“No we’re not,” Chirrut said simply. “We’ll figure this out, Bodhi. Baze, help me get the body out the airlock. Bodhi, you keep looking for maps. Maybe he had a stash of them somewhere just in case.”
Bodhi doubted this highly but he turned obediently to the console and began scrolling through the data. Behind him, Chirrut and Baze dragged K’rillek’s limp body into the airlock but Bodhi didn’t watch. The color scarlet made him faintly sick to his stomach.
He belongs to himself. Baze had sounded so outraged at the idea that Bodhi was property, not a free agent, and Bodhi appreciated the sentiment, but he wasn’t sure it was true.
Was there even enough of him to be considered a person? Sometimes he felt more like a tattered quilt, stitched together with fraying thread, falling apart along its seams. He was scraps, remnants, the faded memory of what he used to be.
Chirrut and Baze were exploring the ship, and Bodhi slid out of the seat to join them.
“Quarters for one, and a cell here, for his prisoners,” Baze said to him, pointing. “Looks like he really was a bounty hunter.”
Bodhi glanced inside the cell, its walls and floor a cold, dull gray, and shivered.
“Baze,” Chirrut called from farther down the narrow hall. “I found the galley.”
Baze’s footsteps were loud on the metal deck as he strode to join his husband, Bodhi close behind.
The galley was small, fitted for one, with a tiny cooler and smaller stove, one chair at the far end of the room. Chirrut was sitting there when Baze and Bodhi arrived, his staff planted on the floor between his feet.
“It’s going to be cramped, and I imagine we’ll be sick of each other before this is over,” he said as they entered. “But at least there’s enough food to keep us going for some time, perhaps long enough for Bodhi to figure out how to bypass the lightspeed dilemma.”
Baze grunted, opening cupboards to peer inside. “Can’t make dumplings.”
“The true tragedy of this adventure,” Chirrut agreed gravely. “How’s your shoulder, my love?”
“Sore,” Baze said, pulling another door open. “I’m fine.”
“Bodhi,” Chirrut said, “there’s a ‘fresher one door down. Why don’t you get clean while I check my husband’s injuries?”
Bodhi hesitated. He wasn’t sure he was ready to be alone, with the sticky talons of memory poised to claw his insides open again, but Chirrut smiled. Bodhi set his jaw and nodded. He was safe.
“I’ll be right back,” he said.
Baze sat on the floor in front of Chirrut and Bodhi glanced over his shoulder as he left to see Chirrut gently combing the tangles from Baze’s wild mane.
He took a quick detour first, stepping into K’rillek’s quarters and finding the drawer where he’d stored his clothes. Bodhi rummaged through the contents until he found a soft shirt in a material he’d never seen before, silky and rippling under his fingers, shifting with the dim light overhead through the spectrum of blue. There were trousers, too, probably too big, but he could cinch them in enough to keep them in place.
Part of Bodhi recoiled at the idea of wearing the clothes of the person who’d wanted to own him and probably do awful things to him. But the more pragmatic side found a kind of vicious delight in it. There was a power to it, he decided.
He dumped his filthy jumpsuit in the incinerator with a shudder and stepped into the ‘fresher. It was an old one, the pipes groaning when he cycled them on, but it worked, and Bodhi had to admit it felt good to be clean.
He toweled his damp hair and shook it off his face. Dressed, he went back to the galley, where Baze was cooking something unidentifiable on the little range.
“It says it’s edible,” Baze said when Bodhi sniffed the air dubiously. “‘For oxygen-breathing mammals’, according to the packet. I can’t speak to how it’ll taste though.”
Chirrut beckoned and Bodhi crossed the room. “How do you feel?” Chirrut asked.
“Better,” Bodhi said. “I—took some of his clothes.”
A smile flashed across Chirrut’s face. “Good. Sit.” He pointed to the floor between his feet and Bodhi hesitated, but Chirrut didn’t move, head tilted expectantly.
Bodhi sank to his knees and shuffled so his back was against the chair. Chirrut patted his shoulder.
“Relax, little one, and let me take care of you for a few minutes.” His fingers were deft as he ran them through Bodhi’s hair, separating the strands and gently teasing the tangles free.
Bodhi closed his eyes and allowed himself to finally, finally, lower his guard. Chirrut was humming under his breath, his body warm against Bodhi’s back, Baze muttering as he poked the contents of the pan, and tears prickled Bodhi’s eyes suddenly. He blinked them back, swallowing hard, as Chirrut drew his hair up in segments and braided it.
“Baze, throw me one of your hair ties.”
Baze rummaged in his pockets and found a strip of leather, which he tossed across the galley to Chirrut, who caught it unerringly. He braided the strip into Bodhi’s hair, tying the end off in a neat club, and made a satisfied noise.
“What do you think, Baze?” he asked. “Good enough to impress Corporal Tonc when we see him next?”
Baze made a noise that could have meant anything as Bodhi’s face fired with his blush.
“Why—what—” Bodhi stuttered to a halt as Chirrut grinned.
“You should see the way he looks at you when you’re not paying attention.”
“Hang on, you can’t see, how would you know?” Bodhi protested. He thought vaguely his cheeks might be on fire.
“Oh, Baze has described it for me,” Chirrut said, smile widening. “In detail.”
Baze snickered and Bodhi covered his face.
“We’re just friends,” he said through his fingers. “He likes my company. I—” I like his company, and his brown eyes and the way they crease when he smiles—oh no.
Chirrut patted his shoulder. “Don’t worry, we won’t say anything. Feel any better?”
Bodhi nodded. It was odd, but he did, as if the simple acts of fixing his hair and being teased had somehow also helped him take the first steps toward healing his soul.
The ship lurched and flung all three off their feet in a tumbling racket as a klaxon went off in the hold. Chirrut rolled upright and Bodhi went to his knees. Baze swore, loud and filthy, as he plucked his flight suit away from his body, where the contents of the sauce pan had landed.
“Baze, are you alright?”
“I’m fine, Chirrut,” Baze snapped. “Just wearing our meal.”
The ship lurched again, a hard jerk to the left, and Bodhi grabbed the bolted down chair to keep from falling again. Chirrut swayed with the movement, still on his feet.
“Baze,” he said again.
“On it,” Baze said. “Bodhi, with me.”
Bodhi scrambled to his feet and dashed after him as Baze left the galley and charged for the hold. The ship shuddered violently. Baze was thrown against the wall, his swearing rising in volume, as Bodhi tried to keep his feet.
“Engine malfunction?” Baze asked.
“I don’t—know,” Bodhi gasped. “Have to get to the controls.”
As soon as the ship was stable again, Bodhi ran for the pilot’s chair. Lights flashed, the alarms still blaring, and Bodhi ran the diagnostics frantically, chanting under his breath. Please, please, please—I don’t want to die in space—
“What is it, can you tell?” Chirrut had joined them while Bodhi was working, staff in hand.
Bodhi shook his head, still running data. “Ship’s computers are fine, nothing is wrong with the engines, all the checks are coming up clear. Whatever’s going on, it’s outside the—” He looked up, out the window, and froze.
Baze followed his eyes and sucked in air.
“What is it?” Chirrut demanded. “Talk to me, what’s going on?”
“It appears,” Baze said, eyes still fixed outside the window, “that we are being… towed.”
Bodhi gripped the controls, knuckles white. “I can try to break free, but—”
“What is towing us?” Chirrut asked, frustration edging his voice. “Is it another ship? Imperial? Have they hailed us?”
“Actually,” Baze said, clearly choosing his words carefully, “I… think it’s a dragon.”
Bodhi leaned over the console, craning his neck to look out the upper portion of the windows. From where he was, he could just see the underbelly of whatever had them, pale blue against the light-swallowing black, and two legs, darker blue and scaled, gripping the nose of the ship as it towed them along.
“Well,” Chirrut said after a minute. “That’s unexpected.”
A tense silence fell as they processed the news, and then Chirrut squeezed Bodhi’s shoulder. “Can you break free?”
“I don’t know,” Bodhi said. “It’s got us pretty solidly gripped, I think.”
“Try,” Chirrut suggested. “If you can get us out of the claws, maybe we can outrun it, even if we can’t jump to lightspeed.”
Bodhi nodded and resettled his grip on the controls. “Here goes. Hold onto something.”
He fired the left thrusters and wrenched the ship hard to the starboard, hoping to knock the dragon’s grip loose so they could slip free. At first, he thought it had worked—the little ship bucked violently and the dragon’s right foot scrabbled at the hull, claws making a hideous screeching noise as they scraped across the metal.
But then it got purchase again, resettling its grip even more securely, and no matter how Bodhi tried, he couldn’t break free.
Chirrut gripped his shoulder, touch warm and reassuring. “It’s alright, Bodhi. You can stop. I think it’s safe to say we’re not getting free until it lets us go.”
Bodhi let go of the controls. He was trembling, he realized dimly just as Chirrut tightened his grip.
Baze grunted acknowledgment and disappeared into the hold as Bodhi struggled to contain his fear.
“Trust the Force,” Chirrut said quietly. “We’ve made it this far, haven’t we?”
Baze returned and handed Bodhi a blaster. “Too bad you left my cannon behind, we might have had an edge,” he said to Chirrut, who sighed.
“I will personally go back to Byblos and fight every Imperial troop on the planet to retrieve it, if it will stop your complaining,” he said.
Baze cocked his head as if considering, and Bodhi almost smiled as he checked the blaster was in the right configuration.
“What’s the plan, then?” he asked.
“It’s obviously taking us somewhere,” Chirrut said. “So… we wait. Are there any habitable planets nearby?”
Bodhi scanned the data scrolling by on the console. “There,” he said, pointing. Baze leaned in to get a closer look as Bodhi brought the pertinent information up. “Atmosphere is oxygen-rich, gravity is about .86 of standard. Looks like it’s mostly forests, with about thirty percent fresh water and five percent salt.”
“Do we appear to be heading in that direction?” Chirrut inquired.
“Looks like,” Baze said. “How did you know?”
Chirrut looked enigmatic. “It was the logical destination.”
Bodhi peered out the windows again. “Do you know what it wants?”
“I have a few theories,” Chirrut said. “Is it a Duinuogwuin, Baze?”
Baze made a dubious noise. “How would I know? It’s not like I’ve ever met any, and I don’t exactly have the best view of this one.”
“A Star Dragon?” Bodhi said. “Like the—oh.”
“Like I said, theories,” Chirrut said. “We might as well wait in the hold until it’s taken us wherever we’re going.”
In the hold, Chirrut sat on the bench again, staff upright between his feet. Baze sat beside him and leaned over to murmur something in his ear.
Affection, soft like the brush of a velanie petal, flitted across Chirrut’s face and he turned his head and caught Baze’s mouth in a kiss, one hand coming up to tangle in Baze’s braids.
Bodhi, sitting on a crate opposite them, looked away. He felt like an intruder, witnessing something not meant for him.
They were both tipsy on the Corellian brandy Stordan had stolen from General Draven’s quarters, sprawled on the roof of the recruits’ gym.
The night was warm, draped around Bodhi in comforting, velvet folds. Birds cried in the forest below them and above, the moon was wrapped in tattered clouds, bathing them in fitful silver.
“Do you dream about it?” Stordan asked. He was propped on his elbows beside Bodhi, head back and the moonlight glancing off his high cheekbones.
Bodhi took another swallow of brandy. “Yeah.”
The screams of dying men all around him, explosions echoing in his ears, hiding in the ship and wanting—needing—to help but not knowing what to do.
“I dreamed we all died,” Stordan said. “That Admiral Raddus didn’t get us out in time, the Death Star fired and—”
“Don’t,” Bodhi said sharply.
Stordan’s throat worked and he sat up. “I wake up sometimes and think I’m still there.”
“Me too,” Bodhi whispered.
Stordan took the bottle from Bodhi’s hand, fingers brushing. “I’m not as drunk as I need to be.”
The ship lurched, flinging them sideways.
“I think we’re entering atmosphere,” Bodhi managed as he righted himself. If he got out of this alive—the ship shuddered violently and he clutched at the crate to stay upright.
Baze had one hand in the rigging above his head and his other around Chirrut’s waist as they bounced and jostled their way through the atmosphere. Chirrut’s face was serene, but he clutched his staff with both hands, leaning into Baze’s frame.
After a few minutes, their descent smoothed and the worst of the turbulence dissipated. Bodhi chanced a look out the window. They were above the unnamed planet, lush and green with a thick forest that stretched as far as Bodhi could see in every direction.
“Let me do the talking,” Chirrut said over the wind whistling past the hull.
“If it lets us talk,” Baze muttered. “If it doesn’t just eat us immediately.”
“Faith, my love,” Chirrut said, and Baze growled but subsided.
They were set down in a clearing, trees stretching above them easily forty feet high, and silence fell, ringing in Bodhi’s ears.
Something hard and metallic clanged against the hull. “Come out!”
Bodhi swallowed and stood, waiting as Chirrut and Baze moved toward the door. Baze put his arm behind him, silently moving Bodhi so he was hidden by Baze’s bulk, as Chirrut opened the door.
Bodhi had seen pictures of Star Dragons, of course, but it was one thing to look at a drawing of one of the serpentine creatures, with their long, elegant heads and multitude of legs, and quite another to stare at one in the flesh.
The dragon was coiled and waiting a few meters from the door as it opened and Chirrut, Baze, and Bodhi stepped out. It was hard to guess how long it was, but Bodhi thought it had to be at least fifty meters, gleaming blue-gray in the golden sunlight, its front legs folded across an impressive chest.
Chirrut took a step forward and bowed deeply. “I’m Chirrut Îmwe. My husband, Baze Malbus, and our friend, Bodhi Rook. We mean you no harm, lovely one.”
The dragon—female, Bodhi thought—tilted her head. “I’m not concerned with my own safety.” Her voice was beautiful, deep and melodic, with a hint of chiming bells overlaying its smooth timbre. “You, however, should be very concerned with yours.”
“May I ask why?” Chirrut asked, folding his hands around his staff and tilting his head.
The dragon narrowed brilliant azure eyes and snaked her head forward. “I can smell it on you,” she hissed, inches from Chirrut’s face, and Baze tensed.
Chirrut flung an arm out before Baze could move. “Smell what, my lady?”
“Myself,” the dragon said. “I can smell it on you, and on the one behind you there.” She wrinkled her snout as she glanced at Baze. “The big one mostly smells like shit though.” She switched her laser focus back to Chirrut. “Where is it? Produce it immediately or give me a very compelling reason for not eating you on the spot.”
“My husband would give you indigestion,” Chirrut said calmly. “May I ask, first—are you Axan’ilay’nah?”
“Of course I am,” Axan’ilay’nah snapped. “Now stop prevaricating and give me my scale!”
“I’m sorry,” Chirrut said. “If it were within my power, I would of course give it to you. But I no longer have it.”
Axan’ilay’nah snapped her jaws. “Then I will eat you all and have done.”
“I know where it is, though,” Chirrut continued, unruffled. “And I will be delighted to tell you, in exchange for your help.”
Axan’ilay’nah’s eyes narrowed again. “What kind of help?”
“May I have your assurance that you won’t eat us, first?” Chirrut asked.
Axan’ilay’nah waved her front leg impatiently. “I wouldn’t eat you anyway. Humans taste terrible.”
Chirrut bowed again. “Of course, my lady. Is it true what they say, that Duinuogwuin carry entire galaxies’ worth of star maps in their heads?”
Axan’ilay’nah blinked. “Obviously. It’s not as if we have pockets.”
Baze sidled closer to Bodhi. “I think I know what he’s about to suggest,” he murmured out of the corner of his mouth.
“Are you familiar with the Gordian Reach sector?” Chirrut asked.
“Naturally,” Axan’ilay’nah said, bridling. “I sequestered on Yavin 4 for a time, until the humans came along and colonized it. But how do I know you're telling the truth about my scale?”
"I am a former Guardian of the Whills," Chirrut said. "So is my husband. I swear on my staff, everything I tell you is the truth." He grinned suddenly, cocking his head. "Besides, if I'm wrong, you can always come to Yavin 4 and eat me after all."
Axan'ilay'nah huffed amusement. "Very well, then. What is it you need?"
Of all the ways Bodhi had imagined them finding their way back to Yavin 4, being towed in by a sixty meter long Star Dragon had not been one of them.