"Oh no," said Hatyai.
"What is it?" said Baze, with a sinking feeling. He already guessed what it must be.
Sure enough, when Baze turned around, there he was. Chirrut Imwe, jogging along the path the two of them had made in the sand.
"One hour of free time!" said Hatyai. "That's all we get." She'd been up in the rafters clearing out cobwebs all morning. Tiredness made her cranky. "And your groupie has to come and ruin it. Force."
"Don't say that," said Baze automatically. "Anyway, he only gets an hour too."
But the defence of Chirrut was as instinctive as the reproof. He didn't really mean it. Irritation scratched at him as he watched Chirrut's short legs cover the distance.
"Oh, give over, Baze," said Hatyai. "You ever think maybe scolding me for swearing is against the principle of wuwei? I'm just acting in accordance with my nature, as the Force moves me. Elder Dunya would approve."
"That's not what wuwei means," said Baze, frowning.
"Maybe we could outrun him," said Hatyai, but Chirrut was on them before they could decide to do it.
Chirrut's determination was out of proportion to his size. As with many of the novitiates, necessity, more than piety, had brought him to the Temple. He'd been malnourished when he arrived and he was still catching up. He was small for his age, even compared to the other orphans confided to the care of the Temple.
Baze, on the other hand, had been dedicated by his family to the Temple at birth. It had been his grandparents' wish, and they still visited him regularly, bringing him treats enough to feed his entire age cohort. He'd been well-fed all his life and he towered over the other novitiates. It made him look much older than Chirrut, though there was only the difference of a year between them.
"Brother Baze! Sister Hatyai!" said Chirrut. "What are you doing? Are you playing? Can I come too?"
"We're talking about philosophy," said Hatyai, glancing at Baze. "You wouldn't be interested."
"I'm interested!" said Chirrut. "I can discuss philosophy. I'm great at discussing philosophy. Elder Katyan said I was the quickest thinker in his philosophy group. He gave me a star for my essay on metim – metem – rebirth last week."
Baze reminded himself to be patient.
"Being quick doesn't always mean being right," he said. He thought this sounded well, like what a big brother should say, but Hatyai rolled her eyes.
"This is why we don't want you," she said to Chirrut, not unkindly. "It's not we don't like you, Chirrut, but Baze gets pompous when you're around."
"The elders told me that," Baze protested.
"You're not an elder," said Hatyai. "It's all right when they say it. It sounds stupid when you say it."
"I like it when Baze is pompous," said Chirrut. It wasn't entirely clear that he knew what 'pompous' meant. "Maybe you could go, sister. Baze and me could hang out."
Hatyai cuffed Chirrut, to his enormous indignation.
"Come on, Baze," she said.
It wasn't always easy for Baze to decide what to do. He often felt torn between two or more courses of action, and he felt like this now.
He didn't want to play with Chirrut. Chirrut was too young to be interesting and he made Hatyai snappish.
Yet Baze's heart failed him when he looked back at the small figure.
"I'll see you later, Chirrut," he called. "At bo practice?"
It was easy to please Chirrut. He lit up.
"I'll see you!" he echoed.
"You're too nice," said Hatyai when Baze caught up. "He'll get ideas."
"What kind of ideas?
"He'll think you like him."
"I do," said Baze, adding conscientiously, "I don't dislike him."
"I don't even know why he likes you so much," mused Hatyai aloud, but it was a subject that interested neither of them very much. They soon forgot Chirrut in a dramatic expedition to the kyber caves (really a large rock with an overhang they both fit under), followed by an epic war fought with pebbles and twigs.
There was nothing unusual in Chirrut's liking Baze, in any case. The smaller novitiates gravitated to him. Where his peers might snap at a dallying little sister or twist a wayward little brother's ear, Baze found it easy to be patient.
But Chirrut was a little old to follow Baze around the way he did, when Baze – or at least Hatyai – had made it abundantly clear that he wasn't wanted. He was making a nuisance of himself one day when Baze was waiting for Hatyai to be done copying out scriptures. For once Baze lost his patience.
"Why don't you go talk to one of the other novitiates?" he demanded. "You could pest – talk to Zevran. He likes zama-shiwo too."
"I prefer talking to you." Chirrut might as well have said "talking at you". He did most of the talking.
"But why me?" said Baze. He had an idea if that he forced Chirrut to admit that they had little in common and there was no reason for Chirrut to run around after him, Chirrut might stop.
"You're the best," said Chirrut, as though this was obvious.
It was a childish answer, but maybe Baze shouldn't have expected anything else from Chirrut.
"I might do well at – at class," said Baze, because that sounded better than saying 'at everything', which was in fact the truth. "But the elders could tell you there are many novitiates who are better than me at more important things."
Chirrut was already shaking his head.
"That's not what I mean," he said. "I just mean … you're the best."
Unusually for Chirrut, he was struggling to express himself. He said, a little desperately, "The Force loves you."
Baze's forehead creased. "The Force doesn't love anyone. That's not how the Force works."
"I know, but – " Chirrut clutched his head. "I don't know how to say it. But the Force is with you."
"The Force is with everyone."
"It's with you specially," said Chirrut.
This was verging on blasphemy. Oddly, the more outrageous Chirrut grew, the calmer Baze felt.
"Don't let the elders hear you say that, little brother," he said.
"Don't call me that," said Chirrut, though he called Baze 'big brother' all the time. "I'm only a year younger than you. We're almost the same age."
Baze looked down from all the height of ten years old on Chirrut's nine. Chirrut looked very small and upset. He'd gone pink with frustration.
Baze had a responsibility. He'd been dedicated to the Temple for a reason. He thought of his grandmother's gentle hands, his grandfather's straight-backed pride.
"Chirrut," he said. What would the elders say? They'd told Baze so much over the years that it couldn't be that hard to come up with something similar. He searched and found it.
"I like you too – " the Force wouldn't mind that small white lie – "but there's such a thing as liking too much," said Baze. "You should be thinking of the Force, not of me. You should focus on your studies and your practice. We both should."
A bright idea struck him. The Force must have delivered it.
"Every time you want to come talk to me, maybe you should reflect on a koan instead," he said.
He felt very grown-up and brotherly for about two seconds. Then Chirrut said:
"No. That sounds boring."
Baze glared at him.
"Or you could talk to someone else," he said, falling back on his first tactic. "You should get friends your own age."
"I have lots of friends," said Chirrut. "They're not as good as you."
"Oh Force," groaned Baze. Behind him Hatyai's voice said, in triumph, "Ha! You do it too!"