Chirrut stood in the sea up to his knees, a slim knifeblade of a man, limned in golden sunlight. When Baze closed his eyes, it was as though he could still see Chirrut, emblazoned in light and shadow against the inside of his eyelids.
Baze's heart was full of words. But in that moment, he said none of them.
He tilted his head a little to look at the sky. It was strangely empty of fighting now, the faint haze of shielding gone.
“Perhaps,” he said, “we should go.”
Chirrut turned his head slightly, as though listening. “Not yet,” he replied peaceably. He was turned just enough that Baze could see the faint curve of his mouth as he stooped to play his fingers over the shining surface of the sea.
There was a smear of blood on his sleeve, drying dark. Baze allowed himself to look at it for the span of two breaths before he made himself look instead at the rest of Chirrut, bloody but unbowed, and the thin bright line of the horizon beyond him.
Somehow, they had survived.
Of course, that would matter for very little if they didn’t find a way off of Scarif. The Empire did not believe in leaving evidence of any oversight.
But there was Chirrut, standing in the sea, his robe bundled up around his thighs.
“We are not on holiday, you know,” Baze felt moved to say, a little huffy.
Even from the shore, he could hear the dismissive tch Chirrut gave to that. The weary exasperated fondness Baze felt at that familiar sound was as habitual to him as breathing, but today, now, it was cut with a sharper edge. His hands remembered the shape of Chirrut’s shoulders as he’d hauled him up from the ground, the burning ozone of blaster fire singeing the air.
He had not expected to have the chance to be exasperated by Chirrut again.
He began to sit down, slowly, letting the weight of his gun sink him to the sand. They did not have time for it, but perhaps that didn’t matter. If Chirrut wanted to savour their moment of victory by standing in the sea of Scarif, let him. Baze would not be leaving him.
Something in the water moved.
Baze shot back to his feet with an alacrity that was impressive, especially given his age, his wounds, and the weight of his pack. The gun was already in his hands, familiar as an old friend, trained on a ripple that was not a wave.
“Chirrut,” he shouted. “Get out of the water!”
“It’s OK,” Chirrut assured him, with a cheerfulness that made Baze want to grab him by the scruff of the neck and haul him bodily to safety. “It is just Ginglymostoma cirratum, nothing so dangerous as all those guns earlier…”
“Ginglymostoma,” Baze began, uncomprehendingly. Then some memory surfaced of a long ago xenobiology lesson at the Temple and he roared, “Sharks?! There are sharks in the water with you!?”
Chirrut flapped a hand at him. “It’s fine, it’s fine,” he said.
Given that his other hand was in the water, Baze did not see how it could possibly be anything like “fine”. They had survived this far and now Chirrut was going to get his stupid arm bitten off, or at very least a finger, all because of some incredibly niche dissertation he had read as an adolescent on the specific and unusual way that Elasmobranchii interacted with the Force.
There had been no Elasmobranchii on Jedha.
“It is not fine,” Baze told him, grumpy and worried. He stomped toward the edge of the sea, the sand shifting treacherously under his booted feet. Chirrut was too far in for Baze to snag him without going into the water himself.
Baze hesitated at the edge. The sea touched the tips of his boots, lapped the dust from them.
Beneath its mask of dirt and blood, Chirrut’s face was serene.
There were shadows moving in the water around Chirrut’s legs. Except as they rose to investigate the pale flicker of Chirrut’s hand in the water, they were no longer shadows but solid shapes.
Ginglymostoma cirratum were chubbier than Baze had expected from the reading he had done about Elasmobranchii as an initiate. They looked as though someone had taken a standard shark and compressed and flattened it to make it more endearing. They had long fins and blunt snouts, and when one of them bumped against his outstretched hand, Chirrut smiled like the sun cresting the horizon after a long night.
“There you are,” he murmured, with a tenderness that Baze recognised even if in this moment it was not for him.
“Chirrut,” he said, helplessly.
“I have always wanted to meet an Elasmobranch,” Chirrut said, curving his hand over the questing head of one of the ginglymostoma as they swarmed all around him. The sharks appeared to enjoy his attention, competing with one another to run their pale bellies over Chirrut’s palms, upturned under the water for just that purpose. The edge of his robe had slipped into the sea and was dark with water. He didn’t seem to mind.
Baze looked out across the water and up at the sky, exhaling slowly through his nose. There was sweat drying on the back of his neck. The sky was empty, with no sign of any rescue.
They had all known what they were doing when they came to Scarif. They had known it would in all likelihood be a one way journey.
There were worse ways than this to die, Baze thought, looking at the peace on Chirrut’s face.
At least they were together.
Baze did not wonder what had happened to the others. He only hoped that they had not died alone.
“I can hear you thinking,” Chirrut said gravely. He snapped his fingers. “Stop that. Come here.”
“There is nothing,” Baze said, “that would induce me to get into that water.”
“They are not dangerous,” Chirrut told him. “They are beautiful .”
Baze regarded him with a heavy, thoughtful gaze. The sharks swarmed around Chirrut’s legs, their bodies seething, elegant shadows under the ripple of clear water. They curved around him, tested the billow of his robes beneath the water with their curious mouths. Chirrut stretched a hand out towards Baze in invitation, his palm upturned, his damp sleeve spilling like ink away from the bare curve of his wrist.
“Beautiful things can be dangerous too,” Baze said, for the sake of the sudden pleased curl to Chirrut’s sharp mouth.
“Hm,” said Chirrut, mild. That pleasure lingered in the corner of his mouth, in the way he tilted his head, so that the curve of his mouth was now addressed to Baze. But all he said was, “Did you know that ginglymostoma were native to this sector originally?”
Baze looked at the paling sky, then at Chirrut. “Go on,” he rumbled, after a moment. If Chirrut wanted to spend their last moments alive talking to Baze about Elasmobranchii, Baze would allow it. The sea rolled its foamy tongue over the tips of his boots again.
Perhaps he should take them off and walk into the water as Chirrut had asked.
“Yes,” Chirrut said. “Ayala Til’meh’tovai wrote that while other genera of Elasmobranchii can be found elsewhere, the Abrion sector is where ginglymostoma originated and where they continue to most thrive.”
“You still remember that entire paper,” Baze observed, without surprise.
The lines at the corners of Chirrut’s eyes crinkled when he smiled. “I remember a lot of things.”
Baze remembered too. Chirrut, as a novitiate in the Temple, had been prone to most unTemple-like fixations - including, but not limited to, agrarian applications of the Force, Baze, the particularities of Force-sensitive animals, and latterly the many myriad forms of insurrection and insurgence against the unfurling authoritarian shadow of the Empire.
Of course Chirrut recalled an entire paper about Elasmobranchii. Chirrut Imwe only did not recall things when it was convenient for him to not recall them.
Baze sat down at the water’s edge, tilting his head to watch Chirrut. “Tell me.”
Chirrut’s lips quirked. He moved carefully in the water, turning towards Baze’s voice. There was a haze of light on the horizon behind him. “It was Kaatryph mir Taliim who first noted their perceived interaction with the Force,” he said. “Ze observed that Elasmobranchii possess clusters of gel-filled ampoullae around their mouth and snout, which they use to detect the movement of the Force.”
He braced one hand lightly against the curved dorsal fin of one shark as it bumped his legs, rubbing his palm firmly and insistently against its snout. The shark stilled in Chirrut’s hands, mesmerised.
Baze understood that impulse very well. His gaze lingered on Chirrut’s hands, his wrists. The ache in his throat was a familiar one, filled with wanting. “Tonic immobility,” he said.
Chirrut lifted his head a little. “Very good,” he said, with pleased surprise. “I did not know you read Til’meh’tovai’s paper.”
“I am full of surprises,” Baze said loftily.
He would not look at the brightening horizon again, or think of what lurked unseen beyond the sky above them. He would look only at Chirrut, and that would be enough.
“Yes,” Chirrut said, without sorrow. “You are.”
The radio on Baze’s shoulder crackled to sudden life.
“Anyone? - - found working ship - - need to leave - - two minutes - - by the harbour- -” crackled a voice so distorted it was sexless. It could have been any of them, but it was one of them .
Baze lurched to his feet.
“There,” Chirrut said, with deep satisfaction. “You are not the only one full of surprises, Baze Malbus. Now it is time to go.”
He began to make his way to the shore, struggling in his waterlogged robes. Baze gave an exasperated grunt and took two quick strides into the water, reaching out to grab Chirrut’s arm.
Quick as a striking snake, Chirrut caught his wrist and plunged Baze’s hand into the water, so that his palm slid over the back over one of the swarming ginglymostoma. It was sandpaper rough, Baze discovered, not the silky smoothness he had expected. It scraped at his palm.
“See,” Chirrut murmured, his breath warm on Baze’s face. “Another surprise.”
“You are infuriating,” Baze told him seriously, and hauled Chirrut bodily from the water.
He had made his peace with the idea of dying here when it seemed there was no other option.
But now it seemed there was another option.
They set off across the sand at the kind of pace to be expected from two people weighed down by wet clothes, weapons and exhaustion, but fuelled by hope. Baze kept his hand under Chirrut’s elbow and his eyes on the sand ahead of them.
Chirrut heard the transport before Baze saw it.
Jyn was hanging out of the doorway, waving frantically at them.
Baze’s lungs were burning. There was sweat dripping into his eyes. He didn’t slow down, even when he almost hurled Chirrut up the ramp and onto the ship.
Chirrut caught the doorway to steady himself, as Baze barrelled on beside him and the transport began to lift up into the air.
“No glorious sacrifice, then?” Chirrut said to Jyn, his faint smile sly and fond.
“Don’t speak too soon,” Cassian called from inside, his voice thready with pain.
“Why have a glorious sacrifice,” Jyn said, her answering smile brilliant and fierce, “when you can have a rebellion instead?”
She slapped her palm against Baze’s arm and he bowed his head to her in acknowledgment. Her face was bruised and filthy, and she limped when she turned back into the transport to go and tend to Cassian, who was leaning painfully against one of the seats. His face when he looked at her, though, was full of brightness.
As the transport door slid closed, Chirrut came to stand beside him, a familiar, warm presence. He leaned his weight against his staff, his expression pensive without the smile he’d given Jyn.
“They were here long before us,” he said quietly. “I wish we were not leaving them to be destroyed like this.”
Baze put a hand on Chirrut’s shoulder.
“I remember that paper,” Baze said finally. “I read it when you would talk about nothing else.”
Chirrut gave a soft huff of near voiceless laughter, turning his head a little towards Baze.
“They are older than our recorded history,” Baze said, “and have certainly survived worse. They may well survive this.”
There was a stretch of silence. Baze’s thumb brushed the side of Chirrut’s neck, felt the pulse there.
“So,” Chirrut said finally, low, something private about the warm amusement in his voice, “have hope, is what you are telling me?”
Baze thought about it, stroking his thumb up to the tender soft skin beneath Chirrut’s ear. Chirrut had gone very still, his eyes drifting closed. Tonic immobility.
“Yes,” Baze said.