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i won't leave you behind (i won't make the same mistake twice)

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When he was young, Baze Malbus was a collector.

He wasn’t a particularly good collector, because the monks at the Temple of the Kyber discouraged excessive amounts of worldly possessions, so he collected people instead. He picked younger initiates to mentor, and he was close friends with the elders. It took time to gain trust and forge relationships, but Baze was willing to put the work in at the time. And maybe it was because he was so used to being the one who started the friendships that he was thrown off by being collected himself.

He was practicing alone with one of the straw dummies. The uneti wood staff felt like an extension of his body at this point. Baze spun it around his limbs and in his hands, feeling its weight and balance. After a deep, calming breath, he struck, using the momentum of his staff’s spins to deliver a stronger impact. The dummy practically exploded in a flurry of hay, the meager remainder tipping to the floor with a thud.

A slow clapping rang from the entrance to the room, and Baze rolled his eyes, not turning in the sound’s direction. Not that it mattered, of course, as Chirrut Îmwe was blind and wouldn’t have known if he had.

“He never stood a chance,” Chirrut joked, gesturing to the straw remains with his own staff. “You know, if you ever—”

“No.” The reply was practiced, exhausted after so many repetitions.

“Suit yourself.” Chirrut gave a small, sideways smile before walking off as usual, whistling under his breath.

Baze didn’t relax until the shrill sound had faded away, deeper into the temple. He sighed and ran a hand through his neat, cropped hair. Everyday it was the same. He’d come to the practice rooms to train, and Chirrut would meet him and ask to spar. It was absolutely infuriating. Baze spent the rest of the day with others, eating, talking, or praying. This was his personal time, for relaxation and honing his awareness.

The monks taught all initiates the art of zama-shiwo in hopes that they’d someday become Guardians of the Whills. That was Baze’s goal, and he could feel the Force guiding him to grow stronger and more in tune with himself and his surroundings. He planned to one day be one of the most effective Guardians in the history of the temple.

That was why Chirrut Îmwe was so frustrating. He was just an average initiate. He was good at hand-to-hand, even better with an uneti staff, but he had no intention of ever becoming a Guardian. And Baze was pretty sure he slept through prayer and mediation too.

The practice session was ended with some poses and stances, and then Baze swept up his mess and headed to his room.

The cycle continued for three months until Baze finally broke down. He was back again with a training dummy, layering hits over its surface with alternating hand and staff. Chirrut sat crosslegged in the doorway, looking captivated despite the fact he couldn’t see. When Baze was finally done, straw drifting through the air, Chirrut applauded as per usual. Baze snapped.

“Fine! If it’s what it takes for you to leave me alone, I’ll spar with you. Just this once.”

There was no hesitation to Chirrut’s movements as he hauled himself to his feet and dropped his outer robes to the ground, dressing down to his flowing pants and sash to match Baze. He had the air of someone who had been expecting and ready for such a response for a long time.

“Excellent!”

Baze brushed the dummy off to the side with the broom, clearing the mat for their purposes. They walked to the center and knocked their staffs together in the customary greeting, then each stepped back and dropped into position.

Baze had already decided to allow Chirrut to make the first move. He needed to see him in action again, to really study his movement patterns as he hadn’t in so long, as busy as he’d been guiding new initiates.

Chirrut moved impressively well for someone who shirked practice to climb trees and eat apples. He was fluid and smooth, though a little slow. 

Baze knocked him flat with ease. 

Each time they began the spar again, Chirrut would dodge in, maybe land a blow or two, and then Baze would almost effortlessly kick his feet out from under him.

“Wow, I guess I’m not as good at this as I thought,” Chirrut laughed as he was pulled up from the ground for the twelfth time. “Hopefully after we work on this, I’ll be able to give you a fairer fight in the future.”

Years of experience in mentoring kicked in instantaneously. “You just need to work on timing. Careful accuracy is important, but not if it costs you too much speed. We can practice using your natural intuition tomorrow.” Baze froze. Tomorrow? What had happened to just one time? He supposed he’d ended up collecting Chirrut after all, although, as the other initiate dusted off his robes and pulled them back on, he couldn’t help but think that maybe Chirrut had collected him first.

They started a daily sparring routine, and Chirrut did improve, albeit never enough to challenge Baze. He had finally begun to use some of that inborn flow to his advantage when Baze was accepted as a Guardian, and their time together drew to an end.

Baze wasn’t going far, really; he was about to be sworn in to protect the very temple where Chirrut lived, but the Guardians and initiates weren’t supposed to intermingle often. They’d be together yet apart, and Baze thought he was excited for the reprieve.

He only saw Chirrut when the monks and Guardians met for monthly prayers. Normally Baze would do to his best to sit opposite him, but today there was a large gap by Chirrut’s side and ignoring it would just look rude. The whole courtyard folded their legs beneath them, and a monk led them in a chanting prayer. Baze cracked an eye and noticed Chirrut’s mouth wasn’t even moving, and his chin was dropped to his chest. Asleep, as per usual. When the prayer was finished and everyone stood to depart, Baze kicked Chirrut gently in the ribs, waking him.

“Oh, are we done already?” he grinned, stretching his arms.

“Why don’t you pray?” Baze asked gruffly. “Do you have no respect for the Force or what it does for you?”

The smile dropped as Chirrut met his gaze unnervingly with unseeing eyes. When he spoke, their hazy blue matched the steel in his voice. “And what exactly, Baze Malbus, has the Force done for me?” He picked up his staff and spun away, a flurry of tan robes.

Baze watched him go, the words ringing in his ears. They avoided sitting by one another after that.

Being a Guardian wasn’t easy. Rioting Jedhians targeted the monument-esque temple for their vandalism, and visiting outsiders wanted the expensive kyber for its resale value. Worst of all, any attackers were willing to fight to the death outside the temple if that was what it took. The Head Guardian expressed his concern that Imperial forces might one day come for the kyber crystals. The Jedi used them for their lightsabers, so why wouldn’t the Empire be curious as to their power?

Baze really didn’t care who was coming. He lived for the fight, for the heady sensation of adrenaline flooding his veins as his staff spun and his legs kicked. He loved the clack of impact against armor, and he thrived on the grunts he could extract with an effective punch. His fellow Guardians always shook their heads in disbelief, scanning the carnage around them. Baze tried not to preen.

The first time Baze fired a blaster it changed his life.

He had taken on a squadron of stormtroopers who had grown a bit too curious in their rounds about the temple walls. Baze’s staff had been knocked away by a riot stick, and he was trapped, weaponless, behind a pile of bodies he was responsible for. The blaster was right there, and he grabbed it without thought.

It was as simple as a twitch of a finger and a stormtrooper would drop. Click, click, click, and the courtyard was cleared. Sounds of conflict could be heard right outside the gates. Baze hurried to join the fight, gun drawn. He left his staff behind.

In the aftermath of the battle, the Head Guardian eyed him with disbelief. “We don’t use blasters like Imperial soldiers. We are the Guardians of the Whills. Disciplined. Balanced. Controlled. Our weapons are our bodies and our staffs. Not a firearm and a power pack.”

“This blaster took down troopers faster and easier than I could ever have accomplished with my body and staff.”

“And it’s an invitation for an all-out war! One we are not prepared to fight. We just scuffled with Imperial troops. Blowing the heads off every soldier they send will only lead to our demise.” He took a deep breath, sizing Baze up and passing him his staff back. “You’re a strong warrior. Strong in your practice and strong in the Force. But you’re bloodthirsty. There’s no place for unnecessary violence in our teachings. Return to the temple and meditate on your inclinations. There are better ways to spend your energy, Malbus.”

Feeling suitably reprimanded, Baze sulked back to The Temple of the Kyber, heading to the meditation courtyards, paved with cool, pale stone and shaded by trees. He picked his spot and sat, letting the words to his chant carry his consciousness and anger away. He called out to the Force with reaffirmation of his faith in Its will and designs.

He had no clue how long he’d been praying when a crisp crunch broke the stillness and his concentration. Baze flinched but kept his eyes closed, voice faltering. He tried to regain composure, but several more loud snaps threatened his patience, and he gave a long, resigned sigh. An apple core dropped from above, bouncing off his head.

“Can I help you?” he asked angrily, still in his meditation position.

“Baze! It’s been so long, my friend.” Chirrut slid nimbly out of the tree, dropping in a crouch next to him. “How have you been?”

“Outstanding. Why aren’t you at practice with the others? Last I recall, you certainly needed it.”

Chirrut’s laugh was as carefree as ever. “Maybe I’ve improved.”

“Enough to ditch training? Never.”

With a tilt of his head, Chirrut lightly bit his thumb in thought. “If you aren’t busy here, we could spar. Like old times. Since I need the practice so badly.”

Baze frowned, considering. Despite what the Head Guardian had said, meditation had done little to quell the bloodlust in his veins. Beating the shit out of Chirrut Îmwe might be exactly what he needed. “Deal,” Baze replied, already standing and grabbing his weapon. Chirrut’s smile was bright like the sun.

They arrived at Baze’s old training room, packed full of young initiates working on their sparring. He prepared himself to ask them to leave, but they froze in place, terrified. Baze almost felt self-conscious until he noticed they weren’t staring at him, but rather at Chirrut. They mumbled apologies, gathering their robes and rushing from the room, eyes trained at the floor. A single eyebrow arched on Baze’s face. Chirrut’s expression hadn’t changed from its radiant grin, and he began to strip down for their combat work. After a moment of rightful hesitation, Baze joined him.

There was something eerily familiar yet vastly different as they met in the center of the mats, clicking staffs. They dropped into defensive positions, and Baze once again prepared himself to observe Chirrut’s method.

He never had the chance.

Baze was aware that the spinning blur had to be Chirrut, but he was barely able to focus on it before he was face-down on the mat.

“One to zero!” Chirrut said, perfectly chipper, helping Baze back to his feet.

Baze blinked rapidly, clearly his head. “Again,” he grunted, readjusting his grip on his staff.

The second spar, he didn’t hesitate to strike first. Chirrut parried easily, whirling his staff with liquid precision. The two clashed, over and over, until finally, sweaty and sore, Baze managed to overpower Chirrut with height alone, pinning him to the ground.

“I think I’m finally able to give you decent competition,” panted Chirrut.

“What in the name of the Force have you been doing?” Baze growled, still very much out of breath himself.

“Getting serious about my studies.”

Baze freed him from the floor, stepping away and running a hand through his short, sweaty hair. “Really? When I found you today you were skipping practice to climb trees again.”

“What can I say? Old habits die hard.”

Baze stared at him in disbelief. Chirrut hadn’t bothered to stand yet, just sitting crosslegged on the floor, his own sweaty hair clinging to his forehead. The sight was just humorous enough to amuse Baze’s tired brain, and he couldn’t help himself. He started to laugh, a low, deep chuckle. The smile finally dropped from Chirrut’s face, giving way to a look of shock and surprise.

“You laugh!” The grin came back, twice as strong. “You can actually laugh! Baze Malbus, you just might be human after all.”

Baze plopped next to him with a snort, shouldering him hard. Chirrut swayed but shoved back, and they ended up wrestling playfully on the floor like they were new initiates again. Somehow, it helped. It was cathartic, and when Baze made his way back to the Guardians and apologized for his behavior, he felt at peace.

It didn’t last long.

The hunger to fight returned again, too large for his body to contain. With temple skirmishes no longer a viable outlet, at risk of further punishment, Baze was tempted into a new field for relief.

Jedha was home to travelers of all types, and it was no challenge to find those also eager for blood. He took his first job in stride, disguised in a pilgrim’s rags and a borrowed blaster on his hip. The mission was simple: take out a group of stormtroopers blocking the alleyway commonly used for shady, under-the-table dealings.

Despite no training in long distance weaponry, and without the close range he’d benefitted from in the temple courtyard, Baze easily sniped all six with no complications. The adrenaline sang in his bones as he returned to his contractor and received his payment. He spent it on an old, used blaster for practice purposes, and he smuggled it into his living quarters, his own little secret.

The Force knew, of course, and Baze felt off balance, uncertain of himself. Years of devotion had taught him to feel and look for the darkness that surrounded a creature bent on killing, and he tried to see it around himself now. He couldn’t find it, no matter how hard he tried.

What was once a hobby became a lifestyle, and Baze snuck off to take freelance jobs whenever he could spare the time. He used his earnings to buy armor and more weaponry, taking to hiding it in secret drop zones rather than the Guardians’ lodgings.

His struggle with his faith in the Force had become one of denial. If there was nothing there to judge him, how could he feel guilty? After all, the Force had never been the reason he’d excelled in combat. The Force had never helped him improve his firing accuracy. It was all in the practice. Maybe Chirrut had been onto something years ago. What had the Force ever done for Baze Malbus

It turned out he soon had the chance to talk to Chirrut himself.

There were few things that surprised Baze; his way of life depended on it. Seeing Chirrut among the three new recruits to the Guardians was one of these things.

The young monk looked exactly the same, mirth dancing on his face and poise to his stance. Baze ran his hands across scarring on his own arms, marks left from both of his occupations. Even if Chirrut hadn’t, he’d certainly changed himself.

“Chirrut!” he called, trying to keep fondness out of his voice.

“Baze, my friend!”

With a few quick steps they were close enough to knock hands together in greeting.

“How have you been?” laughed Chirrut. “I’ve prayed we would see each other again.”

“You? Pray? As if.”

Baze got a bit of a sideways glance at that. “The Force has given me much to be thankful for. I’ve learned to thank It for It’s guidance.”

“And what exactly has the Force done?”

“Are you alright, my friend?” Concern creased Chirrut’s forehead. “I sense a dark movement within you. You’re troubled.”

Baze stepped back rigidly. He didn’t want to think about the Force and whether or not it existed. He’d allowed one positive interaction to taint his memories of Chirrut Îmwe. He’d forgotten how easily Chirrut could get to him. Was it a prank? A joke? Was mentioning the Force a cruel way of making Baze think about the exact things he wished to avoid? He smiled curtly and stepped away.

Now that they were both Guardians, it was impossible to escape Chirrut. He followed him everywhere like shit on the bottom of a shoe. The newest Guardian was causing so many annoyances in his life, yet Baze only wondered why it didn’t bother him more.

With Chirrut’s impressive perception, he’d been too intimidated to take on any freelance jobs as of late, settling for sparring practice and protective skirmishes instead. Unlike the days before, when Baze thirsted for a kill, he found a mellowing balance in Chirrut’s presence. They maintained a goodnatured relationship that thrived on banter and teasing. The joking rivalry satiated Baze’s call for a fight, and the companionship revealed how lonely the once-social Guardian had become.

The one rub was talk of the Force. In the years since Baze had seen him, Chirrut had fully committed to the faith, growing more devout each day.

“I still climb the trees to eat their apples,” he’d admitted. “I just choose to meditate in prayer while I’m up there.”

Baze, in contrast, had begun to believe, or at least convince himself to believe, that there was no Force. He didn’t see an omnipotent presence tying all of life together. He saw only people and their ability to forge new paths and to survive. Faking belief was a struggle, especially with Chirrut’s uncanny ability to notice when his mind wandered during chants, but Baze continued his sworn duty to the Temple of the Kyber, protecting its walls alongside his friend.

Whether or not he was fooling anyone, Baze felt like a grenade, ticking down time and ready to blow. He couldn’t stay away from his freelancing forever, yet he knew the second he returned, Chirrut would know. 

With all the time they spent together, Baze secretly had to admit to forming something like a schoolyard crush on the other Guardian. Maybe it was the way he moved while fighting or the muscles he’d seemingly built overnight. Maybe it was how he stuffed his mouth full of food and tried to talk around it or the fact he snored loud enough to shake the walls of their shared living space. No matter the reason, unwanted emotional connections were something Baze was actively trying to avoid.

The two of them were on watch duty one evening, sitting back to back at the temple gates. Chirrut was softly chanting under his breath, and Baze felt he was seconds from snapping at him to shut up.

As if on cue, the prayer stopped. “You seem tense. What’s wrong?”

Baze sighed, scrubbing his face with his hand. “Nothing. Stop talking, and stay alert.”

"I'm praying."

"I know. Stop."

There was a pause. “You know, when I struggled during training, it was the memory of your unshakable faith that helped me through.” Baze didn’t reply. “What happened to it?”

“There’s more than one force driving our lives. You can’t prove the Force’s existence.”

“What is faith if you must see proof to have it?”

Baze scoffed, leaning his head back against Chirrut’s. “When did you go and become a better Guardian than me?”

“I’ve always been better than you.”

Affronted, Baze turned halfway around, facing Chirrut’s back. “Do you not remember the first time we sparred?”

Chirrut’s glee melted away, and the mood palpably changed to something deeper. “I could never forget.” He turned around as well to face Baze. An exploratory hand was extended, making contact with Baze’s shoulder and following it up to Baze’s neck, then jawline, then chin. Two calloused fingers pressed against his lips, and Baze tensed. 

"You aren't happy like this," whispered Chirrut. "You used to be."

Baze needed him to stop talking, so he reached up to cup Chirrut's hand where it still rested against him. Chirrut had opened his mouth to continue, but the words trailed off. He leaned in slowly, and Baze met him, a delicate press of lips.

"You keep saying I've changed, but look at you," Baze muttered, hoping his rough voice didn't give away his emotion.

"I can't," snickered Chirrut. "I'm blind." This time when he leaned in, it wasn't so chaste, and Baze almost choked at the sudden introduction of tongue.

He poked a finger into Chirrut's stomach, not receiving the anticipated ticklish reaction as he was met instead with toned abs and not a soft side.

A snapping twig in the distance brought Baze back, and he pulled away. "We're on watch. Now's not the time."

"Right," Chirrut agreed. "Later then."

"Later," Baze whispered, and the word felt like the first real prayer he’d said in a year. 

If someone had told young, initiate Baze that he would end up dating resident slacker, Chirrut Îmwe, he would have dismissed it instantly, and yet that was exactly what happened. The pair attempted to be subtle, but the other Guardians were not fooled of course. They were still allowed the shared room, and no one tried to separate them when they were assigned on watch together. It was simply noted, and accepted, and everyone moved on. Baze felt such an unexpected outcome merited at least a slight reaction, but Chirrut insisted it had always been inevitable to begin with.

Baze had returned to his freelancing, and though he suspected Chirrut knew, they never discussed or mentioned it. He wondered if the death could be sensed on him, if not by Chirrut’s Force, then by his incredible perceptive abilities.

Months turned to years, and Baze and Chirrut stayed together, the perfect balance of temperament and skill. New Guardians were growing rarer and rarer, but still they remained a powerful influence in the Holy City, staving off mob and thieves with ease.

They had been together four years when Chirrut popped the question.

The Guardians were in the midst of rebuilding a crumbling temple wall, damaged during a skirmish the week before. Chirrut was at the top, spreading mortar for the stones to be pressed into, when he stood and turned, looking out at the group. He cleared his throat and asked for Baze’s hand in marriage, and everyone clapped when Baze told him to shut the hell up and get down before he fell.  

No one needed to be told that was an acceptance. 

The Head Guardian led the ceremony, and though there was no exchanging of rings, they each took a sip from the cup of cheap Jedhian liquor, and the rite was concluded. Baze signed his name on the legal document and tried not to look too hurried as he followed his husband to their living quarters for the night. Whoops of joy followed them anyway, and Chirrut assured him he was doing the Guardians a favor, making them lighten up and joke for once.

The following years were the best Baze had ever experienced. He spent over five years in complete content, waking up to Chirrut’s sprawled, sleeping form and going to sleep to the same.

Baze felt at peace. He had a profitable side career, good standing with his fellow Guardians of the Whills, and a strong and capable husband. So of course, like all good things in his life, he had to mess it up. 

His mission was to assassinate a politician a few worlds away. It was no harder than any other job, but he was sloppy on his return.

The ship he was on was tracked, and a second fighter followed them back to Jedha. Baze barely made it away from his transportation before it exploded in cannon fire.

His weapon was out of ammunition, so he ran.

There were a million reasons why heading to the temple was a bad idea, but autopilot led his legs straight to the gates. The jolt that ran down his spine when he realized he’d led the team of assassins to his home gave him the boost he needed to change directions.

He was headed away from the Guardians of the Whills’ territory, so there was no reason he should have encountered Chirrut. Yet as he rounded a corner, he smacked directly into him, breathing hard.

“Baze?” Chirrut asked, that wrinkle forming between his brows in confusion. 

A hand reached out to feel the hard shell of Baze’s armor. He knew he smelled like a foreign planet and not at all like the sands of Jedha he’d been supposedly crossing in a personal spiritual pilgrimage over the past few days. The second hand touched his blaster, and he knew it would travel up and around until it found the huge power pack he had strapped behind him.

Shouts in the distance reminded him of the danger approaching, and the calm that Chirrut always granted him was shattered.

“I have to go. Now.” He tried to sprint away, but Chirrut kept stride with ease. “You can’t come. It’s dangerous.”

A flat, unimpressed look was leveled in his direction. Baze rolled his eyes. He could only fight one battle at a time, and he wasn’t going to put energy into one he was guaranteed to lose.

“It might be less dangerous if I knew what I was fighting,” Chirrut said calmly, though Baze noticed his knuckles were white on his staff.

“Baotian assassins. At least fifteen.”

“After you I suppose?”

Baze hummed under his breath, trying to focus on where to turn to try to lose them.

“Who was it?” Chirrut continued.

“Who was what?”

“Who did you take out to make them so mad?”

Baze almost stumbled, but Chirrut steadied him easily and pulled him around a corner. He’d known Chirrut had to be aware of his side-job, but having it confirmed was still a shock to his system. “A ministry official. He was visiting to sign off a new law the citizens were protesting.”

“And so his personal guard is after you now?”

“Looks like it.”

“Special training?”

“Close combat. Nothing impressive.”

“Armed?”

“Blaster cannons. They can penetrate body armor.”

“Sounds easy. We’ve got this.”

“I’m out of ammo.”

“Oh, what, and all those years of hand-to-hand and uneti staff training were for fun? Come on, Baze. Watch my back.” And then Chirrut was turning around and heading back.

“Chirrut, no!” Baze swerved after him, grabbing repeatedly for a fistful of robes and missing each time. The Baotians rounded the corner at the same time as Chirrut, and his staff swung wide, tripping the first few. A round of blaster fire echoed around the alleyway, and Jedhians starting screaming and scattering. A throng pushed into and past Baze, knocking him backwards, away from the fight. He tried to press forward to help Chirrut, but there were too many people. He turned down a side street and tried to desperately detour back to the scene.

By the time he’d reached the center of the action, the Baotians were all down. Blasters were broken and the pieces scattered. But Chirrut was kneeling and panting.

“Chirrut!” Baze scrambled over to him, tripping over bodies and tipped food carts.

With a grunt, Chirrut raised his head, one hand pressed against a wound on his side. “Too many civilians. A Baotian snuck up behind me in the rush,” he gritted out, and Baze felt faint. He dropped his weaponry to the ground, pushing Chirrut backwards to inspect the injury. “When I asked for your analysis on them, you didn’t mention they had knives.” With a surprisingly steady hand, Chirrut held up the blade in question, stained bright red with blood.

“You foolish man. You pulled it out. It could have helped stem the bleeding.”

He got a crooked shrug in response.

Baze lifted Chirrut, carrying him back to the temple where monks streamed out to help.

As they worked at mending the jagged cut, Baze trudged back to find his gun. The Head Guardian sat on an overturned cart beside it. Baze almost turned away to head back, but his name was called in a loud, authoritarian voice. There was no escaping this talk.

“How long has this been going on?”

Baze looked down at his power pack as he kicked at loose gravel beneath his feet, feeling like a child being reprimanded by a parent, despite being a year from forty. “A while.”

This time the words were tense and chopped. “How long?”

“Close to twelve years.”

The Head Guardian breathed a curse to the sky. “I should have seen this coming, shouldn’t I?” When Baze didn’t answer, he laughed dryly, hopping to his feet. “The Guardians will meet in council with the Temple of the Kyber, and we will decide whether or not you remain one of us.”

Baze thought of Chirrut, accepting as usual. He thought of him kneeling, bleeding, on the street, side shredded by a knife it should have never encountered. Baze had made a mistake. He could make one again. “There’s no need for a meeting.”

The Head Guardian looked up sharply.

“I’m leaving. Tonight. I’ll say my words to Chirrut, and I’ll take the next flight off Jedha.”

The fact that there was no protest meant he was making the right decision, he was sure of it.

Baze stooped to pick up his blaster, then shouldered the pack and headed for home. He trailed fingers along the grimy walls of his city. He took in deep breaths of the cold, thin air. The Holy City was not glamorous, but it was his. It always would be.

Chirrut was unconscious when he reached the medicinal building. He’d been knocked out to receive stitches. The monks scattered away at the sight of Baze, huge and threatening with his armor, weaponry, and unkempt hair grown down to his chin. He ignored them, sitting beside his husband and taking a strong, calloused hand into his own. He rubbed a thumb across the back of it, and it left a dark smear of mud on the previously clean skin.

The kiss he laid on Chirrut’s forehead was delicate, almost feather-light, but when he leaned their foreheads together he applied a firm pressure in an attempt to maybe transmit his thoughts and make Chirrut understand. He had to understand. This was for him.

Baze stood and stumbled, the exhaustion of the past few days catching up to him. He had an off-world flight to find and catch. There wasn’t anything to pack, so he headed straight for the tarmacs without looking back.

A cargo ship was taking off for an entirely different system, so Baze threatened his way onboard as per usual, and then they were off. It wasn’t until Jedha had vanished into the lights of hyperspace that he let himself break down. He choked Chirrut’s name out past gritted teeth and pressed dirty palms against his eyes, trying to regulate his breathing.

When had his work grown more important than his duty or his family? There was no time for second thoughts anymore, but the realization of what he’d impulsively walked away from weighed him down. After a bit, Baze cleared his mind and wiped his face. The few minutes he’d taken for emotion were more than enough. Focus was what had kept him alive, and it was what would continue to do so. The Force wasn’t real. It was the creation of desperate monks clinging to any sort of hope in their tragic lives. It was for mythic Jedi, and religious ambassadors.

And so Baze Malbus compartmentalized. He shoved aside his old life and stepped into a bloody and violent one. He ran jobs for everyone from backstreet criminals to well-known politicians. Baze’s old hobby of collecting people came into play, giving him the networking capabilities to take higher paying, and higher profile jobs. His name came with raving reviews, promises of his success and efficiency. It was an exhausting job, but he was always well rewarded.

The money wasn’t of any interest to him really, but Baze used it to buy better weaponry and defensive armor. He’d even fallen into the habit of paying for transportation when it was safe to do so. The rest was funneled away into banks in various quadrants, always under Chirrut’s name, just in case.

He thought about Chirrut nearly every day. Sometimes he’d see someone whose face reminded him of his husband; other times he’d hear a prayer and think of time spent chatting on cool stones in a courtyard. Once in a while, it would be an apple tree.

Apples were very rare food items, only available on a handful of planets across the galaxies, but when he did stumble across one, Baze would pick one and take a bite—just one, never more—and would remember nimble hands memorizing his face, a teasing voice mocking him for the juice on his chin, and chapped lips leaning in to kiss it away.

Baze felt the acute loneliness in his bones, but it wasn’t long until there was another myriad of aches and pains there as well. He took hits from time to time, and there were occasional missions that went drastically wrong.

He was limping to an apothecary for a spare bacta patch when he heard the news on a holo. The mention of Jedha had his attention in an instant, and he diverted his trajectory to walk closer to the source of the announcement.

“After a battle lasting nearly two months, we are pleased to report that the temple in Jedha City, home of the prized kyber crystal, has finally succumbed to Imperial control,” droned the holo, a wavering image of the newscaster visible in the blue light.

Baze was spinning towards the flight decks before the story even finished. He jogged through the ships, asking around for any heading in Jedha’s direction, ignoring the ache in his knee. He hopped aboard four different ships, heading from planet to planet and asking around there, before he found one bound for the moon itself.

Approaching Jedha was nothing like the sentimental return he’d always secretly imagined. A huge Destroyer sat in orbit, and TIE fighters and Imperial cargo ships alike zipped up and down from the surface. After touchdown, Baze scrambled off the landing pad and hurried the six blocks it took to reach the temple, or rather what had once been the temple.

Miners crawled across the land, passing containers of kyber crystal in lines toward shipment trucks. The Temple of the Kyber lay in ruins, chunks of rock strewn throughout former courtyards with abandon.

Baze walked in, past the stormtroopers guarding the entrance, and he carefully retraced the paths he’d walked daily throughout his adolescence. The chambers had been knocked flat and the training rooms repurposed for equipment storage, but what hurt the most was the orchard. Not a single tree remained in the mess. Fallen columns polluted the area, and a thick layer of dust and dirt coated the rotting branches that scattered the floor.

“Hey! You there! What are you doing on Imperial property?” called a stormtrooper who had followed him.

Baze spun, anger and hurt in his eyes, crackling down in his tired spine in a way it hadn’t in years. He raised his gun, and the several other troopers that littered the area lifted theirs as well.

Safeties clicked and blasters whirred as Baze prepared for a fight.

“Please. Hold your fire.” A calm, controlled voice declared. “There is no need for you to hurt him.”

Baze’s breath in his throat caught at his first sight of Chirrut in nearly four years.

“That’s my job.”

The first blow was directly between Baze’s chest and gut, right at the seam of his armor. He stumbled backwards just enough, and Chirrut delivered a swift kick and hit combination to his right knee, as if that step alone was enough to deduce exactly where Baze’s injuries were. He fell to the side with a grunt and lifted an arm to protect himself, but a leg knocked it to the side for a swift blow to his ribs. Chirrut finished off with a stinging slap to Baze’s left cheek and a roundhouse to the sternum. He felt that one even through his heavy plating.

Baze lay gasping, trying to catch his breath on the ground, staring up at the stormtroopers who had lowered their weapons in confusion. An uneti staff prodded hard at Baze’s throat.

“Get up,” Chirrut said, even but cold. “We’re walking.”

With some difficulty, Baze climbed to his knees. His first attempt to get a leg under himself was thwarted by Chirrut swiping it out from under him. He struggled back up again, grumbling about pettiness as he did so, but soon he was headed out of the temple’s remains, held at staff-point all the while.

Baze expected to be directed straight to the Guardians, so he was rather surprised when Chirrut took them out into the desert instead. They walked for nearly an hour, and the Holy City was no more than a long, distant smear across the horizon.

The impending feeling of doom, that he was being led away from witnesses and possible assistance, kept springing into Baze’s head, but finally he was allowed to stop. He turned towards Chirrut and found himself unable to read his husband’s face. 

It was completely blank, devoid of emotion. There were new lines and creases near his mouth and eyes. Light, but visibly different from just a few years prior. Baze decided to break the ice.

“How did you know it was me?”

“You think I wouldn’t know your footfall and grunts anywhere?”

“I don’t grunt,” Baze grunted.

Chirrut laughed, but it held no humor. “Where have you been?”

“All over the galaxy.”

“Doing what?”

“You know what. The same thing that had me kicked out.”

“Kicked out? That’s your story?”

Baze frowned. “What do you mean?”

“The Head Guardian said you chose to leave. Said you didn’t even let him put you before the council.”

“They would have voted to dismiss me.”

“Dismiss you from the Guardians, not the whole moon.”

Baze took a step forward, but Chirrut raised his staff, keeping them separated.

“It was foolish,” Baze admitted. “Selfish. I was embarrassed and afraid.”

“Afraid? Afraid of what?”

“Afraid of how you would see me afterward. Afraid I might cause you to be hurt again in the future.”

“You’re an idiot,” Chirrut said, with the same emphasis of a man violently swearing. He dropped his staff and moved in, one hand cupping Baze’s face as the other gripped his back in a hug.

Shocked, it took Baze a second to return the embrace, but it felt good. It felt like forgiveness. Like coming home.

“First of all,” Chirrut mumbled into Baze’s shoulder pad, “I have always known about your extracurricular activities, and I’ve loved you anyway, loved you for them. And second, despite leaving, you still managed to hurt me. In a way stitches or bacta couldn’t heal, no less.”

“I’m sorry,” Baze whispered.

Chirrut drew back, a sad tilt to his eyebrows. “You grew your hair out.” He touched the long braids on either side of his face. “And you have a beard.”

“Yeah,” replied Baze, eloquently.

“Don’t ever leave me behind,” Chirrut demanded. “Promise me.”

“I promise,” Baze breathed as Chirrut’s face moved closer and closer. “I promise.”

“Then I forgive you.” Kissing Chirrut after so long felt like releasing a breath he’d been holding for four years. He whispered apologies between kisses until Chirrut told him to shut up. They made the hour long walk back hand in hand.

Baze wasn’t a Guardian any longer, and he never would be. Besides the obvious reasons, he also refused to acknowledge the Force, a fact that could never be overlooked. Even so, Baze was allowed to stay with Chirrut in his quarters, though he was forbidden to enter until he had bathed.

That night was much more like the welcome home he’d hoped for, and laying pressed behind Chirrut, listening to his snores, was the most comfortable Baze had ever felt.

Trust built back up surprisingly easy. Chirrut knew that Baze always kept his promises, at least to him, and he was never one to hold onto anger in the first place. Baze felt a little ill at how easily he was forgiven. He knew how terrible of a mistake he had made, and being let off the hook felt like cheating the system.

It grew easier to forget after another Guardian pulled the same move, begging forgiveness before running away on a cargo ship.

“The Empire owns Jedha now,” he shouted. “Look around! There’s nothing left to protect.”

The others had scattered soon after. The Head Guardian was one of the last to leave, and his final act was to declare the Guardians of the Whills extinct. Chirrut never accepted it.

Even when all the others were finding ships off the moon, it didn’t cross Baze’s mind to start packing. Chirrut wouldn’t be leaving, and he had sworn to never abandon him. It wasn’t lost on him that while his oath to the temple had been broken, his promise to Chirrut would not be. And so it was decided. They would both stay.

Chirrut picked a good location with steady traffic on the crumbling steps of the temple, near a marketplace. He’d spend his days there, praying and spreading his chants of the Force with others.

Baze stood amongst broken pillars, side by side with the few Guardians who had also remained. He kept his gun drawn and ready, always prepared to fight off angry Jedhians or armed stormtroopers. After years of exhausting action, it was nice to spend several in relative peace; a simple daily routine was more than enough for him since he’d turned fifty.

The political climate was tumultuous and growing more so by the minute. Baze woke one morning feeling off balance, and Chirrut’s frown and anxious staff twirling confirmed he felt the same. They still headed to their usual positions and continued with their day as always.

It was close to noon when Chirrut deviated from their accepted form of normal by talking to an individual in the crowd directly. He called out to a woman, mentioning her necklace. Baze didn’t see one, but he didn’t doubt it was there. A young but worn man emerged to drag her away before Chirrut could finish speaking, but something significant had happened; Baze was sure.

Less than an hour later, Imperial troops moved in and lay siege to the city.

Chirrut and Baze retreated within the few remaining walls of the temple, and chanted prayers bounced off every surface they could find.

Baze loaded and reloaded his gun, letting the safety snap on and off over and over again.

When the man and woman reappeared, they were bound by stormtroopers. Chirrut stepped out of his alcove and, true to form, decimated the Imperial troops with ease. When an entirely new squadron sprinted in as reinforcements, Baze rolled his eyes and took aim. They fell like limp dolls, and Chirrut shot him a disgruntled look at how intentionally close he’d fired near his head.

Shortly afterward, they were cuffed, with bags shoved over their heads—as if that would slow Chirrut down in any fight—and dragged for miles to be stuffed into cells.

Chirrut prayed in a continuous stream, and stressed without his blaster, Baze resorted to his usual ridicule. Captain Andor didn’t seem amused, but Chirrut teased right back with his reminder of Baze’s old faith. He figured it wasn’t good form to kiss the man in an extremist’s cell over the memories of climbing apple trees.

They found the Imperial pilot next, and then the world was shaking around them, and Baze’s life turned upside down all over again.

Andor popped the cell door, and Baze threw Chirrut his staff and grabbed his gun. They barely made it to a ship before Jedha was gone.

The whole city. Gone. In its entirety.

Baze held Chirrut’s hand in the gap between their seats.

Collecting people as friends had been a luxury only a younger Baze had been able to afford. Then it had become about connections and finding jobs. Now, he supposed, at what he suspected was going to be the end of his life, it couldn’t hurt to make a few more friends at the last minute. Captain Andor became Cassian. The Imperial pilot became Bodhi. And Jyn Erso became Little Sister.

Baze left a datapad note detailing locations of his various accounts with an Alliance technician. “If you ever need the financial support,” he’d muttered, handing the holo tablet over to its frightened owner, “here’s where to find it.”

He joined the others in climbing onto the ship—Rogue One, Bodhi’d called it—and they set course for Scarif.

The battle went as well as any obvious suicide mission could. They had the element of surprise on their side, as well as Chirrut, who in Baze’s opinion was more valuable than luck or tactics could ever be. They took down trooper after trooper and blew landing pads sky high.

If Baze had had the privilege of retrospect, he might have known it would come down to this in the end. A switch, desperation, an impossible situation, and just Chirrut and his Force to save the day.

He calls out to him to return, but he knows it’s pointless really. The day Baze Malbus convinces Chirrut Îmwe to change his mind on anything he’s set it on will be the day Baze lays down his gun for good.

Chirrut reaches the switch of course. He pushes the lever forward and turns to send that polite yet beaming grin in Baze’s direction. Baze still shouts for him to come back. Mid-return, the shots finally make contact, and Chirrut’s body flies through the air. He still looks graceful, in his own special way. Trust Chirrut to even make dying look good. Baze sprints out after him now, grabs and pulls him close, holds his hand, and tries to convey through his eyes how sorry he is. How he’s sorry he wasted four years they could have had together. How he’s sorry for every little spat they’ve had, whether it was over who needed to make dinner or who tracked the mud in.

Chirrut’s face expresses the opposite. He’s thankful for every moment they have had. He’s thankful for naked wrestling in the public baths, for playful fights to grab the last morsel of food first, and for cold feet pressed to warm stomachs just before dropping off to sleep.

He dies there, in Baze’s arms, like in every nightmare Baze has ever had, professing his faith to the end, and Baze wonders if he’s had it all wrong, if his belief in people and not the Force is misguided, and if what he’s really been believing in all along has been Chirrut.

He gently lays Chirrut’s body down, and it’s so reminiscent of a motion he’s done throughout their lives together, but this is it, the last time.

Baze Malbus stands and shoulders his power pack better on his back. There’s a crowd of death troopers rising up over a ridge to his left.

Don’t ever leave me behind. Promise me.

I promise.

“The Force is with me, and I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me, and I am one with the Force…”