the door, he pulls it open.

            And finds Chirrut kneeling outside his home.

            Baze stands over him, staring. His heart is beating violently against its confines.

            Chirrut kneels at the bottom of the steps, with his head down. He holds a fine wooden box in his hands, lacquered to a gloss. With both hands, he raises it above his head, impassively keeping his eyes on the ground.

            Memory box, Baze remembers, astounded. Like his mother had, of all the love notes his father wrote her before he died.

            Stunned, Baze reaches down, and takes the box into his hand.

            Once it’s been taken, Chirrut bends so low that his face nearly touches the ground. Sitting up, he rises with his arms rigidly at his sides, and takes three steps backwards. Eyes low, he turns and walks away.

            He’s been courting Baze according to Jedhan custom, and Baze didn’t even realize it.

            Baze looks at the box. With a hesitant hand, he lifts the cover.

            On top is the note that reads, am I in your heart?

 

Baze walks deliberately across the compound. He is in freshly cleaned robes, everything perfectly in place. He needed that today.

            He feels like he’s walking through gossamer.

            I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.

            These are the words he has lived by. These have been the only words.

            Why have these been the only words?

            He cannot examine that. He cannot think. That time has passed.

            Baze walks the grounds his master walked for decades. The grounds that thousands of monks have walked over for thousands of years. This place is a sacred place. It is where he belongs. Where he believes he belongs.

            Belief is a strange thing.

            He walks up into the halls of the training grounds. He passes new acolytes stumbling through capradi, and old women firing lightbows. He passes lone monks praying over stones and to the sky. He passes through silence and sound.

            He comes to the courtyard of the uneti tree, and pauses. A figure sits beneath the tree, quiet and still.

            I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.

            Baze crosses the yard, making sure each step is heard. He is having a hard time breathing.

            He takes a seat, saying nothing. Chirrut does not lift his head, nor shift. He says nothing, posture straight. He gazes down into the pond, at the reflection of the tree above. Baze pulls his feet underneath himself, biting into his lower lip so hard that he fears he might cut through the skin.

            They sit side by side, and the space between is filled with questions.

            Chirrut asks softly, “Am I in your heart?”

            Baze is hanging over an edge. All that attaches him to the world he knows is a thread. How could it have come to this? How could he not have anticipated this?

            One cannot anticipate such things.

            Baze whispers, “Yes,” and he is afraid.

            Chirrut closes his eyes, exhaling. He relaxes, as though he has been carrying a weight that Baze has not even seen.

            Baze is trembling. He is breaking his oath. He swore that he would not make attachments. He made a promise. Promises are not to be broken.

            But for this man…how could he not?

            He is still having a hard time breathing. He feels Chirrut’s gaze on him, but he can’t bring himself under control. The world is changing around him. It’s not supposed to do that. He knows his place. He knew his place. What is his place now?

            Chirrut is reaching out, and Baze cannot move. Feather soft, Chirrut strokes the back of his fingers over Baze’s cheek. Instinctively, Baze squeezes his eyes shut, unsure of how to respond to a caress. Nerve endings firing, he tries to find his center.

            But he cannot. He cannot.

            Chirrut’s hand withdraws, and Baze does not know if he is relieved or desperate to be touched again. There’s the soft shuffle of rocks as Chirrut brings himself closer. Baze can feel him, even though they’re not touching.

            Leaning towards Baze, Chirrut murmurs helpfully, “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.” He waits, then says it again. “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.”

            Sucking in a breath, Baze nods, opening his eyes. “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.”

            They join their voices together, and pray beneath the uneti tree.

Chapter Text

“I’m in trouble,” Baze answers.

            The noodles fall off Chirrut’s sticks, splashing into the bowl. It’s probably the least graceful thing Baze has seen Chirrut do in weeks. If he wasn’t so worried, he’d be amused by the stricken expression on Chirrut’s face.

            “You asked,” Baze says in defense.

            Chirrut glances around before leaning forward. They’re sitting in the dining hall, away from the others. It’s unlike them to have lunch here, but Baze didn’t want to cook. He has been finding it difficult to focus on anything. “What do you mean, trouble?”

            There’s an edge to his voice that Baze is unfamiliar with. “Why do you sound scared?”

            “Because that’s the first time you’ve ever said something like that to me. It must be grave.” Chirrut drops his voice even further. “You think someone knows….”

            With a groan, Baze puts his hands to his face. “No,” he says, rubbing his forehead. “Though the stars know I worry about that enough.”

            “Not that there’s exactly a ‘that.’ Which is fine,” Chirrut says quickly, when Baze glares at him from over his hands. “I understand, even if you don’t want to discuss it, that this is a major change for you, and that you still have doubts. But—“ He smiles crookedly. “Baze, you haven’t even let me hold your hand. You almost jump out of your skin when I touch you. There’s not exactly a lot for people to know.”

            Folding his arms on the table, Baze raises a brow. “That’s what a relationship is to you? It’s a purely physical entity?”

            Chirrut rolls his eyes. “Of course not.” He picks his sticks back up, digging through his noodles. “Admittedly, I’d like it to be at least partly one.”

            “Would you please—“ The nearest people are three tables away, but Baze can’t help but feel exposed every time he’s in public with Chirrut. “We’re surrounded by people. Could you at least consider discretion?”

            “I’m being discreet,” Chirrut says, sticking noodles into his mouth. “Between the two of us, if people looked over here, who would they think was the one with a secret?”

            “We both have a secret.”

            “For the sake of the Force, they can’t kick us out of the order.”

           That's nowhere near true. “She could enact proceedings to strip me of my position,” Baze says, picking up his water glass. He doesn't mention that Chirrut is only an acolyte. Yamari could snap her fingers and Chirrut would be thrown past the gate in under ten minutes.

            Chirrut gazes at him. “No.”

            With a snort, Baze says, “She could. All she’d have to do is demonstrate that I’m unfit, that I broke my oath, and that there is another the Crystal Guardian would accept as Protector. It hasn’t happened in three hundred years, but trust me—when Yamari finds out….”

            She has been waiting years for something like this. Watching, looking for any lapse. This would be it. When she finds out, she is going to have him disgraced.

            Of course, that’s if she can find someone who the Guardian will accept.

            Slurping, looking completely carefree, Chirrut says, “Another problem for another day. You said you were in trouble, but you haven’t told me what.”

            “I can’t…concentrate.”

            The other man looks up from his soup. A slow smile spreads across his face.

            Baze shakes his head. “Stop it. It is an issue, no matter what you are about to say.”

            Beaming, Chirrut teases, “You can’t concentrate because you’re thinking about me?”

            Deep breath. “Chirrut,” Baze murmurs, “I have to be prepared to cycle in two days’ time. The last three days, I’ve tried to meditate, but ever since….”

            “You gave in and told the truth.”

            “Since you ruined my life,” Baze counters, and Chirrut laughs. Baze manages not to groan. How can he make Chirrut understand the seriousness of the situation? “By this point, I’m usually completely calm. I’m focused. Chirrut, please listen to me—this is my calling. This is my vision.”

            That gets his attention. Nodding, Chirrut thinks about it. “All right,” he says after a moment. “Would it be…helpful to you…if I didn’t spend the days with you?”

            No. Don’t be where I’m not.

            Baze! For heaven’s sake, you need to prepare for the cycle!

            “That would probably be for the best,” Baze says, and it’s years of stoicism that keeps his voice steady.

            Chirrut does not seem offended. Why does he not seem offended? “Very well,” he says, reaching for his glass. Somehow, Baze thought he would fight a bit more. “But.”

            Of course. Baze is equal parts relieved and exasperated. “No. No conditions, just you doing what is right for me as Protector. Have we not already stretched the rules enough?”

            It’s like Chirrut doesn’t even hear him. “I’ll leave you alone for the next two days if you’ll give me a half hour each day. You and I, alone. Behind closed doors.”

            Baze bursts out, “For—“ He sees heads start to raise, and brings his volume down. I am one with the Force and the Force is with me. Baze fixes Chirrut with a glare. “Five minutes.”

            “Fifteen,” Chirrut counters.

            “Five,” Baze says, letting it be known there’s no room for negotiation.

            Chirrut looks him over, then throws down his sticks, presumably seeing that Baze is immovable. “Ayuh,” he says. He crosses his arms, frowning. After a moment’s thought, he nods. “Fine. Five minutes.” He lets out a sigh that sounds suspiciously like a growl. “It’ll be at the start of the day, though. I’ll wake you before anyone else is up.”

            “I need rest—“

            “I’ll wake you,” Chirrut says frostily, “before anyone else is up.”

            As Chirrut knows when to stop arguing with Baze, Baze knows when to stop arguing with Chirrut.

 

It’s still dark, why on Jedha is someone coming in his house—

            Squinting, Baze remembers.

            Chirrut silently closes the door. In the darkness, he steps out of his shoes.

            “What hour do you call this?” Baze groans.

            “Early,” Chirrut answers, cheerful as he ever is in the mornings. To Baze’s shock, Chirrut walks right onto the bed. He sits down, fiddling with some contraption in his hands. It beeps, and he puts it into his pocket. “There. Five minutes.”

            He drops down onto the bed, rolling onto his stomach.

            Suddenly very much awake, Baze says, “What—are you doing?”

            “I told you. I get you alone, behind closed doors. For five minutes. You hadn’t already forgotten, had you?” Chirrut sticks his arms under the pillow, letting out an ungodly sound of pleasure. “Your bed is so comfortable. How is that allowed? Why are you allowed this soft mattress?” 

            “Soft?” Baze barks. “It’s an inch thick. Recycled plastic fibers.”

            “Now you’re bragging. I sleep on the floor, which you’d know if you’d ever visited my quarters. Why do you think I like to spend so much time here?”

            Chirrut’s nowhere near him. They’re not touching. Baze can’t even detect his warmth.

            “What are you doing?” Baze repeats in curiosity.

            Chirrut turns his head. What little light that there is reflects off his dark eyes. “Surprising you. I like when you’re surprised.”

            “It must be an addiction, considering how frequently you do it.”

            “Did you really think I was going to come in here and have you every way I wanted in the span of five minutes? For shame, Baze. I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly not that fast.”

            Blushing, Baze puts an arm under his head, and gazes up at the ceiling. Chirrut and he in the same bed. Lying side by side.

            It would be nice. If this could be every day. He’s never thought about what it would be like to have a romantic companion. He has had little exposure to what that would even entail. He came to this place when he was still a young man. This was not supposed to be his future. But he likes the idea of Chirrut lying next to him.

            What would it be like to have Chirrut fall asleep beside him?

            “Baze.”

            “Mm?”

            “I want to ask a personal question.”

            “Of course you do.”

            “I won’t, if you’d rather I didn’t.”

            “Somehow, I feel like you’d trick me into it later if I said no. So ask your question.”

            “When was the last time you were…physically intimate with someone?”

            Colour floods his cheeks even worse than before. Baze finds that he’s counting his fingers without realizing it. He’s a grown man. He can answer a question like that. “Twelve years,” he replies.

            “Twelve years. Not once, this whole time—“

            “No. I swore an oath.”

            “Well, now I definitely know we’ll be going slow.”

            “Insufferable,” Baze sighs. He does not want to ask. He doesn’t really want to know. But is this a question that adults ask of one another? “When was the last time…you….”

            It takes a moment for Chirrut to answer. “A year,” he says softly.

            Baze turns to him, sharply. “A year?”

            Chirrut nods. “At the bar. Before you came in. There was someone.” An old anger begins bubbling under the surface. Something else. Something familiar. He felt it at the bar that night too. Jealousy. Force save him. Even then, he was jealous, and didn’t understand what he felt. “Are you cross with me?”

            “You’ve not sworn your Guardian’s oaths. You haven’t taken a vow of chastity.”

            “That’s not what I asked. I asked if you are cross with me.”

            “A little,” Baze admits.

            “Why?”

            “Because you risked so much for so little.”

            “I know. Not again.”

            “How can you say that?” Baze asks with a bitter laugh.

            There’s a pause from Chirrut. “What do you mean?”

            “We’re risking ridicule. I’m risking losing my duty as Protector. All for….” Baze runs a hand over his face.            

            “Yes,” Chirrut says. “We’re risking things. But I don’t think we’re risking it for something unworthy—“ His pocket beeps.

            Baze looks down, his heart jumping. “It’s not been five minutes.”

            “Two minute and thirty second warning. You’ll miss me, I daresay.”

            “I’ll be busy.”

            “Yes. You’ll be busy. Then you’ll be gone for a week, and I’ll be left alone. Waiting for you.” Chirrut shifts. “Do you know that’s what I do? Every second you’re in the caves, I’m waiting for you to return.”

            He can do this. This is what normal people do.

            Baze turns on his side, to face Chirrut. “Are you?”

            “Yes,” Chirrut whispers. “I wait for you to come back to me.”

            He pulls his hand out from under the pillow, leaving it on top of the blanket. He makes no demands, no suggestions. He just leaves it there.

            And Baze does what he wants. What he’s wanted to do for some time, now that he will admit it to himself. He reaches up, laying his hand over Chirrut’s. Their hands fit together beautifully. Chirrut’s are just a touch smaller than Baze’s, but Baze wonders if Chirrut’s are stronger than his. His calloused fingers envelope Chirrut’s hand.

            They gently touch like that for a long moment. Muscle, bone, lightly twisting. Fingertips stroking over skin. Finger meeting finger. A thumb grazing over knuckles.

            Baze holds his breath. This is only holding hands. What would it be like to—

            The timer goes off, and Chirrut slips out of his hold, sitting up.

            “Five minutes,” he sighs, but it sounds like he’s smiling. “You held up your end of the bargain. Have a good day. My protector.” He climbs to his feet, walking off the bed. He steps into his shoes.

            At the door, Chirrut glances back at Baze. Baze doesn’t know what to say. He’s worried that if he opens his mouth, all he’ll be able to say is, don’t go.

            With a smile, Chirrut leaves.

 

The day goes horribly. Baze is unable to fall back asleep. His hands feel unequal. The one is as though it’s been shot through with electricity. He’s aware of it at every moment.

            All day, as he says his ceremonial prayers, he keeps losing his place. He has to keep starting from the beginning, struggling to maintain focus.

            Time and again, though, his mind is drawn back to hands in the dark.

 

The next morning, though he has probably taken a total of four hours’ sleep, Baze wakes the second the door opens. There’s a lurching inside his body. It wants to reach out and grab Chirrut, pull him down close, not let him loose.

            But Baze has been trained well, and he does nothing as Chirrut sets the time, then lays down beside him.

            However, once Chirrut offers his hand, Baze takes it, without hesitation.

            “Ah,” Chirrut says, “you learn quickly.”

            The teasing embarrasses him. He’s thirty-two years old. Other people his age know how to do this without having to be taught it. And for stars’ sake, it’s only hand holding. It shouldn’t make him feel this good, and it shouldn’t make him feel this terrible. He’s breaking his vow. It’s semantics. Maybe they haven’t been physical with each other the way that many people are, but this is still against the oath Baze took. This is wrong.

            He wants it just a little more than he wants to turn away.

            Baze pulls Chirrut’s hand close to his chest. He presses the back of it to his breast bone, knowing that if he does, Chirrut will likely feel how fast his heart beats. They lie on their sides, facing one another, and Baze waits for Chirrut to say something. He must have something to say.

            In a soft tone that’s unlike him, Chirrut confesses, “I am afraid.”

            Baze twines their fingers together. “Why are you afraid?”

            “Because I know I’ll fuck this up.”

            Baze’s brows raise. He curses sometimes in his own head, but it’s rare to hear another say it aloud. The last time he heard someone use that word, he thinks it might have even been Chirrut, a year ago. “Do you see the future?” Baze asks, and it’s a gentle tease.

            Chirrut pushes at him lightly. “You’re not funny.” The way he turns his face down towards the pillow, Baze can tell he’s blushing. “You’ll figure me out,” Chirrut says quietly.

            “Figure what out?”

            “That I’m good at making people do what I want, but there might not actually be much to me beneath the surface. There never has been.”

            “The fact that you even say that would suggest otherwise.”

            “Every single thing in my life, I’ve destroyed it. Do you realize that? It’s only a matter of time. I would have been expelled from every school I ever attended if my parents hadn’t paid to keep me in. I’ve lived…recklessly. Frivolously. Every person who ever cared for me, I have let them down. There is no one in this universe who holds me dear. Save you. Not even my parents want to acknowledge that I exist anymore, and I’m their eldest son. Eventually, everyone sees. I’m waiting for you to see. I know how I’ve managed to catch you. I’ve no idea how I’m supposed to keep you. I have no idea what it would take to make you happy, and to keep you happy.”

            “That makes two of us.”

            Chirrut lets out a short laugh. “I’m easy. Just look at me. Throw me the occasional compliment, and I’m yours.”

            “That’s good to know, but I meant me. I don’t know what I need to be happy either.”

            “Have you not been happy?”

            “That’s a difficult question.”

            “Not really.”

            “It is.”

            “Then tell me why.”

            Wrapping his fingers around Chirrut’s hand, Baze rubs his thumb over his palm. “I never thought about whether I was happy or not. It wasn’t a question that was asked. Until you, because you never stop asking questions. I’m unsure. Can you miss a thing if you don’t know it’s absent?”

            “Yes,” Chirrut says definitively, and Baze laughs softly.

            “Then I was not happy,” Baze answers. “I don’t think I’d know what to do with happiness.”

            “If I was less nice than I am, I would say that was pitiful.” Baze starts to laugh, low and from the chest. He feels Chirrut shift closer to him on the thin mattress. “However, the me who is exceedingly nice…wants to figure out what will make you smile. Other than being a novelty.”

            “I cannot tell if you are being serious or if this is some trick.”

            “See? This is what I fear.”

            “You’ve only yourself to blame. You’ve played so many games. I can always tell when people are lying.” In a moment of bravery, and strange that he should think it thus, Baze lifts his hand, and touches Chirrut’s face. His knuckles brush the gentle curve of a cheek. He hears an intake of breath, and Chirrut turns further into the touch. “But you. I cannot tell with you. I think you have bewitched me.”

            The alarm signals the halfway point.

            “You’re leaving me for a week,” Chirrut says sadly. “At least.”

            “I have to.”

            “I know.” He reaches up, taking Baze’s hand. He wraps his fingers around Baze’s. “When you’re down there, with the Guardian…do you think of the outside world at all?”

            He knows the answer Chirrut seeks, but cannot give it to him. “There is no me when I am with the Guardian. I am subsumed. I am it, and the Force, and there is nothing of my life that I take with me.”

            “All right.”

            “No matter what, Chirrut, I’ll never entirely be yours. If you are set on me, that is the reality of the situation. And as time passes…I will be less and less in this world. Even when I’m in it. I will be elsewhere. Do you understand that?”

            A few seconds pass. “I’ve tried not to think about it,” Chirrut admits.

            “It is good to be in the here and now, but we must be aware of the future.” Baze tries to make out Chirrut’s features in the dark, but it’s a losing proposition. “What do you want to be?”

            “How do you mean?”

            “Do you really want to be a monk? You came here on the basis of a vision. On what an old woman said to you. You seem to…recoil at the rules, at the basic tenets of our beliefs. Is this really what you want? It’s all right if the answer is no.”

            “What I want,” Chirrut murmurs, “is to be wherever you are. That is why I have stayed. I will be a monk, I will follow these ridiculous rules, I’ll do what I’m asked, so long as I can be with you.”

            Five minutes is not enough. A lifetime would not be enough.      

            They say nothing else until the alarm goes off. Chirrut sits with a sigh. Baze reaches for him, but Chirrut doesn’t see in the dark, only getting to his feet and going to put on his shoes.

            “I will see you when you return,” Chirrut says.

            “Yes.”

            He pauses, and when he speaks again, Baze hears the smile in his voice. “Tell me something you like about me. Something inconsequential. Compliment me to sustain me in your absence.”

            Baze pushes himself up, leaning back on his hands. With a moment’s thought, he thinks of what he wants to say, but it’s not inconsequential at all.

            “You have the most beautiful eyes,” he says.

            He cannot see Chirrut’s reaction. He can only watch as the man slips out the door, leaving Baze once more alone.

 

He’s ten hours into his attempt to pray when he realizes what’s happened. And he feels exceedingly stupid.

 

“Chirrut!” Baze snaps.

            It’s gratifying to see the group of acolytes all flinch. They were walking back to the tower after the day’s training, and clearly not expecting to be stopped by the Protector of the Crystal Guardian. The target of his ire, though, puts on his most innocent expression. He excuses himself, then walks towards Baze.

            Baze is almost quivering, he’s so tired.

            Joining him, Chirrut says, “Yes?”

            “Your plan worked. I hope you’re pleased with yourself.”

            “My plan, Protector?”

            Growling, Baze glances around them, to be sure no one is near. No one is. They’ve mostly returned to the temple. It will be dinner soon enough. “Five minutes. Just five minutes out of the day.”

            “I wanted a half hour, you suggested five minutes—“    

            “You knew I’d argue you down, and now—“

            Baze looks down. He knows irritation fills his face.

            “Now?” Chirrut prompts.

            Glaring at Chirrut from under his brows, Baze says, “I can’t get you out of my head.”

            He’s spent the last ten hours trying to pray. After sunset, he needs to be in the crystal caves for his cycle with the Guardian. He needs a clear head. Not just clear. Practically empty. He needs to think of nothing but the Guardian, and the Force. That’s it. That’s all.

            But what has he spent this entire day focused on? Chirrut Îmwe, the unbelievable bastard.

            “You’re acting like there was malicious intent.”

            “You’re acting like there wasn’t,” Baze hisses. “Of all the selfish—“ He stops himself. He takes a breath. When he speaks again, his voice is calm. “I’ll just inform the Master. This is clearly affecting my suitability as Protector.”

            Chirrut’s face falls. “You can’t be serious.”

            “Perhaps you don’t care about the welfare of this temple, but I do. By the grace of the Crystal Guardian—“ Baze points at the tower. “That building stands. I am responsible for it, and therefore the livelihood of every person here. This building will not fall because I was distracted.”

            He turns on his heel and heads for home.

            He hears the patter of feet chasing him. “The temple’s in the other direction,” Chirrut says. He’s not able to completely disguise his concern beneath the usual kidding.

            “Really,” Baze says flatly. “You might not be aware of this, but if I resign my position, I’ll need to go before her in my ceremonial robes. I don’t carry them on me.”

            “You’re not serious. This is you teaching me a lesson for distracting you.” Baze glances at him and Chirrut’s eyes widen. “Stars save us, you’re serious.”

            “The temple comes first,” Baze says grimly. “Far before my pride.”

            “Baze, don’t be—stop. Don’t. I was teasing, I was—yes, I was selfish, I was playing a game. I shouldn’t have done that. I’m sorry, it won’t happen again. Please don’t—don’t go to the Master. If you do that—“ Chirrut bites his lips together.

            “What?”

            “I’ll be expelled from the temple. I’m just an acolyte, I haven’t taken orders. You resign, you’re still a Guardian. I won’t be allowed on temple grounds.”

            “Well, the temple will stand.”

            “Don’t joke about that—“

            “Ha—you, who never takes anything seriously. This is the price we will pay for making this choice. Life requires sacrifice. To believe otherwise is naïve. I am many things, but naïve is not among them. Nor should you be.”

            Chirrut snags his sleeve, bringing Baze to a stop. “I’m not naïve, but you are being reactionary.”

            “The temple stands,” Baze repeats, “by the grace of the Crystal Guardian. I am its conduit to the world. This is not a discussion, but a necessity.”

            He sees Chirrut thinking furiously. He stands before Baze, clearly caught, trying to figure out a solution.

            “Could you ask for more time?” Chirrut suggest. “Must it be tonight? If you need to be alone, there’s the kyber retreat. No one would even speak to you there, and I’m an acolyte, I wouldn’t be allowed near it. You could have solitude. You would have time to prepare. They must be able to allow you a day or more. You’re the Protector, they will do as you ask. You say you want the temple to stand, but you’d do far greater damage to leave it with no Protector than to push back a cycle by a few days.”

            “And that’s your answer, is it? To react, to deal in days, instead of preparing as I should, properly, over the course of weeks.”

            Chirrut pauses, then nods. “This time, yes. Next time I will make sure this is easier for you. I believe that these two sides can be resolved. I will think on this, I will come up with something that pleases us both. Please don’t do something irreparable. I told you, I’m used to getting my way, and I must become accustomed to taking more than myself into consideration. Forgive me. You are right, I was selfish.”

            “You didn’t only not take me into consideration. You forgot every person in this order.”

            “Then I’ll apologize to everyone in the order!” A group of fifth levels passes by, and Chirrut quiets. His eyes plead with Baze. “Please. I can do better. I will do better.”

            “This is not a challenge for you to overcome. This is my life.”

            Chirrut puts his hands together. “I understand. I understand, and I want to make a life that is both yours and mine—“

            Baze lifts a hand. “All right. You’ve suffered enough. I’ll see you in a week.”

            Chirrut stares at him. “What?”

            With a snort, Baze walks away.

            Once again, Chirrut runs after him. After a stunned silence, he breathes, “You bastard.”

            Pleased with himself, Baze laughs, “If you think for a moment that I’d debase myself before the Master, because of one botched cycle, you don’t know me near as well as you thought.”

            “You absolute, unbelievable—“ Chirrut cuts himself off, the tips of his ears turning pink.

            “Yes?”

            “That—was incredibly unfair.”

            “Did you enjoy having your emotions played with? You must, considering how frequently you do it to others.” He glances at Chirrut, who looks about as displeased as Baze has ever seen. It’s impossible to be unamused. “You should have a taste of your own ichor more often.”

            Chirrut is trying to come up with something to say, but can’t. That’s worth its weight in gold.

            Reaching his house, Baze bows his head. “Acolyte. I’ll see you in approximately a week’s time. Please do as Palasat says. He’s grown strangely fond of you.” Turning, Baze walks up the steps to his house.

            As he opens the door, stepping inside, Chirrut says, “Baze.”

            When he turns, he registers only motion at first, and the sudden press of a body to his. There’s a hand to the side of his head. He’s being pushed back.

            No, he’s being kissed.

            He opens his mouth in shock, and Chirrut holds his head with his strong hands, and kisses him with no hesitation, no shame. His tongue moves past Baze’s lips, swiping confidently along the hard palate before retreating. Chirrut kisses his lips twice, and on the third time, Baze reacts, leaning into the touch.  

            Then Chirrut lets him go, bounding down the steps. He looks back once with a devilish grin, and Baze sees the dare there: forget that when you can’t even remember the world. Chirrut walks away, having gotten the last word without even speaking.

            Baze hangs in the doorway, realizing that he’s holding onto the frame. He’s grinning. He tries to stop, but it’s impossible. So he closes the door, and leans against it. He lets out a soft laugh, looking at the door, and presses fists to it.

            There’s no way he could ever forget this moment. Not for a single solitary second.

            It does not occur to him that this might be a problem.

Chapter Text

He realizes it will be a problem as he enters the cave.

            He has come at midnight, as is traditional. He wears his ceremonial robes, the ones with the blue panel down the side. All his tubes are in place. His head, his face, are freshly shaven. On the surface, he has done what he’s supposed to.

            Below the surface, nothing is as it should be.

            Baze is tired. He is supposed to come into this carrying nothing of the outside world, but he is absolutely buzzing. Chirrut has kissed him. Someone is waiting for him to return from this. He has managed to sustain himself on the idea that when this is done, he will go home, and Chirrut will be there.

            He’s tried to tell himself that the cycle won’t be a loss. When he first began, he could only link with the Guardian for a few hours at a time. Afterwards, he would be crippled for days. He is only in his third year as Protector. It is not unthinkable for him to only have cycles of three or four days at a time. His body might not be prepared for anything longer this time around. It will pull him out when he’s reached his limit.

            But Baze stands on the top most bridge, looking down upon the Guardian’s luminescent back, and thinks, I’m bringing something with me.

            He closes his eyes. He must focus. If he is very careful, he can make this work. Of course, he has little to base this on. The histories of the Protectors are never detailed. They have no lives outside of the creature. At least, not that has been written.

            One of them must have had more than the Guardian. They are mortal, after all, with mortal needs and desires. Not all of them could possibly be perfect.

            Baze will make this work.

            He walks down the seven bridges, feet more familiar with the way than his eyes. It is quiet tonight. Sometimes the crystals sing at his approach. They give nothing of themselves this time. He tells himself not to read into it. Sometimes they are silent for no reason. That’s simply how they are.

            No sound from the Guardian either.

            Focus.

            Baze pauses on the lower level. He has trained for this. This is his life. It has been for many years now. He pictures a shard of kyber. It is perfect. It floats in the blackness.

            It lights from inside.

            Gently, he hears the crystals begin to sing. His mouth turns upwards.

            His heartbeat slows. His body prepares to do what it has so many times before. It begins to hibernate as his mind readies for connection.

            With his attention on the crystal’s song, Baze walks out from behind the doorway. He feels, more than hears, the Guardian’s breathing. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. He times his own breaths to the Guardian’s. They will be one, and all is as it should be.

            Crossing the bridge, Baze kneels down on the other side. He bends forward, his head to the cold earth floor. “I have come to receive your knowledge, great one,” Baze murmurs. “I have come to connect you to this world.”

            As he sits, he hears the Guardian let out a huff. It moves, lowering itself down to its knees. Baze gets to his feet, and walks the rest of the way.

            His body tingles with anticipation. In a few seconds’ time, he will be one with the Force again. There is nothing greater. He knows this more than most. For he has seen.

            Baze kneels once more. He can feel waves coming off the creature. He will do as his master taught him. He will be what was meant. This is his destiny. Of course it is.

            “I am one with the Force,” Baze murmurs, raising his hand, “and the Force is with me.”

            As he presses his hand to the creature’s flesh, he remembers that this is the hand that held Chirrut’s.

            Sudden and swift, the Guardian rears up with a scream, and Baze is struck with both vision and emotion. He sees a glimpse of something—light—the tower—but he has to throw himself back as the Guardian opens its third eye and its mouth and shrieks with fury.

            Baze is struck by something, but he can’t open his eyes to see. He goes flying back, yelling with surprise. At the last moment, he digs in his feet and grabs the ground. He can sense how close the ledge is. Gasping, he hears rocks go over the side, but they do not strike bottom.

            He ignores that, turning his face back towards the Guardian. It is stomping and screaming, shaking the ground beneath him.

            Baze does the only thing he can think of. He gets to his feet and runs to the Guardian, even as it wails. He flings himself against it, arms wide.

            Nothing happens. There is no connection.

            “I’m sorry,” Baze says, and it’s nearly lost beneath the creature’s howls. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—I’m sorry, I’ll fix this—calm yourself, I’m sorry—“

            The Guardian rages, and Baze expects the crystals to start shattering, but the Guardian does not set them off. It continues to bellow, and Baze is hit by a wave of thought.

            Another, he hears, another, you, another, betrayal, BETRAYAL.

            “I’m sorry,” he pleads, pressing his whole body to its cold, ancient flesh. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—I didn’t mean to—I’m sorry—“

            The Guardian screams.

 

Baze gently closes the door behind himself. He can still hear the creature bellowing from below. He tried to reason with it for nearly a half hour, but it does not want to be reasoned with. It is too hurt for such a thing.

            He has come out from the entrance by the mesa stairs. There are several entrances to the caves, but most go by the front doors. They are the grandest, after all. However, there are ways into those caves that only Baze knows about. If he were to die, the knowledge would die with him.

            It’s evening. No one is out here. It’s autumn, and the days grow short. They have all retired within the temple.

            Baze lifts his eyes to the sky. In the distance, he sees a ship. Undoubtedly bringing pilgrims to the holy city.

            What have I done?

            The cycle is not going to happen this time. He knows that. He was unprepared, and the Guardian is too enraged to accept him. It is the first time in three years that he will have missed a cycle. It was hubris, believing he could meet the Guardian so unready.

            Baze runs his hands over his head, and sighs. It’s cold. Even more cold than in the caves. But he doesn’t want to go home.

            Instead, he walks across the platform, until he comes to the top of the mesa stairs. This is the very edge of the city. Once he moves past these lights, he will be in the dark. The real dark of the desert.

            Sounds good. He starts down the stairs.

            Almost immediately, he is subsumed by darkness. At least of the city. It’s not like some places he’s been to at night. Baze has even been to Coruscant, and it’s never truly night there. Someone is always awake, something is always happening. But NiJedha is a sacred place. People are in bed at a decent hour, and the only people awake at night are the rare rogues. What lights left are gentle.

            Baze climbs down the steps for close to five minutes before deciding to stop. The steps are just a touch too large for an adult human to comfortably walk on. Whoever made this place did not have them in mind, but someone close. He sits down, gathering his robes around himself, and looks up.

            This is the thing about the Jedhan sky: it is rare that it clears during the day. There’s always some haze keeping them from the outside world. But at night, when the sun is gone, and NaJedha passes overhead, that’s when the sky is clear.

            Depending on the time of year, the planet above them carves out more or less of the night sky. Right now, there’s a crescent of stars visible to the east. Baze watches them, and names the one’s he’s been to.

            He is in trouble.

           

Another might be surprised at the approach of footsteps, but not Baze. He knows by now that to seek solitude is to basically send out a distress call.

            He doesn’t stop his cataloguing of the stars as a blanket drapes over his shoulders. A while back, Baze switched from the names of the ones he had visited to those he simply knew. Chirrut says nothing as he sits down beside Baze, merely pulling his legs beneath himself.

            After a moment, Baze says, “When I was young, I knew all the names of the stars. At least, I thought I knew the names of all the stars. My grandfather, before he died, he’d take me to the roof at night when we were supposed to be sleeping, and we’d watch the crescent together. Sometimes he even took me out to the tablelands, even though my mother would have strangled him. He taught me the names of every star. And I thought, when I was very young, that those were the only stars that existed. I promised I’d go to all of them. I wanted to be away from here so badly. It was always cold, and my clothes never fit. Either too large or too small, and always seventh generation hand-me-downs. My father, he fled before I can remember. Off to—“ Baze gestures with his chin towards the sky. “One of those distant places. My grandfather, he told me that when he died, he’d rejoin the Force, and he’d be reborn as a star. And that’s what I thought happened. Until I was old enough to know better. When I was ten, a supply ship came to our village. I got on it. Hid in a crate. We came here, and I pulled the same thing, only on a ship leaving the system. That’s when I realized for the first time—the stars are endless. There’s no naming them all. There’s no limit to them. And when I saw that…I was terrified.”

            He wraps the blanket closer around his shoulders. He pulls up his knees, and rests his arms upon them.

            Chirrut says, “I did the same thing too.” Baze glances over, and Chirrut clarifies, “Learned the name of the stars when I was young.” He wears a black coat over his robes, more prepared for this weather than Baze. Chirrut smiles crookedly. “Only I was taught by a nanny droid. And when it was time for me to go, my parents’ money paid for my trip.”

            “Let me guess. You weren’t scared of how many stars there were.”

            Thinking about it, Chirrut answers, “No. I saw them, and—I couldn’t stop looking. My friends were laughing, but they couldn’t drag me away from the window. Once I saw how big the universe could be, it didn’t occur to me that I’d ever come back here. Jedha…it’s so small.”

            He looks at Baze, and there’s the questions Baze expected. The questions he’s even asking himself. But Baze says instead, “So you really did plant me with a tracking device.”

            Snorting, Chirrut replies, “No. I asked the guards to tell me when you returned.”

            “And what did you promise in return?”

            “Nothing. They like me.” Baze sighs, rubbing a hand in circles over his head. Chirrut prompts, “I did not expect for them to call for me so soon.”

            He is in trouble.

            “The Guardian would not initiate the cycle. Because I’ve been unfaithful.”

            “Oh.”

            “Yes. Oh.”

            Chirrut is quiet a moment, before saying, “Could you try again in a few days—“

            “Would I be faithful again in a few days?”

            Chirrut stares at him. “Would you?”

            Baze looks down the mesa steps. It’s the task of nearly an hour to descend them, and more to come back up. “I don’t have the answers. I don’t know what I’m doing.”

            “Baze—“

            “We have…rushed into a thing. No. No, that’s unfair. I’ve rushed into a thing that I’m unsure of. That I’ve not thought about. It’s unlike me. And now I don’t know what will happen, and that’s my knot to untangle.”

            “No. It is our task—“

            “Chirrut.”

            “I can hear doubt in your tone, and I will take it away. I will make this right.”     

            Baze lowers his head. He shakes it, then starts to count his fingers. “I do not know if this is a thing that can be made right. No. That’s disingenuous. I don’t think this is a thing that you can make right.”

            Chirrut inches closer, trying to force Baze’s gaze. “Look at me. Baze, I told you to look at me.” Unhappy, Baze complies. In the night, he can still see Chirrut’s face. The worry there. “Do not stop a thing before it’s even had a chance to bloom.”

            “There are larger things at play than…this.”

            “So?”

            “What do you mean, so?”

            “The universe will not collapse if you step a foot out of line. I know…you think you are the only one who can do this thing. That if you don’t, and if it’s not done perfectly, then it will mean calamity. But this…my love…is the hard truth. You are not that important to the universe.” Baze lets out a little laugh. It is a hard truth. Pride. It has always been one of his worst sins. Chirrut presses forward. “However. You are that important to me.”

            Baze’s eyes find the crescent. He begins to name them again.

            His voice flat, Chirrut says, “You don’t believe me.”

            “Things are…very complicated right now. And I haven’t allowed myself to really think about that. Perhaps it’s time I should.”

            Chirrut moves so that their sides are pressed together. “I can’t argue that. This is a very large change for you.” Baze looks at him suspiciously, and Chirrut just elbows him. “I’m not a complete idiot, much as I sometimes act like one. We’ve botched this. Your cycle with the Guardian, I mean. I was too eager for your attention, and I think…perhaps you ignored the fact that things would change between you and the Guardian if we were together. I think you knew it, but you didn’t exactly think about it. I wouldn’t let you think about it, because I thought that if you did…you’d leave me behind in a heartbeat. But it’s something we should think about. Something to discuss.”

            “If we do that…I think we both know what the outcome will be.”

            “No, that’s the outcome that other people want of you. Together, we can come up with alternatives. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.”

            “Sometimes it does.”

            “Now you’re just being unimaginative.”

            “Chirrut…in a few months, you won’t be my acolyte anymore. In third level, you’ll depend more than ever on your mentor. You won’t have time for anything beyond that. And I…unimportant to the universe though I may be…am still the only one trained to commune with the Crystal Guardian. This…is a lovely dream. I think we both know, however…that a dream is all it will be.”

            Chirrut lays his head on Baze’s shoulder. Swallowing, Baze rests his head atop Chirrut’s.

            “May I come home with you tonight?” Chirrut asks, his voice small.

            “That would be a bad idea.”

            “I usually am.”

            “If you left this place—you are worthy of more than you know—“

            “As are you,” Chirrut says fiercely. He pulls on Baze’s sleeve. “I know you’re tired. I’m not asking you for anything. I just want to be near you.”

            He cannot say no. Even though he knows what’s right, what he should be doing, it’s getting more and more difficult to imagine a world where he turns his back on this man.

            “All right,” Baze says.

 

They walk to the house at a respectable distance from one another, saying nothing. Baze is still shaken from the fact that the Guardian would not allow him to connect. He feels like he is in free fall. Two sides are grasping at him, and he’s unable to reach out, to seek purchase.

            When they reach the house, Baze opens the door for Chirrut. With a glance around to see if they’ve been watched, Baze slips inside, and shuts the door.

            He hears Chirrut’s shiver. He left the heat off in the house. He wasn’t expecting to be back for days, and he did not want to waste any energy. Reaching out, he takes hold of Chirrut’s jacket, tugging on the lapels and trying to relay that he shouldn’t remove it.

            A moment later, though, Chirrut’s hands are sliding up the back of his head. His face and hands are cold, but his mouth is warm, and Baze leans into it instinctively. He wraps his arms around Chirrut’s waist, drawing their bodies flush against one another.

            They sway in the dark, two bodies and souls unable to connect in a way that Baze can understand. His body does what it wants, but Baze is used to more. He’s used to being able to see inside, to lose himself.

            It would be a challenge to lose yourself in him. Are you afraid of that?

            He pushes Chirrut back, still kissing him, still holding him close. Chirrut stumbles, just a touch, then kicks aside his shoes. Carefully, they lower down onto the bed. Baze rolls over, pulling Chirrut up with him.

            His mouth tastes of teeth cleaners. Baze smiles at that. The normal details of every day life. That’s not something he finds with the Guardian. With the creature, it is nothing but big picture. Like this, though—he can taste Chirrut, feel him—can feel where he missed a spot shaving.

            Why does this feel so much more real?

            Baze slows, kissing the side of Chirrut’s mouth before settling his head on the pillow. Chirrut’s breath tickles against his cheeks. Chirrut’s fingertips run over his temple, across his cheek. His thumb grazes Baze’s nose.

            “You need to rest,” Chirrut whispers.

            “Do you mean to leave after five minutes?”

            “You stupid man. I’d never leave you, if you’d only keep me.” Chirrut burrows into his arms.

            Baze finds the edge of the blankets, and rolls them up in it. Pushing an arm under Chirrut’s neck, he presses his lips to Chirrut’s forehead.

            He’ll just close his eyes a while. Just a little while. That’s all.

 

A frustrated hiss wakes him.

            “What are you doing?” Baze mumbles.

            “Sorry. I’m trying to make you breakfast.”

            With a grumble, Baze pushes himself onto his hands. “Let me guess. Some weird fruit that’s come from the Force only knows where.”

            “Porridge.”

            That catches his attention. He squints, watching Chirrut move about the cooker. It’s still early. The sun hasn’t risen, and the lights in the kitchen are low. Chirrut shakes out his left hand. He must have injured himself in the attempt. The cooker is working, which means he must have found a crystal that would work for him.

            “Is this part of your new campaign to butter me up?” Baze asks. He sits up. His shoes have been taken off, set at the foot of the bed.

            “Yes. I know you won’t really be hungry. All your tubes are still attached, and I didn’t want to wake you by trying to remove them. But I thought you might like some real food.”

            Baze smells spices of some kind. Porridge, yes, but Chirrut wouldn’t leave it like that. “Breakfast it is then.”

            He excuses himself, going to the refresher out back. He rids himself of the tubes and nutrient pack, then changes into plain black robes. At the back of his mind, he knows that he should be panicked. The Master is going to want to know what’s going on, why he wasn’t able to cycle. He’s going to need to resolve this situation. One way or the other.

            He can’t have the Guardian and Chirrut. And he can’t leave the Guardian. Chirrut must know that. Deep down, he must know that.

            Despite all that, Baze is rather calm. He feels well rested. It is the first time in years that he’s fallen asleep with someone in his arms.

            He returns to the house, dropping the tubes into the sanitizer, and he puts the robes into the cleaner, setting it to ‘gentle.’ These robes must last him many years.

            “Come,” Chirrut says, already seated. “Eat.”

            Whatever he has made, it smells delicious. A bowl waits for him on the table. Baze sits down. “Did you go out to get ingredients?”

            Chirrut shakes his head with a little smile. “No. I’ve hidden things here.”

            “I’d be surprised, but—it’s you.”

            Chirrut folds his hands together, as does Baze. Together, they recite, “The Force does not give. The Force does not take. The Force simply is.”

            Baze picks up his spoon. He glances across the table at Chirrut from under his brows. Immediately, he knows something is amiss. It’s in the way that Chirrut does not blink as often as usual, looking down at his bowl as he eats instead of at Baze.

            He could not mention it. They could eat breakfast in peace, and discuss the inevitable afterwards. This could be the last quiet time they have together. Like this. As they are.

            As they could have been.

            Baze has let things linger, let them draw out in the hopes that they would resolve themselves. That is the coward’s way. No longer.

            Spooning up some porridge, Baze says, “What do you want to tell me?”

            Chirrut looks at him, with his bright eyes. He is not tired at all. Always the early bird. He sees how serious Baze is. Setting aside his spoon, he folds his hand on the table. “I want to suggest something to you. And I want you to actually consider it, instead of rejecting it out of hand.”

            Whatever it is, he is not going to like it. “Very well.”

            Chirrut takes a deep breath, and says, “I want to be your apprentice.”

Chapter Text

Baze is not completely shocked. It has occurred to him before that Chirrut might suggest this. He wants to stay with Baze; he’s said so repeatedly. There would be little way for him to do so. Save this.

            Still.

            With a sigh, Baze puts down his spoon. “Chirrut,” he says regretfully.

            Lifting a hand, Chirrut says, “Listen. I’ve thought about it, and it does make a certain kind of sense. I cannot be acolyte to Palasat. I will not. I don’t want to be parted from you, but they’ll insist on it because you have your duties to the Crystal Guardian. But if I’m your apprentice, I wouldn’t have to transfer to another mentor.”

            “Think about what you’re saying. I will train someone to replace me. You are my age—“

            “It is a flawed system and you know it. You die now, without anyone else trained to commune with the Guardian, what then? How long until another Protector is trained, using only books instead of the knowledge of a truly informed, experienced mentor? I wouldn’t be your replacement, I’d be back up. It’s been done before.”

            “Three hundred and fifty years ago, and if you know the story you know it ended poorly. It took them a hundred years to completely repair the damage to the temple.”

            “They were at odds and the Guardian reacted. We are not at odds.”

            “It would not be a good idea—“

            “I asked you to consider it before rejecting it out of hand—“

            “It’s something I have already considered,” Baze says quietly. He has a sip of his water.

            “You have.”

            Nodding, Baze stirs his porridge. “I thought you might ask. Given that our time together is ending. It made sense that you would suggest it. So I’ve thought about it, and I’ve decided it’s not a viable option.”

            Not accepting no for an answer, Chirrut demands, “Why not?”

            “For one, you know that the creature is not fond of you.”

            “It’s warmed to me—“

            “It hasn’t. It has let you into the cave because I refused to return if it wouldn’t.” Baze shakes his head, cheeks colouring. “That was already much further than I should have ever gone. And now…it knows about you and I. It knows that you have…distracted me. I know the Guardian. I doubt you will be allowed near the caves again.”

            “You reasoned with it before,” Chirrut says, and Baze puts his spoon down. He puts his hands to his face, trying not to sigh. “You convinced it to change its mind once, you could do it again.”

            “Not for this.”

            “Why not—“

            “Because it isn’t a good idea.”

            “You have to explain why not. You can’t just say that, you know I won’t accept that—“

            “I won’t do it because you don’t have the qualities of a Protector.”

            The house goes silent. Baze lowers his hands, crossing his arms on the table.

            Chirrut gazes at him, his jaw tight. “What qualities are those?” he says evenly.

            “I don’t need to explain this to you—“  

            “Explain it to me.”

            This will hurt both of them. Baze knows it. He knows that Chirrut will hurt more, and he is sorry for it. Chirrut took a chance on him, and there are few people who have ever done that for Baze. But it is time for this brief detour from reality to end.

            “A Protector must be willing to give all of themselves to the temple,” Baze says. “Their first thought is not of themselves, but others. They willingly and whole heartedly give themselves to this place, to the Guardian. When a distraction arises, they must be prepared to set it aside. They must be willing to sacrifice. They must be able to focus. They must be constant.”

            Chirrut crosses his arms on the table, a mirror of Baze. “And you don’t think I’m those things.”

            “We both know that you’re not.”

            “You think I’m inconstant.”

            Baze bites into his lower lip, then says, truthfully, “I look ahead ten years, twenty years, forty years, and I see myself here. There’s nowhere else I would possibly be. I look ahead five years—and I don’t see you here. You weren’t meant to be a monk. You can’t put the order first. Your needs, your desires come first to you—and that isn’t wrong. It just isn’t the mind of a monk.”

            “You want me as I want you. You can’t deny that.”

            “I do want you. The order, however, comes first—“ Chirrut gets up abruptly from the table, and Baze sits back. “Chirrut, we need to finish talking about this.”

            Walking to the door, Chirrut says, “No, we don’t. You’re going to say the wrong thing, and I don’t want to hear it—“

            “You’re a grown man. You should be able to hear it when someone tells you no—“

            Turning, Chirrut snaps, “You’re not saying no, you’re saying I don’t matter to you as much as you do to me. Yes, if the choice is between you and the temple, I would choose you. But it doesn’t have to be, and you are too indoctrinated to see the options that exist before you.”

            Rising as Chirrut shoves his feet into his shoes, Baze says calmly, “Not everything is shades of grey—“

            “The Force is not about rules, Baze. It’s about the universe, as it is, being better than one is. We are better together. We make one another better. How can you not see that?” Face contorting with frustration, Chirrut leaves, slamming the door after himself.

            Baze stands there, his fingertips touching the table. Well. That might be the end of things. Knowing Chirrut, it’s unlikely. Baze might have to repeat himself several times before the message really sinks in, but…there is no choice here. There must be a Protector. He is it. He can not abandon that based on an attraction to a man who might not even really want him. He can’t turn away from his whole life based on a ‘what if.’

            He sits back down, and continues to eat. Chirrut’s bowl sits across from him, slowly cooling.

 

“Hello little one,” says Baze.

            Confused, Guela says, “Adda, what’s wrong?”

            Raising his shoulders, Baze smiles with regret. “I wasn’t able to commune with the Guardian. I was…distracted.”

            “Oh. What happened? Are you all right?”

            “I’m fine, little one. Just…things that I can’t tell you about. I wanted to see your face, is all. I always feel better when I’ve seen your face.”

            She sits down, her young face etched with concern. “Can—I help?”

            “You’re helping right now. I want to know your stories. I want to hear news of you.”

            “We spoke two days ago. I think I told you all my stories.”

            “That’s all right. It’s not your responsibility to cheer me up. I’m the adult here, aren’t I.”

            “Why don’t you tell me a story?”

            “Oh, I’m not sure if I’m—“

            “Tell me a story about my father.”

            Surprised, Baze echoes, “Your father.”

            They don’t discuss Guevar much. There’s not an emphasis on family life in Guela’s training. Her focus is on learning the ways of the Force. She has been taught to leave worldly things behind. Unlike Baze, she learned it at an age when it would be all she knew.

            Nonetheless, here she is, asking.

            “He gave me the laces off his shoes,” Baze remembers.

            “What do you mean?”

            “I had these boots. I loved those boots. They were terrible. Holes in them. Every time the rains came, my feet would be soaked. Your father would always tease me about them. He’d say that I must like to suffer. That had to be why I always wore those boots.”

            “Why did you wear them?”

            “Because they were mine. I bought them when times were bad. Wore them until they wore through. A good pair of boots, though—you shouldn’t discount that. Some people—they get sentimental about strange things. I was sentimental about my boots. Your father—he was a good man. A kind man. He knew I was attached to those boots, and he teased me about it because he knew I wasn’t comfortable always being serious about everything.”

            “Why not?”

            “I was nineteen. And a smart mouth. Besides, in those days, it wasn’t like I could just buy another pair of boots. If I got a pair from anywhere, it would be because someone had died. Your father—he wanted me to have a decent pair of shoes. He would have given me his, but his feet were a little smaller than mine. I couldn’t wear his shoes. One day, I was tying my laces, and they just came off in my hands. Practically disintegrated. It had been a tough few days. We were hungry—you were hungry. You were such a good girl. You stayed so quiet, even though you didn’t know what was going on, why things were…the way they were. I’d seen my fair share, but for some reason, those laces coming apart, that was the last straw. I was…upset.”

            He’d gone outside, put his face in his hands, and cried like a baby, more like.

            “The next morning, when I woke up, there were new laces in my boots. Your father had taken them out of his shoes and put them in mine. Wouldn’t let me give them back. He said that if I wouldn’t put on different shoes, at least he’d keep mine tied together.” Baze nods. “He was a good man like that. An honourable man. I’m so proud to have been his friend.”

            Guela watches him. “Adda…you’re scaring me.”

            Eyes widening, Baze says, “What? Why? What have I done?”

            “You’re not acting like yourself.”

            He doesn’t know what to say to that. What could make this better?

            Nothing, he decides. “I suppose I’m not,” is all Baze can say.

 

Baze is halfway back to his house when he realizes something.

            Chirrut would give him his laces.

            In a heartbeat. Baze doesn’t doubt it. He can’t figure out if Chirrut really is set on him or not. If it’s a passing thing for the other man. But somehow, Baze is absolutely convinced: Chirrut would not hesitate to give his laces to Baze. That’s the kind of man he is.

            Baze runs a hand over his face, briefly closing his eyes.

            “Protector.”

            Her timing, as always, is impeccable. Baze stops, turning. “Master Yamari.”

            The Master sweeps across the ground to him. For a moment, he attempts to decipher what he sees on her face. Beneath the blank façade, that is. Is it anger? Triumph? Satisfaction? Concern? He honestly can’t tell. Things used to be so much easier.

            Coming to stand before him, the Master says, “Did you not inform me that you would be in a cycle?”

            Baze raises his shoulders, keeping his face placid. “There was a complication. It did not occur.”

            “What manner of complication?”

            He can own his mistakes. “I was insufficiently prepared for contact. The fault is entirely mine.”

            “What do you mean—you were insufficiently prepared?”

            “I was distracted by the responsibilities of being both mentor and Protector. I must confess, I will be relieved when I am only the Protector once more.”

            I won’t. That’s a lie.

            It does not matter. He stands there, and he pretends to believe it.

            Apparently Yamari isn’t having it either. “You’re eager to be rid of Acolyte Îmwe, then.”

            “I would not phrase it that way.”

            “How would you phrase it?”

            “I’ve of course grown fond of the acolyte over these last two years. But I am not a mentor. It was simply a necessity of circumstance that put me in such a position. He will learn a great deal with Guardian Palasat. The Guardian is most pleased to take him on.” Baze looks her right in the eyes, and says, “I’m happy for the both of them.”

            Her reptile eyes are unblinking. Baze refuses to be cowed by her. He can’t. He is giving up…he is giving up more than she can comprehend, to be faithful to this place, to his vows. Let her stare.

            Hands behind her back, Yamari steps closer. “And if I made a suggestion to you of impropriety?”

            Fuck. “How so?” Baze asks, injecting a touch of confusion to his tone.

            “I heard something peculiar today. I was told that the acolyte accompanied you home last night. And that he did not leave until this morning.”

            “Interesting.”

            “Interesting indeed. Particularly so, given that he’s been seen entering your home at strange hours these past few days.” She moves closer, tilting her head down. Her voice is smooth as water. “Not to mention all those notes he left you the other month. That’s very interesting, don’t you think?”

            “Acolytes act in all manner of strange ways—“

            “Let me guess. The handsome man who breaks the rules deigned to look at you, and you forgot your place. Is that what happened? Protector?”

            Not all the training in the world can stop his blood from boiling. “Quite the accusation, Master.”

            “I can see it written all over you.” Her voice drops to a murmur. “How sad is that. You think he means it, don’t you? You think you’re anything other than a distraction while he wastes all our time. He’ll never last here.”

            “As I recall, you’ve been saying that practically from the moment he arrived. But he’s—still—here.”

            “Careful. Your emotions are showing.”

            “You’re making accusations without any proof that I can see. I assume the sources that told you these fantasy stories will wish to remain anonymous.”

            Master Yamari smiles slightly. “You know—Protector—I’ve thought of many ways to really…reach you, these past few years. It would be extremely difficult to remove you. Not impossible, but difficult. However…a simple acolyte.” She arches a brow. “For him, I need no reason. All I have to do is say, ‘he goes,’ and a few minutes later he can never re-enter the temple. I think I’ll time it. From the moment I give the order to when he’s actually thrown past the gates.”

            “This is petty—“

            “All those years spent wondering how best to finally get under your skin—and you made it so easy. It didn’t even occur to me how foolishly you’d fall for him. I always thought you a far worthier foe. But this childish crush on a man who’s out of your league—oh, Protector. What a gift you’ve given me.” She leans towards him, smile turning into a cruel grin. “Tell me you love him. Give me that.”

            Baze snaps, stepping forward.

 

            the tower

 

            The sky is flung above him, and he hits the ground on his knees. Nausea rips through him at an alarming rate. But before he can react, his eyesight splits.

            It comes to him in flashes. The tower, rising above him at an impossible angle. His house, coming at him so fast that it’s almost racing. He is inside, and dread overtakes him. A note. There is a note on the floor. Something has gone wrong. Something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.

            Baze grabs onto the earth, gasping with shock. A vision. He’s had a vision.

            Faintly, he hears the Master’s voice. “Baze—Baze, can you stand?” There’s a hand beneath his elbow.

            He turns, and looks at her. She’s staring at him.

            “I don’t feel well,” Baze whispers. “I have to go home.”

            He pushes away from her, struggling to his feet. As soon as he’s up, his head swoops, and the same three images pummel him again.

            The tower. The house. The note.

            Baze grabs his head, groaning from the disorientation. From the corner of his eyes, he sees Yamari step towards him. His stomach recoils at the thought of her touch. Stumbling away from her, he staggers at first.

            Then he runs.

 

When he sees the house, Baze almost vomits.

            There will be a note. He knows there will be a note.

            Baze falls through the door, and the note is waiting for him. From Chirrut—of course from him, it’s the paper he always uses. But his scrawl is not as neat as usual. He wrote this in a hurry.

            It is impossible not to be frightened of what he’s about to learn.

 

Baze,

A miracle has happened! I have had another vision! It happened exactly as I knew it would, as I feared it would not. As I left practice, I felt the Force enter me. I was not only myself, I was all things, as you said I would be. I cannot describe it, but you know that. Of course you know that! You, who told me what would come, and who I wanted so desperately to prove right.

I fell to my knees, and when I looked up, I saw exactly what I saw in my vision ten years ago. It was exactly as I saw it then! The light was in the same position, the sky was the same colour, even the temperature felt the same. What I saw then was coming true. It has come true, it is all coming true. Then I heard the words.

The Crystal Guardian has called me! It bids me come to it in the caves. It says it sees the wisdom in what I proposed. It heard me this morning. I don’t know how, I don’t even care how. If it is one with the Force and the Force is in all things, of course it saw.

I cannot linger. It bade me come to it immediately before the Master has me banished from the Temple. It says this is what she means to do, but if I commune with the creature now, there is nothing she can do to make me leave. To be one with it will be to make sure I never have to leave you, and that is what I want, more than you know.

You doubt me, but you will not once I have done this. The Force is with me, and us. I will do as I must so that we may never be parted. I do this to prove myself to you. I will dedicate myself to the Crystal Guardian as I am dedicated to you, and you will not doubt again.

Yours in the Force, and all things,

Chirrut

 

            “No,” Baze rasps.

            It’s a trap. He has been communing with the Guardian for years, and of anyone living, he knows it best. It didn’t call Chirrut to bless him. It has called him to his doom.

            What Baze does next is not even thought about. He leaps to his feet, and scrambles to the kitchen. With three taps at the floor, he throws open the compartment, and reaches inside.

            He must stop this.

 

No one knows what to think of the sight of the Protector running at full tilt across the compound, blaster in hand. Some call out to him, but no one who sees his face even contemplates getting in his way. He doesn’t look like the man they know. He looks half terrified and half murderous.

            Baze bursts into the refresher at the base of the temple. There are some startled cries at the sight of a man with a gun, but Baze ignores them. He goes to the open stall on the left, and uses the butt of the blaster to smash the tiles over the toilet. After several blows, he uncovers the hole in the wall. A glowing red light peers out at him.

            “Baze Malbus,” he says.

            Something in the wall beeps, and he moves back several feet. People try to speak to him, but he can’t hear them.

            His finger twitches alongside the trigger.

            The wall blows open.

            Before the dust can clear, Baze is running through the hole. He hits the opposite wall, shouting, “Lights!”

            The hallway before him, unused for decades, illuminates with dim lamps. As soon as the way is visible, Baze begins to run again. This is a path he has never taken, but it was the closest entrance to his house, and he could not waste any time.

            He prays that he’s in time. If he gets there before Chirrut, Baze can warn him, can make sure he doesn’t get near the Guardian. Chirrut said that the vision happened after practice; he had to mean fight training. That was a little over a half hour ago. With time to write the note, and get it under Baze’s door, and taking into consideration that he was probably disoriented from the vision, Baze could still be in time.

            He can’t hear the Guardian as he runs down the halls, zigging and zagging back and forth as he races deeper into the earth. Baze knows the Guardian. If it had succeeded, it would be triumphant, and he is certain that he would feel that. The notion makes him sick.

            It never occurred to him that the creature would reach out like this. The fault was his, not Chirrut’s. Chirrut has only loved him. That’s not a sin. Baze swore an oath—he is the one who failed in his duties. The punishment was not supposed to be dealt to Chirrut. It was supposed to be Baze.

            If it’s not—if he’s not in time—

            If he’s not in time, nothing living will leave that cave, and that’s a fucking promise.

            He can feel the Crystal Guardian. It’s calling. Not to him. It is beckoning. It is reassuring. It offers flickers of the outside world in a display of its abilities. It is luring Chirrut to it.

            Baze must stop this before it can happen. He will prevent this terror. He will save the Guardian, and Chirrut. He will save them both.

            He reaches the bottom of the passageway. Sticking the blaster in his waistband, Baze puts both hands to the wall. He has to grit his teeth, and use the entirety of his strength, but the wall scrapes against the ground.

            I will save them. I will save them from this madness.

            Baze pushes the door open, and he is just in time to see Chirrut turn the corner, and walk out onto the ledge.

            He opens his mouth to shout for him, but stops at the last second. Any sound could startle the Crystal Guardian and set it off. The air is thick with concentration. The Guardian is putting everything into calling Chirrut to it. The crystals sing, one long sustained note. It is grating. It is rising.

            Wincing, Baze silently scrambles across the hallway. The creature’s third eye is closed. Otherwise, everything would be over. He stands on the other side of the wall from Chirrut and the Guardian, breathing heavily.

            What do I do? What do I do?

            He asks the Force. He begs for guidance. It lasts only a moment, but he begs the powers he has served to give him grace. He has asked so little of life, and he has given so much. Surely that must mean something. It must. It must.

            Chirrut murmurs, “I am one with the Force.” Baze peers around the doorway. Chirrut is about to step onto the bridge. The creature awaits him on the other side, its head down. Hesitant, Chirrut begins lifting a hand. “And the Force is with me.”

            Baze feels the shift. The pretence the Crystal Guardian radiated begins to fall. No, he pleads with the Force.

            Chirrut stops, his hand frozen in mid air. He has just stepped onto the bridge.

            Like he can sense Baze’s presence, he turns and looks back. Desperate, Baze reaches out his hand. Everything he could possibly say is written on his face. Behind Chirrut, the creature raises its head, and Baze despairs.

            Realization fills Chirrut’s bright eyes, but he reacts instinctively. He turns his head forward—

            And the Crystal Guardian opens its third eye.

            Baze reacts automatically. He throws himself behind the doorway as the cavern fills with horrible light. His eyes shut.

            As his back hits the wall, he hears screaming. The Guardian is screaming, yes—but so is Chirrut.

            Three seconds. The universe changes in three seconds.

            One.

            His back has barely touched the wall and he rolls off it, snatching the blaster from his waistband. He is deafened by the shrieking and the singing, magnified ten-fold by the lattices of crystal.

            Two.

            Without opening his eyes, without thinking, without consideration for what might be to come, Baze raises the blaster. He fires, knowing where his shot will land. As a Guardian, his weapon might be the lightbow, but the man who came before was walking death when he held a gun.

            Three.

            As the Guardian’s third eye explodes, Baze lunges forward, grabbing onto Chirrut’s robes. He hears a grotesque howl of pain filling the massive space, and he hears Chirrut’s terrible wail as the man’s legs begin to give. Before he can fall off the bridge, Baze pulls him backwards with all his strength.

            They hit the ground, and the universe is a different place.

            Baze doesn’t think about that. He opens his eyes, because he can sense no more of the creature’s light. He grabs onto Chirrut, who’s writhing on the grounds, clutching his eyes and screaming in absolute agony.

            “Chirrut—oh gods—Chirrut, can you—“

            Chirrut’s back arches off the ground, and Baze can see light streaming from between his fingers.

            Without a look at the creature, who is throwing itself against the walls, shaking the foundations with its screams, Baze grabs Chirrut off the ground. He throws him over his shoulder and flees.

Chapter Text

Baze stands on the other side of the observation window, eyes wide and his fingers linked behind his head. He is on the verge of hyperventilating. Each breath feels like a chill. It shakes going down and coming up, and they are coming too fast and too hard.

            He watches, helpless, as the healers struggle with Chirrut. Reina is pinning him down as Capprasa injects him. “Hold him, for the Force’s sake, hold him!” Capprasa roars. “Jona, I need more cooling pads, his temperature is spiking!”

            Chirrut is almost uncontrollable, fighting viciously against the healers and unseen forces. His eyes—oh stars, his beautiful bright eyes—they’re not brown anymore. They’re pale blue and glowing. They dart about sightlessly as he says the same thing over and over.

            “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me, I am one with the Force and the Force is with me, I am one with the—“

            He squeezes his eyes shut and screams with pain.

            Baze presses his hands against the sides of his head, taking more shaking breaths. The ground quivers under his feet. He doesn’t know what’s going on in the caves.

            He doesn’t care.

            All that matters is Chirrut. Nothing else matters. Now that Baze is faced with the reality that at any second Chirrut might—he might—

            How could he have cared about anything but him?

            “The switch!” Chirrut shouts. He shoves Reina to the ground, trying to get off the bed. “I have to get to the switch—“

            “Get him!” Capprasa orders Jona. The large man latches onto Chirrut, dragging him back onto the bed.

            “Was the injection bad?” Jona asks over Chirrut’s screams.

            “It’s not the medicine, it’s him, he’s—“

            Chirrut grabs her by the front of her robes, yanking her forward. “The girl,” he says insistently as Capprasa fights for air. “I have to go with the girl, do you understand? The girl with the necklace—I have to find her—“

            Reina untangles Chirrut’s fingers from Capprasa’s robes. Chirrut falls back onto the bed, praying faster than Baze has ever heard.

            Too late. He made his decision too late. Now Chirrut might die. He might burn from the inside out, because he was trying to keep Baze. Trying to prove his worth. It’s a terrible joke. Chirrut has tried to prove himself to a man who could never be worthy of him.

            “Baze!”

            He glances to the left, but he can’t be bothered. He watches the healers pushing cooling packs underneath Chirrut, but he doesn’t seem to notice. He doesn’t seem aware of anything, lost inside his own mind.

            Baze hears the Master breathing beside him, but he doesn’t look at her. Chirrut’s eyes. His poor eyes.

            “What happened?” she demands. Baze starts to chew on the end of his thumb, watching as Chirrut begins to lightly seize. He’s still praying. How can he? Baze is suddenly grabbed, and turned around. Master Yamari gives him a shake. “What—happened?”

            “The creature lured Chirrut down into the caves to kill him,” Baze says hollowly. “It opened its eye before I could get there in time. I did what I had to in order to save Chirrut.”

            His eyes drift back to the man on the bed. His face is trapped in a grimace, some new pain rattling through him.

            “What does that mean? The whole temple is shaking—Baze! I’m talking to you!” He looks at her, disinterested in the whole conversation. Glaring at him, Master Yamari asks, “What have you done?”

            “I shot it in its eye and blinded it for good,” Baze says, with no small amount of satisfaction.       

            He watches a number of things happen to Yamari’s face. Her pupils flare. She sucks in a deep breath. The colour visibly drains from her face, and then suddenly rushes back in.

            “You didn’t,” she breathes.

            “Of course I did,” Baze mutters, turning back to the window.

            He grits his teeth when Yamari spins him around. “What have you done,” she whispers. “What the hell have you done?!”

            And Baze smiles.

            It is the moment he finally thinks about what’s happened, and he breaks with all that he has been taught. He is a man who adapts. He is too furious to doubt what he has done.

            “Exactly what you wanted. Split with the Guardian. You’ve been trying to undermine me for years. You’ve hated me ever since T’kal chose me instead of you, and you’ve tried endlessly to split me from my vocation. That’s why you gave me Chirrut. Distract me. Congratulations. You win. I was distracted. I love him. I choose him. I’d kill the Guardian to keep him safe. I would bring down this whole fucking temple on our heads if it meant his safety.”

            Baze steps forward, and the Master leans back.

            “How does victory taste?” he wonders. “Does it feel good to have finally pushed me to my breaking point? All this time—all this time I wasted in this place. Following these pointless rules. Denying everything that I was. Finally—finally—I had something good, something right, and I let this place and its idiocy get between him and I, and now he might die. All for some—fairy tale. That’s what this place is. This place is built on lies. Literally. The Guardian is nothing but a selfish beast that would have killed a man because I dared think of anything but it. And I am done. I am completely finished. It’s your order, you deal with it. You always wanted to be Protector, you take the damn job. You get what you always wanted, Yamari. This is a happy day for you.”

            He turns back to the window just in time to see Chirrut break into full seizures.

            His heart lurches against the walls of his chest. He reaches for the window, setting his hands against it.

            Am I in your heart?

            You’re all that’s in my heart. There is nothing but you. There is no Guardian—no Force. There is nothing but you in my heart, and if you stay with me, if you fight this, I will never regard another. It will only be you until the end of my days.

            “I can’t.”

            “You can’t what?” Baze murmurs, watching as they struggle to restrain Chirrut.

            “I can’t be Protector.” He glances at Yamari. He watches the struggle in her eyes. The damage to her pride this confession takes. “You know the Guardian does not care for me. It has never cared for me. I had to appeal to T’kal to intercede on my behalf when I became Master. If I go into those caves—it won’t end well.” She cringes, giving her head a disbelieving shake. “You must—you—must return to the caves.”

            Baze gazes at her dispassionately. “Never.”

            “Stop this! This—selfishness. I have—I have been petty, yes, I’ve not done every little thing I was supposed to as Master, I know this. In my soul, I know this. But beyond that—beyond my failings, Baze, I love this temple. I love this order. If you don’t make this right, no one can. Do you comprehend that? The whole building could come down. The Guardian could die! Baze, listen to me.”

            He is unmoved. “Reap what you’ve sown.”

            His attention is drawn back to the clinic as Jona cries out. Yamari says, “Force save us,” as Chirrut’s eyes light once more, glowing a horrifying shade of blue.

            Chirrut is flailing, demanding to be set free. “I have to find the switch,” he begs. “I have to find the fucking switch!”

            “Tie him down!” Capprasa yells.

            Chirrut lets out a sudden wail, and falls limp. “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me,” he prays desperately. “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me—“

            Baze cannot bear it. He turns and walks away. He has done this. He dishonours Chirrut by watching his misery.

            “Don’t walk away from me,” the Master calls after him.

            “Watch me.”

            “You swore an oath to the Force—“

            Whirling around, Baze roars, “There is no Force!”

            There isn’t. It has all been lies. Everything he believed in—everything he let himself believe.

            It’s lies.

            “Let the building fall,” Baze says with rage. “Let it consume us all.”

            He walks away from all he has known.

 

Baze sits at the kitchen table, his hands folded on the surface. Morning broke an hour ago, but he hasn’t slept. He’s sat here because he doesn’t know what else he could possibly do.

            He is trained for stillness, but he is not trained for this. In the face of tragedy, he is supposed to pray.

            He will not pray again. Never again.

            He was a foolish child who needed direction, and he let these people fill his head with all kinds of fantasies. He let the Guardian fill his head with all kinds of stories. A telepathic creature got inside his head, and Baze let it because he wanted to belong to something.

            No, worse than that. He didn’t have anything else. So he did as he was told.

            Baze looks at the meditation space. All the hours spent there.

            Jealousy. That’s what this whole situation is about. The creature is not attuned to a higher power. It’s some sick twisted thing stuck in a cave, feeding off the energy of those who please it. The moment Baze showed loyalty to anything besides the creature, it tried to murder a man.

            And here he’s spent ten years believing in peace. Faith. The Force.

            It all comes down to base emotion. Hatred. Envy. He dared have something that he wasn’t allowed, and this is what the universe decided was his due.

            No.

            No, that’s not it at all.

            The universe did not decide anything.

            There is nothing tying everything together. There is only what is. He has been tricked. He fed into the deception of connection for a decade. Now that he has had something real, something true, he may have destroyed things by not recognizing it for what it was.

            Honest. Not easy. Not logical. Chirrut has never been easy. He has been an irritant, and a frustration, and he has been the only real thing in Baze’s world.

            Now he might die. And Baze can never be forgiven.

 

The knock comes at his door some time in late midday. Baze lifts his head. He still hasn’t moved from the kitchen table. “Enter.”

            The door opens, and Zemall steps inside. Bowing her head, she murmurs, “Protector.”

            “Don’t call me that,” Baze says dully.

            She looks at him in surprise, but does not question him. “I’ve come from the clinic.”

            His mind automatically jumps to his mantra, but he pushes it back firmly. Instead, he gazes at her and says, “What news?”

            She wastes no breath. “He will live.”

            The bones in his body seem to forget they are supposed to remain rigid. He feels like he might melt, or that he is already melting. Baze swallows against the sudden pang in his throat. Dropping his head, he struggles to get himself under control.

            When he looks up, he is shocked to see that Zemall is fighting back tears. Of her class, Baze has always considered her to be the toughest. She is forthright and honest, vicious when she needs to be. Now she stands beside his bed, her elongated head tilted as she sniffs.

            It’s not from relief. It’s not from the stress. It’s something else.

            “But?” Baze says softly.

            She lets out an inhale, looking up at the ceiling. She brushes impatiently at her tears. “He’s seeing things. The healers, they say it might be visions, it might just be—his mind. They say it might get better, but they don’t know. No one in living memory has survived the gaze of the Crystal Guardian—why am I saying this to you, you know this—“

            “His mind might be broken,” Baze says.

            “Yes. That’s—that isn’t all.”

            And for some reason, it doesn’t occur to Baze what she might say. “What else?”

            “He’s blind.” Zemall begins to break down, looking away. “His sight cannot be recovered. He will be blind until the end of his days.”

            Of course. Of course he’s lost his sight. Just like Yeran Tal, the Protector from four hundred years ago. He looked upon the creature, and even though he survived—his eyes could no longer see.

            His beautiful eyes have been burned clear of sight.

            Because he wanted to prove himself to me.

            Baze knows what he needs to do. “Is he at all lucid?”

            “Yes. He understands what’s going on, he’s just—not himself.”

            Nodding, Baze says, “Thank you, Zemall.”

            “Are you—will you come to see him?”

            He thinks about it, then shakes his head. “I will never set foot in the temple again.”

            She looks horrified, but Baze just gets to his feet. He needs to get his things. Baze looks across the room to Zemall, and asks, “Was there anything else?”

            “Do you want me to tell him anything?”

            Where to begin?

            After a moment’s thought, Baze says, “Tell him I’m sorry.” He taps his fingers on the table, planning.

            “That’s it?” Zemall says. “That’s all you have to say to him?”

            “Yes. What else could there be?”

            She glares at him, then turns and sweeps out of the house. The way she moves reminds him of the Master. That leaves Baze further resolved.

           

He closes the door behind himself, squinting at the sky. The sun is high, piercing through the haze. It is warmer than usual, but still Jedha. Everything will cool briskly once the sun sets.

            Forty kilometers as the bird flies between the holy city and the closest settlement. It will be a journey of several days. From there…who knows.

            Baze hikes his bag higher on his shoulder and starts walking.

            Much like yesterday, people stop as he passes. Today he is aware of them, but he does not look back. He doesn’t care what they see when they look at him. If he were to gaze in their eyes, he would be unable to withhold his disdain.

            He wears the garments from beneath his robes. Black shirt and pants. Beyond that, nothing else is the same. He wears a tan jacket that he sometimes pulls on when the nights are too cold, even for him. Instead of shoes, he wears heavy black boots.

            On his back, he carries the heavy repeating cannon. It will slow him down, but he would not leave it. Much like the box of Chirrut’s messages. They sit at the bottom of his bag, safe as he can make them.

            He will need to find work. It will be a difficult prospect in the desert. Not much use for a former monk. But there’s always need for a man with a gun.

            That and a pocketful of kyber.

            He needs to make money if he wants to get off the moon. The easiest place to do that would be the city. To stay here, though, in the shadow of the temple—it offends him.

            More than that, he cannot stay where Chirrut is. His shame is too great.

            He doubted. He placed hearsay and stories above what his heart told him. The first time a man loved him without the confines of rules, and Baze followed orders. Instead of using his own mind, he let others make the decisions. The failing was his.

            And Chirrut took the punishment.

            He knows he’s supposed to say, It’s as the Force wills it. He’s supposed to say that everything happens for a reason, and all will be revealed to him in time. It won’t. Things don’t happen because there’s some vast plan for everything. Things happen because people make decisions. They act, and someone else acts, and consequences are the whole of the law.

            Chirrut will never see again. He has been wounded in a way that cannot be fixed. This happened because Baze didn’t believe his feelings were authentic. He called Chirrut inconstant, when the label was clearly his to bear. He pushed Chirrut to prove himself. And he has. Irreparably.

            He has also proven Baze unworthy. Baze chose the Crystal Guardian over Chirrut. A fickle, murderous creature they have worshipped for millennia. The Crystal Guardian does not love Baze. It thinks it owns him.

            Baze belongs to Chirrut and no other. That is why he must go. To ask forgiveness would be obscene. His disloyalty cost Chirrut his eyes and nearly his life. He must go where he can never hurt Chirrut again, never remind him of his lack of faith.

            It is the coward’s way, to run. Of course it is. Baze has proven that he is a coward, so he will behave as one. He will slink away into the desert, alone and unloved, because that is what he deserves.

            He does not deserve Chirrut. This is what he is owed, and no more.

           

Baze takes the elevator to the bottom of the mesa stairs. It might be more cathartic to walk them, but Baze is sick to death of rituals and symbols. He needs to get from point A to point B and he will take the fastest way.

            The car shakes as he descends. The last time Baze took this elevator, he was carrying T’kal.

            What would he think?

            I don’t care. And he doesn’t. Baze feels empty. He should be raging or sorrowful or something. But he is closing down and closing off. All he thinks of is his impending trip across the desert. He has a blanket, nutrient packs, water. His weapon, in case one of the sand beasts comes for him. They will. They can smell flesh up to twenty kilometers away. Baze is a son of Jedha, however. He knows how to survive in the desiccated tablelands.

            The elevator reaches the ground with a clatter. Baze looks out the cracked window. In the distance, the wind is swirling up dust. Without having to think about it, the old ways kick in. He pulls his scarf over his mouth, and wraps his glasses around his forehead. He doesn’t bring the lenses down over his eyes just yet.

            Already, the cannon is weighing on him. That’s fine. He will learn to carry its weight.

            Opening the door, Baze steps out into the desert. The afternoon greets him, chill and bright. Winter is gently seeping in. Not exactly the best time to make his escape.

            Nonetheless.

            He closes the door behind himself, and before he’s taken two steps, the elevator begins to rattle back up the side of the mesa. Baze glances at it, feeling like the city is glad to be rid of him, and not wanting to give him an easy return. Since he doesn’t intend to return, it doesn’t bother him too much.

            You can still turn back. You can still say—

            What? I can tell him what? What would make this right?

            Baze takes a breath, then begins to walk across the sand.

            It has been over ten years since he walked these flats by himself. The day before he decided to become an acolyte, he came out here. He wandered a while. Guevar told him that if he looked, he was sure to find himself in this place. Baze had clung to that idea, wanting to honour his friend. Another person he’s disappointed. But he’s dead. He’s long dead.

            Baze begins to make distant plans. Make the money to get off the moon. He can find passage. He could get to Coruscant. See Guela. Be face to face with her. As family should be.

            He let the Jedi take her.

            He has let so many things happen.

            The desert will take it all away. It devours. It does not nourish. The sand will erode all sharp corners. It will be easy to lose himself out here. Maybe it won’t be the way out.

            He finds that he doesn’t really mind.

            Baze has been walking for about ten minutes when he hears the whisper of a voice, almost lost on the wind. It might just be the wind itself. Sometimes it plays tricks on you out in the desert.

            Except it comes again, and this time it is clear. “Stop!” a woman yells.

            Sighing, Baze slowly comes to a halt. Should he even bother to look back? He doesn’t know who would bother to come after him. He’s the man who blinded the Crystal Guardian.

            He’s the man who blinded Chirrut Îmwe.

            But then he hears, “You’re going to hurt yourself—“

            Baze turns.

            Zemall stands at the elevator. And Chirrut is scrambling up from the ground he’s fallen on. As soon as he’s on his feet, he starts running. No regard for the fact that he cannot see. That he has no idea where he’s going.

            Baze drops everything and runs to meet him.

            Chirrut trips over a rock and hits the ground again, but he simply rolls back onto his feet. Somehow, he seems to know what direction Baze has gone—due south. He’s still wearing his hospital clothes, but the knee of the left trouser has been ripped out and bloodied.

            He does not slow.

            The closer he gets, the easier it is to see his eyes. They don’t glow like they did in the caves, in the clinic. But they are not as they should be.

            Chirrut falls once more, and Baze yells, “Stay there! I’m coming!”

            As Chirrut picks himself up, Baze runs faster than he can ever remember. Chirrut shouldn’t be out here—what is he doing? What does he think he’s doing? Baze’s heart pounds in his ears as he runs to Chirrut.

            Once he reaches him, he comes to an abrupt stop. His shoulders heave up and down as he stares at Chirrut.

            The other man is dusty and his knee is not the only place where he’s bleeding. He holds his hands out at his sides, like he’s trying to keep balance. His head tilts down slightly as he always struggles to catch his breath.

            His eyes are a milky blue. His pupils are completely gone. All that remains is the blue of the Crystal Guardian, forever imprinted on his eyes.

            Disbelieving, Chirrut says, “You’re leaving.”

            How does Baze do this? He never expected this to happen, Chirrut’s supposed to still be in the clinic—but of course Chirrut wouldn’t do what he expected. Has he ever?

            “Yes,” Baze says softly.

            “You’re leaving because I’m blind.”

            It’s not a question. There’s nothing else that Baze can say besides, “Yes.”

            He has crippled Chirrut. How could Chirrut ever forgive him? Baze puts his face in his hand, not able to look at Chirrut for shame.

            A blow nearly knocks him off his feet, and Baze sees stars.

            He has barely processed that when he’s punched across the face. Baze staggers back as Chirrut roars, “You bastard! That’s all it takes? I’m broken, so you just—you just discard me?”

            Baze realizes with horror what Chirrut thinks, and he barely gets out a, “No,” before Chirrut has kicked him in the chest. Baze goes flying back, hitting the ground on his rear end.

            Chirrut stands over him, fists clenched. His mouth trembles, and he shakes his head. “I love you—I went in there so that we would never have to be parted, and now you don’t want me because I’m not perfect—“

            Baze jumps to his feet, insisting, “No.”

            He reaches for Chirrut, but the other man lashes out, beginning to cry. He slams the butt of his palm against Baze’s nose, cracking it. “You’re going to leave me, you’re just going to leave—“

            Blood is gushing down Baze’s face, but he ignores it. Grabbing Chirrut’s wrists, he squeezes hard enough to hurt, pulling him close. “I’m leaving because I did this to you,” Baze says. “I’m leaving because I blinded you. Not because you’re broken, you are not broken.” Chirrut is weeping now, trying to get out of Baze’s grasp but losing his strength. “I did this to you, it’s my fault, I blinded you, I did this to you and I’m going where I can’t hurt you again—“

            “Don’t you dare,” Chirrut sobs. He shakes his head. “Don’t you dare—you don’t get to leave me now. Don’t—Baze—please—I can bear this—I can bear it—but not if you leave me—“

            He starts to fall, and Baze goes with him. “Beloved,” he says hoarsely. They hit the ground on their knees, Baze holding Chirrut upright.

            Head bent, Chirrut pleads, “Don’t leave me—please—tell me you won’t—“

            He droops forward, and Baze pulls Chirrut’s head down onto his shoulder. He holds the one person who loves him above all things, and looks up at the tower, his eyes stinging.

            Apparently he will not be allowed a coward’s exit.

            He is terrified and relieved and sad.

            “I won’t leave you. My beloved.” Baze kisses Chirrut’s head, wrapping an arm around him. “I promise. Wherever you go, I go. I will never leave you again, not unless you tell me to. I’ll never leave you.” Baze closes his eyes tightly, exhaling in a shudder. “My beloved. My beloved.”

            Chirrut clings to him, and Baze clings back, and they weep together on the desert floor, beneath the bright eye of the sun.

Chapter Text

Baze doesn’t call out. He doesn’t tell the boy to stop. He just runs him down.

            The boy keeps glancing back, eyes wide and frightened. He weaves in and out of the people at market, as if he can somehow hide. Baze doesn’t have that problem. People know who he is. They part for him.

            Feet pounding on the sand, Baze focuses solely on the boy’s green hair. It’s a beacon in the grainy colours of the city. If the kid didn’t want to stick out, he shouldn’t have dyed his hair such an ostentatious shade.

            They’re nearing the edge of the market. Much further, and they’ll be in the alleys, and stars only know how many places the little shit will have to hide.

            So Baze finishes him off. He might be twice the kid’s age, but he’s in peak physical condition. He runs every morning through the city. This is—no pun intended—child’s play.

            Almost stomping on the boy’s heels, Baze snatches the back of his collar. He yanks the kid off his feet. He’s a skinny little thing, maybe sixteen. The boy looks somewhere between horrified and defiant.

            “I didn’t do anything!” he protests.

            “Uh huh,” Baze replies. One hand keeping a death grip on the boy’s collar, Baze pulls the stamp from his belt.

            The boy’s eyes, already big, go absolutely huge. “No!” he protests. “No, I—I won’t do it again! I promise! I swear on the Guardians, I won’t—“

            “You’re right, you won’t,” Baze says absently, flicking the stamp on and scrolling through the settings. When he gets to the right one, he takes a look at the boy. The kid is flailing wildly, hitting Baze’s solid form with skinny arms, struggling to get away. “Hold still.”

            “Get off me—“

            Raising his voice, Baze says firmly, “Hold still or I’m going to do your whole face until people will think it’s a puzzle to put together. Have you seen the first one of you I did? Hell of a learning curve. Now stop squirming.”

            The boy gives up. He knows who Baze is. Eyes starting to fill, he looks up at Baze miserably.

            Baze is unmoved. Lifting the stamp, he easily centers it, and presses it to the middle of the boy’s forehead. The boy flinches, even though it doesn’t hurt. Baze is certain of it—he tested it on himself multiple times to be sure.

            It takes two seconds, no more. When Baze removes the stamp, the word VANDAL has been tattooed on the boy’s forehead. He’s snivelling. Baze turns the stamp off, sticking it back into his belt.

            Leaning down, he growls, “I see you within five blocks of the gates again and I’ll do a hell of a lot worse. No one’s come back for seconds yet, but I promise—I’m prepared. Do you want to be the one I prove a point with?”

            Tear falling down his cheek, the boy shakes his head vigorously.

            Baze throws him off. “Get away from me.” He starts walking back to the temple before the boy can do anything else. The last he sees of him is the boy wiping his face with his whole arm.

            He passes a stall filled with chara fruit. The old woman by it is shaking her head. “Disrespectful little wretches. Good for you.” She tosses him a chara.

            Baze catches it one handed. He smiles slightly, nodding his thanks, and walks through the crowd.

            Chara. Memories.

            When he reaches the other side of the market, Hela is waiting for him, arms crossed and grinning. “Lot of help you were,” Baze calls.

            “I know better,” she retorts. She pushes off the wall, coming to walk by his side. “Did you get a present?”

            He tosses the chara up and down once. “Apparently I did.”

            “Isn’t that nice. So? Did this one piss himself?”

            “No. He cried, though.”

            Hela laughs. She always laughs a particular way. Her head tilts back and she lets out a single, ‘ha!’ “Of course. I should have known.”

            “I’m not that bad, am I?” Baze asks, knowing that he certainly is.

            “Do you know what that’s called?”

            Sometimes she has to tell him things. He was gone from the world for well over a decade. “What?”

            “Fishing for compliments.”

            Baze snorts. He would give her a shove, but she’s a head shorter than him, and little more than skin and bones. She’s about the same size that boy was. However, Hela is Baze’s favourite other person on the guard. She’s stronger than she looks, fast and tenacious. Above all, she is loyal while still using her own mind. He appreciates that more than he can express.

            At first she was shy around him. But she warmed to him before all others on the guard. She saw him for who he is, not who he used to be.

            “Did you ask if he wanted to be the one you proved a point with?”

            Blushing, Baze says, “What you’re telling me is I should try some new threats.”

            “No, I love it when you say that. You sound so authoritative.”

            This time he does push her. She barely catches herself, then punches him in the arm. Baze hardly feels it.

            “So?” Hela says, stretching her arms above her head. She’s wearing her full guard’s uniform, the tan jumpsuit with red armour, and probably several layers underneath. She gets cold easily, though the winter has been mild. “Are you going to come over and share some of that chara with me after work?”

            Baze hesitates. Turning the purple fruit over in his hand, he says, “I think I might just go home. And selfishly eat this all by myself.”

            Hela nods. It’s obvious that she knows what he’s thinking. As they near the gate, Hela says, “I heard he gets out today.”

            Baze just nods once. “Mm.”

            “Will you see him?”

            They don’t discuss Chirrut much. Hela knows what Chirrut means to Baze, and she knows more than most, but because of that she knows what she can and can’t ask. She won’t push if he doesn’t want her to.

            “I’m not sure,” Baze says quietly.

            “Has he not sent word?”

            “She intercepted the last three I tried to send. I don’t know if he’s tried to reach me.”

            “How long has it been since you’ve heard from him?”

            “Close to a month.”

            Hela sighs. “Baze.” He bites into his lips, keeping his face blank. “You could have told me that.”

            “But then you might have felt sorry for me. And we can’t have that.”

            “Sometimes friends feel sorry for one another.” She bumps into him. “Then they help one another. That’s how this works.”

            “Go easy on me. I’ve only escaped this madness for three months. I still have plenty to learn.”

            Hela frowns, the same way she always does when Baze insults the temple. But she keeps it to herself. “I can take care of the wall, if you want to go home early.”

            He does. Desperately. At the same time, though, if Chirrut doesn’t come, Baze thinks he would be absolutely miserable, sitting alone in the house, waiting for a thing that won’t happen. “No. The graffiti is definitely a two-person job.”

            “It is not.”

            “I mean, the top part is higher than you can reach—“

            Hela trips him off his feet, and Baze catches himself at the last second, holding up the chara so it won’t bruise. He flips back up, as if nothing even happened.

            “It’s obnoxious when you do that,” Hela sighs.

            Baze grins. “I know.”

           

Baze puts the chara on the counter. He stretches, pulling one arm to the side, then the other. Turning around, he taps the kitchen table as he walks by. It’s covered in pieces of machinery and electronics. He has several experiments on the go. He’s working on a slightly more humane version of what will happen to the vandals if they come back. The stunner might leave them seizing for an hour or so. It won’t kill them, though, so he feels fairly good about the current design.

            The house looks much different than it did several months ago. There is no longer a lightbow mounted on the wall. The meditation space is no longer that. It is just a space, where he has put a small sofa and a table. Where his kyber pedestal stood is now a bookshelf. It is slowly filling with secular books. The bed is not an inch-thin mattress and ragged blanket on the floor. There is a bed frame that holds a real mattress, and it is covered by a blanket so thick it almost feels sinful. The blanket is red.

            The walls have been decorated. Haphazardly, and with no regards to balance. Most of it is just pictures he’s picked up here and there. Advertisements even. But if it has a word or picture that he likes, Baze puts it on the walls. Better to look at than nothing.

            The house is still his. It’s the house of the Protector of the Crystal Guardian, and technically he still holds the title, though he hasn’t set foot in the temple in over three months. The Master initiated proceedings to have him removed from the position, but it was incumbent on finding another person the Guardian would accept as Protector.

            But no one’s been in the caves since Baze blinded the creature. It won’t let anyone. They sent in Palasat, and he was in a coma for two weeks before recovering from the creature’s scream.

            Nothing to do with Baze, though. He doesn’t care what happens to the Crystal Guardian, so long as it doesn’t bring the temple down with Chirrut still in it. It doesn’t seem to have that kind of power, though. It can injure people, but the temple hasn’t shaken since that terrible day.

            May it stay that way.

            Baze goes to the mirror. Regarding himself, he rubs a hand over his hair. It’s finally long enough that his scalp isn’t visible through it. He brushes at his cheek with the backs of his fingers. He’s getting stubble around his goatee.

            Picking up his razor, he begins to carefully shave around this thing he’s grown on his face. Sometimes, he looks at himself, and he feels a rush of cognitive dissonance. This man with the hair on his head, hair on his face, that’s not Baze Malbus.

            Other times, though, he looks at himself and feels a rush of pride. This is Baze Malbus. And he is allowed to feel pride.

            Once he’s cleaned up his face, Baze strips out of his clothes. They’re dusty, but they hide it better than the black robes ever did. Tossing his things in the cleaner, he pads through the house naked, and goes out to the back to shower.

            While he’s bathing, he tries not to hope too much. But these days, he makes a concerted effort not to quell his feelings. If he wants to feel something, he’ll feel it. There’s no sin in that.

            He has not seen Chirrut in three months. Baze will not step into the temple, and that’s where Chirrut had to be while he recovered. He was lucid, yes, but he was seeing things, and sometimes reacted to them. He’s a highly trained man, a man who knows how to be violent. He had to be where people could watch him.

            That and he is the only person in living memory to survive the Guardian’s gaze. The Guardians insisted on keeping him with the seniors of the order, those who had trained for this eventuality. They wanted to keep him quarantined until he could control himself.

            To Baze’s surprise, Chirrut had agreed.

            “I miss you every moment,” he’d said in his message. “I miss you more than you can know. But I fear that I would hurt you. I fear that I would hurt others. I cannot have that on my conscience. You promised that you would not leave, and I believe you. Wait for me. I will come to you when I can be sure of myself.”

            If it were anyone else, Baze might have scoffed—how much danger could a blind man be? Except this is Chirrut. Baze saw what he was like in the clinic after the incident. Chirrut even managed to escape the clinic when he was barely past the point of death to chase Baze down in the desert. Baze would not put anything past Chirrut.

            So he has respected Chirrut’s decision. Of course, if he had done that from the start, Chirrut wouldn’t have lost his eyes—

            Stop.

            Guilt is the one emotion that Baze tries to not let completely take over. If he let it, regret would be his constant companion. He sent a message to Chirrut one late night, after he had gotten drunk for the first time in fourteen years. He said what he really thought of himself.

            Chirrut replied, “You taking on all this guilt removes me from the equation. To say that this was entirely your fault implies that I didn’t make choices too. That the creature didn’t make choices. My blindness is not the result of one person’s actions. It is the result of many things. To know you’re harming yourself with these thoughts hurts me as well. And I don’t want to hurt. So please try to let some of this go. Otherwise I’m going to have to come down there and beat it out of you and then I’ll have to explain myself, and I’m a little busy for that right now. Also, please don’t drink too much. I worry.”

            So Baze has tried to be a little forgiving of himself, though that’s near impossible, and he hasn’t touched a drop of alcohol since that night.

            Their messages have been sporadic. The Master has a habit of confiscating them, saying that it’s interfering with Chirrut’s recovery. Baze doesn’t know if it’s sheer pettiness or at least a little concern for Chirrut. By sheer virtue of surviving the creature’s gaze, Chirrut has become, ironically, Seer of the Temple of the Kyber. He is revered by the other monks. They believe he has had visions, that he has been blessed by the Force.

            Baze thinks he’s been maimed.

            Chirrut is strangely sanguine about the Master’s meddling. “She is the head of the temple, and I am a loyal member of the order,” he said. “I defer to her. But as you will not leave, I will return to you. That is my promise.”

            Chirrut doesn’t quite sound like himself in his messages. He sounds calm, less erratic. Less cheerful. Baze isn’t completely sure if it’s because he knows they might be listened to by others, or if he has been that changed by the incident. Perhaps it is both.

            Sometimes he wonders if they have both changed too much. If Chirrut will not want him now. He will remain loyal, not matter what, but Baze can’t help but be concerned.

            He’s just a guard of the temple, a man who doesn’t believe in much. People think Chirrut is blessed. How in the hell is that supposed to work?

            He turns off the shower. Now he’s just fretting for the sake of it.

            Baze goes back inside and gets dressed. A washed out green t-shirt and tan pants. The pants are getting tight, and the sleeves of his shirt are snug. His body has changed over the past few months. He has muscles where there used to be none. He trains to be a guard, not a monk.

            He stands in the middle of the house for a moment. Sometimes he finds himself wondering what to do with himself. It lasts for a few seconds. He spent so long with most of his life devoted to rituals. With their absence, he has had to come up with his own routines.

            He unsticks himself, and goes to turn on some music. He has plenty to distract himself with on the table. The trigger on his cannon has been a little sticky lately.

            Can’t have that.

 

Baze is bent over the table, the rifle of his cannon broken down. He has disassembled it to clean the insides, and there’s grease under his fingernails. The glasses on the end of his nose are magnified to x2. Lifting a pin in front of his face, he changes the magnification to 2.5.

            There. Better. He can see the little notch that’s been worn in the side of the pin.

            He’s reaching for a replacement when there’s a knock at the door.

            Baze looks up.

            He does nothing else for a moment. He hopes—of course he hopes—but he’s a realist. If it’s not who he hopes it is, he must be fine with that. Pulling off his glasses, he calls, “Come in.”

            The door opens, and the end of a metal staff enters before Chirrut does. It sweeps to and fro in front of him, grazing the ground. He has a black bag on his back that looks fairly full. His head is tilted slightly downwards, his sightless eyes unblinking.

            He wears robes that Baze has not seen before. They’re black, but there is a red stripe down the left side, and the right lower skirt is also red, but made of a less sturdy fabric than the rest of the robes. A black panel down his back almost touches the floor.

            He has hair. It’s still shorter than Baze’s, but his beautiful black hair has been allowed to grow.

            Chirrut does not acknowledge Baze. He turns around, as Baze stands up, wiping the grease from his hands with a rag. Zemall is standing on the top step, watching Chirrut with barely concealed concern.

            “Thank you, sister,” Chirrut says, reaching out for her. As if he can sense where she is, he puts a hand to the back of her elongated skull.

            “You know where I am,” she replies, touching her hand to the back of his head and pressing their foreheads together.

            “May the Force be with you.”

            “And you.” She steps back, and casts Baze one single, irritated look before walking away.

            Chirrut cautiously puts out an arm, finding the door. He runs his hand over it until he finds the edge, then pushes it closed. That done, he turns to face Baze, who’s standing beside the table, unsure of what to do or say.              

            He has not allowed himself to think of this moment. He has focused on the present, not the future. It has been too uncertain. Except now the moment has come, and he feels like he’s supposed to know what to do.

            Chirrut has both hands wrapped around his staff. He taps it against the ground twice, then says, “Hello.”

            “Hello,” Baze echoes.

            Chirrut smiles slightly. He’s looking at a point to the right of Baze’s head. “Are you afraid of me?”

            “Why would you say such a thing?”

            “Because you’re all the way—“ He gestures with his staff. “Over there.”

            With a smile, Baze takes a few steps forward. Sticking his hands in his pockets, he says, “You’ll find you’re incorrect. I’m standing right here.”

            Tsking, Chirrut says, “Teasing a blind man. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

            Baze falters.

            Chirrut’s head bends down a little more. “Ah. You don’t like that. No joking about it for now, then. Eventually, though. If I can joke about it, I expect you to as well.”

            “That might be…a ways off.”

            Chirrut seems so calm. How can he be this sanguine? Baze feels like a cluster of contrasting impulses. All at once, he wants to run and hide, grab this man off his feet, and not move an inch from where he stands.

            Chirrut breathes steadily, and it’s strange to see him so still. “You don’t feel how I thought you would,” he says finally.

            “What does that mean?”

            “Your aura doesn’t feel like the others.” Chirrut raises his head. “You don’t like that either.”

            Uncomfortable, Baze replies, “I’m—not sure what you want from me.”

            Chirrut blinks at last. He shakes his head. “You stupid man,” he says, and Baze is actually relieved to hear it. That’s the Chirrut he knows. “All I want is you. How many times do I have to say it?”

            “I’m…not the man that I was.”

            “Neither am I. But I haven’t doubted since you made your promise.” Chirrut presses a button on the top of the staff, and it retracts into itself, until it’s no longer than his forearm. He moves slowly back towards the door, finding the wall with his hand. He runs his hand along it, until he finds the counter that runs along the wall. Setting the staff on it, Chirrut’s fingers fasten onto a few nuts and bolts Baze has left lying around. “No. That’s not going to work.”

            “What’s not going to work?”

            “Is the whole place like this?”

            “It’s—a little messier than before—“

            “You need to clean it up and we need to decide where everything’s going to be,” Chirrut says authoritatively. “I need to be able to know where everything is.”

            “Why is that?” 

            “Because I live here now,” Chirrut replies. He unshoulders his bag, setting it down on the ground.

            Baze leans forward. “You what?”

            “I live here with you. Three months away from you is more than I could stand. I insist on being here with you for the rest of my days. So whatever it is you’ve done to the place, we need to fix it.”

            Flabbergasted, Baze says, “You—you’re supposed to live in the temple—“

            He silences when Chirrut shakes his head. “If I was an acolyte, or even a regular Guardian, I would. But I took my orders last week. I’m no longer an acolyte, I’m a Guardian, and beyond that I’m the Seer. You know that certain titles allow people leeway. I’m exercising mine to live here, with you.”

            Ignoring the immediate situation, Baze says, “You took your orders.”

            Chirrut nods. “The Seer becomes a Guardian by default if they aren’t already. The elders spent the last few weeks giving me a crash course in everything I needed to know for the ceremony. Not exactly how I pictured it, but despite what everyone expected, I’ve become a monk. No one told you?”

            “I don’t speak to the others. And they don’t speak to me.”

            “Ah.”

            Baze clears his throat, and rubs the back of his neck. “I’ve moved some things around. We’ll go over it. And I’ll clean everything up—“

            “You don’t smell how I thought you would either.”

            “I’ve had a shower,” Baze says wryly.

            “I’ve been surrounded by people who do the same thing every day, who haunt the same places, who breathe the same air. You…are different.” Before Baze can ask whether that’s a good thing or not, Chirrut clarifies, “I like that.”

            “Oh. Good.”

            Chirrut lets out a sudden sigh. “This is ridiculous.”

            He crosses the floor with his hands out, right ear turned toward Baze. Baze’s first instinct is to go to him, not liking that Chirrut just walks without knowing where he’s going.

            But Chirrut needs to find his own way. He needs to do things for himself. Baze respects that. So he stays where he is, and watches.

            Chirrut stops just in front of him. His hands are only centimeters from Baze’s chest. They hover there.

            His eyes. Baze can’t help but study them. They are blue and white. They are striking, yes. And they will be a constant reminder.

            Chirrut reaches up, and lightly touches Baze’s face.

            Chirrut inhales, his jaw setting. He almost looks overwhelmed for a moment. Baze turns his cheek further into Chirrut’s hand. “I have thought about this,” Chirrut confesses quietly. “I have thought of this, and thought of this, and thought of this.”

            “You’re braver than I.”

            “Did you think I wouldn’t come back to you?”

            “I knew you would. I also wondered if you’d come to your senses.”

            Shaking his head, his hand moving upwards, Chirrut says, “Some things change, but some will nev—“ His fingertips touch Baze’s hair, and he stops abruptly. “What’s this?”

            “You’re in no position to judge,” Baze teases. “Do you know what your hair looks like right now?”

            Chirrut does not reply. His face is blank, almost as if he is absent. But before Baze can ask if something’s wrong, Chirrut smiles. “One of the perks of being blessed. No one tells me what I can and can’t do with my hair. The downside, of course, is that I can’t tell what it looks like. Everyone says it’s fine. But tell me the truth. What does it look like?”

            “I prefer it like this.”

            “You do.”

            “Yes. Let me show you something. I have a feeling you might laugh.” Baze reaches up, taking Chirrut’s hand. But Chirrut shivers, and Baze pauses. “Did I do something wrong?”

            With a quick shake of the head, Chirrut answers, “No. No, everything is just—sensitive. I feel everything…very, very acutely. Sometimes it’s a little more than I can bear.” He latches onto Baze’s hand before he can pull away. “But if you think that means you can stop touching me, I will break your legs. You just have to be gentle with me for now.”

            Baze starts to chuckle. “Very well, beloved.”

            Exhaling, Chirrut murmurs, “Please keep calling me that. I don’t think I could hear that enough times.”

            “Here.” Baze moves Chirrut’s fingers to his chin, rubbing them lightly over his whiskers.

            A second passes, and Chirrut starts to laugh. “What is this?” He explores Baze’s goatee with his hand. “What is this terrible thing?”

            “You don’t like it?”

            “I hate it, get rid of it.” Chirrut is smiling, though. He keeps his fingers over Baze’s lips. Gazing into the distance, he says, “I’m picturing what you must look like.”

            “The usual. Not much—“

            “Hush.” Chirrut lowers his hand, pressing it to Baze’s collarbone. His brow furrows a touch, and he runs his hand across to Baze’s shoulder.

            Amused, Baze says, “No, please, go ahead.”

            “I will.” Chirrut’s hand travels down Baze’s arm, and he frowns. “Different,” he murmurs. He feels Baze’s muscles, and raises one shoulder. “Not complaining. How did you get so much larger so fast?”

            Waiting for his reaction, Baze admits, “I’ve been eating meat.”

            Chirrut pulls back. “You have not,” he says flatly.

            “I am no longer a vegetarian,” Baze confirms.

            Chirrut says nothing for a long moment. Finally, he says, “It is not a choice I would make for myself, but if it pleases you.”

            “It’s okay to say that it annoys you.”

            “No. We are autonomous beings. You make your choices, and I make mine. I like that we are different. I don’t like that you’re murdering animals—“ Baze rolls his eyes, and Chirrut continues, “But that’s your prerogative.”

            His hand drifts from Baze’s arm to his side. Baze controls his breathing. This feels new and it’s awkward, but he can’t help wanting. Chirrut is so close. And they have been apart so long.

            Chirrut’s fingers still on the waistband of his pants. Tugging at it, he remarks, “You got fat.”

            Flushing, Baze replies, “I did not—“ Chirrut grabs an inch of flesh from his side, and twists. Yelping, Baze squirms, trying to get away. “I’m not above hitting a blind man.”

            “What’s this, huh?” Chirrut teases. “What’s this?”

            “You think that’s fat?”

            “You’re outgrowing these pants.”

            With a smirk, Baze takes Chirrut’s hand. He slips it under his shirt, guiding it along the lines of his abs. He can’t help but feel smug at how that silences Chirrut, how his breath goes shallow. “Is this your subtle way of saying you’re no longer attracted to me?”

            “Damn you, you don’t fight fair.”

            “Why should I? You never have.”

            Chirrut tries not to smile at that, and fails. Baze lets him go, and Chirrut rubs a hand over his stomach. Baze is heavier, yes, but most of it is muscle. “I’m not saying I mind that you got fat,” Chirrut says.

            “I did not—“

            “I have to make a new picture of you in my mind.” Chirrut thinks a moment, then raises his brows. “Not bad.” Baze cracks up. Chirrut’s mouth curves subtly upwards. “I have missed hearing you laugh.”

            “I’ve never been a man who laughs much.”

            “But you laugh most for me, and I know that.” Chirrut withdraws his hand from under Baze’s shirt, and trails his hand upwards. They both grow sober when Chirrut rests a hand over his heart. Baze looks down at the strong hand that lies on his chest. Quietly, Chirrut asks, “Am I still here?”

            Baze inhales, then wraps both hands around Chirrut’s wrist. “You are the only thing that is,” he says gruffly.

            Chirrut pauses at that. Baze can see him thinking. Is it a conversation they’re going to have now? That could easily devolve into a fight, and a fight is not something Baze wants to have. Not now.

            Apparently it’s not a thing Chirrut wants either. He brushes his hand over Baze’s breastbone and nods. “I am glad to be there.” He raises his head, and if he could see he would be looking into Baze’s eyes. “I appreciate that you didn’t act surprised when I announced I’d be moving in.”

            “Being yours means always being prepared for surprise.”

            The side of Chirrut’s mouth lifts. Then he deliberately moves his hands upward, like he’s bracing himself. He wraps his arms around Baze’s neck, and Baze can feel his rigidity.

            Gentle, Baze reminds himself. He gingerly puts his arms around Chirrut, feeling him flinch. Slowly, Chirrut relaxes. He lays his head on Baze’s shoulder.

            Running his fingers over Chirrut’s spine, Baze says quietly, “You are where you should be.”

            Chirrut says, “It is as the Force wills it.”

            Baze does not reply to that.

 

“Let’s see how well you do with your enhanced senses. Now that you’re a superior being.”

            Chirrut has his usual seat at the table, smiling. “I know you’re mocking me, but I still like that.”

            “I thought you might.” Baze has cleared half the table. It’s been a long time since he had company. He must admit, the surfaces in the house have gotten a touch unruly.

            “I am kidding. You might not believe this, but I find myself considerably more humble than I once was.”

            “It certainly sounds like it.” Chirrut rolls his eyes, and Baze pauses. It’s disconcerting to see Chirrut’s eyes move when Baze knows they don’t see. Recovering quickly, Baze opens the cooler. Taking out the gift from the vendor, Baze says, “Let’s see if you can—“

            “Is that chara?”

            Baze stops, dumbfounded. Looking down at the fruit, he says, “The joke was going to be that I doubted your heightened senses, but you’ve cut that off at the legs. How did you know?”

            “I can smell it.” Chirrut is about two meters away. Baze can’t smell the chara, and he’s holding the damn thing. Chirrut lifts his hands. “Throw it.”

            Baze smiles fondly, and walks over to the table. Setting the chara in Chirrut’s hands, he plants a soft kiss to Chirrut’s hair. “Perhaps another day, beloved.”

            As he pulls away, Chirrut says with complete confidence, “I would have caught it.”

            “I don’t doubt it.” Baze goes to get a knife from the drawer. Once he has plates, he turns back to find that Chirrut has the fruit right up against his nose. His eyes are closed, and he’s inhaling deeply. “Is it any good? You know I can’t tell.”

            “It’s perfect. It smells like my childhood. I can see our house. My sisters. The patterns on the plates we’d eat from. It’s all so vivid.” Lowering the chara, Chirrut opens his eyes. “Everything is vivid. Except the obvious.”

            Cautiously, Baze asks, “How do you fare…with the obvious?”

            Chirrut lifts his shoulders, letting Baze take the chara from him. “Some days I think I’ll go crazy from the dark. And then there are other days when I don’t even notice. There are things that are easier than others. I can sense things now that I couldn’t before. I’m in touch with the Force in a way I couldn’t have imagined. Living things—those are relatively easy. Or things that are moving. Anything that I can—“ He gestures to his ear. “Hear, I can locate it. I can tell what it’s doing. But inanimate objects—I walk into things constantly. That’s why I have that stick.”

            Baze glances down the counter as he chops up the chara. The staff lies in place, unobtrusive. “Do you not like it?”

            “It’s functional.”

            “I could make you something better.”

            “Make me something?”

            “Mm. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately, as you can—“

            Baze manages to shut up before he can say it. But Chirrut says slyly, “Were you going to say, as I can see? Because I might detect a flaw in that. Oh—“ Chirrut raises a hand to his nose. He swallows.

            Instinctively, Baze looks down at the chara. He can smell it now. “Is it too much for you? I’ll make you something else—“

            “No. No, I want you to—I like this. I like that you’re going to serve me one of my favourites. I want it to be like this.”

            “That’s fine, but if you vomit, guess who’s going to clean it up?”

            “I’m not going to vomit,” Chirrut says peevishly.

            Dividing the fruit pieces onto two plates, Baze says, “I’ll hold you to that.” Wary, he sets a plate down before Chirrut.

            With another swallow, Chirrut lowers his hand. “This will be good. I haven’t had anything but oatmeal in months. However, I thought of you every time I did.”

            Sitting across from him, Baze says, “I’m not sure if you’re complimenting me or not.”

            Chirrut smiles crookedly, then he sets his hands together, bowing his head. Baze glances at him, and picks up a piece of chara. “The Force does not give. The Force does…not take.” His brows furrow when he realizes Baze isn’t joining him. Chirrut finishes, “The Force simply is.”

            Baze sticks some chara in his mouth, and starts chewing. Then he wonders what that sounds like to Chirrut. Should he try and chew more quietly?

            Hands finding the plate, Chirrut says, “You don’t pray before meals anymore.”

            It’s really a question about a far larger topic. One Baze would like to avoid, but if Chirrut’s decided he’s living here, it’s not like they’ll be escaping one another any time soon. “No,” he replies.

            “Do you pray at all?”

            “I don’t.”

            Chirrut nods, his face giving away nothing. His fingers search through the chara, finding a small piece. “What can I do about that?”

            “Nothing.”

            “That’s a very short answer.” Chirrut frowns. “Would you mind—could I have a glass of water? I feel like this is the sort of conversation where I might need water. I’ll get it for myself once I know where things are.”

            Baze is already on his feet. “I’ll clean the place up tomorrow. I have the day off. We’ll make it to your specifications.” He fills a glass from the tap, and takes it to Chirrut. “But this is not a conversation where you’ll need to strain your voice. There isn’t much to say.”

            “With you and I there’s usually plenty that should be said that’s left unspoken. I don’t want it to be like that going forward.”

            Retaking his seat, Baze agrees, “That’s fair.” He crosses his arms on the table. He tells Chirrut the truth. “I don’t pray because I don’t believe there’s anything to pray to. I don’t believe that there is a Force.”

            Chirrut lets out a laugh, then shakes his head. “You’re joking.”

            “No, beloved. I’m not.”

            The smile lingers on Chirrut’s face. “But—you’ve seen—“

            “No. I thought I saw. I was in contact with a narcissistic animal that’s managed to have an entire order built around it, that communicates through psychic projection. It showed me whatever I wanted. That’s not magic. That’s not something—greater. It’s quite simple, really.”

            Chirrut presses his lips together, then he lays his hand on the table. “I know you’re upset about what happened—“

            “I’m upset about what happened to you. I’m furious. If I had the moment to do over again, I would have killed the creature just to be done with it. But this isn’t me acting out because something terrible happened. This is what I believe.”

            “I don’t buy it.”

            “That’s unfortunate. I’d hope that you’d believe me, the way I believe you mean the things you feel.”

            “You can’t just abandon years of your life, years of training—your entire ideology, in the span of three months—“

            “I didn’t do it over three months. I did it over three seconds. That was all I needed.”

            “Three seconds is not exactly better.”

            “It’s honest, though. Chirrut—I know that you don’t understand why I’ve made my choices—“

            “I do, though, and that’s what bothers me—“

            “I don’t think you do. I think when you picture me in your mind, you picture a monk. I’m not a monk. I pretended to be one for a long time. I’m done pretending, though. I do what I please now. I listen to my heart. I don’t hate myself for wanting you. I don’t lie to myself about unseen powers governing our existence. I just live. I like being like this.”

            “You taught me about the Whills,” Chirrut insists. “You taught me about faith.”

            “I taught you what I had been taught. Unlike you, I asked no questions. That was my failing.”

            “Faith is not a failing.”

            “It is when you’ve asked nothing beforehand. Faith must be informed. A person can’t just believe any ludicrous thing they hear, or it would be anarchy.” Baze picks up a spanner. “If I tell you that I’m holding a mynock, what would you say?”

            “I’d say you’re obviously not, because I can’t smell it, for one.”

            Baze tosses the spanner aside. “You think you’re being funny, but you’ve proven my point. I became a Guardian not because I knew what it meant, but because I had nowhere else to go. Then I listened to what was repeated, over and over, until I believed it. That’s not faith. That’s giving up.”

            Chirrut sighs. “This is obviously going to be a recurring conversation.”

            “It wouldn’t have to be, if you respect my beliefs.”

            “I’d point out that you’re not respecting mine.”

            “I am. If it gives you comfort to believe in something, then I’ve no problem with that. Only you can’t force me to believe the same things that you do. I think you made your choices after training and questioning, and that’s good. That’s how it should be. I came to my beliefs after experience. We’re allowed to believe different things.”

            Reluctantly, Chirrut says, “I want us to believe the same things.”

            “Deal breaker?”

            Pulling back his head, Chirrut says, “No. Of course not.”

            “Then perhaps we should talk about something else.”

            Chirrut taps his fingers against the table. “I’ve seen so many things. I know so many things I didn’t before. I believe things I didn’t before. I want to share that with you.”

            “If you want to talk about things, I won’t stop you. I don’t want there to be secrets between us. But I can’t pretend. If I hadn’t promised not to leave you, I wouldn’t be here. I would be as far from this place as I could get, and I’d never come back. I’m sick to death of Guardians, of the temple, of this pointless ideology.”

            Aghast, Chirrut says, “Pointless—“

            “I don’t believe,” Baze says simply. “There is no Force. There’s just what’s in front of us. You’re in front of me. You’re my universe. I’ll stay here for you, but if you need a partner who shares your beliefs…I cannot fulfill that requirement.”

            Chirrut thinks for a little while. Baze leaves him to it, quietly chewing on his chara.

            With a sigh, Chirrut says, “That makes me sad.”

            “I’m sorry for that.”

            “You’re right. I cannot force my beliefs upon you. That isn’t how faith works. But if you think I’m going to give up easily—“ Baze exhales, dreading those conversations. Chirrut pauses, then concedes, “Not now, though. Let’s become acclimated to one another, and figure out how this is going to work. I don’t like what this does to your aura. You were so happy to see me, and now you feel…like you’re bracing for me to hit you where it will hurt the most. I don’t want that to be what you feel when you speak to me.”

            “Nor I.”

            “So. Let’s talk about something else. For now.”

            Baze nods, and notes that Chirrut is still holding the same piece of chara. He asks, “What if I made oatmeal and put some of this on top?”

            Chirrut gives him a little smile. “Compromise. That sounds good.”

 

Baze watches with crossed arms as Chirrut pushes down on the mattress. Chirrut uses both hands, testing it out.

            “This,” Chirrut says, “is embarrassingly decadent.”

            Rolling his eyes, Baze pulls back the sheets and the blanket. “This is how normal people sleep.”

            “I’m not sure if I can sleep on this.”

            “Really?”

            “Don’t be ridiculous.” Chirrut flops onto the bed, sprawling out. He closes his eyes and sighs happily. “I live here now. I don’t mean the house. I mean the bed. I now live on this bed.”

            Baze shakes his head, climbing into bed. “Get under the sheets. And stay on your side.”

            “I don’t have a side. I intend to take up as much space as possible.” Regardless, Chirrut crawls to the top of the bed and slips under the blankets.

            Baze reaches for the lamp, opening his mouth. Then he stops. He was about to ask if Chirrut minded his turning off the lights. That would be a stupid question. So instead, he flips them off, and lies down.

            Chirrut turns on his side to face Baze, and so Baze does the same, though it’s dark and he can’t see much. He realizes that is how Chirrut lives his life now. And it grieves him.

            “What were you about to ask? Before you stopped?”

            “If it was all right to turn off the lights.”

            “Ah. The answer will usually be yes.”

            “Are you not angry?”

            A few seconds pass before Chirrut answers. “No. I’m not.”

            “How can you not be?”

            “Because this was what the Force intended for me. And it could have been far worse.”

            “Yes. You could have been killed. It tried to kill you—“

            “My protector,” Chirrut says, and Baze silences. “You saved me. You came for me. Things went exactly as they were meant to. I lost something, yes, but I’ve gained so much. I’m grateful for that.” Baze burrows his head against the pillow, biting his tongue. “Why do I sense that upsets you?”

            “I don’t understand how you can be so calm.”

            “It’s been three months. I’ve thought about it, and prayed about it, and I’ve made my peace with what happened. I cannot change it. I can only live with it.” Chirrut sighs. “Baze, I feel how annoyed that makes you—“

            “Don’t tell me how I feel,” Baze says, but not in an unkind way.

            “I can’t help it, your aura—yes, you have an aura. I can tell you don’t believe me, but it’s real.”

            “It’s not that I don’t believe you.”

            “It’s that you believe that I believe it, without realizing it’s a lie. Yes, Baze, I understand how you’re skirting that discussion. I prefer to focus on what I’ve gained as opposed to what I’ve lost.”

            “Please don’t be so well adjusted.”

            “If I wasn’t blind, I wouldn’t have you.” That certainly seals Baze’s mouth shut. Fingertips find his jaw, then move towards his mouth. “If I could see, you would have chosen the Guardian over me. I’m not so pure that I’d wish for that. I am human, and I am selfish. This has brought me so much—to be this close to the Force, it’s extraordinary. Still, it is a distant second to having you.” A thumb brushes over Baze’s bottom lip. “You and this stupid thing on your face.”

            Laughing low, Baze says, “I can get rid of it.”

            “Don’t you dare. At least until I figure this out.”

            Baze hears shifting, then a nose grazes his. Baze nudges at it, and Chirrut tilts his head down, lips pressing to Baze’s. It hits Baze like an electric shock. He wants to lean into the kiss, to pull Chirrut tight up against himself and never let him loose.

            But Chirrut asked him for something, and Baze will give it to him. He can’t give him everything, but time, consideration—that Baze can do.

            Chirrut draws back an inch, and Baze can hear his breath shaking. “All right?” Baze asks.

            “If you knew what that feels like to me…no. For the best. If it was the both of us, we’d probably be useless most of the time. Your mouth…Force save me, this mouth….” Chirrut touches it again with his fingertips, delicate.

            Baze smiles.

            Chirrut sighs. “I’m glad you’re not upset with me.”

            “For what?”

            “For needing to be…slow…about some things. I’ve spent the last three months learning how to control myself. You, though…all I want to do is lose control. And I think I’d break us both.”

            Shaking his head, Baze murmurs, “Fucking tease.”

            Chirrut gasps with mock scandal. “Listen to you. I’m gone a few weeks and you start cursing like a common smuggler.”

            Biting the side of his mouth, Baze decides to see how far he can go. “Is it only your senses that overwhelm you?”

            “How do you mean?”

            “I mean, what if I told you what I thought of while you were gone?”

            Chirrut stops breathing. “Such as?” he asks, trying to sound steadier than he is.

            “A few things that involved us in a bed. This very bed, in fact.”

            “And what were we doing?”

            “Well. We weren’t like this, for one thing.”

            “What were we like?”

            “I don’t know if I should tell you. You’re fragile. You’re still recovering.”

            “Baze, so help me.”

            With a smirk, Baze murmurs, “I was thinking of my head between your legs, and your cock in my mouth. And my fingers inside you, stretching you for when I took you. You’d start on top of me, but then I’d flip you over so I’d be pressing down on you when we—“

            Chirrut slaps a hand over his mouth. He’s shaking.

            Trying not to grin, Baze reaches up, tenderly pulling down Chirrut’s hand. “All right, beloved. I’m only teasing.”

            When Chirrut speaks, he sounds like an utter wreck. “Perhaps don’t…do that again…any time soon.”

            “How bad is it?”

            “For stars’ sake, Baze, I nearly came in my pants like a teenager. Ayuh. What happened to you in three months? What are they teaching you in the guards?” Chirrut actually sounds amazed.

            “All kinds of things I missed out on. You’re trembling.”

            “I’m trying not to have an erection. There’s only so much that prayer can do.”

            Baze almost makes a snide comment about the Force, but decides it’s not the time. Wrapping his fingers around Chirrut’s hand, Baze asks, “Is it all right like this?”

            “It is on the edge.”

            “Really?”

            “After that little stunt, Baze Malbus—“

            “Fine, fine. Who would have thought you would be so sensitive?”

            Chirrut snorts, and Baze feels him begin to settle down. Baze relaxes too, his thumb grazing Chirrut’s pulse. He closes his eyes.

            “Baze?”

            “Mm.”

            “I love you.”

            Baze’s eyes open. His vision has adjusted enough to the dark that he can see Chirrut’s eyes are open as well. “And I love you.” Baze places a small kiss to the back of Chirrut’s hand, and rests his head. He watches Chirrut until he falls asleep.

Chapter Text

Baze opens the door, stepping out into the early morning. It’s not yet light out. Usually, on his days off, he sleeps in. Sometimes all the way until seven.

            That might be a thing of the past.

            Tugging at his jacket collar, he looks back up into the house. Chirrut extends his walking stick, tapping it against the steps. He pulls the door shut behind himself, tilting his head upwards. “It’s going to be overcast today.”

            “Did the Force tell you that?” A second later, Baze yelps. He didn’t even see the staff come at him, but he certainly feels its sting on his calf. “Touchy.”

            Chirrut puts a hand to the back of his arm, then holds onto Baze’s elbow. “Try not to run me into any buildings while you’re attempting to be funny.”

            They start walking, and Baze says, “When you come home tonight, I’ll have everything put away. We’ll go over where things are.”

            “I would appreciate that.” The stick hits a rock, and Baze feels Chirrut’s momentary hesitation. But Chirrut kicks the rock aside, and they continue. “You know, yesterday we didn’t discuss something. Something I’m very interested in.”

            “What’s that?”

            “You,” Chirrut laughs.

            Flushing, Baze says, “Not much to tell.”

            “Three months go by, and you’re eating meat, you’re a guard, you have that terrible thing on your face—“

            “I’m going to keep it just to spite you.”

            “I want to know how you became a guard. I want to know how you…became so bold.”

            Baze grins crookedly. “Are you still shaking from that?”

            “Don’t start. I have four hours of meditation ahead of me. I need to focus on my mantra, not on you…saying very objectionable things.”

            “Why are they objectionable?”

            “Because I can’t think of them without being undone,” Chirrut responds, and Baze cracks up. “I want to hear about you. I want to know what your life is like now. What it’s become. Then I can figure out how I’ll fit.”

            “You will fit regardless.”

            “Tell me things.” Chirrut gives his arm a jostle. “How is Guela? Tell me how Guela is.”

            Baze stops smiling. He sticks his hands into the pockets of his jacket. “She’s fine.”

            Chirrut says nothing for a moment, his head inclined toward Baze. His brow furrowed, Chirrut says, “What happened?”

            Letting out a sigh, Baze replies, “She’s not speaking to me. I told her that I had left the order, and she…didn’t take it well.”

            That is an understatement. She said he was a traitor to the Force. That he had betrayed Guevar and his memory. Nothing he said could reach her. She was so convinced she was right.

            “I’m sorry,” Chirrut murmurs.

            Baze shrugs. “She’s fourteen. She thinks she knows everything. Add to that Jedi arrogance, and it might be a while before she comes around. She will, though.”

            “She’s on my prayer list.”

            “How many people are on your prayer list?”

            “You’ve caught me. Four hundred and twenty-one.”

            “Four hundred and twenty-one?” Baze says in disbelief. “Who are these people?”

            “I say a prayer for every person in the order. For my family. I pray for the guards. The elders bring me the names of people killed in the war, and I pray for them. Last week it was four hundred and twenty-nine. Yesterday it was four hundred and twenty-one.”

            “And what do they think you praying will do?”

            Chirrut pauses, then says levelly, “I have seen things. I’m one with the Force, and the Force is with me. The Crystal Guardian will no longer hear their concerns, so someone has to.”

            “And you enjoy that?”

            “Was I not trying to talk about you? I want you to know, if there’s anything I can do about Guela—“

            “She’s a teenager having a tantrum. It will pass. Do you really just sit up there and pray all day long?”

            “No. We discuss things. I offer counsel if it’s requested.”

            “About what?”

            “Whatever I’m asked about.”

            “Like you’re some kind of prophet?” Baze says, incredulous.

            “I have had visions. Would you stop that?”

            “What?”

            “Rolling your eyes.”

            “I wasn’t rolling my eyes.”

            “Yes you were.”

            “I think I know what my own eyes were doing.”

            “Apparently you don’t, because you were rolling them. I saw things, things that have come to be since my encounter in the cave. I have seen things that have not yet come to pass. If I can help, if I can prevent harm befalling someone, it is my duty. That is my responsibility as Seer.”

            Baze mutters, “And here I thought the Master gave you a name ironically.”

            “This is my calling. I need you to respect it.”

            “I respect you. I cannot respect the order.”

            “They are one and the same—I said stop.”

            “I was not rolling my eyes. I think you’re just being difficult for no reason now.”

            “I am not going to be happy if you’re going to mock what I do every single day.”

            “I wouldn’t mock it if I believed it made you happy.”

            “Of course I’m happy, I’ve wanted to be one with the Force ever since—fine, admittedly, I ran for a long time, but I’ve dedicated myself to—Baze, I will beat you with this stick—“

            Baze stops with a sigh, turning to face Chirrut. “Beloved—“

            “Don’t beloved me. I finally have a place in this world, in this universe. That’s important to me.”

            Stubborn, Baze says, “And it makes you happy? To sit there all day, to be silent and still and pray and do nothing but talk to old people who haven’t stepped outside the temple walls in sixty years? That’s what makes you happy?”

            Wrapping both hands around the top of the staff, Chirrut says, “You think you know better? What do you think would make me happy?”

            “Balance,” Baze replies. “Not devoting yourself completely and unquestioningly to a group of people who did everything they could to be rid of you, until they realized you might be useful. If you want to pray, fine. I don’t agree with what you believe, but if that gives you satisfaction, I will keep my mouth shut. More or less. But I know you. You will not be satisfied with only that.”

            “Only that. They have my days, and you will have my nights. That’s balance enough—“

            This time, Baze is fully aware that he rolls his eyes. He makes a split decision. Spinning, he jumps up to kick Chirrut in the chest.

            Gasping, Chirrut bends backwards. He twists out of the way of Baze’s leg, but when Baze lands, he turns and slams the butt of his palm into Chirrut’s chest. It knocks him off his feet, onto his rear end.

            Chirrut lays on the ground, breathing heavily. Baze leans over him, and asks, “They let you do that in the high tower? Or do they treat you like you’re fragile? Prophet.”

            Baze ducks out of the way when Chirrut swirls his staff and flips onto his feet. In the dark morning, Baze sees Chirrut’s mouth pressed into a line.

            “I can do as I please. If I want to train, I will train.”

            “You sound like you’re trying to convince yourself,” Baze says, and continues walking.

            He listens to the swishing of the staff across the ground, and slows his step so that Chirrut can catch up. Baze knows Chirrut, though, so he stays out of his way. Or at the very least, the radius of his staff.

            “I’m not silent, I say my mantra,” Chirrut states.

            “All right.”

            “I don’t want to fight with you.”

            “Nor I with you. But if you think I’m going to defer to you because you have new robes—we might have a problem.”

            As they approach the temple, Baze can see four elders waiting outside, watching them. He knows all of them. They are the most boring people who have ever lived. He knows that as well. A few months ago, he would have said that they were just peaceful, because they were so in tune with the Force. No. They’re boring.

            “I don’t expect you to defer to me.”

            “I don’t expect you to defer to me either.”

            “Did you distract me with this discussion because you don’t want to talk about yourself?”

            “If I did, who do you think I learned that trick from?” Baze halts, sticking his hands in his pockets. “This is as far as I go. You need to take another—seventy steps or so. Turn to your right a little more.” Chirrut does so, and Baze nods. “Straight forward from there. I can’t see anything in your path until you hit the steps.”

            “You know, you’re welcome in the temple. If you want to come in.”

            Baze smirks. “I’m really not. I don’t know what people have told you, but I think you’re being coddled. Besides, I’ve never liked being in the temple. There’s a secret I always kept. Go on now. Your retinue awaits.”

            Chirrut takes a deep breath. “You’re going to be obnoxious about this, aren’t you.”

            “You can’t even begin to imagine.”

            “I’ll meet you at home tonight.”

            “I’ll make sure the house is spotless. And I’ll make oatmeal.”

            Chirrut snorts, and continues walking without him. “Now you try to ingratiate yourself.”

            Baze fastens his coat, watching him go. Chirrut makes for a lonely figure, walking in the dark, his staff methodically sweeping to and fro. For some reason, it’s even worse that he’s going to the four stark monks waiting for him. As he reaches the steps, two come down. The four of them surround him.

            Baze doesn’t care for that.

 

“No?”

            “No,” Baze answers, lifting another container onto the table.

            Hela raises her brows, and says, “I would have thought that would be a priority.”

            “He’s different. Physically.”

            “Well, yes, I heard he was blind.”

            He tosses a bolt at her, which she snatches. “He seems to feel things far more deeply than before. Physically and psychologically. So far as I can tell. It’s been less than a day.”

            “You’re telling me he’s too sensitive for sex?” She shakes her head, murmuring, “Well, guess that’s the end of that relationship.”

            “Somehow I think we’ll cope.” Baze hesitates, then admits, “We hadn’t. Before his…accident.”

            Hela looks up from where she’s seated at the table, organizing small pieces of hardware into boxes. “So how long has it even been for you? You’ve been here a while.”

            “Thirteen years.”         

            “Relationship’s over,” Hela repeats, and Baze snorts. “I know some very open minded people in the east quarter of the city. If you want.”

            “I think I’ll wait for the love of my life. But thank you. You’re a good friend.”

            She grins, then sighs. “I told you eventually you’d have to do this, but did you listen to me? No. Now you’re surrounded by chaos. And we have a deadline.”

            “It’s not that bad. I know where everything is.”

            “Do you know what everything is?”

            “I do.”

            She holds up a hunk of electronics. “What’s this?”

            “Tertiary relay out of an X-wing.”

            “What in the hell are you doing with—“ Dropping it, Hela says, “I don’t want to know. If you don’t tell me, I won’t have to lie about it later.”

            “Be careful with that,” Baze says, climbing onto the counter. He grabs the bag of crystals off the top of the cupboards. “Those have a habit of lighting themselves on fire if you look at them wrong.”

            “You’re lying, because I found it under a greasy rag, and I refuse to believe that I’m friends with someone that stupid. Hey, Mi’akosh and Mae’okash and I are going to the bar this weekend. You want to come?”

            He hesitates, then says, “I think I will pass.”

            “Not the question. The question was if you wanted to come.”

            Baze thinks about it, then says honestly, “I don’t know.”

            He’s been out with the other guards a few times. Every time he has gone, he’s been uncomfortable. But it’s a discomfort he wants to explore. He likes their camaraderie. He likes the music. He likes the alcohol, though that’s been off the list for a while.

            Right now, though, he wants to focus on Chirrut. He wants to be here if Chirrut needs him.

            Hela shrugs, and says, “Well, you know we’ll be going out again. And I’ll keep asking until you tell me it’s something you want or something you want me to be quiet about.”

            “Noted.” Baze tosses the bag of crystals on the table. They tinkle.

            Hela pushes back, eyes wide with horror. “Baze,” she hisses.

            “They’re just rocks.”

            “They are not. Don’t do that in front of me. You know how I feel about that.”

            He shrugs. “You pick it up, then. Be delicate with it.”

            “I’m not—“ She looks slightly ill.

            “What?”

            “I’m not going to touch kyber. It’s sacred.” She picks up a steel bar and uses it to prod the bag away from herself, until it’s on the other side of the table.

            “About as sacred as sand stone,” Baze retorts. He blows dust from the top of the cupboard, then sneezes. “I admit, I might get everything off the counters, but I don’t know about the place being clean.”

            “You’re talking to the wrong woman. You’ve seen my room.”

            “At least I know you’re immortal. It’s the only way you could survive all the rot.”

            “Bring it down a notch. Nothing in there is rotten.” Baze turns, simply raising a brow. Hela catches that, and blushes. “Okay,” she mutters, “nothing is currently rotten.”

            Baze hops off the counter, wiping his dusty hands on his pants. “By the way, who’s on today?”

            “Dash and Rez.” Baze gives her disapproving eyes, and Hela puts up her hands. “That’s the thing about being a collective. There’s no boss preventing these things.”

            “They won’t do a damn thing. They’ll just sit there, gossiping. The wall will be a disaster tomorrow.”

            “Good thing you put up all those cameras.”

            It’s been a project of Baze’s to cut down on all the graffiti covering the walls that surround the temple. It has been a long-standing tradition of the youth of NiJedha to tag the stone. Usually the response was to just clean it up and await the next incident of vandalism.

            Baze prefers to be proactive.

            “I’ll make house calls,” Baze says with a crooked smile.

            “Stars, picture that face showing up on your doorstep when you’re fourteen and you’ve just impressed all your friends by putting your name on the temple wall.”

            “You take far too much enjoyment out of this.”

            “Still less than you do.”

            Baze smiles. “Suppose that’s fair.”

            “Want to go out for food at some point? I want pasha pretty badly.”

            “You know how I feel about pasha.”

 

Baze shakes his head at the bowl of pasha. “I hate this.”

            Digging through her bowl of palatak intestines, Hela says, “You love it.” She stuffs too much in her mouth.

            With a frown, Baze picks up some pasha on his sticks, and takes a bite. It doesn’t taste bad. At first. In about a minute, it’s really going to start to burn. “I can’t believe you enjoy this.”

            They’re sitting on the bench beside the street vendor, eating from disposable bowls. The day, as Chirrut predicted, is overcast. If it were summer, Baze would guess that it was going to rain. But it never rains during winter. It’s cold and dry and the sun is too shy to show its face.

            “You learn to like it. Repeated exposure. This is the only place that would feed me when I first came to the city. Right, Jhosa?”

            The vendor raises a tentacle, stirring spoon wrapped in it, and speaks in a language Baze doesn’t know.

            “And you know I appreciate it,” Hela says. “You know what people are like. They revere the Guardians. They’re pretty indifferent to us guards, and when I came here I wasn’t even that. You don’t wear a robe, and you’ve got no money, guess what. You’re not getting fed. So I learned to like what I was given. It reminds me of the kindnesses I was shown.”

            “It’s a good thought. But I don’t care for the food.” He sticks more in his mouth, though, because he knows to eat what he’s been given.

            The loss in status has been something to get used to. The locals knew that he was Protector of the Crystal Guardian. Now he’s the man who blinded the Crystal Guardian. He’s the man who severed the order’s conduit to the Force. There are those who don’t really care, the ones who just live and make a living here.

            Then there are those who believe. And they don’t much care for him. Baze broke two ribs in a fight his first month as a guard when three pilgrims tried to kill the apostate. Two of the three left the planet with broken jaws, and the one needed to be wheeled onto his ship.

            “What’s happening with Danary?” Baze asks, as his mouth is set on fire. He takes a breath instead of sticking his tongue out to try and cool it.

            Hela scowls, shrugging. “Oh—who the hell knows. I went by her house to get my things, after paging three times, and she wasn’t there. I just want my jacket back.”

            “It’s a nice jacket.”

            “It’s an amazing jacket,” Hela corrects.

            Baze pokes at the intestines. He never asks too many in depth questions about Hela’s relationships, but maybe that’s because she’s never pushed much about his. They’re friends, but she still has some hang ups about his past as a Guardian. She reveres them, and the order. But he knows she talks to her other friends about these kinds of things.

            “Are you…all right?” he tries.

            Frowning, she responds, “With what?” A tube of pasha slips out of her mouth, landing on the bowl with a splat.

            Baze gives it another attempt. “How things ended with Danary.”

            Hela gives him a sideways glance. “No. Not really. I mean—I’m the one who ended it. I loved her, and she didn’t love me. We didn’t want the same things from life. Better to accept that and cut my losses.”

            “Mm,” Baze says, unsure of what else he can offer.

            Hela’s mouth spreads into a grin. “Baze,” she says with a little laugh, “you don’t have to do that.”

            “Do what?”

            “If you’re not comfortable talking about relationships, it’s not a requirement of friendship. Some friends do that, some don’t.”

            He’s that obvious, apparently. Cheeks warming at being so quickly caught out, Baze takes a minute, then nods. “All right.”

            Hela lifts a hand. “I mean—we can. If you want to, we can do that. I’m just saying, it’s not something you’re expected to do.”

            “Now you’re just embarrassing me.”

            She elbows him. “Why are you embarrassed?”

            Sighing, Baze looks around at the world. Dusty, drained of colour, sky above them grey. Too many people talking, some shouting as they pass. It doesn’t exactly make for an appealing scene. And still, he would take this in a heartbeat over the sterile insides of the Temple of the Kyber.

            “I’ve missed out on so many things,” Baze says. “I didn’t learn how to be a person. I learned how to be monk. And they don’t exactly overlap in too many places.”

            Setting aside the bowl, he cracks open the soda he’s been given. It’s a violent pink colour, completely out of place with their surroundings. He doesn’t care for the sweetness—but the bubbles. He likes how they pop on his tongue.

            Uncomfortable, Hela says, “I think you’re a decent person. You just didn’t learn all the shit that most people do in their twenties. I mean, really, you should be grateful. You won’t make the same mistakes I did, you’ll just benefit from my experiences.”

            She slurps up intestines, and Baze lets out a chuckle. “That is disgusting,” he says, shaking his head.

            “If you don’t use every part of the animal, you have no right to eat it.”

            “That’s very wise. Especially coming from a woman who has entrails on her shirt.”

            Hela looks down, and groans. “Oh stars. That stain’s never coming out.” Then she shrugs. “Oh well.”

            Baze grins, and burns himself with another bite.

 

Grunting, Baze lifts the box a bit higher, and manages to set it on top of the garbage chute. Tipping it, he empties the box. It will gather into a compactor, and the cube will be sent out into the desert.

            It will probably last longer than the statues of the Jedi, Baze thinks.

            He senses eyes on him. With a small sigh, he turns around, deadening his gaze.

            It’s three fourth level acolytes. Karo, Meeck, and Zadrasi. Karo’s been giving Baze trouble for weeks. He’s a mouthy thing who thinks he’s better than anyone who doesn’t wear Guardian robes. The other two are his minions. Unfortunately, Baze has the feeling he might go far at the temple. He can be obsequious when necessary.

            “Fitting that we find you with the rest of the trash,” Karo sneers.

            Baze doesn’t bother replying, or even reacting. That was so terrible that it’s not worth a reaction. He holds the box at his side, judging what his easiest exit is. Walk around them? Through them?

            He probably shouldn’t harm them. That might reflect poorly on Chirrut.

            You’ve just escaped one cage. Don’t so easily place yourself in another.

            When Baze says nothing, it just emboldens Karo. “Someone more important get you to do their chores?”

            This is childish. Baze goes to walk around the trio.

            However, Karo darts out in front of him, and Baze stops. “Don’t,” he warns.

            “What are you going to do about it? You’re just a guard. You’re not anyone anymore. Just a failed Guardian hanging around where you’re unwanted.”

            Baze is unmoved. “Boy—I’ll hurt you just because you irritate me.”

            “No you won’t. You’re no one. Despite who you might be fucking—“

            In about a second, Baze has grabbed Karo by the shoulders, and rammed his knee directly into the man’s testicles. He holds onto him a second more, impassive, just to see how the bastard’s eyes bug out and his mouth sucks in.

            Whirling, Baze grabs him by the collar and waist of his robes, and walks him up to the trash compactor. With a swing, he lifts Karo up and over the edge. His friends start forward, and Baze snaps, “Another step and you’re next.” They freeze, horrified.

            Karo is gasping, realizing his predicament. It’s about a fifteen meter drop to the compactor. “You wouldn’t,” he says with a little less certainty than before.

            Baze raises a brow. “I wasn’t scared of the Crystal Guardian. What makes you think I’d fear you?”

            He drops him down the chute.

            He goes to pick up his box as the acolytes run to the edge of the chute. Over Karo’s waning scream, Baze says, “You might want to be quick. The compactor runs in about twenty minutes.”

            He heads home, whistling.

 

That might have been ill advised.

            Yeah, maybe, but he’s not going to let a snotty little acolyte disrespect him. In the grand scheme of things, it might have been better to not let the kid get under his skin.

            But Baze no longer believes in the grand scheme, and it felt really good in the moment.

            As he turns the corner, he slows. He’s been gone for fifteen minutes, and in that time Chirrut has returned. He’s sitting on the steps of the house, staff between his knees. Staring forward, his expression could be mistaken for blank. But Baze knows him. He knows when Chirrut is feeling grim.

            He needs to be less confrontational than he was this morning. They’re going to have some battles, but Baze can sense that now is not the time.

            When he approaches, Chirrut raises his head slightly. Baze sits down beside him, setting the box down on the ground. He glances at his companion, then leans back to rest against the door. He watches the grey sky, tracking the progress of a bird.

            It takes a little while, but Chirrut says, “Don’t become accustomed to this, but you were right. Don’t be smug about it.”

            “I’ll do my best. What was I right about?”

            Tapping the staff on the ground, Chirrut replies, “They don’t believe I can fight. The last few months, I’ve been so absorbed by my prayer work that I didn’t realize they’d led me away from the physical realm. They don’t think I’m capable.”

            Baze sees the tremor that runs along his jaw. He gets the impression that this might be the angriest that Chirrut allows himself to be seen these days. “And?”

            “And I was foolish and appealed to the Master to allow me to engage in fight training.”

            Closing his eyes, Baze lowers his head a moment. He could have quite easily told Chirrut how that would turn out. Right now, he’s supposed to be supportive. That’s what a good partner would do. “I’m sorry to hear it didn’t go well.”

            “It didn’t only not go well. She was condescending, and I had to sit there with this…aura surrounding me. Her hatred and disdain for me, wrapped up in her satisfaction at my….” Chirrut’s face contorts. “Handicap.”

            Baze sits up. “Want me to punch her?”

            “No.” After a moment, Chirrut admits, “I’d like to punch her. But I can’t, because I’m a monk, and she is the head of the order, and I will obey her instructions.”

            “She directly ordered you not to do any fight training?”

            “No. She ordered all the instructors not to train me.” Chirrut rams his staff against the ground, inhaling through his nose. “I accept…that there are things I can’t do anymore. I can’t see. I’m not a fool, I know I can’t see. But I can hear, and I can feel, in a way that others cannot even imagine. They believe I’m limited by my blindness. I cannot come to the same conclusion.” He gives his head a shake. “I will not.”         

            Baze smiles. There’s the man he knows. Getting up, he says, “Come inside.”

            He holds the door for Chirrut, then goes to the compartment in the kitchen floor. Chirrut sits on the end of the bed, looking somewhere between defeated and determined.

            Baze opens up the weapons compartment. Reaching inside, he says, “They made you a Guardian, didn’t they.”

            “You know they did.”

            “Well, it’s not official yet.”

            “How do you mean?”

            Baze pulls the lightbow out, getting to his feet. “Because,” he says, returning to Chirrut, “you’re not a Guardian unless you know how to handle one of these.”

            He pulls Chirrut’s hand off the staff and puts it on the weapon. The chamber immediately begins to glow. Realizing what it is, Chirrut scoffs. “They won’t let me train in zama-shiwo, but you think they’ll let me use this?”

            Sitting beside him, Baze says, “I think that you can do whatever you want to. If you want to fight, you’ll fight. If you want to learn the lightbow, you’ll learn the lightbow. You’re Seer of the Temple of the Kyber, Chirrut. If you could convince them that you were going to live in sin with your disgrace of a former mentor, I think you can probably convince them of nearly anything.”

            “She ordered everyone not to spar with me.”

            “Stop hinting. I’ll train you.”

            Chirrut stops, tilting his chin down. “You will?” He actually sounds surprised.

            “Of course. Wasn’t that what you were getting at?”

            “No.”

            “Why didn’t you think I would?”

            “You never sparred with me when I could see.”

            “I was always afraid of hurting you.” Baze looks him over, and finishes, “Now I think it would hurt you more if I didn’t.”

            Chirrut does nothing for a moment. Then he sets aside his staff, and pulls the lightbow into his lap. Quietly, he asks, “What did I do to deserve you?”

            “None of that. That’s the question everyone wants me to beat myself up over.” Baze takes Chirrut by the back of the neck, kissing his forehead as he stands up. “We’ll start in a few days. I have work. But we’ll pick up where you left off.”

            As he steps away, Chirrut says, “Promise me something.”

            Baze looks back at him, and smiles. Bending down, he says, “I won’t go easy on you. That’s a promise.”

            Chirrut grins, and that’s all Baze needs.

 

They have dinner, and Baze goes over the layout of the house with Chirrut. Chirrut feels everything, repeating to himself what Baze just said. Sometimes Baze will take Chirrut’s hand, gently guiding his fingers over something. He makes very sure that Chirrut knows where everything sharp is. But Chirrut forgets nothing that he has been told, and after one pass seems to know where to find every single thing. Baze will just have to remember to always put things back exactly where they’re meant to be.

            After, they sit on the couch, and Baze turns on some music, an eclectic mix of drums and strings. Chirrut laughs at him for his taste in music, which he declares abysmal, and they chat back and forth for nearly an hour. When Baze tells him about the incident at the trash compactor, Chirrut puts a hand to his forehead, and asks how he ended up the rational one in their relationship.

            Then Chirrut begins to yawn, and they take turns with the shower before climbing into bed. Baze is content. This—this is what he wants. It wasn’t an exciting night. But it was absolutely perfect. Just him and Chirrut, together, in their home.

            Their home. They are together, and this is what ordinary will look like. They will be allowed to be ordinary.

            Chirrut says that whatever he’s thinking, to keep doing so, because his aura feels amazing. Baze tells him there’s no such thing, and Chirrut says he loves him, even though he’s a close-minded fool. Chirrut takes his hand, and they fall asleep like that.

 

Baze wakes in the middle of the night, confused and groggy. What’s happening? Chirrut—

            He turns over, checking on Chirrut.

            The other man is on his back, and he’s praying at an almost frantic pace. “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me, I am one with the Force and the Force is with me, I am one with the Force and the Force is with me—“

            “Chirrut,” Baze murmurs. “What are you doing?”

            But the praying doesn’t stop. Is he sleeping? Good grief, how often will he be doing this? Baze reaches over, shaking his arm.

            A hand clamps around his throat, and Chirrut’s yelling in his face. “I don’t want to go to the fucking switch!”

            He freezes, on top of Baze.

            Baze bats at his hand, his air supply completely cut off. He doesn’t want to hurt Chirrut—

            Chirrut abruptly lets him go. “Baze!” he cries out, horrified. “Force save me.” He starts touching Baze’s face as Baze coughs, wheezing. “Did I hurt you? Beloved, I didn’t mean to—“

            He disappears.

            Baze is very confused. He turns on the lamp, and sits up.

            Chirrut has retreated all the way off the bed. He’s sitting on the ground, against the wall, with his head on his knees. Hands on top of his head, he murmurs, “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me, I am one with the Force and the Force is with me….”

            Hesitant, Baze climbs off the bed, and goes to him. He reaches down to lay his hand on Chirrut’s hair.

            Before he can, Chirrut says, “Please don’t touch me right now.” 

            So Baze pulls back his hand. He takes a breath, looking around, then he sits down next to Chirrut, keeping a half meter of distance. He can’t pray with Chirrut, but he can sit with him.

            Baze has to wonder if this will be ordinary too.

 

 

Chapter Text

“Up three steps, then turn left.”

            Baze waits until Chirrut is in the hallway before bounding up behind him. He’s a bit nervous. No getting around that. He said he would continue Chirrut’s fight training, and he will, but—Chirrut is blind. Where is the line between support and delusion?

            If he believes he can do it, we’ll try. We’ll try until he’s proven right or he’s proven wrong.

            “We should start without weapons,” Baze says, bypassing the bō. “To get an idea of where we are.”

            “You’re just scared of being hit with my stick again,” Chirrut says.

            Baze does, in fact, have a bruise across his right shin, the result of saying offhandedly that auras weren’t real. “Only because you give no warning.”

            “I am not hearing this from the man who taught me the mortality lesson.”

            Baze drops his head back on his shoulders, groaning. “Please don’t remind me. We’re turning right. And down four steps into the third square.”

            Tapping down the steps with his staff, Chirrut asks, “Is there no one scheduled here this evening?”

            “I don’t know. I just brought us to the first place that was empty. Take thirty more steps, and we’ll stop.”

            Baze unfastens his jacket, stripping out of it, and tossing it on the ground. He knows this will be precarious. He hasn’t been training in capradi or zama-shiwo for months. He’s been focused on silathe and strength training.

            “I’ll apologize now,” he says, stretching. “I’m not as flexible as I once was.”

            Chirrut counters, “You’ve never been very flexible.”

            Giving him a glare, Baze kicks aside his boots. “Off with your shoes.”

            Chirrut is crouched, setting down his staff. Standing, he begins to undo the top layer of his robes. He wears more layers now. Baze wants to ask if he can help, but he also wants to let Chirrut do things on his own. So he stretches, and waits for Chirrut.

            Once his things are carefully folded on the ground, Chirrut takes a few steps away. “I’m ready.”

            “All right.” Baze goes to him, standing so that there’s a meter between them. He lifts a hand and starts rubbing his thumb and index finger together. Chirrut’s chin tilts slightly towards it. “Where’s my hand?”

            Chirrut reaches up, finding it immediately. He squeezes it, and says with a wry smile, “Found you.”

            “You’re going to have to rely on your hearing now instead of your eyes. But it won’t just be one thing that you can listen to. It will be many things. You’ll have to recreate the world in your mind by listening.”

            “I know that.”

            “Then where’s my other hand?”

            Chirrut pauses.

            Baze sweeps his legs out from under him, and Chirrut lands on his back.

            “I can’t believe you fell for that,” Baze remarks.

            “Me either,” Chirrut groans, and sits up. “I deserved that.”

            He gets back to his feet, and Baze says, “You know that people don’t fight fair. They don’t care that you’re blind. You have to be better than them. You have to be superior to them. You have the reflexes. You have the training. What you need to remember is to never believe in the box that others would place you in.”

            Nodding, Chirrut says with determination, “I am a blind man who sees more than they ever could.” He pauses. “Humbly, of course.”

            “You never were before, I don’t see why you should start now.” Baze takes a deep breath, and says, “We’re going to start like this. I want you to hit me.”

            “Baze,” Chirrut says, “do you remember what happened the last time you said that to me?”         

            “I’m not going to stab you, stop being so—“

            Chirrut’s fingers get about a centimeter from Baze’s left eye. Jerking back, Baze dodges another punch, watching Chirrut’s movements. He’s still fast—stars, is he ever. And he gets close to Baze with each attempt, closer than most people with sight.

            Baze bobs and weaves to avoid each blow, working backwards, then drops, spinning around Chirrut. He swings his leg around, but this time Chirrut jumps a meter in the air to avoid it. Baze rolls away, going very still.

            Chirrut hits the ground in a somersault, setting his hands on the ground. Baze is crouched off to his right, holding his breath. He can hold it for up to two minutes.

            Staring straight forward, Chirrut keeps his position for a moment. Then he turns and looks directly at Baze with his sightless eyes.

            With absolute confidence, he gets to his feet, and crosses the space between them. Bending down, Chirrut says, “It doesn’t matter if you don’t breathe. I can hear your heartbeat.”

            He holds out his hand, and Baze takes it. The second he feels Chirrut start to yank on his arm, Baze hooks his ankle around Chirrut’s leg, so the force pulls them both backwards, and Baze flips them over. He lands on top of Chirrut, and sets a hand on his throat.

            “You need to get your strength back,” Baze observes. “There’s the bag in the back yard. I’ve been working with that. And you should start running again. Your legs are weak.”

            “Maybe I just like when you’re on top of me.”

            The side of Baze’s mouth lifts. “Do you?”

            Chirrut’s face changes. “Off, please.”

            Without another word, Baze sits on the ground, leaning back on his hands. Chirrut sits up, rubbing a hand over his face, and getting dust on it in the process. He sighs, and Baze says, “You’ve been out of training for three months. That’s not insurmountable. It’s more like a hiccup.”

            “I’m sorry.”

            “For what?”

            “Not being able to flirt and fight with you at the same time. It sounds like it would have been fun.”

            “Who’s to say we won’t one day? Everything needs practice. Everything needs acclimation. Now get up. I want to see what your hand work looks like.”

            As Baze stands, Chirrut says, “I thought we weren’t going to flirt.”

            Amused, Baze says, “On your feet, prophet.”

 

“Tell me something.”

            “What would you like to know?”

            “Do you really think I’ll be able to use the lightbow?”

            “Yes.”

            Chirrut is halfway through his second bowl of porridge. He was ravenous when they got home. Baze is thinking of maybe slipping some kind of protein powder into his food so that he has the energy for training as hard as he clearly intends to. Of course, Chirrut would taste it and protest that he doesn’t need it, but Baze might try anyways.

            “When can we try that?”

            “Where’s that calm, reserved monk I keep hearing that you are?”

            “Where have you heard that?”

            “The other guards. I hear you have a reputation.”

            “I’ve always had a reputation. Glad I’m in good company.”

            Baze looks up from his glass. “What does that mean?”

            Chirrut obviously regrets having spoken, though he hides it well. “I’ve heard you’re the terror of the streets. Vandals beware. Or the captain of the guard will have you.”

            Rolling his eyes, Baze says, “There’s no captain. Admittedly, I’m a little more aggressive than the rest.” He has a sip of water. “And you don’t have to spare my feelings. I know the Guardians talk about me.”

            “It was a…pivotal moment in the history of the temple.”

            “I’m sure it was. And I’m the example that they use to scare young acolytes. Do as you’re told, or you might end up like Malbus.” Baze shakes his head. “My life turned out for the best, and still I’ll be a cautionary tale for many years to come.”

            When he looks across the table, he’s surprised to find Chirrut playing with his food. His companion stirs his spoon through his meal, head bent.

            Getting up, Baze takes his bowl to the sink. “Is there something you want to tell me?” he asks as he sits down again.

            Lifting his head, Chirrut says evenly, “They’re sending a candidate for Protector into the caves tomorrow morning. At ten.”

            Chirrut’s been with him three hours since leaving prayer, and he only saw fit to tell Baze this now? “The guards have heard nothing of it.”

            “No one outside of the Master’s inner circle knows.”

            Lip curling, Baze says, “And is that what you are? Part of the Master’s inner circle?”

            Pulling his hands into his lap, Chirrut says, “Baze—“

            “Some poor fool is about to go blundering into those caves, and who only knows what the creature’s reaction will be. If it brings down the foundation, it brings down the temple. If the temple falls, it won’t just be monks who get killed. It will be people in the city. People who haven’t sworn an oath to do any stupid thing the Master tells them—“

            “Baze, enough.”

            Baze crosses his arms on the table. “And who’s the one they’re sending in?”

            Chirrut hesitates, then says, “Streisa.”

            Staring at him, Baze is dumbfounded. He can’t actually get a word out of his mouth.

            “Streisa?” he says at last.

            “You told me yourself you were considering her as an apprentice—“

            “Apprentice!” Baze explodes. “Not a Protector! If she was an apprentice, she would have three years of study before attempting a cycle. And the Master is just going to send her down there, unprepared, with a wounded animal?”

            “The Crystal Guardian is strong with the Force—“

            “Fuck that. How can you stand by and let this happen?”

            “I don’t care for your tone.”     

            “I don’t care. You of all people are going to let this happen—“

            “Me of all people? Between the two of us, you are in a far better position to prevent a catastrophe.”

            “How do you imagine that? Did the universe tell you that?”

            “Don’t speak to me like that. You are Protector of the Crystal Guardian. You need to go into the caves and speak to it, commune with it—“

            Barking, Baze replies, “Like hell I do. I am not the Protector, I’m a guard, and only so I can be near you. You are the one who has those idiots convinced you’ve seen the future. You’re the one who could go in there and say, ‘I see that this goes terribly wrong.’ If you wanted to stop this, you could.”

            Breathing heavily through his nose, Chirrut says, “I don’t like how you’re talking to me. I have had visions, and they were sacred, and I will not abuse that just because you are upset that you weren’t able to get every single thing you wanted. This attitude about the Force is childish. There needs to be a Protector, there needs to be someone who communicates with the Guardian, and if you won’t then someone else has to.”

            Baze is not swayed. “Being the only person in a sea of fools unafraid to speak the truth does not make me childish. It makes me strong. There is no such thing as the Force—“

            “You know that isn’t true!” Chirrut bursts out. “You’ve seen it, you’ve been one with it—“

            “I saw what the creature wanted me to see. It kept me in awe, so I would stay down in the dark with it and share its misery. I opened my eyes, I saw the real world, and I am not going back to lies, just because you seem to have forgotten how to question institutional idiocy.”

            Stubbornly, Chirrut says, “You know the Force exists. You’ve felt it, you’ve connected to it—“

            “I haven’t.”

            “Yes you have. You can’t pretend like it was all the Guardian. You told me when you first connected to the Force, you weren’t anywhere near the caves.”

            “I lied.”

            “No you didn’t—“

            “I lied,” Baze repeats. He’s being completely honest. “That story I told people about feeling the Force in the middle of a match—that was a lie. I didn’t feel anything. I was well into my training with T’kal, and I could see he was getting concerned that I hadn’t made contact with the Force yet. So one day, in the middle of a training session, I was thinking about it, how I was disappointing T’kal. I was distracted, and I got hit. When I was laying there on the ground, not able to think, people were gathered over me, asking what went wrong. And it seemed like a golden opportunity. I took it. I said that I’d experienced the Force. Once I said it, there was no taking it back. I was sick with myself, certain that T’kal would know, that he would be so ashamed of me. I knew he’d be able to tell, because he was the most devoted to the Force. He was touched by the Force. He’d know.” Baze shakes his head. “But he didn’t. He was overjoyed. Couldn’t stop talking about how proud he was, how he’d known this day was coming. He said it because he believed it. He believed in something that didn’t exist. He was fooled. And so were we all. I never felt the Force outside of when I was with the creature. It was an illusion. All of it.”

            For a moment, Chirrut says nothing. Then he murmurs, “You’re lying.”

            Baze bends his head, exhaling. Counting his fingers, he says quietly, “This is the first time since you’ve come home that I’ve wished you could see.”

            “Why?”

            “Because if you could see my face, you would know I was telling the truth.”

            Baze pushes himself up from the table, and leaves the house.

 

He sleeps on the roof.

            It isn’t a thing he does often. Sometimes, in summer, if the sky clears, Baze will lay on the roof and watch the stars, naming them all, counting the ones he’s visited. Those days are rare. In winter, he never comes up here at all. Too cold.

            But he had an inkling when Chirrut moved in that perhaps he might need a place to himself occasionally, besides the small shed that he’s moved all of his experiments to in the back. So he brought a heated blanket up onto the roof a few days ago, and a portable music player, all sealed in a bag.

            Baze lies on his back, under the gentle heat of the blanket, an arm under his head, listening to some dreamy strings as he gazes into the sky.

            How are they going to make this work? They believe two diametrically opposed things. Chirrut believes he’s seen the future. He thinks he’s in connection with some mystical power binding the whole universe together. Baze, meanwhile, is sane. How do they reconcile over this?

            They have to. Right? It’s something they can work through. After all they’ve been through, they must.

            Still early days, Baze reminds himself. It’s still very early days. He doesn’t know yet how they will resolve this, but they will.

            They must.

           

When he wakes, it’s light out.

            Sitting up, Baze stretches. With a yawn, he turns off the blanket, and puts his things back in their bag. Then he stands, and walks across the roof to the backyard.

            He drops to the ground, opening the back door. Stepping inside, he freezes.

            Chirrut is sitting at the table, his hands folded. He’s supposed to be at the temple by now. Uncertain, Baze closes the door. “Was there no one to accompany you?”

            “I know the way. Can we talk?”

            Scowling, Baze goes to sit across from him. “If you’re trying to make me nervous, it’s working.”

            Chirrut sighs, and lays his hands flat on the table. “I don’t want you to feel like you need to sleep on the roof just because we had a disagreement.”

            “I didn’t feel like I had to. I wanted to.”

            “You wanted to sleep on the roof.”

            “I wanted some time to myself. To think.”

            “You wanted time to yourself.”

            “Yes.”

            “Was I too presumptuous in moving in?”

            Baze rests his head in his hands a moment. “You were presumptuous, and you know you were, but sometimes you and I will fight, and sometimes we’ll need to be away from each other. That’s just how people do this.”

            “We’re not most people.”

            “No, we’re not. Chirrut…we believe different things. And I tease you about your beliefs, but I don’t expect you to just abandon them because I think they’re ridiculous. But you won’t—you won’t listen to me. You won’t let me believe what I believe.”

            Chirrut sits there, his eyes aimed at Baze’s chest. He says, “I can’t,” and Baze lets out a breath, shaking his head. “I know. I know the Force is real, I’ve seen things—“

            “I know—“

            “When you say you don’t believe, you’re saying you don’t believe me. Or that you believe that I believe it, which is a kind way of saying that I’m delusional. That all the people here are delusional, and you’re the only one who knows better. It’s arrogant.”

            “Between the two of us, you must know it’s ironic, you calling me arrogant.”

            “You’re going to hurt yourself,” Chirrut says, and there’s no disguising the desperation he feels. “You’re going to hurt your spirit if you don’t stop this.”

            “I don’t have a spirit—“

            “You do.”

            “I don’t, Chirrut. None of us do. I’m sorry.”

            “You need to believe me—“

            “Beloved, please—“

            “No, no more of this—stubbornness. This is immature, and it’s beneath you. You’re acting like a wounded teenager, rebelling against something that’s harmed you. But you weren’t the one who was harmed, I was.”

            Baze presses his lips together, then says in a low voice, “You need to rethink your strategy of trying to play on my guilt. If you want to throw stones about what’s beneath either of us.”

            Chirrut lowers his head a moment, flexing his fingers. “I need you to believe me.”

            “I can’t—“

            “You can! You do, I know you do, underneath all this—posturing, this temporary lapse. The Force is real, it’s all real, and I need to know that—that we believe the same thing.”

            “We don’t,” Baze says helplessly. “We never will.”

            Chirrut’s jaw clenches. He takes a breath, then says, “What about T’kal?”          

            Baze has prepared for this, though he hoped Chirrut wouldn’t resort to it. “What about him?”

            “All his work, his love of you—was that for nothing? He believed in the Force, he believed in the Crystal Guardian—“

            “And he was mistaken.”

            Chirrut stops. “You cannot be serious.”

            “We’re just going to chase ourselves around in circles if you can’t live with this—“

            “He loved you. You were like a son to him, and now you—“ Chirrut silences, his brow furrowed.

            Crossing his arms, Baze raises his shoulder. “I what? I won’t keep my mouth shut when your Master—a person, by the way, who was dead set on your exile from this place until she figured out she could manipulate you—puts a young woman in danger, throws Streisa at the Guardian like some kind of heathen sacrifice. No, not like. It is. It’s putting her on the altar and cutting her throat, all for your precious, non-existent Force.”

            Chirrut’s mouth twitches. His hands have balled into loose fists. Voice hoarse, Chirrut says, “He would be so ashamed of you.”

            And yes, it hurts. Baze hasn’t thought much about what T’kal would think of his fall from the faith. It would only serve to make him feel bad about a decision that was necessary. That has been a long time coming. But he thinks of his mentor…how peaceful he was before he died, his hand on the Guardian….

            “I don’t care,” Baze says.

            “You don’t care,” Chirrut says incredulously.

            “He believed the same lies you do. I love you both, but you believe in a fairy tale—“

            “It is one thing to dishonour me, but him—he loved you, he raised you up into a position like no other—“

            “To be drained by a monster in a cave? What am I supposed to be mourning here?”

            “He taught you about the universe, and you have the gall to say you don’t care about him—“

            “That’s not what I said—“

            “To not care about our beliefs is to not care about us.”

            “If you’re looking for an excuse to leave me, just take it. Just say you don’t want me, and go. Stop trying to make this about my failing. If you can’t accept me as I am, that is not my problem.”

            Chirrut slams a hand down on the table. “That’s not what I’m saying! I don’t want to leave you, I want you to stop lying to me—“

            Leaning forward, Baze dares, “Look into the future, prophet. Take a good hard look, and tell me if I change my mind. You know what you won’t see? That. Along with a great many other things, because that sacred thing you’re all worshipping blinded you, from sheer fucking malice—“

            “You will change your mind,” Chirrut insists.

            Enough of this.

            Baze shoves himself back from the table. “You know what? I don’t intend to be having this same argument with you ten years from now. Stay there.”

            He storms over to the door, shoving his feet into his shoes. Chirrut asks, “Where are you going?”

            “To prove to you that I’m not a liar,” Baze snaps, and slams the door after himself.

 

Fifteen minutes later, he’s walking home, the same murderous expression on his face as when he left. His forearms are dirty, and he’s torn off two of his nails.

            People who see him coming duck out of the way. Some gasp with horror. Others fall to their knees, praying desperately to the Force for forgiveness.

            Xero stops, her mouth falling open. “What have you done?” she says faintly as Baze passes her. Then she starts to yell. “What have you done?”

            He ignores her. All he thinks about is what Chirrut said.

            T’kal would be ashamed of him.

            Fine.

            Baze throws open the door to the house, startling Chirrut, who’s sitting on the side of the bed. He inhales, and the colour drains from his face. “What is that?”

            Baze carries the uneti tree across the house, throwing it down on the table. He pulled it up from the roots, clear out of the ground. “It’s T’kal’s tree.”

            Standing, Chirrut says with shock, “The uneti tree?”

            “The last place he had me take him before the cave,” Baze says grimly. “He once told me, that if I missed him, to look to this tree. This was his favourite thing, outside of the monster.” He turns, grabbing the hatchet off the wall.

            “Baze—“ Chirrut holds out his hands. “Don’t, please—please, it’s still alive, I can hear it, don’t—“

            Baze wraps one hand around the trunk. It’s ever so slightly larger than his grasp. “They say that a uneti will last a week out of earth and water, if the roots are still attached. They say that these trees are Force sensitive.”

            Rushing forward, Chirrut begs, “Don’t—“

            Baze chops clear through the trunk with one blow, severing the roots.

            Chirrut is almost thrown back, as if he took the strike. He bends over, his hands hovering above his ears. Face contorting, he looks like he’s in terrible pain. His mouth opens, wordless.

            Baze looks at the leafless tree, lying on the table, then he shakes his head. “It’s just a tree,” he says, and tosses the hatchet onto the table. “And don’t ever call me a liar again.”

            He turns and walks out the back as Chirrut falls to his knees. Baze strips out of his shirt. He needs a shower.

Chapter Text

Hela leaps to her feet when Baze comes through the door. “Are you out of your fucking mind?”

            “We’ve got bigger problems.”

            “You killed a tree,” says Dash, his bushy orange eyebrows reaching towards his hairline.

            Baze claps his hands, catching everyone’s attention. “We,” he repeats, “have bigger problems.”

            Hela takes a look at him. Then she stands straighter. “What’s wrong?”

            At least she knows him. She knows when he needs to be listened to. “They’re sending in a third level as a candidate for Protector. Today.”

            “What?” says Rez, leaning forward.

            “Nobody said anything,” Mae’okash says, getting up. They’re already pulling their suit over their two heads, and grabbing their armour.

            Baze shakes his head. “They’re not saying anything to anyone. They’re just going to go ahead and do it, and it’s going to be ugly. We need to warn people.”

            “Do you know something?” Hela asks.

            He looks at her, and says, “Ten years. I had ten years in that fucking cave. There’s no one in the universe that knows it better than I do. I’m telling you—I’m asking you to believe me.”

            She shrugs. “Of course we believe you.”

            The other four nod. All of them are gathering their gear, suiting up. Baze can’t say anything for a moment. He’s known these people’s names for less than four months, and they take his word at face value. Not many others he can say that about anymore.

            Pulling on their repeating cannon, Mi’akosh juts their chin at him. “You got a plan?”

            Baze looks at them, and says one word.

            “Evacuate.”

           

“Don’t suppose I wanted to live here forever,” Hela says dolefully as Baze stands at the top of the ladder, picking the lock of the alarm box. “Oh—wait. I really did.”

            “I imagine a lot of people wanted to live here forever.” He pops open the cover, impressed with himself. Good to know some of the skills he picked up in his adolescence weren’t completely in vain.

            Their radios go off. “Tythoni’s cleared—no one’s too happy about it, but if we could get those alarms going.”

            Pressing the button, Baze answers, “Working on it.”

            From below, Hela says, “You know that thing’s DNA locked, right?”

            “Yes, I know that.”

            “Last I checked, you weren’t Master Yamari.”

            “You’re very astute.” Baze looks around the gateway, just in time to see two people disappear into the chamber of the Crystal Guardian. “Fuck,” he mutters, and pulls out the little clear box from his pocket.

            “Whatcha got?”

            Gingerly opening the lid, Baze says, “You ever wonder if Yamari’s people are part lizard?”

            “Of course not, because that would be disrespectful and not befitting a guard. But, say, hypothetically, that I had.”

            Being more careful than careful, Baze reaches into the box. “The answer is yes. She sheds.”

            Picking up the single scale, he balances it on a fingertip. He turns his hand over, and presses it against the biometric reader.

            It scans back and forth, and he wonders if he’s just going to have to shoot the thing and rip out its insides to bypass all this subterfuge. They are running out of time, after all. Except the screen lights up blue, and the words ‘Access Granted’ appear in Common. A little window appears, and a red button pushes up through it.

            A part of him has always wanted to do this. Trying not to smile, Baze jams his thumb against the button.

            Two seconds later, the sirens across the southern half of the city are blaring. Pylons unshield, and start flashing blue lights. The noise is deafening. From his vantage point, Baze can see people turn and flee north, without so much as a second thought.

            There might be one or two people left who remember the catastrophe of seventy-five years ago. The creature brought down blocks. Baze doesn’t know if it has that kind of power anymore, but he would rather not risk it. Nor would anyone else in the Holy City. They’ve all been drilled since birth on what to do if the sirens go off.

            Putting his feet to the sides of the ladder, he slides down it, then jumps to the ground. “We need to round up any stragglers,” he yells over the din. Hela nods, and they set off together to roust the few people who aren’t moving quickly enough.

            She’s going to raise hell over this one, Baze thinks.

            Well, maybe that’s what I want.

            Baze is waving to a woman standing at a second story window, who’s resolutely shaking her head at him. “Come down!” he hollers. “Come down here, or—“

            The ground begins to tremble.

            He looks down in shock. This was supposed to be a precaution. He didn’t really expect the worst. There was supposed to be a big scene, sure, but he held out hope that it wouldn’t reach the city. It’s been seventy-five years….

            He looks at Hela, both of them with wide eyes. “Run!” he yells.

            The ground begins to buck under their feet.

            Baze can run faster, but he doesn’t. He grabs Hela’s hand, and runs only as fast as she can. Screaming can be heard around the sirens, but also a rumbling. A terrible rumbling, coming from beneath. When he glances up, he sees pieces of the buildings start to crack.

            Hela yanks him clear off his feet, and they fall to the ground. He hits on his belly, almost dropping on top of Hela. Hissing, unable to hear it over the noise, Baze looks back. Where they stood a moment ago, a stone statue of a Guardian now lays. Baze gulps, and then they’re both scrambling to help the other up, Hela yelling at him to just go, that she’ll catch up.

            “The hell I will!” he hollers, taking her hand again.

            They run through the shivering streets, the ground cracking between them, and Baze thinks, I didn’t want to be right like this, I didn’t, I really didn’t, oh stars, maybe I did, and what does that say about me

            And the shaking stops.

            Baze and Hela stand where they are, both breathing heavily. They’re looking back towards the temple. As they watch, a chunk falls off the side and plummets a hundred meters to the ground.

            He looks at Hela, who’s gazing back anxiously. “I’m sure he’s okay!” she says over the still raging sirens.

            Baze nods. “I know!” And he does. He doesn’t doubt for a moment. Then he realizes. Baze is still holding Hela’s hand. They look down at the same time, and Hela cringes sheepishly. Baze lets her go, but puts a hand to the back of her neck and kisses her forehead. “You saved my life!”

            She pushes him back, blushing furiously. “You would have done the same for me!” Hela runs a hand over her hair. “Should we—“ She nods further into the city.

            Baze listens to the sirens. This might be the most good he’s done for anyone in years. “Yeah,” he says, and hooks his arm over her shoulders.

 

When they return to the temple, the sun is coming down, and the Master is waiting for them on the northern steps.

            Hela murmurs, “I’m going with you.”

            Baze glances at her in surprise. “Are you?”

            He’s jostled by Mi’akosh. “Of course we are.”

            Their other head, Mae’okash, adds, “We’re in this together.”

            Feeling more comradeship in this moment than he did in twelve years a monk, Baze starts up the steps with the rest of the group.

            He hasn’t spoken to Yamari in two months. She came to his house to threaten. He wasn’t moved. And he used the opportunity to collect her scale. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever need it, but better to be safe than sorry. It’s a little unnerving how many of those he’s accrued in the last few months.

            Xero and Palasat are standing behind her. Baze is a little gratified that it’s three against twelve right now. Every member of the guard came out to help with the evacuation.

            The Master doesn’t look at any of the other guards. She glares at Baze and says, “Malbus.”

            “Master Yamari,” he replies, looking directly in her eyes.

            “What news from the city?”

            “Two dead. Crushed when their dwellings collapsed. It would have been a lot worse if the order hadn’t been given to sound the siren. Thank you for that.”

            If she could kill him with her gaze, Baze knows she would be taking advantage of the talent. “Quite.”

            “The displaced are being quartered on the northern side of the city. There was plenty of damage. And here?”

            “Two dead as well.”

            “And Streisa?” Baze asks.

            Oh yes. She wants him dead. “Tread…carefully.”          

            Suddenly, Hela steps forward. “It’s a good thing you told us about Acolyte Streisa’s trip into the cave. A good thing you warned us to set the sirens. Otherwise, a lot of people could have been killed.” Her voice is shaking, but she looks directly at the Master as she speaks.

            The Master glances at her, then turns and walks up the steps, Xero and Palasat following.

            They all turn to Hela. She’s quite pale. “What did I just do?” she says faintly.

            “Made an enemy of the most powerful person on the moon,” Baze replies.

            “Force save me.” Hela puts her hands on her knees and bends over.

            “Protector.” Baze looks up instinctively. Palasat has come back down the stairs. He holds his hands inside his robe sleeves. “It will not be said to you in an official capacity, but the order is grateful to you for your actions.” He nods to the guards. “For all your actions today. The Temple of the Kyber thanks you.”

            Baze nods. “Just doing our jobs.”

            Palasat looks at him, then lowers his voice. “The girl—she’ll live. But not well.”

            “How bad?”

            “She reached the bottom level before it awoke. It destroyed half the cave, as far as we can tell. The crystal dislodged in a number of places. She took the brunt. She has cognitive damage that will not be healed.”

            Baze bites into his lip, cutting off a curse. They need to just leave that fucking monster alone. Or kill it and be done with the whole awful thing.

            “Protector, if you would—“

            “Guardian Palasat,” Baze says with a nod. “If you’ll excuse us. We’ve had a long day. We’d all like to get home.”

            Sadly, Palasat smiles. “Of course. Thank you again.”

            Baze turns his back, lifting Hela up by the elbow. “Okay, let’s get you into a bed.”

            “What did I just do?” she repeats, dazed.

 

Baze is hesitant about opening the door, but this is his home, after all. He cannot be afraid to enter his own home.

            When he steps inside, he finds that none of the lights are on. Usually, Chirrut will put the lights on when he knows that Baze is coming home. Baze hears whispered prayer from around the corner. Pulling off his boots, he puts them down, then walks cautiously into the kitchen.

            Chirrut is sitting on the ground of the other room, leaning back against the sofa. The tree is lying on the ground before him, on the cape of his robes. It’s been cleaned of all dirt. Chirrut’s knees are drawn up near to his chest, and he’s whispering his mantra barely above a breath.

            Baze lets himself down beside him, wincing slightly. He has some aches from the day’s work, and he hit his ribs pretty hard when Hela threw them both to the ground. It will definitely bruise, or already has. He rests his hands in his lap, wondering if Chirrut is going to leave him.

            Chirrut stops praying. His head bowed, he murmurs, “You feel hurt.”

            “Not badly. Did you stay here all day?”

            Pausing, Chirrut replies, “Yes.”

            “I thought you might. That’s why I wasn’t worried about you.”

            “How did you know?”

            “Because regardless of whatever dogma you repeat to me, I know you. You’re a survivor. You knew the creature would react badly to having someone sent in. I knew you wouldn’t go into the temple just to prove a point.”

            “That’s not…exactly…how it happened.”

            “I’m just glad you’re all right.”

            Chirrut rubs his palms over his thighs. “I….” He takes a breath, and it trembles. “I am so sorry.”

            “Me too. I shouldn’t have lost my temper.”

            “I can’t believe you didn’t do it sooner. I said…I said shameful things. Things you should hate me for.”

            “No,” Baze says, turning towards him. “No. I would never hate you.”

            If Chirrut could see, he would be looking at the tree. “This feels like hatred.”

            “It wasn’t. It was me…needing to show you. You wouldn’t listen to me, so I just did what I thought would make you believe me. Even though I knew it would hurt you.” Baze gazes at the tree, and sighs. “I knew it would hurt a lot of people. It’s T’kal’s tree.”

            “Not to me,” Chirrut says, and Baze realizes he’s on the verge of tears. “This was our tree.”

            Baze starts to reach out, but he doesn’t know if Chirrut wants to be touched right now. “Beloved—beloved, I’m sorry about the tree. I’ll make amends—“

            Chirrut shakes his head. “It’s not that. That’s not what I’m upset about.” He presses his hands to his face. “I should be—any other day I would be—but I can’t right now. I can’t.”

            “Chirrut, tell me what’s wrong.”

            For a long moment, Chirrut does nothing. Then he confesses, “I saw this. I knew it was going to happen. I told her what would happen if she sent Streisa into the cave. I knew the earthquake would happen. I knew four people would die. I told her, but she wouldn’t listen to me.” Chirrut pushes his hands up, so they’re on top of his head. “I know you don’t change your mind. I know you don’t, because I’ve seen that. I thought…I thought that if I could convince you to believe, to retake your position…perhaps everything else could be prevented. I thought I could change what I’ve seen. But I can’t.” He hiccups. “I can’t.”

            Baze puts an arm on the couch behind Chirrut, close but not touching him. “Shh. Don’t cry.”

            Chirrut lifts his head, looking at him in the dark. “I know how we die. Do you understand?” He waves an arm at the outside world. “I know how they all die. I don’t want that.” He starts shaking his head. “I know I should be grateful—I should be grateful that the Force chose me, and I am. But I don’t want this. I don’t want to remember how a person dies every time we speak. I don’t want that. What’s wrong with me? Why was I chosen?”

            He covers his face with his hands again, and Baze can’t take it. He shuffles closer, pressing his side to Chirrut’s. “Listen,” he murmurs. “I can’t tell you…I can’t tell you an answer that you would believe. Because when it comes to this, we believe very different things. But beloved—you don’t know how people are going to die.” Chirrut shudders against him, and Baze briefly touches his hair. “You’re smart. When things happen, you make assumptions, and they happen to be the right ones. You knew that people were going to be killed today, just like I knew. Knowing the number—that was just a guess.”

            “It’s not,” Chirrut whispers.

            “Maybe it is. Hold that in your mind. Maybe it is. Beloved, you can’t walk around thinking of how people are going to die when you talk to them. You’ll go mad if you do that.” Baze gently rubs his back. Chirrut isn’t crying exactly, but he is trembling. “Are you still seeing things? Having visions?”

            “No. No, it’s all from—from that day. It was all poured into my head in that instant. And I can’t unsee it, Baze. It’s all going to happen.”

            “Is it all terrible?”

            Chirrut shakes his head against Baze’s shoulder. “No. But…but so much of it is. So much.”

            Baze asks, “Do you think you and I are going to die any time soon?”

            “No,” Chirrut answers, and Baze can’t bat down the sliver of relief he feels. Chirrut lifts his head. “Do you want to know? Do you want to know what I’ve seen?”

            “About you and I?”

            “Most of it is—most of what I’ve seen is in the near future. Some things—one thing—is further. Do you want to know what it is?”

            Baze considers it. He does not believe that Chirrut has seen the future. But he understands the power of suggestion. Whatever he’s told, he knows he will look for it. The mind bends facts to its will. He doesn’t want to hear it. Still—Chirrut is obviously carrying a terrible weight. He should not have to bear it on his own.

            Baze decides to place the power in Chirrut’s hands. “Do you want me to know?”

            There’s not even a pause. “No. I wish I did not know. I would not wish this on you.” His hand cups Baze’s cheek. “I’m so sorry. So sorry I called you a liar. Please forgive me.”

            “Hush,” Baze says, kissing his forehead. “You are forgiven. You’ll always be forgiven.”

            He settles back as Chirrut relaxes against him. Chirrut turns further into Baze’s body, wrapping an arm around his middle.

            “I heard it,” Chirrut murmurs.

            Baze knows who he means. “Did you?”

            “Yes. It was calling.”

            “Calling?”

            Chirrut rests his head on Baze’s chest. “It was calling your name.”

            Baze strokes his hair lightly, and thinks that the creature will have to call until Baze is dead and gone. He will never enter that cave again.

Chapter Text

They settle into their life together.

            Baze spends much of the next month in the city, working on the rebuilding efforts. A dozen buildings were completely destroyed during the Crystal Guardian’s temper tantrum, one of which was a housing complex that was home to seventy people. Twenty more buildings took significant damage, and dozens more saw some minor hurt. A hundred people were injured, four were killed. There needs to be a response from the temple. None is forthcoming from the Master.

            So Baze gives one.

            He makes sure the guards are visible as possible helping with the clean up. They build new houses. They take food to the displaced. Baze sells some pieces of kyber to an unscrupulous black marketer who makes his skin crawl, and uses the proceeds to help fund the new school. He makes sure his name is not attached to that, but somehow everyone knows, and he scowls and tries to avoid the praise people seem intent on throwing his way. All he wants is to work. He wants to fix what Guardian arrogance broke.

            Chirrut spends at least four days each week in the temple, praying and advising when his opinion is sought. He does not need anyone’s help to find anywhere on temple grounds. He’s memorized it completely. People who did not know him before treat him with something approaching awe. Even some who did know him before do the same.

            But he gathers his friends close. Kine’nik and Zemall decide to spar with him, and several nights a week they meet to fight. Baze still works with him, but Chirrut improves at an almost eerie speed. The days of Baze knocking him off his feet have disappeared, and Chirrut wins as many matches as he loses.

            In the evenings, whoever is home first makes dinner. Chirrut has become slightly more accustomed to flavourful food, but Baze knows not to push things too far. Some nights he will make one thing for himself, and another for Chirrut. They sit at the table, and discuss the day, swapping stories and trying to make one another laugh.

            Afterwards, they sometimes part, sometimes stay together. There are the nights when they might go to be with their respective friends. Baze might go out back and either work the bag or tinker with some new piece of tech, while Chirrut stays inside, praying or listening to books. Sometimes it will be Chirrut punching and kicking the increasingly battered bag, while Baze lays on the couch, book up close to his face.

            Plenty of evenings they spend in each other’s company. They might go for a walk—Chirrut likes to climb down the mesa steps. Baze knows they make for an odd pair in the eyes of others. His hair is shaggy enough to start covering his ears, and he’s thick with muscle, usually walking with his hands in his pockets, in clothes tight enough to show off his size. Chirrut goes everywhere in his black and red robes, the narrow cape fluttering an inch above the ground, confidently brushing the metal staff back and forth as he walks.

            Some nights they don’t leave the house, or each other’s side. They might lie side by side on the bed, each with a book, Baze’s in his hands, Chirrut with an ear piece, his arms under his head. Baze sometimes reads to him. Other nights they sit on the couch, and Baze always takes the same position. On the left side of the couch, his arm along the back. Sometimes Chirrut will curl up beside him, and sometimes the contact is too much for him. Sometimes Baze will stroke his hair, and sometimes Chirrut will have to pull away.

            They do not live ordinary lives, but they live together.

 

Baze cracks his knuckles, then regrets it. His mother always said that was how she got arthritis at such a young age.

            This is probably a fool’s errand. She hasn’t spoken to him in months. He managed to scrape together the money for the call, but she won’t answer.

            Or maybe she will.

            Baze waits in the little cubicle as the call is sent out through space. He tries not to think about other reasons why it wouldn’t pick up. The galaxy is at war, after all. Not here, but out there, worlds are on fire. Millions dead.

            Not her. She’s a child.

            She’s almost fifteen. She won’t be a child much longer.

            There’s a tone that signals the call has gone to message. Baze closes his eyes. From here, he pays for every ten seconds on top of the initial deposit.

            Rubbing his hands together, Baze says, “Hello, little one. I wanted to tell you that I was thinking about you. I know you’re busy with your training—and that you’re still very, very upset with me. But my love for you is not conditional. It doesn’t matter if you don’t love me back. I will always love you. I will always be proud of you. You’ve accomplished so much, and I hope that you’re proud of yourself as well. I’ll call you again in a few weeks. Take care, little one.”

            He cuts off the call. The price shows on the screen. The credits deduct from his meager account.

            Baze opens the door, stepping out into the early afternoon haze of mid winter. He squints, then pulls out his glasses, putting them on.

            “No luck?”

            He shakes his head, and Hela pushes off the side of the stall. She slides the door closed, then bumps him with her elbow. “Could be worse. She could have screamed at you.”

            Baze shakes his head glumly. “I would have preferred that. At least then I’d know she hadn’t forgotten me.”

            “Don’t be so depressed. Hey, you have a rare opportunity. I was, myself, once an angst ridden teenage girl. I have an outlook that you could be taking advantage of.”

            “And what’s your outlook on this?”

            “She’ll come around.” Hela smiles up at him. “I’m certain of it.”

            “How certain?”

            “Certain like we’ll have to wade through vritasa until we finally get that pipe fixed on Tythoni.”

            Grimacing, Baze replies, “Knowing you, I’d figure you’d know some way to eat them.”

            “I’m offended.” He glances at her, and Hela says, “It’s true, but I’m offended.”

            Shoving his hands into his pockets, Baze says, “Do you want to come over and look at the modifications I’ve made on the perimeter cannons?” Hela pauses, like she always does when Baze invites her over to the house. He rolls his eyes. “He won’t be home until eight. He’s training with Zemall.”

            “Then I’d love to come over.”

            “This is getting ridiculous.”

            “I can’t help it.”

            “You have to meet him eventually.”

            “It’s too weird.”

            “It’s stranger not to meet him.”

            “I just can’t put the two together in my head. I know to you he’s just—Chirrut. He’s the man you go home to at night for your chaste whatever it is you do. Which is fine, and if it makes you happy, bless your heart. But to me—“ Hela takes a deep breath, looking almost nauseous. “He’s Seer of the Temple of the Kyber. He looked into the heart of the Force.”

            “He looked into an animal’s eye and it scorched his brain.”

            Hela puts her hands over her ears. “I’m not listening. Your blasphemy isn’t permeating.”

            Leaning closer, Baze shouts, “The Force isn’t real.” People they pass cast him dirty looks, and Baze shrugs. “It isn’t.”

            “I have nothing to do with him,” Hela says, as they walk through the streets wearing their matching jumpsuits and red armour. “Nothing whatsoever.”

 

Hela pops the cartridge into the top of the rifle with her fist, and it charges to life. She lets out a satisfied purr, looking at Baze across the table. He can’t help but grin, polishing the inner workings of his cannon. Lifting the rifle, pointing it at the ceiling, Hela says, “What I wouldn’t give to use this.”

            “Blood thirsty, aren’t you.”

            “No. Don’t be macabre.” She throws the safety on, setting the rifle down. Her eyes greedily take it in. “We should go out into the desert one of these days when we’re both not working. Target practice. Not like the Guardians would let us use the shooting range.”

            Baze smiles crookedly, patting the pack of his cannon, resting on the ground. “I think we’re a little more intense than the shooting range could handle.”

            “I have Benduday evening off.”

            “So do I. What should we take?”

            Hela lifts her hands, and responds, “Just fucking everything.” Baze starts laughing, and Hela grins at that. “We’ll load up a cart, take the elevator—I’m not trekking down those damn stairs.”

            “Oh, you have to take the stairs.”

            “Says you. My legs are like half your length.”

            “What they lack in height they make up for in fortitude.”

            “That’s the nicest compliment you’ve ever given me—try to restrain yourself, by the way—but we’re taking the elevator.”

            “Coward.”

            “Hey,” Hela says, picking the rifle up. “I’m heavily armed.”

            Baze looks pointedly between his cannon and her rifle.

            “In any other scenario,” Hela amends, “I would be considered heavily armed.” Dropping the rifle, she reaches into one of her many pockets. She’s pushed the jumpsuit down to her waist, her t-shirt showing off her flat chest and skinny arms. Hela pulls out a plastic bag of something and opens it.

            On guard, Baze quickly says, “What is that?”

            “Crisps,” Hela says, tossing one in her mouth. She holds the bag across the table. “Want one?”

            He’ll need to put on the fan before Chirrut gets home. It’ll be fine. He won’t be back for hours. Curious, Baze asks, “What are they?”

            “Some sort of seafood crisp. I didn’t ask too many questions. Food’s food.”

            Taking out the alarmingly red disc, Baze says, “For all you know, this could be Mon Calamari.”

            “I never knew sentience could taste this good.”

            Baze cracks up, and takes another crisp when it’s offered.

            He likes this. His time spent with Hela. Whether it’s at work or when they have no responsibilities. They have the same sensibilities about a number of things, and she makes him laugh. There’s not many people who make him laugh.

            That and she makes him feel safe. Chirrut does, of course, but there’s so much history there. With Hela, it’s just the past few months. He knows she would die for him. And he would die for her. They’re friends. Baze has never been one to make friends.

            But he likes her.

            When the door opens, Baze almost chokes from guilt. Chirrut steps up inside the house, sticking his staff under his arm. “You are home,” Chirrut says, pleased. “What are you eating—“

            He stops speaking, tilting his head downwards. The smile on his face leaves his eyes.

            “Hello,” he says, far more polite.

            Swallowing, Baze stands. “Chirrut, this is Hela Alani. Hela, Chirrut Îmwe.”

            Staring at Chirrut in shock, Hela scrambles to her feet and bows her head. “Seer.”

            Chirrut sets his staff against the counter, and walks forward, hands out at his sides. He reaches out towards Hela. She looks at Baze desperately, then wipes her hand off on her pants before giving her hand to Chirrut, cringing as she does so.                           

            “It is a pleasure to finally meet you,” Chirrut says, wrapping his other hand around Hela’s wrist.

            Shaken, Hela says, “It’s an honour, Prophet of the Kyber. Forgive me, I did not mean to intrude.”

            Chirrut is not looking at Hela’s face, but above her head. He’s placed his fingers over her pulse point. “This is Baze’s house as well. He is welcome to bring whomever he pleases inside.”

            Baze is getting nervous. He hasn’t seen Chirrut hold anyone like he is with Hela. She’s obviously a mess of nerves. “I’m sorry,” Baze says, “I didn’t think you’d be home for hours. The table is a disaster. We’ll move everything to the shed.”

            “Don’t worry on my account.” Still holding Hela’s wrist, Chirrut lifts his other hand to her face. Baze furrows his brows, wondering what the hell Chirrut is playing at. He’s never done this with anyone else that Baze has seen. Hela looks terrified. Gently, Chirrut cups her face, and runs his fingertips over Hela’s forehead, her nose, her cheekbones. Dispassionately, Chirrut says, “You’re very pretty.”

            Blushing deeply, Hela chokes out, “Thank you, Seer.”

            Baze needs to do something. “You’ll excuse us, Chirrut,” he says. “We need to clear things off the table, get them into the shed. It’ll take a few minutes. Are you here for dinner tonight?”

            Chirrut lets Hela go, stepping away, and she slumps with relief. She’s actually broken out in a sweat. “No,” Chirrut says, his voice strangely cold. “I’m meeting Zemall. I thought I might catch you for a few minutes, but I see that you’re occupied.”

            “Things will be cleaned up by the time you return.”

            Chirrut nods, and says to Hela, “It was very nice to meet you.”

            “And you,” she stutters.

            Chirrut turns and walks back to the door, grabbing the staff as he goes.

            When the door closes after him, Hela bends over. “Force save me. Oh my God. How can you live with that?”

            “He’s not usually like that,” Baze says, perplexed. “He must be having a bad day.”

            “Or he just doesn’t like me.”

            “No. That’s not it. Of course he likes you.” Shaking his head, Baze sits to begin reassembling his rifle. “Let’s get started on this, shall we?”

 

Baze picks up a clean cloth, and wipes the staff down once again. He can’t feel or see any excess oil, but Chirrut will be able to. Starting from the bottom, Baze rubs into the grain, polishing the wood to a gentle gloss.

            Hela disappeared almost as soon as they had transferred Baze’s things back to the shed. He tried to reassure her that Chirrut would not return for hours, but she wasn’t having it. Knowing her, he can’t say that he blames her.

            Baze is still trying to get his head around Chirrut’s reaction. The most obvious explanation—jealousy—simply doesn’t make sense to Baze. There’s nothing for Chirrut to be jealous of. Baze loves him, and no other.

            He hasn’t thought of Hela as anything but a friend. Baze hasn’t even slept with a woman in fourteen—fifteen years? He did a few times in his teens, but he leaned more towards men. Baze has who and what he wants right now.

            Does he know that?

            He should, Baze decides. Chirrut is a more than grown man. He can’t alienate Baze’s friends for no reason.

            It occurs to Baze that maybe Chirrut has convinced himself that he knows Hela’s future. He said he knew what happened to them, after all. Maybe he thinks something will happen to Hela, and that’s why he was so cold.

            There’s no telling. Chirrut will be sensible or not. Baze cannot force it upon him.

            His ears prick up at the sound of something falling. It’s loud enough that he hears it from the shed in the back yard. Leaning back on his stool, Baze pushes the door open. “Are you home?” he calls.

            Chirrut’s voice comes through the door to the house, muffled. “Yes. Sorry, I’m clumsy.”

            That might be one of the last words Baze would use for Chirrut. Perhaps alongside unattractive and uncomplicated. Baze tosses the cloth onto the pile of things that need to be washed, pushing himself to his feet.

            As he walks to the refresher, he sees that the lights haven’t been turned on inside. Baze washes his hands off, then heads for the house.

            When he steps inside, he pauses. Chirrut’s standing by the table. He’s clearly waiting for Baze. Closing the door, Baze squints. The low light doesn’t give much away, but Chirrut obviously has the start of a black eye. “Didn’t move fast enough?”

            Chirrut shakes his head. Then he holds his hand out. “Come here,” he says quietly.

            It’s rare for Chirrut to use that tone of voice. It’s strange to hear him so somber.

            So Baze goes to him, taking the offered hand. Chirrut’s fingers, strong and dry, wrap around his. Baze waits on Chirrut to act. He says nothing, watching Chirrut in the dark.

            Chirrut’s other hand rests against Baze’s face. When he steps closer, Baze catches his breath. They have taken things slow. Baze has not pushed. He has been happy with what they have. How could he not be? They’re together.

            Not that he hasn’t thought about the physical aspect. He’s not made of stone.

            Tipping his chin upwards, Chirrut kisses him on the mouth. He moves slow and sure, weaving his fingers through Baze’s. He leans against Baze’s body, somehow not losing his perfect posture as he does so.

            Baze doesn’t want to spook him. Every time something starts between them, it’s shut down within minutes. Baze wants more. He wants this moment to last. He wants contact. He presses into the kiss cautiously, rubbing his thumb over the back of Chirrut’s hand. Slow—steady and slow.

            But Chirrut parts his lips, and Baze is suddenly confronting sparks running down his spine. When he inhales, Chirrut’s tongue grazes his mouth. Baze has to hold himself back. He wants to wrap his arms around Chirrut, to bring their bodies completely together.          

            He can’t. He’s supposed to be careful, he doesn’t want Chirrut to run—

            Except Chirrut sinks his fingers into Baze’s hair, tugging him closer.

            Oh, fuck it. If Chirrut wants this, Baze isn’t going to stop him.

            He wraps an arm around Chirrut’s back, stepping into his space so they’re torso to torso. He licks at Chirrut’s tongue, feeling him shiver, so he does it again. Lifting Chirrut’s hand up, Baze sets it on his shoulder, so his own hand is free. As Chirrut reaches up his neck, Baze spreads a hand against his back. He kneads muscle. He wants to feel Chirrut. He wants Chirrut to feel him.

            Baze bites gently into Chirrut’s lower lip. Chirrut shudders, but he doesn’t stop. He angles Baze’s head, kissing him wet and open mouthed. Still, somehow it feels like he’s holding back. Like he’s trying to keep himself in control.

            That isn’t what Baze wants.

            Curious, he pushes Chirrut back a step. Chirrut nods without letting go of him, his mouth never more than a few millimeters from Baze’s. Together, they move through the house, hands running over one another, both starting to go breathless.

            Baze reaches down, finding the tie at the back of Chirrut’s robes. He tugs at it, and it unfastens. He feels Chirrut pause in his arms, but Baze doesn’t stop. He parts Chirrut’s robes, pushing them over his shoulders. As he takes them down Chirrut’s arms, he lowers his head to kiss beneath his jaw, down his neck, and Chirrut arches against him. He’s distracted enough that Baze can toss the robes aside, maneuvering him towards the bed.

            His hands slip beneath the thin shirt Chirrut wears, his hands flat on warm skin. Chirrut clutches the back of his neck tight enough that Baze hisses. “I want,” Chirrut whispers. He doesn’t have to say anymore.

            “Off with this,” Baze says gruffly, already stripping the shirt up and over Chirrut’s head.

            The moment it’s gone, Chirrut’s hands are already on him again. Regret in his voice, he says, “I’m going to be very fast—“

            Baze cuts him off with a kiss, completely taking charge now. He feels the moment Chirrut becomes overwhelmed, surrendering to him. One day it will be different. One day, it will not be one or the other leading. If they have to start out this way, well—that’s fine.

            His tongue is deep inside Chirrut’s mouth, his hands running over bare skin, as Chirrut’s legs touch the bed. That seems to bring Chirrut around a moment, and he reaches down for Baze’s shirt.

            Baze grabs his hand, shaking his head. “No.”

            “What?”

            Baze pushes him down on the bed, climbing after him. Chirrut scoots back until he’s entirely on the bed, and when he tries to reach for Baze, Baze just grabs his wrists and pins them above his head.

            “I know what you’re doing,” he murmurs in Chirrut’s ear, “and we’re not doing it like that.”

            Straddling Chirrut, Baze sits back. He strips his shirt over his head, slowly, so Chirrut can hear it. Chirrut is heaving beneath him, his fingers on Baze’s knees. “Let me touch you.”

            “No,” Baze repeats. “We’re not doing that.”

            “Baze—“

            Baze shifts positions. He slips a leg between Chirrut’s, and props himself over him. “What will make me happy,” he murmurs, “is to make you happy.”

            He bends his head, and begins to kiss Chirrut’s chest. He’s gentle now. His fingers graze Chirrut’s sides, barely touching. Chirrut starts trembling, whispering, “No….”

            Between kisses, Baze asks, “Stop?”

            He hears Chirrut breathing heavily, and as Baze runs a fingertip around Chirrut’s nipple, Chirrut gasps, “No. Please don’t—don’t stop—“

            Baze isn’t a fool. Chirrut is sensitive. He’s not a sparring partner right now. He’s an instrument to be played. Maybe he will always be this way. Maybe not. This is what they have to work with.

            And Baze is happy to oblige.

            Setting his tongue just above Chirrut’s navel, Baze licks upwards between his muscles, one steady agonizing line that has Chirrut panting underneath him. His fingertips explore the planes of Chirrut’s body, and everywhere he touches is shivering with want, with desire. For him. Of all people, him.

            He is a man who spent hours in silent prayer, who could spend a week on his knees in a cave. He is a man who knows the virtue of patience.

            Nonetheless, it takes very little effort before Chirrut is struggling to breathe. His hands are twisting in the sheets as Baze plays with his body. When Baze lets his tongue flick out at a nipple, Chirrut says desperately, “Baze—I’m—“

            He can hear that Chirrut can take no more. So he leans upwards, running his hand over Chirrut’s hair, smiling at how his skin has dampened. “For me, beloved,” he says softly. “I want you to.”

            All he has to do is press his thigh forward, finally meeting the hardness between Chirrut’s legs, and Chirrut grabs his bicep, fingers digging in cruelly as he gasps. His whole body convulses, and Baze stays still for him, closing his eyes and feeling Chirrut as he reaches completion.

            It lasts longer than he expects, but to be fair, the last time he brought someone to orgasm he was a teenager, and they’re fast with everything. Baze tries to stroke Chirrut’s chest, but it just makes him jerk, so he lifts his hand, and murmurs, “Shh.”

            Finally, Chirrut’s hold on his arm begins to loosen. There will definitely be bruises there tomorrow. Baze will wear them proudly.

            In a small voice, Chirrut says, “Oh.”

            Baze grins, and asks, “Good?”

            Chirrut nods emphatically. “So…yes. Good.”

            “Here, beloved. Let me—“ Baze pulls away from Chirrut, lying on his side. He props his head up to watch him.

            Chirrut’s hands rest on his chest. He needs a moment to catch his breath. He reaches up, feeling his lower lip. The truth is, he seems a little dazed.

            When he’s ready, he turns his head to Baze. “I…imagined that somewhat differently.”

            “I know you did.”

            “How did you know?”

            “Chirrut,” Baze says affectionately. “I know you. What, did you think I was unhappy? Did you think I wanted more than you could give?”

            “I could have. I mean…all right, maybe I couldn’t, but…I want to give you what another could—“

            “I don’t want what another could give me. I want what I have. That’s you. You damned fool. Even if you can’t do this again soon—“

            “I can,” Chirrut says quickly. “I want to.” Baze laughs, low and from the chest. Chirrut wipes the sweat from his forehead, then stills. “I am so selfish. You distracted me, and—“ He starts to reach out for Baze, but abruptly stops.

            With a smile, Baze says, “Too much for you right now.”

            “I can,” Chirrut says, stubborn. “For stars’ sake, I’ve already made a mess of myself. I can certainly—“

            “What about what I want? You seem to think you know what I want, but you haven’t asked.”

            “What…do you want?”

            Biting the side of his mouth, Baze says, “I want to get myself off while I look at you. While you’re right there next to me. I want you to hear what you do to me.” Rubbing his head against his hand, Baze raises his brows. “Is that all right?”

            Without opening his mouth, Chirrut lets out a strained, “Mm hmm.”

            Baze reaches down, opening his pants. “I’ll probably be faster than you were,” he admits. “Do you know what it’s like…watching you…living with you….” He wraps a hand around his cock, and groans. “Do you know how often I do this, thinking of you?”

            “Sometimes I hear you in the shower.”

            “Have you been spying on me?”

            “A little.” Chirrut turns on his side, and Baze watches him as he strokes himself. Chirrut’s perfect, straight body silhouetted in the dark. “I’ve wondered…what you thought of when you did.”

            “Always you,” Baze gasps.

            Chirrut inhales. “You beautiful man, you’re telling the truth. What do you think of?”

            “This—you and I—together—you on your own—your body—fuck—“

            “Do you know what you feel like right now to me?” Chirrut turns his head down against the sheets, taking deep breaths. “If you could feel…what I feel…you’re so beautiful—my Baze, my beautiful Baze—“

            It doesn’t take long. Having Chirrut this close to him makes it impossible to last, and he comes all over the front of Chirrut’s pants, shameless.

            He lies there, feeling loose and content. Baze closes his eyes, relaxing into the bedsheets.

            He reopens his eyes when fingertips touch his cheek. Chirrut lifts his head, and gives Baze a whisper light kiss on the mouth before pulling away. “Mine,” he murmurs.

            “Mine,” Baze echoes.

            Then Chirrut laughs. “We’re a disgusting mess, aren’t we.”

            “I’m fine. You, though—“

            “That’s your fault.”

            “It takes two. Come now, beloved. Let’s get you in the shower.”

            “I don’t know,” Chirrut says as Baze stands. “I know what goes on in that shower.”

 

“Are you still awake?”

            A few seconds pass, and Chirrut yawns. “I am now.”

            “Sorry.”

            Chirrut squeezes his fingers. Baze is on his back, Chirrut by his side. Baze has been holding Chirrut’s hand on his chest. “It’s fine. It’s still early. I’m just worn out. Between Zemall kicking me in the face and you spoiling me so nicely….” Chirrut lets out a sound of happiness that makes Baze smile. “But what did you want to say?”

            Baze looks through the window as a light passes by. It’s a ship, coming down too close to the temple. After a second, it’s gone. “I don’t know if this is the case, but I wanted to tell you—don’t do a thing because you’re jealous.” He feels Chirrut still beside him. “It might be presumptuous of me to think that might have had some effect on tonight, because I still don’t know why you chose me. But if that was the case—you never have reason to doubt. It’s only you. Nothing gets between you and I. Nothing, and no one.”

            It is a long moment of silence. Baze wonders how badly he’s misspoken when Chirrut says quietly, “I was that obvious.”

            With a surprised exhale, Baze says, “No. That was actually a shot in the dark. Why would you worry about a thing like that?”

            “There will be other people. People who can do things I can’t. Believe things that I can’t. Sometimes, I…wonder.”

            “Do you truly believe that bothers me?”

            “I want to say no. Only I’m human, and sometimes what I feel doesn’t make sense.”

            “Is it Hela, or just the thought of anyone….”

            Sheepishly, Chirrut says, “She’s very pretty.”

            “You’re very handsome.”

            “I am. I’m also blind.”

            “And?”

            “And I’ll never see your face again. I won’t see you change.”

            “That is unfortunate. I intend to grow my hair out over my ears.”

            “I love your ears--“

            “I don’t. I’m going to hide them.”

            Chirrut burrows his face against Baze’s shoulder. “Will you let it get very long? Past your shoulders?”

            “Haven’t thought that far ahead.”

            “It would suit you. Especially as you aged. It would balance that thing on your face.”

            “The more you tease me about this thing on my face, the more I know that you like it.”

            “Mm, in that case I despise it.”

            “Do you honestly worry that I’ll no longer love you because you’re blind?”

            “No. I don’t suppose I do. You’re a good man.” Chirrut stretches his arm across Baze’s middle. Sleepily, he says, “You’re my man.”

            “And you’re mine.”

            “Things will never be perfect. But this feels close.”

            “Stop being sentimental and go to sleep.”

            “I was asleep until you woke me.”

            “Chirrut?”

            “Mm.”

            “Shh.”

Chapter Text

“Malbus.”

            Baze stops, surprised but not letting on. It’s been some weeks since Xero spoke to him. “Uh oh,” Dash mutters beside him.

            They stay in place as Xero approaches. Halting at a three-meter distance, she doesn’t look directly at his eyes as she speaks. As if the thought of doing so would be unpalatable. “Remmy is looking for you. A package arrived with your name this morning.”

            Lifting his shoulders, Baze says, “I’m either at the house or the guards’ quarters. I’m not difficult to locate.”

            “He’s been asked not to leave the temple.” Without another word, she walks away, flicking her sleeves off her arms.   

            In other words, the Master is continuing to be petty. Baze inhales, then turns to Dash. “Are you busy?”

            The other man sighs. “Apparently not.”

            They walk to the steps of the temple. Baze takes a seat on the stairs as Dash goes inside. It’s supposed to be the end of the day. And it was long.

            In the two months since the earthquake, they’ve managed to permanently resettle the last of the displaced. The rebuilding is going well. There are some problems with the sewage system, but not everything can be fixed overnight. This is not a sentiment that everyone understands. Baze is accustomed to waiting. He was trained for it. He can’t expect the same of civilians.

            There is unrest. People are grateful for the guards. They have been out in the city every day, helping in whatever small way they can. But the Guardians…they were instructed not to leave the temple grounds. People are angry. They know it wasn’t just an earthquake, that the Crystal Guardian brought this destruction upon them. But the Temple of the Kyber will not speak to them. They will not explain.

            Baze has gotten himself in trouble more than once by being honest. When some angry shopkeeper who no longer has a shop demands to know why, Baze will answer, “The arrogance of the order.” Hela has yelled at him for it, tried to plead with him not to say such things, but Baze won’t lie. He’ll protect the temple, physically, but he owes nothing to the Master. He will not protect her.

            “You’re not thinking straight,” Hela hissed last time. “You are going to say the wrong thing and these people will attack.”

            He just snorted. Little as he thinks of their beliefs, the Guardians are all highly trained warrior monks. They’ve repelled invasions. They can handle an irritated rabble of city dwellers.

            Baze holds out his hands, counting his fingers. The back of his left hand is scraped and bruised. Yesterday, when he and Chirrut were sparring, Chirrut flipped him and stomped on his hand. Immediately, Chirrut stopped, horrified. “I thought that was your foot,” he said, putting his hands on top of his head.

            It was a rare misstep. In a few short months, Baze would gladly pair Chirrut against any of the other acolytes, and plenty of the Guardians. He seems to have a sixth sense about where people are, and where they will be. While the instructors continue to avoid him, Chirrut is never short of sparring partners. Everyone wants to say they once fought the blind Guardian, the Seer of the Temple of the Kyber.

            He’s with some of his old class right now, sitting in on their history lecture with Heem. Baze can’t wait to hear how that goes. If Chirrut behaves himself, Baze will be shocked.

            He looks up as some people approach, keeping a wide berth of him. Ha—Karo and his minions. Karo is trying very hard to avoid looking at him, but he can’t help himself, and he glances over. Baze kisses the air, and Karo’s face is both perplexed and murderous.

            The day could be worse.

           

When Dash puts the package in his hand, Baze knows it’s about to either get much better or much worse.

            “Coruscant,” Dash says, impressed. “Who do you know there?”

            Baze brushes off the question, and excuses himself. He walks home with the small box in his hands, turning it over while trying to subdue his nervousness.

            He’s paid little attention to the war. He’s been busy here, with Chirrut, with the city, with his job. When he hears anything about Coruscant, his ears perk up, because he knows that Guela is there, but beyond that he doesn’t care. He must deal with what’s in front of him.

            But this is the first time she’s ever sent him anything. It’s an indication of her age—she’s finally old enough that they let her do things like this. She has power. She will be a Jedi soon.

            Baze has thought of what Guela once told him—that she didn’t want to go to Ilum for her kyber. When she made her lightsaber, she wanted to come to Jedha. She wanted to come to him for her crystal.

            He’s thought about it a lot. If that’s still a thing she wanted to do…he would go into the cave for her. He made a promise to himself, that he would never go back down there. Not after what the creature did. This would be the one exception. The only one. He won’t go back into the cave for the Master, for Chirrut.

            He would go back into the cave for Guela.

            Reaching their house, Baze fastens the door behind himself, then gets about two steps before remembering his boots. Chirrut will mention the dirt on the floor if he goes through the house with his shoes on. He can feel the sand under his feet when he walks. So Baze takes off his boots, then he goes to the table. First, he pulls off his red armour, setting it aside. He unfastens the front of his jumpsuit, pulling it down to his waist.

            Baze sits, getting comfortable. He picks up the box, and he sighs. It’s no larger than one of his fists. This is the first thing he’s touched in thirteen years that she’s touched. He doesn’t want to open it. If he doesn’t, there will always be the possibility….

            No. He needs to know.

            Pulling a small knife from his pocket, he pops open the blade. Carefully, he slices the plastic wrapping off the box, and tosses it aside. He holds the box with both hands, then lifts the lid with his thumbs.

            A large part of him expected this—but he had also hoped. Hope can be such a dangerous thing. A cruel thing. He hurts. It’s not to be avoided. It will just be another thing he must live with.

            Baze looks inside the box a long time before closing it.

 

Chirrut comes through the door an hour later, with his usual smile. “Not to be perverse,” he says, “but Guardian Heem is so appalled by my position that—“ Chirrut stops, his hand on the door. He turns his head to the side slightly. “What’s wrong? And what is that?”

            Baze is sitting on the end of the bed. He smiles a little at the sight of Chirrut. He’s the only thing that could cheer Baze right now. “Dramatic.”

            “Your aura—“

            “Fuck my aura. Come inside.”

            With a frown, Chirrut closes the door. He pounds the metal staff on the floor and it retracts automatically. “I…smell wood.”

            “You do.” Baze takes a deep breath, then holds out the stick. “I made this for you.”

            Chirrut reaches out, and Baze leans forward to place the staff in his hand. Chirrut’s hand fastens around it, and he pauses. Baze sits back, watching him.

            Chirrut flips the staff sideways. His fingers explore its well polished surfaces. Baze has never worked with wood before. Jedha isn’t exactly known for its trees. He had to watch a number of tutorials before attempting anything with the wood, particularly since the tree itself had been curved and was not long enough to work as a staff. He has bent the wood, fused it and tied it together, fussed over it for months, trying to come as close to perfection as he could before offering it. For weeks, he’s held off giving it to Chirrut because he wondered if it would be too sore a reminder. Today, though, Baze feels like he needs to take a chance.

            “Is this what you’ve been working on in the shed?” Chirrut asks, weighing the staff in his hand. It is sturdy. Baze covered it in an unbreakable resin, and he’s tested it multiple times. He’s beat it against the side of the house and the thing hasn’t shown so much as a dent.

            “Mm. Among other things. This is the most benign.” Baze fidgets with his hands, trying to gauge Chirrut’s reaction. “Is the balance all right?”

            Chirrut swings it from one side, then the other. He taps it on the ground a few times, then holds the stick up to his ear. He does nothing for a long moment, as if he’s listening for something. “I hear kyber.”

            “I thought it might help you better locate the end.”

            His face breaks into a wide smile. “This is lovely.”

            Baze lets out a sigh of relief. “So—you could get some use from it?”

            In response, Chirrut picks up his metal staff and throws it across the room. It hits the wall, and falls into the trash bin. Baze bites into his lip, trying not to laugh.

            Chirrut walks forward, stepping between Baze’s legs. “I love this. I can have our tree with us always.”

            Baze runs his hands over the backs of Chirrut’s thighs. “I’m glad you like it. I was worried you might think it was in poor taste.”

            “I wondered what you did with it.”

            “Did you think I’d thrown it out?”

            “Yes, but I underestimated you.” Chirrut puts a hand to his hair, leaning down to kiss Baze on the top of his head. “I should stop doing that, shouldn’t I.”

            “I wouldn’t know what to do if you did.”

            Chirrut’s hand slides down to his shoulder, and he pauses. He tugs at the strap there. He reaches back to the bag Baze is carrying, asking, “Are you going somewhere?”

            “Only if you agree to come with me.”

            “Are we running away?” Chirrut whispers playfully.

            “Just for the night.”

            Without hesitation, Chirrut says, “When do we leave?”

            “Right now, if you’re ready.”

            “Where are we going?”

            “Down the stairs.”

            Baze yelps a second later, because Chirrut’s hit him with his staff, saying, “Finally.”

            “Ow.”

            Grinning, Chirrut replies, “Then you shouldn’t have made me a stick.” He turns around, twirling the staff in his hand. “Let’s go. Why aren’t you ready to go?”

            Baze snorts and pushes himself to his feet. This is what he needed. Exactly what he needed.

 

It’s nearly dark by the time Baze has set up the shooting range. It’s not much—five pylons that flash in the dark so that he can find them.

            Chirrut is sitting back by the tent, the lightbow resting on his lap. He runs his hands over the body of the weapon, as he has done many times before. Sometimes Baze will come home to find him studying it with his fingers.

            Walking back to him, Baze tosses aside his empty bag, and crouches down next to Chirrut. “Tell me again.”

            Nodding, Chirrut reaches to the end of the lightbow. “Articulated risers,” he recites. His fingers run to the far end of the left riser. “Polarizer array, which draws power from the serving barrel….”

            Baze listens to him go over the specifications of the lightbow, but he’s also thinking ahead. He wants this to go well for Chirrut. He wants him to have a victory.

            “Why the E-11?”

            Blinking, Baze asks, “What about the E-11?”

            “Why did you reuse the casing?”

            With a smile, Baze pushes himself to his feet. “Because that’s the first thing I could find. Up.” He takes a few steps, waiting for Chirrut to follow. “First thing I want you to do is get a feel for it. The kick isn’t too bad, and the flashback suppressor rim is solid, so you’re not going to be hit in the face with anything, but I want you to know what it feels like. So I just want you to aim at the sky.” He glances over, to where Chirrut stands beside him, raising the weapon. “Higher. Try seventy degrees.”

            Chirrut adjusts, a finger around the trigger and the other hand on the stabilizing handle. He’s pointing the lightbow up into the darkness, above the rocks in the distance.

            A few extra seconds go by. Nothing happens.

            Baze raises his eyebrows. Chirrut lowers the lightbow, and admits, “I’ve never actually fired so much as a blaster.”

            “You’re joking.”

            “I’m not. My twenties were mostly about getting drunk and debasing myself, not trying to shoot people.”

            “Well, my twenties were poorly spent as well, but I still learned how to defend myself.”

            “I’m concerned about the sound.”

            “I brought ear plugs—“

            “No, I—I want to do this.” Chirrut gives himself a shake, then points the lightbow at the black sky. He murmurs, “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me,” and pulls the trigger.

            A shot rings through the night, barrelling upwards. Baze checks to make sure the trajectory is straight, that the lightbow didn’t jerk when the trigger was pulled, then checks with Chirrut.

            With the little bit of light, Baze can see Chirrut grimacing. He swallows, then nods. “Good,” Chirrut says. “I can do it.”

            Reaching for him, Baze says, “Do you need—“

            Chirrut steps beyond his grasp. “I’m fine. What’s next?”

            “Well—if I was a lightbow instructor, I’d give you a month’s worth of lectures about the Force and the meaning of the lightbow and your duties as a Guardian. Since I’m not, I’m just going to have you practice hitting targets.” Baze pulls out the remote, shining his flashlight on it. Clicking a few buttons, he raises his head. He can’t tell if it’s working. The pylons are at least ten meters away.

            It seems to be working, because Chirrut says, “Really?”

            Baze grins a little. Each of the pylons is letting out the sound of breathing. “Something to start with. A stationary target that you can hear. I don’t know that you’ll ever be able to hit an inanimate object that’s not making any noise. That might simply be beyond your capabilities. But we’ll start here and see how far you can go. No matter what, it will be further than anyone expects.”

            Nodding, Chirrut shifts his hold on the lightbow. “What should I do with my feet?”

            “Whatever feels comfortable for right now. We can go into footwork when you’re using moving targets. We’re not that far from zama-shiwo here. You’re just attacking from a distance instead of with your hands. Now—find the closest target.”

            Chirrut listens, and says, “The left is the closest. They each fall back by a meter. They’re two meters away from one another.”

            “Excellent.”

            “What do I do?”

            “Try and hit it.”

            “You’re terrible at this. You should be giving me more concrete instruction.”

            “If you were anyone else, I might. But you’re smarter than most people I know. I want to see what you can do, then we’ll make corrections.”

            Chirrut takes a breath, then lifts the lightbow. “You’re right. I hate being coddled.” He adjusts to the right a hair, then fires again. The shot goes flying past the pylon across the plain, and Chirrut lets out a hiss. “Ayuh.”

            “No, that was good.”

            “That was good or that’s good for a blind man?”

            Using Chirrut’s own words, Baze says, “You stupid man.” Chirrut snorts. “You came about the length of my hand from hitting it. On your first try. That’s excellent.” Baze looks the lightbow over, sticking his hands in his pockets. “Does it feel balanced to you? Is the sight throwing it off? We could remove it—not like you’re going to use it.”

            “I want to use it the way you made it.”

            “The way I made it was defective.”

            “No. You made it for me. You just didn’t know that I existed yet.”

            “You’re a romantic at the strangest of times.”

            “All is as the Force wills it,” Chirrut says, raising the lightbow, and he fires again.

 

As Baze seals the tent shut, Chirrut says, “Here’s how spoiled I am—I’ve gotten far too used to our mattress.”

            Baze snaps the little glow stick, and the tent fills with soft green light. He hangs it from the hook in the middle of the very low ceiling, having to duck his head even as he sits. Chirrut is lying on his back, looking tired but pleased. He wanted to practice for two hours straight. Finally, Baze had to physically take the lightbow from him.

            “It’s not that terrible,” Baze says, lying on his side. The tent is just large enough to accommodate them, and for Baze to store the lightbow and pylons off to the side. The bottom fills with air, keeping them from having to lie directly on the ground. “Nicer than what I grew up with.”

            “What was your room like? When you were a boy.”

            Baze rarely talks about his childhood. In the past, he would avoid Chirrut’s questions about it. As time goes on, though, he finds that he minds the thought of Chirrut knowing everything about him less and less.

            “I didn’t have a room, beloved. We all slept and lived in the same space. Three walls. One curtain. Grandfather had the longer blanket, Mother had the medium one, and I had the shorter one. When it was cold, we’d sleep on the same patch of ground together. When it wasn’t, I’d go up and sleep on the roof.”

            “Ah ha. So this isn’t a new development.”

            “No. It was where I’d go with my grandfather. He’d climb the ladder up there and we’d talk. At least until he couldn’t climb anymore.”

            “It goes without saying, but you never talk about them much.”

            “You rarely talk about your family either.”

            “That’s because I’m embarrassed. Anything I said would sound ridiculously decadent and silly in comparison to the life you’ve led.”

            “Don’t be embarrassed. And I’d always want to hear more about your life.”

            “It doesn’t really seem like mine, though. Not anymore. It seems like someone else. Someone remarkably foolish. And selfish.” Chirrut shakes his head. “No, I don’t think I shall tell you about him.”

            Baze rests his arm under his head. A slight breeze has come up, gently rattling the walls of the tent. “Did you enjoy yourself this evening?”

            “Yes. Very much. Were you distracted from whatever it is that was troubling you?”

            Chirrut never misses a trick. “Until you brought it up, yes I was.”

            “Are you going to tell me about it?” Chirrut tilts his head towards Baze. “And why are you carrying a piece of kyber around in your pocket?”

            With a soft sigh, Baze pulls the little crystal out of his pocket. He sets it into Chirrut’s hand.

            Examining it with his fingers, Chirrut remarks, “It’s a strange one, isn’t it.”

            He means that it branches off in two directions. “Mm. Suppose you’re going to use your Force powers and tell me where it’s come from next.”

            “I am not Force sensitive, you fool.” Chirrut holds the crystal out. “I’ve just been touched by it.”

            “Touched in the head,” Baze replies without malice, rubbing his thumb over one of the points on the crystal.

            “So where does it come from?”

            “I sent it to Guela for her thirteenth birthday. She loved it. Said it was the best gift anyone had ever given her. The two ends—they reminded me of her lekku. And now she’s sent it back.” Baze gives it one more look, then slips the crystal into his pocket. “She’s asked that I stop trying to contact her. She has made it very clear that she does not want to speak to me again.”

            After a moment, Chirrut says, “I’m sorry.”

            Baze shakes his head. “It’s my fault. I gave her to the Jedi in the first place.”

            “You did what her father asked of you. She’s learned the ways of the Force.”

            “She’s learned that anyone who thinks differently is unworthy. That’s not comforting, Chirrut.”

            “She’s young—“

            “She’ll be a Jedi soon enough. And then they’ll toss her out into the field with a lightsaber and say, ‘Defend the universe.’ And why? Because that’s just what they’ve been told.” Baze turns onto his back, exhaling. He reaches up, tapping the glowstick. “People never ask enough questions.”

            “It’s no better than the people who ask questions but draw the wrong conclusions.”

            “It’s better than asking no questions and doing what you’re told.”

            “We’ll never not have this argument, will we.”

            “No, beloved. I’m glad you don’t sound as distressed about that as you once did.”

            “I’m not. After all, I know how all this ends.”

            “No you don’t.”

            “Yes I do,” Chirrut says confidently.

            “You know, you should be humbler. Aren’t you supposed to be setting an example for your fellow Guardians? For the acolytes?”

            “I think that would be a little disingenuous, coming from a man who refused to take a vow of chastity.”

            “Did you really?”

            Chirrut nods. “Mm. They got to that part, and when I repeated it back I skipped it. They seemed confused, so they repeated themselves, and I skipped it again. They were uncomfortable, and they didn’t know what to do, so they just kept going. The Master didn’t attend the ceremony, so she didn’t find out until afterwards. By then there wasn’t anything she could do about it.”

            “I never know when you’re going to obey and when you’re just going to do whatever the hell you want.”

            “I know. It’s one of my better qualities, isn’t it.”

            Baze snorts, and says, “For a person, maybe. Not a monk.”

            “I can be a Guardian and still be myself.”

            “Ha. Tell that to the others.”

            “I can be loyal to the Force and still be me.”

            “You could be loyal to the monsters under the bed as well and still be yourself. You can be loyal to the air spirits who have teeth for eyes and toes for fingers—“

            “Mock me all you like. I know how this ends.” Chirrut takes a contented breath, then says, “Take off your clothes.”

            Baze glances over with surprise. “You remember how I said earlier that you can be romantic at the strangest of times? I take it back.”

            “I want to touch you.”

            “Do you?”

            Chirrut nods. “If I can listen to a lightbow going off for hours at a time, I think I can probably stroke you off without any great difficulty. Do you need me to put that in a more romantic way first, or do you want to just skip to the part where I give you an orgasm?”

            Baze takes off his clothes.

Chapter Text

 It is a beautiful day. Almost uncannily so. The haze has lifted, leaving clear blue skies. That happens perhaps one or two days out of a month, and not only is the sky visible, but the day is warm.

            Well, for spring it’s warm. And for Jedha it’s warm.

            As a result, Baze is in an uncommonly good mood. He has a vandal in one hand and his stamp in the other. The boy is about fourteen, skinny and wriggling. He’s insisting he did nothing, even with hands and forearms splattered by red paint. He kicks uselessly at Baze’s shins.

            “Let’s see,” Baze says, scrolling through the settings on the stamp. “I wanted to try out this new ink—lasts only a year instead of the usual five. I’ve been waiting for someone well behaved to try it on. If you stop moving, you’ll only be embarrassed for a year instead of five. So I’d suggest you stop struggling.”

            “Fuck you, old man!”

            “That’s unfortunate. Guess we’re sticking with the standard.”

            As Baze lifts the stamp, a food vendor yells, “Why don’t you leave him alone?”

            Surprised, Baze says, “Beg your pardon?”

            “He’s just a kid.”

            “You weren’t singing that song when that girl stole a few crusts off your cart, and she was a damn sight younger than this one.”

            “That was theft. What’s he done save throw some paint at a wall?”

            “He defaced temple property.”

            “Oh, like you give a fuck about temple property,” the vendor says with disgust, before returning to her wares.

            Baze rolls his eyes, and flips the boy around, hooking an arm around his neck. Holding him in place, Baze stamps his forehead. The boy howls. It only takes a second and Baze is finished. Another hooligan marked for all to see.

            Tossing the boy off, Baze says, “Off with you.” He turns away.

            “Hey!”

            Baze looks back. “What?”

            The boy stands there, hands making fists. He’s bright red, humiliated and defiant. “Remember my face! I’m gonna get you back. So you better remember my face.”

            With a snort, Baze says, “I’ve already forgotten it.” As he walks past the vendor, Baze fixes her with a look. “I’ll be sure to pass along that you don’t want us to interfere the next time the urchins hit your cart. Seeing as you’re so offended by our stance on child offenders.”

            “That’s not what I said!” she hollers after him.

            Baze walks with his hands in his pockets and a skip in his step. It really is a beautiful day.

 

“Just me or are people restless?”

            “Just you,” Baze answers around a mouthful of noodles.

            “It is not,” Hela says. She leans forward, dousing Baze’s bowl with spice sauce. He lets out a sound of disgruntlement.

            “A kid threw a rock at me,” Dash says.

            Trading his bowl for Hela’s, Baze responds, “Yeah, but your face looks like a target.”

            Hela adds, “A kid threw a rock at me too.”

            Baze pauses. “They did.” She nods, gulping up noodles. They’re all sitting in the guards’ quarters around the dining table. Baze has been taking meals here since Chirrut went on his prayer retreat. He enjoys this. The lunches and dinners are considerably more raucous than communal meals ever were in the temple. Baze stirs his spoon through his soup and asks, “Something to do with the time of year?”

            “Don’t be obtuse.”

            “I don’t know. I’ve only been doing this six months. I don’t know if this is to be expected.”

            “It’s not,” Mekik says bluntly. “They’re riling themselves up.”

            She’s been a guard the longest, five years longer than Baze has been at the temple. “For what?”

            “Blow off steam. If we’re lucky.”

            “And if we’re not?”

            “Then it’s a good thing the Guardians are armed.”

            “Nobody would be that stupid—no, wait.” Baze shakes his head, scooping up noodles. “I forgot, we’re talking about people.”

            Studying her spoon, Mekik says, “Odds are things settle after someone gets hurt. Like a balloon bursting. If it’s one of them, or one of us, nobody will give a shit. I’d be curious to see how she reacts if a monk gets killed.”

            The mood around the table is definitely starting to darken. So Hela says, “Or maybe it will all blow over. New topic. Baze. Tell us about your gorgeous boyfriend.”

            He pauses. “He’s been gone for a week, he gets home this afternoon. I’m happy.” He keeps eating.

            “Boring.” Dash reaches across Baze for a water packet. “One of us is finally banging a Guardian and he won’t talk about it.”

            Hela tosses a piece of bread at him, and Dash just catches it with his mouth. “Don’t be crude. You don’t bang a Guardian.”

            “Look at Baze. Does he look like the type to make tender, considerate love to anyone?”

            After a moment’s silence, Baze lifts his head. Everyone’s scrutinizing him. He glances around and says, “Fuck off.”

            Dash gestures to him. “See? Told you.”

            “Okay, but since we’re talking about banging,” says Hela, “who wants to go out tomorrow night?” She raises her hand, nodding eagerly at the others.

            Baze just smiles slightly, skimming onions off the top of his soup. They will have fun, and come back with stories. He likes the stories. He likes going out as well, but Chirrut doesn’t like when he does. He doesn’t say it explicitly, just teasing Baze mercilessly about it, only Baze can detect the edge there. As calm as Chirrut might seem to outside parties, Baze knows he’s not the infallible prophet some in the temple would make him out to be.

            “Baze?”

            He looks over. “What?”

            Hela wiggles her brows. “Out? With us? I know you want to.”

            Shaking his head, Baze replies, “No, not this time.”

            “Banging,” Dash says authoritatively, and everyone groans, throwing pieces of food at him.

            A soft voice interrupts. “Excuse me.”

            Baze looks up, and any levity he felt disappears. Erein, the Master’s assistant, stands in the doorway. She is slight, wearing red robes that look like they’re about to swallow her. She’s looking directly at him.

            Baze turns his gaze back to his soup.

            Hela stands up. “How can we help you, Guardian?” she asks, solicitous as always with the order.

            “The Master bade me send for you, Protector.”

            Unimpressed, Baze replies, “There’s no one here by that name.”

            “She said that if you told me that, I was to tell you one word.”

            “I really don’t care—“

            “Please.”

            He looks up, his brow furrowed. He sees for the first time that a bead of sweat has run down Erein’s temple, and she is struggling to keep her breath steady. She ran all the way here.

            Confused, Baze says, “She used the word ‘please’?”

            Nodding, Erein says, “She is waiting for you outside the temple. Please, P—Malbus. Mr. Malbus, please come with me.”

            Something about this is different. Baze’s first thought is Chirrut—maybe something has gone wrong. Then again, maybe this is just a trap. He has to be sure, either way.

            Baze withdraws his blaster, giving it a check. Seems to be in working order. Sticking it back in his belt as he stands, he says, “Lead on.”

 

They’re halfway to the steps that lead to the Crystal Guardian’s chamber. Baze can see the Master waiting outside the doors. She has another thing coming if she thinks he’s going up there.

            He isn’t allowing himself to be nervous. Enough years of training, he can accomplish that. But in the shadow of the temple, the day beyond suddenly seems too bright. Like they are exposed. To who? he wonders.

            “Can you give me any idea of what’s happened?” Baze says, finally breaking the silence.

            Erein has walked beside him, her head bowed. A few seconds go by, and she whispers, choked, “All is as the Force wills it.” She stops, abruptly, and Baze does as well. Erein swallows, keeping her eyes lowered. “Can you go the rest of the way yourself?”

            Something terrible has happened. Baze nods, and says quietly, “Yes.” Without any further prompting, Erein turns and walks away.

            Baze looks at the Master. She stands at the top of the steps, alone in her red robes. She doesn’t look as tall as she usually does, or imposing. Yamari watches him.

            Then she begins to descend the stairs.

            She’s not going to wait for him to come to her. If she’s willing to come down to his level, then things are very bad indeed. Baze continues walking, keeping his eyes on her the whole time.

            When he’s finally crossed the space between them, Yamari has finished slowly moving down the stairs. She stands above him by five steps, looking down upon him. Her eyes are unblinking as they study his face.

            To Baze’s unending shock, the Master sits down on the steps. Knees spread wide, she folds her hands between them, rubbing her thumb over a palm.

            He doesn’t want to know. He really, desperately, doesn’t want to know.

            Yamari says softly, “There has…been a change. In the Force.”

            Baze shakes his head. “What does that mean?”

            “We are…safe. Relatively. They’ll come…of course they will, but…all the Jedi had gone to fight. We’ll be safe for now.” The Master puts her hands to her forehead, then runs them over her shaved head, her eyes closed.

            Concerned, Baze says, “The war is lost? I thought…I thought that had come to a close.”

            “A great many things came to a close today, Malbus. The Force is….” Master Yamari opens her eyes, and whispers, “The Force is.” She takes a deep breath, looking towards the gate instead of him. “There is no more Galactic Senate. We are now part…of a Galactic Empire.”

            “Empire?”

            “Palpatine…he is no longer a Senator. He is Emperor.”

            “He’s what?” Baze exclaims.

            Master Yamari continues. “The Jedi…apparently…attempted to assassinate him. To gain control of the Senate for themselves. So he ordered…he ordered….” She puts down her head, and she lets out a little laugh. In all the years he’s known her, Baze could probably count on one hand the number of times he’s heard her laugh, and not a one of them has been genuine or from mirth.

            “What did he order?”

            Yamari looks up at him. “There are no more Jedi. None. They’ve all been executed.”

            Baze can’t understand what she’s saying. It makes no sense. “What?”

            “The Clone Army has taken care of the…traitors. Traitors. That is what we are going to call them from now on. They are all gone. From the oldest Master to the smallest youngling, they have been…eliminated.”

            He starts shaking his head. “No.”

            It’s when she lifts her hands, shaking her head helplessly, that he understands. She has no words to convey what’s happened. She doesn’t know what to say.

            Baze reaches a hand out, as if to brace himself on something, though nothing is near. “The children,” he rasps. “The younglings—the apprentices, they can’t just have been—“

            “They took the Jedi Temple,” Yamari says. “It seems a former knight is now a darth. And he cut them all down wherever they stood. Do not ask how I know, only believe that I know it with certainty. There—will be no more Jedi.”

            He steps back. His lunch is threatening to come back up his throat, and Baze needs to swallow it down. Lifting a hand in front of his stomach, he says faintly, “I don’t…understand….”

            “Do you think I do?”

            They look at one another. For perhaps the first time, they feel the exact same thing.

            Yamari breaks his gaze first. She takes a deep breath, rallying. “We were lucky. Our order is neither Jedi nor Sith. We exist outside all that. The kyber will be the issue—they’ll come for it. No knowing when. The Guardian will keep them out, but eventually they’ll find a way around it. These aren’t people who care about respecting the Force and its ways, these are people who will see resources and nothing more. And we’ll have to work with them. We will have to walk a careful balance to keep the order intact, to preserve the temple—“

            “Work with them,” Baze says. The first curls of anger are blooming in his stomach. It is a thing that will never disappear, not until the day he dies. “Work with them? These—murderers? These child murderers, you’re going to welcome them with open arms—“

            “Or risk being destroyed ourselves!” Yamari yells, getting to her feet. “Do you think—in your arrogance, do you think you are the only one who might have been upset by this news, who might have been affected? In all the universe, only you were wounded by this. Selfish fool that you are. I do not have the luxury of mourning what was, I have to think of what’s now, and if we are not careful they will raze this temple to the ground and everyone surrounding it.”

            “Like you give a damn about the people outside those walls—“

            “I don’t,” the Master says, shaking her head. “I honestly don’t. I care about this temple. I care about keeping us alive, so that someday there will be someone, somewhere, who can tell the stories and carry on our work so that we don’t just disappear. The Jedi will be erased, Malbus. Do you understand? They are going to be erased from history.” She points to the desert. “Like the statues. They will cover with sand and be no more. We must survive this. We must survive, no matter the cost.”

            They went into the Temple. They killed the children. The children are dead. The children have been murdered.

            Every child has been murdered.

            “What the hell are you telling me this for?”

            “Because if you had been an honourable man, and kept your station, I would have told you first. And right now, I didn’t know what else to do.” Yamari looks around, eyes scanning all she sees. “They will all know soon. Likely that some in the city do, if they have galactic news. But the Guardians—they don’t know yet. Things are going to change…in ways none of us anticipated. We need to be ready, all of us, for whatever is to come. We will not mourn. We will pray, and we will survive. That is what we will do. And we will keep this temple standing.” She inhales. “We will keep the temple standing.”

            She descends the last of the steps and begins to walk away from him. Baze doesn’t know what to do. The universe is on fire. What the fuck is he supposed to do?

            “He told me.”

            Baze looks up. “What?”

            “Îmwe. He said the Force was going to balance itself. I didn’t realize until now that there were hundreds of Jedi and no Sith. So he was right.” Yamari shrugs, blinking her green eyes. “The Force is balanced once more.”

            She walks away, leaving Baze with no words and a pit of fury churning in his stomach.

 

He walks, dazed, under the too bright sky through the too warm day. People are going about their usual business, talking about the usual banal things. He hears scraps about zama-shiwo, about books, about gossip. No one knows. No one suspects.

            The universe has upended itself, and none of them know. These idiots who worship a power greater than themselves. The Force’s avatars have all been murdered, and not a one of them can tell.

            There is no Force. It is as he suspected. The Jedi have been killed, thanks to their arrogance. That does not surprise him. It does not even surprise him that they were killed trying to take the Senate, if that’s in fact the truth. It wouldn’t surprise him if it turns out Palpatine killed them all just to consolidate power for himself.

            He is surprised by none of that. And yet, somehow, he is shocked.

            I’m unforgiven, he thinks repeatedly. I will always be unforgiven.

            There will be no second chances. There will be no more attempts at reconciliation. It’s done. It’s over. There is nothing beyond this life, so that means—it’s done.

            He wanders in the direction of home, his ears buzzing softly. He doesn’t exactly know how he got from the temple to the house. Chunks of time are missing.

            Baze opens the door, stepping inside. When he sees Chirrut sitting at the table, he feels nothing. Chirrut lifts his head from his meal, smiling. “You’re home early….”

            He stops, his face going serious.

            The universe is upside down. The universe is on fire. Baze has nothing left. Nothing left save this man.

            Chirrut pushes back from the table, getting to his feet. He’s not in his robes, just pants and shirt, looking like a regular human being instead of what others think he is. Only Baze knows what he is, really.

            Baze misses another piece of time, and he’s suddenly picking Chirrut up, slamming him back against the wall, and kissing him with all the anger spilling helplessly from his body.

            Chirrut gasps, but he uses his hands on Baze’s shoulders to leverage himself higher, wrapping his legs around Baze’s waist. When Chirrut’s hands fasten onto Baze’s shaggy hair, Baze responds by grinding against him, merciless, furious. It is the roughest he has ever been with Chirrut and he doesn’t fucking care.

            The world is ending. The only place he wants to be is here.

            Reaching between them, Baze rips Chirrut’s shirt open with one hand. Chirrut bites his mouth, and Baze tears the fabric even more. He pushes his hand beneath the scraps of the shirt, his arm around Chirrut’s back. It is only them.

            There is no Force. There are no Jedi. There is nothing beyond the here and now and this.

            The world is ending. He feels like he could devour Chirrut whole in this moment. He is hard and so is his beloved. The world is ending.

            Suddenly, he can’t breathe. Baze stops, realizing that Chirrut has a hand around his throat and he’s squeezing. “I said stop,” Chirrut murmurs.

            Baze blinks. Chirrut is gazing steadily over his shoulder, controlling his breathing. Too much—this has been too much. What if Baze hurt him?

            Chirrut loosens his hold, intuiting that Baze is coming back to his senses. Stroking where he squeezed, Chrirut says gently, “Put me down.”

            Baze does as he’s told, flushed with shame and desire and rage. He doesn’t know what to say. What the fuck is he supposed to say?

            Before he can move away, Chirrut catches him by the arms, holding him in place. “Don’t get me wrong. I think that I’ve come far enough that I could handle it if this is a thing you want. I want to be with you, in every possible way. But right now, your aura is darker than the blackness I always see, and I know something…terrifying has happened. When we do this, you and I, I want it to be from happiness. From love of one another. I don’t want it to be a thing merely to chase away the dark.” Chirrut leans forward. “Do you understand?”

            Swallowing, Baze whispers, “I didn’t mean to hurt you—“

            “You didn’t hurt me. I’m stronger than I was. I am stronger because of you.” Chirrut presses his forehead to Baze’s, caressing his cheek. “Now—tell me what has happened.”

            Baze doesn’t want to. He does not want to say the words. If he keeps them to himself, perhaps this will all be some awful dream.

            That is not the man he is. He is not a man who believes in dreams.

            “The Republic is no more,” Baze says hoarsely. “The Jedi are no more. They have been assassinated. Every one. Down to the smallest child.”

            He feels Chirrut still. He waits for Chirrut to say something. To be surprised. To respond. There has to be something. Chirrut is silent, unreactive.

            “They’re dead. They’re all dead. There is no Republic. There’s an Emperor. There are no Jedi. They have been murdered. All of them. Do you understand?”

            Chirrut nods. “I understand,” he says quietly.

            “Do you feel nothing?”

            “Of course I feel something.”

            “You don’t show it.”

            “I’m not concerned with the outside world. I’m concerned about you.”

            Frustrated, Baze hisses, “Do you not understand—“

            “Guela is dead,” Chirrut murmurs. “I understand.”

            The words make him want to vomit. “Don’t. Don’t say that.” Baze shakes his head, pulling away from Chirrut.

            Trying to hold onto him, Chirrut says, “Baze—“

            Baze pulls his hands away, turning his back on Chirrut. He walks over to the sink, sticking his hands up into his hair. With a sudden shock, he realizes he has her crystal in his pocket. He’s carried it on him every day since she sent it back to him.

            He starts to laugh.

            He doesn’t know why he does it. At the same time, he doesn’t know why he wouldn’t. The universe is upside down and inside out. No one is safe, not even the children. Not even the Jedi in all their pompous arrogance. Should he cry? Why should he cry? Why not laugh?

            Covering his mouth with both hands, Baze shakes with laughter. All dead. In the span of a day, an entire order has been wiped from the universe. Nothing could save them. Not all their training, not their ridiculous devotion to the Force.

            He’s been proven right. There is no Force.

            Cautious hands touch the back of his head, stretch up his chest. Baze hiccups, and Chirrut’s hand reaches higher, over Baze’s fingers. It’s only when Chirrut touches his tears that Baze realizes he’s begun weeping.

            “I can’t,” Baze whispers. “I can’t.”

            He puts his hands down on the counter. He doesn’t have the strength for anything. Very deliberately, he sits down, turning as he does so. Sitting back against the cupboards, Baze lets everything in. There’s no way to keep it out.

            After a moment, Chirrut sits at his side. He wraps his arm through Baze’s, and rests his head on his shoulder. He doesn’t say anything.

            It’s a wise decision.

 

“I’m going to kill someone.”

            Baze feels Chirrut’s sightless eyes turn to him. He doesn’t look back, just lifts the bottle of Ebla beer and has another sip.

            They’re sitting on the roof of the house. Usually only Baze comes up here. Chirrut suggested he go to the roof, to try and calm down, but Baze didn’t want to be away from him.

            There’s not exactly a great view. The house is near to the wall, and it’s only one storey, so Baze only ever gets to see the roof of the training grounds. Or the temple, if he cared to look at it. The night has come on thick and starless, temperature dropping precipitously.

            Even without seeing much, Baze can almost feel the melancholy that’s fallen over the compound. Earlier he heard someone walk by weeping, but he didn’t look to see who. He hasn’t checked in with the guards. He really doesn’t care what happens right now, except to the two of them.

            Something’s happening in the city. He’s heard blaster shots more than once, but since no one’s come to get him, he doesn’t intend to investigate.

            Chirrut asks, “A particular someone?”

            “No. Just whoever they send.” Baze shakes his head, having another drink. “The Emperor’s people. I’m going to kill them.”

            “Please don’t.”

            “It’s a foregone conclusion. You of all people should be able to understand that.”

            “A vision is different than thoughts of vengeance.”

            “You’re right. One’s real. The other doesn’t require firepower. Fortunately, I have plenty of that.”

            “The Emperor’s people will come. Maybe lots. You can’t kill them all.”

            Baze snorts.

            “Baze. You can’t kill them all.”

            “Yes I could.”

            “Beloved—“

            “Forty-three.”

            “What?”

            Baze tilts the bottle, looking at the E on the side. “That’s how many people I killed. Before I came here. Thirty-one were from a bomb I put in a bar. Not because I hated anyone in it. But because I was paid for it. The other twelve, they were over the course of eight years. Shot them. Stabbed two of them. One I strangled. Out of those forty-three, I remember the names of three, and that’s because we were allies. For a moment. When it came time, though, I killed them. And it was easy, Chirrut. Look at my aura and tell me I’m lying.”

            He puts enough sarcasm on ‘aura’ that he is sure it must rankle, but Chirrut doesn’t reply to that. “Don’t go down this path,” Chirrut warns.

            “I’ve always been on this path. For a time, I took a detour. Because it looked brighter and cleaner. Better. But it wasn’t. The same monsters were waiting, only they wore different faces. The universe doesn’t give a fuck what path I walk on.”

            “It does, and I do.”

            “Then I’m going to disappoint you yet again.”

            “You haven’t disappointed me yet—“

            “No? It’s not disappointing that I don’t believe in your ridiculous religion? Your great and powerful Force, by the way, that sought to balance itself with the slaughter of stars know how many children. Your Force doesn’t care how many people are killed to balance the scales. Why should I?”

            Chirrut takes a breath. “I understand that you’re grieving—“

            “No, I’m thrilled.”

            “But that is not how the Force works—“

            “It is. You don’t get to have it both ways. Either it’s all-knowing or it’s not. Either it chose to let all those people be murdered—let my Guela be murdered—or it doesn’t fucking exist. You don’t get to believe only in the parts that are convenient for you.”

            Chirrut pulls his legs further beneath himself. He nods. “I know. So yes. The Force needed those people to die.”

            Baze needs to close his eyes and grit his teeth for a long while. When he gets his anger under control, he mutters, “You’re a ghoulish bastard sometimes, you know that?”

            “I know you’re angry.”

            “I want to know what the point is of it all. Why you believe in this thing that means absolutely nothing.”

            “I believe because I must. The Force—“

            “Doesn’t give,” Baze picks up mockingly. “The Force doesn’t take. The Force simply is. Yeah, well—the Force can get fucked.” He can feel Chirrut about to speak, and cuts him off. “I want to know if she still believed. At the end. I want to know what she was thinking. When Stormtroopers came into the temple. When that turncoat came through with his lightsaber. I want to know what you think the Force was thinking when my child was shot through the heart—“

            “Baze—“

            “Or through the head, or had her limbs hewn off by a piece of machinery that’s run on goddamn kyber—“

            “Baze.”

            Baze empties the last of the beer into his mouth. “I’ll tell you what everyone was thinking. The Force was thinking nothing, because it doesn’t exist. The people who killed her were thinking, ‘I’m just following orders.’ And she was thinking, ‘No, I don’t die like this. I don’t, because I’m fifteen.’ That’s what everyone was thinking.”

            Baze hurls the glass bottle as hard as he can. It shatters against the wall of the house opposite theirs. It’s been empty for years, though, so not like anyone will be all that irritated.

            Chirrut says, “You won’t let me comfort you.”

            “Anything you said to me right now would be a lie. Because you’d tell me that the Force has a reason. Maybe that makes you feel better. But it just makes me more convinced. I am going to kill anyone who comes in here wearing that man’s colours. I’m going to cut out their hearts.”

            “And then what?”

            “And then the next. And the next. And the next after that.”

            “Do you think I’ll let you?”

            “Do you think you could stop me?”

            “What if I asked?”

            “I’d respectfully decline.”

            “And what good do you think it will do?”

            “I’ll feel better for about half a day.”

            “And that’s it.”

            “Hell of a lot better than saying, ‘tough, this is what the universe wants,’ and sticking my head in the sands.”

            “You are going to wreak havoc on your soul.”

            Baze sighs. “I don’t have a soul.”

            “Just because something terrible happened doesn’t mean responding with something terrible. If that’s how everyone acted, there would be no universe left.”

            Baze starts to chuckle. He dangles his legs over the ledge of the roof. “Take a good look around. That’s the universe we live in.”

            “I can’t look around,” Chirrut retorts. “I’m blind. That might be why I see more clearly than you.”

            “No. It’s not a matter of seeing clearly, it’s a matter of feeling. Have you ever had anyone you loved stolen from you?”

            “People aren’t stolen, they die when they’re meant to—“

            “Have you?”

            Chirrut exhales, saying, “I haven’t.”

            “No. The people you love are still alive. Your parents, your siblings. Your friends. It’s easy to be serene about what the universe does and doesn’t want when you don’t know what loss really tastes like.”

            “I know loss—“

            “Will you be so calm if I die?” Baze looks at him. He wants to rage at Chirrut for being so placid, but at the same time he doesn’t have the energy for it. Chirrut folds his hands in his lap, bowing his head. “Tell me. When I die, will you be like this? Will you just not care?”

            Rolling his shoulders, Chirrut replies, “I won’t have to deal with that.”

            He is so damned frustrating. “What, I’m not going to die?”

            “You will. But I die before you.”

            Baze recoils. It would be better if Chirrut had slapped him across the face. “Don’t say that.”

            “I’m sorry.”

            “Why would you say that?”

            “Because it’s true.”

            “Say that again and I swear by the ground I walk on, I’ll knock the teeth out of your head.”

            “All right.”

            Shaking his head, Baze mutters, “What a thing to say to me right now. And you think I’m deranged.”

            “I don’t think that. I think you’re making a terrible decision out of grief, and it hurts my heart.”

            “Yes, well, plenty of people are hurt right now. One more doesn’t really make a difference.” He picks up another bottle, popping the top off against the ledge. There were three beers in the house, and he means to drink them all.

            “It doesn’t matter to you if I’m hurt.”

            “Right now it doesn’t. Right now all I want to do is kill someone.”

            Chirrut sighs, deeply. “I know.” He reaches over, taking the bottle from Baze’s hand. Baze is reluctant to let go, but Chirrut takes a sip. He grimaces, then has another. After a swallow, Chirrut says, “I know this is the path you walk. I know you get harder and more cynical with every year that passes. I know nothing I say will turn you from this. I know you’re going to kill people, and that you’ll hate yourself for it, and that you won’t stop.” He holds the bottle back out to Baze.

            Suspicious, Baze takes it. “Why do you sound so resigned?”

            “Because I’ll be there. I’ll be watching. With my heart, not my eyes. I won’t leave you. No matter how far down this path you go. I’m with you until the end.” Chirrut cringes, then murmurs, “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me. And I am with you, and you are with me. Always.”

            For a moment, he looks frightened, and Baze is able to see beyond his own anger. It’s a hard day for Chirrut too, no matter what he might say. The Force. That fucking lie makes fools of us all, Baze thinks.

            He reaches over, taking Chirrut’s hand. Chirrut gratefully puts both of his hands around Baze’s, squeezing his wrist. They sit on the roof, listening to the end of things, and Baze can’t even imagine what the future might look like.

Chapter Text

“Don’t go,” Chirrut says suddenly.

            Baze stops, the pack of his cannon halfway up his back. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he says.

            Chirrut is standing by the doorway, hands in fists at his sides. He has been mostly silent the last twenty minutes as Baze suited up, but now, when Baze is about thirty seconds from walking out the door, he decides to pull this.

            “They don’t need you out there.”

            “They do,” Baze replies, fastening the straps around his middle.

            “Not as much as I need you to not be there.”

            “Chirrut—“ Baze sighs, going to get his glasses. He won’t need them for the light—it’s evening, and the sky is dark, but his hair is getting long enough to fall in his eyes, and he’ll use the strap of the glasses to hold his hair back. “I can’t have this discussion with you right now. I need to go to work, and you need to get to the bunker, where you’ll be safe—“

            “Stay here. Stay here with me. We’ll be safe right here.”

            “What is the matter with you? A fight finally comes to our front door, threatens your precious temple, and you want to run and hide?”

            “If she hadn’t ordered me not to fight, I would be out there—“

            “Like I need to be. I have to go—“

            Chirrut blocks the door, and Baze stops. He presses his lips together, frustrated and more than a little annoyed. This is a conversation that has come up repeatedly the last few weeks, always threatening to become a fight. Now the night is finally here, and he does not have the time to spare on this.

            “You will go to the bunker,” Baze says.

            “No.”

            “You will, because you chose to be a monk, you chose to obey these ridiculous orders, and you’ve been given one. I need to go and do my part to keep this place standing, chosen one. You need to get to safety. You want to do as you’re told? Go do it.”

            “I’m begging,” Chirrut says, and he grabs Baze’s arms. Baze looks away, uncomfortable. “I am begging you—Baze, please. Don’t go out there. Don’t do this.”

            “Why?” he replies. “Because of what it will do to my soul?”

            “Yes. And what it will do to mine. Every hurt you pass out, it comes back on you, and you are a part of me, it will come back on me, and I don’t want our lives to be ones of pain and misery—“

            “You’re being melodramatic. You need to let go.”

            Shaking his head, Chirrut says stubbornly, “I can’t let you go out there. You’re going to kill someone. Someone who doesn’t deserve it—you’re going to hurt someone just because they’re there, and that’s not who you are, that’s not the man I fell in love with—“

            Baze brushes his hands aside. “Then I am not the man you fell in love with,” he snaps. “People are coming. With blasters. They’re coming to storm the gates and kill every Guardian they can get their sights on, and you’re standing here quibbling about what it will do to my soul. I would rather a tarnished soul than a dead partner. Perhaps that’s not a trade you’re willing to make, but I am.”

            Chirrut presses his hands together, saying desperately, “The Force is with you—please, beloved, the Force is with you if you’ll just look—“

            He thinks of Guela. He thinks of her the way he always thinks of her now. How she might have died. His mind always comes up with endless permutations. In every one she is frightened. In every one she is only a child.

            The Force. It is the one thing Chirrut could say to make Baze angrier than he already is.

            “Get out of the way.”

            “The Force—“

            Baze roars, “Get out of my way!”

            Chirrut stares at him with his milky blue eyes. It is the first time that Baze has yelled. He cannot remember if he has yelled at Chirrut like this before. If he ever did, it was long ago. Until recently, he would have said it was a thing he was incapable of.

            Things change.

            Despairing acceptance overcomes Chirrut’s face. He’s barely taken a step to the side when Baze brushes past him and goes out the door.

            The Force can get fucked. He has a job to do.

 

They’ve been chanting for fifteen minutes now. Every minute it’s more fervent, every minute there are more voices.

            It’s making some of the others nervous. Dash had to move back from the front. He was starting to visibly twitch. Baze made the decision to send him to the temple as back-up. Fear is contagious. He wants to surround himself with people who know what to do in a riot.

            They’re spread out along the wall. Baze is sitting on the ledge, his back to the city. He’s facing the temple, rifle of his cannon sitting in his lap. He’s in his armour, wearing thick black boots and his night vision goggles. The night is cool, and there’s a breeze coming off the desert.

            The steps to the temple are lined with Guardians, armed with lightbows. They are stationed at the top of the building as well, prepared to take down any ships that might attack. Another line holds the mesa stairs.

            But the guards have the front line. The least valuable people are put between the kyber and the horde.

            Baze looks to his right. Hela is closest to him, about ten meters away. She holds a blaster, peeking overtop of the gate. Frowning, she ducks back down and glances at him.

            “Are they moving?” he asks.

            “Not yet.”

            The last few weeks have seen an increase in tensions amongst civilians. The end of the Republic seemed to sever the ties holding back those who harboured any ill will against the Guardians. If the Jedi, with all their power, could be felled, why not the simple Guardians of the Whills?

            There are revolutions occurring all across the galaxy. Even with all the Empire’s talk of order, it will take time to reach every corner of civilization. People are taking every opportunity to settle scores before the new rules come into place.

            People have been agitating in Jedha ever since the Empire was established. Guards can’t leave the temple without being pelted by rocks. Supplies haven’t been delivered to the city in nine days; pilots are too afraid to come near. Posters have gone up calling the Guardians traitors on par with the Jedi. They call for the Guardians to be killed before the moon is invaded by stormtroopers. That maybe then the Empire will be lenient.

            Someone set the school on fire last night. Baze doesn’t know why, but it seems to have been a signal, or a final straw.

            Now they’re coming.

            He has one side of the gate, Hela has the other. If the mob decides to blow the gate, they’ll be the first hit. Their orders are to keep anyone from stepping onto temple grounds.

            Baze really doesn’t care about the temple. He cares that Chirrut is in a bunker with a small group of elders. Because of that, he will not let a single person cross the barrier. If they try, he’ll kill them where they stand.

            Chirrut will have gone to the bunker. The Master gave him a direct order. He was intent on standing with all the other Guardians with his lightbow. He’s gotten quite good with it, truth be told. Of course he has. It’s Chirrut. Baze was panicking about how to keep him from the fray, but the Master solved his problem. He’s not so much of a rebel that he will disobey her so flagrantly. He is obedient, to some degree.

            Baze will apologize for yelling when this is done. He didn’t mean to lose his temper, but lately… Things that he used to brush off are not so simple to abandon. More and more, the old ways, the bad ways, are creeping in. He has made little effort to push them back. These are dark days. Dark deeds will be needed.

            Baze counts his fingers. One through ten. The voices are getting louder. They’ll be coming soon. He’s going to have to do things. Things he doesn’t want, but it doesn’t matter. He must keep the temple safe. If he keeps the temple safe, Chirrut will be safe.

            These aren’t the people who are supposed to face his ire. But they’ll do.

            If he was a different man, this is when he would pray. The old words whisper at his consciousness, and Baze ignores them. They are meaningless words. Words that thousands of people across the galaxy said in their final seconds, and the words saved none of them.

            A thought slithers inside his head. It’s not his own.

            Come.

            Baze looks at the temple from under his brows. Four Guardians cover the door to the Crystal Guardian’s cave. Even if the mob made it through the gate, through monks who have trained for physical combat over the course of years, they would still have to face the creature.

            They’d deserve one another, Baze thinks, and toggles the safety on and off his rifle.

            “Baze.” He looks over. Hela has her eyes above the parapet. “They’re coming.”

            He nods, shifting. The cannon’s weight doesn’t feel like much anymore. It’s fully charged. If need be, he could fire 35000 rounds before having to recharge. Fingers crossed it won’t be that kind of night.

            Baze swings his rifle so that it sits on top of one of the crenellations. Adjusting his goggles, he watches as the crowd begins to move through Tythoni Square. They’re immediately bottled into the alley. They’re not thinking, just following the exhortations of a few agitators, people like Soli Cawada and Remedas. A few people are going to get a lot more killed for nothing.

            They’re yelling in Jedhan, not Common. Baze can pick out two chants. One is calling for the overthrow of the Guardians, the other is demanding the gates be opened. They’re even a terrible mob. They should know to pick the one slogan.

            Baze presses his earpiece. “They’re coming.”

            “How many?” the Master replies.

            “At least two hundred.”

            “They don’t make it past the gate.”

            “Of course they don’t,” Baze replies, taking the safety off his rifle. He looks through the electroscope, picking up multiple people with blasters. If they’re coming armed to kill, it will ease his conscience slightly.

            Hela says, “Baze.” She shakes her head at him, and says what she’s been saying all evening. “We should just stun them. We’ll make things worse otherwise.”

            “They’ll only come back if we don’t shut them down now,” Baze says. He’s not going to argue about this. There is no leader of the guards, but if there was it would be him. The others defer to him. He was a Guardian. He was the Protector. They can’t seem to help themselves.

            “I’m going to stun them.”

            “I’m not,” Baze replies, lifting the amplifier to his mouth. They’re close enough that they’ll hear him. “This is Baze Malbus.” His voice echoes down the street. “Return to your homes. Anyone trying to enter the temple will be treated with terminal force. This is your only warning.”

            Come, the Guardian pleads.

            Scowling, Baze tosses the amplifier aside. His words have had no effect on the crowd. They’re picking up pace. Someone fires a blaster into the night sky.

            They don’t want to stop. Fine.

            He’s suddenly hit with a memory. He sits beneath the uneti tree with Chirrut. A hand inches out. Contact is made.

            Baze gives his head an abrupt shake. The creature is trying to distract him. Baze doesn’t care why. He will stand his ground. He is not a Protector. He’s a guard.

            They’re close enough that Baze can make out faces through the electroscope. Ugly faces, twisted with stupidity, with the moment. They don’t know what they’re doing. They’re just mad. Baze spent months trying to help these people, and now they think they’re going to storm the temple.

            He puts the butt of the rifle against his shoulder, one finger wrapped around the trigger. The cannon has two modes. The one will fire five shots at once, but he doesn’t mean to hit indiscriminate targets. He’s in the second mode, which will fire one shot at a time. Baze primes the barrel, and finds his target.

            It’s easy. There’s a man at the vanguard, tall and with a patchy goatee. Maercroft. He’s only been on Jedha a year, making trouble just for the hell of it. He’s walking with a piece of shit rifle above his head, held only in one hand. He thinks he’s a revolutionary. To Baze, he just looks like a damned fool.

            Baze does not look up when Hela speaks into her own amplifier. “Please turn around. We don’t want to hurt you. Go home.”

            It’s pointless, and Baze wants to tell her that, but Maercroft starts swinging his rifle around, pointing it in the direction of Hela’s voice. He’s fifteen meters away, but Baze has done more with less.

            In a split second, he’s aimed at the rifle and fired.

            It explodes, shearing off Maercroft’s arm and pelting some of the crowd behind him with chunks of meat and pieces of metal. There’s a pregnant pause. Then the screaming begins.

            Maercroft falls, and Baze can’t tell if he’s alive or dead. He primes another shot, waiting for the crowd to decide whether it’s still a mob or a group of people who made a bad decision and should go home. People are leaning away, looking at one another, trying to find someone who can tell them what to do.

            Disgust fills Baze. That’s what people do. They don’t ask questions. They just look for someone who’ll give orders.

            Someone breaks from the crowd. A skinny thing who’s running at them with a blaster too big for his body. He raises it with a scream.

            Baze doesn’t think. He reacts. He fires. It’s easy, actually. All he has to do is shoot through the word ‘VANDAL’ on the boy’s forehead. It’s like the kid is wearing a target.

            For a moment, he thinks back a few weeks. Wasn’t there a kid who told him to remember his face? Was this that boy? Baze can’t remember. True to his word, he forgot what the kid looked like the moment he walked away.

            The boy’s skinny body goes in two different directions. His knees continue in the direction he was running. His upper body leans backwards with the force of the energy blast through his head. Either way, he crumples to the ground, the blaster out at his side and still in his hand.

            Baze feels nothing.

            He looks for his next target. Whoever thinks they’re getting through this wall is going to get killed. That’s a promise.

            Hela’s voice comes over the amplifier again. This time, the pleading has disappeared, replaced by steel. “If anyone thinks they’re currying favour with the Empire by attacking us, think again. They don’t care who gets killed, and neither do we. Stand down or we’ll shoot you where you stand.”

            Through the sight, Baze watches doubt and horror finally dawning on people’s faces. They didn’t actually think any of them would be hurt. Stupid.

            Someone yells, “Don’t listen! We can take them!”

            Baze finds her, and a shot explodes at her feet. Everyone startles back, shrieking. The agitator scrambles back, trying to hide behind the others. Yeah, he thought so.

            It takes a few minutes, but the crowd moves back. Two people, their hands raised, move forward to collect the body. Baze keeps his rifle trained on them the entire time. His heart rate does not raise, his breath does not quicken. He knows how to be still.

            When the boy has been picked up, and everyone’s backs are to the wall as they walk away, Baze lets himself lift his head from the sight.

            Hela says, “Force save you, Baze. What have you done?”

            He presses his earpiece. “The problem is contained. We should keep the guard out just to be on the safe side.”

            “Casualties?” asks the Master.

            “Minimal,” Baze replies.

            “Baze,” Hela says, aghast.

            He glances at her, and puts his rifle back against his shoulder. He watches for anyone who might decide to return.

 

Baze walks through the training grounds, rifle over his shoulders. Morning is beginning to lighten the sky. It was a long night, but it seems like they all are these days.

            He climbs a short set of stairs into a hallway. A small table is tucked into a corner. Baze lifts it, moving it out of the way. Underneath is a hatch. He kneels, pressing his hand to the floor. The hidden biometric scanner picks up his DNA, and the hatch unlocks.

            A stairway reveals itself underneath him. Holstering the weapon, Baze makes his way into the bunker, having to duck his head.

            The elders and their acolytes all raise their heads at his approach. Chirrut does not react, hands twisting around his staff. “It’s safe to go home,” Baze says.

            He doesn’t say anything else, just steps out of the way. It takes a few minutes for the older Guardians to make their way up the stairs. One has to be carried, the way Baze carried T’kal. He notices it, but he doesn’t feel anything.

            He keeps waiting to feel something, but it’s occurred to him that he might always be waiting.

            Finally, it’s only he and Chirrut in the basement. Chirrut looks displeased.

            “Did you sleep?” Baze asks.

            Ignoring that, Chirrut says, “You killed someone.”

            “Yes.”

            “Who?”

            “Two people. They pointed blasters at us. I took care of the situation. Are you ready to come home?”

            He expects Chirrut to say yes. He doubts that he’s slept—Baze certainly hasn’t—and it would be nice to go to sleep with Chirrut at his side for a few hours.

            Only Chirrut says, “I think I might stay in the temple for a few days.”

            Baze looks at him a moment. Then he goes to sit on the opposite bench.

            “You’re leaving me,” he says in surprise.

            Chirrut shakes his head. “No. I don’t leave you. I know that.”

            “You can’t talk about our life like it’s something that’s already happened. You don’t want to come home. You want to stay in the temple. You’re leaving me.”

            “I’m not. I need some time to think.”

            “About what?”

            Chirrut pauses, then says, “The fact that you just killed someone and you don’t care.”

            It should hurt, but Baze is tired. Maybe it will hurt, but he doesn’t have the energy for that now. “If you had been up top with the lightbow and it came to it, you would have killed people too.”

            “I need you to understand—I love you—“ Baze snorts, and Chirrut snaps, “Don’t do that. You are my past, my present, and my future. You are my life. But we feel differently about some things, and sometimes that becomes…a lot. I need some time. Like sometimes you need time and you sleep on the roof.”

            “I need some time, I go to the roof for the night. You need some time, you go to a place you know I’m not allowed to follow.” Baze needs to sleep. He doesn’t have the patience for this. Pushing himself to his feet. “Fine. This unrepentant monster will go home by himself. Enjoy your sabbatical.”

            “Baze, don’t be like this—“

            “One second you want to save me, the next you don’t want to be near me because I don’t feel things the way you think I should.” Shaking his head, Baze walks towards the door. “You know what, I don’t care. You can be damned sure that when you do finally kill someone, Chirrut Îmwe, I won’t turn my face from you.”

            “That’s not what I’m—“

            “The hell it isn’t,” Baze says, walking up the stairs. His knees ache a little. He wants to lie down.

 

It rains the next day. Usually the city would be filled with jubilant cries, but Baze doesn’t listen. He really doesn’t care.

            He lies on the couch, arm behind his head. He thinks about the boy.

            He must have only been Guela’s age. That’s supposed to strike a chord. Baze is supposed to hate himself right now. He should be beating himself up, asking what kind of man kills a child. Except he’s not, and he already has his answer. He’s the kind of man who would kill a child.

            The boy had a blaster. He was stupid. He would have fired on them. Would it be better that Baze let him live and allow the boy to fire? What if he had hit Hela? What if he shot above the gate and killed one of the Guardians?

            No. The only choice was to stop him.

            I could have shot out his legs. I could have stopped him that way.

            That wasn’t the way he was trained. You don’t let an enemy back up to hit you again. You put them down so they stay down.

            Baze has come so far from the man he was a year ago that he doesn’t even recognize himself. Then again, he feels that way about the universe. No one is safe. All the old rules are lies. The Republic is dead. It’s kill or be killed now.

            He wonders why the Crystal Guardian tried to call him away. It’s been months and months since he heard it. Why now?

            Does it matter?

            No.

            The rain patters against the roof. How many days will Chirrut be gone? Baze tries to feel something about that, but it’s just not there. He’ll come home or he won’t.

            He turns the crystal over in his hand. It doesn’t sing or shine. Crystals don’t do that for Baze anymore. He doesn’t mind that either.

            Someone knocks on the door. He can tell who it is from the three taps. “Come in,” Baze calls.

            The door cracks open. “Hello?”

            “You’re safe. He’s not here.”

            He hears the door close, then Hela comes around the corner. She’s wearing a grey rain slicker, her hair plastered against her head. Raising a brow, she asks, “Feeling sorry for yourself?”

            “Just thinking.”

            “I bet.” She disappears, and when she reappears her slicker is gone. Running her hands through her hair, Hela says, “Have you been outside today?”

            “No.”

            “It’s a strange one.” She sits next to the couch on a cushion. “The storm feels different. The sky is dark. I usually love rain, but I don’t care for this.”

            “Mm.”

            “You sure you’re not feeling sorry for yourself?”

            Baze shakes his head. “No.” He looks at her. “How are you?”

            Hela smiles crookedly. “I’ve been better.” She pulls a knee up to her chest, and narrows her eyes at him. “Want to talk about it?”

            “Chirrut’s gone,” Baze says, matter of fact.

            “What do you mean?”

            “I mean he doesn’t want to be near a soulless murderer. He’s staying at the temple until he figures out how he’s supposed to live with me.” Baze shrugs. “He seems to think we’re destined to be together, but I don’t see how that’s supposed to work.”

            Staring at him, Hela says, “He what?”

            “He’s gone. When I went to get him out of the bunker, he said he wasn’t coming home.”

            “Well—fuck him,” Hela says strongly, and Baze raises his brows. “What the hell does he know? Has he ever been on the front line of a fight?”

            Baze knows he should defend Chirrut, but it’s nice to have someone on his side. “No.”

            “No. He doesn’t know what it’s like. It was—it was an ugly thing, Baze, but it had to be done. You saved my life. You saved a lot of lives by ending two. It must be nice to live in that tower looking down on the world from a distance, but on the ground things are a lot more real. You don’t feel bad about that, well—why the hell should you? You did what you needed.” Hela shakes her head, scowling. “If anyone had pointed a blaster at you, I’d have switched over from stun to kill in about half a second. You had my back. I have yours.”

            “You seemed pretty shaken in the moment.”

            “Yeah, in the moment. But you’re my friend. You protect me, and I protect you. Anybody hurts you, I’ll punch them in their throat. That includes your prophet boyfriend.”

            Baze chuckles. “Some prophet he is. Don’t you think he would have let it slip that the Jedi were all going to be murdered?”

            “You’re right. To hell with him.”

            “You don’t have to work yourself up like this. I know what you’re doing. I appreciate it, but you don’t need to.”

            “You would for me.” Hela tilts her head. “What have you got there?”

            Baze holds up the double crystal in his hand.

            Hela shivers. “I hate how casual you are with that.”

            “It’s just a crystal.”

            “Shut up, it’s kyber, and that’s different. Is it special?”

            Turning it over in his fingers, Baze says, “It was Guela’s.”        

            “Ah.”

            “I should be equating the two, shouldn’t I.”

            “Sorry?”

            “The boy. I don’t even know his name. He looked about her age. I’m supposed to be thinking about that. I keep telling myself to, but…I can’t keep it in my head.”

            “What are you thinking about, then?”

            “That I wish I could leave this fucking place. I promised Chirrut I’d stay wherever he was, so it’s off the table, but…all I want is to get on a ship and just head for open space and get as far from people as possible.” Baze closes his hand around the crystal and sighs. Maybe he is just feeling sorry for himself. He can’t actually tell.

            Hela says, “You’ve never asked why I’m not a Guardian.”

            Off guard, Baze looks at her. She’s gazing at him intently, an arm wrapped around her knee. “I thought that if you wanted to tell me, you would in your own time.”

            “And I am. Do you want to hear the story?”

            “All right.”

            “I’m like you. I’m Jedhan, but I’m not from the city. You know where I’m really from?” Baze shakes his head, and Hela smiles crookedly. “I was raised on the Îmwes’ mining colony.”

            Baze exclaims, “The hell you were.”

            “It’s the truth. My father worked in the mines. Droid builder. Never knew my mother. We stayed with the other peasants. That’s what the Îmwes made us feel like. They had this big house on a mesa, and the rest of us lived down on the desert floor. They never came down there unless they were racing their speeders. That’s the only time I ever set eyes on Chirrut. I don’t remember much about him, honestly. We all hated the Îmwes, if I’m to be honest. They acted so superior. I think I feel about them the way a lot of people feel about the Guardians. Whether that’s right or wrong—“ She shrugs. “Who am I to say.

            “I was raised to believe in the Force. From a young age, it just—made sense to me. I believed that things happened for a reason. I still do. But in the world…the corporeal world…bad things happen. I wanted to be a Guardian, you know. Desperately. That was the plan. When I was fifteen, I was supposed to come here and enroll. I said my prayers every day, I did all my reading, and in the meantime I worked in the mines, getting into the tunnels where they wouldn’t send droids because they were too expendable, and kids, well, they were always expendable to the Îmwes. But that was the plan. Come here when I was fifteen.”

            “What changed?”

            “Killed a man,” Hela says. “Some businessperson came through looking to sell something to the family. I don’t know, some big piece of equipment. I don’t know what. We never paid much attention to what happened on the mesa. Or at least I didn’t. I had larger concerns. Get to the city, be a Guardian. One night, I was saying my prayers, waiting for my father to come home, and all of a sudden—we lived in this little house. Smaller than this one. And suddenly the house shook, like something had hit it. At the same time, I heard a scream. Didn’t last long. Maybe a second. I got up, ran to the window. This speeder had crashed into the front of the house. Right into our front door. Well, I did what I was taught. The colony, it was a tough place on the floor, so I got the blaster from under the sink and went to the window again. And this man—this man who came to deal with the Îmwes, he got out of the speeder, and he was barely on his feet. He was laughing, pointing at the door. He was saying, ‘Look at what I did.’ I could see that one of the Îmwe women was in the speeder, and she was laughing too. They were both fine, just high out of their minds. He was pointing at the door, laughing, and at first I thought he just thought it was funny that he’d run into our house. But he started to—hang to the side, sticking out his tongue. Like he was copying something. Or someone. I had a bad feeling, so I climbed out the window to look. He’d run into my father. Pinned him between the front of the speeder and the house. He was…shattered. I loved my father, Baze. He was the only family I ever had until the guards. He was my everything. When I said I didn’t want to work in the mines until I died, that I wanted to be a Guardian, he believed in me. He was my best thing. And this man killed him, and he was standing there laughing about it, mocking my father’s body. So I walked up and shot him through the head. Just like that. Just like that.”

            She says nothing for a moment, running her hand up and down her shin. Baze asks, “How old were you?”

            “Fourteen. And up until that moment…I wasn’t someone who got in fights. I was that religious kid whose biggest dream was being a monk. But when I was faced with loss—real loss—I didn’t pray. I didn’t forgive. I shot that man in his face. I never even learned what his name was. And that Îmwe woman—Shara—she just started laughing even more. I started walking over to the speeder. I would have killed her too. But one of my neighbours grabbed me. Hustled me away. In about a half hour, I was in the back of a supply ship coming to the city. Probably before the Îmwes even learned what happened. They are…a terrifying family. I don’t know what he’s told you about them, but they wouldn’t have hesitated to shove me off the side of the mesa, whether I was fourteen or not. Our neighbours protected me. Saved me. Sent me here.

            “When I got here…I tried to come to the temple. I did. I got as far as the gate, but…I couldn’t get any further. I had been so convinced that I was supposed to be a Guardian. Except I wasn’t worthy. I knew that. I’d failed the Force. I’d failed my father’s belief in me. A moment of anger, and it all just…changed. Nothing was what it was supposed to be. So I didn’t come in.” Hela smiles slightly. “I wasn’t worthy of being a Guardian.”

            “They aren’t worthy of having you.”

            “Hush,” she murmurs, ducking her head. Hela tilts her head, looking up at him. “We’re the same, in a lot of ways, but we differ as well. I’ve always believed in the Force. I’ll always believe in the Force. The universe is bigger than you and I. It doesn’t work in ways that our minds can understand. I think that we use a word—Force—to try and put a name to it, but for all the—prayers, and stories, and songs, all they teach the Guardians, all they taught the Jedi—we can’t really understand what the universe wants or how it works. I think that the universe has a plan. People say, how can the universe have a plan for all of us? Does it have a plan for the ants, for the bacteria, as if the universe is so small. As if the universe works with a human mind. I think the universe has a plan, and we each play our part. I believe that you play a part. You’re the Protector of the Crystal Guardian.”

            Baze scoffs, and Hela shakes her head. “Don’t get me wrong. Maybe you never set foot in those caves again. Maybe you do. Maybe your part in the story of the Crystal Guardian is over. Maybe it’s not. But for a time…you were the only person in the universe who saw through the eyes of the Crystal Guardian. That’s important. That means something. You’re special. The people who surround you are special as a result. I’ve seen things in the past…that cannot be explained, save only that the Force willed it. I saved you when the earthquake came. You saved me the other night. We swing back and forth, you and I. Balance. As the Force intended. So it really should come as no surprise.”

            “What?”

            Hela smiles. “That it’s time for me to save you again.”

            Baze smiles back with affection. He doesn’t believe her, but he loves her for thinking she can. “How do you intend to do that?”

            “By doing what no one else is willing to do for you. I’m going to take you away.”

            That gets his attention.

 

Baze sits on the end of the bed. He rubs a palm over his thigh. His hands aren’t exactly sweaty. They’re certainly not dry, though.

            He waited until everything was ready. If this works, he won’t tarry.

            Picking up the comm unit, he flicks it on. He hasn’t used it before. It’s been tested, of course. There hasn’t been a need to use it until this moment.

            “Are you there?” he asks.

            He hears chanting. Wherever Chirrut is, he’s with other people. He’s probably in a chamber, in the middle of prayer. The time of day is right.

            Baze tries again. “Chirrut. Are you there?”

            There’s a scraping sound. Chirrut says, bemused, “Has there been a comm unit in my staff this whole time?”

            “Yes.”

            “I’m—a little busy right now.”

            “I’m sure you are, but I needed to talk to you, and I’m not welcome in the temple.”

            “You are. You could come right now—“

            “I have to ask you something.”

            There’s a pause. “All right.”

            Baze closes his eyes briefly. “I made you a promise. So I need your permission to leave.”

            It’s a long, long moment of silence. Baze sits there, hearing how the sound of chanting has dimmed. They’re nosy. They want to know what’s going on. Baze doesn’t care what they know, what they think. He needs Chirrut to talk to him.

            When Chirrut speaks, he sounds both hurried and grave. “Are you at home?”

            “Yes.”

            “Stay there. I’m coming to you, right now.”

            Baze swallows, and says, “Hurry.”

            He turns the comm unit off.

 

It’s still a surprise when Chirrut bursts through the door ten minutes later. His knees are muddy, and so are his hands. He’s run here, and he’s fallen. Baze feels guilty for that, but it’s good to know that Chirrut would run for him. He knows he’s a bad person for feeling that way.

            Chirrut tosses aside his staff, reaching out his hands. Baze reaches up, taking them. “What’s happened?” Chirrut asks, looking over Baze’s shoulder as he lowers to his knees. He crouches between Baze’s legs, panting.

            “I need your permission to leave for a while.”

            “What do you mean, leave?”

            “The temple. The city.”

            “Why?”

            “There’s a group. They’re calling themselves the Jedhan Six. They were some of the instigators of the other night. Hela has contacts on the streets that the rest of us don’t. Apparently these six are planning to retreat to the desert, to the Spirian Caves, to organize a larger assault on the temple. To bring it down when the Empire comes. They’re not like the rabble that came the other night. Some of them have served time. Some were in service. They’re smart. If we let them go…maybe they do come back. Maybe they kill everyone in the temple, just to kill a few of the Emperor’s minions. Or to finally get rid of the Guardians. Whatever their motivation…they need to be stopped. To protect you, I have to protect the temple. Hela already had the Master’s permission to hire some mercenaries who have stepped in when the guards are light. She asked me to go with her. I said I would, if you’d let me.”

            Chirrut stills. He reaches out to the side, and finds the lightning cannon sitting beside the bed, and the rucksack filled to the brim.

            Chirrut sits a moment, then he runs his hands up Baze’s sides. “I said I needed a few days, not that I wanted you to disappear.” He’s trying to sound teasing, but there’s no missing the desperation.

            With a little smile, Baze reaches up. He runs a thumb along Chirrut’s hairline. “Beloved. I don’t want to disappear. I just need…I need to get away from this place.”

            “I’ll go with you—“

            “That’s not what I want. And that’s not what you want. You want to be here. This is your home. I need to leave here for a while.”

            “How long is a while?”

            “If we cut them off before they reach the caves, a few days. If we don’t?” Baze hesitates, then says, “A few months.”

            “Months?” Chirrut thinks, then shakes his head. “I don’t—I just needed a few days to think, I didn’t want—“

            “You’re not listening,” Baze says quietly, taking Chirrut’s face in his hands. “This isn’t because you needed time. It’s because I do. Let’s be honest. We both do.” He strokes his thumbs over Chirrut’s jaw. “Things aren’t how we thought they would be. I’m not…I’m not the man you fell in love with.”

            “Yes you are,” Chirrut says fiercely.

            “I’m not. I’m not even sure who I am anymore. All I know is that being in this place…it’s driving me mad. I stay for you, but everywhere is another memory. This place, to me…everything about it hurts. I want to go away. For a while. I want to think. I want to be useful, and I want to think.”

            Biting his lip, Chirrut says, “I’ll come home—“

            “That’s not what I’m asking. I want you to come home because you want me here. Not because you’re scared I’ll leave. There’s a difference. We know there’s a difference.”

            Letting out a breath, Chirrut whispers, “I’m so stupid. I’m so stupid, I was supposed to stay—you needed me here and I only thought of myself—“

            Kissing his forehead, Baze murmurs, “Don’t. You need to think of yourself. You need to make sure you’re safe. I’m not doing this to punish you. I’m doing this because I must. I need you to understand that. And if you tell me not to go, I won’t. I’ll stay. I promised to never leave you again, and I meant it. This isn’t me leaving you. This is me asking to go, so that I can come back to you better.”

            “How will you be better? Stalking some extremists in the desert?”

            Baze sighs, and admits, “Because I won’t be here when the Empire comes. If they showed up tomorrow, I don’t know that I’d be able to help myself, Chirrut. I’d kill the first one of those white helmets that walked off a ship. I wouldn’t be able to stop myself. I’m a mess right now. I don’t know…I don’t know who the fuck I am or why I do things anymore. I need to figure that out. I can’t do that here. I wish I could do it with you, but I think it’s better for us both if I go for a while. But I will come back. Never doubt. That’s the promise above all others. I will always come back to you.”

            Chirrut does nothing for a time. His eyes flit back and forth, and Baze wonders what he sees in the dark.

            Finally, Chirrut swallows, and nods.

            Baze whispers, “I will always come back for you.”

            Chirrut pushes himself up to wrap his arms around Baze’s middle, burrowing his face against his chest. Baze rubs his back, and he hopes like hell he’s doing the right thing.

 

There’s a light drizzle coming down as they walk through the temple grounds. Still, the rain is keeping people inside. That will cut down on the gossip.

            Chirrut is holding Baze’s hand, and he refuses to let go.

            Baze has his cannon and his rucksack. He has a comm unit that will directly contact Chirrut, and he made sure that Chirrut had the same. For the first time in weeks, he’s starting to feel a small flicker inside. It’s been so long that he’s forgotten what hope actually feels like.

            Hela is waiting for them at the top of the mesa steps. The other three will join them down on the desert floor, and they’ll start out for the south. It will be dangerous. It will be hard work. Baze is more than ready.

            “I need you to remember something,” Chirrut says, and his grasp is so tight that it hurts.

            “What’s that?”

            “You come back.”

            “Of course I do.”

            “You’re damned right you do.”

            Hela lowers her head respectfully as they approach. “Ready?” Baze asks.

            “Born ready,” she answers, sneaking a glance at Chirrut. “You?”

            “Same.”

            “Hela,” Chirrut says.

            She looks at him cautiously. “Yes, Seer?”

            Steady, Chirrut says, “Please look after one another.”

            Nodding, Hela says, “Of course, Seer.”  Stepping away, she gestures to the elevator. “I’ll let you two say goodbye.”

            As she leaves, Baze turns to Chirrut. A few drops of rain fall down his face. Baze carefully wipes them away.

            Frowning, Chirrut says, “This is not what I want.”

            “The time will fly by.”

            “It won’t. I will miss you every second, every minute, every hour. If I thought you would say yes, I’d demand you take me with you. But you won’t. So I’ll wait here. And I’ll miss you.”

            Baze takes Chirrut’s hand, and set it on his chest. “Where are you?” Baze reminds him.

            Chirrut smiles slightly, and presses against his chest. “Here.”

            “You go where I go. And I go where you go.”

            “Remember—you come back. No matter what happens out there, you come back.”

            “Of course.”

            “Yes, of course. Do you know why?”

            “If you say it’s because we’re soulmates, I might throw up.”

            Rolling his sightless eyes, Chirrut counters, “Because I still don’t know what it’s like to come when you’re inside me. And that’s going to happen.”

            “Did you see that in a vision?”

            “Shut up.” Chirrut puts a hand to the back of Baze’s head, leaning up. He murmurs, “Also—you will come back to me, because you are my soulmate.”

            He kisses him, sure and strong, regardless of who might be watching, or judging. Baze hooks his hand around the back of Chirrut’s neck, savouring this kiss. It will be the last for a long time. They both know this.

            They pull away, resting their foreheads together. Baze studies Chirrut’s blue eyes, and says, “Don’t get in too much trouble.”

            Chirrut smirks. “And you think I ask for the impossible.”

            Baze’s heart pangs. He has to go. Giving Chirrut’s forehead a quick kiss, he whispers, “Goodbye, my beloved,” and leaves.

            He gets into the elevator with Hela, and closes the door. His heart is beating wildly. He wonders if he’s making a mistake. If this really is the last time he sees Chirrut.

            But he remembers what Chirrut said, so certain. He comes back. Of course he does.

            Hela starts the elevator, and Baze startles as they begin to move. Away from the temple. It’s what he wants. He’s wanted it for so long. Time to be away, to think, to do something of value. This is what he wants.

            Nonetheless, he finds himself looking up the mesa steps.

            Chirrut stands at the top, holding his staff with both hands. As if he can sense Baze’s gaze, he lifts a hand.

            Baze watches him until he’s out of sight.

 

 

Chapter Text

He twists through the hole in the rock. He’s grimy and a bit oily, and unfortunately or fortunately, he can’t decide which, that helps Baze wriggle upwards. The stone jabs into his side, and Baze grimaces, looking upwards to the light.

            There.

            He puts his hands on either side of the hole, dragging himself the rest of the way. Baze doesn’t climb completely out of the hole. That would be asking for trouble. Of course, he’s already doing that just by emerging from the caves. He’s a sentimental fool, maybe, but nothing would keep him from this.

            Bracing himself with his legs on the opposite side of the hole, Baze sits a moment, arms resting on the ground. He’s come out in the bottom of a canyon, shielded from the hazy daylight by the ledges overhead. Still more light than they get in days down in the caves. Baze inhales the fresh air, closing his eyes.

            He gives himself until the count of ten.

            When the count is up, he pulls the holo unit from his side. It’s practically unrecognizable from the comm piece he brought with him into the desert. He has played with it nearly every day in order to get a better signal, a better picture, to project further, to hide his location. The others know that they can usually find him with it, either working on it with a mini soldering gun or rewatching the messages held within.

            Lifting the little square above his head, Baze presses ‘Send’ and waits. The unit flashes red a few times before turning blue. Good. His message was sent.

            He waits. The canyon walls might cause some interference. They shouldn’t, not after all the work he’s put into this damn thing, but on the off chance—

            The unit beeps. Baze grins, not even realizing he’s doing it, and lowers the piece of tech. The screen reads ‘3 new messages.’ Three. It’s only been five days, and he has three messages.

            He picks up the whine long before it rounds the corner. Not missing a breath, Baze withdraws his blaster. The second the drone is in sight, he fires, putting a laser right through it. The thing falls to the ground, dead.

            Nonplussed, Baze holsters his weapon and fastens the holo unit in his vest. Taking hold of the rock, he begins his descent, back into the dark.

 

Much as he wants to go to his cubby and see the messages, he has a higher priority.

            Baze goes to the wall of their small cave, water pack in hand. He crouches with a smile. “I see you’re pretending to be awake.”

            Hela blinks slowly, looking up at him through dazed eyes. “I see…you’re pretending…to be funny.”

            Tearing the corner off the side of the pack, Baze slips a hand under her head. “I do my best. Come on now. Have some water.”

            She sips at the pack for a second before pulling away, making a face. “Tastes…like metal.”

            “That’s just the hallucinations talking.”

            “I’m not…hallucinating.”

            “You can’t be in your right mind. You suggested I wasn’t funny. For me now. Have another drink.”

            Hela sighs, then takes a few swallows from the pack before shaking her head in his hand. “No more,” she pleads, pushing the pack from her lips.

            Baze lets her down gently, looking her over. He’s not letting himself worry. Much. More than necessary. She’s been fighting the illness for a week now. Bacteria in the cave make their way in through open wounds. The victim can’t abide the taste of water. Doesn’t want to move. Doesn’t want to wake. They’ve been treating her with antibiotics, but their supply is low after her injury.

            “How’s your leg?” Baze asks.

            Hela closes her eyes, murmuring, “What leg?”

            He nods, trying not to smile. At least she can joke about it.

            Remedas is a fiend for leaving traps. Cori lost a pinkie to one grenade hidden under a seemingly abandoned blaster, and Baze has a new scar across his left side from a spray of shrapnel. They had thought that after all these months he was finally running low. His drones are fewer and fewer. His compatriots have all been killed. He should be defeated.

            Of course, that’s when Hela stepped on a mine and lost her right leg up to the knee.

            “When we get home,” Baze promises, “you’re going to have the best leg that no money can buy.” She starts to laugh, softly. “Between you and I and our many, many nothings, we’ll be sure to find you the best stick to use as a prosthetic.”

            “Peg…leg.”

            “What?”

            “That’s what you…call it. When you just have a stick…instead of a prosthetic. Peg…leg. Get it?”

            “Peg Leg Hela. Sounds like a pirate.”

            “Oh, I like that. I live…I’ll be the…terror of the skies.”

            “You’d better live. Who else will make me eat pasha if you die?”

            “I die, you’ll eat it in my memory.”

            “Don’t be maudlin. We’re getting out of here.”

            Hela blinks, taking in their surroundings. Cori and Sama are loading their weapons. Goroto is sitting on the ground in the corner, polishing his knives. Hela thinks, then asks, “Soon. You’re going soon.”

            “Tomorrow.”

            “I’ll…hold the fort.”

            “You won’t be holding much if you won’t drink.”

            “It tastes…like metal. It’s…disgusting.” She looks up at him, then smiles. “You got a message.”

            “Three.”

            She bats bonelessly at his leg. “Then…what are you doing…over here? Go. Be…happy. Let me…live vicariously through that.”

            “We get home, I’m sure we could find someone for Peg Leg Hela.”

            “One can…only hope.” Hela nods him on. “Go on. Tell me…gossip from home.”

            Baze nods. On a whim, he leans down and kisses her forehead. Stars, she’s burning up. “I’ll be back.”

            “Mm.”

            He gets to his feet, much as he can. The cave is about three centimeters higher than he is, so he always finds himself stooped slightly as a precaution. But it’s a good position, the walls heavily reinforced. They’ve been here three weeks now after the last camp was destroyed by Remedas.

            That’s fine. Remedas will soon be dead.

            Baze leans down to Cori and Sama. “How are we looking?”

            Sama nods. “0300. We’ll be ready. You see anything up top?”

            “Drone. Took care of it.”

            “You get anything?” Cori asks.

            “Three.”

            “Anything good?”

            “I haven’t listened yet.”

            “Well, go listen and come back. I’m going crazy in this fucking place.”

            As Baze walks by Goroto, he pats his head. The man doesn’t use language—he has no mouth—but he likes contact. He lightly smacks Baze’s leg, which is a sign of affection, as far as Baze can tell.

            Baze makes his way out into the halls that spread out from the southern side of the cave. He goes far enough to be out of earshot, then finds a little cubby in the wall. Climbing up into it, legs underneath himself, he unfastens his vest and pulls out the holo unit. Turning it on, he sees the blinking notification ‘3 new messages,’ and smiles. Setting the unit on the ground, he presses ‘Play.’

           

First message.

            Chirrut appears in front of him, legs underneath himself. His staff is laid across his lap. The image flickers, but Baze can make out the details. And he aches.

            “Good morning from where I am. It is Taungsday, and I just received your last message. You know, I can sit in prayer for hours on end. I can sit in silent prayer for hours on end, but I can’t wait until I get back to the house until I listen to your messages. I sat in the refresher outside of the comms room and listened to your voice. I know you’ll just tease me for being impatient, but I don’t really mind. I’ve always liked when you tease me.

            “Let’s see. What did I do today. I always feel like I should tell you what’s going on with the universe, but you always want to know the little things. So I’ll tell you the little things. The little things for today were…ah. I played my flute. I woke up, early. Early even for me. Usually when I do that I practice with the bow, but after I won last month’s competition, I’m having a difficult time finding anyone who’ll go up against me in a game of fifteen. So I end up practicing by myself. That’s no fun. I’m not so humble that I don’t enjoy beating anyone who thinks their sight might give them advantage over me. So instead of going to the grounds with my bow, I sat on the roof and played my flute. It was cold. I don’t know if you’re keeping yourself warm, but it’s cold here. I imagine the others probably think I’m crazy, sitting on the roof in the dark and the cold, playing my flute. I have to remind them that, to me, it’s always dark. They get so embarrassed that they forget to remind me about the cold.

            “I’m supposed to spar with Zemall this afternoon. That should be fun. She’s still convinced that she’s going to beat me one of these days. I don’t have the heart to tell her that’s never going to happen. Yes, I’m arrogant. Tonight, well, that will be most thrilling. There’s that meeting I told you about. Representatives from the temple, and the city, and the lieutenant.

            “I don’t imagine you’ll want to hear about him. Nonetheless. Still no major changes have occurred. Things are calm. There have been problems here and there, but that’s what the meeting tonight should hopefully address. I’m happy to report that after last month’s meeting between Lieutenant Ebji and the representatives of the temple, things have been very smooth. It will be a quiet, ordered place for you to return to. I hope that pleases you.”

            In other words, there’s still only thirty troopers in the city. No one more important than a lieutenant has been sent to deal with Jedha. For now.

            “I know your friends will want to hear about the comings and goings. And I really shouldn’t tell you. It’s not a monk’s place to relay idle gossip. However….”

            Baze smiles as Chirrut tells him stories. He wants to reach out and touch him. His touchstone. The love of his life. It’s been so long.

            Second message.

            Chirrut begins by sheepishly gesturing to his bruised cheek. “Remember how I said last time that Zemall had no chance of beating me in a sparring match? Well, she doesn’t. That doesn’t mean she’s frightened of punching a blind man in the face.”

            He goes through the ins and outs of the fight. He tells Baze about prayers at the doors to the Crystal Guardian’s temple, casually mentioning that the lieutenant was observing. Chirrut has been good about keeping Baze informed without seeming like he’s conveying information. Chirrut tells him about the hysteria that followed one of the acolytes letting out a swarm of waran beetles in Heem’s class (and the ensuing beating).

            Baze soaks in every word. He misses this so much. He wants to hear Chirrut’s stories. He wants to come home at the end of the day to their house, to him, to all he has to say.

            Third message.

            Chirrut opens his mouth, then pauses. He runs his hands over his staff, contemplating.

            Quietly, he says, “It is five months today since you left.” He nods. “Five months. I know I’ve…I keep a good face for you. I say what I need to so that others don’t realize…so perhaps you don’t realize….”

            He takes a deep breath. “I need you here. I know that what you’re doing is important. It’s important to you, and you needed this time away. But now…I need you to come home. It is the longest we’ve been apart in years, and I can’t bear it. If I thought three months was difficult…five is a lifetime. This past year, I’ve spent more time away from you than I have with you, and I don’t think I can do it any longer. People think that I’m strong. And I am. I’m stronger than they even imagine. But to be without you…I am not myself when you are not here. I thought that I could be brave until you returned. That I could keep these thoughts to myself until you returned. As it turns out, I can’t.

            “I was in bed last night…our bed, which I’m reminded of every time I’m in it, because it seems massive without you. I feel like I’m lying on the desert floor on it, no idea of where the ends of the moon are. I need you in order to be centered. I need you so that I can know where I am. It’s so quiet here without you. I do what I’m supposed to, what people expect of me, but it’s not enough. I don’t feel like…like I’m living, when you’re not here.

            “I miss your face. I miss that stupid thing on your mouth, that stupid thing that makes you even more handsome than you already are. I miss your ears. I had Zemall look at one of the recordings, and she says your hair is all the way down to your chin now. I want to know what you look like now, I want to know it with my hands. Your voice—it’s not enough. I need you here, I need you where I can touch you, where I can hold you close and refuse to let you away from me again.”

            Chirrut runs his hands over his hair, closing his eyes. “I’m supposed to be above this. I’m supposed to be calm, and one with the Force, but without you here I can’t be that. You are my path to the Force. You always have been. And you’ll think that’s ridiculous. Maybe it doesn’t matter to you, but you and I have a place in this universe, and if we are not together than we are not where we’re supposed to be. My heart is not large enough for the love I have for you. The universe is not large enough for the love I have for you. Beloved, please come back to me. Please come back.”

            He sits a moment, then reaches out and ends the recording.

            Baze chews on his lip, then picks up the holo unit.

            “All right,” he says.

 

He doesn’t sleep much, but he rarely does before a fight. He wakes up well before three, and lies on his back. The cave’s brown walls are gently lit by a yellow glow stick. Goroto lets out gentle whistling noises through his ears as he sleeps. It’s surprisingly calming.

            Below that, Baze hears wheezing. He turns his head.

            Hela is staring at the ceiling, her hands on her chest. He’s only two meters away, and he can see the sweat on her brow.

            Baze pushes back the thin sheet of his sleeping bag and crawls over to her. Squeezing his hand over hers, he whispers, “You should be sleeping, little sister.”

            “Not…little,” she says weakly. “Fearsome…pirate.”

            He’s afraid. If things go right, tomorrow they could be packing up. They could be going back to the city. So it stands to reason that now things might go terribly, terribly wrong.

            “You have to promise me something,” Baze says.

            “Can’t…promise…not to die. Not sure…I have a choice.”

            “No, that’s exactly what you’re going to promise me. I’ve lost more than my share. I don’t think…I don’t think I could lose another person I love. So you’re not allowed to die.”

            Hela smiles faintly. “You know…most people…don’t have to wait…for someone…to be dying…before they say…they love them.”

            “I’ve got a bad habit of it. Ask Chirrut.”

            “Love you too. You’re my brother. You’re my friend.” Her head falls to the side as she struggles to keep her eyes open. “Another lifetime…we would have had beautiful children. Don’t think…Chirrut would be…too thrilled about that.”

            “Don’t suppose he would. Promise me, Hela. Promise me that you won’t die.”

            She looks up at him, and shakes her head. “All is as the Force wills it.”

            Baze sighs. “You fools and your fucking Force—“

            “Don’t,” Hela whispers, and Baze stops. “Not now. It’s what…I’m holding…onto.”

            The back of Baze’s throat hurts. “You’re holding onto me.”

            “I can do both.”

            She can’t die. Not here. He can’t lose another person. She’s been with him every step of the way. She’s his friend. She’s his family. She is the one who tells him when he’s being an idiot, and who backs him anyways.

            Baze quickly swipes under his nose, and reaches into his pocket. “I want to give you something.”

            “Presents,” Hela sighs. “I like presents.”

            Baze opens her hand, and puts the two-headed crystal into it. He gently closes her fingers around it. “That belongs to you now.”

            Hela looks at it with unfocused eyes. “Baze…I can’t have this.”

            “You can and you will. That belonged to the most important woman in my life. Now that she’s gone—guess that title is yours. You need to hang onto that. It’s special to me, so it’s only right that you should have that.”

            “I’m not…I’m not worthy…for kyber.”

            “Yes you are,” he says fiercely. “Don’t you ever doubt that, little sister.”

            She looks up at him and smiles. With a nod, she repeats, “Our children would have been beautiful.”

            For a moment, Baze is certain that he’s going to cry. Instead, he lays down by Hela’s side. Propping his head up, he says, “Still could be. I could run it by Chirrut.”

            Hela laughs with a wince. “Imagine that.”

            “They’d have to have your looks,” Baze says, needing to keep her awake. “And your brains. Your heart too. Really, they’d need to have your everything.”

            “They’d be brave like you.”

            “I’m not brave.”

            “Yes you are. And they’d have your ears.”

            “Bite your tongue.”

            Hela holds out her hand, and Baze takes it.

            “Tell me more,” she whispers, so he does.

 

They track Remedas through the tunnels for ten kilometers as he flees from them. Cori takes the brunt of a blast from a grenade he throws behind him, caving in the tunnel. Baze takes care of the tunnel with his cannon while the others try to stop her bleeding. They fail, he succeeds.

            He gets a glimpse of Remedas’ ankle as he climbs up the side of a nearly sheer rock face, and doesn’t hesitate to fire above his head. Baze hears a scream as rocks fall on their quarry, but he doesn’t doubt the man slithered away. He’s thought he killed the bastard before, and he’s still walking.

            Baze has no problem scaling the wall. He spent years harvesting kyber off the sides of the crystal caverns. This is child’s play. Goroto has suckers on his hands and feet, and climbs the wall even faster than Baze does. When Baze gets to the top, he throws a rope down for Sama, but he can’t wait for her.

            He and Goroto progress into the tunnel, over the pile of rocks. A trail of blood guides them. Then it splits off in two different directions. The two men look at one another. Goroto nods to the left, Baze nods to the right.

            They go their separate ways.

            Baze is used to caves. He spent years in them. He’s lived in this cave for five months. He knows the sound these places make. Walking through the dark with his night vision goggles, Baze realizes that he has Remedas’ real trail. It’s not obvious. Just droplets. He’s trying to hide.

            Baze positions the rifle steadily against his shoulder, going foot over foot in his fabric shoes. They muffle the sound. He listens for anything. For the barest sound.

            For a moment, he closes his eyes.

            He hears Chirrut’s voice. I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.

            Whirling around, Baze fires.

            Remedas freezes behind him, his knife in the air. In all the months they’ve spent chasing one another, they’ve never been this close. Baze has never even seen his face until this moment.

            The man falls onto his back, a hole burned through his chest. Shuddering, he reaches up to the wound in shock.

            Baze primes another shot, taking aim.

            Through a mouthful of blood, Remedas says, “You—idiot. What do you think—is going to happen? The Empire—they’ll kill us all. They’re already—infecting—the temple—Jedha will fall.”

            “Yes,” Baze replies.

            “What do you think—you’ve accomplished here? We were—we were the last hope they had—we could have shown them—“

            “You would have killed a few of the Emperor’s soldiers, and they would have turned around and killed every person who lived in the city. You’re not a hero. You’re a fool.”

            “You’re no one,” Remedas counters. “You know nothing. What do you even want—“

            Baze shoots him between the eyes.

            In the cool, calm dark of the cave, he says, “I want to go home.”  

Chapter Text

“Huh.”

            “What’s that?”

            Baze shakes his head. “I never thought I’d be happy to see this sight.”

            He gets a pat on the shoulder, and looks to his side. Hela smiles up at him. “Could be worse.”

            They look across the desert floor at the mesa. After so many months in the dark, far from civilization, it’s bizarre to be faced with Jedha City. It rises above them, filled with buildings. Ships pass to and fro overhead. And the temple stands. All the effort they put into keep it from being blown to pieces, and there it is. Baze spent a lot of time hating it.

            Now—now he just sees a building.

            Sama says, “Are we going to just stand here looking or are we going to get our money?”

            “That’s really what you’re most concerned with?” Hela asks, limping along. Baze made a crutch for her. He’s carried her on her back when the going was rough, leaving almost everything behind except his lightning cannon to do so. The rest of the way, though, she has insisted on walking, one leg or no. “The money?”

            “What should I be concerned with?”

            “Food,” Hela replies, and Baze laughs. Of course she would say that. “Shower. Clean clothes.”

            “I don’t get any of that shit without money.”

            “I’m ravenous,” Hela says. “I feel like I could eat the whole world. What about you, Go? What are you looking forward to?” He makes a motion that’s fairly expressive, and Baze rolls his eyes. “Amen, my friend. I’m pretty sure Baze is thinking the same thing.” He glances at her, and Hela clarifies, “In a charming, love of your life sort of way.”

            Baze wants to pick her up and throw her into the air with affection. He really wondered if she might be dead when they returned from their final hunt. But no—she’s tough. Tougher than him by a fair shot. The more she’s in the open air, the healthier she seems to get, even though they’re all down several kilos from eating desert animals and little else.

            Sama lets out a sound of dismay. “There we are, friends.”

            Baze follows her gaze. A ship, the make of which he doesn’t recognize, bears the Imperial crest. It lifts off from the port on the northern side of the city.

            It burns a little. Seeing the mark of those murderers so flagrantly displayed. Except there’s something more important. That’s getting home.

            “We’ll have to get used to that,” Hela says, and he can feel her glancing at him with concern.

            “Yeah, well—maybe Goroto and I should catch up with you later. You can bring us our share.”

            “We just did them a favour—“

            “She’s right,” Baze says. “From what Chirrut has said, they don’t care much for anyone non-humanoid. Not to mention anyone with as many bounties on them as the both of you have.”

            “You want to break records, you can’t be afraid of breaking shit,” Sama says. “We’ll be at the usual place. We’ll be there until the end of the week. Then I think we should get the hell out of here.” Sama stops. “So this is where we leave you.”

            They say their farewells, and they part ways. It’s bittersweet. They’re criminals, but they’ve both saved Baze’s life, and he’s saved theirs. They’ve shed blood together, told stories together, survived together. And now they are just going in opposite directions.

            That’s the way of it, though.

            Hela seems to take it harder than he does. Baze taps her on the arm, and nods towards the temple. “Let’s go get our heroes’ welcome.”

            She grins, and struggles to keep up. “I’d settle for a working leg.”

 

Baze holds his fingers out in front of himself. He’s filthy. Not like there was much need to bathe out in the desert. Not like any of them remembered to bring a portable shower.

            All right, Cori did, but Baze stripped it for parts.

            Hopefully there won’t be a big fuss when the elevator reaches the top of the steps. Maybe Chirrut will be in prayer, and Baze can sneak home, have a shower, get cleaned up. Just in case, he wipes his hand on his shirt.

            Hela sees that and snorts. “Well, that’s futile.”

            Baze shrugs, then says, “Hey.”

            “Hey yourself.”

            “Thank you.”

            “For what? You carried me halfway across the desert.”

            “For doing what you said you would.”

            Frowning, Hela replies, “What’d I say I’d do?”

            “Save me.”

            She rolls her eyes as they come up over the ledge of the steps. Then she blinks. “Ah—maybe hold that thought.”

            Baze sighs.

            There are at least two dozen people waiting for them at the top of the stairs. The Master stands at the front, in her red robes, face carefully blank. Beside her stands a man that Baze doesn’t recognize. He’s pale, with receding brown hair. He wears a heavy grey jacket with a cape against the cold. Whatever the insignia is on his chest, Baze doesn’t know it. Probably his rank or something. Maybe a medal for how many innocent people he helped slaughter.

            Baze searches the crowd, despairing when he doesn’t immediately see Chirrut. After a moment, though, he spots the top of Chirrut’s staff. He is standing to the back. Baze’s heart leaps.

            “Let’s make nice,” Hela says, shoving the door open. Baze grits his teeth together, wanting nothing more than to lunge from the elevator and run to Chirrut, sweeping him up in his arms. Making nice isn’t exactly on his short list.

            He follows Hela, protectively at her back. The Master and the Imperial step forward, and Baze registers her annoyance at the man’s presumption. It’s a flicker, but he has known her well over a decade.

            “Guards,” Master Yamari says, bowing her head.

            “Master,” Hela replies, lowering her gaze.

            “Welcome home.”

            “Thank you.”

            The Imperial clears his throat, and Master Yamari ignores him. “Your work for the temple is most appreciated. I see that you have made sacrifices.”

            Hela says, “It’s a small thing, ma’am. My life is yours to do with as you see fit.”

            The man at Yamari’s side coughs. Yamari takes a breath, and says, “Since you’ve been gone, there have been some changes. Might I introduce Lieutenant Karsen Ebji. He’s our liaison with the Empire. Lieutenant, these are guards Malbus and Alani.”

            Ebji steps forward, looking directly at Baze with his hand out. Baze looks down at the hand and doesn’t move a millimeter.

            Ebji’s eyes narrow.

            Hela says, “Don’t mind him, he’s only being polite. We both have cave rot.” She holds up the hand not on her crutch, showing off the blue dots on her palm. Then she holds it out to Ebji. “Of course, if you’re not afraid of a little bacteria.”

            He looks at it, then says with a weak smile. “Perhaps another time.” He studies Baze, frowning. His eyes move downwards. “Is that an MWC35C?” he asks, taken aback.

            “No,” Baze replies.

            “It certainly looks like one.” Baze shrugs, not averting his gaze. Ebji prompts, “The staccato lightning repeating cannon is illegal for civilian use.”

            “Good thing it’s not that, then,” Baze says. He looks to Yamari. “You’ll excuse us, but Guard Alani needs to get to the clinic—“

            “I’ve been told that you tracked and eliminated six enemies of the Empire.”

            Baze looks back at him. “And?”

            Ebji bristles slightly, then smiles. “I don’t suppose you have proof of that.”

            Baze and Hela look at each other. They had this conversation months ago. Baze shrugs, then reaches into one of his pockets. He pulls out the little box and tosses it to Ebji. The man catches it, startled, the box rattling.

            “What’s this?”

            “Teeth,” Baze replies, and Ebji recoils, staring at the box in his hands. “If you want to check DNA.”

            “We also took plenty of pictures,” Hela adds helpfully. “Just in case any of the instigators back home wanted to spread the rumour that anyone was still alive. Wouldn’t want that. Hey.” She glances down pointedly at her missing leg. “Not to cut this short, but I’d really appreciate seeing a healer.”

            Ebji says, “Of course—“

            Baze and Hela have already turned to one another. “Go have a shower,” Hela says as Baze leans down to hug her. “You smell like weeks’ dead bantha.”

            “You look worse.” Baze kisses the top of her head. “Take care, little sister.”

            “Fearsome,” Hela says as she pulls away. Capprasa is waiting for her.

            Ebji starts to say, “Mr. Malbus, I wanted to—“

            But Baze is already walking away. His eyes follow the top of the staff, as its user walks along the back of the crowd. He wishes that he could have gotten cleaned up first, but hopefully that’s not a thing Chirrut cares about. Baze doesn’t care, not really. All he wants is to see—

            Chirrut.

            Baze’s imagination has done the man no justice. He’s had a picture in his mind, but to have Chirrut standing there, barely holding back his smile, in his black and red robes—this is a thousand times better. Chirrut gazes to the side with his blue eyes, but from the way he holds himself, Baze knows he’s barely keeping himself still.

            Baze doesn’t bother. He quickens his step, and Chirrut meets him halfway. They both reach for each other with their left hand, finding the same place on the back of one another’s head. Foreheads pressed together, Baze closes his eyes and inhales the scent of this beautiful, beloved man.

            “You,” Baze says with satisfaction and wonder.

            “The Force be praised.” Then Chirrut laughs. “You smell disgusting.”

            “Of course I do.”

            “It is actually terrifying. My senses are greater than that of the average human, and I have to tell you, the only thing keeping me near you is my affection.”

            “I appreciate that, prophet.” Baze lets him go, reluctant, and so does Chirrut. He looks ten years younger, absolutely beaming. “Can we go home?”

            Chirrut bows his head a moment. He simply cannot contain his happiness, and Baze realizes that he’s got a big stupid smile on his own face.

            “Yes please,” says Chirrut.

 

Baze takes a look around and says, “This is…stark.”

            There is nothing on the counters, by the bed, on the table. Everything has been put away, except a few hangings on the wall. His axe is gone, for some reason. Where has everything gone, and why?

            He doesn’t get more than a second to look before Chirrut is pushing him. “Into the back yard. You smell awful, and the whole house will smell like you if you don’t have a shower. Go. All of you.”

            “You’re awfully sentimental,” Baze laughs. He barely gets the back door open before Chirrut has shoved him through it.

            “I don’t care about sentiment right now. I want you to not smell like a trash compactor so that I can jump on you. Go, go, go.”

            “You know,” Baze says, unshouldering his cannon, “if you really loved me, you wouldn’t care.”

            “If you really loved me, you wouldn’t make me kiss the human equivalent of a wampa.”

            Baze glances at Chirrut’s hands and snorts. They’re already grimy, just from touching Baze. “You should talk. You should see your hands. They’re filthy.”

            “Did you forget that I can’t see? It’s only been five months.”

            Stripping his shirt over his head, Baze says, “See, that would have been a perfect opportunity to kiss me, if you weren’t so picky.” Chirrut waffles, and Baze shakes his head. “Oh no. You’re not changing your mind now. Get inside.”

            Chirrut lets out a grumble, and darts back indoors.

            Baze finishes undressing, and opens the refresher. It is so clean, and so white. It’s the cleanest, whitest thing he’s seen in months, and it’s shocking to behold. Reaching inside, he looks at the juxtaposition of his brown skin, black under the nails, against this strange, pristine world.

            He never realized until this moment how clean the city really is.

            Baze steps inside the shower and closes the door after himself. He cranks the shower to maximum, to the point where his teeth start vibrating.

            It’s fucking glorious.

            The sonic shower vibrates through layers of dirt and grease and sweat. Baze has forgotten what a shower feels like. What clean feels like. The sensation is curious. It’s starting at the top and working its way down, to the point where he feels chunks falling out of his hair.

            Disgusting. Thank the stars that Chirrut can’t see him.

            Movement catches his eye through the translucent door. Chirrut is sitting on the ground, legs crossed beneath himself. Smirking, Baze says loudly, “Eager, are you.”

            “Check the cubby. I got you a new teeth cleaner.”

            Chuckling, Baze finds the stick. “You know, you think that after all these months apart, you might want to have a conversation.”

            “We will. It doesn’t mean I don’t intend to have my hands all over you while we converse. I admit, it might be difficult to speak with my tongue otherwise engaged, but I have confidence in my abilities.”

            Baze cleans his teeth with a grin. Five months is a long time. A year is a long time too. Not that they’re jumping right to that, but if Chirrut could stand to touch him at the top of the steps with the state Baze is in, then he’s certainly not as sensitive as he once was. A whole world of possibilities might be open to them now.

            “Do you need anything from your clothes? I want to set them on fire.”

            “I do, and don’t you dare.”

            “What about your boots?”

            “Leave them alone.”

            “Are you finished yet?”

            “Do you want to rush me?”

            “The answer is obviously yes and no.”

            “Do I still have any clothes here or did you get rid of them?”

            “I got rid of them all.”

            Baze pauses, then realizes what Chirrut is insinuating. “Huh. Funny that.”

            “Very funny.”

            “So I guess that I’ll just be walking around naked from now on. Is that what you’re telling me?”

            “Yes. Resoundingly.”

            “What ever will those poor sheltered monks think?”

            “I don’t care.”

            “Now, what happened to that blushing man who first moved in with me? Who could hardly stand to have my hands on him?”

            Chirrut responds, “He had to have his hands on himself for months.” Baze snorts, threading his fingers through his hair. “You’ve lost weight.”

            “How can you tell?”

            “I’m listening to what your body looks like. I’m making a new picture in my mind. It’s a nice picture.”

            “Not sure you’d say that if you saw my beard. Next you’ll want me to shave that off before I touch you.”

            “New picture with the beard. Hmm…I’m reserving judgment until I can see with my hands.” Chirrut raises his voice. “You are testing all my patience and training as a Guardian—“

            “I’ve been home five minutes.”

            “You’ve made me wait five. Whole. Minutes.”

            “My hair isn’t great—“

            “Baze Malbus, I’ll drag you kicking and screaming—“

            Laughing softly, Baze turns off the shower. His skin feels a little raw, more naked than naked. His nails are still a horror show, but it will take a knife and more than five minutes to remedy. He shakes his head, unused to the lesser weight of his hair. It’s knotted into dreads in places, but that will be a problem for another day.

            He hesitates with his hand on the door. In a moment, he’ll be touching Chirrut. If he wants, he never has to stop. There is no power in the universe strong enough to part them, if they will it.

            Chirrut is waiting for him. He’s waited long enough.

            Baze steps out into the cold afternoon. When he does, Chirrut gets to his feet. He holds out his hands, expectant.

            Nothing needs to be said. Baze crosses the space between them, wrapping his arms around Chirrut’s waist, and kisses his beloved as though he is the source for all life.

            He is so real. Not a projection, but a body, a man, his fingers knotting into Baze’s thick hair and his mouth opening in a delighted smile. Baze picks him up, though Chirrut is not light, spinning them both in a slow circle.

            Fingers exploring Baze’s face, Chirrut whispers between kisses, “I missed you—I missed you, and now you’re here—“

            Nuzzling their noses together, Baze says, “I’m here—and you’re here—and why the fuck did I leave in the first place—“

            He cuts off as Chirrut runs his strong hands down his arms, sucking Baze’s lower lip into his mouth. Letting it go abruptly, Chirrut says, “You have always been a fool.”

            Baze isn’t offended. It’s true. He kneads Chirrut’s back, biting softly into his neck as he lets him down gently to the ground, eliciting a moan. He will not leave this man again. How could he possibly?

            Chirrut’s hands still on his bare torso, and Baze feels him pause. Baze looks down. Chirrut has found the largest of his new scars. His expression is inscrutable, but Baze doesn’t imagine he’s pleased.

            No one else alive cares about his scars. Worries about him the way this man does.

            Keeping one arm around him, Baze reaches down, taking Chirrut’s right hand. “Here,” he says softly. He guides Chirrut’s hand to the top of the scar, halfway down his ribs. “It starts here.” He takes Chirrut’s fingers around the outline of the healed wound. He makes sure Chirrut knows it only goes to his hip.

            Face blank, Chirrut remarks, “That’s not small.”

            “I never said it was small.”

            “You said it was a scratch.”

            “I said I was hit by shrapnel.”

            “You said you were scratched by a piece of shrapnel.”

            Baze thinks back. “Did I?”

            Stroking his knuckles over the scar, Chirrut says, “You certainly did. And this is no scratch.” He doesn’t sound so much frustrated as exasperated. Even affectionate. “My protector. My fool. Why can’t you look after yourself?”

            “I do all right.”

            “Lies.” Chirrut pulls Baze’s naked body close, hands moving over the small of his back. Baze makes a noise much like purring. “Listen to you. All the sounds you make. I hear your heart, your pulse. I hear the sound your hands make on my skin—“ He kisses Baze deeply, like he cannot bear another moment where they are not attached at every atom.

            Baze can relate.

            He moves Chirrut around, walking him backwards to the house while they kiss, while their hands touch and explore and remember. Baze’s fingers find the knot where Chirrut’s sash is fastened, working it apart as they move through the doorway.

            Chirrut’s palm rubs over his beard once. “I like this,” he breathes against Baze’s mouth. “You feel—like some crazy desert hermit—but in an attractive way.”

            Baze cracks up, and so does Chirrut. Baze stops trying to unclothe Chirrut and simply holds him for a moment. He shuts his eyes and lays his head on Chirrut’s shoulder. “My love,” he whispers in amazement. “My love.” To be here…to be still like this….

            After a moment, he hears Chirrut hiccup, and pulls back a few inches in surprise. Chirrut is suddenly holding back tears. But he smiles, running his hands over Baze’s hair. “I’m so pleased you’re home,” Chirrut says, and kisses him. He takes Baze’s hand, returning it to the back of his sash. “Why am I still dressed?”

            Snorting, Baze answers, “I’m working on it.”

            “Work faster.”

            They stumble across the house together, pausing here and there to touch, to kiss, for Baze to remove another article of Chirrut’s clothing. Baze gets distracted by Chirrut’s torso, by all the lines of muscle, and he wants to trace them all with his tongue. They take turns drawing the other back through the house. Pieces of Chirrut’s robes fall to the floor as they go.

            When they reach the bed, only Chirrut’s pants are left. Regardless, Baze pushes him down to the bed, but Chirrut grabs him, and they fall together. Laughing, they lie together in an inelegant heap. Chirrut’s mouth finds Baze’s, and they kiss, Baze’s hand hooking around the side of Chirrut’s neck.

            Chirrut climbs on top of him after a moment, pushing Baze’s hair back from his face. “You won’t leave me again.”

            “Never. I’ll go where you go.”

            “Good answer.”

            Baze pushes his hands inside Chirrut’s pants, shoving them and his smalls down. He hears the rip of torn seams, but he doesn’t care and neither does Chirrut. Baze rolls them over, pulling away the last of Chirrut’s clothes and throwing them over his shoulder. He lies between Chirrut’s strong legs. Taking one of Chirrut’s calves, Baze lifts it to wrap around his back, and he sets his mouth to Chirrut’s stomach. His mouth remembers these lines. It wants to find all the old familiar places.

            Chirrut breathes shallowly beneath him. The fingers of his right hand weave through Baze’s hair, and his heel nudges into Baze’s side. His prick has raised against Baze’s chest, insistent, full. Baze reaches under Chirrut’s leg, squeezing the back of his thigh, working up to the side of his ass. Chirrut lets out a pleased sigh, moving further into the touch.

            They say nothing, nor do they have to, when Baze’s mouth works downwards. His tongue drags along the line of sparse hair, his mouth pausing to leave rough kisses. He tries to commit all this to memory—how he feels, how Chirrut feels, what he smells like, the sounds he makes—but he remembers that he doesn’t have to. This will happen between them again and again. This is not the last time. All he must do is live in this moment, no other.

            That in mind, Baze tilts his head a few centimeters, and he takes Chirrut’s cock easily into his mouth.

            He hears a cut off gasp, and the body beneath his shudders softly, but the mood is still a gentle one. They have been apart so long, but they are still comfortable with one another. If there were such a thing, Baze thinks he and Chirrut would share the same soul, and it would simply be pleased to be one again.

            There is no such thing, of course, but right now it feels like it might be true.

            Baze takes his time. They are adults, they love one another, and there is no need to rush. He takes Chirrut deep, almost to the back of his throat. As Chirrut rolls his hips slowly, Baze touches his thigh, his ass, takes Chirrut’s balls in his hand and works them. Chirrut lets out a groan, biting it off. His hold on Baze’s hair tightens.

            He tastes…Baze has no frame of reference. He doesn’t know that he needs to. It’s Chirrut. What more is there to say?

            Chirrut takes Baze’s other hand, pulling it up to his lips. Licking the fingertips, Chirrut sucks Baze’s fore and middle finger into his mouth, and Baze shudders. He scrapes his teeth over the underside of Chirrut’s cock in retaliation. Chirrut bucks beneath him. Baze tongues along the vein, guiding Chirrut’s prick in as deep as it will go, nose nestled into short hairs.

            They go like this for minutes, silently teasing one another, loving one another with their mouths. Chirrut has the one hand in Baze’s hair, the other around his wrist as he bites into Baze’s fingertips, tongue wrapping around the base of his digits. Baze sucks Chirrut in and out of his mouth, less gentle with each passing moment. He isn’t afraid of hurting Chirrut, not like he used to be. He can take this. He can.

            Baze can hear the change in Chirrut’s breathing. It isn’t as measured. He’s losing control. Good. Baze speeds the movements of his tongue, his mouth, raking his teeth over Chirrut’s length, knowing how sensitive he is, wanting to push him over the edge.

            He succeeds. Chirrut gasps around his fingers, and Baze’s throat floods with warmth. It is a strange sensation, undoubtedly, but the intimacy of it is almost overwhelming, and that’s what he wants. He wants this terribly.

            Baze does not move away. He swallows Chirrut back, feeling how his cock shivers against his tongue. He listens to the little breaths Chirrut releases, that Chirrut makes because of something he has done, and he smiles as he pulls his mouth away.

            Baze looks up. Chirrut’s eyes are closed, and he’s trying to regain control of his breathing. But he reaches down. Understanding, Baze pushes himself up, until he’s propped over Chirrut.

            Chirrut’s eyes flicker open. Baze strokes his face, smiling at the sheen of sweat he finds there. Chirrut wraps his arms around Baze’s neck, pulling him down, and kisses him with a ferocity that takes Baze off guard. He would have expected Chirrut to need a moment. Apparently not.

            Chirrut’s legs fasten around Baze’s backside, trapping him, and Baze has to close his eyes against what that does to his own hardness. He came into this not expecting anything—whatever Chirrut is willing to give him, he will take. Himself, well, Chirrut can have whatever he wants.

            There seems to be no hesitation from Chirrut. He is nearly as strong as Baze, keeping their bodies pinned together. There’s nothing shy or reserved about his kiss, nothing that says he wants anything but more. Baze closes his eyes when Chirrut’s hips move up against his. The motion sends a bolt from his groin up his spine, until it even flares across his shoulders.

            Chirrut does it again, and Baze looks at him. “Yes,” he says, half question, half plea.

            With a nod, Chirrut assures, “Yes.”

            Yes. All right. Unexpected, but—

            Chirrut is reaching towards the table at the bedside, but he can’t quite reach from where he is. Baze leans over, opening the drawer. For a second, he wants to tease Chirrut for being prepared, but he can’t bring himself to say anything. He just wants this man unlike anything he’s ever wanted before.

            And still, as he slicks Chirrut inside, fingers reaching into his body, it is not as though the skies open and the heavens fall. This is an important moment for them, yes, but it is not any more important than every single day they will have together, every moment. This is something they will do together, and they will enjoy it, but what matters most is that they are together. These are only bodies, and maybe spirits aren’t real, but there’s something between the two of them, something that links them together above and beyond a simple physical act.

            Love is a small word, but at the moment it’s the only one Baze has for this connection. Maybe it’s not a thing that words can describe. He’s fine with that.

            He enters Chirrut with a sharp breath, bending his head as Chirrut’s fingers dig into the back of Baze’s shoulders. Baze has to hold still a moment, trembling. He wants…stars, what does he want right now?

            But Chirrut lifts his chin. His blue eyes are the loveliest Baze has ever seen, and he feels so safe when those eyes are on him, though they cannot see.

            “This is only a moment,” Chirrut reminds him. “You and I…we are forever.”

            Baze smiles, overcome. He kisses Chirrut, he kisses the love of his life, pulling Chirrut’s leg further up his back, and he is happy.

            They are happy.

 

“I wish I could see you.”

            Baze lifts his head, a shadow crossing his face. They are lying on their backs, sprawled across the bed. He has been lying against Chirrut’s side, Chirrut’s hand lazily stroking a very old scar above his nipple.

            Chirrut smiles slightly. “Don’t look at me like that. I don’t think about it often. Wanting to see. My life now is a good one. I lead a better life than I ever did when I could see. The only time I ever wish I still had my eyes is when it’s you. I think I can make a decent picture of you, in my mind. But I’d like to know. Actually know.” He rubs a hand over Baze’s hair. “Don’t be sad. I can feel it when you are.”

            “I’m a lot of things right now. Sad isn’t one of them.”

            “That’s mostly true. But it isn’t all true. I’d like to be able to tell you that you look beautiful, and have you know that I mean it.”

            “I’d never believe that, even if you could see.”

            “You are, though. You are handsome—“          

            Settling down, Baze grumbles, “Hush.”

            He listens to Chirrut’s soft laugh, feeling his ribs shake beneath his head. “My Baze. The things you’ll believe for me, and the things you won’t. I like to think I’m not easily surprised, but I’ll never be able to figure you out. Not entirely. I love that about you.”

            Baze reaches back. After a moment, Chirrut twines their fingers together. “I’m not all that difficult to figure out.”

            “Yes you are.”

            “I love you. That’s the truest thing about me.”

            “There’s more to you than me.”

            “Yes. But you’re the best thing about me.”

            Thumbnail scraping over Baze’s palm, Chirrut asks, “Did you find some peace out there?”

            Baze thinks about it. Another might think it a strange question—was it peaceful, waging a campaign of life and death against guerillas in the midst of the desert—but he understands what Chirrut means.

            “A little,” Baze replies. “You’ll notice that I didn’t kill the first Imperial I saw when I returned.”

            “Yes, and I was very proud of you for that.”

            “Shut up.” Baze looks over at their hands. Chirrut’s long fingers in his own thicker hand, with its gruesome nails. He can’t even believe Chirrut had that in his mouth. “I’m more at peace with myself. I’m not as angry as I was. I mean…I’m still angry. I’m furious, if we’re going to be honest with each other.”

            “Were we not?”

            “It was a turn of phrase and you know it, Chirrut. I don’t feel out of control anymore, though. I feel like…there will be a time and a place for my revenge. And I can wait until the moment comes. It may take a long time. Maybe even a very long time. But I can wait.”

            Chirrut shakes his hand a little. “There’s no peace in revenge.”

            “Suppose I’ll find out.” Baze looks up at the off-white ceiling. “Are you here because you want me to be, or because you’re afraid I’ll leave?”

            “I want to be here with you more than I have the words to say.” Chirrut shifts, and Baze sits up a little. “I missed you so much.”

            They move a little, so they can lie side to side. Chirrut burrows into Baze’s arms, and Baze strokes his face, bending his head to kiss Chirrut’s black hair.

            A touch amazed, Baze says, “You are the most beautiful thing in all creation.”

            A blush spreads across Chirrut’s cheeks. “No one believes me when I say you’re romantic.”

            “Good.”

            “Let’s not move from this place. Let’s stay here, you and I, for the rest of the night.”

            “But I’m hungry.”

            “I’ll sustain you with my adoration.”

            “You’re ridiculous.”

            “I’m in love,” Chirrut counters. “Of course I am.”

            Baze tries not to smile, but he fails. He presses a kiss to Chirrut’s lips, then settles in. It is early yet. But there’s nowhere in all the universe that he would rather be.

Chapter Text

It is calm. Deceptively so, Baze thinks. Then again, he’s spent the last five months out in the desert, never knowing when the ground might explode beneath his feet.

            He looks out over the compound, back in his usual place on top of the roof. He smiled to see that things up here were as neatly organized as down in the house. Chirrut has obviously spent a lot of time up here. Baze has been missed. It is good to know.

            Baze has watched the comings and goings of early morning. The sun is not quite up yet. It’s warmer here than it is out in the wilds. He can sit here in his pajamas and a coat and not feel cold. People are starting to move about below him, but no one looks up.

            In the distance, he hears the pitch of an unfamiliar ship lifting off. Baze watches it. An Imperial vessel. He notes the shape, committing it to memory.

            Not soon. But someday.

            He turns his head at the sound of scraping. Chirrut has easily scaled the side of the building, not taking the ladder like Baze has. Grinning crookedly, Baze says, “A proud first. I woke before you.”

            Chirrut is wrapped in a blanket, his feet bare. Padding across the roof, he says, “I worried until I sensed your path led here.” He puts out a hand as he walks.

            “Warmer…warmer….”

            “Funny. Keep talking so I know where your mouth is when I’m close enough to hit you.” Baze starts making kissing sounds with his mouth, and Chirrut chuckles. He puts his hand on Baze’s shoulder, and sits at his side. “What are you looking at?”

            “Oh, all sorts of things.”

            “Mm.”

            Baze takes a breath, almost wishing he didn’t have to ask. “So. We didn’t really talk about anything yesterday.”

            “We talked a little.”

            “Uh huh. You want to tell me where all my things are?” Chirrut says nothing at first, and Baze continues, “Most of my things are gone from the shed.”

            Nodding, Chirrut says, “Before they arrived, I had Zemall and Dash go through the house and take care of anything that might look suspicious. The compartment in the kitchen floor has been filled in. I had to get rid of most of the weapons. I’m sorry, but I know you can make more, and you can decide what you want to do with them and where you want them to go. But I needed to make sure that I was safe when they came. I needed to know every single thing that was in the house, where it was, what it did. I’m sorry, I had to throw all the crystal we had over the side of the mesa. Anything that ran on kyber, I had to destroy. If they’d found that someone was working with it, that they had practical uses for it outside of lightsabers and lightbows—well. They’re a little too interested in that.”

            “Can you tell me about when they came?”

            Chirrut pulls the blanket tighter around his shoulders. “Three months now. It was like I told you in the message. It was only a few of them on the moon at first. But the ship was large enough that it couldn’t land. I could hear it—“ Chirrut shakes a hand by his ear. “Hovering above us. About a kilometer up. They came down on a smaller vessel. Landed in front of the temple. On the grounds. I was at the back of the welcoming party. I heard them come off the smaller ship. Five of them altogether. Four Stormtroopers—they’re easy to recognize, the way their armour moves—and Ebji. He went right to the Master. They’d obviously spoken before he arrived. She did her very best to be polite. She’s held her temper, and she’s kept the temple in one piece.”

            “And Ebji? What do you really think of him?”

            “He’s a liar,” Chirrut says bluntly. “I don’t know if everyone else can tell, but I don’t see how they couldn’t. It radiates off him. His aura—“ Chirrut makes a face, furrowing his brow. “I don’t know that he’s a bad person. But I don’t know that he might ever be a good person either. He’s a company man. He’s only the vanguard, Baze. There will be others. Many more. And they will be more important than him. He asks a lot of questions. He thinks he’s being clever, and maybe he is clever a little. But the questions he asks, and the way he asks them…no. There will be more. He’s just the beginning.”

            Baze studies Chirrut’s profile in the early light. He faces the south, pointed past the temple. “You sound grim, beloved.”

            “Do I? I don’t mean to.”

            “Are you afraid?”

            Chirrut thinks about the question for a surprisingly long amount of time. Then he shakes his head. “No. I have you. And whatever happens, I am one with the Force and the Force is with me. No matter what happens here, there is no power that can change that. I will do as I must, be who I must be. All is as it was meant. I know that.” He sighs, and runs a hand over his hair. “At least, I tell myself that. It’s sometimes hard to remember when things are happening, instead of watching it from a distance.”

            “How do you mean?”

            “I talk about it, you’ll just tell me I’m an idiot who thinks he’s had visions.”

            “You are an idiot who thinks he’s had visions.”

            “And you’re my fool, and you’ll pray before the end. You stubborn, stubborn man.” Chirrut hesitates, then says, “He’s been in the house.”

            “Ebji?” Baze says, concerned. “Why?”

            Chirrut snorts softly. “Why do you think?”

            Scowling, Baze nods. “Right. So what, he interrogated you? Trying to find out about me, about the Guardian?”

            “He tried. It was actually kind of funny, how subtle he thinks he is about it. Said he just wanted to learn more about the temple, about how things worked here. Another man would be frustrated by how little we’ve given him—for stars’ sake, we’re trained to sit in meditation, to hold a single position in capradi, for hours on end. We can outlast one bureaucrat. But he keeps trying.”

            Shrugging, Baze says, “Well, we knew they would come for the kyber. Have they been stupid enough to send anyone in yet?”

            “Yes. Two troopers. Ebji said they weren’t acting on orders, that they were just two people who did something stupid on their off time. But that was an obvious lie. Troopers—they don’t do much without being told. From what I heard, the Guardian liquidated their brains.”

            “Well, two less Imperials. I’m not going to cry myself to sleep.”

            “They’re just the start. We’re not going to be able to stop them indefinitely.”

            Raising a brow, Baze says, almost mocking, “What, you don’t think the temple will stand forever?”

            He’s caught off guard when Chirrut says, “No.” After a moment, he turns his face in Baze’s direction. “Why do you feel like that?”

            “All you wanted was to be a Guardian. You even thought you had a vision of it. Every time I turned around you were always trying to convince me to believe in it. And now you tell me that’s changed?”

            “You misunderstand. I believe in the Force. I believe in a great power that governs the universe.” Chirrut shakes his head. “But nothing is forever, save two things. The Force, and my love for you.”

            “What about mine for you?”

            Shrugging, Chirrut says with a straight face, “Possibly. We’ll have to see.”

            Baze gives him a shove. “So what have you seen in your visions, prophet? Are you telling me this place of lies finally falls?”

            “We’re getting further and further away from the things I saw when I looked into the Crystal Guardian’s eye. There are only two events left that I know will happen.” Chirrut raises his brow. “Do you want to know what they are?”

            “You know I don’t want to play into your insanity.”      

            “No. It’s nice, to not see everything coming. I have these two destinations to reach, and they’ll come no matter what. But everything else…that will be a mystery. All I know is that we both live long enough to see them. So I don’t worry too much. And neither should you.” He reaches over, petting Baze’s hair. His fingers play with a dread. “You need to do something about this. Clean it up.”

            “You don’t like it?”

            “I do. I was thinking…you’d look good with long hair. But if you kept a piece knotted on this side. And the other as well. You’d look very nice.”

            “I won’t tell you how you should look. Seeing as I like you just as you are.”

            “Flattery.” Chirrut folds his hand in his lap. “I’m not sure if you want to talk about this, but I pray for Guela every day.” Baze looks away from him, eyes finding the floor of the temple where the clinic is. “She is returned to the Force. Along with many others. I make sure to always think her name when I pray.”

            “Does that make you happy?”

            “It’s not a matter of happiness. I do it from love of you and respect for her.”

            “I can’t tell you to stop. I don’t know if you would if I did.”

            “I would, if you tell me it’s inappropriate.”

            “I think this entire lying religion is inappropriate, Chirrut, but that’s never stopped you.”

            “So your time away didn’t enlighten you as to the power of the Force.”

            The noise Baze makes actually hurts his sinuses. “I wouldn’t say that. The Force…the Whills…all of it. It’s still a lot of nothing. The only thing I like about it is that it gives you pleasure.”

            “It gives me peace.”

            “Then I’m glad for you, beloved. But it’s not for me.”   

            Chirrut slips his arm through Baze’s, setting a chin on his shoulder. “Speaking of pleasure,” he murmurs, and Baze’s cheeks warm. “Yesterday…was very nice.”       

            “You were happy?”

            “I know that as a Guardian I shouldn’t say this, but sometimes there’s no better feeling than being well fucked by a gorgeous man with a large…well, what euphemism should we use?”

            Straight faced, Baze says, “We could call my prick the Force, and then you could finally honestly say that the Force is in you.”

            Chirrut punches him so hard in the nipple that it might bruise, and Baze both groans and laughs. “You really are a genuine bastard at times,” Chirrut says, but Baze can tell he’s trying not to chuckle.

 

Baze is well aware of the looks he gets when he walks down the street. People move out of his way. He ignores them. They don’t concern him. If anyone tries anything, he has a blaster, and a box full of teeth that proves he’s not afraid to use it.

            The city is quiet. People keep their mouths shut, looking worriedly about. They all seem to have the same concerns.

            Every block or so, Baze passes a stormtrooper. He doesn’t look at them except from his peripheral vision. They wear shining white uniforms, their helmets giving away nothing of what’s underneath. They might not even be human under there. They might just be droids, for all the citizens know.

            They’re not. Baze can tell by the way they move that they’re human. And only human. He can’t see a single one that’s not humanoid. All the same height. Clones, the lot of them.

            Each one holds an E-11 blaster rifle. Not even holstered. The weapons are held in both hands, pointed down at the ground. It’s not exactly an encouraging sight.

            Baze isn’t worried. In a fight, his repeating cannon would stay true. He couldn’t give two shits about the E-11 and its capabilities. The only good it’s ever served is as the handle of Chirrut’s lightbow.

            He reaches his destination, a little shop on the edge of the eastern quarter. There are a few people inside, just loafing about. Baze knocks on the doorway, unsure about the protocol. He hasn’t been to a place like this in over fifteen years.

            The proprietor, a man with bright yellow skin and strips of white hair, looks up from the razor he’s sharpening. A real razor, just a piece of metal that could cut a throat. He stares at Baze a moment, then says, “Mr. Malbus.”

            “Do you have any appointments available?”

            A smaller version of the proprietor snaps, “No we don’t—“

            His father looks over, saying, “Hush.” He gestures to the seat before himself. “I can take you now, if you please.”

            Baze is comforted by the fact that the chair will face a mirror. With an inhalation, he goes to sit where the barber has indicated. Settling in, he looks up. “I’m sorry, I’ve been gone a while, and I can’t remember your name.”

            “Col MagRass,” the man replies, offering his hand. His skin feels like sand.

            “Baze Malbus.”

            The barber turns him around to face the mirror, and drapes a smock over Baze’s front. That’s a relief. Baze is able to put a hand on his blaster, unabashedly.

            MagRass looks into the mirror, smiling slightly at Baze. “What would you like, Mr. Malbus?”

            Yes, what would he like? “I mean to let it go long,” Baze says. “But to keep a dread on either side. If that’s possible. I wasn’t sure how to go about it myself.”

            Squinting at Baze’s reflection, MagRass says, “Yes—that would look quite nice, wouldn’t it. You have an eye for these things. Let’s see what we can do about it.” He goes about busying himself over the instruments on the counter, clicking absentmindedly against his cheek.

            Baze tries to relax, but that might be difficult. It’s been a decade and a half since he let someone else cut his hair. Being in this position feels strangely…vulnerable.

            It doesn’t help that the others in the shop are giving him hostile stares. He can feel them hating him. That’s fine. Baze has no desire to be loved by any save one. Well, perhaps two.

            Chirrut has something planned for him this evening. He wouldn’t say what, only that Baze needed to be at the capradi training grounds for 1600. When Baze asked if he should come alone, Chirrut just laughed, and said he could bring anyone he pleased.

            It was so nice, leaving him this morning. Awful, too, of course. Baze doesn’t want to be away from Chirrut for more than seconds. But to just give him a kiss before he went out the door, telling him to have a good day, that they’d see one another later…it felt normal. It felt so normal that it was thrilling.

            He hears a little pop. Glancing up, he sees that a lanky Mirialan has pulled out a knife. Staring at Baze, she digs under her fingernails.

            Baze says to MagRass, “What does your son do?”

            The barber looks to the young man with irritation. “Not much. Are your friends actually going to spend money here or are they just distracting you?”

            The younger MagRass blushes, and mutters to the others. They get up, filing out.

            MagRass begins to comb through Baze’s hair, tsking. “This may take some time, Mr. Malbus.”

            “That’s fine. If you’re able, I mean.”

            “Oh, I am. Callon, your station’s a mess.”

            “Stop showing off for that murderer,” the boy mutters.

            MagRass turns around and starts barking at the boy in a language Baze doesn’t know. The younger man flinches, and after a moment he slinks into the back of the shop.

            Mortified, MagRass says, “Apologies, Mr. Malbus. I understand if you’d like to take your business elsewhere. I can give you the address for my most vexsome competitor.”

            Shaking his head, Baze says, “It’s fine.”

            MagRass begins to worriedly comb out Baze’s hair. “Children. They think they know everything.”

            Baze smiles slightly, but says nothing else. It feels good to have a comb in his hair.

 

He’s not surprised by what greets him when he leaves the shop. A small crowd of about a dozen people have gathered outside. They’re mostly young. Four of them have THIEF or VANDAL written across their foreheads. They all stare at him.

            Baze, who feels fairly good after two hours of getting his hair combed and worked over, is not intimidated. He smiles slightly, and crosses his arms.

            They all stand there, looking at one another.

            It’s one of the vandals who speaks. “You have a lot of nerve, showing your face here.”

            “Why?”

            He seems dumbfounded, then says, “You’re a murderer.”

            “So?”

            The Mirialan says, “So you admit it.”

            “Kids, I don’t have the patience or time for this. Why don’t you all fuck off back to your basements, where you sit planning the revolution? The rest of us will be out here in the real world.”

            “Remedas would have saved us,” says one short girl. She can’t be any more than fifteen.

            Baze can’t hold back his laugh. “Remedas wanted to blow up the entire city, just to kill a few Imperials. You want to be a martyr?” He nods down the street, to where a stormtrooper is watching, hands on his weapon. “Go. You want to die for your cause? Enemy’s right there. Go die and see what that proves to anyone.” He looks around. “Anyone?”

            The Mirialan flips the knife over in her hand. “How about you die,” she growls.

            Baze gazes back, dead eyed. “Here’s how that’ll work. I have fifteen years of training, and I killed someone for the first time when I was younger than the youngest person here. None of you have a blaster. But I do. First one of you makes a move, I kill them. Then the next, and the next, and the next, and you know who’ll care? No one. That trooper down the street? He’ll come in and take my side. Because I’ve got something they want, and you’re all just rabblerousing gutter trash. So come on, kids. Who here wants to die for no reason whatsoever?”

            No one moves.

            With a nod, Baze starts to move. “That’s what I thought—“

            The Mirialan takes a step.

            A hand clamps down on her shoulder. She turns and looks up at Goroto.

            “Huh,” says Sama, smiling with her mouthful of black teeth. “What’d you get us, Baze?”

            “Bunch of stupid kids who don’t know any better.”

            Sama reaches up, brushing a finger over the Mirialan’s markings. The girl flinches, but Goroto has her in a vice grip. “Do you know how much they pay for the skin of a Mirialan on Patros?” Sama breathes dreamily. “Price is lower for just the face of course. But if I got myself a full body…and young as you are at that…that’d be enough for a ticket off this moon at the least.” She looks over at Baze. “Can I, Baze? No one would miss her.”

            The kids all look terrified. Keeping a straight face, Baze says, “Maybe next time.”

            Sama pouts, and turns back to the Mirialan. Leaning closer, she murmurs, “You should moisturize more. The air here is lowering your value.”

            Goroto throws the girl about three meters, and the two mercenaries walk through the small crowd like they’re not even there. The kids start to scatter.

            Baze watches them go, then gives the two a sly smile. “Skin of a Mirialan?”

            “Might be true,” Sama says. She glances back over her shoulder at the Imperial. “Spooky fuckers, aren’t they.”

            “I’ve seen worse,” Baze says. “Come on. Let’s go get a drink. I’ve got your money.”

            “The magic words. Goroto, say something nice about his hair.”

            Goroto claps Baze on the shoulder so hard he almost buckles. Recovering, Baze pats his hand. “Thanks, friend.”

 

Baze tries not to grin and fails as Hela comes hopping down the steps of the temple.

            “Look at this!” she says excitedly. “Look at this thing!”

            Shaking his head, Baze asks, “Should you really be out of the clinic already?”

            “Oh, I’ll go back after we go to the demonstration.”

            “Demonstration?”

            Hela shuts her mouth, eyes wide. “Nothing! I mean, nothing. You didn’t hear that. I’ll go back later, though. I have to get used to this leg, though. Look at all the things I can do on it.” She reaches the bottom of the stairs and starts doing deep knee bends. “Right? This feels great. No lag whatsoever.”

            Baze groans at the pun, putting a hand to his face. “You’re worse than Chirrut.”

            Standing, Hela starts to hop on her prosthetic. “I mean, it feels weird, but it works, and that’s what counts. Like, I sort of feel pressure, and I can feel changes in temperature, but it’s not like the real thing. I like it, though. Hell of a lot better than hopping around with that crutch.”

            “Is it an actual peg?”

            Hela hikes up her pant leg. It looks like a normal human leg, only it has no hair and it’s a different shade from her skin. Far too pale. “That’s the only skin shade they had,” Hela explains at Baze’s expression. “Apparently they ran out of typical Jedhan colours. They’re waiting on a new shipment of dye.”

            “Have there been a lot of amputations?”

            “Apparently more than they want people to know.” Hela drops her pant leg, and leans towards Baze as they start to walk. “So. So.”

            “Yes?”

            “There is a new healer in the clinic.”

            The tone of her voice makes him smile. “And?”

            Hela goes weak in the knees. “And oh my stars. Baze. My friend. My dearest friend. She is unbelievable. Her face—and her eyes—and she’s smart, she’s so smart that it’s terrifying and she is so gentle. Like, I wanted her to keep jabbing my nerve endings while she attached my leg just so that she would be touching me. I am going to marry her.”

            “Do you know her name?”

            “You caught that, huh.”

            Baze exclaims, “You don’t actually know?”

            “When she introduced herself, I was being sedated and I couldn’t remember when I woke up! I tried to figure it out, but it hasn’t happened yet. It’s going to.” At Baze’s amused look, Hela says, “I will figure it out before we’re married.”

            “You probably should.”

            She reaches up, tussling the back of his hair. “Look at this! Don’t you look swish.”

            Blushing, Baze asks, “Is it all right? I don’t know what the hell to do with it, but Chirrut said he thought it would be good like this. I mean, not that he can see it, but—but is it all right?”

            Hela shakes her head, amused. “You belong to him so completely that it’s adorable.”

            “I do belong to him, but nothing about that is adorable.”

            “It is so adorable. You two have a good welcome home party?” She needles him with her elbow, and wiggles her brows suggestively.

            Any other day, Baze might just brush her off. Today, though, he finds the tips of his ears going red, and not for the first time he’s grateful that his hair is longer than them. He clears his throat, knowing he’s just making things more difficult for himself.

            He’s very aware of Hela’s eyes on him. Voice hushed, she says, “Did you…finally….”

            Baze coughs again, and gives a brusque nod. “Yes.”

            She lifts her hands in fists, obviously unsure of what to do with them for the moment. Then she grabs Baze’s sleeve, tugging on it enthusiastically a few times. Hela pushes him away, and claps her hands.

            “All right!” she says with a wide grin. “Well, all right.”

            “Is that your way of telling me you approve?”

            “Baze—take a hard look around. Hearing that something good happened to someone who deserves something good? I mean—I’ve had a pretty awful month. Right now, I’m just grateful for every little thing that comes my way. The fact that I can take one step after another. A pretty healer asking if I want a juice pack. My best friend finally getting laid. It’s a pretty good fucking day, wouldn’t you say?”

            When she puts it like that, Baze smiles. He stops feeling embarrassed. “I suppose so.”

            “Damn right,” Hela says, grinning at the world. “Damned right.”

 

They find a small crowd seated in the capradi training grounds. They glance over as Baze and Hela enter. Most people look away from Baze, same as always, but not as many as once did. It doesn’t matter to him. He has no desire to be in these people’s good graces.

            Chirrut and Zemall are sitting on the ground, facing one another. Chirrut obviously knows Baze has arrived. The sides of his mouth lift slightly, though he does not turn his head.

            Baze and Hela sit at the back, perching on the ledge of the walk. He looks to her, a little concerned. She’s had this leg for less than a day. She shouldn’t be out of the clinic. He knows better than to argue with her, and it’s not like he can put her over his shoulder and carry her back inside. But he’d like to.

            Would you be any different? If it was you in her place? Would you sit in the clinic or would you be on your feet as soon as you had two to stand on?

            He wouldn’t just be on his feet. He’d be running in the opposite direction. Baze glances at Hela and gives her a smile. She smiles back, then turns her attention to the center of the square.

            Chirrut and Zemall bow their heads to one another. Neither of them are wearing their full robes, just pants and shirts. Neither of them have their shoes. They’re going to do some duo pose, Baze can guess as much, but which one?

            They stand, and are very still a moment.

            Then they step towards one another, Chirrut gracefully slipping downwards onto his knees, sliding an arm around Zemall’s legs, and Baze’s breath catches.

            They’re doing climbing vine formation.

            He leans forward, elbows on his knees and hands over his mouth, studying their every movement without blinking. Chirrut effortlessly lifts Zemall into the air, and she twists, the way a vine would if its growth were captured on video and quickened.

            He knows this formation well. He and Xero practiced it every day for three months before they became Guardians. It was the last formation they learned as acolytes, and they chose it because it was one of the most difficult in capradi. It is the culmination of years of training. It’s not about holding a pose. It’s about having learned one’s body so perfectly that stillness is no longer required.

            It’s a dance, more than anything.

            Zemall steps onto Chirrut’s shoulders, and off them just as quickly, falling into a somersault and grabbing his legs. Chirrut steps onto the bottom of her feet, rising in a slow spin. His eyes are closed, and so are Zemall’s. They have to trust one another completely for this. It’s not a matter of being harmed if they fall, but of proving they were unprepared, and facing that embarrassment, should they fail.

            They must have been practicing since Baze left. Maybe even before. Zemall is extraordinary—to have only completed her fifth duan and to already be performing climbing vine is an incredible accomplishment. Baze, of course, only has eyes for Chirrut.

            Everything he does appears completely effortless. He knows where to step, even when it seems like he’ll fall into thin air. Every movement is purposeful. Baze is overcome with pride for his beloved.

            All these people who thought he couldn’t come this far. Who would not train him. Who would not spar with him. Now look at him. Carrying out one of the most difficult formations in capradi without even breaking a sweat.

            He’s doing this to show off for you.

            Of course he is. Chirrut might be enlightened, but some things will never change. He is doing this for Baze’s praise, and he will receive it in abundance.        

            His strong body, rising and falling. Baze can picture the muscles that ripple beneath the cloth. He knows what Chirrut looks like in his most intimate of moments. He knows Chirrut’s body.

            Baze smiles without even realizing he’s doing it.

            He thinks of the man who arrived here three years ago. Cocky. Showing off. Baze thought so little of him. He had much of the technical side mastered, but he understood a fraction of what it meant to be a Guardian. And while Baze does not believe in the Force, or the Whills, he sees that Chirrut has become calmer in himself. He is a better person than when he arrived. It is not a thing Baze can say of himself, but he can be pleased—more than pleased—by Chirrut’s successes.

            He frowns at the sound of footfalls on the walkway. Someone is wearing boots. They should know better than to enter now, when Zemall and Chirrut need absolute silence. They have to concentrate.

            Baze feels his jaw twitch when Ebji walks in front of him. The man is in his grey uniform. His hands are covered by black gloves. He stands beside Baze, leaning back against the railing, taking in the scene before him.

            Ignore him.

            Usually that might be easier said than done, but Baze is so taken by the performance that he sees nothing besides Chirrut. His love. His stubborn, beautiful man, who perseveres. Who is relentless.

            Give him a few decades of harassing me, maybe I will pray again. The thought makes Baze smile wryly.

            He holds his breath as Chirrut climbs onto Zemall’s open palm, and she lifts him into the air above her head. Baze did this with Xero, and he dropped her more times than he could count. It takes complete concentration—

            “Remarkable,” Ebji says.

            Zemall’s wrist wobbles, and Chirrut falls. Baze shoots to his feet, heart leaping into his throat.

            But Chirrut grabs Zemall’s hands on the way down, curling onto his back and using the momentum to lift her, skipping the seventeenth step. The Guardians nod in appreciation. Zemall holds her position, taking a few deep breaths. Chirrut lies on his back, holding her up with hands and feet.

            After a moment’s preparation, she flips upside down, and they hold position, palms pressed together.

            Seeing that they are safe, Baze silently turns to stare at the lieutenant. He’s gone quite red. At Baze’s glare, he turns an even deeper shade. He swallows, folding his hands together, and says nothing more.

            Baze watches him for a few more moments than is necessary before devoting his attention to the rest of the performance.

            They are perfect.

 

When the demonstration ends, the Guardians immediately get to their feet to congratulate them. Zemall ignores them, going to get Chirrut’s staff for him.

            Ebji says, “Mr. Malbus—“

            Baze doesn’t so much as look at him. “Come on,” he says, giving Hela’s sleeve a flick, then going to join the crowd.

            Chirrut is humble in accepting the praise, something else Baze would not have known him capable of when they first met. “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me,” Baze hears him say modestly, and rolls his eyes.

            Chirrut turns his head in Baze’s direction, and Baze grins. He knows Chirrut can’t see it, but maybe he can feel it. Maybe he can even hear it.

            After a second, though, Chirrut’s smile falters. His face goes blank a moment, his chin tilting to the right ever so slightly. Baze worries that Ebji has decided it would be a good idea to come over, so he prepares to glare at the fool some more.

            Except it’s just Hela, limping after him.

            Baze shakes his head. “Clinic,” he hisses.

            Nodding, she concedes, “I know.”

            The crowd sees that Baze is near, and some of them move out of the way. Chirrut moves forward, and the rest clear a path.

            Before Baze can tease Chirrut for being a hopeless show-off, Chirrut looks over Hela’s shoulder, holding his staff with both hands. “Hela. Welcome back.”

            She immediately blushes, lowering her head. “Seer. Thank you.”

            “I’m surprised that you were able to join us today.”

            “I—really shouldn’t have. I was—eager to show y—Baze my new leg.”

            Chirrut says nothing else. His head is tilted downwards. He appears to be listening intently.

            After a long, awkward moment, Hela says, “I should be getting back.”

            “Do you need me to walk you?” Baze asks immediately.

            Hela looks between the two of them with an expression that says, are you an idiot, and replies, “No, I’m fine.” She bows to the others. “Excuse me, Guardians. May the Force be with you.”

            Hela turns and walks away, obviously having trouble with her leg. Baze is about to go to her when he sees Ebji step in, offering his arm. Baze scowls, ready to intervene. But Hela smiles politely, and takes the offered arm. As they walk away, she glances back at Baze. He grins at the pure loathing in her eyes.

            When he turns back, though, his smile fades. Chirrut looks as serious as he ever gets.

            Some things, it would seem, do not change.

 

Baze doesn’t say anything on the walk home. He knows what Chirrut is thinking, and he’s not going to dignify it by being the first to speak. Chirrut’s on his own this time.

            Chirrut swings his staff rhythmically back and forth. He is being very quiet, and very somber. Not like himself, and not like a man who’s just completed climbing vine formation before some of the temple’s most respected Guardians.

            Baze walks with his hands in his coat pockets, thinking of where he’ll have to hide his lightning cannon. If Ebji’s asking questions, Baze will have to be on his best behaviour. That means not keeping illegal weapons in the house that he shares with the temple’s prophet.

            “Stop it,” Chirrut says.

            Raising his brows, Baze asks, “You’ll have to be a little more specific.”

            “Waiting for me to speak. Tell me I’m wrong.”

            “You’re wrong.”

            “Tell me why I’m wrong.”

            Sighing, Baze says, “If you think for a second that there’s anything more between Hela and I than friendship, you dishonour me. You dishonour the love I have for you.”

            Chirrut’s cheeks flush. But he says, “She’s wearing a kyber necklace.”

            “Is she?” It must have been under her shirt. Baze certainly didn’t see anything. Hela’s tough, but she’s not going to openly walk around wearing kyber on her person.

            “It was Guela’s.”

            Baze is taken aback. “How can you tell?”

            “The crystal sings her name. You gave Guela’s crystal to Hela. Why?”

            “Chirrut, much as I like being reminded that you are human with petty human concerns, you’re eventually going to have to get over this jealousy of Hela. She’s my friend.” Baze thinks about it, and says, “She’s family.”

            “She’s wearing a piece of kyber you gave her—“

            “Not that I should have to tell you this, but I thought she was about to die. I gave it to her because she reveres the useless things, and I thought it would give her some comfort. It’s hers to keep. If you think I’m going to ask my friend to give back a gift I gave her on her deathbed, then you need to retire to the prayer caves for a week or two and get your head right.”

            Chirrut comes to a stop outside the house, and Baze sighs again, preparing for a fight. He’s only been back a day, but the reality of a long-term relationship is that sometimes people fight over irrational things.

            “There’s someone inside,” Chirrut says.

            Startled, Baze looks at the house. There’s no sign of anyone, but it’s not like the house has locks. They’ve never needed any. “Should we leave?”

            “No, it’s…their aura….” Chirrut takes a deep breath. “The Master. She wants to talk to you.” Baze snorts and starts to walk away. Chirrut stops him with his staff. Eyes above Baze’s head, Chirrut says, “For me, would you please speak to her? At the very least, get her out of our house.”

            Baze glances at the building, then says, “For you, of course.”

            Chirrut nods, stepping away. “I’ll come back in an hour.”

            Baze wants to holler after him, an hour? but Chirrut is already walking away, sweeping his staff from side to side.

            Baze grimaces, then wipes his hands off on his pants. He wondered if he was going to have a conversation with the Master when he returned. Here’s his answer.

            Opening the door, he steps up into the house. The Master sits at the table, her hands folded on the surface. She wears her usual red robes, head shaved down to the scalp, reptile eyes unblinking. Baze shuts the door, not giving her the satisfaction of looking surprised.

            She glances around the house. “It’s not what I expected.”

            Baze leans down, unzipping his boots. “What did you expect?’

            Yamari looks at the bed. “A bit more discretion.”

            Baze snorts softly, putting his boots in their place and walking to the table to sit. “Everyone in the order knows what Chirrut and I are to one another,” he says, sitting opposite the Master. “I’m not going to hide in my own home.”

            “This isn’t your home. It’s the home of the Protector of the Crystal Guardian.”

            He shrugs. “You found a new one yet?’

            Yamari takes a deep breath. “Malbus—I don’t want to fight with you. I find, however, that is—my default state when it comes to you. As it always has been.”

            Baze is uncomfortable. She looks tired. He knows what that feels like. “I’m not the one who pushed you away.”

            “I had to hate you. You were given what I worked so hard for.” He looks at her, and the Master shakes her head. Quietly, she says, “All I wanted was to be Protector. I wanted to see the Force through the eyes of the Guardian. I would have given myself, body and soul, to the Crystal Guardian. I didn’t want to run this temple. I wanted what you were given, without even asking. Without even asking, T’kal just handed it to you. I knew you were unworthy. At first, I was upset because I hadn’t gotten what I wanted. What I thought I deserved. I worked hard to remind myself that the Force doesn’t give. It doesn’t take. It simply is. I watched you, to see if you were worthy of this honour T’kal bestowed upon you. And you weren’t.”

            Sitting back, Baze crosses his arms. “Is there a reason you’re—“

            “But then you were.”

            He gazes at her, thrown.

            Yamari looks back, sorrow in her eyes. “You were worthy. You became worthy. You learned. You were humble. I could see why T’kal chose you, and I hated you for that too. I am not worthy of the position you were given. I am greedy, and ambitious, and I rarely take into account the considerations of people, as opposed to things. I make a good Master. I would have made a terrible Protector. You…were a good Protector. So I hated you, but I respected you. And now….”

            She sets her hands flat on the table. After a moment, her cheek twitching, Yamari speaks, looking down. “You are the only one who can get into the crystal caves. You are the only one. I can’t pretend to like you. I can’t pretend to not hate you. I do hate you.” She raises her eyes to his. “We have played games with one another for many years, but I do not have the luxury of anything but honesty in this moment. The Crystal Guardian is in danger. I understand that you have your reasons to hate it, but we are not—we are not the same beings as it. We do not know why it does the things it does—“

            “It tried to kill Chirrut from jealousy,” Baze says flatly.

            Yamari lets out a frustrated sigh. “You think that because that’s what you want to see. You, who have seen the Force through the Guardian’s eyes—“

            “I’m not going over this again—“

            “What if it saw that moment?”

            “What?”

            “The Guardian is one with the Force, in a way most people are not. In the past, when the order was imperiled, it sent visions to the Protector, and they were able to save the temple. Save the Guardians of the Whills. What if the Guardian saw this coming? What if it only did what it had to? Have you not considered that? For a single moment, have you thought of anyone besides yourself?” Before Baze can speak, the Master says, “Besides Îmwe? The Guardian has survived, unmolested, unchanging, in that cave from before we even have records. Baze. Think. Of all the things it sees, it must have seen the end of the Jedi. It must have seen what was about to happen. What if this is what had to be done? What if it sacrificed its earthly sight, because it knew it had to?’

            Baze gazes at her and says levelly, “It’s a maudlin, typical Guardian sentiment.”

            Yamari lowers her head, biting into her lip. She lifts her fingers off the table, struggling to hold her temper. “They won’t care about the kyber,” she says after a moment. “There’s more in Ilum. They’ll plunder those stores long before they come to take the temple. But the Guardian. There is only one in the known galaxy. They will come for it.” Desperation leaks into her voice. “The questions they ask. I know what they want. They want the Guardian. Without the Guardian, we will fall. There will be no more temple. There will be no order. For all we know, there could be no more kyber. Please. I understand your anger—“

            “I doubt that—“

            “But I am asking you—not as your enemy, not as—a competitor, or as anything that we have been, but as a person—speak to the Crystal Guardian. It may be blinded, but it could still speak. It would speak to you, I know that it would. It will speak to no other, but it wants to speak. It always has. It’s alone, in the dark, and it wants to talk to someone. It’s chosen you. If you don’t, it doesn’t just affect you. It’s every person in this temple, in this city, maybe even the moon. Maybe even further. We have something that is directly linked to the Force—the good that we could do with that. We could do so much—if you would only speak to it. Please. Baze, I’m—I’m asking you with all that I have. Please.”

            Baze takes a breath, and shrugs. “There is no such thing as the Force.”

            Yamari closes her eyes. “Damn you,” she breathes.

            “You’ve got a monster in a cave that feeds off attention. If you want to delude yourself, that’s your prerogative. But I’m not moving backwards, just to play into this mass delusion you’re all wound up in.”

            The Master’s hands close into fists. She sits there a moment, then shakes her head slightly. With a short sigh, she gets to her feet.

            She comes around the side of the table, then taps her fingers on the surface. “Where is my mother?”

            Baze looks up, confused. “What?”

            “I asked you where my mother is.”

            “How the hell would I know?”

            “My mother is one with the Force. She guarded the younglings at the Jedi Temple.” Yamari leans down, gazing into Baze’s eyes. “You have always been a coward. You follow orders when they should be ignored. You refuse love when it’s offered freely, and indulge in it when the world burns around you. You think you hurt because you lost someone, lost something, and you think that the right thing is to wait for your moment of glory, when you can pay back those who harmed you. And meanwhile—they’ve already won. They’ve won, and you sit here, doing nothing, grieving what can’t be given back to you, ignoring the only real possibility you have of doing something right and good in the face of all this misery. And when the temple falls, and when that fool of yours is killed, and everything is ashes, you’ll remember that you could have done something. Something real. And you chose not to, because you think you’re the only person who’s ever been hurt.” Yamari moves away from him. “The only satisfaction I get from this is knowing that my first impressions of you were right. Beyond that—not even I could have guessed what a truly worthless person you turned out to be.”

            She leaves the house, not bothering to close the door behind herself, and Baze sits at the table for a long time without moving.

 

They have a quiet evening. Baze isn’t in the mood to talk, and Chirrut seems to feel a bit sheepish about his earlier behaviour. He asks a few questions about Hela’s prosthetic, and even goes so far as to say they should have her over for dinner one night.

            Before they fall asleep, Baze tells Chirrut he did a beautiful job with climbing vine. That he’s proud. And he is, he truly is. It was a wonderful demonstration. Chirrut is much better at capradi than Baze ever was. No word of lie.

            Chirrut pulls Baze’s arm over him, and falls asleep with his head on Baze’s chest, rising and falling with each breath. Baze takes longer to drift off. He doesn’t want to be thinking about these things, but he is. Leave it to the Master to take his good mood from being back and destroy it.

            Is it really her fault?

            Yes, Baze decides with a grimace. He closes his eyes, and counts. He counts until nearly a thousand before he finally falls asleep.

           

the ground is an ocean

            the earth is an ocean and the sand is the tide and it is

            it is

            it is

            what is the word

            he learned the word when he was

            away

            tsunami

            tsunami is the word, the word is the wave that kills that devours that will take them all and it is coming it is coming for all of them

            adda

            I am one with the Force and the Force is with me

 

Baze wakes with a gasp, sitting straight up.

            He recoils at the hands on him, shoving back at whatever’s holding him. He’s panicking—it was so real—there was no ground, there was no sky, there was just a wave, a wave of sand devouring the whole fucking universe

            “Baze!”

            He sucks in a breath, trying to find purchase. Hands—Chirrut. Chirrut is with him. They’re in bed. It’s just a dream. Just a dream.

            Come.

            He squeezes his eyes shut at the intrusion. A thought that’s not his own is trying to push in. He grasps Chirrut’s wrist hard enough that another might have cried out. Chirrut just rubs his back with his free hand, saying, “Shh—you’re with me. You’re with me, you’re all right.”

            The word repeats, softer this time, but it’s there.

            No it’s not. Baze refuses to listen. He refuses to let himself be drawn back into this madness.

            “The Guardian.”

            Baze starts to calm down, loosening his grip. He pushes his hair back, frowning at first because it feels unfamiliar. Right. He went to the barber. There’s a reason it’s not matted.

            “The Guardian is calling you,” Chirrut says.

            “No,” Baze replies, pulling away from Chirrut.

            But Chirrut is turned to him, sitting on his knees. “Yes it is,” he says eagerly, “I can feel it—“

            Baze loses his temper. “Well I can’t!” he yells.

            He shoves himself onto his feet, and storms out the back door, ignoring Chirrut. It wasn’t the Guardian. It was just a dream.

            It was just a dream.

Chapter Text

It strikes Baze that, while the universe may be turned upside down under the power of an increasingly ruthless dictator, and the majority of people are fumbling through progressively more uncertain lives, he is leading an enviable life in this moment.

            Chirrut’s arm hooks around his throat, and Baze pushes back against him, eyes closed, exhaling with a mix of pain and pleasure. Pressed against his back, deep inside him, Chirrut bites the back of his neck. Baze nods, reaching back to grab any piece of Chirrut he can find while his other hand braces them against the wall.

            They’re kneeling on the bed. It’s morning, the sun just risen. Chirrut should be gone by now, but Baze can be persuasive.

            Chirrut reaches up to Baze’s face, hand passing over his eyes. “They’re closed,” Baze gasps.

            “Just checking,” Chirrut replies, rolling his hips upwards.

            Baze likes when they fuck face to face. Chirrut is happy to go about things in any way, shape, or form, but he doesn’t like to fall into a rut. Every time must be different from the last. He got Baze to admit that he likes to watch Chirrut, and that’s why he prefers face to face. Chirrut challenged him to make love with his eyes closed. Baze admits, it is nice to go off nothing other than touch and sensation and sound.          Of course, he opens his eyes then, because he likes when they fuck in the daylight.

            Chirrut covers his eyes, growling, “What did I tell you?” in Baze’s ear.

            Grinning, Baze replies, “What are you going to do?”

            He certainly doesn’t expect Chirrut to grab him by the hair and force him downwards. Baze flushes with embarrassment. This is not how he pictured himself. He’s supposed to be in control. With Chirrut, he’s supposed to be—

            Oh, who is he kidding? He’ll do anything Chirrut wants, and he’ll love it.

            “You got quiet all of a sudden,” Chirrut tease, speeding up his rhythm.

            “Did you want me to talk?” Baze grabs handfuls of the blanket. He can be what Chirrut wants. That’s what makes Baze happiest.

            With a soft laugh, Chirrut slips an arm under Baze, lifting him back up. “I just wanted to see what you would do. Would you have let me have you on all fours, like an animal?”

            “Seems only fair,” Baze responds, rising and falling on Chirrut’s cock. “Stars knows I’ve had you that way enough times.”

            Hand wrapping around Baze’s prick, Chirrut laughs, and Baze is happy as he has ever been.

            They take their time. Another twenty minutes, and Chirrut comes first, with Baze following soon after. When they’re done, they fall to the bottom of the bed in a heap, sweat soaked and smiling and lazily trying to catch their breath.

            Their legs are somewhat tangled together. Chirrut ends up with his hand on Baze’s largest scar, the one from the shrapnel. He strokes it with the backs of his fingers.

            “Good morning,” he says after a minute.

            Baze snorts, and pushes his hair back with both hands. “Morning.”

            “I’m happy. Are you happy?”

            “I am.”

            “Do you feel all right?”

            Baze looks over, confused. “How do you mean?”

            Chirrut’s blue eyes are pointed at the corner of the ceiling. His face is flushed. “Not often that it’s me in you. Do you feel all right?”

            Baze rolls his eyes. “If I could stay on my knees for a week at a—“

            “I should have known.”

            “What?”

            “That’s always what you say if anyone doubts your physical prowess.”

            “Physical prowess,” Baze murmurs.

            “You don’t think that when it’s reversed that I’m not contributing as well?”

            Baze lifts both hands. “For the love of existence, you know I don’t think that. Don’t even start with me.” He shifts over so that he can press his arm to Chirrut’s. “Did you know that you’re a good lover?”

            “Yes.”

            “Modest too?” Baze says, straight faced.

            “I had plenty of practice in my misbegotten twenties. You know you’re wonderful, right?” Before Baze can protest, Chirrut jabs him in the side. “I’ll do that every time you refuse to take a compliment. Just say thank you.”

            “What about if the compliment’s not true?”

            “You don’t think you please me? Do you think I fuck you from pity?”

            Smirking, Baze replies, “No, I know I’m good.”

            Chirrut chuckles, and then he sighs. He tilts his head back, inhaling. “It smells like it must be eight at least.”

            “Yes.”

            “So I should go soon.”

            “Or you could stay here, we could ignore all our responsibilities and prepare for round two.”

            “An hour wasn’t enough for you? Insatiable.”

            “We’ve plenty of time to make up for.”

            “I do have to go, though. What about you? What are your plans for today?”

            Baze grumbles. He lifts Chirrut’s arm, tucking himself against his side. “Oh, check out the barricades. Listen to Hela babble about that healer of hers. Avoid Ebji.”

            Chirrut kisses his hair, supportive. He knows how Baze feels about Ebji.

            Baze has spent the last three weeks actively hiding from the lieutenant. The man wants to talk to Baze, alone. Baze has no intention of doing anything an Imperial wants. He has his sources, and knows where the lieutenant is at all times, so he’s been able to keep his distance. It’s gotten so bad that Ebji has even taken to lurking outside the house some mornings. Baze just jumps the back fence.

            Chirrut runs interference. He politely offers Ebji water when he unexpectedly drops by the house, listens attentively to what he has to say, and cheerfully lies about not knowing where Baze is at the moment. Chirrut and Baze have never even had a conversation about Baze actually sitting down to speak with Ebji. Baze is certain Chirrut thinks Ebji might not survive.

            Baze can control himself. He just doesn’t want to be that close to temptation.

            “I have an idea,” Baze says.

            “No.”

            “You don’t even want to hear it?”

            “I can already tell my answer will be no, but if you want to tell me you can.”

            “Let’s steal a ship. Point it at some unexplored part of the galaxy, and just go as far from this madness as we can. Let’s run away.”

            “That’s not how the story ends.”

            Baze doesn’t even get frustrated by that. “The story ends the way we want it to.”

            “You’re too old to be that naïve.” Chirrut pushes himself up enough to give Baze a quick, wet kiss on the mouth, then he rolls out of bed.

            Baze watches him move about. Even after all this time, there are days when it still seems strange that Chirrut cannot see. He moves without his eyes looking at what he’s doing, collecting his clothes and wrappings. His beautiful blue eyes see nothing.

            “Stop that,” Chirrut says.

            “I’m only looking at you.”

            Chirrut spreads his arms with a crooked grin. “Do you like what you see?”

            For some reason, Baze’s gaze fastens on the scar etched between Chirrut’s ribs. I put that there. I put that there because someone told me to.

            “You’re not bad,” Baze replies.

            Chirrut lifts a brow, his face saying that he knows that isn’t the whole story. But he walks away, pointing at his perfect ass. “You want to look at anything, look at that. A lot of work went into that.”

            Baze silently laughs. He scratches his brow, and inhales. The room smells of sex, the sheets damp beneath him. This has the potential to be a good day. Or it could all be downhill from here.

            Regardless. Baze pushes himself off the bed, and goes to join Chirrut in the shower. Maybe he can distract him a while longer.

 

Baze doesn’t bother trying to hide from Ebji today. The man has a meeting on the west side of the city with the mayor. Ha—the mayor. All the years Baze has been here, he’s never seen the mayor do a damn thing. Everyone just looks to the temple for guidance, regardless of whether it will be forthcoming. If Ebji thinks he’s cultivating power with anyone by going to through mayor, he has another thing coming.

            Blaster in his belt, Baze walks across the grounds with his hands in the pocket of his jacket. He’ll go over the alarms on the barricades, then have lunch with the others. He might agree to go out this weekend. Mi’akosh and Mae’okash have been asking him since he returned from the desert. Baze hasn’t had a sip of alcohol in six months. It might be nice to go out and be semi ridiculous with his friends.

            The day is bright enough, but plenty cool. It’s still winter and will be for some time yet. Not many people down on the desert floor. Tonight, if Chirrut’s home at a reasonable hour, Baze could ask if he wants to go down with his lightbow. Not like he needs the practice—like pretty much anything, Chirrut has mastered its use—but Chirrut likes to show off for Baze. Same as always.

            Baze takes another step, and his knees suddenly buckle.

 

            come                   

            finish

            end

            please

 

            It hits him in a wave, so hard that his vision blurs. He reaches out, wavering. Strangely slow, Baze goes down on one knee.

            No. He’s not doing this. Eyes closed, he counts to ten.

            The creature tries again. Finish.  

            Baze refuses to listen. It’s the fourth time in the last month that the Crystal Guardian has tried to speak to him, but Baze isn’t having it. The thing is a monster. Yet another one that surrounds him. He owes it nothing. He will stay here, because it’s where Chirrut is, but he doesn’t have to be a part of this world. He’ll keep the temple walls standing, but that’s all he has to offer. That is all he’s willing to give.

            A hand slips under his elbow. “Baze,” he hears, but it’s as though it comes to him from kilometers away.

            He shakes his head, hard, and pushes himself back to his feet. He looks over, surprised to find Xero at his side. She looks at him, cautious.

            “Does it speak to you?” she asks.

            Baze says, “Just dizzy. Excuse me.” He walks away, shoving his hands in his pockets. He counts to ten, over and over again.

 

Rez says, “We could try talking to them,” and the others shout her down. Hela throws a napkin at her.

            “I’ve heard some stupid ideas,” says Mi’akosh.

            “But that one takes the cakes,” finishes Mae’okash.

            Blushing, Rez protests, “People be a lot more friendly if you talk at them, ‘stead of just pointing a blaster.”

            “I’d be more eager to get up and close and personal with these poor defenseless civilians you’re talking about if one hadn’t pointed a blaster at my face,” Hela counters. “Or if their beloved leader hadn’t blown off my leg.”

            “I’m just saying, people hate us, and it wouldn’t hurt to try and heal things instead of pretending like it ain’t happened.”

            Baze says, “So what if they hate us?”

            Rez looks at him as if he’s a crazy person. “What do you mean?”

            “I mean, who fucking cares if they hate us?”

            “I care.”

            “That’ll pass,” says Mi’akosh.

            “Hey, I been here three years. I’m no some starry-eyed outlander. These people, they come here to be close to the temple. They’re here to be close to the Force. They don’t want to hurt nobody, less someone hurts them first.” She looks between them and scowls. “Don’t be gaping at me like that.”

            Digging into her pasha, Hela says, “We’re not gaping. We just think your naivete is really, really adorable.”

            “Fuck yourself,” Rez mutters, stabbing her fork into the bowl. “People gonna be mad, we don’t have to let it be so.”

            “People will be mad regardless,” Mae’okash says. “That’s because they’re scared. They’re scared of the Empire, not us. But they can hate us out loud. They can’t hate the Empire.”

            Grabbing the fork from their right hand, Mi’akosh says, “People have to hate somebody.”

            “I doesn’t believe that,” Rez says stubbornly.

            “You’d have made a good Guardian,” Baze says.

            Rez looks at him in surprise, almost flattered, and Hela tells her, “He doesn’t mean it as a compliment.”

            Baze swallows his mouthful, and explains, “You’ll believe anything.”

            Rez blushes deeply. Baze doesn’t feel bad about her embarrassment. He’s got no patience for guards who’ll hesitate when it comes to pulling the trigger. If you think of the malcontents outside the gates as people in three dimensions, it makes it harder to kill them.

            At least for most people. Baze has that problem less and less.

            “So?” Mi’akosh says, reaching across the table and stabbing at some of Rez’s food, but they’re speaking to Baze. “Are you coming out this weekend?”

            “Maybe.”

            “Your husband let your leash go that far?” Mae’okash teases.

            “Why don’t you ask him?”

            “Why don’t I ask him to come?”

            Baze grins widely. With a shake of the head, he says, “You do that.”

            “I’d lay credits he’d say yes.”

            “I think I know the man a little better than you.”

            “So you don’t think you’ve got a leg to stand on.”

            “Somehow I feel like I should be offended,” Hela pipes up.

            Baze looks at Mae’okash, a brow arched. Then he looks at Mi’akosh. “You’re not as dumb as your other half, are you?”

            The heads look at one another, silently conferring. Mi’akosh shrugs their shoulder. “I think he’d say yes.”

            “It’s not a matter of if he’d say yes—“

            Mae’okash crows, “So you know he’d say yes—“

            Baze points at them with his fork. “Make you a bet. If Chirrut comes to the bar with us and has a drink of alcohol, I’ll replace that piece of shit 3-AUD you’ve been carrying around forever.”

            “I like this blaster—“

            “Fine, I’ll fix it so it’s less of a piece of shit. But if he doesn’t have a drink, you pay for three rounds.”

            Mae’okash and Mi’akosh sit back, mouths open. “That’s a lot of drinks—“

            “So you don’t think you have a leg to stand on.”

            Hela says, “I still feel like I should be offended. I’m not, but I feel like I should be.”

            Baze waits for their answer. Mi’akosh and Mae’okash consider it a moment, then roll their eyes. They reach out their left hand to shake, then the right. “My blaster had better be pristine when I get it back,” Mi’akosh says when they draw back their hand.

            Baze grins. This is a sucker’s bet. Chirrut will clear that bar out in under twenty minutes. Everyone will be too nervous to drink around the blind Seer of the Temple of the Kyber. They’ll likely be asked to leave.

            Ice hits his veins when a voice says, “Good afternoon.”

            Fuck.

            Baze continues eating without raising his head as Ebji walks down into the room. The others all sit up straight, looking at him. Baze quickly crosses off three of his contacts. They can’t be trusted. That’s fine. Plenty more people who don’t care for the Empire.

            “I’m sorry to interrupt, but I wonder if I might have a word with Mr. Malbus. In private.”

            To their credit, no one moves right away. From the corner of his eye, Baze sees Hela turn her eyes to him. Without slowing the path of fork to bowl, Baze gives his head the most infinitesimal of nods.

            “Of course,” Hela says quietly. The others get up and file out. Baze gives Hela a glance as she goes. A quick, silent message passes between them. What exactly it is, Baze is unsure, but she sets her jaw and moves faster out the door.

            Ebji withdraws the seat across from Baze. He sits down neatly, careful to not wrinkle his cape. He removes his gloves one finger at a time before laying them on the table and resting his hands upon them. A placid smile on his face, he looks at Baze.

            Baze does not respond. He continues to eat pasha, one piece of intestine at a time.

            “You’re a hard man to find, Mr. Malbus,” says the lieutenant. “If the mayor hadn’t needed to cancel our meeting at the last second, I don’t know that we would have ever crossed paths.”

            Cancelled the meeting, my ass.

            “Well. We haven’t had the opportunity to speak since my arrival. I hope now is a good time.”

            Whether it’s good or not doesn’t seem to matter. Just don’t kill him. Baze has to think it, actually think it. It would be easy, really. He could put the fork in his hand right through Ebji’s brown eye, and ram it all the way to the back of his skull. It would be the work of seconds. And there would be one less Imperial left in the universe.

            One less you in the universe as well, when the stormtroopers caught you.

            “I gather you’re not fond of the Empire, Mr. Malbus. I’ve asked about you. I know that you suffered losses in the transition—“

            Transition. Like there was some bloodless transfer of power. Like the galaxy wasn’t littered with corpses when the stormtroopers had their fill.

            “As did a great many people. But I also know that, unlike few others here, you have very little love for the Church of the Force. You’re not a believer.”

            He keeps pausing. Like he expects Baze to jump in. Baze will—eventually—just not on this man’s terms.

            “You were the gatekeeper to the Crystal Guardian. You’re the only one in all the galaxy trained to do that. But it has taken from you as well. I know this—“

            Bored, Baze says, “Get to the point.”

            Ebji pauses. He’s not used to being treated with such blatant disrespect. He needs Baze, though. So he smiles again, and says, “Well, perhaps we can do away with the prelude. You have information. You are the only one with that information. We can reward you greatly for it.”

            Baze just glances at him, and doesn’t dignify that with a response. He sticks more pasha into his mouth. It really is disgusting.

            “If it’s money you want, that wouldn’t be an issue. Frankly, Mr. Malbus, you could name your price. If you wanted to leave this place, and go somewhere where you would never have to deal with us, or the Guardians of the Whills again, it would really just be a snap of the fingers.”

            Sardonically, Baze just says, “Tempting.”

            “All right. You don’t want money. You don’t want to leave this place? The Guardians seem to have as much love for you as you for them. They regard you as a traitor. Is this really where you want to spend the rest of your days?”

            Where he spends the rest of his days isn’t relevant. Who he spends them with is.

            “All right,” Ebji says again. “You don’t want to be bribed. I understand. It’s a cheap tactic, but most people respond to it. Most people are greedy. But you’re not greedy, are you, Mr. Malbus.”

            Baze has a sip from his water packet.

            “You like order. I’ve heard how you deal with people who vandalize the temple. You have your place and you keep it protected. You keep it ordered. I appreciate that. I respect that. When the mob tried to take the temple, you stopped it with two shots. You’re not afraid to do whatever’s necessary to protect your station. That is admirable. I want to assure you, we aren’t trying to destroy the temple—“

            “You’d have more luck if I thought you believed a single word that came out of your mouth.”

            Stopping a moment, Ebji says, “Well, negotiation—“

            “There’s no negotiation here. I can’t help you. I don’t give a fuck if you do destroy the temple. The Church is just a bunch of fools trying to convince themselves that something greater than themselves exists. The Empire’s just looking to grab all the kyber they can to terrify people into submission. You’ve already succeeded at that. Anything now is just overkill.”

            Ebji leans forward. “Mr. Malbus—we aren’t trying to terrify people. We’re bringing order—“

            “I don’t respond well to lies.”

            “These are not lies. The Empire is about order, about justice—“

            “Yeah? Where’s the justice in slaughtering children?”

            Ebji pats his hands on the table. “Mr. Malbus, that is not what the Empire—“

            “Your Empire started with the murder of children. The Jedi? I could give a fuck about the Jedi. Religious extremists who thought they were better than everyone. But you didn’t stop with them. You people moved through that temple and killed every last child. Every last infant asleep in their bed. The Emperor’s lackey and your white suited minions cut them in half, cut off their limbs, and you’re going to sit there in your ironed suit and your expensive gloves and you’re going to talk to me about order?” Baze raises a brow, and spears a piece of pasha. “Try again.”

            It takes a moment before Ebji says, “I know that you lost someone at the temple. A girl. It was…a terrible business. The Empire is not perfect. Nothing is perfect, Mr. Malbus.” That might be the first honest thing out of his mouth. “But the Empire is here to stay. We are endeavouring to do all we can to be better, do better. And in order to do that—“

            Baze snorts, and gives his head a shake. “It’s pointless.”

            Pressing his lips together, Ebji says, “Mr. Malbus. This is the time to make deals. Soon people will come who aren’t interested in deals.”

            “So?”

            “So…you can’t be so perverse that you’d simply refuse a valid offer just to inconvenience a few officers. You only do yourself harm.”

            “What you’re trying to do here is pointless. You don’t want the kyber, you want the Guardian. Yeah, congratulations, I’m not an idiot. The Guardian’s been here longer than the city. It could bring this thing down on our heads on a whim. If you think you’re just going to take it out of there—“ Baze grins, and Ebji recoils. Baze’s teeth must be stained red from the pasha. “Be my guest. You haven’t got enough credits in the universe to get me back in those caves.”

            He swirls the fork through the broth, looking for any remaining pieces of intestines. Ebji knows what’s good for him, he’ll leave now.

            “You and Guardian Îmwe are close.”

            Fine.

            Baze lays down his fork beside the bowl, and from this point forward, he looks Ebji directly in the eyes. “And?”

            “And,” Ebji says softly, “perhaps there are other considerations beyond yourself.”

            “Be…very, very careful.”

            “Why is that, Mr. Malbus?”

            “Just because I spent five months in the desert stalking my prey doesn’t mean I need to always delay gratification before I kill someone.”

            Ebji doesn’t do anything overt, like swallow, but Baze can see the vein in his temple begin to pulse. “It’s a crime to threaten an Imperial officer,” he says, keeping his voice steady. “Five-year sentence.”

            “I didn’t threaten an Imperial officer. I just stated a fact. Besides, there’s worse things than threatening an Imperial officer.”

            “What’s that?”

            “Threatening Chirrut Îmwe. I’d take five years over whatever would happen to the person who threatened him.” Baze smiles slightly. “I’d take five years over whatever would happen to the person who threatened me to his face.”

            “He’s blind, Mr. Malbus. He is impressive, yes, but…he has his weaknesses.”

            Smile widening, Baze says, “That you think that tells me how you end.” Ebji blanches, and it’s beautiful to behold.

            Baze lifts his head at a familiar sound. The staff moving back and forth over the sand. This might not be ideal timing, given the pressure point Ebji is attempting to lean on.

            Chirrut arrives in the doorway of the guard’s quarters, head down and to the side. He reaches out for the wall, looking hesitant as he does so. “Baze?” he calls.

            Nice acting. “I’m here.”

            “I wanted to know if you could look at my comm unit. It’s malfunctioning.” Chirrut smiles. “I tried to call you, but—malfunctioning.”

            “Of course.” Baze pushes back from the table. “I was just talking to Lieutenant Ebji. But we’re done here.”

            “Lieutenant,” Chirrut says with a polite smile. “I’m sorry to interrupt.”

            “No interruption,” Ebji says. He smiles faintly. “We were finished.”

            Baze leaves the table, going to Chirrut. “Do you have it on you or do we need to go back to the house?” he asks.

            “With me,” Chirrut says as they begin to walk. “Hopefully it only takes a few minutes.”

            They pass Mi’akosh and Mae’okash, who raises their brows. Baze shrugs, and they frown.

            After twenty meters, Baze asks, “Hela come find you?’

            “She has the comm frequency in my staff.”

            “Does she?” Baze says with surprise.

            “I like to keep an eye on you.”

            “That’s hilarious.”

            “I have to get back. I have a meeting with the elders and the Master.”

            “The offer to run away still stands.”

            They break away from each other, moving in opposite directions, and Chirrut says, “See me in a few hours. I might have changed my mind.”

            Baze makes himself scarce, even though he knows he won’t have to face Ebji again for a while. When he does, he doubts it will be that friendly.

            That’s fine. Friendly isn’t one of his better characteristics.

 

Stroking his fingers through Baze’s increasingly wavy hair, Chirrut asks, “He didn’t say specifically what he wanted, though?”

            Datapad balanced on his knees, Baze answers, “No. He just kept making offers and I kept shutting him down.”

            “It would have been smarter to hear him out all the way.”

            “At least I didn’t kill him.”

            “That’s setting the bar pretty low, Baze.”

            They’re in the living room. Chirrut is laid out on the couch, and Baze sits on the floor. He’s leaning back, his head resting against Chirrut’s side. Fingers thread through his hair, fingertips rubbing over his scalp.

            “They want to know all that I know about the Crystal Guardian. It’s not hard to figure out.”

            “And you weren’t even a little tempted?”

            “By what?”

            “Money. A ticket off world.”

            “I don’t care about money. And unless you were coming with me, it doesn’t really matter.”

            Chirrut pauses. “I’m sorry you hate it here.”

            “I really do,” Baze agrees.

            “You know, for a second I thought you’d say something like, I stay because I love you, so it’s not really that bad.”

            “I stay here because I love you, but it’s fucking horrible.”

            Chuckling softly, Chirrut says, “I’ve wondered what you’d do about the creature. How that will resolve. How it all ends.”

            “You haven’t seen that, prophet?”

            “If I did, would you want to—“

            “No. I don’t really have a choice, Chirrut. I have two enemies. Well, I have a lot of enemies, but there’s two at the top of the list. That monster and the Empire. It’s not like I can leverage them off one another. Best thing I can do is stay out of that cave. Keep the thing starved for attention and refuse to help the Emperor’s idiots vivisect it and do stars knows what with the remains.”

            Chirrut says nothing for a moment. Baze scrolls to the next page. It’s just a silly story about a smuggler who’s doing one last job. Doesn’t take a scholar to know it won’t be the last one.

            “Do you not feel even a little bad for it?”

            “For what?”

            “Don’t be obtuse.”

            Baze looks back at him, and frowns. “The creature? Don’t be insane.”

            “It’s all alone—“

            “I’m looking at the eyes it burned blind. I don’t feel even a scrap of sympathy for the thing.” Baze shakes his head, returning to the book. “You’re so strange.”

            “It’s alone in the dark,” Chirrut murmurs. “It’s all alone down there. Injured in a way we can’t understand. It’s been down there a year on its own, and all it wants is to talk to you.” Baze ignores him, noting how the specifications for the vessel are off. Clearly the author didn’t do their research. “I know it calls to you. You can’t deny that.”

            “You want to bet?”

            “Baze. You can’t be bitter forever.”

            “Watch me.”

            “Can’t. Blind.”

            “Slip of the tongue.”

            “I’ve forgiven the Guardian. If I can, why can’t you?”

            Baze reaches back over his shoulder, squeezing Chirrut’s hand. “Because you’re a better man than I am. Some things won’t change, beloved. You just have to live with that.”

            He hears Chirrut sigh, but he’s not concerned. It’s a conversation they’ve had many times before, and will probably having many times yet to come.

            “So,” Chirrut says, “I hear we’re going out this weekend.”

            Baze lowers the datapad, looking at Chirrut with amusement. “You agreed?”

            Chirrut shrugs. “How else will I be certain that you’re behaving yourself?”

            “I have money riding on you, you know.”

            “For what?”

            “They’re convinced you’ll drink.”

            Barking, Chirrut says, “Do they know me?”

            “Of course not,” Baze says with affection. “I do.”

            Chirrut smiles, and pets Baze’s hair. “Read me some more?”

            Baze nods, and he continues, but not before telling him how terrible the author’s research clearly is. Chirrut doesn’t even pretend to be interested, and Baze loves him for it. That and a million other things.

Chapter Text

Threading the comb through his hair a few more times, Baze squints at his reflection. He rubs the back of his fingers over his recently shaven cheeks. The goatee is looking nice and neat. Standing straight, he takes in his reflection. An olive-green t-shirt stretches across his muscles, and his tan pants aren’t in bad shape. It doesn’t exactly disguise the fact that he’s a guard, but everyone on this moon knows who and what he is.

            Tossing the comb down on the ledge, Baze says, “Are you ready to go?”

            He rounds the corner, and finds Chirrut sitting on the side of the bed. His robes are all impeccably ironed and uncreased. He’s holding his staff, head tilted downwards and to the side as usual.

            Chirrut smiles. “I am. Are you?”

            “Uh huh.” Baze goes to put his boots on.

            After a moment, Chirrut says, “You’re not going to object even a little?”

            “About what?” Baze draws the laces tight, double knotting them.

            “My attire.”

            With a puff of a laugh, Baze replies, “I haven’t seen you wear anything else in over a year. I didn’t think you were going to start now.”

            “What if it means an early night?”

            “I wouldn’t put it past you to try and sabotage any ordinary fun I might want to have. They throw us out, there’s plenty of other places to go that they don’t tell Guardians about.”

            “Like where?”

            Slipping into his jacket, Baze says, “Nice try. If you’re coming, let’s go.”

            Chirrut pushes himself to his feet, turning to Baze. “Remember the last time we were in that bar together?”

            “Yes. I was a lot more sanctimonious back then. I also remember you with your tongue down some strange man’s throat. And having to spend a week in the box for the whole incident.”

            Shrugging, Chirrut slips past him out the door. “Well, you did stab me, so I figure we’re even.”

            Head falling back on his shoulders, Baze mutters, “You’re never going to let me forget that.”

            “Never.”

            Fair. Baze closes the door after himself, and jogs after Chirrut.

 

The others are, unsurprisingly, not thrilled with Chirrut’s outfit, but none of them have the courage to say anything to the Seer of the Temple of the Kyber. Baze just smiles smugly at them, and Mi’akosh and Mae’okash look like they suddenly realize how many drinks they’ll be buying.

            They walk down the streets together, Hela, Rez, and Mi’akosh and Mae’okash up front, Baze and Chirrut behind. It feels a little odd to be out like this. Chirrut and Baze have never gone out into the city together. Truth be told, Baze likes it. In another life, he would have liked to live normally with Chirrut. Just two men, completely ordinary, walking through quiet, drama free lives.

            It’s not going to happen, of course, but it’s a nice thought.

            “What are you thinking?”

            “Wishing for things I can’t have,” Baze replies.

            Swinging his staff to and fro a little more carefully than usual, not on his usual terrain, Chirrut asks, “What kind of things?”

            “I was thinking of what it would have been like. If we were never Guardians.”

            “Force save us. Never wish for that.”

            “It was a hypothetical.”

            “We wouldn’t have met otherwise.”

            Baze knows he’s teasing, but responds with exasperation, “I’m saying hypothetically—“

            “If I hadn’t become a Guardian, I would probably be out of my mind on synthex in some hovel on the Outer Rims. Or even worse, working for my family. I think things turned out well enough.” Chirrut shrugs, and adds, “Despite the current state of the galaxy, that is.”

            Baze rolls his eyes. Unsure why, he says, “But what if.”

            “What if what?”

            “If it was you and I and we weren’t Guardians, but it was you and I, what do you think it would have been like?”

            Chirrut says nothing for a moment. “It’s not like you to pose questions like that.”

            You used to, Baze thinks. When you were first mine. “Not like you to go out to this disgusting bar. But we seem to be headed in that direction.” Baze hooks a hand around Chirrut’s elbow briefly, tugging him away from a piece of stone left in the road.

            Chirrut walks with his head tilted back. Almost as if he’s looking at the stars. Baze thinks he just likes the feeling of the breeze on his face.

            “We would live somewhere with lots of trees,” Chirrut says.

            It surprises Baze. That he has an answer. It saddens him as well, for reasons he doesn’t quite understand. Are these the thoughts Chirrut used to have? Before the creature blinded him and changed him so irrevocably? “And?”

            “Lots of trees, and plenty of sky. Water. I would want to live by the water. We both left here and came back, and I think one thing neither of us missed was the dust. We’d be near the water. We’d be near so much water.”

            Chirrut lowers his head. Baze looks over at him. It worries him, how solemn Chirrut has suddenly become. He doesn’t know why. Chirrut knows that if he wants to go, if he wants to leave this place, they can just go. Baze wouldn’t hesitate. Why does he look so sad?

            But then Chirrut smiles, chin raising. “It would be warm, so you’d have to wear short pants everywhere.”

            Barking, startling the others, Baze says, “The hell I would.”

            “Everywhere,” Chirrut insists.

            “What’s you talking about?” says Rez.

            “If we lived on a planet with water, I think Baze would wear short pants all the time.”

            Shaking his head as everyone laughs, Baze reiterates, “Not to save my life. Not to save yours either.”

            “Oh, but you have such attractive knees,” says Hela.

            Chirrut asks the others, “If you didn’t live here, if you weren’t guards, where would you be? What would you be doing?”

            They look amongst each other, considering. “I’d be a cook,” Rez volunteers.

            “What?” Hela counters. “You can’t even reheat noodles.”

            “I can work a fire! Not that stupid thing that’s always breaking on me. Isn’t natural. You want me to cook something and I see how it cook, that I can do.”

            “Yeah,” Mi’akosh says, “but you can’t even reheat noodles.” Rez waves them off, scowling.

            “What about you?” Chirrut asks Mi’akosh and Mae’okash.

            The heads look at one another, silently conversing, then Mae’okash answers, “Interpretive dance.” Baze and Hela both start to laugh. It’s an old joke, involving a drunken night at Movari’s. “Why are you laughing? You know how graceful we are.”

            Laughing off the last of the chuckles, Hela asks, “But seriously, though.”

            “Oh, we’d probably be back home.”

            “Making rugs,” adds Mi’akosh.

            “Family business.”

            “We’re terrible at it, though. Better at breaking heads.” Mi’akosh reaches over, giving Hela’s head a light push. She puts up fists, smiling. “What about you, Hels?”

            Baze watches her, a small smile on his face. He knows what Hela wanted to be when she grew up.

            With a shrug, Hela says, “Who knows? Plenty of things to do and see and be. Wait! Wait, I’ve got it.” She holds up her hands. “I’d be a pasha vendor.”

            Baze laughs with the others. He wants to reach over and tussle her hair, but she’s out of reach.

            Rez glances back. “And you, Baze? What would you be?”

            Before Baze can answer, Hela lets out a laugh. “That’s easy. Finest weapons engineer in the quadrant. Malbus’ Armaments. If my first choice as pasha vendor failed and I turned to piracy, I know where I’d be shopping for my aerial cannons.”

            Baze is blushing fiercely, and he’s grateful for the dim light. He’s wincing, waiting for Chirrut’s reaction.

            When it comes, it’s spoken levelly, without emotion. “Malbus’ Armaments?” Chirrut says.

            Shaking his head, Baze mutters, “Oh, just something I was rambling about when we were out in the desert.”

            Hela glances back, and she obviously realizes she’s misspoken. She pulls a face, and says quickly, “Yeah, just us nattering at each other. Honestly, I was half convinced I’d be a pirate. Hey, we need to come up with pirate names. Rez, what’s your pirate name?”

            “What? Why do I needs a pirate name?”

            “Cause I said so.”

            Baze sneaks a peek at Chirrut, who’s gone very quiet. Baze had known this evening would be awkward.

            He hadn’t counted on landmines.

 

The bouncer outside Movari’s looks irritated when he first sees they have a monk in their group. “Don’t be assholes—“

            Chirrut steps forward, letting the light reflect off his sightless eyes. The bouncer is dumbstruck, mouth working. “May we come in?”

            Baze is amused by how off-guard the bouncer is. He knows the city folk revere Chirrut—the last man who’ll ever look in the eye of the Crystal Guardian—but he rarely gets to see it. They might regard Chirrut as a prophet, but Baze knows him as a man who snores so loudly that he could wake the dead.

            Swallowing, the large man steps aside. “Of—of course, Seer.”

            As he passes, Chirrut strokes a hand over his arm. “May the Force be with you,” he murmurs. The bouncer looks dazed as the guards walk by him.

            In the hall, Baze snags a finger into the back of Chirrut’s sash and growls in his ear, “You fucking flirt.” Chirrut breaks out laughing, and Baze lets him loose.

            Movari’s is as disgusting and decadent as usual. Part of Baze likes it, that they’re somewhere once so forbidden to him. Another part is mortified that Chirrut knows what goes on here, and knows that Baze likes it.

            What must it sound like to him, feel like to him? Baze tries to imagine it. The first thing he notices is the noise. The music is so loud that the bass vibrates in his bones. A year ago, Chirrut would have been bent over in pain from the cacophony. If it bothers him now, he shows no sign.

            After the sound would be the heat. It is humid. Perhaps it’s all the bodies, or perhaps as Jedhans they’re merely unused to warmth. But Baze can almost feel heat radiating off the walls.

            Then there’s the movement. It will be crowded once they reach the dance floor, the main bar, but these hallways are filled with people in various configurations. There might be too much sensory input, but Baze knows Chirrut can detect changes in the air.

            The smell. Sweat and alcohol and sex.

            No one makes the mistake of reaching out for Chirrut. Anyone who sees him recoils. But someone does latch onto Mi’akosh and Mae’okash, and they peel off from the group, saying, “Let me know if I win.”

            “You won’t,” Baze replies. “Hope you have a month’s worth of credits saved up.”

            The music becomes exponent