"To fear love is to fear life, and those who fear life are already three parts dead." - Bertrand Russell
Chirrut would be the first to admit his son wasn’t perfect. He was forgetful, never cleaned his room, and was often late, especially for things he didn’t want to do.
But he also washed the dishes without being asked, walked Kyber whenever Chirrut didn’t have time, and was always home before curfew.
So when the school called and told him Bodhi had been in a fight, Chirrut found it hard to believe.
The administrator sounded apologetic. “Neither of them is talking, unfortunately. But we found them in the library and they’d done several thousand dollars worth of damage, to say nothing of what they did to each other.”
Chirrut gulped. He didn’t have that kind of money lying around.
“I’ll be right there.”
He whistled for Kyber and got her harness on in record time, murmuring to her as she wriggled and tried to lick his hands.
“Time to work,” he said when he straightened, and Kyber snapped into service dog mode, a step ahead and to his right as they left Chirrut’s studio and he locked the door behind him.
They walked briskly across the square to the bus stop and stopped to wait under the canopy. The sun was warm on Chirrut’s face, a soft breeze ruffling his hair, but he was in no mood to appreciate the balmy spring weather.
“Hey,” a small voice said from his right. “Hey mister, hey.”
Chirrut turned his head toward the voice and smiled. “Yes?”
“Can I pet your dog?” The speaker sounded young, and Chirrut winced.
“Thank you for asking, and I’m sorry, but she’s working.”
“But she’s just sitting there!”
An older woman spoke up. “She’s a guide dog, honey. See the harness? Can you read what it says?”
The little girl spoke hesitantly. “‘I am working… please do not… pet me.’ But why not?”
“She’s my eyes,” Chirrut told her gently. “If she’s distracted, then she can’t tell me what I need to see.”
“But how does she tell you?” she persisted. “She’s a dog, she can’t talk.”
The bus pulled up, cutting off Chirrut’s answer.
“I’ll explain it to her,” the little girl’s companion told him. “Thank you for your patience.”
Chirrut smiled and inclined his head, gesturing for them to precede him onboard. He took his customary seat at the far end of the vehicle and Kyber planted herself between his feet as he sat, ramrod straight, and pulled out his cellphone. He put in one earbud and thumbed Siri on.
“Play last message from Bodhi.”
Bodhi’s voice spoke in his ear, low and husky and tight with worry. “Dad, I’m alright. It was just a stupid mix up, I’m sorry about the library but you should have heard the things she was saying—hey!” His voice went faint, as if the phone had been plucked from his hand.
There was a click, and Chirrut firmed his mouth and silently willed the bus driver to go faster.
It didn’t take very long to get to the school, only a few miles from Chirrut’s parlor, and soon enough, he was making his way down the aisle and off the bus. He stopped to orient himself. It was mid-afternoon, the sun on his left as it sank toward the horizon, which meant that the school entrance was directly ahead of him.
He strode briskly down the sidewalk and up the steps to the front door, Kyber staying close, and felt at the wall for the button. It took a minute of cursing before he found and pressed it, hearing the buzz from within before the doors unlocked and slid open.
Inside, he counted his steps. Seven, then the administrator’s office on the left.
“Mr. Îmwe, thank you for coming,” the principal said in her cool voice. “Bodhi and Jyn are in my office, we’re just waiting on Jyn’s father to arrive.”
Chirrut followed Mon Mothma through the door she was holding and into her inner sanctum. Bodhi scrambled to his feet as Chirrut entered the room.
Chirrut let go of Kyber’s harness and reached for him, gripping shoulders that were still too thin—when was he going to hit another growth spurt? Bodhi was trembling slightly, a symptom of his anxiety that he usually managed to keep hidden. Chirrut tightened his grip.
“Are you alright?” He touched Bodhi’s face without waiting for an answer, hissing through his teeth as he felt a swelling around Bodhi’s left eye, blood streaking his cheek in drying flakes, and a split lip. “Who did this?” he demanded.
Bodhi caught his sleeve. “Don’t get mad, please.”
Chirrut cupped the uninjured side of his face briefly. “I’m not mad, I just want to know what happened.”
Mon Mothma cleared her throat. “Please, have a seat, Mr. Îmwe. Mr. Malbus should be here any minute and then we can sort out the particulars.”
“Chairs are behind me,” Bodhi said. “Two against the wall.”
Chirrut sat down and Bodhi settled beside him as Kyber planted herself between Chirrut’s feet again.
“Jyn is in the chair on the other side of the office,” Bodhi said in a low voice.
“Is that who did this?” Chirrut asked. He lifted his head, turning to try and get a sense for the girl who’d been silent up until now, but the door slammed open, interrupting him.
“What the fuck is going on here?” The speaker was male, his voice deep and rumbly with poorly suppressed anger and vibrating from what sounded like a cavernous chest. “Jyn? Are you alright?”
“I’m fine, Papa,” a girl said. Her voice was low, but full of banked anger, taut with fury.
“Mr. Malbus, thank you for joining us,” Mon Mothma said, cool as ever. “Please take a seat so we can talk about this like rational adults.”
“Did this boy hit you?” Malbus demanded, and Chirrut tensed.
“Please,” Mon Mothma said, voice sharpening. “Sit. Down.”
There was silence, and then rustling as Jyn and her father sank into the chairs on the opposite side of the room.
“Now,” Mon Mothma said, “Baze Malbus, I don’t know if you’ve had the pleasure of meeting Chirrut Îmwe. He’s Bodhi’s father.”
Baze grunted something and Chirrut just nodded briefly.
Papers on Mon Mothma’s desk rustled. “As I understand it, Jyn and Bodhi were both studying in the library when Bodhi overheard Jyn saying something that he took offense to.”
“It was sexist and racist,” Bodhi said.
“Be that as it may, from what I’ve pieced together, Bodhi approached Jyn and… rather forcefully requested she retract her statements.”
“He told me to take it back or he’d shove the definition of ‘politically correct’ down my throat,” Jyn snapped.
Chirrut’s eyebrows went up and beside him, Bodhi shifted his weight.
Mon Mothma cleared her throat. “The school takes a very dim view on fighting. You will both have to be punished.”
Outrage was thick in Baze’s deep voice when he spoke. “His son started it, why is Jyn being punished?”
Chirrut bristled. “All my son did was ask her to retract statements that were offensive and untrue. Your daughter refused and turned this into a brawl.”
Baze shot to his feet. “My daughter’s a good girl,” he snarled.
Chirrut leaned back, arching an eyebrow. “Which is why she’s saying offensive shit and fighting in the library.”
“Fuck you!” Baze snapped.
“Mr. Malbus, sit down,” Mon Mothma said, her voice steely. Fabric shifted as Baze slowly sat back in his chair. “I see where your daughter gets her temper,” Mon Mothma continued, sounding suddenly tired. “I suggest you teach her how to control it, or she’ll be facing much harsher disciplinary action in the future. For now, both teens are suspended for two weeks, and Bodhi and Jyn clean up the mess they made in the library and apologize to the librarian, who didn’t ask for any of this.”
“You can’t do that!”
“But I have finals!”
“What about the field trip?”
Mon Mothma said nothing, waiting for everyone to stop talking before she spoke again. “The alternative is this—” She paused. “They clean up the mess in the library, and Mr. Îmwe, you and Mr. Malbus accompany them on their field trip next week as chaperones.”
“You have got to be joking,” Chirrut said, disbelieving. “I have work! I can’t just go haring off to DC for a week!”
“Be that as it may,” Mon Mothma said. “Those are my terms. Two weeks’ suspension and miss the field trip completely, or both of you go along.”
Bodhi put a hand on Chirrut’s arm. “Dad….”
Chirrut turned to him. “Does it mean that much to you?”
“Yeah,” Bodhi said quietly. “I won’t if you can’t afford it, but I’ve been saving and really looking forward to it, and—”
“No,” Chirrut said. “If this is what you want to do, then we’ll make it work.” He straightened and turned toward Baze. “Maybe Bodhi and I should go, and you and your hotheaded daughter can stay home.”
“No!” Jyn burst out. “Papa no, please, I really want to go, please—”
Baze said something to her, too quietly for Chirrut to hear.
“We’ll go on the trip,” he said brusquely, after a minute.
Chirrut nodded. “Assuming Mr. Malbus here can control his daughter for the duration of the journey, that’s the option we choose too.”
Baze sputtered, but Chirrut just waited, eyebrow raised in cool challenge.
“This is going to end horribly,” Bodhi mumbled.
“That’s settled, then,” Mon Mothma said briskly. “Please report to the nurse, Bodhi. Jyn, you go to the library and begin cleaning up the mess you made. Bodhi will join you after he’s been tended to.”
In the hall outside the principal’s office, Chirrut touched Bodhi’s shoulder, grounding himself. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
He could feel the motion as Bodhi nodded. “It’s just bruises. I’m fine.”
“Can you two keep from brawling again, or should Mr. Malbus and I accompany you to the library so that peace is kept?”
He was relieved to hear a snort at that. “I’ll restrain myself, I promise. I’ll see you at home, okay?”
Chirrut smiled. “Lamb biryani for dinner tonight.”
He and Kyber headed for the door, heavy footsteps behind him. Baze caught up on the sidewalk outside, panting slightly, and Chirrut slowed.
“Can I help you, Mr. Malbus?”
“It’s just Baze,” Baze snapped irritably. “Look, this is stupid. If you’ll just get your kid to admit he was wrong—”
“It’s been lovely, go fuck yourself,” Chirrut interrupted. He stalked away, heading for the bus stop, where he planted himself on the bench and practiced his deep breathing exercises. He’s not worth your anger. In, out, slow and steady.
After a minute, Baze stomped by, heading out into the parking lot. A motorcycle engine roared to life and settled into a steady purr, and Chirrut waited until the sound of it had faded before he sighed.
Bodhi was right. This was going to end horribly.
He was in the kitchen stirring the sauce when the door opened. Kyber yipped happily and scrambled to greet Bodhi, who dropped his backpack to pet her.
“In the kitchen,” Chirrut called. He tasted the sauce as Bodhi’s footsteps grew louder, pursing his lips. “Needs more cinnamon,” he muttered. He found the container, running his fingertips over the braille label to make certain it was the right one, and shook some into his palm before adding it to the sauce.
Bodhi opened the fridge and rummaged for a drink.
“How’s your face?” Chirrut asked.
“Sore,” Bodhi said. The soda can fizzed when he opened it and he flopped down at the table with a sigh. “I’ll be fine.”
Chirrut turned the heat to low and put the lid on the pot before turning to sit down opposite. “So tell me what really happened.”
Bodhi groaned. “She’s such an asshole, Dad. Always mouthing off about shit she doesn’t actually know about, and usually I can ignore her because I think it’s mostly her trying to impress the girl she has a crush on, but she went too far this time.”
Chirrut made an encouraging noise.
“I was at a different table and I wasn’t really listening, I was trying to study, but then something she said caught my attention. I don’t remember her exact words, but I heard the phrase ‘Indian men’, so I started listening just in time to hear her say that Indian men were all mama’s boys and misogynistic assholes because of how they were spoiled as kids.”
“Yeah,” Bodhi said miserably. “And I still kept my mouth shut, because not my fight, you know? Maybe I should have stepped in then, but I didn’t want to start anything. But she kept going. Saying that Indian women were all child brides, that Indian men were totally sexist and there were no women’s rights in India, and I just—I couldn’t take it anymore.”
“Of course not,” Chirrut said. “What did you do?”
“I said she had a point but it was more complicated than that, and could she please not make such sweeping generalizations, that they—we, even, weren’t all like that.” Bodhi sighed. “She said I was using the ‘not all men’ argument, which I wasn’t, I swear—”
“No, I don’t think you were,” Chirrut said. “I see why she thought that, but it does sound like she was being way too liberal with her paintbrush. What else did she say?”
“She told me that since I was Pakistani and not Indian, I could kindly keep my opinions to myself.” Bodhi huffed. “I told her I was closer to the subject than she was, and if she couldn’t see that, she could take her uneducated opinion and shove it up her ass.”
Chirrut snorted before he could stop himself.
“I know, I shouldn’t have said it,” Bodhi said. “I was just so mad. Anyway, like I said, I really think she was trying to impress Leia with how knowledgeable she is on current affairs and women’s rights.”
“Is Leia into that sort of thing?”
“Yeah, she’s an activist. Goes to rallies, protests, marches—those kinds of things. She’s started a few protests on campus, for things like better quality food in the cafeteria and more breaks for students, less homework, that sort of thing.”
Chirrut leaned back in his chair. “She sounds pretty passionate. And Jyn’s got a crush on her?”
He could almost hear Bodhi’s eye-roll. “A mile wide. Everyone sees it. I feel a little sorry for her, Leia’s so busy being political that she doesn’t have time for a junior with a case of puppy love.”
Chirrut smiled. “Did you really tell her to take it back or you’d shove the definition of politically correct down her throat?”
Bodhi squirmed. “She was doubling down, okay? She said she’d watched this documentary on child brides, she’d read about it in National Geographic, too, and she refused to so much as consider that maybe it was a more complex issue than she was making it out to be.”
“Who threw the first punch?”
“Oh, she did,” Bodhi said immediately. “But if I'm honest, it’s because of what I said.”
“Ah… I was pretty pissed by then. I might have insinuated that she didn’t really care about Indian women, and that she was only trying to impress ‘a certain other person’ and she clocked me—probably to stop me actually saying Leia’s name.”
Chirrut couldn’t help the laugh. “You truly are my son.”
“You’re not mad?”
Chirrut patted Bodhi’s hand and stood. He crossed the kitchen in three strides and found the hot pad in its usual place. Lifting the lid of the pot, he took a deep whiff of the bubbling contents before answering.
“Obviously, tempers got out of control,” he finally said as he stirred the sauce. “But your heart was in the right place. I’m going to have words with her father about the beating she put on you, though.”
“To be fair,” Bodhi said, joining him at the stove, “I fell against a bookshelf and split my lip all on my own. She’s only really responsible for the shiner.”
Chirrut huffed a laugh. “Well, good. Kyber needs a walk while I put the rice on. Dinner will be ready in about twenty.”
“On it,” Bodhi said, and scooped up the leash as he whistled. Nails clicked on the linoleum and Bodhi crooned to Kyber as he snapped the leash on.
“So tell me about this field trip,” Chirrut said over dinner.
“Oh man, it’s gonna be awesome,” Bodhi said through his mouthful of rice. “We’re flying, of course, and then we’re going to be doing tours of Mount Vernon and Arlington, as well as the monuments, the Capitol, and the Smithsonian.”
“Sounds exhausting,” Chirrut commented. “You’ve never been all that interested in politics or history—are you sure this doesn’t have something to do with a certain captain of the track and field team?”
Chirrut fought his smile. “I may be blind, but I’m not stupid, kiddo. Does he know?”
“No,” Bodhi mumbled. “And I’m not going to tell him.”
“I’m too young, for one thing,” Bodhi said. “I don’t—I don’t even know how I fit in my own skin, Dad, I’m awkward and neurotic and dumb and I have no idea how to be in a relationship, even if he did like me back.”
“First of all, you’re not dumb,” Chirrut said sharply. “You’re terrifyingly smart, in fact. But it’s okay, I get it. And maybe you don’t know how to be in a relationship, but you know how to fix that?”
Bodhi mumbled something incomprehensible.
“Be in a relationship,” Chirrut continued. “It’s all about trial and error. You have to fuck up a few times before you start getting it right.”
“How would you even know? You’ve never been in a relationship!”
Chirrut blinked, thrown. “Is that what this is about? The fact that I’m single?”
He could hear rustling as Bodhi shifted his weight. “I mean… yeah, I guess. Like, how can you tell me for sure what will work and what won’t when you’ve literally never had a single partner of any gender in all the time I can remember?”
Chirrut put down his fork. “I did have a life before I adopted you, you know. There are a couple of boyfriends in my not-very-shady past. But then you came along, and at first I was so busy taking care of you, I didn’t have time to think about myself—and don’t feel guilty, I wanted to take care of you, I was happy, okay? But then the—” He couldn’t make himself say the word, and instead gestured vaguely at his blind eyes. “And after that, I guess I just figured it was better to make sure you were taken care of. There’s time enough for that later, once you’re on the path to your future.”
“Are you happy?” Bodhi asked, his voice low and unsure.
Love welled inside Chirrut’s chest until he thought he might choke on it, and he reached across the table to cup Bodhi’s face in both hands, careful to avoid the bruises. “I’m happy, love. I promise you. I don’t regret a single choice I’ve made.”
Bodhi turned his head into Chirrut’s palm, lashes soft as they swept down, and nodded. “Okay,” he whispered.
Chirrut released him and sat back. “I can think of one thing that would make me happier, though.”
“If you did the dishes,” Chirrut said, and laughed over Bodhi’s loud, theatrical groan.