The blow snapped Chirrut’s head back and he staggered, copper blooming bright and sharp in his mouth. Worry spiked from Baze and Chirrut pushed it away. He couldn’t afford the distraction.
He ducked the next swing. It whistled over his head as he rushed his opponent. Shoulder to midsection, he let his momentum carry them both forward until they hit the cage wall.
The Calian grunted, breath whistling from his lungs as Chirrut drove a fist into his ribs. Again and then again, knuckles pounding bone. The Calian brought an elbow down, vicious force against Chirrut’s spine. Pain burst behind Chirrut’s eyes.
Baze’s worry was a constant battering in his mind, but he locked it away in a dark corner and twisted out of the Calian’s grip to dance backward.
The crowd roared, noise buffeting Chirrut’s ears, threatening to overwhelm his senses. He tasted blood, smelled the metallic tang and the salty bite of sweat and adrenaline.
Feet pounded the mat as the Calian rushed him and Chirrut went low, ducking sideways to grapple his opponent’s thighs and bring him down.
He fell with a thud and Chirrut swarmed up his body, straddling his chest to strike with unerring accuracy.
The Calian bucked, but Chirrut rolled with the movement and landed another blow. He needed an arm—there—the Calian reached up, clawing desperately at Chirrut’s face.
Chirrut caught the limb and flipped himself around it to fall backward onto the mat, legs locked around the other’s chest. He pulled until the shoulder joint creaked and the Calian howled and slapped the mat.
Chirrut let go immediately and scrambled to his feet. Bringing his hands together in front of his face, he bowed, first to the Calian, who was dragging himself upright, and then to the crowd, which roared its approval.
He swayed, the adrenaline fading, and felt Baze entering the ring behind him as the Calian bowed to Chirrut.
“Well fought,” Chirrut said.
Baze touched his shoulder and Chirrut turned to him.
“Let’s go,” Baze said under the shouts of the onlookers, handing him his staff.
“Have to collect our winnings,” Chirrut said out of the corner of his mouth, lifting a hand to the crowd, which roared louder. He winced, trying to disguise the pain under a smile, but he knew Baze hadn’t missed it.
Baze put a hand on the small of his back, subtly turning him toward the exit. “I’ll get them, don’t worry.”
Chirrut crossed the ring and stepped down onto the dirty floor, sticky with unidentified substances under his slippered feet. He grimaced but kept his head up, using his staff to guide his way through the crowd. Baze stayed close, using his bulk to shelter Chirrut from those wanting to talk to him.
Near the front entrance, Baze steered Chirrut toward a bench. “Wait here,” he said. “I’ll be right back.”
Chirrut sat, letting his staff rest between his feet. The air was cooler here, the press of too many bodies in a small space lifted, and he leaned back, flinching momentarily as his bruised spine brushed the wall.
It felt good to not move for a minute, even though there was still too much noise, too much sensory input. He felt raw, exposed nerves open to the air, and every sound made him twitch. He needed to get back to the room, submerge himself, and heal.
He could smell fried noodles and wet permacrete and diesel oil wafting in the door that opened and closed with customers passing through. Baze’s bass rumble underscored the higher tenor of the Cerean who appeared to be arguing with him. Chirrut ached all over, exhausted now that the adrenaline had worn off.
The door opened and he shivered in the cold air that rushed over him.
A choked cry, cut off almost before it started, and the sounds of fists hitting flesh made Chirrut straighten. That had come from outside, not the room he’d just been in. The door shut and the sounds stopped.
Chirrut’s inner debate lasted about three seconds before he was on his feet and striding for the door. He stopped just outside, cocking his head to listen. People hurried past on the sidewalk, appearing to him like streaks of faint afterimages, the Force moving through them. They blurred together, a muted rainbow kaleidoscope, and Chirrut closed his eyes to listen.
There—someone cried out again and Chirrut spun in that direction.
“Please—” The word was wet, like the speaker was underwater, his voice bubbling as he heaved for air.
Chirrut strode forward, aches and pains forgotten. “Let him go.” Silence fell and Chirrut spread his feet, settling easily into a fighting stance. Three, he thought. Big and mean, one on the right has a blaster. “I said, let him go.”
“This isn’t your fight,” Blaster growled.
The three spread out and Chirrut waited. One of them had a slight limp, his foot dragging as he moved. The other had a nervous habit of clicking his teeth together. Chirrut didn’t move.
Behind him, the door to the club opened and Baze stepped out. Chirrut could feel the alarm and caution that spiked off him as he flattened himself to the wall and waited.
“It doesn’t have to be my fight,” Chirrut agreed. “But I will make it mine, if you don’t let him go.”
Teeth hissed a laugh like a rattling teakettle through a clenched jaw and Limp shifted his weight. Chirrut stayed focused on the leader, who growled.
“Last chance, old man. Fuck off or pay the consequences.”
Amusement rolled off Baze as Chirrut sighed.
“You had to go there.” He lunged, staff snapping out to knock the blaster clear as he spun and drove his heel into Limp’s stomach. He ducked the wild blow Blaster swung and slithered in under his guard to hammer his staff hard into the bigger man’s ribs. Blaster staggered backward and went down flat as Baze fired a single shot and Teeth collapsed behind Chirrut.
“I had it under control,” Chirrut pointed out. He brought his staff down in a sweeping arc to connect with Blaster’s head.
“Of course you did,” Baze agreed, holstering his blaster and pausing to kick Limp in the jaw before joining Chirrut. “Can we go now?”
“Not without him,” Chirrut said. He knelt beside the young man crumpled on the pavement, parchment fine skin stretched over bones too prominent, his clothes soaked through and wet hair in his face.
“Whatever reason they had to do this to him, it’s none of our business,” Baze said.
“Baze,” Chirrut said, focused on the body in front of him. “You know how I can—sort of—see the Force around living things? How it makes them glow, very faintly?”
“Yes, of course,” Baze snapped, shifting his weight.
Chirrut held his hands out over the young man, almost as if he was warming them in front of a fire. “This boy, Baze—he shines.”
Baze didn’t move for a long moment, and then he swore, quiet and obscene, and bent to pick the boy up. “Let’s go, then.”
Chirrut scrambled to his feet, grabbed his staff, and ran after them.
Bodhi woke in stages, awareness drifting in and out, sliding like oiled silk through his fingers.
He heard voices first, low and concerned.
“I’m fine, Baze, see to him.”
“You’re not fine. You’re in pain, I can read it all over you.”
“See to him. I’ll keep.”
He was dry, Bodhi realized distantly, and wearing clothes that weren’t his—he sank beneath the waves before he could figure out the puzzle.
Next time he woke, there were hands touching him. Bodhi flinched away, his body screaming a silent protest at the sudden movement.
“Easy,” a deep voice said. “You’re safe.”
Bodhi managed to crack one eyelid. The other wouldn’t open, and he wasn’t sure why—a big man was kneeling beside him, heavy black hair falling in a wild mane to his shoulders, his dark brown eyes calm and kind.
“I’m Baze,” the man said. “What’s your name?”
Bodhi opened his mouth to tell him as the creeping black swallowed him again.
Warm. It was the first thing he noticed when he came around the next time. He could hear rain outside, lashing the windows in a constant drumming din, but Bodhi was warm and dry, curled up under a blanket, on something soft.
He was still only able to open one eye, he discovered, but he pried it apart in stages. The big man—Baze—was on the other side of the bed, bending over another man, who was bare to the waist and sitting on the edge of the mattress.
Baze seemed to be checking him for injuries, muttering to himself. “I thought you outgrew this habit of taking in strays in our thirties. You’ve got a bad bruise here.” He touched the other man’s spine, careful to avoid the swelling, purple lump between his shoulder blades.
A huff of amusement, tinged with affection, from the sitting man. “He’s awake.”
Baze looked up and met Bodhi’s gaze. His eyes crinkled as he smiled. “Hello again.”
Bodhi swallowed. His mouth was dry, filled with cotton, and he couldn’t get his tongue to work. It hurt to breathe, his ribs stabbing lines of fire through his lungs.
“Give him some water, my love,” the sitting man said.
Baze rounded the bed and poured a glass of water from the pitcher on the small table by the window. Turning, he bent over Bodhi’s prostrate form.
“Can you sit up enough to drink this?”
Bodhi struggled to get an elbow beneath himself. Baze waited until he was partly upright before handing him the glass. Bodhi sipped the water, its sweet coolness sliding down his throat and making him shudder and tip the glass up to drain it, swallowing desperately until it was empty.
When he was done, Baze accepted the glass back and set it on the table before bending to peer into Bodhi’s good eye.
“How do you feel?” he asked.
“You saved me,” Bodhi said stupidly.
Baze smiled. “Chirrut saved you. I just go where he goes.”
Chirrut laughed at that, twisting so Bodhi could see his face. His eyes were frosted blue, Bodhi realized, but for all his obvious blindness, Bodhi felt as though he’d been seen, somehow, to the depths of his soul.
“What’s your name?” Chirrut asked, tilting his head.
“Bodhi,” Bodhi said. “Bodhi Rook. Why—did you do that?”
Chirrut’s smile was cryptic. “The Force moves in mysterious ways.”
Baze snorted rudely. “That’s his standard answer when he doesn’t actually know.”
Bodhi glanced at Baze and back at Chirrut. He was exhausted again, suddenly, and he could feel sleep pulling at him with cobwebby fingers.
“Rest,” Chirrut said. “You’re safe with us.”
Bodhi lay down on his side, arm under his head, as Baze went back around to rummage in what looked like a first aid kit, coming up with a bacta gel pack.
“I’m fine,” Chirrut said.
Baze snorted even more loudly. “That cut over your eye and the bruise on your spine would beg to differ. Now shut up so Bodhi can rest.”
Bodhi fell asleep to the sight of Baze cleaning Chirrut’s injuries, fingers quick and gentle as he worked.
He drifted back to consciousness, led by Chirrut’s voice. There were hands touching him—awareness snapped into focus with a sickening lurch and Bodhi jerked away, catching himself just before he fell off the bed.
He opened his eyes to Chirrut kneeling on the bed, hands held out in front of his body, utterly still. Bodhi swallowed around the knives in his throat and glanced around the small room. Baze was nowhere to be seen.
“I was bandaging your ribs,” Chirrut said carefully. “You’ve got a few cracked and I think at least one broken. But without a bacta tank, there’s not much we can do except bind them and let them heal the slow way.”
Bodhi sank down, onto his back. “Sorry,” he whispered. His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth and he swallowed again, wincing.
Chirrut slid backwards off the bed and poured a glass of water. He turned and held it out, and Bodhi struggled to an elbow and accepted it.
The water was just as sweet and refreshing as last time. Bodhi drained it with an appreciative moan and Chirrut took the empty glass from him.
“Do you think you can let me finish your ribs?”
Bodhi hesitated but finally nodded.
A smile flashed across Chirrut’s face. “Gonna need a verbal response.” He gestured to his eyes.
“Sorry,” Bodhi managed. “Y-yes, you can—I’m—”
Chirrut’s smile widened. “Can you sit up? It’ll be easier than doing this with you on your back.”
Bodhi shuffled to the end of the bed, gritting his teeth against the pain, and lowered his legs to the floor. Chirrut’s hand was there as he tried to raise himself up, and Bodhi accepted it gratefully, letting himself be pulled upright.
He swayed, breath catching sharp in his throat, and Chirrut bent to retrieve the bandage where it had fallen in Bodhi’s first wild flight.
“W-where am I?” Bodhi asked as Chirrut wound the bandage around his ribs.
“Hotel room,” Chirrut said, brow knitted in concentration.
“Where’s—” Bodhi hesitated.
“Baze? Went out to get us breakfast.”
Bodhi looked at Chirrut’s bent head, the black hair shorn close to his scalp, neatly tended cut on his forehead, his sightless eyes intent as he wrapped the bandage. “Why did you save me?” he whispered. “They were—you could have stayed out of it. You should have stayed out of it. What if they come for you now?”
Chirrut tucked the bandage end in place and straightened. “I’m not in the habit of letting people be murdered in front of me. Lie down.”
Bodhi obeyed, sinking back against the pillows and watching as Chirrut tidied up. He glanced down at himself, realizing anew that he was wearing clothes not his own—a loose cotton tunic and pants too big at the waist.
“You would have drowned in Baze’s clothes,” Chirrut said.
Bodhi glanced up at him. “What happened to—”
Chirrut pulled a small pouch from his pocket and held it out. “All safe.”
Bodhi took it and dumped the contents onto his palm. He sighed with relief and touched one of the rocks with a gentle finger. That one was his favorite, a pale cerulean stone shot through with threads of gold. The shell was there too, still whole, having somehow survived the beating he’d taken, as well as the brass button he’d found on the street two days before.
He tucked his treasures away and looked up again. “Don’t you want to know why?”
Chirrut sat on the edge of the bed and cocked his head. “When you’re ready, yes.”
The door opened before Bodhi could speak, though, and Baze entered on a rush of cold, damp air.
“Good timing,” Chirrut greeted him. “Anything interesting happen?”
Baze grunted and kicked the door shut, his hands full of boxes. “I was tailed to the restaurant. There’s a Durosian loitering across the street, too. Safe to say Bodhi needs to stay hidden.”
Bodhi shrank in on himself as guilt nipped at his gut. “I need to just go.”
“Not on an empty stomach,” Chirrut said, and took the cardboard box Baze handed over, taking a deep inhale of its contents. “Fried crispic! You do spoil me, love.”
Baze sat down on the end of the bed beside him and Chirrut handed his box to Bodhi.
“I can’t eat your food,” Bodhi protested weakly. His stomach growled, twisting as he lifted the lid to peek inside at the small fried rolls inside. Saliva flooded his mouth and he swallowed hard and tried to give the box back.
Chirrut refused to take it. “Eat,” he said, and his voice had a note of command in it.
Baze lifted an eyebrow at Bodhi. “I know that tone,” he said. “No point arguing with it, won’t get you anywhere. Might as well eat.”
Bodhi ducked his head. “I’ll pay you back,” he whispered. He’d figure something out—the crispic was hot and savory, the spiced meat and vegetables perfectly seasoned, and Bodhi inhaled four of them without pausing for air.
When he looked up, Chirrut was smiling in satisfaction. “Feel better?”
“When’s the last time you ate?” Baze inquired.
Bodhi struggled to think, licking grease off his fingers. “Three… days ago?”
Chirrut hissed and Baze scowled and shoved another box at Bodhi. “Eat that too.”
Bodhi obeyed, knowing he shouldn’t but unable to stop his treacherous hands from lifting the lid and taking out the meat pie inside.
Chirrut turned to Baze. “What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking I want to hear our young street rat’s story,” Baze said.
Bodhi swallowed a lump of flaky pastry and gravy as both men turned toward him. “I’m—it was cold last night. I didn’t have a place to go, but I was going to freeze if I slept on the street, so I… I snuck in the Venusian, downtown.”
“We’re not local, kid,” Baze said. “What’s the Venusian?”
“New hotel,” Bodhi explained. “They have rooms under construction still, but the main part is open to the public. I was going to crash in one of the empty rooms, out of the weather, but—”
He’d been hungry, so hungry it felt like his stomach was chewing a hole in his backbone, so he’d slipped out of the room and ghosted down the hall, hoping against hope that one of the rooms upstairs would have left a meal out to be picked up.
“There wasn’t anything, though. And then I heard someone coming, I knew I’d be caught—” He’d ducked into an alcove, pasting himself to the wall and breathing slow and shallow. “They went right by me. I didn’t see their faces, but I recognized Director Krennic’s clothes—he always wears that cape that’s just slightly a different shade of white from his uniform, I knew it was him.”
“Director Krennic,” Baze said. “Why do I know that name?”
“He’s well known in the system, even to street rats like me,” Bodhi said. “He’s been key to the movement imparting legislation that protects colonized peoples from Imperial exploitation.”
Baze’s eyebrows climbed and a delighted smile flickered across Chirrut’s face.
Bodhi ducked his head. “I listen when people talk. And lots of people talk about Director Krennic.”
Chirrut made a ‘go on’ motion. “What kind of protections?”
“Things like… they can keep their cultures and status and rituals, all their histories and artifacts, as long as they swear fealty to the Empire.”
“Ah. So Krennic is instrumental to making sure these cultures are maintained?”
“Yes,” Bodhi said. “Without him, the Empire would have razed more than one planet to the ground in their greed.”
Chirrut nodded thoughtfully. “What did you do, then, after they passed?”
“I was going to run,” Bodhi said to his hands. “But they went in the room right next door and posted a guard outside, I couldn’t leave without being spotted. So I stayed where I was.”
It hadn’t been long, though. After a few minutes, there’d been a shout, quickly stifled, and the sound of a blaster, then the unmistakable sound of a body hitting the floor. Bodhi had closed his eyes, turning his face to the wall and praying for invisibility as feet rushed past him and someone barked orders.
It was over in another minute, and Bodhi was alone in the hallway. His heartbeat had thundered in his ears as he eased to the edge of the alcove and peeked out. The door to the room stood open, a crimson puddle on the floor the only witness to what had happened.
Bodhi had swallowed terror and run.
“But I guess someone saw me,” he said, glancing up. “They caught up with me outside the club where Chirrut found me.”
“They weren’t Imperial troopers though,” Baze objected. “Hired thugs, they looked like.”
“I suppose they wouldn’t want to leave too obvious a trail,” Chirrut murmured. “Bodhi, who did they kill?”
Bodhi glanced up and froze at the sight of the holovid outside, splashed across a billboard the size of a house. “Him,” he said numbly.
Baze twisted to look and his eyebrows climbed. “Krennic. They killed Krennic?”
“The Orson Krennic that billboard says is going to appear for a public address today, in—” Baze checked the time. “—One hour?”
“I don’t know what to tell you,” Bodhi managed. “He was dead. I saw them carry his body out. His cape—” He swallowed hard. “His cape was soaked red.” Panic chittered in his mind, he had to get away before he was found, before they could kill him for what he’d witnessed—
Chirrut had been quiet but he turned suddenly and gripped Bodhi’s thigh with one warm hand. “You’re safe,” he said, low and fierce. “We will not let anyone hurt you, Bodhi Rook. Do you believe me?”
Bodhi couldn’t stop trembling but he managed a nod. “I—yes,” he whispered.
Chirrut squeezed and let go. “Baze.” He stood and moved to the door, Baze on his heels. They held a quiet conference there, voices too low to hear, and Bodhi drew his knees to his chest and held on tight.
Chirrut reached a hand up to Baze’s face, and Baze leaned into it as Chirrut cupped his cheek. Bodhi’s throat ached and he looked away.
“Do you know any pretty young prostitutes?” Chirrut asked, turning to Bodhi.
“Are you sure about this?” Baze asked again.
Chirrut suppressed a sigh. Baze needed reassurance, reminders that Chirrut was confident in their path. “It’ll work,” he said quietly. It has to work.
“I don’t like it,” Baze rumbled, worry wafting off him.
“I know, love,” Chirrut said absently. “Bodhi, are you ready?”
A muffled affirmative came from the bathroom just as someone knocked on the door of their room.
Baze swung it open and a slim, dark-haired Cerean beamed up at him, her latex strapped dress leaving very little to the imagination.
“I’m Olyra,” she purred.
“Come in,” Baze said, and stepped aside.
Five minutes later, she left, spitting curses at Baze, who ushered her out with a stony face. He stood in the door and watched as she stormed down the street, teetering dangerously on her six inch heels.
Chirrut dropped the suitcase beside him. “If you’re quite done dallying with the local nightlife, we need to get a move on or we’ll miss our ship,” he said.
Baze bent and picked up the luggage and they left the hotel in the opposite direction.
They walked briskly, Chirrut tapping with his staff, head up and shoulders back. The day was cold and windy, and he shivered in his cloak.
“One behind us,” Baze said quietly. “I think that’s it though.”
Chirrut nodded. “Around the next corner.”
They hurried along the street and ducked down the alley. They didn’t have long to wait before their follower dashed in after them. Chirrut’s staff made short work of him, and Baze picked him up to drop him in the trash bin under the fire escape.
Back on the street, they picked up their pace until they were nearly jogging.
“Are you sure—”
“Trust me,” Chirrut said. “I can—yes, turn here.” They hurried down another alley toward a dark recessed door at the end. “It’s us,” Chirrut called.
Bodhi emerged, trembling violently, arms wrapped around himself in a vain attempt to keep warm in the latex straps of the skimpy dress. His teeth were chattering, and Chirrut yanked his cloak off and whipped it around his shoulders.
“Were you followed?”
“Don’t—t-think so,” Bodhi managed, tugging the edges of the cloak closed and kicking the heels off. “They saw w-what they expected to see. Is Olyra okay?”
“She’s fine,” Baze said. “Very happy about her profits today. Let’s go.”
Bodhi’s glow was somewhat diminished in the daylight, but Chirrut could still have picked him out of a crowd at a hundred paces, almost as easily as he could find Baze. He didn’t know what to make of that, what to do with this information. Trust the Force. Sometimes he needed to take his own advice.
They hurried down the sidewalk again, heading for the spaceport.
“Bodhi, you and I will stay behind while Baze makes contact with the captain of the ship we bought passage on,” Chirrut said as they walked. “Once he’s on, he’ll distract the crew and I’ll get you into our quarters unseen.”
“You can’t do that,” Bodhi protested, alarm tingeing his voice. “If you’re caught—”
“We can’t risk word of you leaving the planet getting out,” Chirrut said. “You have to be smuggled onboard.”
“You can’t,” Bodhi repeated miserably. “I’m not worth it, if they catch you, you’ll go to prison and it’ll be my fault—”
“Baze, go on ahead,” Chirrut interrupted. He didn’t wait to see if he obeyed. Instead, he caught and gripped Bodhi’s arms, feeling the exhaustion and terror seething inside Bodhi’s slender frame. “Listen to me,” Chirrut said. “The Force led me to you, Bodhi Rook. I was meant to help you. For whatever reason, our paths are aligned. I will help you. It’s what is meant to be. Do you understand me?”
Bodhi’s breath caught on a stifled sob. Acting on impulse, Chirrut pulled him into a hug, tucking Bodhi’s head under his chin. Bodhi was stiff in his arms at first, but then he sagged, clutching at Chirrut’s tunic. He was skin and hollow bones, so light Chirrut thought a stiff wind would blow him away, and he tightened his grip.
Baze mentally nudged him and Chirrut let go of Bodhi, pulling the cloak back around his slim frame.
“Time to go,” he said. “Baze has them distracted.”
“How do you know?” Bodhi asked as they stepped into the huge terminal and Chirrut oriented himself to the feeling of Baze’s location.
“My husband and I share… a bond,” he explained as they walked.
“Can you speak—mind to mind?”
Chirrut shook his head, sidestepping a pair of Neimoidians. “I feel his emotions. I can tell you where he is, or at least his general direction, if we’re separated. He… glows, in my mind.” Sort of like you do. He kept that to himself as they hurried toward the ship, which Baze had told him was an old YT-2400 light freighter, sold for scrap years ago and painstakingly put together by the captain and his crew.
He paused by the gangplank, keeping Bodhi behind him. “Think invisible thoughts,” he whispered. He couldn’t sense anyone else around the ship, except for Baze, across the nose of the vessel, talking to someone Chirrut didn’t know, both of them out of sight.
Quarters are in the rear, up the gangplank. Crew on the right, passengers on the left. Go up, turn left, you’re there.
Chirrut blessed his husband’s foresight and pulled Bodhi with him up the gangplank as footsteps sounded overhead. Bodhi darted in front of him, catching Chirrut’s wrist and yanking sharply to the left. A door whooshed and the air cooled as they nearly fell through into a small room and the door closed again behind them.
“Sorry,” Bodhi whispered, sounding out of breath. “They nearly caught us.”
“You did well,” Chirrut told him. “Did Baze put the suitcase in here?”
“On the bed.”
“My clothes are in there,” Chirrut said. “Find something to wear, and then tuck yourself away in a corner where you can rest while I go out and meet the crew.” He paused and gripped Bodhi’s thin shoulder. “You’re safe.”
Bodhi covered Chirrut’s hand with his. “Thank you,” he managed.
Chirrut stepped out of the room and the door swished shut behind him. He tilted his head to listen. He could hear Baze’s familiar rumble, mixing with a thickly accented tenor, mellow and pleasant to the ear, and Chirrut headed that way, using his staff to guide his feet. The tip rang against the metal floor, the sound amplified by the echo-locator he wore around his neck giving him a sense for the size of the hall he was walking down.
It felt curved overhead, the walls bowed outward, wide enough for two humans walking side by side—three, if they were small.
Baze’s voice grew louder as Chirrut rounded the curve.
“Ah, there you are,” Baze called, and Chirrut reoriented toward him. “Captain Andor, this is my husband, Chirrut Îmwe. Chirrut, this is Cassian Andor.” His broad hand settled on the base of Chirrut’s spine as Chirrut bowed briefly in Cassian’s direction.
“Thank you for having us on your ship, Captain.”
“You are welcome here,” Cassian said. His voice was kind, and Chirrut found himself liking it immediately.
“How many others are there onboard?” Chirrut asked.
“One other traveler, in the room down from you,” Cassian said. “And then there’s me and my copilot, K-2SO, and first mate, Jyn Erso. She and Kaytoo are picking up some last minute supplies, and then we will depart.”
“Very well.” Chirrut turned to Baze. “I’m still tired from the beating I took last night. I’m going to rest in our quarters until we’ve cleared atmo. Captain.”
Amusement and affection rolled from Baze, but he said nothing as Chirrut turned and made his way back the way he’d come.
Footsteps rang on the gangplank as he came around the corner. A droid and a human female—a small one, but grown. And… angry. He could almost feel the fury radiating from her as she stormed up the ramp and stopped dead at the sight of him.
“Who are you?” Her accent was clipped, precise, and Chirrut bowed slightly to her.
“Chirrut Îmwe,” he said. “Passengers on this fine vessel, along with my husband. Might you be Jyn?”
“Of course,” Jyn snapped.
The droid stepped forward, heavy footsteps against the deck. Big, at least seven feet tall, possibly Imperial make?
“And I’m K-2SO,” he offered. “You appear to be injured. Do you require medical assistance?”
Chirrut smiled, bowing to him. “Thank you, but my injuries have been attended to. I simply need to rest. I will let you get back to your duties.”
Jyn brushed past him and the droid hesitated and then hurried after.
“It really wasn’t that big a deal,” he said as Jyn stalked into the ship.
Jyn’s voice floated back to Chirrut where he stood. “Director Krennic and his ‘revised treaties’ can shove it up his ass. If he makes us miss our departure window all for his stupid speech, then I’ll hunt him down and personally beat an apology out of him.”
So angry. He liked her, Chirrut decided. He turned for his quarters as the door down the hall slid open and someone stepped out.
“Oh, are you the other passenger?” a male voice said.
Chirrut bowed briefly. The speaker sounded tall, bright with youth and untarnished by the world and its horrors yet.
“I’m one of them,” he said as he straightened. “Chirrut Îmwe. I assume you’re our neighbor for the journey?”
“Stordan Tonc,” the young man said. The Force moved brightly around him, streaked rainbow afterimages, and Chirrut tilted his head.
“What’s your occupation, Stordan Tonc?”
“Just Tonc is fine,” Tonc said, a note of laughter in his voice. “I’m—ah, you know, I do odd jobs as needed. Thought I’d see some of the galaxy before I settle down like my father wanted.”
Wanted. Past tense. There was evasiveness in the way Tonc shifted his weight and cleared his throat, but Chirrut just inclined his head. Whether or not this young man was lying about why he was here, it had nothing to do with him. Chirrut had enough to deal with as it was.
“I’m sure we’ll see plenty of you during our voyage,” he said gravely, “but right now I find myself tired and in need of a rest.”
“Of course!” Tonc said. “See you—around, I guess.” He stepped aside and Chirrut waited until his footsteps receded down the hall before he opened the door to his quarters.
Inside, the door closed behind him, he cocked his head. No sound, except the shallowest of breaths from the far corner of the room. Bodhi’s glow was muted, dimmed with exhaustion and terror, perhaps?
“I’m alone,” Chirrut said quietly.
Bodhi took a shaky breath and Chirrut heard a door open. Closet, probably, he decided as Bodhi scrambled out.
“Is it—how did—” Bodhi trailed to a stop and Chirrut smiled and sat down on the bed, sighing in relief. Not that he would admit it to his overprotective husband, but he was actually tired and in need of a rest.
He patted the mattress beside him. “Come here, let me check your ribs.”
Bodhi shuffled nearer and eased himself onto the thin mattress.
“Take your shirt off, please,” Chirrut said. Judging from the way Bodhi flinched at simple contact, the last thing he needed was people touching him more than necessary. Chirrut waited as Bodhi fumbled the garment up and over his head, and then scooted forward slightly.
Moving slowly, he flattened one hand over Bodhi’s heart. He could feel it beating rapidly under his fingers, and Chirrut closed his eyes to listen.
“Take a deep breath.”
Bodhi obeyed, air hitching in his throat as his lungs expanded and his aura streaked purple with pain.
Chirrut winced in sympathy and pressed his hand to the other side of Bodhi’s chest. “Again, please.”
This time there was less pain, Bodhi drawing the breath with a little more ease, and Chirrut nodded in satisfaction.
“You may put the shirt back on,” he said. As Bodhi did so, Chirrut sat back. “You have a broken rib on your left side, near your heart. On the other side, there’s at least one cracked, but I don’t believe any are broken over there. The main thing to do is rest and heal.” He felt for the pillows on the bed and lay down on his side, sighing in relief.
Bodhi shifted. “I’ll just… wait in the closet, shall I?”
“You’ll do no such thing.” Chirrut scooted backward until his spine was pressed to the cool metal of the wall and patted the mattress. He could feel Bodhi’s stare like a living thing, but he just smiled. “I promise I won’t spoon with you, Bodhi. Now lie down and allow yourself a moment of rest.”
Bodhi hesitated but Chirrut didn’t wait to find out what he did. Instead he closed his eyes and relaxed. He was asleep almost immediately, years of training enabling him to fall asleep within minutes no matter his surroundings.
He woke briefly when the ship’s engines fired. Bodhi was asleep beside him, his aura pale yellow smeared with lavender. The ship rumbled as it lifted off the duracrete and Bodhi shifted restlessly, the lavender darkening to violet as the movement jarred his ribs.
Chirrut took a chance and put a hand on Bodhi’s shoulder. “You’re safe, little farrow bird.”
Bodhi stilled and the tension drained from his body. He sighed and turned on his side, a few inches closer to Chirrut.
Bet you guys thought I forgot about this story, didn't you?
The door slid open and Chirrut tensed, but it was just Baze, reassuring brown and red and muted gold streaks that shifted and slid over each other as he stepped inside and closed the door behind him.
Bodhi didn’t stir, and Chirrut put a finger to his lips.
Amusement rippled across the bond. “Have I been replaced?” Baze asked, but it was in a whisper.
“It was his legs in that skimpy dress,” Chirrut said, grinning. “I couldn’t resist.”
Baze huffed a laugh. “You’re blind, love, remember?”
Chirrut waved that off. “Details. But we both needed to rest and there’s only one bed.” He could hear shuffling as Baze took his heavy boots off and then a zipper opening.
Baze sighed as he sat down in the chair on the other side of the small room. “Come here,” he murmured.
Chirrut sat up, holding his breath, but Bodhi just murmured something in his sleep and turned over. Chirrut lifted himself up and over Bodhi’s legs and slid off the bed. The floor was cold under his sockfeet, and he shivered as he padded across the room and allowed Baze to guide him down onto his lap.
“Did you meet Jyn and Kaytoo?” he asked once he was settled.
Baze nodded against Chirrut’s hand as he touched his face. “She’s a grumpy one, isn’t she?”
“You like her.”
Baze huffed amusement. “Obviously, she’s a tiny, angrier version of me.” He leaned around Chirrut’s body to look at Bodhi, still asleep on the bunk. “What are we going to do when it’s time for us all to sleep?”
“Somehow, I doubt the street rat is going to want to bunk with two men in their fifties, no matter how devastatingly virile and handsome they are,” Chirrut teased. He could feel the amusement shaking Baze’s frame, but he kept the laughter silent.
“I’ll sleep in the chair, you take the bunk with him.”
Love swelled in Chirrut’s chest and he cupped Baze’s cheek. “Have I thanked you for all your sacrifices recently?”
“Mm, no,” Baze said, tipping his face into Chirrut’s hand. “Feel free.”
Bodhi woke with a start, years of experience sleeping in dodgy places keeping him still as the dream faded and reality asserted itself.
He was alone in the bed, but there were soft voices on the other side of the room. Bodhi lifted his head carefully to see Chirrut draped sideways across Baze’s lap. One arm was around Baze’s shoulders and he was idly playing with the long strands of Baze’s hair.
Bodhi watched quietly as Baze breathed a laugh and stretched up for a kiss that Chirrut willingly returned.
“We’ve broken atmo,” Chirrut said, lifting his voice for Bodhi’s ears.
Bodhi sat up to stretch. He flinched as the movement pulled on his abused ribs and Chirrut turned toward him.
“How are you feeling?” he asked, standing and crossing to the bed.
Bodhi hunched his shoulders. It wasn’t right, the way Chirrut took care of him, the way he obviously worried about Bodhi’s health.
“I’m fine,” he said.
“Liar,” Chirrut said, but there was warm amusement in his voice and his fingers were gentle when he took hold of Bodhi’s chin and tilted his head. “Baze, how does the bruising look?”
Baze stood too and leaned over Chirrut’s shoulder. “Good,” he rumbled. “Swelling’s gone down.”
Bodhi closed his eyes as Chirrut ran his hands over his face. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt so safe, so comforted, even if he didn’t deserve it and his presence was putting them in danger.
Chirrut pressed gently along Bodhi’s jaw, avoiding the bruising. “The kicks to your face loosened a few teeth,” he murmured. “Don’t worry, they’ll fix themselves, as long as you avoid more boots to the jaw in the meantime.”
Bodhi almost smiled at that. “I’ll do my best.”
Chirrut patted his shoulder and stepped back. “You’re healing well.”
“Your turn,” Baze said. “Bodhi, scoot over. Chirrut, sit.”
“I’m fine,” Chirrut protested, but he sat, a scowl on his face.
Baze pulled the first aid kit out of one of the bags and set it beside him as Bodhi slid over so his back was against the wall at the head of the bed.
“You need stitches,” Baze corrected. “But you’re so stubborn, I know better than to even try.”
Chirrut grumbled as Baze unwound the bandage from around his head and began to clean the injury.
Bodhi leaned back and watched. Baze was muttering something under his breath as he worked, and Chirrut seemed to have forgotten his annoyance, smiling to himself and turning to catch Baze’s wrist and press a kiss to his palm.
Baze’s eyes softened. “I’m taking the next fight,” he said, gently freeing himself and returning to cleaning the gash.
Chirrut straightened, outrage flashing across his mobile features. “I’m fine!”
“That hematoma on your spine begs to differ,” Baze growled. “Besides, it’s my turn.”
“Fight?” Bodhi asked, bewildered. “Is there a fight?”
“There will be,” Baze said. “We’re going to Jedha, to Saw Gerrerra’s place. He’s holding a tournament, and we’ve entered it.”
“You’re… fighters,” Bodhi said, pieces slotting into place. “Cage fighters?”
Chirrut hummed agreement.
“So that’s why you’re banged up?” Bodhi asked. “Not because of me?”
Dismay slid over Chirrut’s face and Baze straightened.
“You thought I was injured rescuing you?” Chirrut said. He leaned over and touched Bodhi’s knee, drawn to his chest. His hand was warm, his sightless eyes kind. “Farrow bird, they didn’t lay a finger on me. These—” He gestured to his face. “These came from the fight just before we met.”
Relief settled across Bodhi’s shoulders like a warm blanket and some of the tension drained from him. “Okay,” he whispered. “That’s—I’m—that’s good. Not good that you were hurt at all, but I thought it was because of me, and—”
Chirrut was laughing, cheeks appling as his teeth flashed. “I know what you meant. But no, little one. My injuries have nothing to do with you.” He turned back to Baze. “And they won’t prevent me from fighting on Jedha, either.”
Baze folded his arms across his chest, an immovable object. “You need more time to heal.”
“The trip alone takes three days,” Chirrut protested. “How much time do I need?”
Bodhi pulled his knees closer to his chest, wishing he was invisible. Without turning, Chirrut reached out and gripped his wrist. A strange feeling of peace settled over Bodhi’s shoulders like a silken robe. It hadn’t come from him, Bodhi knew that—Chirrut was still arguing, hand warm on Bodhi’s wrist.
“By the time we get there, the bruise will be hardly noticeable and the cut over my eye will have closed up. I’ll be fine to fight.” He sighed, turning to Bodhi. “He does this every time. Every. Time. Do you know how long we’ve been married?”
“Twenty-seven years,” Baze growled, “and I’ve been worried for twenty-nine.” He took a step back and tugged on his sleeves. “At least let me take the first one.”
“If it means so much to you, by all means,” Chirrut said. “All I wish is for you to be happy, my love.”
Baze snorted rudely and flopped back down in the chair. “So, Bodhi.”
Bodhi stiffened and Chirrut patted his wrist. Calm crept back over him and Bodhi relaxed again.
“Did you grow up on the streets?” Baze asked.
“I—yes,” Bodhi said. He stared at Chirrut’s hand, warm on his skin, and let the peace soak into his bones. “Since I was about twelve, anyway.” He still remembered kissing his best friend’s cheek as he lay sleeping in the bed next to Bodhi’s and then slithering out the window of the orphanage and down the wall into the garden below.
It had been raining. Sullen mud sucked at his feet and squelched wetly as he tiptoed across the flowerbeds along the wall to the metal gate at the far end.
Ashalla was waiting for him on the other side, just as he’d promised he would be. Bodhi smiled up at him, but Ashalla didn’t smile back. The first warning tingle crept down Bodhi’s spine, but he shook it off. Ashalla was his friend. He was safe with him.
Chirrut’s hand tightened on Bodhi’s wrist and Bodhi glanced up.
“You don’t have to say anything else right now,” Chirrut said. His voice was calm, but there was quiet sympathy in it. No pity, though, Bodhi was distantly relieved to note.
“Not much more to tell anyway,” he said.
Chirrut withdrew, but he didn’t go far, head cocked as he listened.
Bodhi leaned back against the bulkhead, abruptly exhausted again. “I did whatever I had to, to survive. Ran for Ashalla’s gang, mostly. Turned tricks. Stole. Pickpocketed. The usual things a street rat does.”
“Are you hungry?” Chirrut asked.
Bodhi nodded, eyes closed.
“He said yes,” Baze rumbled, deep voice amused.
“Sorry,” Bodhi muttered.
Chirrut patted his knee wordlessly.
“You’ll get better at it,” Baze told him as he stood. “Cassian said he’s going to make food once we’re out of atmo. Chirrut, why don’t you go get some and bring it back here so Bodhi can eat?”
Chirrut stood as well. “We’ll get a reputation as antisocial,” he said, lips twitching.
“We are,” Baze pointed out, amusement in his dark eyes as he scooped Chirrut’s staff off the floor. “Or at least I am. Go on, then, I’m hungry too.”
Chirrut sighed, the sound of a put-upon man, and accepted his staff. “I’ll be back eventually,” he said. “Baze, be nice to Bodhi. No interrogations while I’m gone.”
Baze rolled his eyes as Chirrut left the room.
“The ‘fresher is down the hall, past Tonc’s room,” he said once the door was closed. “Probably be easiest if you let me or Chirrut make sure the hall is clear, or use it when everyone’s asleep.”
“How many others are there?”
Baze sat back in the chair and stretched his feet out with a satisfied sigh. “Crew, there are two humans and a droid. One other passenger besides us.” He yawned. “Probably turn in early tonight.” He glanced up to see Bodhi watching him, unsure what to say, and smiled, a dimple appearing in his cheek. “You and Chirrut will share the bunk, I’ll take the chair.” He wriggled around, getting comfortable, and made a satisfied noise before looking up again. “Slept on much worse in my time, street rat, don’t look so guilty.”
Bodhi ducked his head. “You’re going to so much trouble for me. Danger, too. It’s not right.” He looked up. “You don’t even know me.”
Baze had leaned back, lacing his big hands over his stomach. He shrugged without lifting his head. “Chirrut trusts you. I trust Chirrut. Not that hard to follow. We’ll figure out our next move once he gets back with food. For now, rest.”
Bodhi curled up on his side, hand under his cheek, and quiet fell over the room.
Chirrut followed his nose to the galley, which was small, judging from the way voices bounced off the walls. He stopped in the doorway and Cassian greeted him first.
“Master Îmwe, glad you could join us! Please, come in, have a seat. Where is your husband?”
Chirrut stepped over the threshold, smiling. “He’s resting. Sent me to bring him back some food. And please, call me Chirrut.” He settled on the bench beside Jyn at the table and gave her a smile. “No problems with departure?”
Jyn scooted over to give him room. “Everything’s fine, at least onboard.”
Cassian set a mug of caf in front of Chirrut, and Chirrut nodded gratefully at him as he wrapped his hands around the warm porcelain.
“I understand there were issues, planet-side?”
Jyn grunted and Chirrut hid a smile. Tiny, angrier version of Baze indeed.
“Everyone running around like a herd of Endorian chicken with their heads cut off, all because of precious Director Krennic, and then what does he do? He goes and pulls the funding on the conservation of three separate planets, just like I knew he would.”
Chirrut straightened as Cassian made a noise in the back of his throat.
“You didn’t know he would, Jyn.”
“I suspected,” Jyn shot back. “He’s a politician. Only thing you can trust a politician to do is screw you over.” She shifted her weight, breathing heavily through her nose. “Papa would be so ashamed if he knew.”
“Does your father know the director?” Chirrut inquired.
Jyn huffed something that sounded like assent. “They worked together for years, met in the academy as roommates. Haven’t seen each other in ages, but Papa still talks about him, every time I visit.”
Cassian set a plate on the table in front of Chirrut. “Bread to your left, gi dumpling soup in the pot directly in front of you. Shall I fill your bowl?”
“I can do it,” Chirrut said, giving him a smile. He reached for the pot handle and slid his fingers along the warmed rim to find the ladle. “Good meal for ship folk,” he said as he poured the soup into his bowl.
“We always eat better the first day or two after we stop on a planet with a good market,” Jyn said, her voice easing. “Still can’t get the dumplings quite right though.”
“I’ll ask Baze to show you,” Chirrut said. “He does love a good dumpling.”
Halfway through his meal, Chirrut lifted his head at the faint sound of boots coming down the hall. It wasn’t Baze or Bodhi, which left—
“Join us, Stordan,” he called.
Stordan came around the corner and hesitated. “Oh—I can come back….”
“Nonsense,” Chirrut said. “There’s room, sit down. The soup is delicious. Cassian, do you mind if I take a bowl of it and some bread back to the room for Baze?”
“Not at all,” Cassian said. “Help yourself, please. We keep to a 28-hour day here, lights will be out in two hours.”
Chirrut smiled impartially around the room and turned for the door, moving unerringly over the floor he’d already memorized.
Baze and Bodhi were both asleep when he slipped through the hatch and paused as it shut behind him. Baze’s breathing was deep and even, Bodhi’s shallower and fractured with pain from his ribs, but their auras were peaceful, and Chirrut relaxed slightly.
Baze stirred. “Chirrut?”
“Brought you some dinner,” Chirrut said. He held up the bowl and plate as evidence. “How is he?”
“He’s fine,” Bodhi said. Shuffling came from the bed as he sat up, his breath shortening with the movement.
“If you need the ‘fresher, now would be the time,” Chirrut said. “Everyone’s in the galley, be quick.” He jerked his chin toward the door. “Baze—”
Baze grunted as he stood. “Come on then, I’ll stand watch.”
Chirrut used the time while they were gone to take off his heavy outer robes, empty the pockets, and fold them neatly before stowing them in his bag. He straightened with the sound of the door opening and feet stepping through.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to share the food,” he said. “I did manage to steal a few extra rolls—they might be squashed from being in my pockets, but hopefully they’ll help fill in the cracks. Perhaps once everyone is asleep, one of us can slip back to the galley and get more to eat.”
“This is fine,” Bodhi hastened to assure him. “I don’t eat much anyway.”
Baze growled and stooped to take off his boots. “I’m not hungry. Bodhi, you eat it. Chirrut, toss me a roll.”
Chirrut obeyed and then touched Bodhi’s shoulder, stopping the sputtered arguments. “I know that tone of voice,” he said quietly. “Might as well eat, he won’t touch it now.”
Bodhi slumped. “It’s not right.”
Still, he picked up the bowl and sat down on the bed, and Chirrut sat beside him.
“Three days, you said the trip would take?” Bodhi asked after a few minutes.
“That’s what the captain said,” Baze rumbled. He sounded half-asleep already, the Force slowing to gentle kaleidoscopes of red and brown around his form as he tipped his head back.
Affection nudged in Chirrut’s chest and he stood. “I’m going to the ‘fresher, and then I think it’s time for bed.”
He left the room and walked briskly down the hall, past Stordan’s cabin, to the next door on the right. Feet sounded behind him as he stepped inside, and Chirrut allowed himself a smile as Baze pushed him farther into the small room and kicked the door shut behind them before turning to advance.
“I thought you were sleeping,” Chirrut teased as Baze yanked him close.
Baze buried his face in Chirrut’s throat, bodies pressed together. “Can sleep later,” he growled.
Chirrut slid his hands into Baze’s hair, gripping the strands in both fists and tugging gently as Baze’s teeth scraped light across his skin.
“Ah—beloved,” Chirrut managed. “Is this really the place?”
Baze nipped the juncture of Chirrut’s shoulder, making him jerk. “Can’t do it in bed,” he murmured. “Not with the street rat right there.”
“No, I don’t imagine he’d appreciate that,” Chirrut agreed. Baze rolled his hips forward, pressing the beginnings of an impressive erection against Chirrut’s thigh.
Chirrut caught his breath and went up on tiptoe to kiss him, arms around Baze’s neck, lips meeting in a hungry slide that Chirrut never tired of, no matter how many times they did it.
He was drowning in love and exasperated affection and Baze’s hands clutching his waist, holding him still as Baze devoured his mouth, and he wasn’t prepared for Baze to break away and take a step back.
Chirrut wobbled and Baze steadied him with a hand on his arm.
“You’re right,” he said. “Not the place. But Chirrut—” He pulled Chirrut’s hand down to cup his hard shaft. “It’s going to be a long three days.”
Chirrut thumbed the outline of Baze’s erection, fighting to keep the smile from blooming even though he knew Baze felt his amusement through their bond.
“You’re fifty-four years old,” he scolded. “Shouldn’t you act your age?”
Baze huffed a laugh and cupped Chirrut’s face. “Can’t help it,” he murmured. “One look at you and I’m a randy eighteen-year-old again, sneaking around the temple with you trying to find a place to be alone.”
Chirrut turned his head and pressed a kiss to Baze’s knuckles. “Try to get some sleep, you lovesick old fool. I’ll be there soon.”
Baze bent to kiss him again, smiling against Chirrut’s mouth, and left, the door sliding shut behind him.
When Chirrut got back to their quarters, Baze was properly asleep in the chair, long legs stretched out in front of him. Bodhi was sitting on the bed, waiting.
“I can sleep on the floor,” he whispered. “If I could just borrow a pillow—”
Chirrut hushed him and climbed onto the mattress. “You’re still injured,” he said, keeping his voice low. “You will not be sleeping on the floor, not while you’re in this much pain.” He patted the bed beside him. “Come, farrow bird. Lie down. There’s room for us both.”
Bodhi hesitated but finally curled up in stages beside Chirrut, stifling small noises of pain as he made himself comfortable.
“Sleep,” Chirrut directed. “Nothing else to be done right now.”
Bodhi sighed, but slowly, he relaxed into sleep, his aura muting into lavender streaked with yellow.
Chirrut closed his eyes and began to pray under his breath.
Something woke him, halfway through the night, and Chirrut woke ready for battle. The tension in his muscles evaporated when he realized it was a noise from Bodhi that had roused him.
Chirrut rolled onto his side to face him. Bodhi’s aura was streaked with ugly, muddy yellows and greens, bruised and sore, and it made Chirrut’s chest ache.
Bodhi turned his head, a half-sob escaping him. “No, no—”
Baze stirred and sat up, alarm spiking from him.
Bodhi screamed, high and ragged, and Chirrut lunged, one hand over Bodhi’s mouth to stop the noise as he pulled him close, clasping him to his chest.
“Easy,” he said, keeping his voice calm. “Just a dream, Bodhi. You’re safe.”
Bodhi clutched Chirrut’s wrist with narrow fingers, breath bubbling in his throat, terror from the dream still stringing his body taut.
“You’re safe,” Chirrut repeated. “Breathe, farrow bird, breathe for me.”
Running footsteps sounded in the hallway outside and Bodhi stiffened even more in Chirrut’s arms.
Chirrut tightened his grip and rolled them so Bodhi was between him and the wall, hopefully hidden from view. Bodhi’s breath rattled and more purple streaked his aura, but he didn’t make a sound.
“Sorry,” Chirrut whispered, cupping the back of Bodhi’s skull as Baze crossed to the door. “Be still, little one. I promise I will let no harm come to you.”
A fist pounded on the door. “Chirrut? Baze? I heard a noise—are you alright?” It was Stordan, sounding worried.
Baze opened the door a crack. “I’m sorry we woke you,” he rumbled. “Chirrut had a nightmare.”
“Is he okay?”
“He’s fine,” Baze said soothingly. “But he’s shaken, I need to—”
“Yes, of course,” Stordan said. “I hope he feels better in the morning.”
Baze shut the door and his footsteps crossed to the bed. His hand was warm on Chirrut’s shoulder as he sat down on the edge.
Chirrut turned his head toward him, pressing his cheek to the back of Baze’s fingers. “We will be.”
Bodhi’s trembling was easing, leaving him limp and exhausted in Chirrut’s embrace. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.
“Hush,” Chirrut said gently. “Go back to sleep, if you can.”
Baze’s grip tightened on Chirrut’s shoulder and then he stood. “Excellent advice.”
Bodhi’s frame slackened and he curled into Chirrut’s warmth, nose pressed to his tunic and fingers still loosely wrapped around Chirrut’s wrist. He fell asleep that way, as Chirrut prayed above him.
The first day passed slowly. With nothing to do but wait for the ship to reach Jedha, Chirrut found ways to occupy himself, either in meditation or by working his way through the zama shiwo forms.
Bodhi was shaky after his nightmare but he bounced back quickly, refusing to let Baze and Chirrut stay cooped up in the room with him.
On the second day of the journey, Chirrut managed to convince Baze to join him in a sparring session in the hold, which quickly gathered an audience.
Chirrut, bare to the waist, weight centered on the balls of his feet, waited as Baze circled him. Chirrut moved with him, vaguely aware of Jyn asking a question that Cassian answered in a low voice, above their heads—on the ship’s cross-walk, he thought—but his focus stayed on Baze’s breathing, deep and steady.
He’d know the second Baze decided on a method of attack. All he had to do was—Baze drew a sharp breath and Chirrut dodged sideways, past the fist he threw. Slipping in under Baze’s guard, Chirrut thumped his ribs and danced back out of reach again.
“Getting slow in your old age,” he taunted.
Baze didn’t respond, back to circling Chirrut again, looking for an opening.
He’d try to grapple next, Chirrut knew. Baze liked it best when he could use his size and strength to their best advantage. There was no one better at down-and-dirty ground fighting.
Baze charged. Chirrut dodged but stumbled on the unfamiliar footing. A small slip, but enough to give Baze the advantage.
Arms around his waist, Baze took them both to the ship’s deck. Chirrut bucked, trying to get a leg over Baze’s hips. He pushed but Baze’s center of gravity was stable and Chirrut stayed where he was, flat on his back with Baze between his thighs.
Baze caught one of Chirrut’s wrists and pinned it to the deck. Chirrut avoided his other hand and thudded a fist into Baze’s ribs again. Baze grunted but his grip didn’t loosen.
Chirrut couldn’t help the laugh that bubbled up. Predictably, Baze ignored this too. He sat up to shift his weight, trying to dislodge Chirrut’s thighs where they were locked around his waist, but Chirrut clung like a limpet. Baze lifted Chirrut off the deck completely and tried to get his arm between Chirrut’s legs to break his hold, but Chirrut had locked his ankles in the small of Baze’s back and would not be budged.
“Fucking—beek monkey,” Baze sputtered, but there was laughter in his voice too.
Chirrut grinned and loosed his grip on Baze’s waist, rolling backward and up onto his feet. He crouched, waiting, as Baze stood.
“Lunch, five minutes,” Cassian called down from the cross-walk.
Chirrut straightened, which was all Baze needed. He charged again, this time going low, one arm taking Chirrut’s legs out from under him and dropping him to the deck with a wild clatter.
Baze kept his hold on Chirrut’s calves, keeping them pinned, as Chirrut heaved and twisted, laughing breathlessly.
“Cheat,” he panted, landing a blow to Baze’s heavy-muscled thigh.
Baze let go of Chirrut’s legs and pounced. He landed on Chirrut’s hips, pressing him into the hard metal of the deck, and folded forward until their mouths met.
Chirrut wrapped his arms around Baze’s neck to pull him closer with a hum of satisfaction. Baze tasted like caf and smelled like clean sweat, salt and spice on Chirrut’s tongue, long hair brushing his face, and Chirrut smiled into the kiss.
“No sex on the deck of my ship!” Jyn shouted, and they broke apart, startled.
Baze stood and reached to pull Chirrut to his feet.
“Sorry,” Chirrut called cheerfully. He turned, trying to orient himself. Where had he dropped his tunic? Baze pressed it into his hands and Chirrut smiled at him and pulled it on. “Thank you,” he murmured, voice pitched for Baze’s ears alone. “I needed that.”
“To be clear, I won the match,” Baze said.
“Because you cheated,” Chirrut pointed out. He accepted his staff and followed him up the stairs, smiling. At the top, he hesitated. “I’m going to get cleaned up and changed,” he called to Jyn. “We’ll be there in just a minute.”
Baze was on his heels down the hall and caught him before Chirrut opened the door to press him up against the wall. Chirrut tipped his head up and Baze leaned in to rest his forehead on Chirrut’s.
“What are we going to do about the street rat once we land?” he murmured.
Chirrut traced the line of Baze’s jaw with a fingertip. “We’re not going to let him run off into danger and get himself killed, that’s for sure.”
Baze reared back. “If you think that’s what I was suggesting—”
“Of course not,” Chirrut said, grabbing the front of his shirt and pulling him back. “I have some ideas. After lunch, hm?”
But Bodhi wasn’t in the room when they walked inside.
I'm sorry this is going slowly, y'all--it's something I can work on between writing/editing actual novels, but because it's plot-heavy, it also takes brainpower to make the words go. Hence the rather slow updates. But I promise I'm still plugging away and it WILL get finished!
Chirrut froze. Alarm zinged through the bond as they both scanned the very obviously empty room.
“Bodhi?” Chirrut said carefully.
“He’s not here,” Baze rumbled. “’Fresher?”
He wasn’t in the ‘fresher either. Worry tugged at the edges of Chirrut’s mind, his own and Baze’s overlapping and amplifying each other, and Chirrut took a deep breath as Baze shut the empty ‘fresher’s door behind them.
“Now what?” Baze asked.
“How many places could he be?” Chirrut pointed out. “Nothing from the captain or Jyn, and I imagine we’d be the first to hear if they’d found him.”
Baze stilled. “Where’s Stordan?”
“He wasn’t watching the match?”
“I haven’t seen him all day,” Baze said. He strode down the hall toward Stordan’s room, Chirrut right behind him, and banged on the door with his fist. “Tonc!”
“Ah… busy,” Stordan called. “I’ll see you at lunch.”
“You’ll see us now,” Baze growled, the menace in his voice palpable, a weighted thing that hung in the air and made Chirrut shiver.
Stordan clearly heard it too—the door opened a crack and Baze shoved it wide and stepped through.
Bodhi was curled in the corner of a room that felt identical to theirs, and Chirrut ducked around Stordan, who offered no resistance, and rushed forward.
“Are you alright?” he asked as he dropped to his knees.
Bodhi’s glow was muted, streaked with pain and fear, but he managed a nod. “I d-didn’t—he didn’t h-hurt me—I’m s-sorry, Chirrut—”
“Of course I didn’t hurt him!” Stordan said, sounding offended. “I brought him in here so the crew wouldn’t find him, didn’t I? He’s already hurt, what happened?”
“Sit,” Baze ordered.
Chirrut could hear shuffling and the rustling of fabric as Stordan sank onto his bed, and he touched Bodhi’s wrist, willing him to peace.
“How did he find you?”
“I walked in on him,” Stordan admitted. “I heard a noise, I knew you and Baze were sparring, so I knocked on your door and when I didn’t get an answer, I opened it. I know I shouldn’t have, but there wasn’t supposed to be anyone in there—”
“I’m sorry,” Bodhi whispered. “I coughed, I—”
“Not your fault,” Chirrut told him. He swiveled to face Stordan. “The real question is, what are you going to do?”
“What do you mean?” Stordan demanded. “Oh. You think… you think I’m going to tell the captain?”
“Tell the captain what?” Cassian inquired as the door opened.
Everyone froze in place for a split-second.
Then Cassian went for the blaster on his hip. Chirrut flung himself in front of Bodhi. And Baze tackled Cassian, sending them both sprawling into the hall.
“Don’t hurt him!” Chirrut shouted.
Scuffling sounded from the hallway. A clatter as Baze knocked the blaster away. Cassian grunted and bucked but Baze had him in a firm headlock. He dragged Cassian upright and back into the room. Kicking the door shut behind them, he dropped Cassian on the floor.
“Now,” he said flatly, “we’re going to talk about this. Politely. Without shooting anyone.”
Cassian scrambled to his feet and so did Chirrut, keeping Bodhi behind him.
“We would have told you,” he said, holding out his hands in a soothing gesture. “But we had to get him off the planet without anyone knowing. Captain, listen, please—”
“Who is this?” Cassian demanded. “Why is he on my ship? Why did you need to smuggle him off-world and what made you think you could use my vessel to do that?”
Chirrut hesitated. Where did he even begin? Bodhi took the dilemma out of his hands by stepping forward.
“It’s not their fault,” he said clearly. “I convinced them to help me.”
Baze sighed and Chirrut resisted the urge to palm his face.
“Sacrificing yourself is not going to help,” he said to Bodhi. “Noble, yes, but also stupid.” He turned back to Cassian. “I think perhaps Jyn and the droid should be included in this conversation, so it won’t need to be repeated.”
They settled on the hold of the ship, tacitly agreeing that it was the most open ground for what promised to be a very tense conversation.
Chirrut kept Bodhi sandwiched between him and Baze as he led the way to the hold. He didn’t like having Cassian at his back, not with tensions so high, but it was his ship. Concessions could be made to keep the peace.
They faced Cassian, Jyn, Kaytoo, and Stordan across the hold, Bodhi standing between Baze and Chirrut, arms wrapped around his ribs and chin tucked to his chest.
“Explain,” Cassian said flatly. “And it had better be good, or Kaytoo’s going to alert the Imperial forces on Jedha the minute we hit atmo. Who are you really?”
“We really are fighters,” Chirrut said. Jyn made an irritated noise that he elected to ignore. “After our last fight, we discovered Bodhi in the alley behind the club, in the process of being murdered. Obviously, I could not allow that.”
“It was none of your business,” Jyn snapped. “Why did you step in? Did you know him?”
Chirrut smiled gently at her. “I’d never met him before, but the Force told me to save him, so I did.” It was Baze’s turn to make a rude noise, beside him, and Chirrut’s smile grew. “All is as the Force wills it, Baze.”
“Why bring him onboard with you, though?” Cassian said before Baze could make an undoubtedly rude reply. “Why not take him to a clinic and have done?”
Bodhi withdrew even further into himself, glow dimming until Chirrut could barely make out his outline.
“Director Krennic,” Chirrut said, turning to Jyn, who snarled.
“What of him?” she spat.
“I saw him murdered,” Bodhi said clearly, lifting his head.
“Impossible.” Jyn’s tone left no room for error. “I heard him giving his speech as Kay and I got back to the ship.”
“It’s not him,” Bodhi said. “It’s—I don’t know who it is. I’m sorry, I don’t know anything, I was just in the wrong p-place, but I s-saw—” He swallowed hard. “They killed him. I watched them carry his body past me.”
“Who?” Jyn demanded.
Chirrut could almost hear Bodhi’s helpless shrug.
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “I was trying to be invisible. I hid, and then I ran, but someone saw me and they were going to kill me but Chirrut stopped them, he saved me, this isn’t his fault, okay? You can’t turn them over to the Empire, you can’t, they only did it to save my life, and—”
Chirrut touched his arm and Bodhi snapped his mouth shut so hard his teeth clicked.
“Captain,” Chirrut said. “We will pay double his fare if you’ll agree not to alert the authorities to his presence. All we ask is that you let us get off this ship, and you’ll never have to see us again.”
“You’re asking me to knowingly harbor a fugitive,” Cassian said.
Chirrut spread his hands, putting on his most winning smile. “Technically, he’s not a fugitive. Have you seen any wanted banners for him, anything broadcast about him?”
The silence was begrudging.
“No one’s looking for him,” Baze said. “No one on the right side of the law, anyway. We just need some time to make sure he’s protected.”
Silence fell, and Chirrut held his breath.
Stordan was the first to speak. “My room’s a double,” he said. “Bunkbed. He can sleep in there with me tonight if you want—I know your room is a single.”
Somehow, this didn’t bring the protest Chirrut expected from Bodhi.
“We dock tomorrow evening, right?” Baze rumbled.
“Yes,” Cassian said reluctantly.
“Then all you have to do is look the other way for eighteen hours. Tomorrow evening, we’ll be off this ship and no longer your problem.”
“Triple the usual fare,” Jyn said.
“Done,” Baze said as Cassian sputtered. “The money’s in my duffel. Come with me and I’ll pay you.”
The crew followed Baze out of the hold, leaving Chirrut and Bodhi alone.
Bodhi’s teeth were chattering with his shivers. “I’ll p-pay you back,” he managed.
Chirrut acted on instinct, reaching out and pulling him in. Bodhi’s nose collided with his collarbone, but his arms came up and clutched the back of Chirrut’s tunic with a desperate strength.
“Trust the Force,” Chirrut said into his hair.
Bodhi gulped a ragged breath. “I d-don’t—I trust you.”
“That’s good enough for now,” Chirrut said, smiling. “The Force protects me, I protect you. Are you hungry?”
Bodhi nodded as Chirrut released him. “But—the captain—”
“We’re paying him three times for your fare what we paid for our own,” Chirrut said dryly. “I think he can feed you, at those rates.”
In the galley, Chirrut deposited Bodhi at the table and turned to familiarize himself with the caf dispenser.
“I make the best caf in the Mid-Rim,” he said cheerfully as he found the power button. “If I can just—ow.” He popped his singed finger in his mouth and sucked on it.
Footsteps rang outside in the hall and Chirrut lifted his head. “Baze, I promised Jyn you’d show her how to make dumplings.”
Baze grunted, touching Chirrut’s waist as he passed him to sit beside Bodhi.
Bodhi whispered something and affection colored the bond as Baze murmured in return. Chirrut smiled at his hands as Jyn and Cassian entered. He willingly surrendered the caf making to Jyn and sat down on Bodhi’s other side while Cassian set the food out.
Stordan came in a few minutes later, his movements diffident and cautious.
The meal was quiet, everyone concentrating on their food, and Bodhi relaxed slowly as he ate, until his breathing was steady and his hands no longer trembled.
“So, Bodhi,” Cassian said when he was finished, and Bodhi jumped. “Anything else we need to know?”
“We’ve already told you everything,” Chirrut said. “No need to interrogate him.”
“Can’t be too careful,” Cassian said, in tones of utmost reason. “We don’t want to walk into anything blind, after all.”
“T-there’s nothing else,” Bodhi said. “I don’t know anything else.”
Cassian made a skeptical noise but subsided.
“How long will you be on Jedha, Captain?” Chirrut asked.
“At least a week,” Cassian said. “We’ve been hired to guard a spice delivery route through the city. If it’s lucrative, we may stay longer.”
“Maybe you can come to one of our fights!” Chirrut said, smiling. “Baze is taking the first one, of course, because he’s a worrywart, but I’ve got a few planned too. Bet on us, I promise it will be ‘lucrative’.”
“I don’t bet,” Cassian said, tone repressive.
Chirrut set his fork down and stood. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m in need of a rest. I will see you all for dinner. Stordan?”
Stordan jerked, fork rattling against his plate. “Uh—yes?”
“May I speak to you?”
Chirrut left without waiting to see if Stordan would follow. He strode along the corridors to his room and stepped inside, then spun. He couldn’t see Stordan, not the way he could Baze and Bodhi, but he heard the startled intake of breath and the scrape of his boot as he took an involuntary step back.
Chirrut bared his teeth in what might have passed for a smile on some planets. “What is your intention once we land?”
Stordan hesitated. “I—thought I’d watch a few fights. See the holy temple.”
“That’s not what I’m asking and you know it,” Chirrut said flatly. “What do you intend to do about Bodhi?”
Stordan shifted his weight. “N-nothing.”
Chirrut narrowed his useless eyes and waited.
“I don’t,” Stordan said after a minute. “We talked, before you and your frankly terrifying husband showed up. I believe him, okay? I’m not going to turn him in or anything, if that’s what you’re asking.”
Chirrut said nothing.
Stordan cleared his throat. “Look, I know what it’s like to run from something.”
Chirrut’s silence invited him to continue.
“My father—” Stordan swallowed audibly. “He works for the Empire. Pretty high up. He’s been pushing me to join, swear allegiance, fight the rebels. And I won’t, I can’t be in the service of genocidal war-blinded maniacs, I won’t get innocent blood on my hands, do you hear me?”
Chirrut raised his eyebrows in the quiet that abruptly fell. “You’re not a tourist.”
“No,” Stordan said miserably. “Saw Gerrerra is a rebel. He commands the outpost on Jedha. I’m going to join the resistance.”
Chirrut considered this bombshell without speaking. Everything about Stordan said he was telling the truth, from his earnest voice to the way he’d stopped fidgeting.
Finally he nodded. “Be gentle with Bodhi. He has not known much kindness.”
“I will,” Stordan said.
That night, Baze crawled into the bed next to Chirrut and heaved a quiet sigh of relief as he wrapped an arm around Chirrut’s waist, tugging him close.
Chirrut allowed Baze to gather him in, turning his head so that their lips met briefly.
“How’s your back, old man?” he teased.
Baze breathed warm amusement across Chirrut’s cheek. “Better than it has any right to be, after sleeping in that chair.” He relaxed against Chirrut’s back, pressing their cheeks together. “Are you sure Bodhi’s alright with that boy?”
“Mm,” Chirrut said, and patted Baze’s hand where it rested on his stomach. “I sense no darkness in him. He seeks to do right.”
Baze grunted, frame going slack as he finally relaxed. Chirrut turned Baze’s hand over and spelled letters into his palm, the language they’d developed so many years before serving to tell Baze everything Chirrut couldn’t say out loud. I love you. Thank you. I’m so glad I have you.
Baze huffed quietly, his arm tightening briefly. “Lovesick old fool.”
“Go to sleep,” Chirrut said, smiling in the dark.
“You can borrow some of my clothes,” Stordan said over his shoulder as he led Bodhi down the hall to his room. “I’m closer to your size than whoever loaned you that.”
Bodhi glanced down at the clothes that hung off his narrow bones but said nothing.
He hadn’t expected Stordan to open the door and walk into Baze and Chirrut’s quarters. They’d gaped at each other in a crystalline silence that felt poised to shatter.
“Please,” Bodhi had whispered. “Don’t tell the captain.”
When Stordan’s hand had closed around Bodhi’s wrist and he’d pulled him the few steps necessary down the hall to his room, he’d been gentle, careful not to jerk Bodhi’s arm from its socket, guiding him over the step down into the quarters and then letting him go.
Even his questions had been gentle, as he gave Bodhi space and didn’t crowd him.
“Top bunk is free,” Stordan said, and Bodhi startled. They were back in Stordan’s room, and he was gesturing toward the top bunk with a cautious smile on his face. “You know where the ‘fresher is. Is there anything you need?”
Bodhi shook his head mutely. “Thank you,” he managed. “For—letting me share your room, and….” For not raising the alarm.
Stordan shrugged, looking uncomfortable. “It’s no great thing.”
They settled into their beds in awkward silence and Bodhi pulled the blanket up over his shoulders, staring sightlessly at the ceiling.
It wasn’t right. So many people going out of their way to help him, to keep him safe. He was a danger, a liability, and he needed to put as much distance as possible between himself and everyone on board, for their own wellbeing.
Sighing, he turned on his side, careful not to jar his healing ribs. He couldn’t do anything until they landed. Once they did… he’d run. Hide. Maybe it would be enough to keep Chirrut and Baze safe.
It was surprisingly easy, when it came down to it. Bodhi waited for Chirrut and Baze to gather their things and followed them off the ship with a nod to Cassian and Jyn, standing by the ramp. Stordan had still been in his quarters, packing his own belongings, when they left.
NiJedha was a bustling city teeming with life. Chirrut kept Bodhi close, tucked between him and Baze as they navigated the narrow streets and avoided pedestrians.
“There’s a wayhouse deep in the heart of the city,” Chirrut told Bodhi as they walked. “We’ll meet Saw's escort there. No one gets into his stronghold without one.”
Baze slowed and Bodhi nearly ran into his broad back. Baze was staring longingly at a street vendor hawking strips of fried meat.
Chirrut laughed and pulled a pouch from under his robe. “Get some for all of us.” He tossed the pouch to Baze, who caught it and turned to the vendor, and Bodhi saw his opportunity.
He stepped sideways while Chirrut was focused on Baze, then two steps back to the narrow space between two tall buildings. He was halfway down it before Chirrut noticed he was gone.
Bodhi stumbled, caught himself, and ran.
Tears prickled the backs of his eyelids as he dodged through the streets, ducking around slower pedestrians. He had no money, no food, no papers, but none of that mattered. The only thing that did matter was putting as much distance between himself and his rescuers as possible.
Maybe—maybe that would keep them alive.
He ran until he was out of breath and finally slowed to a brisk walk. He was deep in the city’s poorer district now, the buildings crammed up against each other in a mad jumble of bricks, stone, and cheap mortar.
A small Twi’lek girl watched curiously as Bodhi stopped to rest in a doorway, hands on his knees.
When he straightened, she’d been joined by a slightly larger boy, bristling with importance.
“Who’re you?” he demanded.
Bodhi hesitated. “I’m just passing through.” Chirrut could very well be on his heels right now. He had to keep going, but he’d gotten so turned around during his mad dash through the streets that he had no idea where he was. His best option was to get back to the spaceport and try to find a ship leaving the planet that would take him on as a deckhand.
“You look tired,” the little girl said around her thumb.
“Sharla, hush,” the boy said.
Bodhi mustered a smile. “Can you tell me how to get to the spaceport from here?”
“I can show you!” Sharla piped.
“Not necessary,” Bodhi said hastily. “Just… point me in the right direction.”
Sharla removed her thumb from her mouth and pointed across the roofs of the buildings that sloped steeply down from the hill they were on. “See the temple?”
Bodhi nodded. It was hard to miss, rising out of the rock in stately splendor as if it had grown that way, curved and shaped by invisible hands rather than chipped from stone.
“Follow the main road from the temple square to the east,” Sharla told him. “Two clicks on, you’ll find the spaceport.” A dimple appeared in her pale green cheek when she smiled at him. “My mommy works there.”
Bodhi almost managed a smile as he gave her a shallow bow. “Thank you.” He headed toward the temple, eyes fixed on the spires that vaulted toward the sky.
He was so focused on not losing sight of them that he didn’t see the knot of men in front of him until he ran into them.
Bodhi stammered apologies as hands caught and steadied him, keeping him on his feet, and one of the men stepped forward. Eyes grey like winter slush were narrowed as he looked Bodhi up and down.
“Watch where you’re going,” he growled. His fingers twitched by his sides, tapping invisible tympani on his trousers.
“I’m sorry,” Bodhi said, trying to pull away from the hands holding him, but they didn’t let go. “I just—want to get to the spaceport, I don’t want any trouble—”
The leader glanced up at his men and amusement curled his mouth in a cruel gash. “Too bad you found it, eh?” He gestured sharply. “He'll do. Bring him.”
“No!” Bodhi cried, and twisted. He slipped one of the hands and was halfway free when more caught and held him and a fist was driven into his stomach.
He sagged, wheezing for air, and one of the men picked him up and slung him over his shoulder.
“Stop fighting,” the man growled, and began to walk.
Bodhi couldn’t seem to stop himself though, the panic choking him until he thought it might split his skin, sprout flowering vines in his bones that suffocated him from the inside out. He squirmed and fought, sobbing for breath, until another fist descended toward his face, and the world went dark.
He snapped back to awareness with a staff jabbed in his ribs. Bodhi folded in half on the cold floor, fighting the sick surging of his stomach in desperate gulps of air.
“Wake up,” someone said above him in guttural Utapese. “You’re on deck.”
Bodhi lifted his head, blinking away the film in his eyes. He was in a cell, rusted iron bars from floor to ceiling in front of him and rock wall behind him. There were several others in the small space with him, a nervous, ragged Dulok a meter away, and a hulking Trandoshan glowering from the corner. Closest was a young Anzat, huddled in a small heap of wrinkled robes by Bodhi’s foot.
~Not to be moving~ he told Bodhi. ~Resting if can~
“Where are we?” Bodhi asked, pushing himself to a sitting position. His ribs ached in time with his head, a leaden, pulsing beat that had him swaying. He wrapped his arms around his chest in a vain attempt to brace the cracked ribs as he swallowed back another surge of nausea.
He didn’t need the Anzat’s answer to know where he was. This was Saw Gerrerra’s fortress, and he was in the holding cells.
“They’re going to make us fight, aren’t they?” Bodhi whispered, horror flooding him.
The Anzat nodded dully.
The cell door screeched a protest that was mirrored in Bodhi’s head as it swung open and the Utai pointed at the Trandoshan, who snarled but stood and stalked forward, ears flat to his skull.
The Utai slammed the door behind him and pointed at Bodhi through the bars. “Be ready,” it said.
Cheers went up in the distance as Bodhi rolled to his knees. His stomach flipped in protest and he took deep breaths of sour salt and copper scented air as he fought to keep from vomiting.
“What are the rules?” he asked the Anzat.
~Fight. Or die~ The Anzat sounded like he’d given up already.
Bodhi closed his eyes briefly. He was going to die.
“We’ll find him,” Baze said for what must have been the hundredth time.
Chirrut gripped his staff until his knuckles ached, scanning the crowd in the street before him for a flicker of purple and yellow. Worry battered his mind, his own and Baze’s amplifying each other in a constant feedback loop. Chirrut put a hand to his head and Baze bent over him.
“I’m fine,” Chirrut said. “I can’t feel him, Baze.”
He knew why Bodhi had run—some heroic attempt to keep him and Baze from getting in the crossfire of whatever was coming. That didn’t make Chirrut feel any better about Bodhi taking his chances alone.
“We’re late for our rendezvous,” Baze rumbled. “I know you don’t want to leave, but—”
Chirrut shook his head. “No, let’s go. Bodhi’s not here. Maybe Saw can put out word to be watching for him.”
They hurried through the narrow streets, slithering past slow-moving carts and stalled pedestrians arguing over the best way to get to the Temple.
Their contact was waiting, fidgeting impatiently when Chirrut and Baze panted up.
“I almost left,” xe snapped. “Saw won’t be happy.”
Chirrut gave xem a shallow bow. “Many apologies. We were unavoidably detained.”
“Well, let’s go,” xe said, and without further ado, spun in a rustle of robes and clacking of beads to stalk away.
Baze and Chirrut fell in behind and walked in silence as the noise of the crowds gradually faded. By Chirrut’s reckoning, they were almost all the way across the city from the spaceport, although he couldn’t be sure.
Their guide stopped abruptly and said something in a quick, guttural tongue Chirrut didn’t recognize. Someone else answered, and Chirrut tilted his head, trying to get a feel for how many people had joined them. Sour sweat and stale grease wafted over him and Chirrut wrinkled his nose, fighting a sneeze.
Two more, maybe three—someone spoke and the guide snapped an affirmative.
“Inside,” xe said to Chirrut.
“Straight ahead, two steps up into a wagon,” Baze said quietly from beside him.
Chirrut nodded and felt his way up and into the bed of the rickety wooden vehicle. He found benches lining both sides, and sank onto one of them. He wasn’t alone—as Baze joined him, he could hear nervous breathing and shifting coming from at least three other occupants.
“All here to fight too?” Chirrut said, grounding his staff between his feet.
No one answered as the wagon began to move.
The ride was torture, bumping and jostling the passengers, the air hot and still and ripe with the aged-cheese smell of unwashed skin. Chirrut breathed shallowly through his mouth and tried to pray.
After an eternity, the wagon finally jolted to a stop.
“Out,” the guide snapped.
The occupants obeyed, Chirrut waiting until everyone else was out before he stood and made his way to the steps, Baze close on his heels.
Safely on the ground, he tilted his head back and took in his surroundings. Voices spoke in a myriad of languages, the smells of fried meat and pastry floating by on the gentle breeze. From the way sound bounced and echoed, they were in a canyon, the walls vaulting high above them.
“Move,” the guide ordered.
Up a set of wide, shallow steps and into a stone building, Chirrut and Baze followed their surly leader through halls and curving corridors as the distant sounds of cheering grew louder.
“Who’s fighting first?” the guide asked, coming to a stop.
“I am,” Baze said instantly.
“We need to speak to Saw,” Chirrut said.
“It’s important,” Chirrut insisted.
“After you fight. One hour.” Footsteps receded and Baze and Chirrut were alone.
“Looks like this is our room,” Baze said, hand on Chirrut’s elbow.
Chirrut stepped inside and turned in a circle. The room was small, the air stale and dusty. He held out his staff and measured the breadth of the floor—three long paces would cover it in any direction.
He swallowed frustration and worry and sat down on the narrow bed in the corner. Baze knelt in front of him, rubbing Chirrut’s thighs gently.
Chirrut sighed and folded forward until their foreheads touched.
“We’ll find him,” Baze repeated.
Chirrut looped his arms around Baze’s neck and held on.
After a few minutes, Baze pressed their cheeks together and then stood. “Warm up with me?”
They removed their outer garments and faced each other in the small room clad in trousers and thin undershirts. Chirrut folded his fist into his palm and bowed, knowing Baze was doing the same to him.
“First form,” Baze said.
Chirrut flowed into the movements of the form, strike and counter-strike, parry, block, dodge, letting the familiar actions ground him. Baze followed suit, matching him blow for blow. They kept their motions slow, allowing their muscles to warm up gradually, and worked through three full forms before Baze called a halt.
“Help me stretch,” he said, and dropped to the floor.
Chirrut couldn’t stop his grin as he settled opposite. Baze’s legs were spread in a vee and he leaned forward over them, palms flat on the cool stone. Chirrut spread his own legs, settling the soles of his feet against Baze’s ankles, and held out his hands.
Baze groaned as he took them, clasping Chirrut’s wrists. “I hate this part.”
“I know,” Chirrut said, and stiffened his legs as he gently pulled Baze forward at the waist.
All too soon, a fist pounded on their door. “Up next!” someone shouted.
Baze stood and hauled Chirrut to his feet before stripping his shirt off and accepting a piece of red silk from him. He tied it around his bicep and made a satisfied noise.
Chirrut nodded and followed him out the door.
He hated sitting through Baze’s fights. At least when he was in the ring, he had an active hand in what was happening. He wasn’t forced to stand by idly and feel every blow that landed.
To be fair, he thought as they walked through the cavernous tunnels toward the crowd’s noises, Baze hates it just as much when I fight.
A door swung open as they approached and the sound hit Chirrut like a fist to the head, solid and heavy, making him stagger.
Baze hesitated. “Chirrut?”
“I’m fine,” Chirrut said, forcing a smile. He could feel Baze’s worry through the bond. The last thing he needed was to be distracted. “Really, I was just taken off guard.”
“Win three matches, collect a purse and advance to the semi-finals,” their escort shouted over the crowd’s roaring. Someone was taking a pounding in the ring—Chirrut could hear the meaty smack of fists on flesh even above the shouts of the spectators.
“Looks like a Trandoshan,” Baze said in Chirrut’s ear. “Big fucker.”
Chirrut nodded. He knew the rules. Three fights in a row, then a rest if you were still standing. Then back in the ring for another three fights, until there was no one else to fight or you lost.
“I’ll see you in a minute,” Baze said. His fingers skimmed the top of Chirrut’s arm, and then he was gone and Chirrut was alone in a sea of people howling for blood.
He made his way to the side of the ring, muttering apologies and occasionally baring his teeth to make spectators move out of his way.
The ring itself was wooden, almost chest-high, rough and splintery under Chirrut’s fingers as he gripped the top rail.
He could feel Baze settling into his usual pre-fight mental calm and could almost see him bouncing on his toes and swinging his arms forward and back to keep his shoulders loose. His aura was steady reds and browns, flickers of gold flashing through them as he waited for the signal to enter the ring.
Chirrut couldn’t see the Trandoshan, but he could hear him. There was a whistle to his breathing like his nose had been broken, a slight hitch on the inhale that indicated a possible cracked rib.
The buzzer sounded and the gate swung open. Baze strode into the ring, an arrow of focus driving straight for the Trandoshan. He ducked a wild punch and took the bigger fighter to the ground with a shoulder to the waist, bearing him over backward.
Chirrut gripped the rail as a fist landed in Baze’s ribs, pushing down his worry. Baze had weathered far worse than this. A flurry of punches snapped Baze’s chin back and Chirrut tasted blood in his own mouth.
Baze dodged the flailing fists and swung, straddling the Trandoshan’s chest and landing punishing blows, one after the other, until his opponent’s body went limp and the buzzer sounded.
Baze rolled to his feet in one fluid movement and stalked toward the edge of the ring where Chirrut waited.
“Alright?” Chirrut asked in a low voice. He’d know if Baze wasn’t, of course, but that didn’t stop him from wanting to hear it from Baze himself.
Baze grunted and spat blood. “Got a few licks in, nothing too much. I’m fine.”
Behind him, several Utai were hurriedly dragging the Trandoshan’s unconscious body from the ring.
“Who’s next?” Chirrut asked.
The gate to the ring beside them swung open and Baze turned to stone under Chirrut’s hand. Horror spiked through the bond, making Chirrut’s stomach twist into knots.
“What is it?” he demanded.
In answer, Baze took a step to the side, revealing Bodhi’s glowing form, streaked purples and yellows, on the far end of the ring next to theirs.
Chirrut hissed through his teeth, hands tightening on the wood, and Baze caught his shoulder.
“No,” he said, holding Chirrut in place. “Listen to me. You know how this place works. The only way he’s getting out of this is dead or unconscious. If we try to break him out, we’ll be shot. Don’t be stupid, Chirrut, we have to think this through.”
Chirrut fought back the worry, his head turning between Baze and Bodhi, standing small and helpless, arms wrapped around his ribs. He didn’t seem to have seen them.
“What do we do?” Chirrut asked.
“He has to make it through this fight,” Baze said, voice low. “Then he’ll face me and I can make it look convincing.”
“And if he doesn’t make it through his fight?” Chirrut asked.
The buzzer sounded before Baze could answer. He touched Chirrut’s hand and turned to stride into the middle of the ring to face his own opponent.
The gate swung wide and the Dulok stumbled through, snapping its teeth together at the guard who’d shoved it.
Bodhi backed away, keeping several meters of space between them, as the Dulok swung its shaggy head and fixed on him. Bodhi spared a moment to wonder if Baze and Chirrut were somewhere in Saw’s stronghold, or if they were still combing the city for him.
The Dulok snapped its jaws again and took a step toward him. Bodhi backed up until his shoulders hit the wooden wall. Hands caught and shoved him forward and Bodhi stumbled, catching himself just before he fell.
There was no way out of this. Fight. Or die.
Bodhi wasn’t ready to die.
The Dulok howled and charged. Bodhi scrambled sideways at the last second, barely evading the swing of its sharpened claws, and waited. It turned and focused reddened eyes on him, baring yellowed fangs.
Bodhi brought his hands up and balanced on the balls of his feet like he’d seen Chirrut do when he practiced his forms. Maybe he didn’t have training or skill, but no one survived on the streets without learning a few things about how to defend themselves.
He took a deep, slow breath. When the Dulok rushed him again, Bodhi closed with it, sliding in under its wildly swinging claws. He threw a series of rapid-fire punches to its ribs, fists connecting hard with bone, knuckles stinging, and then ducked away.
His cheek was bleeding, he realized, but he didn’t have time to wipe it before the Dulok attacked again.
Bodhi ducked the first swipe. The second connected with his shoulder, ripping through his shirt like tissue paper and laying open the skin beneath. Bodhi dodged back and swept his foot through the dirt, hooking the Dulok’s ankle and pulling its feet out from under it.
It landed hard but rolled toward him, grappling with Bodhi’s knees and pulling him down.
Bodhi didn’t fight that, moving with the momentum. They rolled in the dirt, struggling to gain the upper hand. This close, the Dulok smelled like sour milk and fear, snarls bubbling from its throat as teeth snapped entirely too close to Bodhi’s face.
Bodhi got a leg around its waist, pinning one arm to its side as the other flailed. He snaked his own arm around the Dulok’s throat and grabbed his forearm, effectively immobilizing it.
The Dulok bucked, free arm scrabbling frantically at its throat, but Bodhi had his grip and wouldn’t be shaken. He closed his eyes and held on as his opponent’s struggles slowed and finally stopped, body going limp in unconsciousness.
The crowd’s roars had faded in the heat of the fight, but they rushed back now, making Bodhi jerk and recoil as the noise battered his ears. He let go and rolled the Dulok’s body off his legs, scrambling to his feet.
The gate slammed open and two Utai scurried in to grab the Dulok and drag it out. Bodhi watched, numb and somehow detached, like he was floating a foot above his body. He didn’t react at first when one of the Utai returned and pointed at him, shouting something.
The Utai produced a blaster, prehensile lip curling, and jerked his head toward the gate. Bodhi stumbled through and down the passage indicated, too exhausted to ask where they were going, and it took a minute for him to realize he was being chivvied into the ring beside the one he’d just fought in.
Bodhi stopped just inside as the gate slammed behind him and the crowd roared in approval, and looked up to see Baze stalking toward him.
Bodhi blinked, rubbed his eyes, blinked again. Baze was still advancing, face set in a ferocious scowl, and Bodhi flinched back.
Of course Baze was angry. Bodhi had caused him and Chirrut nothing but trouble since they’d met, to say nothing of the triple fare they’d had to pay because of him. And then he’d repaid them by running off the first chance he got, without even thanking them—he’d be lucky if Baze would be willing to speak to him before punching him.
Bodhi settled into a defensive crouch, hands coming up, and something flickered across Baze’s face.
He stopped a few feet away and bowed. Bodhi hesitated, then bowed in return. Baze began circling him, eyes intent, and Bodhi turned in place, hands still up in front of him.
Baze rushed him, bearing Bodhi backward toward the wooden wall as the crowd roared approval.
When Bodhi would have hit the barrier, though, Baze’s hand was there, stopping him an inch away as his other hand thudded into the wood with terrifying force. Pinned against the wall, Bodhi couldn’t figure out what to do. Baze dropped a shoulder and drove his fist against the wood again.
To the spectators, it must have looked like he’d just punched Bodhi in the ribs. A light began to dawn.
“Make it look real,” Baze said in his ear.
Cautious hope flowered in Bodhi’s chest. He balled a fist and tried a punch, weak and ineffectual, easily batted aside by Baze’s big hand.
“You can’t hurt me,” Baze said, and pulled Bodhi off the wall. He sank into a crouch, a grin spreading across his weathered face, and beckoned. Come on. The crowd shouted approval and Bodhi threw himself forward.
They grappled and rolled, Baze bracing himself to keep from crushing Bodhi’s much slighter form, and came to a stop in a cloud of dust, Bodhi facedown and Baze across his hips.
Baze used the moment to put his mouth to Bodhi’s ear. “Throw the fight,” he said clearly, and put him in a headlock.
Bodhi put everything he had into pretending to fight, struggling against the arm around his throat that wasn’t actually cutting off his air and then finally slumping into a boneless blackout.
Baze let him go after a minute and stood. The roars of the crowd said they’d bought the performance, but Bodhi was careful to stay limp as rough hands grabbed him and dragged him out.
“Still alive,” someone said in guttural standard. “Put him in the recovery room, give him his purse when he comes to.”
He was dumped unceremoniously on a hard cot under harsh lights that flickered and buzzed. The door slammed and Bodhi waited several more minutes before he cautiously opened his eyes.
The Dulok was stretched on a cot along the opposite wall. Bodhi sat up, swallowing hard, and waited for his head to stop swimming. He’d lost a lot of blood, he realized dimly. He’d have to get his shoulder bandaged soon, stop the bleeding that was soaking his shirt, making it stick to his skin in clammy folds.
He swung his feet to the floor and stood up, bracing himself on the wall. The Dulok didn’t wake as Bodhi stumbled to the door and dragged it open.
Chirrut was on the other side, hand outstretched for the doorknob. “Hello, little farrow bird,” he said, a smile lighting up his face.
Bodhi’s legs chose then to give out and he sank into the dark as Chirrut lunged to catch him.
Short chapter because the next one will be pretty long, I think.
He woke in stages, awareness drifting in and out through his fingers. He could hear voices, low and concerned, and Bodhi tried to fix on them, drag himself back to the surface, but he lost his grip and tumbled back down into the black instead.
The next time he woke, Chirrut was sitting beside the bed, elbows on his knees. They were alone in a small room, a bed and chair the only furniture.
Bodhi turned his head and a smile spread over Chirrut’s face.
Bodhi couldn’t look at him, shame cold and leaden in his chest. He glanced down at himself, noting that his shoulder had been neatly bandaged in his sleep, and he was wearing clean clothes.
He pushed himself to one elbow as Chirrut moved back to give him room.
“Take it slow, you’ve lost a lot of blood,” he said.
Bodhi stared at him. There was nothing but concern on Chirrut’s face, wrinkling his forehead as he held out a hand to steady Bodhi if he lost his balance.
“Why aren’t you angry?” Bodhi demanded. He shook the blanket off, ignoring the pain that jolted through his shoulder, and sat up the rest of the way.
Chirrut lifted his eyebrows. “What good would that do?”
Bodhi groped for words as frustration clogged his throat. “All—everything I’ve done has caused you problems, cost you money, put you in danger. Why—why are you still here? Why haven’t you cut me loose? Why won’t you just let me go?”
“Do you want me to let you go?” Chirrut asked quietly. He held up a hand when Bodhi opened his mouth. “The truth, Bodhi Rook.”
Bodhi sagged, the fight fleeing him. “No,” he whispered. He looked up, desperate to make Chirrut understand. “But I couldn’t bear it if you—or Baze—got hurt because of me.”
A smile spread across Chirrut’s face and he shifted from the chair to the bed and wrapped his arms around Bodhi’s shoulders, careful to avoid the injury.
Bodhi let Chirrut pull him close, melting against his warm, solid frame and closing his eyes.
“You’re part of my family now,” Chirrut said. “Promise me you won’t run again.”
“I promise,” Bodhi mumbled into his shirt. “I—I’m sorry, Chirrut, I just wanted to—”
“It was noble, if stupid,” Chirrut said gently. He let Bodhi go and picked up a small leather bag, holding it out. “Your treasures are all safe.”
Bodhi took the little pouch with a grateful noise and Chirrut settled back against the wall as he thumbed through the contents, reassuring himself they were all still there.
The door opened and Baze walked in. “Hungry?” he said, as he held out a paper bag.
Chirrut accepted it, taking a deep, appreciative breath. “How long until your next fight?”
“Half an hour,” Baze said. He took the chair and stretched his legs out, taking a meat pie from Chirrut with a grunt.
“When do you fight?” Bodhi asked.
“I’ll fight if Baze loses,” Chirrut said around a mouthful of meat and pastry.
“Incentive for me not to lose,” Baze growled.
Chirrut just laughed and took another bite.
Bodhi watched them as they ate, easy and comfortable like the events of the last few days hadn’t happened. He didn’t understand it, couldn’t make his brain parse why they were still there, why they seemed so insistent on looking out for him, but in that moment, warm, safe, and with a meal in his belly, Bodhi didn’t bother to try.
Instead he just relaxed and ate his food as Chirrut bantered with Baze and Baze responded with noises that could have sounded surly, if Bodhi hadn’t known better.
“The Dulok got you pretty good,” Chirrut said, turning to him. “Your shoulder needed stitches, and your mobility’s going to be limited for a few weeks. Don’t push it too hard, you don’t want to tear the sutures.”
“I’ll be careful,” Bodhi said.
“We’ll need to speak to Saw,” Chirrut continued. “Usually fighters who lose are turned out immediately—only those who are part of a unit are allowed to stay in the citadel. We’ll have to get you registered.”
“He won’t be happy,” Baze growled.
Chirrut shrugged this off. “When is Saw ever happy?”
A fist banged on the door and Bodhi jumped.
Baze stood and stretched as Chirrut gathered the wrappings from their meal to dispose of them. Then he stood too, stepping up into Baze’s space. Baze put his arms around Chirrut’s waist and pressed their foreheads together, and silence fell for a moment as Bodhi looked away, feeling like an intruder.
Then Baze let go and turned for the door, and Chirrut beckoned to Bodhi.
“Let’s go find Saw. We’ll meet Baze ringside after.”
He led the way through the twisting stone hallways with confident steps, seeming to know exactly where he was going. Bodhi stayed close on his heels, avoiding eye contact with those they passed.
They stopped outside an imposing wooden door bolted with strips of metal, and Chirrut knocked.
“Let me do the talking,” he said from the corner of his mouth as it opened.
Bodhi had just thought he’d known terrifying. Baze was imposing, menacing even, and Chirrut was deadly and whip-fast, but neither of them were a patch on Saw Gerrerra for sheer intimidation factor.
He was standing in the middle of a round window frame, gazing out over the city, when his servant ushered Chirrut and Bodhi through into his chambers. At first, backlit against the sun through the glass, Bodhi only got an impression of bulk.
But then he turned, metal feet clanking on the floor, and Bodhi took an involuntary step back. Saw was wearing what looked like a metal breastplate, festooned with countless gadgets, including a breathing apparatus and several other tubes that snaked under the breastplate and went places Bodhi didn’t want to think about.
His hair was unkempt, standing up in a frizzy gray and black aureole around weathered features and dark eyes that took Bodhi in from head to toe and disapproved thoroughly of what he found.
When he spoke, his voice was rasping, harsh. “What do you want, Îmwe?”
Chirrut folded his hands over his staff and bowed briefly. “I wish to add a third to our unit, Master Gerrerra.”
Saw narrowed his eyes. “This two-bit piece of fluff? He won’t last a minute in the ring.”
“Be that as it may, he is part of our troupe, and I want to register him as being under my protection,” Chirrut said evenly.
Saw sniffed, sharp and derisive. “It’ll cost you.”
Bodhi flinched but Chirrut was already nodding.
“Name your price.”
“A fight,” Saw said.
For the first time that Bodhi could remember, Chirrut looked caught off-guard.
“I’m already registered as a fighter and stand ready to take my husband’s place in the ring, should he lose a match.”
“I’m not talking a regular fight,” Saw rasped. “I want a prizefight from you. You up against my best fighter, winner take all.”
Chirrut was utterly still for a long moment, face registering nothing but mild curiosity. “And Bodhi is added to our team, with all that entails, if I do this?”
Saw waved this away impatiently. “Yes, yes.”
“What are the rules?”
“One weapon apiece,” Saw said. “No blasters or firearms. Last man standing takes the prize.”
Unease grew under Bodhi’s skin as Chirrut tilted his head. “You’re that sure your combatant will win?”
Saw just smiled, a cruel gash of lips spreading across his face.
“I’ll do it,” Chirrut said abruptly.
“No,” Bodhi protested. He caught Chirrut’s arm and pulled him a few steps back, angling their bodies away from Saw. “This sounds bad, Chirrut, please don’t do this. I don’t know what he’s planning but I don’t—”
Chirrut touched his hand. “Saw is a businessman, first and foremost. He’s suggested this because it will bring in revenue.” He smiled. “Besides, I’ve fought everyone in this citadel. Many of them more than once. I promise you, farrow bird, I’m in no danger.”
“It feels wrong,” Bodhi whispered, glancing at Saw.
“Trust the Force,” Chirrut said.
Bodhi snapped his mouth shut on the reply and Chirrut’s smile widened.
“His name is Bodhi Rook,” he said to Saw. “Please have him added to the rolls immediately, and our things moved to a room large enough for three.”
“Done,” Saw said. “You’ll fight tomorrow. New rooms will be on level three.”
In the hall, Chirrut bounced on his tiptoes, rubbing his hands together. “Easier—and cheaper—than I expected,” he said cheerfully. “Let’s go see how Baze is getting along. From what I can tell, he’s beating the bantha shit out of someone right now.”
Bodhi hurried after him, pushing down the worry. Chirrut knew what he was doing. Bodhi had to trust that, follow his lead and stay out of the way.
Baze was waiting at the side of the ring as the Utai dragged his opponent out. A cut on his forehead oozed blood in a sluggish trickle past his left eye, but he shook his head when Chirrut asked.
“I’m fine. How’d things go with Saw?”
“He wants me to face his top fighter,” Chirrut said. He reached out and wiped the blood away with an unerring thumb as Baze frowned.
“Jakluk,” Baze repeated. “He’s new this year. I don’t like this, Chirrut.” He glanced at Bodhi, frown deepening. “Jakluk’s dangerous.”
Chirrut cocked his head. “I’m not?”
“You know what I mean,” Baze said impatiently. “He’s killed three fighters this tournament alone.”
Bodhi swallowed horror and guilt. “Chirrut, you can’t do this. I’ll just go—back to the ship, or… it doesn’t matter, but—”
Chirrut held up a hand. “Neither of you have faith. I’ll be fine. Besides, we no longer have berths on the ship. Bodhi—” He smiled, white teeth flashing in the dimly lit cavern. “I’ve been doing this a long time.”
A long drumroll cut off Bodhi’s protest, and the crowd around them roared in response as huge doors at the far end of the room opened.
“What is it?” Chirrut asked, tilting his head.
“Jakluk,” Baze said grimly. “He’s fighting next.”
“Oh, good,” Chirrut said. “I need to get an idea of his style.”
The crowd parted in a rolling wave, bearing Jakluk toward the end of the room with the rings, and Bodhi got his first look at Chirrut’s opponent.