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Chirrut stood in the marketplace, telling all of the children of Jedha that they were part of the Force. He knew that most of them were far, far more interested in how much sandseed and water they could buy before prices went up again. But even if their minds weren’t listening, the Force was with them anyway. His words were for the deep-down parts of them that knew that.

The market was hot and dusty, but Chirrut was one with the Force, and such things could not touch him. Or so he told himself, whenever the burn of dust in his lungs or the tickle of sweat running down his neck distracted him from his alternating speech and meditation. It happened more frequently as the afternoon wore on and the sun sapped his energy. For the Whills’ sake, he needed to improve his stamina.

He heard footsteps and turned, feeling the Force weave and bend around the man approaching him. There was a light about him, a warmth; his presence made something untwist in Chirrut’s heart and begin to sing.

You! I have been waiting for you.

“Are you trying to kill yourself out here, monk?” The man’s voice was gruff to Chirrut’s ears, but it made the Force dance around him, giddy with recognition.

It took Chirrut a moment to realize the man was offering him something—a canteen, the scent of water cutting through the dust of the market. “You offer me this gift, my friend?”

The man snorted. “Hardly a friend. We haven’t even met. Just don’t like tripping over bodies walking through the market.”

Chirrut took the canteen with one hand, his other going to the man’s arm. “Our destinies are entwined in the Force.”

He expected an argument or derision, but the man simply nodded. “For good or ill?”

“That, I cannot say.” Chirrut drank, limiting himself to three swallows. Kindness and generosity of spirit should not be met with gluttony. “Thank you.”

“My mother taught me to always treat the guardians of the Whills with respect.”

“It’s greatly appreciated.” They stood in silence for a moment, until Chirrut remembered himself and offered the canteen. “May the Force be with you.”

Another snort. “I’m sure the Force has more pressing issues than me, monk.”

Chirrut held back on the standard lecture about the Force being limitless, indivisible. That could wait for another day—he felt quite certain that there would be other days, for him and this man. The energy of their lives were bound up together too strongly to deny.

“My name is Chirrut Îmwe,” he said instead. “May I know yours?”

“Baze Malbus,” came the answer. “Do you need an escort back to the Temple? It will be dark soon.”

Dark and light made no difference to Chirrut, but he wouldn’t decline this company. “That would be most helpful. Thank you, Malbus.”

There was a change in the light as he moved aside to let Chirrut step away from the wall. “Baze, monk. Being called Malbus makes me nervous. It usually means I owe someone money.”

“I’ve taken a vow of poverty,” Chirrut assured him as they began to walk. “You’ll never owe me a thing.”

**

Chirrut spoke of the Force in different marketplaces and throughways about the city, moving from day to day so that the message could reach all. Baze found him perhaps one day in five at first, but by the time the storm season came, it was one day in three.

When the winds were high, the markets and throughways emptied. If there was no one to speak to, there was no reason to speak, and Chirrut would leave as well, retreating into one of the little gaps and hollows in the walls where a little brazier and a pot of sandseed soup, or a pan of flatbread, could be set up to cook and be sold.

It was always a more pleasant meal when Baze found him there and settled in as well, turning his shoulder to stop the cutting wind from reaching Chirrut and accepting bread or soup from the brazier in exchange for a few coins.

“I thought you lived in poverty, monk,” he said the first time, touching the edge of the bowl resting in Chirrut’s open palms.

“Poverty, yes.” Chirrut sipped the soup and hid his smile behind the bowl. “Starvation is not required.”

“A flexible religion.” Baze’s voice was dry and just slightly edged with amusement. “In my experience, that’s the best kind.”

Chirrut laughed aloud. “We’ll get along well, then.”

Baze was a mercenary, making his living traveling from place to place taking care of unpleasantries. He didn’t elaborate and Chirrut didn’t ask. There were shadows in the Force around Baze, but that wasn’t a surprise. Everyone had a past with shadows. The present was when decisions were made; the future was when they played out. Every moment held the possibility of change.

Their meetings were unplanned and irregular; Chirrut might see Baze at noon one day, daybreak the next, and then not for several days until he appeared again to walk Chirrut back to the temple at day’s end.

Sharing a meal was Chirrut’s favorite form of meeting. It was the most simple and pure of rituals: partaking of the stuff of life together, giving gratitude out to the universe for its gifts and mysteries while sustaining the body that housed the spark within.

He told Baze this one day, when Chirrut indulged in chunks of lizard and rockrat in his soup. “The true meaning of sharing kindness and nourishment,” he concluded, gesturing with the bit of bread he was using to clean the bowl. “It’s an expression of the Force in and around us all.”

There was silence long enough that Chirrut wondered if Baze had stood up and walked away without him noticing. It wouldn’t be the first time someone had done that, and he could handle it with some aplomb by now, but the idea still stung.

“I see,” Baze said finally, his voice quivering at the edge of a laugh. “I was going to offer to take you to a real dinner, one that isn’t forty percent sand grit, but if your sustenance comes from the Force, well, then, I’ll respect your--”

Chirrut’s hand lashed out and caught Baze’s wrist, unerring with true emotion behind it. “Please. I would dig up a minor relative’s grave for a meal with less than forty percent sand.”

“What exactly is a minor relative?” Baze didn’t pull away, and Chirrut swore the Force connection between them grew warm and hummed.

“Ones I didn’t know very well. What bones are your preference?”

Now Baze didlaugh, warm and heavy like a blanket around Chirrut’s shoulders and spurring heat low in his stomach. “No need for gifts. I’ll meet you at your preaching stool tomorrow at sundown.”

“I look forward to it,” Chirrut said, his heart so light he was sure his fellow Guardians could feel it from the Temple.

**

Time passed quietly, as it had on Jedha for as long as anyone could remember. Jedha was far from anything of importance, with few resources and a small population. The Guardians had always relied on that remoteness to protect the city and the Temple--who would come so far to bother with a group of monks who had nothing of value and wanted nothing but to contemplate the energy holding the universe together? The Jedi Knights, yes, they picked fights and stirred up trouble with their belief in militancy. The monks just wanted to gaze upon their pieces of kyber, and think.

There was nothing the Republic wanted from them, and no one yet knew of Palpatine’s ambitions. He was a dark shiver through the Force, one that came and went in unpredictable patterns. The Guardians did not attempt to guide the Force, as the Jedi did; they only watched. They had always been neutral.

They thought that would be enough.

**

Guardians didn’t swear themselves to celibacy or solitude. That came as something of a surprise to Baze.

“I thought--that is, I assumed--” He drew himself away from Chirrut and stared down at his hands, his face still flushed from Chirrut’s kiss.

“There’s no need to assume,” Chirrut said quietly. “You can ask me.”

“All right, I’m asking.”

“Ask me with your own words, Baze.”

He sighed, the great put-upon heave of air that Chirrut had come to know and love well. “Dammit, Chirrut. Do you?”

It wasn’t really the question Chirrut had asked for. But it was enough. “Yes, Baze Malbus, you great idiot. I do. Do you?”

He expected a joke or a change of subject. Maybe a wordless mutter and Baze’s mouth on his own, in the best case.

Instead he found a callused hand on his jaw, cupping it with a tenderness he hadn’t felt in years. “With all my heart,” Baze said. “Ah, Chirrut. With all my heart.”

**

Chirrut’s vows were typical of the Guardians. I will not bind you, I will not clutch you to myself. Possession is the path to suffering. I will only hold you with open hands. The Force is with me, and I am one with the Force, witnessed, sworn.

Baze struggled to find his own words. The Guardian’s vow of partnership wasn’t his, despite the fact that he loved a Guardian, lived beside a Guardian, was considering becoming a Guardian himself. He wasn’t one yet, and even if he did devote himself to that path, those words still weren’t his. They didn’t speak to his heart, and Chirrut would never ask him to take a vow he didn’t feel.

The vows of companionship sworn between mercenaries were short and to the point. I weld my hand to yours, and your heart to mine. If you die while I live, I will carry your skull on a chain around my neck.

It wouldn’t align well with the Guardian worldview, to say the least.

When he found his vows, he told Chirrut that he had reached back to his childhood, the ways of his family of birth. I will clean your guns, and mend your boots. Together we will make a home, out of the dust and the wind.

Chirrut smiled when Baze offered him those words. “It’s lovely,” he said. “A wonderful promise. I don’t have any guns, though, you know.”

“There’s an older version. If you go far enough back.” Baze sat down beside him, holding Chirrut’s hand between his. “I will clean your sword, and mend your boots. I will braid your hair and sing songs of all we have done and seen, hand in hand. Together we will make a home, out of the dust, and the wind.”

Chirrut turned his hand to catch Baze’s fingers and press a kiss to his knuckles. “That’s perfect. I can feel it.”

“In the Force or in your heart?” Baze asked, and Chirrut could only kiss him again, because the feelings at that moment were one and the same.

**

Baze swore himself to the Whills and took vows as a Guardian two years after they met. “I don’t know much about the Force,” he said the night he told Chirrut his plans. “But it brought us together, and that’s enough for me to trust it.”

Chirrut kissed him rather than answer. What brought someone to the Force didn’t matter; all that mattered was that they arrived. Baze was strong in the Force, and the way it moved around both of them showed dedication that would last beyond anything. Chirrut’s faith was true, and Baze’s presence at his side was solid and real. He didn’t need any other assurances.

He thought it would be enough, and unlike the collective belief of the guardians, he was right.

**

Palpatine rose to power, and instead of shivers in the Force, his influence became a fungus, growing steadily and sending its rhizomes into everything in its path.

The Jedi fell. The agony that rang through the Force, from one end to the galaxy to the other, the shredding pain and terror that cut all of the Guardians to the heart--Chirrut had never felt anything like it. He clung to Baze as the purge of the Jedi played out, as they died one by one, as the wrath of Darth Vader and Palpatine both raged through them all like a fire that ravaged their wounds further instead of cauterizing them.

The Empire rose, and the Republic fell. On Jedha, the Senate had meant little, and so the change in power meant little as well. They were still distant, and small, and valueless. They told themselves so again and again and again. There was nothing to find here. They were safe.

The Empire found a mysterious value in kyber. The Fleet came to Jedha.

For the first time, the Guardians were faced with all that their ancient neutrality couldn’t do. Rather than fight or run, they froze.

And Baze walked away.

**

The Temple fell. The crystals were taken, leaving sad echoes and emptiness in the Force where they used to be.

And Baze was there, finding Chirrut in the chaos and half-dragging him to safety.

“I have nothing,” Chirrut told him. “Leave me in the dust with the remains. I will lose myself to the Force.”

Baze’s hand didn't move from Chirrut’s arm. “You'll come with me,” he said. “I know what's safe.”

Chirrut laughed, bitterness twisting in his throat. “There is no more safety, my friend.”

“Maybe not. But there's luck, and there's cunning, and I've made up my mind to share those with you.”

That was when Chirrut found that the Force hadn't left him after all. He could feel the bond linking him to Baze, chest to chest. He felt what Baze felt, when he said it.

He didn't argue again. He went with Baze, hand in hand.

**

There wasn’t much left of Jedha City, at least not physically. The temple was ruined, and the Imperial troops made a point of destroying a part of the city every day, even something as small as a window. They didn’t want the people to forget even for a moment that they had been brought to heel.

Chirrut told himself that it didn’t matter, just as the fallen monuments in the desert didn’t matter. The Force was still all around them, undamaged, unchanged. If the Guardians were scattered and the kyber stolen, if the Jedi Knights were broken, even if all the knowledge of the Force and its ways was to be lost--

The Force would still be there. Someday, even if it took a thousand years, someone would discover it again. What they might create wouldn’t look anything like the Guardians or the Jedi; it would be different, and new, belonging to its time and place. But the Force would endure, and some long-lost echo of Chirrut and Baze and the rest of them would know.

He meditated on that until he could almost believe he believed it.

**

Preaching in the streets was more exhausting than it used to be. On the surface it was the same routine, but Chirrut was older, and the single room he returned to with Baze each night was not as restful as the Temple. There were no fellow Guardians to commune with, no kyber Force-light to soothe his soul. The world was smaller, now.

But there was still work to be done, and Chirrut would do it.

Baze sensed the girl before Chirrut, though he would deny it. He would claim he noticed her because of how she moved, or the blaster at her belt, anything but the Force guiding his eyes by how it felt around her.

Whatever the reason, he made a low, rough noise, and Chirrut lifted his head, looking with his mind’s eye through the crowd.

The kyber crystal around her neck glowed with a serene light in the Force. The currents attuned to her were decidedly less peaceful, and full of shadows. Reading them would be a task of heartache, Chirrut knew.

Still, the kyber called to him too sweetly to ignore. Baze made another sound of disapproval, bumping Chirrut’s back with his knee, but Chirrut ignored him. This was necessary, he could tell.

You! I have not been waiting, but now that you’re here--I know you.