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The battle was over: the stormtroopers had been held back long enough to allow another group to escape off-world, precious kyber and books and unbroken Jedhan spirit stolen away with them. ‘Dangerous prisoners’ (Amel, whose tenth nameday had seen them push an Imperial through a wall with the Force to protect their little sibling; Sister Bax, whose remaining teeth were used to rebuke stormtroopers for disrespecting the remaining shrines tended to in secret around the city; the smuggler who never shared her name but always shared her goods with those that most needed them) marked as shoot-on-sight. It was the Stormtroopers lying dead this time – a victory apparently.

The battle was over. But the war, oh the war, it seemed like it would never end. Baze could see it, stretching out before him, behind him, drenched into the very ground beneath his feet. Stained into the hands of his beloved, twisted around his staff as he prayed. They needed to keep moving, get further away from the site of the ambush, but he couldn’t bring himself to make Chirrut move yet, not when he could see the tightened furrows of pain on his forehead, the whiteness of his knuckles, even through the grime and blood and blooming bruises.

Chirrut needed to pray at times like this, worship and routine a comfort. Baze felt the same. It had been a long time since he’d turned to the Force, to the psalms and tenets he once clung to so tightly. But for Chirrut – he was a believer. Not in the religion they were raised in, he would never change himself so much to please Chirrut (not that Chirrut would allow it), but in Chirrut and the strength of his faith, his love.

His prayer saw him pull out a small bowl, rag, and canteen, sinking like ash to the ground at Chirrut’s feet as he perched on a step. Once, back when this was simply a gesture of affection, he would’ve crouched. But now his knees couldn’t take the weight, the canon on his back weighed down by the numbers of dead linked to it with glowing strands of plasma, burnt into Baze’s vision long after they’d dissipated into the air. Gently unwrapping one of Chirrut’s hands from around his staff, Baze held it over the bowl balanced on his own thigh, wiping it clean in steady strokes.

“No broken knuckles this time.” To anyone else it sounded like an observation. But Chirrut knew what it really meant, knew that Baze’s hands were steady only through necessity, because Baze Malbus had not been allowed to be anything but strong in far too long.

“Maybe I’ve finally learned how to fight properly.” The hint of mockery in his tone, from the man who’d surpassed their teachers as an acolyte, hurt Baze’s heart: Chirrut was the best fighter he’d ever known, but he was fighting armoured soldiers, drawing them to him in increasingly large numbers as a distraction. Sometimes, there was no helping sloppy strikes, ones that still sent his opponents crashing to the ground, drawing attention away for just long enough to sneak another person through, but leaving Chirrut open to harm.

Baze finished cleaning Chirrut’s hand with a kiss, pressed to each knuckle in turn. Some distant part of him remembered the romance novels of his youth, long since left mouldering under a forgotten bed in the temple. Chirrut’s hands were hardly those of the protagonists of the stories. Swollen, blood staining them under the skin in purples and blues already rising to the surface, knuckles tough and protruded from decades of training and impacts. But they could be gentle.

Bestowing a blessing on a newborn, held out solemnly for children to paint, carding through Baze’s hair as he plaited in his marriage braids: Chirrut did it all. Sometimes, Baze felt like Chirrut’s hands said everything about him. Gentle, when needed. But more likely to be twisted into a rude gesture, waved vaguely in the direction of whoever had incurred his flippant annoyance, or more and more often, twisted into fists and open strikes. Dealing out pain, out death, as much as they handled it, never buckling under its weight.

But he could clasp Chirrut’s hands in his own. There was more to Chirrut than could be constrained by the touch of blood and flesh, more than the pain wrapped around his hands. Someone had once said that pain was source of all things. Sometimes, Baze nearly believed them. Sometimes, Baze felt it driving him forward, the creak of his knees and his back seeming insignificant compared to the hollow, collapsing feeling in his chest.

But he had loved Chirrut’s hands – loved Chirrut – before they were shaped by pain, before it had intertwined itself so insidiously into their lives. He had lost one set of belief – in the Force, in himself, he wasn’t even sure anymore - but his belief in Chirrut had not wavered. He had not needed pain for that.