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echoes, afterimages

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The blow snapped Chirrut’s head back and he staggered, copper blooming bright and sharp in his mouth. Worry spiked from Baze and Chirrut pushed it away. He couldn’t afford the distraction.

He ducked the next swing. It whistled over his head as he rushed his opponent. Shoulder to midsection, he let his momentum carry them both forward until they hit the cage wall.

The Calian grunted, breath whistling from his lungs as Chirrut drove a fist into his ribs. Again and then again, knuckles pounding bone. The Calian brought an elbow down, vicious force against Chirrut’s spine. Pain burst behind Chirrut’s eyes.

Baze’s worry was a constant battering in his mind, but he locked it away in a dark corner and twisted out of the Calian’s grip to dance backward.

The crowd roared, noise buffeting Chirrut’s ears, threatening to overwhelm his senses. He tasted blood, smelled the metallic tang and the salty bite of sweat and adrenaline.

Feet pounded the mat as the Calian rushed him and Chirrut went low, ducking sideways to grapple his opponent’s thighs and bring him down.

He fell with a thud and Chirrut swarmed up his body, straddling his chest to strike with unerring accuracy.

The Calian bucked, but Chirrut rolled with the movement and landed another blow. He needed an arm—there—the Calian reached up, clawing desperately at Chirrut’s face.

Chirrut caught the limb and flipped himself around it to fall backward onto the mat, legs locked around the other’s chest. He pulled until the shoulder joint creaked and the Calian howled and slapped the mat.

Chirrut let go immediately and scrambled to his feet. Bringing his hands together in front of his face, he bowed, first to the Calian, who was dragging himself upright, and then to the crowd, which roared its approval.

He swayed, the adrenaline fading, and felt Baze entering the ring behind him as the Calian bowed to Chirrut.

“Well fought,” Chirrut said.

Baze touched his shoulder and Chirrut turned to him.

“Let’s go,” Baze said under the shouts of the onlookers, handing him his staff.  

“Have to collect our winnings,” Chirrut said out of the corner of his mouth, lifting a hand to the crowd, which roared louder. He winced, trying to disguise the pain under a smile, but he knew Baze hadn’t missed it.

Baze put a hand on the small of his back, subtly turning him toward the exit. “I’ll get them, don’t worry.”

Chirrut crossed the ring and stepped down onto the dirty floor, sticky with unidentified substances under his slippered feet. He grimaced but kept his head up, using his staff to guide his way through the crowd. Baze stayed close, using his bulk to shelter Chirrut from those wanting to talk to him.

Near the front entrance, Baze steered Chirrut toward a bench. “Wait here,” he said. “I’ll be right back.”

Chirrut sat, letting his staff rest between his feet. The air was cooler here, the press of too many bodies in a small space lifted, and he leaned back, flinching momentarily as his bruised spine brushed the wall.

It felt good to not move for a minute, even though there was still too much noise, too much sensory input. He felt raw, exposed nerves open to the air, and every sound made him twitch. He needed to get back to the room, submerge himself, and heal.

He could smell fried noodles and wet permacrete and diesel oil wafting in the door that opened and closed with customers passing through. Baze’s bass rumble underscored the higher tenor of the Cerean who appeared to be arguing with him. Chirrut ached all over, exhausted now that the adrenaline had worn off.

The door opened and he shivered in the cold air that rushed over him.

A choked cry, cut off almost before it started, and the sounds of fists hitting flesh made Chirrut straighten. That had come from outside, not the room he’d just been in. The door shut and the sounds stopped.

Chirrut’s inner debate lasted about three seconds before he was on his feet and striding for the door. He stopped just outside, cocking his head to listen. People hurried past on the sidewalk, appearing to him like streaks of faint afterimages, the Force moving through them. They blurred together, a muted rainbow kaleidoscope, and Chirrut closed his eyes to listen.

There—someone cried out again and Chirrut spun in that direction.

“Please—” The word was wet, like the speaker was underwater, his voice bubbling as he heaved for air.

Chirrut strode forward, aches and pains forgotten. “Let him go.” Silence fell and Chirrut spread his feet, settling easily into a fighting stance. Three, he thought. Big and mean, one on the right has a blaster. “I said, let him go.”

“This isn’t your fight,” Blaster growled.

The three spread out and Chirrut waited. One of them had a slight limp, his foot dragging as he moved. The other had a nervous habit of clicking his teeth together. Chirrut didn’t move.

Behind him, the door to the club opened and Baze stepped out. Chirrut could feel the alarm and caution that spiked off him as he flattened himself to the wall and waited.

“It doesn’t have to be my fight,” Chirrut agreed. “But I will make it mine, if you don’t let him go.”

Teeth hissed a laugh like a rattling teakettle through a clenched jaw and Limp shifted his weight. Chirrut stayed focused on the leader, who growled.

“Last chance, old man. Fuck off or pay the consequences.”

Amusement rolled off Baze as Chirrut sighed.

“You had to go there.” He lunged, staff snapping out to knock the blaster clear as he spun and drove his heel into Limp’s stomach. He ducked the wild blow Blaster swung and slithered in under his guard to hammer his staff hard into the bigger man’s ribs. Blaster staggered backward and went down flat as Baze fired a single shot and Teeth collapsed behind Chirrut.

“I had it under control,” Chirrut pointed out. He brought his staff down in a sweeping arc to connect with Blaster’s head.

“Of course you did,” Baze agreed, holstering his blaster and pausing to kick Limp in the jaw before joining Chirrut. “Can we go now?”

“Not without him,” Chirrut said. He knelt beside the young man crumpled on the pavement, parchment fine skin stretched over bones too prominent, his clothes soaked through and wet hair in his face.

“Whatever reason they had to do this to him, it’s none of our business,” Baze said.

“Baze,” Chirrut said, focused on the body in front of him. “You know how I can—sort of—see the Force around living things? How it makes them glow, very faintly?”

“Yes, of course,” Baze snapped, shifting his weight.

Chirrut held his hands out over the young man, almost as if he was warming them in front of a fire. “This boy, Baze—he shines.”

Baze didn’t move for a long moment, and then he swore, quiet and obscene, and bent to pick the boy up. “Let’s go, then.”

Chirrut scrambled to his feet, grabbed his staff, and ran after them.