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A Man Should Strengthen Himself

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Chirrut is sweeping in the luminary when he feels it.

At first he thinks that it might be something happening nearby; perhaps Keona and Pofl are arguing again, or Master Tull is dealing with vandals trying to break the Temple. But instead of passing as it normally does, this feeling builds, and keeps building, and rises high up into Chirrut’s chest. There it claws up around his throat and tightens like a noose.

Chirrut knows this feeling. He’d felt something close to it the day he held his mother’s clammy hand between his, while her chest rattled with its last.

He drops his broom, but the clatter doesn’t echo through the hall. Others have risen from their stations as well, some of them crying out in despair, while others are confused and demanding answers.

After that, there is chaos.

 


 

 

Grand Master Tull and a few of her trusted are the first to leave the Temple, hoping to find Jedi Master Zentoo as well as answers that could quell the turmoil in the Holy City.

It is mistake, for Master Biabru isn’t enough to hold off Anjylle and Korr. The high acolytes and their supporters rise in a coup, taking control of the Temple and claiming to hold it for the wronged Jedi. Biabru flees but not far, intending to take the Temple back and inciting the city’s inhabitants to support him. The Temple’s doors are closed for the first time in two hundred years.

It’s at this time that Korr finds Chirrut, and asks him if he is for protecting the Whills from outside interference.

“I will serve the Force any way I can,” Chirrut says.

“Good man,” Korr says. “You’re right, of course. Nothing’s changed, and the Temple needs taking care of even if these… unusual times. But you will tell me, won’t you, if you hear news of Biabru’s faction retaking the Temple? He must stand trial for believing the calumny against the Jedi. It’s the right thing to do.”

“I will tell you if I hear anything of Master Biabru, yes,” Chirrut says. “Maybe the Force be one with you.”

Chirrut listens to Korr’s worried footsteps as he leaves.

 


 

 

There is still work to be done at the Temple, even as its keys change hands again and again over the next few weeks. There are floors to be swept, food to be cooked, droids to be serviced. Chirrut and most of the lower order keep to their duties, moving deftly between initiates, acolytes and visitors to do their best to ensure that the Temple keeps functioning.

Chirrut knows everyone who lives here. He doesn’t know everything – honestly, the politics elude him some – but he knows every individual who’s pledged to the Whills, and has been following their comings and goings even in these eventful times. This means that Chirrut notices the gaps; he knows who’s left in secret, who’s trying to ride out the upheaval, and who’s just plain hiding.

There are a few who are keeping to themselves, though none as pointedly as the last high acolyte who hasn’t joined the Temple’s defense against the siege. Chirrut figures that it’s only polite to check in on him, seeing as the grand master is gone and Anjylle has supposedly spiritually disavowed him for refusing to take a stand.

The man’s rooms are in the high tower and, seeing as none of the personal rooms here are locked, Chirrut lets himself in after knocking. The room itself is roughly the same size as Chirrut’s, though its layout is different and presumably its view is better.

Chirrut clasps his hands in front of him and, after receiving neither protest nor invitation, says, “I am Chirrut Imwe, of the lower. I apologize for intruding on your meditation, but it is said in the Temple that you haven’t spoken since the Silencing.”

The room’s occupant doesn’t reply. Chirrut turns politely, gauging their location from their breathing. The room is dark, its binds closed tight, and almost stifling despite the oncoming chill of winter.

“Unless,” Chirrut says carefully, “this is a vow of silence out of respect for the fallen Jedi. It is… a controversial stance to take right now, but with so little news coming from the Core Worlds, I believe as sensible as any other. I know there are others who should be here in my stead, but it’s a little busy downstairs. I’m not sure if you can hear the explosions from here.”

He waits.

“This is Baze Malbus’s room, isn’t it? If it’s not, I’m about to be very embarrassed.” Chirrut turns and carefully puts the holocron he’d brought with him on the nearest table. “I thought you might want to know what’s been happening—”

Chirrut takes a quick side-step, moving out of the way just as Baze comes storming towards him, grabbing the holocron and throwing it at a wall. Chirrut opens his mouth, about to ask of Baze would like another copy, but then Baze is shoving him out of the room and keying the door shut.

 


 

 

Korr and Anjylle have a falling out, and Korr forms an alliance with Biabrus to take the Temple back. It is successful, and the doors are reopened, but that lasts for all of two days before a ship arrives from Coruscant. Master Tull is not on the ship.

Chirrut finds Baze’s room again, lets himself in again, and says, “Hello? I just thought you should—” He ducks when something is thrown at him. “A contingent from the Republic has taken control of the Temple, by order of the Supreme Chancellor. Master Korr just read the notice aloud and all guardians have to report to the—”

He’s silenced when the back of a fist comes up under his throat, pushing him back against the wall. Chirrut thinks this is an excellent turn of events, and gives Baze room to speak.

He does, his voice hoarse from underuse: “Why?”

“The Jedi have been declared traitors.”

What Jedi?” Baze spits. “They’re dead.”

“Not all of them,” Chirrut says. “I believe the Supreme Chancellor fears the Temple might become a sanctuary for those who have avoided the Silencing. But there is… If you would just come with me, and read the notice for yourself, you’d understand. The Force is warped around the Chancellor’s order, it’s—”

“Don’t talk to me of the Force.”

Chirrut starts. “What?”

“You’ve been paying attention, haven’t you, acolyte Chirrut? The Force has been so very busy of late, and I for one don’t give if a fuck if it’s warped around the Chancellor’s orders.”

Chirrut’s mouth snaps shut. He lifts a hand, pressing it to the closest part of Baze’s body – a chest, under layers of robes – and pushes him away. Baze tries to grab his arm but Chirrut avoid that as well, moving away from the threat Baze obviously wants to shake into him.

“The Force allowed the Jedi to die. There is a black hole in the galaxy – I know you feel it, too. It is there by the will of the Force.” Baze’s voice is low and mocking, and every word cinches tighter the noose around Chirrut’s neck.

“The Temple,” Chirrut manages. “The Temple still needs caring for, even if—”

“Ah, but the Temple will be the next to die, acolyte Chirrut,” Baze says. “You’ll see.”

Chirrut leaves.

 


 

 

There is no Republic; there is the Empire. There is no Supreme Chancellor; there is the Emperor. There is no Council of the Temple; there is the Jedha Protectorate, installed in new rooms overlooking the luminary.

The Protectorate as a controlling body of the Temple isn’t completely new in itself. There have been many wars, and many parties have tried to control the city, as well as its flow of pilgrims and kyber crystals.  Though at the end of the day they’d always been kept in check by the Jedi.

Master Biabru is removed from the Temple, then Master Korr, and then the higher acolytes one by one. Officially, they’re only ‘transferred’ to other positions elsewhere in service of the Empire, but what use is a Guardians of the Whills, if there are no Whills for them to serve?

Chirrut isn’t a master, or anyone else important. The Protectorate barely even notices him, up until he raises his staff to a Lieutenant and a handful of stormtroopers, and ends up being thrown into one of the Temple’s brand new prison cells, installed in the underground levels near the mines. It’s quiet there now, what with the drills having been stopped and most of the droids taken away.

Most of the other guardians have sense to stay away, too, except for the one visitor that arrives a few days in.

“You comfortable in there?” There is an opening near the top of the door, through which Baze’s voice travels. “Get enough light?”

“No, it’s terrible,” Chirrut replies. “Can’t get any reading done at all.”

Baze snorts.

Chirrut unfolds his legs from their meditation pose, and leans back against the wall. Baze’s presence hums steady and warm on the other side of the door. “I understand why you like staying in your room all the time,” Chirrut says. “You can almost pretend that nothing’s happening outside.”

“Why are you in here?”

“Didn’t the others tell you?”

“I’d like you to tell me.”

“They were going to destroy the databanks.”

“They already have,” Baze says, his voice flat and without malice. “I passed the library on the way here. Your little stunt didn’t help.”

“If you’re here to comfort me, you’re doing a terrible job.”

“I’m not—” Baze stops, curses, sighs. “I’m just telling you, acolyte, that you didn’t make a difference. Do you understand? Do you know how small you are?”

Chirrut laughs. “I’ve always known.”

“Then why did you even try?”

“Someone must protect the Temple.”

“But you didn’t,” Baze snaps. “You couldn’t even protect the library.”

“Of course it was never going to work if no one did anything. You have to improve to odds.”

“That doesn’t even—”

“Though I’m sure you would’ve done a better job.”

“What?”

“Protecting the library,” Chirrut says. “Most of the guardians still look up to you. You’ve defended the Temple many times before, and I’m sure that if you were to rally them, they would—”

“This isn’t some little skirmish,” Baze says, his voice sharp. “This isn’t some raiding party hoping to steal a bit of the Temple for the highest bidder. The Whills have no need of guarding, and I am going.”

“You’re leaving?”

“I should’ve ages ago. I had no right to stay, not when I’m no longer… well. It was wrong, and I’m fixing that.”

“Oh.” Chirrut closes his eyes. “Well. All right.”

“All right?”

“May the Force be one with you, Baze Malbus.”

“You are a damned fool, Chirrut. You need to stop. When you get out – if they let you out – you need to stop. There’s nothing left to save.”

Chirrut figures that he’s entitled to be silent, after some of the one-side conversations they’d had before. He holds his tongue through the rest of Baze’s tirade, until he finally gives up with a frustrated exhale and leaves.

 


 

 

Chirrut isn’t kept down there for a long. A few days in the cell (not inclusive of the handful of hours he’s questioned about his potential support of the Jedi) and then he’s taken out, tossed into the back of crawler with a few other guardians. They’re not told where they’re being taken.

The others in the crawler are subdued and unwilling to be engaged in conversation. Chirrut stays in his little section of the crawler, head bowed, and prays.

The Force answers with blaster fire, taking out one of the crawler’s wheels and sending the vehicle careening wildly. There is yelling, more shooting, and then Chirrut and the other guardians manage to overpower the stormtroopers and break out.

There is too much noise outside. It’s too abrupt a change from Chirrut’s long days in the cell, so he’s overwhelmed, unable to register anything about his surroundings other than they’re still in the city, and he trips over the first obstacle in his way. There’s shouting, more blaster fire, and then a hand clamps around Chirrut’s arm, hauling him up.

“Get up,” Baze shouts. “Chirrut, up!”

“The others,” Chirrut says, “are the others—”

“They’re scattered, they’ve run.” Baze’s hand lingers on Chirrut’s arm, and his voice drops uncertainly, “Uh, do you—do you need me to—”

“Lead the way,” Chirrut says, pushing Baze in front of him. “I’ll follow.”

 


 

 

Baze has a room. Or something that’s technically a room, with walls and a roof and a floor. The sounds of city filter through, noisy but indistinct, and there’s the smell of Kerestian fullery downstairs. Chirrut sits upright on a makeshift chair, patient and curious while Baze putters around the room. He’s surprised when Baze hands over a medkit, and then hovers uncertainly until Chirrut says he can tend to himself.

“I also got a…” Baze moves to another corner of the room, the one that contains a suspicious cache of weaponry, and returns with a kyber staff. “This is your primary weapon, right?”

Chirrut starts. “How do you know that?”

“The Temple’s not that big.”

“But you’re a high—”

“Do you want it or not?”

“Oh, yes.” Chirrut puts his hand on the staff, feeling its length. It’s an older staff, a little longer than what he’s used to. “Thank you, I will keep this. Did you steal it?”

“It’s not like the Empire’s going to use it.”

“Indeed.” Chirrut sets the staff aside, and carefully finishes up with the medkit. “Baze.”

“Hmm.”

“I owe you an apology,” Chirrut says. “I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“I was disrespectful, before. I was thinking about the Temple, and about my own… my own wish to protect it, that I didn’t acknowledge your loss.” Chirrut expects Baze to interrupt him again, but the other man is quiet, and seems to be more interested in fetching a dispenser and cups to the table. “You mourn the Jedi and our stewardship more than I do. That loss carves so much deeper than I can imagine.”

“You can feel all of that, hmm? A miracle that the Jedi didn’t take you. Too old?”

“There are many ways to serve the Force,” Chirrut says. “This is how I was meant to. A good thing, too, since I never had any interest in being Jedi.”

“Ah.” Baze settles in the chair next to Chirrut and starts pouring out two drinks. “Too glamorous for you?”

Chirrut laughs. “This city is more than enough for me. I can’t imagine having to travel all over the galaxy, plus there’s that vow of celibacy thing.”

There’s a splatter of liquid on the table when Baze jolts. He curses and wipes down their cups. “What?”

“I don’t see the point of traveling. I understand Jedha, I like dealing with Jedha and her problems. I’ve lived here my whole life, and the furthest I’ve been is in orbit around NaJedha because my sister dragged me, but what’s the point? I’m sure that it’s beautiful, but…” Chirrut waves a hand in front of his face. “Wasted on me.”

“No, I meant the… Never mind, drink up.”

“Thank you.” Chirrut takes a sup. “Can you tell me what the city looks like now? Is it… is the Empire everywhere?”

“You really want to know?”

“Yes.”

 


 

 

Baze tells him about the blockade, where the Empire’s ships hang in orbit just over the city. Most of the Imperial troops are focused on the Temple, while the city itself has been allowed to continue its business in relative normality, for the most part. Pilgrims still visit in surprisingly large numbers, even though they’re never allowed past the main gates. The city thrives.

“For now,” Baze adds.

Chirrut doesn’t ask what Baze intends to do, because it’s clear enough from the way his operation is set up. Over the next few days, while Chirrut lies low to avoid Imperial attention, Baze comes and goes at all hours, returning each time with more scraps to work on. Chirrut helps where he can, sorting through the pile for whatever can be fixed and sold off. Baze mumbles a threat the first time Chirrut does it, but soon enough they’re working together side by side, wordlessly passing scrap and junk between them.

One night, while they’re working, Baze says, “I can get passage for you. If you want.”

“Thank you, but no.” Chirrut is curious. “Will you go home?”

Baze scoffs. “What home? The Temple was my home.”

Chirrut starts to ask about Baze’s family, but changes his mind. Everyone in the Temple knows Baze’s story, how he’d made his first pilgrimage as a child to pray to the Force to save his grandfather, and wound up returning when he survived the disease that should have killed him. The youngest initiate in a century, he was so devoted that he humbled all who met him, from the casual visitor to the highest master. Chirrut had little chance to attend Baze’s services – they were for the more advanced orders – but he remembers clearly how Baze’s voice echoed through the luminary, every word punctuated by passion that shook Chirrut’s knees.

Baze knows that Chirrut is thinking of these things, and Chirrut knows that Baze knows.

“I keep calling you a fool,” Baze says. “But you must think the same of me, don’t you?”

“No, I don’t.”

“You must think I’m ungrateful, that I’m weak to have given up.”

“Not at all,” Chirrut says. “The Force—”

Baze sighs.

“—acts through us in ways we cannot expect.”

Baze puts down the inducer he’d been working on, and turns on the stool to face him. Chirrut turns a little as well, just to be polite. “How are you not a higher acolyte?” Baze asks. “You should be a bearer, at the very least.”

“Ah, brace yourself. The truth is, I have this condition where I can’t see anything.” Chirrut grins. “Force sensitivity or no, I was lucky that they accepted me at all, let alone—” He stops at the touch on his knee.

Baze’s hand is large and warm. He normally wears gloves, but right now his hands are bare, to make it easier to work on salvaging.

“Um,” Chirrut says. “I’ve been told that my eyes are quite striking.”

“Stop.” Baze lifts his hand, bringing it up to cup Chirrut’s chin. His fingers are dry and calloused, but very gentle where they trace the shape of his jaw and settle at the corner of his mouth. “If you come with me, I will take care of you.”

“You need to be more specific.”

Baze sighs. “Chirrut—”

“You know I’m not going to leave.”

“Because you feel you have a duty to the Temple.”

“I respect your beliefs, or your non-beliefs, as they are. I understand them, but I hope that you can understand mine, too. My faith is unconditional. I have felt the Force’s power, I have witnessed its guiding hand, I’ve found comfort in its presence, but—” Chirrut lifts a hand, cutting Baze off before he can interject, “—not only in the highest points of my life, but in the lowest as well. I can’t blame the Force for allowing the Jedi to fall, or for the Temple to be overtaken; not when it’s already taken my parents, my sister, and more. The Sith used the Force as well, after all.”

Baze’s hand stays, fingertips curling carefully underneath Chirrut’s chin. “And here I thought I could use your crush on me to get you out of this place.”

“I’m too old to have crushes, I—” Chirrut inhales sharply at the press of Baze’s forehead against his. A slight shift, and then Baze’s nose is brushing his. Chirrut swallows. “All right, I confess. I only like you for your body.”

Baze laughs. The sound is unexpected and spears Chirrut’s chest, tugging him forward that half-inch to press his mouth against Baze’s. Chirrut wasn’t expecting facial hair, but there it is, a coarse little canopy over Baze’s upper lip, and the fainter tickle along his chin. Baze laughs peters away into a sigh, and he slots their mouths together, careful and encouraging.

It is gentle, the way that fewer and fewer things are these days. When they pull apart, Baze says, “This won’t change your mind, will it?”

“I’m sorry.”

“No, you’re not.” There’s a smile in Baze’s voice. “I will give you some of my earnings, so you’ll have something to start with when I go.”

Chirrut wants to protest that it’s unnecessary, but there’s not much point. Baze won’t hear of it.

 


 

 

Baze doesn’t announce his departure. A few more days of scavenging, and then one evening he simply doesn’t come back. At first Chirrut is a little worried, because Baze left quite a few of his belongings behind, but then he realizes – somewhat sheepishly – that Baze meant for him to take everything. The medkits, the old robes from the Temple, the bowcaster – Chirrut would get good use out of those.

Chirrut spends that first night alone tidying the room, checking the inventory, and storing everything securely. When he’s done, he finds the landlord to confirm the status of the room, and then heads out into the city.

Over the past few weeks he’s only left the room a handful of times, despite Baze assuring him a while back that the Protectorate and its limited manpower have moved on to bigger fish. Smugglers, unhappy with the Empire’s blockade, have been working extra hard in the outskirts of the city, so a few fugitive guardians are simply not worth the extra effort.

Chirrut steps into the city now, moving through familiar scents and noises, and categorizing everything that’s new that he has to add to the map in his mind. Even with the Protectorate’s new additions, and the thicker traffic thanks to pilgrims unable to enter the Temple, it’s easy enough for Chirrut to find his way.

Once he passes through the Southern Gate, he takes a moment to pause, his hands on his staff, and says, “I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me.”

This is also a pilgrimage, of sorts. Chirrut follows the small river of people trickling down the side of the city rise, and then peels off on his own. The village of his birth is down this way, but that’s not Chirrut’s interest tonight. Instead, after a comfortable walk whereby the noise of Jedha has faded to distant murmur, he finds a high spot on a rock to sit, his legs crossed and staff balanced across his lap.

He prays. “I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me.”

Jedha is in the distance, its presence burning like a hearth. The Temple still stands tall, but it’s faded now, neglected. There are still other guardians left in there – Zylas, Jaxx and Numarkus at least – all of them smarter than Chirrut, and having found ways to stay close to their charge. There are others scattered through the city as well, easy enough to find.

There is no telling how long the Protectorate with last, or even the Empire itself. Chirrut and the others must be ready to return home, once the Temple’s doors are open again.

Still, there is a black hole in the galaxy. Chirrut feels its presence, and although it’s not as strong as that first, terrible day in the luminary, it is there, and it hungry – the way that all black holes are. The trick, he thinks, is not to fear it but to respect it, and to feed it his grief and regret. That’s what Chirrut thinks, anyway – it’s not like there are any masters around for him to ask anymore.

Chirrut bows his head, and chants until his voice fails him. Crying is a form of prayer as well.

 


 

 

In the next handful of days Chirrut regains his familiarity with the city.

He knows the altered routes of the pilgrims in a loose circle along the walls of the city, pausing at the Temple gates for prayer before moving on. He knows that there are merely a handful of stormtroopers in the city at any given time, making it easy to avoid Imperial detection (for now). He knows that there are even fewer guardians in the Temple proper; Numarkus has been caught sabotaging the Protectorate’s newest plans to reopen the kyber mines.

There is a great deal of work to be done, and today Chirrut’s taking up station near the North-East Gate, where an escort will be transporting Numarkus and a few rowdy pilgrims out of the city, presumably to a labor camp or worse.

Chirrut holds one hand out for alms, while his other braces the bowcaster hidden inside his borrowed cloak. He doesn’t know exactly when the convoy will arrive, but he is content to wait.

After a while, he turns his head a little and says, “I have an escape plan.”

For a few seconds there’s no reply, and then Baze shuffles closer, exuding irritation. “What would that be? You’re going to pin it on the other blind monk of Jedha?”

“Smugglers. And I’m in disguise, they won’t know—” Chirrut starts when Baze adjusts the wrappings around his head, drawing the folds further over his face. “Thank you.”

Baze mutters an acknowledgement and then makes himself comfortable against the same patch of wall that Chirrut is leaning against. He’s holding a blaster in his hands, with two more underneath his clothes.

“I’m not here for the Temple,” Baze says. “And I’m definitely not here for the Force.”

“I know.” Chirrut thrusts his hand forward when a Blurrg and its handler trudge past them, and retreats when he gets cursed at.  Baze shifts irritably just beyond his shoulder. “What?”

“Aren’t you going to ask?” Baze says. “Why I’m here?”

“I assume you’d tell me, if you wanted to.”

Chirrut can feel Baze’s surprise, followed by amusement. “Are you angry at me, Chirrut?”

“I barely know you,” Chirrut says. “If I missed you, then that’s obviously a defect in my person.”

“I’m staying because you must come with me,” Baze said. “I have decided that I will convince you to leave this place, with me.”

Chirrut turns sharply, and Baze flails a little in surprise, taking a quick step back to avoid Chirrut smacking him in the face. “So your previous failure was simply because you didn’t take enough time?”

“Yes.”

“Those are some long odds.”

Baze makes an amused sound. “What, either you or the Temple will have to die first?” Although Chirrut hears it coming, he’s still surprised when Baze touches him, resting a hand tentatively on Chirrut’s hip. The shape of his hand is different – he’s wearing armor now – but it’s still Baze, and Chirrut’s breath catches.

“Yes,” Chirrut says at last. “That’s the way it is.”

“You might change your mind.”

“It’ll be a long wait for that.”

Baze shrugs. “I’ll let you know when I have something better to do.”

Chirrut perks up when he hears the convoy cross the square. Up above, his contact whistles, signaling that they’re ready as well.

“Wait here,” Chirrut says, “I have some work to do.” He starts down the corridor, taking cover behind a group of lost travelers, and is not surprised when Baze grumbles under his breath and starts to follow.