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A Way So Familiar

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“Look for the Force and you will find me.”

 

 

Baze wakes, and he doesn’t remember. He’s pulled screaming and bloody out of one life and into another, the weight of him compacted and pressed into a white star. In this world, he must relearn what it is to move, to think, to feel. In this world, they call him by a different name.

He grows, and time moulds him into a familiar shape. He learns how this world works, and how to manipulate it. Here, the fabric of things can’t be reshaped by will or by magic or by a fool’s thought, which suits him fine. Before, though he can’t recall before, his material talents were never praised over his devotion, and so when he lost the latter the former was dismissed as brutish. As a warlord, he’s renowned for that brutishness, his skill for nuance and influence ignored. This suits him well—when nuance is expected, it never has the desired effect. In this way, he’s as much a viper as a bear.

Still, there’s yet one who spits his venom back as fast as he can bite. He finds him late, in his forty-sixth year—a prisoner of war, thrown at his feet, glaring up with blood in his teeth. He says his name is Guan Yu, but Baze knows it hasn’t always been. Another name forms, solid and screaming, in his mind, before it dissolves like so much empty air. Chirrut. Chirrut is handsome, and his eyes are blazing, and something in Baze stirs. It’s a tug, a click, an oh, and when it’s over he forgets it like an infant memory, and the feeling resolves itself into mere familiarity.

Guan Yu, Chirrut, the man with blood in his teeth—he belongs to Baze.

He doesn’t seem to know it, though. He pulls back, scratches and snarls and steals away, and though Baze tries to protect him, it never manages to work. In softer moments, the frost of him melts just enough for Baze to see what they might be. Together they might form something powerful, if only.... If only.   

Almost as soon as Baze finds him, he’s gone again. Vanished first, into the arms of a woman—then into the arms of her betrothed—and then into the arms of death. His corpse, or what’s left of it, makes a good chess piece. After twenty years, he manages to be of use. It’s a good cover for Baze’s own mourning.

He follows Chirrut just a few months later. Plunges into the deep and the dark and searches for him there, chases him until at last he reemerges, bloody and screaming again—

 

 

The anger drives him, compels his every move. Hatred drips from his words as he speaks to the worm who would be king, the pathetic creature who thinks he’s somehow equal to Wu Chow—Guan Yu—Chirrut— who is he?

He is the Emperor’s illegitimate son but the rightful heir, the one who will usher in a new age of glory for China.

It consumes him, his quest to claim the throne, until he comes face to face with the son of the Keeper of the Seal. His heart stutters, twists, turns over in his chest. Mine . He tries to say it but the word won’t form on his tongue, as the face before him blurs. He has long hair and red armor, his name is Baze and Chirrut is safe with him. He ducks a blow and throws one of his own. He is wise and deadly, chancellor to Emperor Xian. He staggers, and his opponent lands a punch.

He blinks. Baze is holding him as Chirrut dies on a beach. Don’t go. I’m here.

He blinks, and he’s back on the barge, and his world explodes around him in a shower of red and gold.

 

 

White is Baze’s colour here. Gleaming, pearly white, crisp and speckless. Some attempt to wear his ideological purity on (as) his sleeve, some attempt to wrap his black, poisoned insides in a semblance of good. They call him Xu Bai-jiu, and he has built this life with every brick carefully cultivated to preserve the clarity of that name.

It seems fitting that Chirrut would be the one to muddy it at last.

Of course, he isn’t Chirrut here, no more than when he was Guan Yu or Wu Chow. Here he is Tang Long, then Liu Jin-xi, but in Baze’s heart he keeps that ancient name, always hidden just out of sight of Xu Bai-jiu’s rational brain. There is blood on his hands, and none on Baze’s, and when Baze adjusts his spectacles and meets his eye for the first time—well, that’s when he knows it isn’t the first time. This butcher’s son, this runaway, this so-called penitent with the kind eyes that snap cold at a moment’s notice… he is Baze’s to protect, and for a time Baze thinks he might do it.

But of course, Tang Long is guilty of a crime, and Xu Bai-jiu can’t let that go unpunished. This is the way the world works, this is the way the world must work, this is the way he must make it work.

When the butchers come for Chirrut, though, Baze can’t let them take him. The phantom memory—not his, but his—of a good man torn apart by wolves weaves through his head, as nonsensical as it is right.

And so he strikes against the butcher king, filth on his crisp whites and blood spilling from his lips. Just enough to give Tang Long the winning edge. And through the haze of twilight and rain on his spectacles he sees Chirrut free at last. He sees him happy, and Liu Jin-xi, and no longer his.

That’s all he needs. And perhaps it’s because it’s all he needs that he dives down, down, deep into the dark, so deep he feels himself fading away, so deep he forgets his own name.

 

 

This time, when he’s thrust ragged and shaking into the bloody world, he knows. He is Chirrut. He has lived before—countless times, too many to count. And he is looking for—the world is too bright, too harsh. He closes his eyes, balls his tiny fists, and cries.

He grows, his mother a warm, encouraging presence at his back. She calls him Arlong, her voice kind and patient, but he knows who he is, as he fills out and packs on muscle with his training. The memories are half-formed in his mind, fleeting like a shadow on snow, of a man who smiled like a viper before he struck, who kissed like a god and held onto Chirrut as if Chirrut would slip through his fingers if he loosened them.

Chirrut shapes the name on his lips, staring out over the city sprawled below in glittering splendor. Baze.

It's an itch under his skin that drives him, a million crawling insect feet along his bones. He has to find him.

And then he does, as Baze—whose name is Sunny, in this lifetime—finishes fighting off three men and Chirrut offers him ice for the swelling knot on his temple, choking on the nerves as he waits for Baze to see him, to look up and realize—

But Baze doesn’t recognize him. And Chirrut’s heart shrivels within him, but he forces a smile and slings an arm around Baze’s shoulders, tells him they’re going to be friends.

He can wait. He is a patient man, when he needs to be.

He asks himself every day. Does he know yet? Has he remembered? Chirrut himself doesn’t remember—not all of it. It’s fragments, still, like looking through a cracked windowpane, catching glimpses. But he remembers the press of Baze’s hands, scalding hot on Chirrut’s skin, the shape of his mouth as it curved in fond exasperation, the scent and feel of his hair when it was long.

But Baze’s eyes never light with the soul-deep recognition that Chirrut feels, never turns to him and reaches out to pull him close.

Chirrut wakes with tears on his face sometimes, after plunging through the dreamscapes of his lives and deaths. They’ve come so close, so many times, and in his heart, he knows there are far more times he doesn’t yet recall.

And still Baze does not remember. He goes to America, and Chirrut stays behind, missing him with a razor’s edge of grief.

There’s no surprise when he’s sent to the mainland, ordered to investigate Baze’s gang. He’s been falling toward this moment for a thousand years, he thinks.

He hides the nerves as he waits in the restaurant, every muscle loose with assumed calm as, around him, the men of Baze’s gang eye him warily.

Chirrut’s already clocked and rated every possible exit point from the room and how many bodies he’ll have to go through to get there, if this goes badly.

Baze’s feet are heavy on the stairs and Chirrut straightens as the nervous man to his left twitches and mutters to himself.

He’s utterly still as Baze appears, face like stone. He’s filled out, no longer the rawboned, whippet-thin young man Chirrut met six years—seventy years—millennia ago. There’s breadth to him, heavy muscle under a layer of fat, his chest wide and arms thick under the black jacket he’s wearing.

Chirrut’s mouth is dry. He stands, resisting the urge to tug on his own ragged jacket sleeves.

Baze cocks his head, looking him up and down. The silence stretches out like spun glass, fine and fragile, and then a smile spreads over Baze’s face.

Relief blooms inside Chirrut’s chest as Baze opens his arms and yanks Chirrut close, slapping him on the back.

“How long has it been?”

A thousand years. Millennia. Forever. “Six years,” Chirrut says, pushing away but keeping a hand on Baze’s shoulder. He can feel the wariness in Baze’s muscles, but the smile is genuine, even though Baze’s eyes are dark with some emotion Chirrut can’t read.

“You’ve gotten fatter,” Baze says, feinting a punch at Chirrut’s midsection.

Chirrut snorts a laugh and returns the mock blow, following with a volley of jabs that don’t quite land, until Baze grabs his arm and they’re sparring in earnest, strike and counterstrike. Parry, block, jab to the midsection, foot behind Baze’s, take him to the ground.

He swarms up Baze’s body to straddle his hips as Baze bucks beneath him, laughing breathlessly, and feigns a volley of blows to his head until Baze slaps his thigh in good-natured surrender.

Chirrut rolls off and holds out a hand to pull Baze upright. Elation fizzes through his veins and it takes him a minute to realize the room is very quiet around them.

Baze clears his throat. “We have matters to discuss. Everyone out.”

Feet shuffle as Baze holds Chirrut’s eyes, and then silence falls. They’re alone.

“Come,” Baze says, gesturing to the table. “Eat with me. Tell me how you’ve been.”

Chirrut sits again and Baze flops into the chair next to him, not seeming to notice the way their thighs are pressed together as he leans forward to spoon soup into bowls. He hands one to Chirrut and there’s silence while they eat.

The soup is hot, flavorful, and so spicy Chirrut thinks his mouth might be on fire. But he drains the bowl and holds it out for more, and the approving noise Baze makes is worth it.

When they’re finished with their second helpings, Baze leans back against the wall and rubs his belly with a happy sigh.

He nudges Chirrut’s leg with his knee. “Got a girlfriend yet?”

Chirrut shakes his head, mirroring his pose. “Too busy for women.” And all I want is you. The thought is so forceful that he has a moment of horror, wondering if he said it out loud. “You?” he manages.

“Here and there.” Baze shrugs. “Tell me why you’re really here and why I shouldn’t kill you right now.”

Chirrut’s gaze snaps up at that. Baze’s eyes are cold, menace cloaking his frame, and Chirrut is abruptly reminded of the strength in those big arms. Chirrut’s faster, but Baze is undeniably stronger, and if he manages to pin him—

He just barely keeps himself from shifting his weight. “I can’t catch up with an old friend?”

“Is that all I am to you?” There’s amusement there, and a challenge.

The air leaves Chirrut’s lungs and his head swims.

Baze lunges. He knocks Chirrut from his chair and Chirrut twists, managing to get a leg up and over Baze’s before they hit the floor hard.

He’s already halfway upright when Baze catches the collar of his jacket and pulls him back down. Chirrut doesn’t fight that, knowing he won’t best Baze’s sheer strength. He’s tensing to twist again and slither out of the jacket when Baze grasps the back of his neck and kisses him.

Chirrut freezes and Baze makes a helpless, frustrated noise and pulls him closer. It’s harsh and forceful, teeth bumping and tongues sliding together, and Chirrut is drowning in it, overwhelmed by the way Baze smells and tastes and feels as he devours Chirrut’s mouth.

Baze plants a foot on the floor and pushes, flipping Chirrut neatly to his back so that Baze is on top. Chirrut lets him, his hindbrain realizing that Baze has him exactly where it’s dangerous to be—pinned beneath his bulk—but unable to care. He’s already reaching up, catching Baze’s neck and dragging him back down into another kiss.

He’s been starving in slow motion, he thinks dimly, as Baze sweeps into his mouth and lays claim. All those lives, growing and living and dying, and this is what he’d been looking for. For Baze to take him, to hold him, smudge bruises into Chirrut’s skin as he growls deep in his chest, heavy and solid on top of him.

Chirrut is trembling when Baze pulls away and glares down at him, sitting back to straddle Chirrut’s abdomen.

“Why can’t I stop thinking about you?” he hisses.

Chirrut swallows and touches his mouth with one shaking hand. He tastes blood when he licks his lips, and Baze’s eyes follow the motion.

If anything, though, he looks angry. “I’ve tried everything,” he snarls. “You’re always there when I close my eyes, when I sleep—when I fuck someone, it’s you I’m fucking. What have you done to me?”

Chirrut writhes. Coherent thought has fled, replaced by white noise. He could twist out of Baze’s grip, throw him off easily enough, but all he can think of is Baze’s mouth and hands all over him. He needs , and judging by the light that sparks in Baze’s eyes, he’s not hiding it well.

“B—” He stops himself in time. “Sunny. Please—”

Baze catches Chirrut’s wrists in one hand and pins them above his head. It’s a fiction that Chirrut’s willing to play along with, the idea that he’s trapped and helpless, as Baze pushes his T-shirt up to his armpits and bends to nose along Chirrut’s heaving ribs.

“Mine,” he breathes against Chirrut’s skin. “Mine.” He nips Chirrut’s collarbone hard enough to sting, then straightens, still holding his wrists as he fumbles at his waist with his free hand.

When he comes up holding a switchblade, Chirrut stiffens.

There’s a challenge in Baze’s eyes again, and Chirrut forces his muscles to relax. He can still easily escape, he reminds himself. And maybe this will bring Baze back to him, make him remember.

Baze turns the blade, admiring the shine, and then lowers it to rest against Chirrut’s skin, close to his left nipple. Neither of them is breathing as Baze trails the point along Chirrut’s chest, leaving a faint red welt behind.

Arousal careens through Chirrut’s body and he rolls his hips up, seeking friction. Baze half-laughs and grinds against him briefly, making Chirrut’s breath stutter as sparks fall behind his eyes.

“I will show the world you’re mine,” he says, and scores a line across Chirrut’s chest, over his heart.

Chirrut arches up against him with a choked-off cry as his skin ignites, but he doesn’t fight. Baze’s hand is steady and unflinching as he carves the lines, cutting deep enough that Chirrut knows dimly that he will carry the scar the rest of his life.

They’re both shaking and Chirrut is covered in sweat when Baze drops the knife and leans over to grab a clean linen from the table. He presses it to the wound and after a minute, peels it away to inspect his handiwork, making a noise that sounds pleased.

“You came here to betray me,” he remarks, and his tone is so conversational that it takes a minute for the words to filter into Chirrut’s consciousness.

When they finally do, Chirrut opens his mouth to deny them, but Baze is already there, stopping him with a hungry kiss that steals the breath from Chirrut’s lungs.

After a minute, Baze slows and deepens it, letting go of Chirrut’s wrists and cupping his face, and Chirrut sighs into his mouth, finally, finally relaxing.

That’s when Baze slides the blade between Chirrut’s fourth and fifth ribs, sinking it to the hilt.

Chirrut stiffens and gasps, and Baze lifts his head. There are tears on his face.

“I can’t let you,” he whispers.

Chirrut opens and closes his mouth but nothing comes out.

Baze drops his forehead to Chirrut’s chest and sobs out loud as Chirrut struggles for air. When Baze looks up again, Chirrut’s blood is mingled with his tears, streaked across his skin.

Chirrut’s arms feel like thousand pound weights, but he manages to get one hand up, wavering and unsure. He can feel the life draining from him, pooling under him in a heavy red puddle, but he has to say it, has to try—

“Baze,” he manages. “Baze.”

Baze’s eyes widen under his mask of blood. He looks stunned and confused, and Chirrut cups his cheek. It’s okay, he wants to say, but he can’t get the words out. You didn’t know. It was too late to save you. I’ll find you again. It’s okay.

“Ch-Chirrut?” Baze whispers, horror dawning on his face. It’s the first time he’s said his name, and Chirrut tastes blood in his mouth when he smiles.

He dies with Baze’s name on his lips.

 

 

He wakes with Baze’s name on his lips.

It’s dark around him. Blurry pitch, a few shapes visible in fuzzy shades of grey, but otherwise there’s nothing before him but black. It takes him a moment to remember that this is how it should be—he’s blind, and has been so for most of his life.

He sits up and rubs his face, clearing his eyes of grit and his temple of beaded sweat. His heart is pounding in his chest, a steady, overwhelming beat, and he would stop it if he could, tear out the organ and cease the endless, aching thump of his own blood in his ears—

“Chirrut...?”

The voice beside him is sleepy and thick. For an instant, or perhaps a small eternity, Chirrut hears it echo. Names, so many names, in that same gruff voice. Stirring beside him is his Cao Cao, his Chon Wang, his Xu Bai-jiu, his Sunny, his Baze. His, always his, no matter how death and fate and their own memories betrayed them. They are a pair of forgetful old fools, after all.

“Chirrut, you all right?”

Chirrut smiles. “Just a dream, love. Go back to sleep.”

Shuffling somewhere to the right of their bed, and Baze sighs. “No. Alarm’ll go off in ten minutes, might as well—”

Chirrut reaches for him, and in the dark he finds Baze’s wrist. He traces an old symbol over his pulse point, and Baze settles back down.

“Then stay with me for ten minutes,” Chirrut says.

Baze huffs, and tugs Chirrut closer, and wraps a heavy arm across his lover’s chest.

You had a way so familiar,
But I could not recognize,
Cause you had blood on your face;
I had blood in my eyes.
But I could swear by your expression
That the pain down in your soul
Was the same as the one down in mine.

— Hedwig and the Angry Inch