“Be nice,” Cassian said under his breath as the ship descended toward the forest floor.
Chirrut resettled his grip on his staff and resisted the urge to point out that he was always nice. Beside him, Baze snorted quietly and Chirrut grinned to himself. When he turned his head, he could see the faint glow of Baze’s outline, the Force flowing like smudged iridescence around and through his form. It was comforting, those inky rainbows in constant movement, telling him where Baze was at all times.
It was harder to see the others, his connection with them not as strong, but his other senses were still in play. He could hear Cassian shifting his feet on his left, Jyn on Cassian’s far side muttering something under her breath. Bodhi was a warm presence at Chirrut’s back, smelling like engine grease and cinnamon, and Kaytoo was just a few feet away in the pilot’s chair, metal fingers punching buttons on the console.
“Remember to let me do the talking,” Cassian said.
“Right, we need them to like us,” Chirrut said, nodding.
The ship settled with a crunch of metal and Chirrut heard the door whoosh open. He took a deep breath—it smelled like green, growing things and warm wetness in the air, rich and fertile. He tipped his face into the breeze and smiled.
“We should stay a while after our business is concluded,” he said to Baze. “We need a vacation.”
Cassian shushed him harshly. “They’re coming.” He stepped out of the ship, Jyn on his heels, and Chirrut followed, Baze and Bodhi flanking him.
“If it comes to fighting,” Chirrut said to Bodhi in a low voice, “make sure you give me room. I don’t want to hit you accidentally.”
Bodhi swallowed and Chirrut resisted the urge to pat his arm.
“It’s a peacekeeping mission,” he reminded him instead. “Not likely to get violent—” He cut off as his feet hit the forest floor.
“Chirrut?” Baze sounded worried.
Chirrut couldn’t speak. He held out a hand and Baze took it, concern rippling off him in waves.
“What is it?” Baze asked.
“Oh,” Chirrut sighed. “Oh Baze, it’s beautiful.”
“The Force—” Chirrut didn’t miss Baze’s derisive snort, but he kept going. “The Force is particularly strong on this planet. It’s like—” He searched for words. “Everything glows. You’re… limned in colors, my love. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Bodhi leaned forward and Chirrut turned his head toward him, delighted to find that Bodhi glowed too, his slim frame a multi-hued kaleidoscope.
“The delegates are coming,” Bodhi said.
Chirrut nodded and let go of Baze’s hand. “I’ll be quiet.”
He couldn’t stop taking it all in, though, the vibrant colors that surrounded every living thing in his vicinity, as Cassian spoke to the lead delegate, his voice polite and subdued.
There were twelve Dathomirians in front of them—outnumbered 2 to 1, Chirrut noted absently, still busy cataloguing his environment. He hadn’t realized there were so many colors, all of them swirling in and around and through each other in dizzying swirls that made his head hurt if he tried to follow the movement.
He was so focused on his new sense that he wasn’t listening to what the lead Dathomirian said, until Baze stiffened, beside him, and Bodhi sucked in air.
“No,” Cassian said flatly. “That’s impossible. Ask for something else.”
Baze was utterly still, like he’d been carved from marble. Chirrut frowned, cocking his head. What had been said to cause that level of alarm from his usually unflappable husband?
The Dathomirian spoke again, her voice soft but leaden with menace. “Them, or there will be no deal.”
Them? Chirrut didn’t like where this was going.
“In fact,” the Dathomirian continued, “we want them no matter what. If we can do this peacefully, that would be the best solution. However, we are not above killing you and taking what we desire.”
Jyn went for her gun and Cassian caught her wrist.
Bodhi stepped in front of Baze and Chirrut. “You’re not taking them,” he said.
Us. She wants us. Chirrut sank into a fighting stance as Baze shifted his weight.
“Back to the ship,” Cassian said urgently, but it was too late.
Chirrut moved on instinct, lunging forward and pushing Bodhi to the side, out of the way of the blaster fire that erupted in a searing flare that singed Chirrut’s senses. It narrowly missed Bodhi, who stumbled and went down.
That was fine by Chirrut. He couldn’t fight and worry about Bodhi’s safety at the same time. He swept his staff up. It caught the charging Dathomirian under the chin and dropped her in a heap. Chirrut was already in motion again. He spun under another’s wild swing, sliding in past her defenses and taking her feet out from under her. He brought his staff down against her skull with a bone-shattering thud and sprang over her limp body.
Baze hadn’t brought his gun. That was all Chirrut could think about. He had a blaster but not his heavy gun, and there were more Dathomirians emerging from the trees on the far end of the clearing. They were more than outnumbered.
“Back to the ship!” Cassian roared. His blaster spat fire and Chirrut turned to grab Baze, but Baze wasn’t there.
Chirrut faltered and Cassian caught his arm and dragged him backward, away from the blade that whistled within an inch of Chirrut’s face.
“Baze,” Chirrut said. He couldn’t feel him, couldn’t sense him anywhere—it was like he’d been erased completely from Chirrut’s senses. He twisted out of Cassian’s grip and spun in a circle. “Baze!”
“We have to go!” Cassian shouted, grabbing at him again. They were almost to the ship, driven backward by the fighting.
Chirrut punched him in the face. Cassian went down and Chirrut vaulted him. The Dathomirians were retreating on the far side of the clearing, a clump of darkly glowing energies concentrated together. They had to have Baze, it was the only explanation.
He lunged after them.
Jyn flung herself in his path and Chirrut knocked her flying with a quick swing of his staff. He would regret that, later. If he survived this. If Baze was dead—he banished that thought and took two quick steps just as Bodhi stepped in front of him.
“Chirrut, stop,” he said.
Chirrut stopped. “Move.” There was harsh steel in his voice, steel and anguish and the prospect of bitter loss yawning beneath his feet, and he felt Bodhi’s flinch, but Bodhi didn’t move. Every second they wasted was another second Baze was carried farther from him. Chirrut tensed but Cassian was suddenly there, gripping his arms again.
“We just need a plan,” Cassian said, low and urgent. “I swear to you by everything I hold dear, we will get him back.”
Chirrut sagged in Cassian’s hands and Bodhi slipped an arm around his waist.
“We have to go,” he said softly. He turned Chirrut toward the ship and Chirrut struggled to make his feet cooperate. Each step felt like he was being torn apart, leaving a piece of himself behind in the forest clearing.
On the ship, he collapsed on the bench and covered his face.
“Let’s go, Kaytoo!” Jyn shouted.
Chirrut reached for her hand as the door clanged shut. “Jyn—”
She squeezed his hand before pulling away. “We’re going to get him back.”
As soon as they were in the air, Cassian told Chirrut what he’d missed.
“You gathered they wanted you,” he said.
Chirrut nodded. His grip on his staff was the only thing keeping him grounded.
“The leader said something about the Force being strong in you both. She asked for you, I said no. When the fighting started, they disabled Baze somehow and took him. I guess they figured one was better than none.”
Chirrut closed his eyes. Baze was—he could always sense Baze, no matter what, turn to him like filing to a magnet. He didn’t need sight to see him, to know when he was scowling or smiling, to gauge his moods so he knew what approach was called for. Did Baze need him to be light and teasing, or comforting and gentle? Chirrut always knew.
But now—he was adrift, cut loose from his moorings and bobbing helplessly on the open waves like the seas Baze had described to him once, during a drought on Jedha.
“The water is steel gray, blue, or green, depending what lives in it,” he’d said, running his palm over the arm Chirrut had draped across his chest. “Sometimes you can see right to the ocean floor—other times, you can’t even get a foot deep without it being black as pitch.”
“What’s it feel like?”
Baze had hummed thoughtfully. Chirrut knew he was pushing him, asking him to use words, but he was so curious—
“Warm water is like silk on your skin. When you’re in it, you’re weightless. Cradled, suspended. You can sleep on it, even, if you know how to float.”
“Surely not,” Chirrut protested.
He could feel the amusement in Baze’s voice when he answered. “Would I lie to you? I’ve napped on the surface of a lake more than once.”
“What about cold water?”
Baze shivered as if recalling an unpleasant memory. “Cold water is like ice held to your skin. It saps your strength, robs your lungs of air, tries to pull you down below the surface. It wears you out very quickly.”
Chirrut rubbed his face against Baze’s chest. “Maybe someday you can take me to a warm water.”
Baze had just laughed and pulled him closer.
“I can’t find him,” Chirrut said abruptly. “Cassian, it’s like he’s—” Dead. He kept the word locked behind his teeth with a monumental effort. “I always know where he is, but this time I—”
“There aren’t many places he could be,” Cassian said soothingly. “We’ll find him.”
He stood to go speak to Kaytoo, and Chirrut resettled his grip on the staff, fingers aching, and prayed.
I’m one with the Force and the Force is with me. Baze’s laugh, so rarely heard by anyone but Chirrut. I’m one with the Force and the Force is with me. The soft touch of his callused fingers on Chirrut’s skin. I’m one with the Force and the Force is with me. The way he complained in a sleep-roughened voice when Chirrut rose early for prayers.
I fear nothing, for all is as the Force wills it.
Chirrut’s breath splintered in his throat and he curled forward around the ache in his chest. Baze.
He was dimly aware of Bodhi beside him, but Chirrut didn’t acknowledge him, focused on counting his breaths and finding his center again.
Finally, though, he straightened.
Bodhi was silent, offering nothing but his presence.
“If you hadn’t stopped me,” Chirrut said, “I would probably be dead. Possibly Baze would be too.” If he isn’t already—he cut that thought off sharply.
Bodhi shifted his weight.
“Thank you, little one,” Chirrut said. He took Bodhi’s hand and squeezed it as Cassian’s footsteps rang on the hull.
“Kay’s putting the ship down in a safe location far enough away that we won’t be traced,” Cassian said. “I’ve requested backup rendezvous with us there. It won’t be long.”
Jyn put a hand on Chirrut’s shoulder and Chirrut covered it with his own.
“There’s a 73% chance of—”
“Not the time, Kay,” Cassian interrupted.
Their backup was waiting when Kaytoo set the ship down and the crew gathered by the door. Without Baze, Chirrut was having a harder time than usual scoping his surroundings. With the added sensory input of the Force flowing so strongly through the living things all around, he felt worn thin, scraped raw and stretched to snapping.
“We’re in a big field,” Bodhi said quietly from Chirrut’s left. “General Draven sent us two ships with a cadre of fifteen men in each. The ships are positioned at ten and two o’clock relative to our position, and the soldiers are waiting in the holds.”
Chirrut nodded, unable to shape words out of the gratitude in his throat. Bodhi pressed cold metal against his palm and Chirrut recognized his lightbow, running his fingers over the familiar grooves and runnels.
“Their camp is on the other side of the ridge, but they’ll see us coming if we approach by air,” Cassian said. “We’ll have to go in on foot. Fast and quiet, take them by surprise. Chirrut—”
“I can keep up,” Chirrut said flatly.
Cassian didn’t challenge that. “You’re to find Baze and get him out. Leave the fighting to us if you can, but use force if necessary. They violated the peace treaty, and the Alliance does not forgive that lightly.”
Bodhi touched Chirrut’s sleeve. “I’ll stay with you.”
They moved through the forest in pairs, Bodhi on Chirrut’s left. Without Baze and his triangulation device that amplified Chirrut’s echo-locator, Chirrut had to be more careful about where he put his feet, listen harder, clock and catalog every noise he heard. Even with the Force amplifying his senses, he was twitchy, feeling like a spring wound too tight.
Bodhi stayed close but didn’t cramp Chirrut’s movement, off to the side far enough that he’d be out of Chirrut’s way when the fighting started.
Chirrut stepped over a log and brushed a hanging creeper off his face. All he could think about was getting to Baze. What if he’d been hurt? What if he was lying somewhere, alone and injured, unable to get away or stop the Dathomirians from whatever they had planned?
Chirrut squared his shoulders and firmed his jaw. Fretting would do neither of them any good. Better to pray.
In darkness, cold. In light, cold.
He trailed his fingers across a tree, the bark cool and wet under his touch.
The old sun brings no heat.
But there is heat in breath and life.
Chirrut ducked another creeper.
In life, there is the Force.
In the Force, there is life.
And the Force is eternal.
Somehow, the sunset prayer of the Guardians seemed apt for their surroundings. Already, Chirrut felt a measure of peace stealing across his soul, easing the terror that clutched his heart with cruel claws.
I’m coming, Baze.