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When they’re fourteen years old, they’ve known each other a little more than a year, and Baze finally thinks he’s beginning to understand Chirrut’s brain. Mostly.

“We might as well go back, we’re going to get caught,” Baze murmurs, practically right into Chirrut’s ear, because they’ve stuffed themselves into a little alcove barely big enough for just Baze, waiting until the two old monks inconveniently chewing the fat in the office across the hall decide to leave. “I thought you said there wasn’t anybody down here.”

“There wasn’t until a moment ago,” Chirrut mouths silently, as if that is not precisely Baze’s entire point. “I felt them leaving, before.”

Baze wants to sigh in exasperation, but they can’t afford to make any noise, and he’s afraid if he breathes too hard, the two of them will pop out of this nook like a cork out of a bottle. “You should have waited to make sure!”

“I was sure,” Chirrut replies, then sort of shifts his weight in a way that would be guiltily, on anybody besides Chirrut, who has no sense of shame that Baze has been able to discern. “I was just too early.”

Chirrut is crammed in against Baze, chest to chest, head turned to keep the dimly lit office doorway in his peripheral vision. He’d shoved Baze in here without warning when they’d come around the corner and seen the lamplight; even now they were hidden mostly only by darkness, and the men in the office could have seen them at any time just by looking their way. Chirrut’s skinny chest rises and falls with his breathing, and Baze’s own heartbeat is loud in his ears. Chirrut is surprisingly warm against him; he smells like the astringent he uses to mop the floors, but his hair smells a little nicer where Baze’s nose is unintentionally stuffed right in it. Like plain soap and sweat.

“Early? What’s that supposed to–”

“Quiet!” Chirrut demands, and presses even closer to Baze, turning his head in and pressing his face into Baze’s shoulder; Baze instinctively raises his hands and clutches Chirrut’s robes, pulling him in tight, tight, like an embrace without either of them actually embracing. They both hold there, utterly still and barely breathing, as the lamplight wanders out of the office and the monks’ voices are momentarily a bit louder. Baze squeezes his eyes shut to stop them glittering in the light and, in the few seconds of pregnant darkness, clings to Chirrut. It occurs to him in a sudden giddy thought that he hasn’t been this close to someone else since he was just a little kid, hugging his nanny for comfort after he hurt himself falling from the garden wall at his grandfather’s house. She’d been dismissed for allowing him to fall in the first place, and her replacement had been a series of stern-faced tutors who’d never have hugged him for any reason, nor he them. Certainly there had never been any question of hugging his family members; that sort of familiarity and softness was not what family were for.

Baze’s fingers tighten in Chirrut’s clothes and he presseds his face into Chirrut’s hair, and then the voices move away down the hall right past them, the lamplight past his eyelids filtering to darkness again, and he and Chirrut are alone, clutching each other and starting to quiver a little with the strain of holding so still. They wait for another few seconds out of mutual unvoiced caution, and then both let their breath out in a rush and relaxe.

They don’t move apart for another few seconds, though; Chirrut slowly raises his head from Baze’s shoulder and cranes it back to look down the hall the way the monks went. Then he looks back up at Baze, and even in the half-light of Jedha City dimly illuminating the hallway windows, Baze can see his white, white smile and the gleam of his dark eyes, very close.

“See? Early. I knew they’d leave eventually,” he says quietly, with the certainty with which he says pretty much everything. He says the Force shows him paths and possibilities, sometimes - that he can see the best route to take to sneak out of the Temple to go visit the festival going on in the city center, for instance. Baze scoffs at him and says he’s just lucky, but deep down, he sort of believes maybe Chirrut really can see the future. Chirrut finally takes a half-step back, and Baze feels like he can breathe again, but finds he misses Chirrut’s smell in his nose. Chirrut makes a show of smoothing down the front of Baze’s robe, then beckons. “C'mon, we haven’t got all night!”

Baze follows, still feeling warm all down his front, and up into his cheeks, for some reason.

***

They’re 16 when Baze’s grandfather dies and leaves his mansion to Baze in his will. Baze is still aching in every part of his body from the weight of grief, his head spinning from the funeral and the long meetings with his father and the city councilmen and his grandfather’s steward, all seeming to size Baze up and all, all finding him lacking. His father in particular seems disgusted with him, but for his father, that’s nothing really new.

When he returns to the temple, weary and heartsick, Chirrut is there waiting for him. He’s leaning in the doorway of the barracks, tapping his quarterstaff against the flagstones with a hollow sound like a dampened bell. Baze can’t read his face; not in itself unusual, but something about the way Chirrut looks at him makes him uneasy.

“So you’re a landowner, now,” Chirrut says in a colorless tone. Baze grits his teeth and shoulders past him into the cool dark of the long room full of bunks. Only about half have owners, and none are currently here. Baze walks robotically to his own and kicks open his foot locker, pulling out his temple robes and starting to change.

“When are you leaving?” Chirrut presses, still hanging in the doorway, silhouetted against the light. Baze hears the bitter note in his voice, now, more poorly veiled. He shoots a sharp look at Chirrut but still can’t see his face. He doesn’t answer, pulls his fine semi-transparent shirt off over his head and stuffs it in his locker, rips the thong out of his hair and intentionally musses up the whole mass of it, hiding behind it.

Chirrut’s silence from the doorway pushes at Baze, and then suddenly he’s crossed the room, silently striding to Baze’s elbow, and Baze can see his face now, and oh. He’s angry. “I said, when are you leaving?”

Baze pushes him back, not hard, but firm enough to shift him. “I don’t know what you’re talk–”

“You can’t lie to me,” Chirrut says, and it’s a statement of fact, not a plea. “I know you’ve taken your grandfather’s house and I know you’re going to live there. Guardians can’t be landowners, so when are you leaving, Baze Malbus?”

Baze flinches a little. Chirrut and he don’t call each other by their surnames the way some other guardians do - mostly because Chirrut doesn’t have a proper one, and it’s like Baze is gloating just by sharing a name with one of the city’s great families. When Chirrut says his name, it cracks through the air like a sudden slap - hurling at him as an accusation. Baze wheels on him.

“I could leave,” he shouts, louder than he means to, but now he’s started he finds he likes the way his voice rebounds off the walls and high ceilings, coming down on Chirrut from all sides. “My family wants me to leave - wants me to give up pretending to be a little soldier and come down from the house of wizards and lunatics.” His father’s words, almost exactly; they taste as bad going out as they had felt coming in. “I didn’t have to come back here, but I begged to stay a guardian and still keep my grandfather’s house.”

“Why bother?” Chirrut bites out coldly. “You have a much grander home than this, now.”

“I had a much grander home before I came here,” Baze retorts. “You didn’t see me running back there before now, did you?”

“No, you were better off biding your time. Now your grandfather’s dead you can stop playing at being a little soldier and start playing at being a little lord.”

Baze doesn’t think, just takes a swing at him - unwisely putting all his weight behind it, and naturally overbalancing when Chirrut dodges neatly out of the way. Baze recovers quick as he can, but Chirrut trips him as he comes back around, staff held behind him parallel to the floor, for balance. Baze can’t regain his balance, instead throwing his weight forward to catch Chirrut round the middle and bear them both to the floor. His bulk and weight give him a momentary advantage as he wrestles Chirrut down and cuffs him upside the head, trying to grab at his too-short hair, but Chirrut has always been stronger than he looks, and Baze’s hair is a liability like this. He shouts in pain and anger as Chirrut gets hold of it, twisting Baze’s head down and hooking a leg up over his hip to flip Baze onto his back. Baze grabs at Chirrut’s robes instead and tries to roll them again, but they only get about halfway, both of them simultaneously pulling and pushing at each other, facing on the floor, too close to kick but not close enough to bite.

“Fucking…shut up, Chirrut!” Baze roars. “You don’t know anything about it - my father’s making me leave, my whole family expects me to run grandfather’s house now–”

“Your whole family wants that, or you do?” Chirrut says through gritted teeth, yanking at Baze’s hair again in part to stop Baze headbutting him.

“I don’t-–want-–to leave-–the Temple, but-–”

“But what, Baze? What?” Chirrut suddenly rams the heel of his hand into Baze’s breastbone, winding him sharply, and while he’s dazed, twists cleanly out of his grip and away, scrambling unsteadily to his feet. Baze levers up onto his elbows, grimacing and fighting for his air back, squinting at Chirrut in rage through his tangle of hair. “What decision is there to make? You’ve been handed this house, go live in it!”

“I don’t want to!” Baze says harshly, voice rough but not enough air in his lungs yet to shout anymore. “I want to be a guardian, I don’t want to leave!”

“And why not?” Chirrut says. He is pleading, now, begging for something, but Baze doesn’t have the faintest idea what. It’s almost like he wants Baze to leave. Baze struggles to his feet.

“Why are you asking me this?” he demands. “Do you want me to go?”

Chirrut sucks in a breath, jerking back a little. “Is that what you think?” he says, more quietly, subdued.

“I don’t know what to think,” Baze says, and is horrified to hear a sob starting to shred his voice. “I don’t know what to do, and I don’t know why you’re asking me this.”

“Because you have a home, Baze,” Chirrut replies desolately. “You have a home and a family and a house that’s yours now. You don’t have to live here anymore, be a guardian anymore. No one chooses this who has better options.”

“That’s not true,” Baze snaps. “My grandfather chose this. His father chose it. It used to be something men were proud to do, become Guardians of the Whills. I’m proud to do it.” He draws in a ragged breath. “But. My grandfather’s house is all that’s left of him, now, and if I don’t take it, I don’t know what will happen to it.” Pushing his hair back out of his face, he scrubs at his eyes, feeling too heavy to stand. “I don’t know what to do.”

The silence then feels thicker after all their noise, and yet Baze still doesn’t hear Chirrut come close. When he opens his eyes again, Chirrut is there, inches in front of him, watching him closely. His look isn’t the same as Baze’s father’s or the steward’s, though - he’s not assessing Baze, judging him. Just waiting to see what he’ll do.

“What do you want to do?” Chirrut says, quiet but firm.

Baze scowls. “I told you: be a guardian. Stay here. And keep my grandfather’s house. Especially…especially keep it away from my father,” he mumbled. “I’m afraid he’ll sell it off for money.”

“You don’t want to leave? Even though you could, even though…it would be easy for you to?”

“It wouldn’t be easy!” Baze tells him angrily. “I’m a guardian, it’s what I’ve always wanted to do. My life is here. And. You’re here. Why would I leave you like that?”

Chirrut doesn’t respond for a long moment, but his eyes widen a little, and then his shoulders seem to relax some. Baze sees he’s relieved, and he blinks at Chirrut in disbelief.

“You were afraid I was going to leave you,” he says as it dawns on him. Chirrut’s expression hardens and he looks away.

“I was…concerned you would make a foolish decision and fail to live up to your potential as a guardian. The Force has willed for you to be here, not…living in some palace somewhere.”

“It isn’t a palace,” Baze says automatically, then reiterates, still not quite believing it, “You didn’t want me to leave.”

“Of course not,” Chirrut replies huffily. “We have few enough good guardians here as it is. We need you here.” He cuts a look at Baze, his hand tightening on his staff. “You belong here.”

Baze sighs softly, looking at him. Then he shuffles forward the few inches between them and wraps his arms, awkward but sincere, around Chirrut’s little waist, bending his head to hide his face in Chirrut’s shoulder. Chirrut freezes for a moment, and then, dropping his staff with a clatter that makes Baze jump, he wraps his arms around Baze in return. They’re both a little stiff and unpracticed at it, but after a moment it starts to feel right, and Baze closes his eyes wearily, Chirrut’s fingers curling against his bare back.

“I want to be here,” Baze murmurs. “I want to be a guardian. Like you.”

Chirrut doesn’t say anything for a long time, just hugs him tighter. When he lets go and steps back after a moment, he keeps his hands on Baze’s shoulders, steadying him a little. Baze realizes suddenly how tired he really feels, how drained, but for the first time all day, his mind is quiet.

“Good,” Chirrut tells him. “In that case…there may be a way for you to keep the house, too. Maybe. There was something in the archives about this, about landowning and the rights of citizens, I’ll have to go find the exact book again, but if I’m right we’ll have to go talk to the councilmen again, and we can leave your father out of it entirely–”

The rest of it is sort of a blur to Baze, and the next thing he knows, Chirrut’s helping him collapse into bed and pulling the blanket over him and saying, “…some sleep before you pass out, idiot, but I’m going to the archives to look for that book. Maybe the Force will bless us and you’ll be less ugly when you wake up.”

***

Baze is twenty and Chirrut still 19, and they’ve almost just died in a shootout with bandits at a far-flung defunct kyber mine, and they’re both giddy with adrenaline and the rush of such a near escape when they stagger back into the temple outpost on the edges of the nearby village. They’re the only ones there; guardians from the temple in Jedha City rotate among the outposts every few months to maintain a presence among the common folk of Jedha and to ensure the kyber deposits accessible from the planet’s surface are safe from thieving hands. Twenty years ago there’d have been six of them sent to an outpost at a time, but now the temple can only afford to send two; for what it’s worth, though, Baze and Chirrut are two of their best, despite their relative youth.

The two of them sit at the table in the main room and patch each other up from the supplies in their medkits; earlier in the day, Baze dug up a bottle of some cloudy reddish liquor from the storage cabinet on the other side of the room, and now they alternately take cringing swigs of the stuff and laugh at each other’s faces when the other one takes a drink. They’re both cut up and burned here and there, but they managed to avoid serious injury thanks to Baze’s sharpshooting and Chirrut’s determination to half-carry Baze out of the mine after a cave-in buried one of his legs and nearly broke his ankle.

“Good thing the cavern ceiling was so unstable,” Baze reflects, helping secure the last bacta patch to Chirrut’s forehead as Chirrut is bent down, tightening a compression bandage around Baze’s injured foot. He sits up when it’s in place and grabs the bottle, pointing the neck of it at Baze.

“Good thing they were on that end of the cavern instead of us,” Chirrut says mindfully, swallowing another drink and then handing the bottle to Baze. “I don’t like our odds against that cave-in any more than I liked them against those grenades.”

“Where did they even get that kind of firepower?” Baze gripes, swirling the alcohol in its bottle to delay having to take the next drink - he wants very much to be drunk, not least because the painkillers in their kits aren’t very strong, but getting there on this swill is a chore.

“Who knows,” Chirrut replies, tapping out the last few words of their incident report on his datapad and then powering it off. “Could have come from anywhere, as could the men themselves. I’ve told the elders on multiple occasions that bandits are coming in from off-world and getting more sophisticated, and that we should have more guardians in our patrols. But that’s not done very much good so far.”

“I’m sure it’s nothing personal,” Baze tells him, grinning. “No knock on your winning powers of persuasion, Chirrut.”

Chirrut smirks back, steals the liquor out of Baze’s hand and throws back a drink. “Thus far,” he says, plunking the bottle down again, “it seems the person most susceptible to my charms is you.”

Baze laughs. “No, the person most susceptible is Old Cornith, but only because you love his musty old archives even more than he does.”

“The archives are an exquisite life’s work, and Cornith deserves my utmost respect,” Chirrut sniffs. Baze just laughs harder.

“You don’t have to convince me, I’ve known you had a crush on the old man since we first met!”

“A cr–I do not have a crush on Old Cornith,” Chirrut says, making a face, then continues in an exaggeratedly wistful voice, “As if he were susceptible to such mere mortal failings as desire and lust.”

Now it’s Baze’s turn to make a face. “Oh dear gods, now you’ve got me thinking of the old man and ‘lust’ in the same sentence. I’m having a hard enough time keeping this bile down as it is.” He drinks off the last of the liquor and pushes the bottle away from them across the table. Chirrut grins wickedly at him.

“You don’t think old men are capable of just as much lust as young ones? That’s not being very fair to our future selves, Baze.”

Baze swallows, again, reflexively, because now he’s not thinking of Old Cornith lusting after people; he’s thinking of Chirrut lusting after people, which is a wholly different thing that Baze doesn’t let himself think about much, for wholly different reasons. “I didn’t say that,” Baze insists, shaking his shaggy head in exasperation. “I just don’t prefer to think about the sexual habits of old men.”

“You prefer to think about the sexual habits of young men, then,” Chirrut teases him mercilessly. Baze rolls his eyes, but he’s struggling not to laugh, because Chirrut is ridiculous, and particularly when he’s had even a dram of liquor. Baze is also struggling not to blush or to say anything terribly ridiculous, himself.

“I’m not the one who keeps talking about it,” he says, raising his eyebrows challengingly. “One might begin to think you prefer to think about it.”

“Well that’s just not true,” Chirrut insists, toying with the empty bottle while he watches Baze with an amused expression. He tips the bottle idly back and forth on its base, fingertips light on the neck of it. “I only prefer to think about the sexual habits of one young man in particular.”

Baze goes still. He looks up at Chirrut almost guiltily, then realizes his own facial expression and tries to school it into innocence. Chirrut grins back at him, toothy grin white in the low-power lights of the outpost.

“Think about…what?” Baze says, feeling unsure. Chirrut’s just messing with him, Baze knows, but he can’t seem to come up with a witty reply, even though he knows Chirrut’s just going to laugh at him in a moment for being so gullible. “That’s…” He licks his lips. Chirrut’s eyes drop to his mouth for just a second, then snap back up again. “That’s not going to be very useful to you as a guardian,” he manages, with an effort.

Chirrut shrugs. “You’d be surprised,” he says easily, for all the world as if they’re just discussing another one of their lessons at the temple. “It’s useful to think about if it satisfies my own curiosity, or helps me to understand that person better. Especially if that person is someone with whom I work closely.”

He’s testing me, Baze thinks. He’s just pushing me to see if I’ll do something embarrassing. But he doesn’t know why Chirrut would do that; teasing Baze is something Chirrut does all the time, but he isn’t usually cruel to him. Not like this. Even now, Chirrut’s expression is growing more curious, the way he looks when he’s working on a sticky logic problem, and less mischievous. Baze blinks at him, wondering whether it’s better to be honest or be evasive. Chirrut’s told him multiple times before that he can’t lie outright to him, but Baze has gotten better over the years at deflecting Chirrut’s laserlike attention away from himself.

Before he can decide, however, Chirrut is leaning forward in his seat, toward him. “Especially,” he says again, voice more serious, now, “if that person is someone who I find myself thinking about when I should be thinking about more important things. Like work, or sleep, or escaping from a caved-in mine shaft hauling his heavy ass with me. It’s annoying.”

Baze doesn’t quite recall how to inhale and exhale properly. He watches Chirrut watch him, then watches Chirrut stand up, step toward him him, lean down close…and pull Baze’s arm over his shoulders, helping him to stand again. Baze grunts, partly in surprise and partly in pain; he lets Chirrut take some of his weight to keep it off his throbbing ankle, but the bacta’s already doing its work, and it hurts a little less than it had. Together the two of them hobble over to the bunks in the corner. Chirrut lowers Baze into the bottom one and then, to Baze’s surprise, shoulders his way into the bed with him. Baze hitches up against the wall to make enough room for Chirrut in there with him; the bunks aren’t very wide. Chirrut seems unconcerned by this, and fits himself just barely on his side facing Baze, their bodies pressed together from shoulders to knees. Baze is very aware of Chirrut, of Chirrut’s hand resting on Baze’s waist, of his dark eyes peering shrewdly at him from inches away.

“I don’t know why I should find this to be the most annoying thing about you,” he murmurs, smirking at Baze. Baze can feel Chirrut’s breath skating over his chin and neck. “There are so many, many things to choose from.”

Baze purses his mouth at him, letting out an exasperated sigh. He can’t remember at all why he thought he should be embarrassed about anything he might think about Chirrut; Chirrut has clearly already thought them all, anyway, and seems to know that Baze has too, and can still lie here and call him annoying. “I feel sure that, with a little more time, you’ll find something else to be more annoyed by,” he says, lifting his own hand to curl over the side of Chirrut’s neck. Chirrut’s lashes flutter, and he looks momentarily shocked - like, even now, he wasn’t completely sure how Baze would respond. Baze grins, then, pleased at having got him at least a little bit by surprise. “Now can we stop wondering what it’s like to kiss and actually kiss?”

Chirrut blinks, then surges forward, too fast, too far, knocking their noses together and making Baze hiss in momentary pain and then laugh; but Chirrut doesn’t pause, doesn’t stop pressing in. He gets his mouth on Baze’s and Baze’s laughter dissolves, the wet sounds of Chirrut’s unlovely but slightly desperate kisses loud between them. Baze feels suddenly tight in his own skin, all this urgency pushing at him from inside; his body aches in a hundred places, and most of all in his foot and leg, but the pain recedes with every moment of Chirrut’s mouth on his, restless and impatient, Chirrut’s cool hands on his face, holding him right where Chirrut wants him. Baze hasn’t ever kissed anyone before; he wonders if Chirrut has, but he doesn’t want to ask. Instead, when Chirrut breaks the kiss a moment to pant, breath hot on Baze’s mouth, Baze says in a voice so rough it surprises him, “You must’ve been thinking about that a while.”

Chirrut gives him a quelling look. “Do you admit that you’ve been thinking about it, too?” he says, still breathing heavily. His mouth is very red looking; Baze can’t seem to stop staring at it.

“I’ve been thinking about it,” Baze replies gruffly. He slides his hand down over Chirrut’s chest, over his waist, curling his arm around his middle to drag him just the tiniest bit closer; there isn’t exactly any room between them to start with, but now they’re so tight together they can hardly breathe. This close, he can feel the way Chirrut shivers very finely when Baze kisses him again, a little slower and more deliberate this time. Chirrut tries to deepen and hasten it, needy, like he’s afraid Baze will pull away. But Baze just drags each kiss out, memorizing the feel of Chirrut’s nimble, crooked mouth, relishing each hitched breath. He has been thinking about it, but he hasn’t let himself dwell on it. It had seemed unfair to Chirrut, somehow.

Now, though, that he knows Chirrut wants this too, he lets himself be greedy. He hums, hand moving in gentle up-and-down strokes at the base of Chirrut’s spine, and shifts his body a little, pressing his hips against Chirrut’s. Chirrut breaks away with a gasp, looking a little wild-eyed. Baze watches him, smiles a little at him.

“Been thinking about a lot of things,” he admits, biting the corner of his lip. “Didn’t want you reading my mind and finding them out, in case you didn’t want that, too.”
Chirrut makes an unamused face. “How many times do I have to tell you, I can’t–”

“Read my mind, uh-huh,” Baze says, rocking his hips against Chirrut’s again, watching his expression go slack with the good pressure of it. Baze shivers a little, himself. It’s very…intense, like this, more than he’d even imagined it would be. The reality of Chirrut is…bony and warm and squirming a little and trying to kiss Baze even as Baze is trying to speak. Baze laughs warmly. It feels good to hold Chirrut. He remembers being this close to him before, as kids. It had felt good then, too. “You keep saying that.”

“And you keep on not believing me. For a man of faith, you have surprisingly little of it in me.”

Baze’s face goes serious and he stops kissing Chirrut until Chirrut pulls back and looks at him. “No,” Baze says emphatically. “No, I have complete faith in you.”

Chirrut’s eyes track over Baze’s face for a few seconds. Then he grins, huffs a laugh. “Well then,” he says, voice low and warm, and he shifts his hips back against Baze’s, pressing Baze into the wall and sliding his leg between Baze’s thighs, bold. “You’re an even bigger idiot than I thought.”