When Baze gets to the Temple of the Whills, the head guardian assigns him a partner.
"I don't need a partner," he says.
He's nineteen, and just finished almost ten years of training with a demanding master. Twice a year they went on pilgrimages to different holy Jedi sites. Baze is ready. He doesn't need a partner.
"All of us work together," the head guardian says. "In harmony with the Force."
She's an older woman with hardened skin and a scar bisecting her left eye. She stands taller than him by nearly a foot. Baze knows there is no arguing with her. This is the will of the Force. He's never been inside the Temple of the Whills before. There is a difference in the air in here, as if it is somehow lighter. The ceiling rises so high Baze thinks the sky itself can't hold it. He hasn't found many things in his life breathtaking, but he'll admit this is one of them.
While the head guardian looks through her archive folder, Baze lets himself look around again. There are etchings in the stone so intricate Baze knows he could spend a lifetime learning them. He follows the patterns until his gaze stops on a man in monk's robes leaning against the wall. He's holding a quarterstaff. Baze is absolutely certain he wasn't there when he came in.
"Your partner," the head guardian says without looking up. "Chirrut Îmwe."
Baze stares at Chirrut. He must be around his age, face smooth. His eyes are a striking, milky blue.
"He's blind," Baze says, without thinking.
Chirrut's jaw drops.
"No," he says. "I'm blind!?"
The head guardian snorts.
They don't talk for nearly an hour. Baze checks his blaster, he and Chirrut are given instruction and assignment, and then they are alone and Baze says nothing. Chirrut walks with a confidence most don't possess. He laughs and it doesn't sound forced, seems so at ease Baze finds himself annoyed. His faith was never so easy, more like the stone walls of the temple, hardened and steadfast. He still doesn't know how he and Chirrut are supposed to be a team when Chirrut can't even see. They hold guard now inside the inner walls of the Temple, a quieter area that Baze thinks might be reserved for meditation. He keeps his gaze on anything but Chirrut. He doesn't want Chirrut to sense him staring. Baze stands with his back to the wall, and Chirrut is next to him, crouched.
"You're from Jedha," Chirrut says.
Baze glances at him, then away.
"Yes." He pauses. "You?"
Chirrut nods. "And your parents?"
Baze shifts on his feet. "Dead for a long time."
Next to him, Chirrut stands. He steps in front of Baze and Baze can't look anywhere but the milk of his eyes. For a moment, nothing happens. Then Chirrut places a palm over Baze's left cheek, the skin warm and calloused. Baze doesn't move, but he does tense. His face burns.
"What are you doing?"
Chirrut doesn't answer at first. His fingers drift over Baze's cheekbones, the curve of his nose, down over his lips and chin before he finally pulls back. He looks satisfied.
"You have the face of a friend," Chirrut says. "And the Force is light around you."
Baze puts a hand over his own face. He feels nothing but his own skin and stubble. In front of him, Chirrut is smiling.
"What does that mean?" Baze asks.
"It means we probably won't kill each other," Chirrut says.
A shocked laugh forces its way out of Baze's lungs, and he stifles it with a cough.
"Maybe so," he says.
The ghost of Chirrut's hand lingers on his face the rest of the day.
Three days later, a couple of Klatooinians try and get their hands on a kyber crystal. Chirrut and Baze are on the steps together when Chirrut stands from his crouch and tightens his grip on his quarterstaff. His stance is set for fighting.
"We have some visitors coming," Chirrut says. "Two, if I'm not mistaken."
Baze tenses and looks over the steps, but sees nothing. "There's no one out there."
As he finishes speaking, Chirrut grabs him by the shoulder and pulls him down just in time to miss a blaster shot. It only takes a moment for Baze to register the direction the blast came from, and less than that to see the two Klatooinians running up the steps. He pulls his blaster and shoots the one on the left. The partner dashes right and hops the side of the steps.
"How do they look?" Chirrut asks.
"Ugly," Baze says.
He feels stunned, not because he was almost shot, but because Chirrut had sense the Klatooinians before Baze even saw them. Chirrut squeezes his shoulder and then is up and running after the last one. Baze calls for him, and Chirrut just signals him forward with his quarterstaff. Baze starts running. When they catch up to the him, he fires a shot that Chirrut blocks with his staff. Then he knocks the staff upward into the Klatooinian's chin and he falls back onto the steps. Baze almost lets himself realx, but then he realizes the second one had run for backup. A third one reaches for his blaster, aiming for Chirrut. Before either of them can move, Baze pulls his own blaster and shoots the last Klatooinian dead. Chirrut ducks as the shot echoes, grunting.
"A third?" he says. "Or did you do that so I'd be deaf, too?"
Baze stares at him. He's imagined the first time he'd have to defend the Temple before. It involved him doing all the work, Chirrut backing him up. He's stunned by how quick Chirrut went into action just then, how sure he was. Chirrut stands again and claps a hand over Baze's shoulder.
"You're welcome, by the way," he says.
"For saving you."
Baze holsters his blaster. "I just saved you."
Rather than argue him, Chirrut starts laughing, and this time, Baze isn't annoyed by it. He's starting to realize that Chirrut isn't carefree out of any sort of naivete. He's truly unafraid, and he trusts, completely, in the Force. Baze has never truly known that, even as a child. He decides he wants to understand him, completely. He wants that trust for himself. As if sensing this, Chirrut squeezes his shoulder and then walks back up the steps, staff twirling. Baze follows, and has a growing feeling he always will.
They spend nearly every day together for the next year, and Baze learns Chirrut so well he thinks he knows him better than he knows himself. Chirrut has a Force sensitivity Baze spent years wishing he could possess. He often senses danger before Baze even sees it, and he'll flick his wrist up toward the stars to let Baze know. He eats less than Baze likes, so he often puts extra portions on his plate or in his bowl. If Chirrut notices, he says nothing.
Baze learns very quickly that Chirrut is the bravest man he's ever met. He's also, as Baze tells him quite frequently, one of the stupidest. He goes into battle without a second thought, confident in the Force, staff swinging. And Baze is always right behind him, swearing. Other guardians have commented on their partnership. They fight like they've been a team for years. Baze has no way to explain it. They've been given a job to do, they just happen to do it very well together.
Chirrut was not born blind. He tells Baze this over their dinner one night, the two of them tucked together at the top stair of the Temple. There was an accident, just as he began his training. He doesn't say what kind, and Baze doesn't ask. He feels pity before he can stop himself. Chirrut senses it.
"This is the path the Force has laid out for me," Chirrut tells him. "I have no ill will."
Baze hums and drinks from his bowl.
"I would. I like seeing the faces of enemies when they know we've beaten them."
In front of them, the Holy City is lit up, and there is music playing in the distance, a happy, celebratory tune. To their right, Baze hears a child's laughter.
"Describe it me," Chirrut says.
Baze coughs on his stew, broth dribbling over his chin. He wipes it away with his sleeve.
"I can't—I don't know how."
Chirrut turns to him. He has an amazing ability to always get Baze to do things he says he's absolutely not going to do. Baze sighs and sets his bowl down.
"It's like—they make a face like—" Baze pauses and makes the face. "It's a good expression."
Chirrut touches his face. He hasn't done this since they first met, and suddenly it's like Baze never forgot what his palm felt like, the location of every callous from his quarterstaff. They're silent as Chirrut maps Baze's face. When he's finished, Chirrut doesn't pull his hand away.
"Yes," he says. "I see it now."
Baze's hand itches at its side, like it wants to reach up and grab Chirrut's hand. But he doesn't move, and then Chirrut pulls away and Baze is blushing furiously. He grabs his bread portion and shoves it against Chirrut's chest.
"Just eat this," he says, grumbling, and Chirrut listens without a word.
The first time Chirrut gets injured, Baze knows it's his fault. Their first years together, attacks on the Temple were rare. Baze and Chirrut usually dealt with fanatics or gangs trying to steal kyber crystals, and diffused trouble in the main city. But now there are whispers of the Republic falling, of Jedi being hunted down and killed by a Sith. Now, attacks are more brazen.
Baze still isn't quite sure how it happened, all he knows is that he was supposed to protect Chirrut, and he failed. There were Imperial sympathizers causing trouble near the city walls, but by the time Baze and Chirrut arrived, it was a full-on battle. Chirrut went to work right away, disbanding almost a dozen Stormtroopers, the two of them bantering and laughing. Baze was moving civilians out of the battle zone. He didn't see it happen, and he should have. He just remembers a crawling feeling in his spine and then looking back and seeing Chirrut on his knees, clutching his left shoulder from a blaster shot. Baze screamed his name. Chirrut managed to down the Stormtrooper that shot him before falling back. Baze ran to him, civilians forgotten, and grabbed him by the back of his robes. There was still blaster fire around them but it sounded muffled, distant. All Baze could see was Chirrut. He dragged him from the street. Chirrut held onto his wrist and kept saying he was all right, he was all right. But Baze could see blood on his robes. He moved him into the alley and pressed his hand against the wound to slow the flow of blood.
"I'm not going to die," Chirrut said. "Go!"
He hit the side of Baze's leg with his quarterstaff, and it was like Baze snapped from a trance. He went back into the fight. He'd never killed so many men before.
Later, after the blaster wound is patched up, Baze does not go to see Chirrut. He sits in one of the meditation rooms and does nothing. Baze has never meditated before, not in earnest. His master had taught him the Force code, but he felt awkward about it, like he was reflecting to nothing. What drew Baze to being a guardian was the Jedi themselves. They were like gods to him, powerful protectors. Warriors. But so much of the galaxy is changing. Things are not as Baze once saw them. The Jedi are dwindling, and it's like nothing can be done about it, and he wonders if they're protecting the Temple only to watch it fall. He doesn't know what he believes anymore.
Baze isn't surprise when Chirrut finds him. He always does, even when Baze is brooding and doesn't want to be found. He walks in without his staff and sits on the floor next to Baze, barely wincing at the pull in his shoulder. Baze watches the floor.
"You're doubting," Chirrut says.
For once, it'd be nice if Chirrut weren't so perceptive. Baze grunts and wipes his palms against his legs.
"What sort of pain meds did they give you in there?"
"I refused medication," Chirrut says, because of course he did.
Baze stares at his bandaged shoulder.
"What are we fighting for, Chirrut? The Jedi are dying. The Empire's shadow is growing."
"We are fighting to protect the way of the Force."
"What if the Force has abandoned us?"
Chirrut puts his hand over Baze's thigh.
"Something that is inherent cannot abandon you. All that happens now, is the will of the Force."
"The will—" Baze stands upright and paces. He can't hold his anger back anymore, his frustration. "Is it the will of the Force that thousands are to die, or to be enslaved? Is that what we protect?"
Chirrut remains seated, calm. For a harsh, regretful moment, Baze wonders if he feels any emotion at all.
"Even the brightest sun is eclipsed by darkness for a time," Chirrut says.
"You know I hate when you speak in metaphors."
"We'll be all right," Chirrut says.
Baze isn't sure if he means the galaxy, or just them in particular. He finds he doesn't care. He wishes he had Chirrut's faith, and not for the first time. He no longer feels grounded, like he can feel Jedha spinning beneath him, slowly spiraling out of control. Chirrut motions for Baze to come over to him. Baze sits in front of him and mimics his position, legs folded. The meditation room is ventilated, and the night air feels cool and quiet around them.
"The Force is with us," Chirrut says. "I feel it."
Before Baze can argue, Chirrut is touching his face, both hands this time, his skin cooler, and Baze shuts his eyes without thinking. All he feels is Chirrut, all he smells is Chirrut.
"Do you feel it?" Chirrut asks.
The softness of his voice makes Baze shudder. He thinks that maybe he does, or maybe he wants to, for Chirrut. When Baze opens his eyes, Chirrut is very close to him. It doesn't surprise him at all when Chirrut kisses him. Baze's eyes flutter closed again, then open when Chirrut pulls away.
"Was that the Force?" Baze asks. His voice comes out cracked and heavy.
"That was me," Chirrut says, and kisses him again.
This is what Baze learns before Jedha falls: He learns how to smuggle supplies past Imperial soldiers. He learns the heavy repeater cannon is his favorite weapon. In fact, he's a natural with it. He learns to fight without fear, to hold his ground until there is no ground left. He learns how Chirrut's hands feel on his body. How Chirrut likes to sleep (tucked against him, one arm over his Baze's heart), that Chirrut sings in the refresher. Baze learns that he is capable of affection so strong he wants to protect the feeling. That Chirrut enjoys braiding the ratted hair Baze never finds time to brush out. He likes to run his hands through it when they're having sex, and when he's on top he'll press his nose to Baze's hair and inhale like he's bringing up a memory. Chirrut no longer needs to touch Baze's face to gauge him, but he will anyway. Baze doesn't mind. Before Jedha falls, Baze learns that he loves Chirrut.
He remembers the day his faith leaves him. It had barely been hanging on, like a limb torn and clinging to muscle. The Holy City falls to the Empire, and they are removed from the Temple of Whills. Baze watches as Stormtroopers march inside and a wall is demolished to make way for machinery so that they can harvest the kyber crystals. Everything they've worked to protect, gone. Baze doesn't want to describe it to Chirrut, but he asks, so Baze does. When he finishes, Chirrut doesn't seem disheartened. He leans against his quarterstaff and shuts his eyes. He prays. One with the Force. Baze's anger flares.
"Don't you get it?" Baze says. "It's gone, Chirrut! They've taken everything! The Force won't help us now."
Chirrut opens his eyes.
"Are you gone?" he asks.
The question hurts him more than he thought words could. Baze realizes now that Chirrut is heartbroken. He can see it in the way his jaw clenches, how his eyes seem duller. Baze grabs Chirrut's hand and presses it to his face.
"Do I feel like I've gone, you fool?"
Chirrut curls his hand over Baze's jaw.
"Do you want to go?" he asks.
Baze shakes his head. "I go where you go."
They stay in Jedha. Baze finds work as a freelance assassin, and Chirrut works the streets, tells fortunes. It hurts to stay, sometimes, to see their home reduced to ruins, to see the newly formed Rebellion struggle.
"Everyone is disheartened," he tells Chirrut. "The city is depressed."
They're in bed together, Chirrut with tucked under Baze's arm. He has Baze describe things he's seen to him most nights now, how much the Empire has destroyed. Sometimes, Baze leaves certain details out.
"Perhaps your smiling face will cheer them," Chirrut says, grinning.
Baze is certain he can tell that he's rolling his eyes. They've made a home for themselves in an abandoned building, and Baze cooks them meals that he wishes weren't tasteless and Chirrut does not complain. He hates watching Chirrut age, and days when he catches himself in a mirror he wonders how he's become so old. Baze grunts when Chirrut feels his face these days, fingertips jumping over new wrinkles.
"Why do you do that?" he asks.
"Because I like to annoy you."
Chirrut pushes Baze's hair back, nails scratching the scalp.
"So I'll never forget you," he says.
Baze feels the breath get punched out of him. He grabs both of Chirrut's hands and holds them in his own, close to his chest, shaking now. There is nothing he can think to say.
Baze knows, somehow, when they meet Jyn and Cassian, that they'll never see Jedha again. He does not tell Chirrut.
Later, when the grenade falls next to him on the beach, Baze is grateful that Chirrut's face is the last he sees. He thinks maybe Chirrut knew all along.
You can always find me in the Force.
There's darkness, at first. Baze can see nothing, and yet he feels light, almost weightless. He's on his back, but when he stands he realizes he's in the Temple of Whills. The carvings next to him are the same he saw at nineteen, hand-carved. Baze touches them and feels the grooves of the stone. The last thing he remembers is white-hot pain. It only lasted a moment. Then there was nothing.
Baze walks along the hall, moving toward something that he can't name but knows he's looking for. A door appears, one he'd never seen in the Temple before. Baze pushes the door open, and there is sunlight and grass and Chirrut. He's standing there like he was never gone, but his eyes are a dark brown now. He looks at Baze, and Baze rushes forward. Chirrut is solid and real in his arms. Even his smell is the same.
Baze pulls back, and he still can't form words. The brown of Chirrut's eyes is strange but everything about him is as it were. As he should be. Chirrut touches his face. The skin is the same. He touches Baze's forehead, his brow, his nose. He swipes over his lips and presses a thumb into his chin. Chirrut pulls his hand away and presses it to his own face, as if feeling Baze against him.
"You found me," he says.
Baze presses their foreheads together. He feels Chirrut's skin, really feels it, for what seems like the first time.
"Yes," he says. "I did."