Baze should have remembered the rule, one of the first rules he learnt when he started killing for money: never take a job when it isn't clear why someone wants the target dead.
The staff pressing against his windpipe is a good reminder of the reasons why.
The beggar's face is narrow, unexpectedly pretty under the grime. He's around the same age as Baze – too young to be so idle.
Baze has been watching him for days and he's become familiar with the beggar's daily routine. He spends his mornings meditating, then afternoons drowsing in a corner of the market, stirring only to nod at the people who stop to fill his alms-bowl.
Baze heard one woman ask for a blessing. With all the tenderness of a consummate con artist, the beggar said:
"The Force is with you, sister. You have no need of my intercession."
He ate well that night: a bowl of noodles in hot soup, a banquet by the beggar's standards.
Chanting mantras and swindling pilgrims. It's no more than what Baze should've expected of anyone still deluded enough to wear the robes of a Guardian of the Whills. He doesn't let himself feel any disappointment.
"I was wondering when you'd introduce yourself," says the beggar. He cocks his head, pale eyes bright and opaque. "You could have just asked me out, you know."
"You knew," said Baze. The beggar answers with a smile, peculiarly sweet.
Baze doesn't usually take two weeks to off a target. He'd told himself he was waiting for an opportunity. But now – pinned against a crumbling wall in a secluded part of the old temple precinct – he's forced to admit that he'd held back on purpose. There had been enough dark alleys, solitary moments, unseeing crowds. One silenced blaster bolt would have sufficed.
His sentimentality would be the death of him.
"You're here to kill me," says the beggar. It's not a question. He couldn't have seen the blaster Baze had levelled at his head as he sat meditating, but given the speed with which he'd knocked Baze off his feet, Baze assumes he's reached his own conclusions.
"How did you know?" says Baze.
"There's a darkness in the Force around those with evil intentions."
"Not a believer," says the beggar. He raises an eyebrow. "Imperial guard?"
Baze bucks at the insult despite himself. The beggar shoves the staff against his neck with increased force, making him gasp.
"But wait," says the beggar suddenly. "I know you."
He bends his head, close as a lover. His temple brushes Baze's jaw, nose grazes his throat.
Baze knows he stinks of sweat and ozone, but the beggar breathes him in and laughs.
"Don't tell me," he says. "Baze Malbus." He laughs again, as though he can't believe it. "After all this time … Baze Malbus, the Temple's most devoted Guardian. Teacher's pet!"
Baze had been planning on preserving a dignified silence, but this is beyond bearing.
"You've insulted me enough," he growls. "Do whatever you're going to do. Just make it fast."
"What I'm going to do," murmurs the beggar. "Now that's a question."
He goes quiet for a time. He looks like he's listening – no. Baze recognises this.
"Are you praying?" says Baze, outraged.
"At least you remember that part of our duties."
"Let me guess," says Baze. "In the Force, there is life … "
This piece of levity annoys the beggar enough that the staff cuts off what remains of Baze's air supply.
"Sometimes the Force requires death," says the beggar reflectively, as Baze chokes. "But not today, I think."
The beggar removes his staff and kicks Baze in the stomach in one clean movement. Baze doubles up, gasping. It takes him a moment to realise the bastard's taken his blaster.
"I'm sparing your life, Baze Malbus," says Chirrut Imwe. He smiles. "Welcome back."
Chirrut has concluded that since he didn't kill Baze, this places Baze in his debt.
This has a rough logic to it. Baze isn't even inclined to disagree. He has no doubt Chirrut could have killed him on the spot if he'd wanted to.
He's prepared to tell Chirrut who sent him, but Chirrut doesn't seem interested. When Baze brings it up, Chirrut only says:
"So it wasn't your idea? That's something."
"Don't you want to know whose idea it was?"
"If I tried to keep track of all the people who want me dead, I wouldn't have time for anything else," says Chirrut.
"They'll try again."
Chirrut spreads his hands, looking pious. "All is as the Force wills it. I am only a humble mendicant and fortune-teller. They will forget me when their anger has faded."
He pauses, then adds, "They weren't Imperial?"
"Say that again," says Baze, "and I'll cut off your tongue."
Chirrut must have spared his life because they were both once novitiates at the Temple of the Whills. That's a mistake. Baze is not the boy he was then. That child was smothered by loss and betrayal – choked on the dust of the Temple as it fell.
He remembers the child Chirrut distinctly, though they were never close. Some of the abandoned children taken in by the Temple turned out this way. They snored when they should be meditating, neglected their studies, pranked their fellows, outraged their tutors, were caught imbibing prohibited substances on sacred ground.
Chirrut's blindness had seemed to make him worse. He'd been so determined not to be pitied that he'd appeared to have decided to make himself universally obnoxious instead.
Baze had chosen to join the Temple against familial opposition at age nine. He'd had no interest in ne'er-do-wells like Chirrut.
At least, that's what he'd told himself.
That night Chirrut shares his dinner with Baze and unrolls a pallet for him next to his own. He sleeps in a cell where the Temple used to put visiting anchorites. It's much less comfortable than it was then, but it is at least less cold than sleeping outdoors.
"You want me to sleep here?" says Baze.
"We'll talk about what you can do to make amends tomorrow," says Chirrut, and stretches himself out.
"I was sent to kill you," Baze points out.
No answer. After a few seconds Chirrut lets out a gentle snore.
Baze lies awake for a while, wondering why he's even there. He could strangle Chirrut now, walk out and claim the bounty.
He doesn't do it. Instead he unfolds his chief memory of Chirrut when they were novitiates – the image that's been hovering over him for the past two weeks, as he watched the man he was sent to kill.
Strictly it's a series of memories. The first is from when he was fourteen. A bad dream had driven him from his pallet, and in the still of night he'd wandered the temple grounds, murmuring prayers to calm himself, when another voice had joined his own, chanting:
"May the Force of Others be with you."
He'd emerged into a courtyard and seen Chirrut.
Chirrut was alone, wearing only his underclothes against the cold – a light tunic and trousers. In spite of this, he was sweating: Baze could see the sheen of perspiration on his skin in the moonlight.
He was going through the motions of a kata in almost complete silence, though his mouth was moving. It must have been he who'd been chanting, and an oddity of temple architecture that had made it seem as though the mantra was whispered into Baze's ear.
Chirrut's eyes were wide open. There was an extraordinary peace in his face – the peace of total focus – and though he was a scrawny teenager, there was the promise of power in the way he moved. He checked, whirled, ducked and weaved, the steps as beautiful and fluid as that of any dance.
Baze had been taught that the Force could be embodied in anything – a place, an action, an object, a person. He wouldn't have expected to see it in an erring fellow novitiate. But there it was. The Force taken form.
He stood watching, till the sky turned grey and the Temple started stirring. Chirrut stopped when the first morning bells rang out, turning his head in Baze's direction. He couldn't have seen him, but Baze withdrew.
That was not the last time he'd watched Chirrut at his solitary practice. As far as he could tell Chirrut did it every morning, which might have been some explanation of his tendency to fall asleep in class.
Baze could never explain to himself why he woke and crept out to watch him sometimes – a boy he barely ever spoke to, wrestling with air. Only it was beautiful, and Chirrut would never know, and it seemed to Baze that in Chirrut's ecstatic focus he might find a way to the secret that powered everything – the Temple, the Holy City, the pilgrims with their hopeful faces upturned – so long as he kept watch.
When he wakes, Chirrut is outside, practising forms.
For a blurry moment Baze thinks he's fourteen again, or sixteen, or eighteen. But then the clouds clear. He's older, cracked and stained by years of war, and for reasons unknown Chirrut Imwe has placed his life in his hands.
He pays Baze no attention when he squats by the doorway. Chirrut is wearing no more now than he did as a teenager. The tunic and trousers don't hide much, and he's all lean muscle, the early promise of power fulfilled. He's chanting, and he keeps chanting even as he concludes his routine, standing with feet rooted to the ground and hands pressed together:
"I am one with the Force and the Force is with me."
He cocks his head, waiting. Baze knows the response, of course. The words crowd on his tongue, familiar as the chill morning air of Jedha:
The Force is with me and I am one with the Force.
He doesn't say it.
Chirrut lowers his hands. "Sleep well?"
"What do you want from me?" says Baze. Might as well get it over with.
He's not sure what he expects – demands for penance, or money, or protection against the apparently large number of people who want Chirrut dead.
Instead Chirrut drops to a squat, so that he's level with Baze, and turns his face up to the morning sun.
"A period of service," he says. "Six months, no more."
"Nothing too onerous," says Chirrut reassuringly. "Running errands, taking messages. That kind of thing."
Baze stares. "You want me to be your errand boy?"
"It would take some of the burden off," explains Chirrut. "Clear up my schedule."
"I've been watching you for two weeks," says Baze. "You don't do anything!"
"All things happen within the still heart of the Force," says Chirrut. That might have gone down well with one of his marks, but:
"You just made that up!" says Baze.
"Do you rate your life so poorly?" says Chirrut. He settles back on his haunches. "I think it's worth a few small favours, don't you?"
Baze doesn't answer, but he doesn't say no, and he doesn't leave.
What Chirrut wants, in fact, is to convert Baze. Most of Baze's tasks involve taking one pilgrimage route or another to make offerings at the shrines scattered in and around niJedha.
A surprising number survived more or less intact. Others are crumbling, more ruin than shrine, but still surrounded by the offerings of pilgrims, the sharp edges of rock worn smooth by prayerful hands. The desperate will cling to hope wherever it's to be found, and in these dark days the Holy City is full of the desperate.
Baze isn't one of them. You're only desperate if you've got something to lose.
But he doesn't like owing debts. He'll stay with Chirrut till he's paid this one off, and burn meaningless draughts of incense before empty shrines for days, if that's what Chirrut wants.
He soon learns that Chirrut is used to getting what he wants. Fools, holy men and geniuses are made allowances, and in his own way Chirrut is all of these. What Baze saw as idleness is revealed to be an obsessive focus on self-cultivation that would have delighted their superiors. Deprived of a temple, Chirrut subjects himself to a daily discipline of religious practice as strict as any Jedi's could have been – rises early to practise his forms, meditates without interruption in the mornings, earns credits for dinner in the afternoons.
He's spoilt by the merchants at the market, so that if – as happens frequently – he gives away the credits he's earned, he's sure of leftovers from one stall or another. He doesn't tell that many fortunes. Mostly he listens – even to the occasional stormtrooper who pauses by his alms-bowl, glancing furtively along the street.
Baze waits till the trooper has passed on before saying:
"Really? Imperial soldiers too?"
"The Force makes no distinction," says Chirrut. He looks distant, weary. "Who am I to turn them away?"
Baze's hand is starting to ache. He'd seized his blaster the moment he saw the stormtrooper.
"They destroyed the Temple," he says. "Desecrated the Holy City. Killed my family."
"Yes," says Chirrut.
In silence they watch the pilgrims pass, and for the first time Baze wonders what Chirrut's lost. Beyond the obvious. Beyond everything.
Maybe Chirrut's gone too far for desperation, too.
"There's no forgiving that," says Baze hoarsely.
"You're going to get in trouble one of these days," says Baze. "It's only a matter of time."
Chirrut doesn't deny it. He doesn't need to. Baze already knows niJedha is not a safe city, and Chirrut Imwe is not a safe man.
In the old days, the act of love was as sacred as anything else in Jedha. Nowadays it's a matter of necessity or indulgence.
Still, there's no need for it to be sordid. There's a sloe-eyed youth Baze has been visiting since his return to Jedha. The house is kept scrupulously clean; the young man is courteous; and he will have nothing to do with the lackeys of the Empire.
Baze is a man of simple tastes. They don't do anything especially perverse. It's a straightforward connection, clean of any feeling other than a kind of friendship.
Perhaps it's inevitable that this, too, should be complicated by the return of Chirrut Imwe to Baze's life.
It's not Petra's fault. It's a trick of the light, maybe, or a trick of Baze's mind, that he should've looked down at the boy's face and seen the flash of blue eyes rather than brown.
When they're done Petra says drowsily, "You were different today."
Baze grunts. "Was I?"
"Yes." One of the things Baze had liked about Petra was his interest in people. He's gazing at Baze with frank curiosity. "What were you thinking of?"
"Had a close shave today," he lies.
He thinks he carries it off. At least, Petra has the tact to let him believe it. But that night he lies sleeplessly on his pallet, listening to Chirrut's steady breathing.
Baze knows why he didn't kill him. Nostalgia, sentiment, reluctance to steep his soul in worse sin than has already dyed it – even these are less embarrassing than the simple fact that Chirrut is and always was exactly his type.
Baze tells himself he'll leave when the six months are up, but they never get that far. He was right. The people who sent him try again.
This time they send a team. Chirrut does well holding them off, but one of them has the sense to stand out of range of his staff. He would have been finished off by a blaster bolt if Baze hadn't got back from one of his stupid pilgrimages just in time.
When they're all dead Baze rounds on Chirrut, sick at the waste of life.
"Why didn't you call me?" he says. He rigged Chirrut up with a comlink so Chirrut wouldn't have the excuse to send him out on pointless errands ("if you want incense from the other side of town, you can tell me while I'm there"). "You could have died!"
Chirrut doesn't seem as troubled by death. Baze had always had problems with that aspect of the Guardians' theology – the view that, since the Force moved in all things living and dead, there was no great difference between life and death, and no need to regard the latter state with any particular horror or distaste.
Chirrut is more orthodox, it seems, for all his failings as a novitiate. He's rifling absent-mindedly through the corpses' pockets.
"That was a possibility," he allows. "If the Force willed it." He finds a spare blaster part and throws it away with a shrug. "Would you have minded?"
"Of course I don't want you dead!" snarls Baze.
Chirrut says, with genuine curiosity, "Why not?"
"Why don't you ask the Force?"
Chirrut holds up a pendant, a keepsake of the kind that could once have been bought at any of the stalls that crowded the holy sites. "Is this valuable?"
Baze snatches it out of his hand. "Stop that."
Chirrut folds his hands.
"Enough," says Baze. He grips his blaster to stop his hands shaking. "I don't kill for fun. If you think I'm going to keep running around after you – "
Chirrut looks surprised. "Of course I don't. You saved my life. Discharged the debt." He smiles.
"You could say I'm the one who owes you now," he says. "What are you going to do with me?"
Baze, watching Chirrut's mouth, is visited by a vivid image of exactly what he'd like to do. He shakes himself.
"Fine," he says. "Then we're even."
"No," says Chirrut, with concern. "I'd like to think we're more than that." He pulls himself to his feet using his staff.
"We're friends," he says. "Aren't we?"
Baze doesn't answer. But he doesn't say no.
It turns out Chirrut can put away a lot of fermented bantha milk.
Baze starts working again, since, unlike Chirrut, he likes having more than one meal a day. It's also become evident that Baze is going to have to be the one who pays for drinks.
Chirrut doesn't ask about Baze's work, but he's not stupid. He knows.
It doesn't seem to worry him. Maybe it's religious indifference. More likely it's Jedhan pragmatism. The Guardians of the Whills might not have been troubled by the gap between life and death, but you weren't supposed to actively shove people over.
In Jedha as it is now, though – Jedha under the Empire – nobody asks too many questions, or challenges what their neighbours do to survive.
Still, there are times Baze feels as hollowed out as the Temple – a smoking ruin, a broken altar. On those days Chirrut's smile feels like something to live for.
He's disgusted to realise he's becoming as spellbound by Chirrut as his credulous pilgrims or the merchants at the market. But Baze doesn't believe in the gnomic fortunes Chirrut invents, or the version of the Force he peddles – a Force that cares about the fates of those entangled in its web, that will somehow turn the obscenity of war and Empire to good.
He believes in Chirrut. Not that he's good, or right, or even particularly sane. Just the living warmth of him. The fact that he remains despite the destruction of everything they both once believed in.
It's good to have something like this in his life. Something worth protecting. He thinks he understands it, until the day Chirrut gets drunk on baijiu and kisses him in an alley.
Baze kind of starts it, by telling Chirrut what he's done. He'd been gone for a few days, and Chirrut had asked no questions – only smiled in relief when he returned. But a friendship in which neither party has to ask about anything of importance only works if everything of importance is admitted.
Chirrut makes a noise as though he's been punched in the gut. Then he says:
This, of all questions, is one Baze hadn't expected.
"They would have tried again," he says. "Now you're safe. From them, at least."
Baze wouldn't put it beyond Chirrut to have made other murderous enemies. But at least he's dealt with the one he knows is willing to pay to make Chirrut's death happen.
"You said you didn't kill for free," says Chirrut, speaking carefully. He's had a fair bit already – has been slurring his words, lapsing into scabrous dialect, leaning into Baze in a way that's grown familiar.
"I said I don't kill for fun," Baze corrects him.
Baze stares at his drink. He's not inclined to say anything more in his own defence. If Chirrut doesn't want Baze to kill for his sake, he should stop antagonising people badly enough that they put out hits on him.
You'd think this would be easy. Most people seem to manage.
"Don't … " says Chirrut. He rubs his forehead. "Please don't do that again."
"Protect me from the consequences of my mistakes." He raises his head when Baze doesn't answer. "Baze. Promise."
"How is this different from killing those thugs who came after you?"
It seems to Baze that protecting Chirrut from the consequences of his mistakes is what he's there for. But Chirrut seems genuinely upset. He puts his hand on Baze's shoulder, shaking him. Baze shrugs him off.
"Fine," he lies. Maybe it's what counts as a mistake from Chirrut's point of view. This is not always clear to the external observer, since death and mayhem follow on what Chirrut seems to consider good decisions too.
Chirrut's shoulders relax. He says, "This stuff is disgusting. Let's have baijiu. Bartender!"
Which results, three hours later, in Baze staggering along an alley with Chirrut's heavy arm slung across his back.
He's not totally sure which way is up. When he pauses to try to work this out, Chirrut turns his face into Baze's neck and says dreamily:
"You smell of ozone … and gunpowder. Gunpowder?"
"She was a collector," says Baze. "Had an old Tusken slugthrower." Baze had been a little tempted to take it. He likes guns, and the slugthrower had been a real museum piece. But it was best to leave it – nothing owed, nothing due to be paid off.
"Took her off guard, or she might have got me with it," he adds. "You'd be surprised by the accuracy of aim over long distances – "
"Baze," drawls Chirrut, "I really don't care."
It occurs to Baze, not for the first time, that Chirrut is a dick.
"Then why ask?" he snaps.
Chirrut's breath gusts against the sensitive juncture of his neck and shoulder. It's making it hard to think. Baze puts his hand on Chirrut's head to push him away, but then something happens – Chirrut's hair against his palm, the smell of Chirrut's breath, the wine in Baze's blood. They all knock into each other and make sense for the first time.
"Wait," he says. "Are you – are you coming on to me?"
"Finally!" says Chirrut. He reels away, stumbling before righting himself. He flings out his hands in a gesture of gratitude. "The Force has a way even into your thick head!"
Even to Baze this smacks of blasphemy, but he's got more important things to worry about. "You are!"
"What did you think I've been doing for the past few months?" says Chirrut. "It's not like I was subtle!"
"I – " But Baze is frozen by the knowledge that Chirrut is right. He hadn't been remotely subtle. Baze would have seen every sign – the accidental-on-purpose lurching into him, the small touches, the relentless needling – if it hadn't been Chirrut Imwe who was doing it.
Chirrut is too close for comfort. When did he come so close? He's calm, of course, possessed of his splendid impervious certainty, his mouth twisted in a slight smile. "Why didn't you kill me, brother?"
His breath brushes Baze's ear. Baze has to steel himself not to pull away. "I owed you."
Chirrut shakes his head. "Now tell me the truth."
Baze is panicking until he sees Chirrut's expression. He's laughing, the cocky fucking bastard. He's toying with Baze.
"Go to hell," says Baze, meaning, Don't waste my time.
Chirrut gets it, though he doesn't stop laughing. He's brilliant with joy. "That's not very grateful, is it?" His voice lowers. "You can do better than that."
"What happened to your faith?" grumbles Baze. "Nothing above the Force, nothing beyond it. Remember?"
The Guardians of the Whills didn't prohibit attachments like certain other Force-following sects, but Baze had always seen that particular text as a direction. The Guardians who were married or had liaisons were, in his view, too weak in their faith, since they needed physical, personal manifestations of the power of the Force. The ideal was a complete absorption in the Force within oneself – a quality that he'd thought Chirrut embodied. Till now.
"Nothing is beyond the Force," says Chirrut. "The Force led you to me. The Force is with you, Baze. How many times must I say it?"
"If you're asking me, none," Baze starts to say, but Chirrut kisses him, and for the first time he concedes the fight.
He catches Chirrut around the head, short hairs tickling his palm, and kisses him back until he hears Chirrut release a breath of air – a concession. He drags his hand down Chirrut's back, feeling the muscles shift beneath his palm. He's never tried imagining this before; he's never dared.
It's better than he could have hoped, kissing drunkenly in a stinking alley. Baze doesn't even have the energy to be alarmed that this is the end of what he started by taking the job, by hunting Chirrut down. He'd set his own path.
He doesn't have time to be afraid. He has better things to be thinking about, especially since Chirrut's dropped to his knees, nuzzling into Baze's groin.
"Oh," says Baze, suddenly completely sober.
There's no one else in the alley. They could be the only people in all the world. It's cold, but there's only the briefest touch of chill air on Baze's skin before Chirrut takes him into his mouth, and that's the end of worrying for Baze for a time.
He likes Chirrut's mouth on him, the flutter of Chirrut's lashes against his skin. But what's better is what happens after he comes and comes to himself, and drags Chirrut to his feet. Chirrut is smiling even as Baze fumbles with his trousers and grasps the hard length of Chirrut's cock.
When Baze says against his lips, "I've been wanting this", Chirrut says easily, "I know." As though the admission of desire could have cost Baze nothing.
But Baze adjusts his grip, speeds up his stroke, and Chirrut is no longer smiling. When his head rolls back, his body tensing, Baze growls against his throat:
"Next time I'll taste you."
It's one of the few times Chirrut doesn't have a response ready. He only groans, his hips bucking helplessly, and Baze finds he likes having the upper hand for once.
It's strange to have found peace of mind, after all this time.
Baze isn't happy, exactly. He hasn't been happy since Imperial stormtroopers marched through the temple gardens, and even as a Guardian of the Whills he was never taught to expect happiness.
But he's calm. Clarified. It's as though he was embroiled in an argument with life for years, but now it's settled. He knows where he is and what he's for.
A few weeks later, he goes to see Petra. Not for business, but to say goodbye, give the boy some credits, wish him well. He doesn't need to, but if he disappears without a word Petra will conclude he's dead, and Baze can't seem to rid himself of the habit of doing unnecessary things.
But the house is closed up. It wears an abandoned air. Baze lingers too long outside, unsure of what to do, and he's noticed.
"Looking for Petra?" says the trader. She's squatting by a mat spread with cheap knickknacks.
Baze doesn't answer. He turns to go, but the trader says:
"Better not come here again. The Empire's still watching. They got a man yesterday. Used to come by every fortnight."
The trader doesn't say if she recognises Baze, but she must. The wise thing to do would be to walk away.
"They took Petra?" says Baze.
"He went," says the trader. She shakes her head. "Knew him for years. He used to buy me a meal when he'd had a guest. Never would have thought it of him."
Baze is stilled with dismay, too taken aback to even curse himself for his own naivete. Petra isn't the first Jedhan to seek security or money by serving the Empire. He won't be the last.
"What was he doing for them?" says Baze.
The trader shrugs. "Nothing that means any good for his guests." She raises watery eyes to Baze. Her face is weary, seamed with age. One with her grey hair would never have had to sit on the streets before the Empire came. Jedha used to be holy ground.
"If you'll take an aged one's advice, you'll lie low for a while, little brother," says the trader. "Get away if you can."
Baze nods. He leaves the credits he prepared for Petra on her mat.
He doesn't plan to take the trader's advice, not at first. She's right, of course. If Baze had any sense he'd get off Jedha, use a different name, keep his head down.
But he's had enough of surviving for survival's sake. Sense is overrated.
Chirrut isn't in his usual spot at the market, though, and as Baze searches for him he begins to feel uneasy. He never felt the Force the way some of the other Guardians used to, but he's never managed to surrender all his superstitions.
There are no coincidences, and Baze has only managed to live so long because he trusts his instincts.
It's with a sense of inevitability that he tracks Chirrut down to a corner of the temple precinct – and a feeling of déjà vu. It's the kind of remote place, tucked away from the crowds, where Baze had first tried half-heartedly to kill Chirrut. This time Chirrut's with an Imperial stormtrooper. They're talking in low voices.
Chirrut is standing, unusually – he's tall for a Jedhan and it's bad for business to tower over the customers. The stormtrooper is closer to him than anyone usually bothers getting to a beggar. They're speaking too softly for Baze to understand them, and he can't get any closer without risking being noticed – by Chirrut, if not by the stormtrooper. But he's near enough to see credits change hands.
Chirrut puts the bag away, slipping it under his robes. He doesn't mention it when Baze finds him in the usual place later. Doesn't speak of it at dinner, or after.
But Baze didn't expect him to. He doesn't let Chirrut touch him, and the next morning he's gone, long before Chirrut has risen to practise his forms.
"This is where you live now?" says Chirrut. He cocks his head and sniffs, as though he hasn't just kicked down the door. As though Baze isn't on his feet, his blaster at the ready. "Smells rank."
"How did you find me?" says Baze. Damn it, he knew he shouldn't have taken that one last job, but he's out of credits and the freighter pilot wouldn't agree to take him otherwise.
Chirrut says, predictably, "The Force led me to you."
"Don't move," Baze says, when Chirrut takes a step towards him. "I have a blaster pointed at your head."
"I know," says Chirrut. The idea doesn't seem to bother him, but he does stop, leaning on his staff. "You could have left a message. I thought something had happened to you."
Baze should just shoot. "I was trying to avoid something happening to me."
"You think I'm a threat?" says Chirrut, wondering. "To you, Baze?"
"How much did they give you?"
Chirrut looks puzzled. "Who?"
"That Imperial guard," says Baze. "What was it for?"
It could be something totally unconnected with Baze. He's only a two-bit mercenary, who knows nothing and no one important. It would be easy to get rid of him. The Empire doesn't need to bribe one of the few remaining Guardians of the Whills for that.
But it doesn't matter what Chirrut's been paid by the Empire to do. Baze understands the need for striking grimy bargains. He doesn't fault anyone for doing what they have to to survive. But dealing with the Empire is a step too far.
"Imperial guard … oh," says Chirrut. "Baze, the credits were for her mother. She lives on NaJedha."
This is exactly the kind of story Chirrut tells the pilgrims who stop for fortunes. Baze is almost insulted. "Her mother."
"Even stormtroopers have mothers," says Chirrut mildly. "The credits are on their way to her now. I won't pretend I didn't take any, but you'll have to ask Fayin if you want to see them. I spent them on her noodles."
"Sure," says Baze.
Chirrut's forehead creases.
"Baze," he says. He shifts his weight on his feet. Baze raises his blaster, but Chirrut is only throwing his staff to the ground.
He opens his hands, showing that he's got no other weapons. As though that makes him less dangerous.
"You can't believe I'm an Imperial stooge," Chirrut says. "Me. When have I ever been good at following orders?"
"What did you do to piss off Jarden Kasrut?"
Chirrut blinks. "Oh. It was her who sent you to kill me?"
Baze stays silent, and Chirrut says, "You know she gets – got the Empire their kyber miners."
"I get them out," says Chirrut.
Baze counts his breaths. One. Two. He wants to believe Chirrut. Three. That's the problem.
"That's a dangerous game," he says finally.
Chirrut shrugs. "I only do it when they ask. Put down the blaster, my friend."
Baze neither answers nor complies. Chirrut shrugs and raises his hands to his bandolier.
"What are you doing?" says Baze.
"Showing you." Chirrut unbuckles the bandolier, shrugs off his outer robe. Bends down to take off his boots and stockings.
"Show me what?" says Baze. "This is nothing I haven't seen before."
It doesn't sound as contemptuous as he meant it to. Considering how many layers Chirrut wears, he's making fast work of them.
"That you have nothing to fear from me." The red under-robe goes. Only the trousers are left.
Chirrut kicks those off too, till he's standing on bare feet in thin underpants and nothing else. He spreads his arms wide.
"There," he says. "I'm in your hands. Do what you will with me."
Baze can see his skin prickling from the cold, but the overall effect is not of weakness. There's an insolence in Chirrut's stance, his outflung arms, the completeness of his submission.
"Why did you come after me?" says Baze.
"The Force – "
Baze shoves Chirrut against the wall, surprising a gasp out of him. "No. A real answer."
"Baze, I can tell you the truth or I can say what you want to hear, but I can't do both."
Silence. Chirrut must be aware of Baze's desire, but he probably understands, too, that that doesn't take Baze very far from wanting to hurt him. He sighs.
"Why won't you let me be your friend?" he says.
"This is just what you'd do if you were an Imperial agent," says Baze.
Chirrut huffs out a laugh. "Really? I'd throw down my weapon. Take all my clothes off. Offer myself up to you."
"What were you going to say?" says Baze. He knows what's driven him to this point, even if he's fought to avoid admitting it. But Chirrut … he hasn't even begun to understand Chirrut's reasons. "The Force told you you could trust me?"
"The Force only suggested you were important. That you would change my fate." Chirrut's face is grave, ecstatic. It's a look that's already become familiar. He gets it when he has his maddest ideas. "Everything else was my idea. Trusting you." His voice drops. "Kissing you."
"Why did you do it?" Baze demands.
Chirrut says, with absolute simplicity, "Because I wanted you."
Baze is still absorbing this when Chirrut adds, "I wouldn't have done it if I'd known it was going to make you so paranoid."
If anyone's going to destroy Baze, it will be Chirrut. He knows too much. He has to guess how much Baze wants to believe – in Chirrut, if not the other superstitions they were brought up with. Chirrut doesn't need the Force for that.
"It's not paranoia," says Baze.
Chirrut actually rolls his eyes.
"I want you," he says, "but I'd rather keep a friend. If it bothers you, we can go back to how we were before. Though you'll allow me to say that it didn't seem unreciprocated. You spent so much time watching me, even when we were kids, I thought – "
"You knew about that?" says Baze, startled.
"I'm blind, not oblivious. Unlike some people I could name."
Baze ignores this. "Why should I trust you?"
He's in dead earnest. He wants a reason. But Chirrut only tilts his head back, exposing the vulnerable length of his throat, and sighs.
"Lou gong ah," he says softly, smiling. "Don't you know by now that you shouldn't?"
He's only ever called Baze that in bed, teasing him, and Baze feels warmth rise in his face. Coming from Chirrut, the term of endearment is equal parts sweet and obnoxious. It works on Baze – he's both charmed and irritated. And he takes the point.
Chirrut will take no responsibility for this. If Baze stays, it must be his decision.
He steps back, giving Chirrut some space, and Chirrut looks troubled for the first time since he arrived.
"You should've knocked," says Baze. "What made you so sure I wasn't going to blow a hole in you?"
Chirrut's face clears.
"I wasn't," he says. He seems sincere, but then he's always sincere, except when he's fucking with Baze. "I took a chance."
Whatever the Force is, maybe it's something like the patience that roots Chirrut to the ground. He gives the impression that he could wait forever, despite the goosebumps on his arms and chest. He absorbs silence like a plant absorbing sunlight.
"You said you owe me," says Baze. "For Jarden Kasrut."
"Will you do what I tell you?"
A smile is tugging at the edge of Chirrut's mouth, but he seems to be restrained by a sense of the occasion. "Yes."
Chirrut's expression flickers. His voice deeper now, he says, "Yes."
Baze places his blaster next to the staff on the floor. Takes a step forward and puts his palm on Chirrut's chest, savouring the hitch in Chirrut's breath. Strokes his torso, from the base of Chirrut's throat to his belly, then drops to his knees and presses his face against Chirrut's thigh, inhaling the smell of him.
The choice is simple, now that Baze has faced up to it. He just has to decide whether he'd rather take the risk of betrayal by Chirrut over survival anywhere else.
Put that way, it doesn't seem that hard a decision to make.
"I want – " says Baze, and Chirrut grinds out, "Yes."
"Baze, tell me," Chirrut says later. "Nothing's changed?"
Baze had thought Chirrut, charging into his room to recover his errand boy, had felt no doubt. It was partly that clarity of purpose – that ironclad conviction of right – that had drawn Baze to him. Chirrut made things simple.
But Chirrut's voice is uncertain. When Baze doesn't answer he turns his face towards him, looking worried.
He's not used to Chirrut seeking comfort – asking for reassurance, instead of just assuming Baze will be there when he needs him.
"Everything's changed," says Baze shortly. But he doesn't want to talk about it - he gave up making vows when he stopped shaving his head and put away his Guardian's robes - so he pulls Chirrut down and kisses him.
It works. Maybe he's finally starting to figure Chirrut out.