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A Single Monk in Good Standing Must be in Want of a Bro

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The Kyber Temple is large enough that there’s no question of Baze keeping track of every single new arrival they receive. That said, he is made aware of the day that Chirrut Îmwe joins their ranks, thanks to Teela Jehsop’s telling him: “There’s a blind one among the new fellows.”

They’re in middle of wiping down the grand altar, and Teela’s been compelled to share all sorts of news she’d gleaned from the morning’s receivers. “From one of the Goran villages.”

“Ah,” Baze says. “So they – he? She?”

“He.”

“…will be staying in Ran’s old room? Master Krannurak appreciates that kind of poetry.”

“I have no idea,” Teela says. “Surely you’ve heard of him, though. He was the one who defended the Drakkar mine some time back from smugglers.”

“Oh.” Baze recalls that event – it was the year he’d reached fourth duan. He hadn’t been part of the group sent to assist the southern chapter, but it was a memorable enough assignment that it rings clear in the memory a few years on. “Right, Janos spoke highly of him. I remember thinking that surely the grandmasters would invite him to join the temple after that.”

Teela shrugs. “Maybe they did, and it only took this long to accept.”

Baze files this away as important information, and afterward tries to recall as much as he can about Ran, a blind guardian who passed some time ago. When Baze arrived at the temple Ran was already an old man who spent most of his time in meditation instead of lessons or active duty, so Baze had little chance to get to know him. But there are still lessons to be had from those old memories – of considerations that should be taken and assumptions that should be avoided.

“It’d be nice to have another pair of hands for sentry duty,” Baze says. “There’s been too many vandals of late.”

Teela nods in agreement. “If Janos was accurate in his description, the temple would be well-guarded indeed.”

 


 

Baze Malbus is a Guardian of the Whills, not unlike the hundreds of other Guardians spread all over Jedha and sometimes further still. He has been in active service of the Kyber Temple for almost twenty standard years and, although that isn’t a great measure of time, has seen a variety of devotees pass through the temple halls.

Faith is a funny thing, as are the countless ways it manifests.

Baze has known openly devoted guardians and seemingly indifferent guardians; generous guardians and distant guardians; guardians who seem to only want the title for its access to the resources of the temple, and so on. For all these differences, the Force still guides them all, and in so doing keeps the balance of the Whills intact.

Baze has his own place inside this dynamic system, tied to his own nature and history. He’s been here since he was a child, so he knows what the foundlings of the temple need. He’s been blessed with a strong body and good stamina, and there are always active tasks for someone like that. He is not as kyber-sensitive as some of the other acolytes, and so has more time to see to the stewardship of the physical temple and its pilgrims.

Those are some aspects to Baze’s current role, but as with all things in the Force, said role can change over time. Baze is always learning, always striving to improve, always testing his capability to serve the Whills.

When Baze sees Chirrut for the first time, it is the second day after his arrival, and the other man is sparring with Janos in the eastern courtyard. Baze is doing his morning rounds at the time, but he takes a moment to pause on the temple battlement and observe the quarterstaff skill on display. He is far from the first to do, because a small but enraptured audience has gathered around the pair down below.

Baze is quick in combat and can be elegant with certain weapons, but not like that. His body mass is wrong for it, and although said mass could be off-set by hand work, he has yet to achieve the necessary dexterity for it. Janos is an excellent fighter, and one of Jedha’s best defenders, so it is a testament to the person Chirrut Îmwe is that is not only Janos clearly losing, but that Janos is smiling as he does.

The session is impressive enough that it even takes Baze a moment to recall that Chirrut isn’t sighted, and that every thrust and parry is achieved by sound, air, and Force-sense. Baze lowers his bowcaster and whispers a chant, acknowledging the Force’s will in choosing the people for its service.

A few more strikes and Chirrut stands back to lean against his staff, grinning and triumphant. He cannot be much older than Baze himself, and his eyes are a milky blue, visible even from this distance. As Baze watches, Chirrut offers a hand out to his fallen spar-partner, and Janos takes it with good cheer.

Baze smiles and thinks: good.

 


 

A few more days, and then Baze gets to see those milky blue eyes up close. It happens while he’s guarding one of the entrances to the kyber mines; not one of his favourite tasks, since the presence of so much kyber so close makes him nervous, though it does give him time for light meditation.

Baze recognizes the trio long before they reach his station, no matter that they are quiet in their approach, and the tunnel dimly lit. Baze is wielding a quarterstaff for this duty not unlike the one that Chirrut takes everywhere, and feels a little self-conscious for it.

“This is him,” Janos says, once they are close enough.

“Ah,” Chirrut says, clearly pleased. “Baze Malbus, of Jedha City. I am Chirrut Îmwe, of the Goran chapter.”

“An honour,” Baze says, bowing.

“No, no, the honour is mine. Janos and Dalharil have told me so much about you.” Chirrut’s smile is one that begs a smile in response, whether or not he can see it. “All good, I assure you.”

“Ah,” Baze says slowly. “Do you... need something?”

“Yes,” Chirrut says. “I would like to visit the mine. Just the outer chamber.”

Baze turns to the other two, confused. “Didn’t you tell him it’s not permissible without a keeper?”

“I only need a moment,” Chirrut says. “Master Krannurak has promised to take me, but there’s no date set into the promise.”

“Baze,” Janos says, coming in close and keeping his voice low. “Just this once. Chirrut’s incredibly sensitive to kyber, I’ve seen it. And it’s well-known that we’ve been having trouble finding a new seam.”

“That sensitive?” Baze says in surprise. “Why don’t you just ask Master Varm, then?”

“I’m too new here,” Chirrut says. “Haven’t yet proven myself for the sake of the temple.”

“Apparently it doesn’t matter what he’s done for the Whills elsewhere,” Janos says dryly.

“And we can’t wait,” Dalharil adds.

For soon it will be full winter and the stone too hard to mine. Baze understands immediately, for he is among those tasked with inventory of the kyber, which even Janos and Dalharil don’t have access to. But there’s a reason that Baze has this responsibility and they don’t, and it’s that reason that has Baze saying regretfully: “Sorry.”

“Baze, you know this is—” Janos says.

“Please don’t ask again,” Baze says. “I can’t make exceptions.”

“Not even for me?” Chirrut’s voice is sweet, though his smile has sharpness that makes Baze think of zhin birds. Intelligent mischievous creatures, every single one of them, and would just as well pick on creatures five times their size for sport. It’s no wonder Chirrut’s made friends so quickly. Chirrut adds, “I’d be happy to show you what I can do with a sliver of kyber.”

Chirrut rolls his staff against his palm a little, drawing Baze’s attention to the kyber crystal set into the head. This close, Baze can sense that it is an old, well cared-for piece. To have a personal piece is already an honour, let alone for one so young. Chirrut must be a fifth duan at the most, yet he moves with the easy confidence of one with more years behind them – or, at least, someone who’s had to prove himself over and over again, and is at peace with the fact that that may never stop.

“You may show me anyway, if you like,” Baze says. “But you’re still not getting past.”

Chirrut draws back. The smile is still there but there’s the suggestion of recalibration going on behind Chirrut’s sightless eyes. Baze adjusts his grip on his quarterstaff, and watches Chirrut’s fingers tighten on his.

“Fine,” Chirrut says, relaxing. “If the Force doesn’t need me in the mines today, so be it. Bless you, Baze Malbus.”

Baze nods. “And you, Chirrut Îmwe.”

There is a pang at turning them down, especially when their intentions are clear and, in this case, probably correct. The next delivery may be nearly ready, but the summer envoy from Coruscant will likely have poor pickings of kyber. In all likelihood the temple may have to give up some of its stockpile for the Jedi, which would mean hours of in-house crafting gone to waste.

Baze looks over his shoulder at the reinforced doors, wondering when the super will return. There are hours yet, but she might—

A whisper in the air and Baze snaps back round, a hand up to catch the iella fruit thrown at his head. A heartbeat later he’s thrown it back, where it smacks Chirrut right between his eyes. There’s a hilarious little pap! sound at the contact, and Chirrut’s mouth falls open in shock.

Baze is immediately sorry, and jogs over to fetch the fallen iella, brushing it clean on his robe before offering it back to its thrower. Chirrut closes his mouth, opens his hand, and wraps his fingers around the fruit when Baze drops it in his palm.

“You need to be faster than that,” Baze says.

After a beat, Chirrut says, “Apparently so.”

Baze returns to his post, and tries to ignore Janos and Dalharil’s scowls as the trio walk away.

 


 

It’s almost funny how quickly Chirrut settles in at the temple. Baze worries about all new arrivals, for although the Guardians of the Whills are not as exacting as the Jedi, the reality of life at the temple isn’t as straightforward as the theory. Baze has seen acolytes and grandmasters alike succumb to pressure from within and without, sometimes to the point of sharing their destruction with others. Being devoted to the Force doesn’t ensure kindness, after all.

In Chirrut’s cause, such worry was never necessary, because in no time he has more friends than just Janos and Dalharil, and various grandmasters are conceding (reluctantly or not) that the late arrival from Goran brings knowledge with him that will undoubtedly enrich the temple. If anything, Baze worries for the southern chapter Chirrut left behind, for it has lost a tremendous resource. Unless, of course, the southern chapter has been a breeding ground of Force-sensitive guardians for the past few decades and there are a half-dozen other Chirrut Îmwes caring for its villages, which is also possible.

Baze tells Teela as much during one of their evening meals together, to which Teela laughs and says, “Maybe that’s why they don’t send as many acolytes as the other chapters.” She shrugs. “Makes as much sense as any other theory.”

“You aren’t jealous?” Baze asks. “His skill with the quarterstaff alone.”

“You’ve seen it?”

“Some of it, yes.” Baze looks down at his fingers. He’s been doing his exercises in the privacy of his room, but they aren’t yet as dextrous as they could be. “They must have developed new techniques down there, away from mainstream influence. This certainly injects new energy into the order.”

“Janos is enjoying it, too, which is something I would not have expected.” Teela tears a small piece of bread and pops it into her mouth. “Master Ratha is less pleased, but at least readings will be much more interesting now.”

“Readings?”

“Chirrut is almost as opinionated as you, though twice as loud about it.”

“Ah, he’s training for sixth.” Baze hadn’t been sure, seeing that he only ever sees Chirrut during morning prayer in the great hall. Baze’s odd schedule keeps him occupied at all sorts of hours, and the only class-groups he ever sees these days are the novitiates. “I didn’t know they allowed the outside chapters to raise a guardian all the way to the fifth without testing at the temple.”

“I didn’t know either. A special case, perhaps.”

“Or, he completed fifth in single test upon arrival,” Baze says. “Wouldn’t that be something?”

“We could ask,” Teela says. “He’s on assignment with us day after tomorrow.”

Baze shakes his head in amusement. Barely a month at Jedha, and Chirrut is on assignment already.

 


 

It’s true that it’s not a difficult assignment, but escorting the foundlings of the temple into the marketplace is a test of patience for any guardian. There are four guardians to wrangle sixteen children, and those odds are only good on paper.

Over the course of the afternoon, Baze learns that Chirrut is good with children. He holds their hands, answers their questions, and is perfectly amiable to their climbing all over him once they realize that they have permission to. Even Ommol, the foundling master, is charmed, and is quickly content to give Chirrut free reign alongside Teela in guiding their small party. The group moves down the main thoroughfare in unpredictable loops, where they pause every so often at shops and other places of interest.

Baze’s part in this is to take point, watching over the group from the back and shooing stragglers forward. He’s also holding hands with little Antares, who is quiet and has her own preferences.

“What have you done this week?” Baze asks. “How is your weaving?”

“I had to start all over again,” Antares says. “I made a mistake, but it’s all right, because I wasn’t the only one.”

“Would you like me to show you again?”

“No, thank you.” Antares holds his hand right until they reach the fountains, which is when she pulls away with another thank you and races for her favourite spot. One charge taken care of, Baze draws back and finds a good spot to watch over the group as a whole.

There are fewer pilgrims than locals in this part of the city, but not so few that their group isn’t approached by the curious who recognize their robes. Ommol has no time for such people, and lets Teela and Chirrut deal with their questions and requests for prayer. This, too, seems to come easily to Chirrut, for he is able to chat warmly with passers-by even as he’s wrangling a pair of younglings in his lap.

It’s just as amusing to watch Teela’s scrutiny of Chirrut, and the way she keeps checking on him from her vantage point, making sure that he isn’t traumatizing the younglings in any way. Teela is older than them both, and a better judge of character than Baze is, so it’s interesting to follow the expressions on her face as she circles Chirrut slowly, and later sits next to him to strike up conversation.

Chirrut is in full bloom then, his body relaxed and his laugh warm as he converses with Teela. She is not as easily charmed as Ommol, but Baze is pleased when, later, she meets Baze’s gaze across the square and shrugs a little, satisfied.

After the fountains, they move on to the gate shrines, where the children are to refresh the candles and pay their respects. Baze stays by the doors while Ommol leads the prayers inside the shrine, and all is perfectly peaceful until Chirrut steps outside and takes position next to Baze, an ear turned in his direction. “Master Baze.”

“Master Chirrut.”

“I almost forgot you were with us. It was Antares who reminded me that we had one more sentinel minding our journey.” Chirrut lowers his voice, as though sharing a secret, “She was worried we’d leave you behind.”

“I doubt I could lose a group this noisy in a sandstorm.” Baze looks over the square one more time. “Did you want something?”

“Ah.” Chirrut leans against his staff. “Have you heard that we are rivals?”

“We are?”

“So I’ve been told.” Chirrut smiles, good-natured.

“Not from Teela, I hope.”

Chirrut laughs. “No, not from Teela. I’d heard your name before I ever arrived, of course. Baze Malbus, child of Jedha City and its fiercest protector. You’re not that much older than me and already on your way to the seventh duan, aren’t you?”

“I started early,” Baze says.

Chirrut does a gesture with his chin that Baze thinks is the equivalent of an amused eye-roll. “You’re not the only foundling of the temple our age. Anyway, I’ve been challenged by all the other fifths, and even one sixth, who wasn’t so happy with the outcome. Not you, though.”

“I’ve seen you with the staff,” Baze says. “You’re better than I am.”

“You’ve seen me?” Chirrut sounds surprised.

“Yes,” Baze says. “Against Janos, the first time. Against the Dalharil after that, and a few others.”

“You can choose another weapon. One you prefer, so to make it a challenge. Or no weapon at all?”

Baze starts to rise. “Vumon is wandering off—”

“He’s just chasing a cacete, he won’t go far.” Chirrut waits, head tilted. Sure enough, Vumon reappears around the pillar, holding a cacete in his hands. “See?”

Baze relaxes. “That’s good.”

Chirrut grins. “The Force protects. So, how about it?”

“I thank you for the honour,” Baze says, “but I’m challenged enough as it is by my elders. It’s tiring keeping up with them.”

Chirrut shifts his stance, and taps the heel of his staff against Baze’s boot. “Are you afraid of me, Baze Malbus?”

Baze looks at him. There’s plenty to be afraid of if one looks properly, it’s true. Chirrut is only soft when it suits him, like when he’s with children and pilgrims. Otherwise, he need only move his shoulders and head just so, and there’s a clear glimpse of the tightly-coiled power that he’s honed and often keeps leashed. Chirrut is a drite stone, sharp and changing colours with his surroundings.

“Of course I’m afraid,” Baze says. “Seeing as that we’re rivals and all. My reputation is under threat, and I must do what I can to defend myself.”

Chirrut blinks.

“When I was in the fifth,” Baze continues, “I scaled the ilumna tower in twelve minutes. It would hurt my feelings a great deal if someone were to break my record.” He pats Chirrut’s shoulder. “Now you should go, the little ones are getting punchy and think I have stolen you from them.”

Chirrut seems confused for a second, until Baze nudges his shoulder again, gently pushing Chirrut back into the shrine.

 


 

Chirrut scales the tower in nine minutes.

Baze almost misses it because he’s having an early morning lesson deep in the temple, but once he’s finished and is on the way back to his quarters, a novitiate comes running for him and drags him out to the front courtyard, where Chirrut is hanging on one of the columns of ilumna tower, one foot balanced on the base.

“At last!” Chirrut exclaims, though Baze himself hasn’t said a word. Chirrut press his hands together in solemn acknowledgement and then – after Dalharil taps her chrono – rushes up the wall, finding hand and foot holds with unerring accuracy.

Baze is as captivated as the rest of Chirrut’s audience, though it isn’t just the skill and bravery on display. Baze managed the climb after weeks of studying the tower; Chirrut cannot have done it the same way, for he’d have had to rely on shared descriptions of the climb by his friends. Here is evidence of the Force at work, making itself known through the faithful.

Teela wasn’t happy when Baze made the climb, and now that Baze is the one standing below, he understands why. He trusts that the Force will not let Chirrut fall, but it does no harm to pray for it as well.

A voice close to Baze makes him start a little. “This is your fault then, Master Malbus?”

“Master Laa,” Baze says, inclining his head. “Don’t punish him. It never works.”

“You’re just saying that because it didn’t work with you.” Laa puts a hand to his temple and squints up at Chirrut’s shrinking form. “Though perhaps it will slow him some to finally beat you.”

“Or perhaps you need to step up your teaching,” Baze says. “No two paths to the Whills are identical.”

Laa clicks his tongue irritably. “Don’t platitude at me, boy. I don’t coddle him, no more than I did you.”

“So you say,” Baze says neutrally.

Nine minutes in and Chirrut touches the kyber shield. A great portion of his audience erupts with cheers, and Laa even snorts faintly in acknowledgement before disappearing into the crowd. The other elders will follow Laa’s lead, which is good enough.

Baze stands back and waits for Chirrut complete his descent, which is slower than the ascent and trickier to pull off. Chirrut makes a jump once he’s close enough to the ground, and his beautiful landing is a perfect cap to the accomplishment. His friends immediately surround him, though they quieten when Chirrut shakes his head and raises a hand in a plea.

Chirrut bobs his head this way and that, searching, until Janos points Baze out. Baze put his hands together and bows low.

“Well done, Master Chirrut,” Baze says. “That will hold for some years yet.”

“Thank you, Master Baze.” Chirrut’s a little out of breath, but he’s glowing. “The Force can be generous.”

“Very much so,” Baze agrees. “I wish you well with this.”

Chirrut smiles a thank you, and then he is swarmed again when the crowd of guardians and devotees press in to offer congratulations and praise. Even Chirrut seems startled by attention, as though he hadn’t made this entire thing an event, but he recovers quickly enough.

Baze returns to his quarters in good spirits.

 


 

The kyber atelier is a quiet place, high in the upper levels of the temple. In theory this is because working kyber shards requires peace and quiet, but any guardian worth their robes should be able to handle the crystalline no matter the circumstances. Teela says the old grandmasters who worked the kyber just wanted the view. If it’s true, Baze can’t blame them.

One morning – for morning over Jedha is lovely, even in approaching winter – Baze is working kyber in this quiet, with only a handful of other guardians in the room around him. Baze’s bench has seen better days, but he is productive today, and hopes to make through quarter of a crate before he has to excuse himself for noon devotions.

He hears Chirrut’s voice across the hall before he sees or senses him. Chirrut’s speaking with the master crafter, acknowledging a delivery, and after that is quiet.

Chirrut’s footsteps are feather-light, even in the atelier. If not for the staff tapping across the floor, the only announcement of his arrival would be the scrape of his pulling a stool up to Baze’s bench.

Baze slows his folding of paper strips around the kyber, waiting for Chirrut to speak. When a few minutes stretch by with nothing, Baze says, “No lessons this morning?”

“This is a lesson, of sorts,” Chirrut says.

Baze finally looks up. Chirrut is sitting in a meditation pose on the stool, his staff laid across his lap. His expression is more serene than Baze has ever seen it. He feels the peace of atelier as well.

“Did you handle kyber during your time at the Drakkar mines?” Baze asks.

“Only a little,” Chirrut says. “It a blessing to be able to hear the kyber as I do, but it’s overwhelming to have too much of it too close. It… rings, like a bell as large as this temple.” He taps an elegant fingertip to his brow.

“How…?”

Chirrut nods. “You may ask.”

“How did you develop your Force skills?” Baze moves on to another shard while he waits for Chirrut’s answer. “You needn’t answer, if you don’t want to.”

Chirrut smiles and shakes his head, though Baze can’t tell where the joke is. “It’s in the family. My mother was a guardian, as was my grandfather, and an uncle. They say there’s a distant cousin who’s a Jedi, though I’ve never met them, if they really exist.”

“I apologize for not recognizing your family name,” Baze says.

“Not much to recognize,” Chirrut says. “None of them completed the seventh duan.”

“That doesn’t mean anything. A guardian is a guardian.” Baze cringes, and is grateful that Chirrut doesn’t call him out how inane that statement is. “How does the temple fare, so far?”

“Much noisier than I expected.”

Baze suppresses his laugh, though Chirrut clearly hears it, his own mouth curling up at the corners. “It’s a cost we bear.”

“Indeed. Yet still easier to bear than the literal cost of traveling across the continent. I hadn’t even known that my village was saving up for it – they didn’t tell me until I completed my fourth. Can you imagine that? Seasons of struggling with crops and battering off raiders, and then – surprise! ‘Our life savings for your religious education, now go.’”

Baze opens his mouth, and then closes it again.

“Say it,” Chirrut says. “Whatever it is. Please.”

“I was…” Baze resumes his polishing, with as much focus as he can muster. “I was just going to say that now it makes sense. Why you push yourself as hard as you do.”

“Do you not?”

“Not like that,” Baze says. “I have no one relying on me but the temple, so I’m content to serve the temple.”

“What of the masters who raised you here?”

“Not many left,” Baze says. “Masters Laa and Varm are still in service, but others have moved on or died. But it’s… I care for them, yes, but it is the Whills that I belong to. I am alive because the Force would have me alive. I am healthy because it would have me healthy. The Force will always protect its own, and I am one with the Force.”

“I’ll have to learn that,” Chirrut says with a nod. “I’ve only just met this temple, after all.”

Baze laughs again. “It doesn’t have to be the same. We all find our own way.”

“Speaking of wayfinding, here’s a curious thing.” Chirrut breaks his pose, leaning forward to brace an elbow on the bench and rest his chin on his hand. “Master Varm is not a person easily swayed.”

“That’s true.”

“Yet he took me into the mines yesterday, a clear half-season earlier than he said he would.”

Baze places another kyber shard into the sonic and switches it on. “The Force must have changed his mind.”

Chirrut’s expression is inscrutable. He may guess but he can’t be sure, for while Chirrut is drite stone, Baze is Jedhan sand rock – solid and impermeable.

“You found a new seam, I expect?” Baze asks.

“Two,” Chirrut says. “Only one is of the A grade, but the other is closer and faster to reach.”

“That will do very well.”

“Do we polish all the kyber up here?” Chirrut unfolds a hand, as though to better sense the raw kyber spread out on Baze’s bench. “These are not the most pure.”

“They’re not,” Baze agrees. “I’m not deft enough to handle those. These will go into talismans and shielding of the temple.”

“What of the Jedi’s kyber?”

“They polish it themselves.” When Chirrut grins, Baze adds, “We could polish it for them if they wanted, but they commune with the kyber differently from the way we do. They rather have the raw stock straight from the ground, so the better for it to ‘choose’ them. If we touch it, it’s less useful.”

“There’s truth in that.” Chirrut gestures at his staff. “This piece chose me, long before I decided to be a guardian. It’s from the south, though. Different from these.”

“Different how?”

“The tone is… deeper.”

“Would you like to touch one to compare?” When Chirrut gives a little nod, Baze carefully takes his closest hand, turning it over into a cup gesture. Though the skin of Chirrut’s hands are as coarse as any guardian’s, his fingers are as shapely as the fine carving forks Baze uses to clean the kyber from rock. Baze sets a half-polished kyber sliver into the space between Chirrut’s forefinger and thumb, and sure enough, Chirrut grasps it delicately just as a fork would.

“How is it?” Baze asks.

Chirrut doesn’t answer for a long while. At last when he speaks, it’s to say a very faint, “It’s a kyber shard.”

Baze bites back another laugh, for Solimar is half-glaring at them from a nearby bench. “Yes, that is what it is.”

“I knew it,” Chirrut says.

“What skill you have.”

“But seriously,” Chirrut says, lifting the shard carefully, “it’s a little like dipping your hand in liquid. Each liquid has its own properties, and the sensation travels across the skin in different ways. This is like water from a condenser – light, clean. The one in my staff is more like oil for seasoning. More interesting to touch, but you wouldn’t want to bathe in it.”

“Huh.” Baze nods. “That’s very interesting. Have you thought about sharing this with the grandmasters?”

“I’m sure they know.”

“Don’t assume, Chirrut,” Baze says. “You should. It could be very useful to our understanding of the kyber. Or at the very least, of training others to recognize it the way you do.”

Chirrut doesn’t face people directly when he speaks to them. This is understandable, and Baze doesn’t mind it at all, but it’s a little disconcerting when, at this point, he turns even further away from him. If it were anyone else Baze might think they were being bashful, but Chirrut must have heard far more descriptive and precise praise for his abilities by now.

It’s intriguing to think that Chirrut might not yet be immune to such words, though. Baze leans over to follow him, tracking the minute tics that pass over Chirrut’s eyelids, cheeks, mouth.

“Is that what you came here for?” Baze asks, amused. “That I would point out your obvious necessity to the order?”

“No,” Chirrut says quickly. “I should… I’ve taken enough of your time. Thank you, Baze.” He puts the kyber crystal in Baze’s hand, rises to his feet, and is gone before Baze can think of an appropriate response.

 


 

Chirrut Îmwe is a good soul, and an interesting person on top of that, so it’s no wonder that so many are drawn to him. He leaves warmth and good cheer wherever he goes, and Baze now knows this first hand.

In general, Baze is an easy-going person most of the time (Teela and Laa confirm this, and he trusts their judgment) and is happy to be a friend to anyone who needs one. Of course, the matter with Chirrut is that Chirrut doesn’t need another friend – he has plenty already, and has settled comfortably in circles different from Baze’s own. So there’s little chance of them becoming close friends, but Baze is more than happy to be a decent one.

This means offering a kind word whenever they cross paths, or a helping hand whenever it’s needed. If opportunity for either is scant due to their differing duan levels and Baze’s unusual schedule, Baze doesn’t mind. The point is that Baze be there when he can.

That’s the selfish part.

The more important part is that the temple as a whole is just that much brighter with Chirrut in it. That may sound like a silly conclusion at the first, but the more Baze gathers data over the next few weeks, the clearer it becomes that it is true.

After all, Baze has literally been trained to learn people from a distance. In Chirrut’s case, he learns the following:

Chirrut seems to find everything interesting. He talks with everyone he meets, knows all the guardians’ names, and remembers everything he learns about them. He’s not yet as comfortable moving through with the lower levels of the temple due to the sheer amount of activity in the area, but his unfamiliarity isn’t obvious because Janos, Dalharil or whoever else is with him always whisper details of the layout when they walk together.

Chirrut wears joy and faith with equal fervour. He smiles easily, but the honesty of each smile keeps them precious and entrancing.

Chirrut argues with his elders, but he always does it smiling, and is always happy to concede when he’s in error. Chirrut is equally fervent about pointing out a right as he is about pointing out a wrong. Chirrut doesn’t always angle his head in the direction he’s listening to, but always does it when there’s someone talking to him. Chirrut is occasionally tired of being spatially-aware all the time, and doesn’t care if he’s seen to be clumsy every once in a while.

Chirrut sometimes misses his home, and at least once that Baze has seen, stands on the south wall in the early morning, face tilted up as though in hopes of hearing the sounds of his village in the wind.

 


 

Just over a month after the last shared assignment, Baze finds himself in another duty roster with Chirrut. While Baze has done this before, it’s a tremendous step up for Chirrut: from escorting the younglings in the market, to escorting pilgrims for Foss Day.

There are five guardians involved altogether, and in the morning that they’re to leave, Baze gathers the group together in the courtyard for their briefing. He thanks them for their would-be service, then explains the terms of their duty for the day. Chirrut’s the only who’s new to the task, and he only asks one question. (“Who has seniority, us or the NiJedhan task force?” Baze answers: “The task force. We’re the honour guard.”) Once that’s completed, they leave the temple, making their way through the city and down to the landing fields.

For most of the walk, Baze leads the way while the others follow. On regular days they would be approached by city folk and pilgrims every few yards, but the bright scarlet of their robes show them to be on duty for the upcoming holy day, and the crowds part for them easily.

They are halfway down the escarpment when Chirrut’s footsteps quicken, and Baze’s heartbeat with it a little.

“Master Baze,” Chirrut says. “I have another question. How often do these escorts go badly?”

“One in three, since the new fields reopened,” Baze says. “Do you sense something for us to worry about?”

“Not at the moment.” Chirrut tilts his head in the other direction anyway, searching. The scarlet robes bring out the flush of his skin very well. “From the vantage point of a small village on the other side of the world, the Holy City sounds like it has everything under control.”

“Did you really think it would be?”

Chirrut grins. “No. My mother is a consummate liar.”

They walk a little further in silence, while the guardians behind them talk softly among themselves.

“Have you seen combat since your time here?” Baze says.

“Not combat,” Chirrut says, shaking his head. “Only the one vandal, and two foolish children on a dare.”

“Well, it won’t be children eyeing the pilgrims today.” Baze frowns. “Well, maybe children – they make excellent pickpockets. But raiders are the bigger concern. There’s been no sightings of the usual ships in the past few days, but that means little.”

“You’d think that the temple can afford better security.”

“We’re a desert moon with only two major industries. It’s difficult to get off-worlders to stay if they have no passion for either.”

“Plus the Jedi are better at public relations than we are.”

Baze gives him a look, and is startled when Chirrut seems to sense it, his smile widening. “Don’t let any Jedi hear you say that,” Baze says. “They’d never let it go.”

“You just ensured that I will tell the first Jedi I meet. Not that I’ve met any so far.”

“They come on occasion, but always alone or in pairs, and often in disguise. One thing they do well is to keep their non-interference policy, after that last attempt to take the temple. Not that I blame them for trying.”

Chirrut shifts closer at that, and pitches his voice low: “I’ve asked about that. None of the elders will tell me anything in detail.”

“It wasn’t hostile, if that’s what you’re wondering. It was a… business attempt, I believe. All flattery and generous offer of resources, in exchange for space of their own in the temple. By the time they realized the grandmasters were running circles around them, the Sith decided to make themselves known and there were other, bigger matters to deal with.”

“And we helped in the fight?”

“Yes,” Baze says. “So when it was over, there was an accord, and the Jedi let us be. It’s not worth the mentioning in lessons, not when it barely got off the ground to begin with.”

“Yet you know about it,” Chirrut says. “I’ll bet you know many more interesting things.”

“I know that if you walk any closer I’m going to trip on your staff and hurt myself.”

“That’s terrible.” Chirrut keeps pace right where he is. “Have you tripped yet?”

Baze considers Chirrut for a second, and then lifts a foot to tap at Chirrut’s calf. At least, that is the intent, but Chirrut blocks the move with his staff, and then jerks sideways when Baze tries to elbow him in the head. Chirrut’s expression never changes, nor does the rhythm of his footsteps.

“Very good,” Baze says. “Now we’ll see how you handle the pilgrims.”

 


 

Baze prayed for an easy escort, but truth be told, they were overdue for an assault. Off-world pilgrims and their offerings make for tempting targets, and news must have gotten out that this year’s convoy is more swollen than usual.

The attackers have good timing, and strike only when the shuttles have been fully unloaded. The tougher challenge of such an attack is not to defend themselves, but to keep the pilgrims from panicking and hurting themselves. The five guardians stay close with the convoy, herding the scared pilgrims together while the city taskforce press forward to take the raiders down.

It is in this melee, while Baze is holding the lightshield up against blaster fire, that he sees a streak of scarlet at the corner of his eye. Chirrut has broken free from the circle, his body low and his staff at angle, as he rushes in another direction from the taskforce. Baze taps at the comm on his neck and orders Quan to follow him.

It works out, in the end. The raiders are chased off with only a few trinkets, and the only injuries to be treated are minor. Baze sees to it that the pilgrims are comforted and loaded into the skiffs safely, and then has the rest of the guardians take post around at key points in readiness to depart.

Baze has no intention of speaking to Chirrut of the matter, for that is an elder’s job. But his hand is forced when Chirrut presents himself, blocking Baze’s way before he can climb the aft-most skiff.

“Baze,” Chirrut says.

“Come,” Baze says, “let me help you climb.”

Chirrut leans away from Baze’s reaching hand. “You’re angry with me.”

“Not angry.” Baze signals to the others to climb on. “Though perhaps worry seems similar to anger from a distance.”

“The firepower was too heavy on one side,” Chirrut says. “It was clearly a distraction.”

“Let’s go, Chirrut.”

Chirrut clenches his jaw and stands tall, staff planted in front of him. “Did it work? Did they scatter, when Quan and I took down their crawler?”

Baze sighs. “Yes.”

“Then I believe I made the right choice. The Force guided me, and I’ve handled far more difficult than that.”

“You’ve missed the point. I know that you’re used to taking these actions by yourself, but being part of the temple means you no longer have to. You need to share your observations, and if you’re turned down, so be it! But as it is, you didn’t give your fellow guardians the chance to help you.”

“I…” Chirrut swallows. “It happened very quickly.”

Baze is quiet for a few seconds, letting the weak excuse hang in the air between them. “Come, the caravan is ready back to the city.”

Chirrut starts to follow, only to turn abruptly, sweeping his staff against the sand. “Wait, Baze, my—”

“We need to go!” Quan calls out.

“Now, Chirrut,” Baze says.

“I have a charm,” Chirrut says quickly, patting his collarbone. “A rust starbird, from my grandmother, it must’ve fallen.”

Baze looks back at the caravan. All the skiffs are already powered, and the leader is signalling readiness to leave. “You can stay to search, if you want to. The rest of us will return to the city.” Baze turns to leave, and is only mildly surprised when Chirrut follows a handful of seconds after.

Chirrut is quiet the whole journey back.

 


 

Over a week later and Baze is having a late breakfast with Teela when she says, “You’re looking less your fine self, Master Malbus.”

“Winter must be coming early this year.” Baze rubs a thumb irritably against the scruff on his chin. The commissary is unusually noisy this time of day thanks to the cleaning droids, and it’s not helping his headache. “My knees always feel it first.”

“You’re not yet old enough to see the other side of NaJedha,” Teela scoffs. “Knees, indeed.”

“Continue your story, then. What did you do with the bell?”

“I might as well have left it for all the trouble that it’s been. But I suppose that there was…” Teela trails off.

Baze squints, wondering if the dramatic pause got away from her, but then there’s the scrape of a stool and Chirrut is right there, sitting at their table.

“Good morning,” Chirrut says. The lines of his mouth are terse. “Teela. Baze.”

“Chirrut,” Teela says.

“You were not at prayer earlier,” Chirrut says.

That was directed at Baze, but it’s Teela who replies with, “He had an overnight session with Master Laa.”

“Hmm,” Chirrut says. “Was it productive?”

“Yes,” Baze says.

“Good.” Chirrut reaches into a robe pocket and pulls out a folding cloth. He sets it on the table with a little flourish – almost hitting the sauce bowl, which Baze has to pull out of the way – and flips it open. Resting in the middle of the cloth is a dark brown charm. “Do either of you recognize this?”

“It’s a starbird charm,” Teela says.

“This specific one,” Chirrut presses, “which I found in my cubby hole. Do either of you know where this particular, individual, specific starbird charm came from?”

“No,” Baze says.

“No,” Teela says.

Chirrut presses his lips together. “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” Baze says, which Teela echoes. Baze studies Chirrut’s face as it cycles through a handful of responses – frustration and disbelief among them – before settling on an aloof, haughty tilt of the chin. It doesn’t suit him well, but Baze doesn’t say so out loud. Instead he offers, “How are your studies? Is Master Krannurak treating you well?”

Immediately the pinched look on Chirrut’s face eases up and he says, far more calmly, “He always does. It isn’t news to anyone, let alone myself, that I can be impetuous. I agree that it is something to work on.”

“That’s good,” Baze says.

“Though I still believe I was in the right that day,” Chirrut adds.

“No doubt,” Baze says. “Though I was also right.”

Chirrut starts to laugh, but then shakes his head as though to clear his thoughts. “That’s all I needed to know, thank you. May the Force of others be with you.” He bows slightly, and then departs the table with all the grace and suddenness of his arrival.

Baze watches him go, because his headache is not so bad that he cannot appreciate Chirrut’s fine light-footed stride across the hall and out into the courtyard beyond. When Baze relaxes and turns back to his meal companion, he finds that Teela is frowning at him.

“What?” Baze says.

“Did you lie, Master Baze?” Teela asks.

“I did not. I have no idea where that charm came from, because the seller didn’t tell me.”

Teela raises her eyebrows, as though she hadn’t expected that answer, or maybe any answer at all. “The Force may be obscure, but I always thought Baze Malbus was not.”

“He lost a starbird charm when we were escorting the Foss Day pilgrims,” Baze says, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “There was no time to search then, but when I went back I couldn’t find it. That new one is not much of a replacement – I don’t know what significance the original had, and it’s not even the same time type but... it’s all I could find in the marketplace. He could just as well throw it away, it doesn’t matter.”

Teela just looks more confused. “Then why didn’t you just tell Chirrut that?”

“Tell him what? That I couldn’t find something that he wants back? What use would that be?”

“He’d appreciate the effort, I’d think.”

Baze makes a face at her, and Teela inclines her head politely in acknowledgement.

It’s definitely winter approaching, because Baze should not be this tired after a relatively light few days with just meditation and routine. He will have to discuss this with elders, see if there’s something that can be done.

“You like him.” After a beat Teela adds, “Chirrut,” as though she needs to be specific.

“Yes,” Baze says.

“No, I mean – the regard you have for him is hardly new, but you like him.”

Baze meets Teela’s gaze and holds it. “Yes.”

Teela is taken aback, but then nods slowly. “I see. My apologies.” She smiles kindly and, because she is a good friend, returns to her story about the stolen bell.

 


 

Baze knows what it means to be attached to Chirrut the way he is. Chirrut may have planted this by existing at all, but Baze’s the one who nurtured the feeling, and helped it take root. He doesn’t mind it though, for he is one with the Force, and the Force moves its devotees in ways they don’t always expect.

Baze doesn’t even feel any inclination to confess the matter to any of his elders. Master Laa may want to know, but it’s hardly a detriment to Baze’s training. Chirrut isn’t a distraction, which is the main concern with such things happening within the temple. Chirrut is a living, breathing reminder of what Baze is striving to become – a good person, a good guardian, a faithful follower of the Whills. Baze is better for knowing him, and thus feels no shame in it.

Teela doesn’t seem to expect this last part, though, which is surprising. At least, that’s the only explanation Baze can come up with for her occasionally bringing it up for no reason at random moments.

After the morning incident with the starbird, Baze fully expected Teela to lose interest or forget entirely, but she doesn’t. Days go past, duties are fulfilled and classes are had, and every so often out of the blue Teela will mention it in passing as though to – what? Throw Baze off-balance? Have him retract his previous statement? Or sillier still, to incite him to blushing and stammering, as though he’s still a youngling?

One such time is when they’re walking past the courtyard, and Teela tilts her head a little and says, “His form is excellent today.” No mention of his name, but Chirrut is out in said courtyard with his class-group performing zama-shiwo exercises.

“It is,” Baze replies.

Another time, when they’re sharing an otherwise typical dinner in the commissary, Teela lifts her flask at him and says, “Winter is difficult for all of us, for it leaves less to see.”

Baze doesn’t need to look in the direction she’s gesturing, for he knows well enough that Chirrut is walking nearby with his friends, and is wrapped up thickly in grey winter robes.

Later still, when they’re setting up the temple’s new moisture vaporators (well, Teela is setting them up, and Baze is providing shoulders to be sat on so she can reach the chiller bars) Teela says lightly: “The winds will get stronger still.” She pats the top of Baze’s head, prompting him to pass her a hydrospanner. “It’ll take more than cotton and heaters to keep us warm in these times.”

Baze, who had been half-watching Chirrut argue animatedly with Janos on the other side of the building, squints up at her. “What was that?”

“It’s kriffing cold,” Teela says. “It’s the season of economical huddling for warmth.”

It takes Baze a second to parse Teela’s meaning, after which he stamps his boots against the cold, making Teela hiss when the motion dislodges her seating.

The chill is another means of training, not that unlike meditation, exercise, and a careful diet. Teela’s not wrong about economy of such things, though – it’s no coincidence that a number of personal quarters in the temple will be unused over the winter season. It also makes Master Laa more irritable than usual, complaining about the inevitable storm of betrayal and heartbreak that will come with springtime.

“Though,” Teela adds, “some of us have more options than others.”

Baze lets his gaze drift back to Chirrut, who has by now finished his argument and is following Janos and Dalharil across the walkway to the great hall. A knot tightens in Baze’s chest at the unwelcome mental image, but it fades away when he takes a few deep breaths. “He’d have no difficulty finding a volunteer. Or more than one, if needed. I hope he does.”

Teela freezes in her motion of tightening the air valve. “You hope he does?”

“Like you said, it’s cold.” Baze starts when Chirrut pauses at edge of a doorway just then and turns, as though he can sense Baze’s watching him clear across the compound. But that’s just a trick of the mind, because Chirrut shakes his head and goes on his way, his friends close by him.

 


 

The blasted chill aside, Jedha is beautiful in winter. From the temple battlements Baze can see the fields beyond the city spread like a great empty canvas. Even the ancient statutes overlooking the city seem calmer in the winter, as though they too are in a well-deserved rest from keeping a constant watch on their charges.

The beautiful view doesn’t distract from duty, though. When Baze hears footsteps coming up the stairwell, he turns with his staff at the ready.

“I’ve never actually come up here before,” Chirrut says, stepping carefully up onto the battlement. “Which way are we facing?”

“Waver is in front of you.” Baze opens a hand at the ready in case Chirrut can’t find his footing, but he needn’t have bothered. Chirrut moves easily along the platform, coming up beside him. “Why aren’t you covering your face?”

“Hmm?” Chirrut turns this way and that, as though trying to find the mountain Baze just referred to. “Is this the same level as the library? It feels like a similar number of steps.”

“Yes, and you didn’t answer my question.” Baze tugs the sash off his outer robe and drops it over Chirrut’s shoulders. “Cover your face. The chill will get to your lungs.”

“I’ve weathered colder winters than this.”

“Not in NiJedha.” When Chirrut makes no move to fix the sash, Baze reaches over and loops it around Chirrut’s head and neck, tucking the edges neatly in a makeshift hood. “It’s preferable to stay indoors for a reason.”

“Yet here you are,” Chirrut says.

Baze pulls his own hood closer around his mouth. “I’m on duty.”

“Funny thing, that.” Chirrut taps at the cobblestones experimentally, and then lowers himself into a comfortable cross-legged sitting position, staff on his lap. Worse still, Chirrut takes out a flask from his robes and starts unscrewing the cap. “You’ve taken more sentry duty than you normally do. So either you’re just being more anti-social than usual, or you just really like being up here in winter. I’m leaning towards the latter.”

Baze bites back his automatic response, which is to demand what Chirrut is going on about and why does he even know about Baze’s duty roster? Instead, Baze makes a non-committal sound and turns away, checking that the temple doors haven’t been broken while he wasn’t looking.

Chirrut doesn’t seem to mind the non-response, and just pours a cupful of the flask’s contents into the cap. “I would offer some, but I don’t think you’d accept, since you’re on duty.”

“That’s just tea,” Baze says.

“Oh darn, swindled again.” Chirrut sticks the cap underneath his makeshift wrappings and tips the drink back. “It happens a lot, since I’m blind.”

“You’re blind? I had no idea.”

Chirrut laughs. “Did you want some, though?”

“No, thank you, I’m on duty.” Baze watches as Chirrut helps himself to another cap, and then puts the flask away. “Why are you here, though?”

Chirrut sighs. “Why do you do that? Every time I come to see you, you always ask what I’m after.”

“Because if I know the answer, I’d be able to give it to you quicker.”

A pointed silence settles over them. It feels unusual, in that Baze normally finds the quiet peaceful, but this – this makes him fidget.

“Did I say something wrong?” Baze says.

“No,” Chirrut says, with a carefulness that sets Baze’s teeth on edge. “You never do. Technically.”

“What does that even mean?”

“It means that very little seems to faze you.” Chirrut pats his hands together for warmth; the fool isn’t even wearing proper gloves. “You are faithful and devoted, and the temple is lucky to have you.”

“The temple is lucky to have all of us.”

Chirrut rolls his eyes. “No one wants to take winter sentry duty, so you take most of the shifts. I’ve been told that it was even used as a punishment, before you came along. The way I figure, you may not push yourself the way I do, but you do push yourself, and this is how.”

“There are many paths to the Whills—”

“And yours is oddly long, for all your previous accomplishments,” Chirrut says blithely. “A student of great honour, and now you take all unattractive, unglamorous tasks – you watch the mines, the towers, the droids. You don’t lead prayer, or spar in public, or take any of the duties that would get you to the seventh well within your capabilities. You should have reached the closing before I even arrived here.”

Baze tries not to feel unsettled, and fails. “Are we… Are we still in competition?”

“No,” Chirrut says, alarmed. He shakes his head, genuine in his worry. “No, Baze, of course not. I don’t say this to make fun of you.”

Baze relaxes. “Then why do you?”

“Because I admire you, and I wanted you to know.” Chirrut’s eyes crinkle – he’s smiling again. “The grandmasters must really like you, to indulge in your deliberate delay.”

“It isn’t a delay,” Baze says. “I advanced too quickly earlier.”

“Aren’t all paths valid?”

Baze flushes and turns away, despite knowing full well that Chirrut can’t see it. It’s annoying to be tongue-tied now, when he wasn’t at all when he spoke to the grandmasters on this.

Chirrut continues, “What you were doing before wasn’t satisfactory. Is that it?”

“The Force…” Baze clears his throat. “The Force shaped me as I am, and it was thought that a certain path would be most suitable for me. I’ve lived here since I was a child, barely old enough to see the top of the altar. It’s understandable that those who raised me thought they knew what I would be best suited for.”

Chirrut nods slowly as he parses this. “Unlike devotees who join the temple later, and thus have a better idea of who they are before they start training.”

“Yes, exactly.” A glance at Chirrut confirms that the other man is listening intently; a shiver moves up Baze’s spine that has little to do with the weather. “I have good health, and with it have learned to be skilled with the lightbow, the blaster, the bladestaff. It would be enough to defend the temple and its interests all over Jedha.”

“But that’s not all that you’re capable of,” Chirrut says. “Yes, I see.”

“You see?”

“I am allowed to say that, you know.” Chirrut tries to smack Baze’s leg with his staff, but Baze catches the hilt before it can reach its target. Chirrut makes a small, pleased noise and tugs at the staff lightly; Baze is feeling petulant enough to tug back, and is a little surprised when Chirrut lets go entirely.

“What’s your philosophy, then?” Baze asks, hefting Chirrut’s staff up to study its carvings.

“It’s a work in progress, but it has to do with the way I relate to the cosmos.”

Baze looks at Chirrut in surprise. “Am I in the presence of a grandmaster in the making?”

“That’d be terrible, wouldn’t it?” Chirrut says, prompting another laugh from Baze. “I haven’t yet figured out how to express it with accuracy, but my way comes from finding my place in the balance of things. The Force, the temple, the galaxy, I don’t know. Hopefully I’ll figure it out before I need to worry about the seventh.”

“I’m honoured you’ve told me this,” Baze says.

“It’s only fair.” Chirrut starts a little when Baze kneels down in front of him and carefully sets the staff across his knees. “I’m pretty sure I’m still not a grandmaster.”

“You mentioned balance. I think about that a lot myself. It’s nice to know that we have that in common, and that I may one day understand you.”

“I’m pretty easy to understand,” Chirrut says, sounding oddly distant. “What you see is what there is. Not that I can see, but the general idea stands.”

“Not entirely, no. There is a great deal more going on with you.” Baze stands back up and quickly checks the perimeter again. All is still quiet.

“So, um.” Chirrut clears his throat. “Your way involves giving of yourself, isn’t it? We are all stewards of the Whills, but you make that central to your devotion.”

“It’s partially in thanks for the temple’s raising me,” Baze says. “The Force protected me and moved me into being a guardian, so it’s only right that I see to the temple’s needs. Aside from being an enforcer, that is. Many of us skilled with weaponry, but what of the laundry and kitchen supplies? What of the foundlings?”

“Or of the gates in winter time,” Chirrut says. “Which has me wondering, with the act of giving being so vital to your expression of faith, how do you feel if someone wished to repay you for your… help, or your service, whatever you wish to call it?”

“I’d thank them and ask that the deed be turned outwards to others in need of it. The Force is enough for me.”

“Yes,” Chirrut says slowly, “but what if someone wants to repay you specifically.”

“I don’t do what I do because I expect to be repaid. Devotion to the Whills isn’t an owed bond.”

“That is true!” Chirrut says, far too loudly. “What was I thinking?”

Baze frowns at him. “Have you had enough sleep? You sound on edge.”

“And you do not, even in this weather. How do you do it? You must tell me the secret of your rumbly baritone.”

“My what?”

“It’s a shame that you don’t lead prayer. Truly.”

“Maybe it really wasn’t tea.” Baze reaches down and clasps Chirrut’s shoulder, ostensibly to check that he’s all right, only for Chirrut’s whole body to jolt at the touch. Baze backs away quickly and says, “Sorry. I thought you’d know that was coming.”

“Must be the cold.” Chirrut tugs his robes tighter around himself. “It’s messing with my perception.”

Baze could tell him to go back in, but what would be the point? Technically, Chirrut has as much right to be here as Baze does, and he’s certainly wise enough to make his own decisions and deal with whatever consequences there may be (not that Baze wants him to get sick, but… there it is).

“The sky is changing,” Baze says instead. “There’s the first lines of the long sunrise.”

“Pink,” Chirrut says. “Lines of pink, isn’t it?”

“Yes. Tricky colour, that. Makes the city appear warmer than it is.”

“What can you see from up here? Besides Waver, that is.”

Baze has seen this view hundreds – thousands – of times over, but he still needs to take a moment to collect his thoughts and shift them around for someone else’s benefit. He tells Chirrut how the city is spread before them like a pond, and is quiet this time of the morning save for the few ripples of early risers moving about their business. The Dome, usually a striking sight even under the shadow of the Kyber Temple, is subdued at this time of day. The sand has changed colour as well with the winter, and is pale like the orange of a young iella. There are other details as well: the great colossi watching over them, the caravan roads winding out from the city like vines, how the walls of the city seem thin and fragile from up here.

Every so often while speaking Baze glances over at Chirrut, who is paying full attention. It should be unnerving to see Chirrut being so quiet, but it isn’t.

At long last the tower bells chime for morning, and Chirrut rises to his feet with a sigh. “Thank you. By the way, what colour is this sash?” He gestures at the cloth wrapped around his head.

“Grey. Slightly darker than our winter robes.”

“Ah, good.” Chirrut puts his flask on the closest parapet. “For the sash. It’ll keep until you’re done.” He pauses, as though waiting for Baze to protest. When Baze does not, Chirrut bids him a pleasant morning and makes his way back down the stairs for morning prayer.

As for Baze, he settles against the parapet and reflects on how that was one of the easiest sentry shifts he’s ever had.

 


 

Baze isn’t that attached to his personal effects, and doesn’t really expect Chirrut to return the sash. In fact, though Baze takes care to wash and return Chirrut’s flask as soon as he’s able, he completely forgets about the sash.

That is, he forgets about it, right up until he sees it again.

It happens barely a week later at the temple’s open door gathering: a twice-in-winter event where any and all folk in Jedha are welcomed into the great hall for an informal partaking of food and drink from the Temple kitchens. Officially, the event is part of the temple’s service to the city, though it’s also important for the guardians’ relationship with the general citizens of NiJedha and beyond, as well as an excuse for merriment and comfort in the dour winter months. Baze doesn’t have strong feelings about the event itself, though he makes a point to attend at least one every year, out of respect for his elders.

Early in the day of the gathering, Baze’s task is to assist Master Ommol in corralling the temple foundlings in the hall for luncheon. Those who have never attended a gathering are particularly excitable, necessitating Baze’s hauling them bodily back to their mats whenever they get distracted. There are other Jedhan and a few off-worlders already in the hall as well, mingling with guardians and helping themselves to the communal trays.

At some point, while Baze is bargaining with Vumon to sit still and finish his meal, Chirrut and a handful of his friends enter the hall. Chirrut’s presence has been a pleasant side note in the goings-on of Baze’s world for a while now – like a favourite tune occasionally playing in the background – but now, today, in this moment, Baze is abruptly aware of nothing in existence but Chirrut’s smile, his relaxed posture, plus a familiar strip of cloth that’s knotted around his waist.

Much like how the great hall is altered for the day – with the high altar cordoned off, sitting mats covering most of the floor, and Jedhan musicians playing instruments from a raised podium – only a handful of guardians are wearing their robes the way they normally do. Even Baze has put on a vestment he saves for formal occasions, so it’s hardly out of the ordinary for Chirrut to add an embellishment to his robes.

And yet.

Chirrut’s stride is always worth admiring – from the shift of his shoulders, to the lightness of his sandal-clad feet. Today there is all that, but there’s also the sash which draws Baze’s full attention to Chirrut’s waist, then down his hips to his thighs, then further down to his shapely ankles. Chirrut is attractive, much like how the sky is blue and the earth red, yet today the simple sight of him has something hot and covetous curling inside Baze’s chest.

A beat, and then Baze jerks back to awareness. He may admire Chirrut all the time, but he isn’t so rude as to stare. For a second he’s pathetically grateful for the fact that Chirrut is blind, but then he notices that standing right next to Chirrut is Janos, who is looking directly at Baze.

Baze turns away, and murmurs an order in Vumon’s direction to come back here now, please. Master Ommol, for his part, doesn’t seem to notice anything amiss.

A minute or so is enough to calm the rapid hammering in Baze’s chest. It’s also enough time to reflect on his own reaction, and the silliness of it. Mirha wool is not uncommon in the city, and the colour even more common in winter. Besides, even if it was Baze’s sash, he’s fine with letting it go to a new owner, and he should be pleased that said owner is finding good use for it. Which, now that Baze has had a moment to think about it, he is.

That settled with, Baze successfully settles Vumon and his friends, and then watches over them until they’re done with their meal and can mingle with the guests.

Teela finds Baze at this point, and hands him a cup of tea. “You look like you could use this.”

“May the Force guide you always.” Baze finishes the cup, and gives Teela a look. “Is this the brew we’re serving today?”

“Possibly,” Teela says. “It’s hard to tell.”

“Does the kitchen need another pair of hands?”

“We needn’t worry of that yet. Come, help me with the tables.”

There are many guardians who are good at welcoming and mingling with guests, but Baze is not one of them. While he and Teela see to the table spread, he limits himself to small talk with a few marketplace merchants, a joke with a task force officer he’d worked with a few times, and pouring tea for the aunt and her son who deliver supplies to the temple every other week. Other than that, Baze busies himself with replenishing the trays of vital food and drink.

Once the last tray is done, Baze leans back with satisfaction. He turns to ask Teela what’s next, only to find that she’s disappeared. He turns in the other direction in search of her, and is startled by Chirrut, who is standing right there.

“I’ve been told there are mavr cakes,” Chirrut says. “Is that correct?”

“Yes,” Baze says carefully. “How many would you like?”

“Not too many. I’m watching my figure.”

Baze takes a moment to appreciate said figure, and then carefully sets two pieces of mavr onto a serving cloth, which he places in Chirrut’s palm. “Here you go. These were donated by the Reegient pilgrims, by the way.”

“That’s wonderful.” Chirrut bites the corner of one piece, chews, and swallows. Baze is careful not to stare too openly. “The gesture, as well as the cake itself.”

Baze waits for Chirrut to move on, but since he seems content to keep eating where he is, Baze adds, “They’ve been sending something every year for quite some time now. The mavr cakes are new.”

“Have you tried some?”

“Ah, not yet, I—” Baze jerks back when Chirrut immediately holds a piece out in offering, almost smacking Baze’s cheek with it. Baze gently lowers Chirrut’s hand and says, “I can take some for myself, thank you.”

“Just thought I’d offer,” Chirrut says.

“I appreciate it.”

“Do you really?” Chirrut says this with a lilt in his voice, leaving Baze to wonder if this is one of those occasions where the question being asked is not the only question being asked.

“Yes,” Baze says, hoping he sounds as honest as he feels. Chirrut’s responding smile warms Baze down to his toes.

“I’ve also been told that most of us have dressed up for the occasion,” Chirrut says. “What are you wearing?”

“A winter tunic and boots, and a blue vestment over it.” Baze plucks at the edge of his jacket self-consciously. “I haven’t actually worn this in a while, so it’s… it needs taking out.”

“Is this the dress vestment? I don’t have one yet, though I have been given the cloth for it. May I know what it looks like?”

“Sure?” Baze jumps only a little when Chirrut reaches for him.

The surprise seems to be mutual, because Chirrut’s eyebrows go up and his mouth falls open a little when his hands find Baze’s chest. A little angle adjustment and Chirrut starts tracing the embroidery with his fingertips, following the shape of the vestment borders up to Baze’s shoulders and then to the knot at the side of neck.

“Oh,” Chirrut says. “You’re. Uh.”

“I’m what?”

“Taller,” Chirrut says quickly. “Than I expected.”

“Can’t you tell that from where my voice comes from?”

“Are you the blind one here, or am I?” He smacks Baze’s hand away when he tries to tweak Chirrut’s nose. “That is ungallant.”

“Just testing,” Baze says. “I don’t actually know the scope of your awareness.”

“It’s obviously less limited than yours, seeing as you haven’t commented at all about my repurposing your scarf.”

“My what?” Baze blinks when Chirrut gestures down at his waist. “That’s a sash wrap.”

“And now it is a decoration for my belt. You did not come to me to ask for it back, so I assumed that you wanted to get rid of it.”

“It’s not garbage,” Baze says with a frown. “I sewed it myself, and I’ve used it for carrying things many times.”

“Oh, so it was still useful to you? My mistake.” Chirrut presses his hip against the table. “You may take it back.”

“I’m not going to take it back.”

“Because you cannot, or will not?”

Maybe issuing challenges is simply the way Chirrut navigates the world. Baze certainly knows by now how to take it, which is to consider the challenge seriously and then – after glancing around to ensure that everyone in the hall is too busy to notice – move as though he’s just walking past Chirrut, slip a finger into the right fold of the knot to snap it free, and then step over to the other side while the sash flutters loose from Chirrut’s waist.

Baze expects Chirrut to catch the sash, but Chirrut’s non-staff hand is frozen in the act of moving upward where he was presumably about to block Baze, so Baze catches it instead. The rest of Chirrut seems frozen as well, but before Baze can ask if he’s all right Chirrut starts breathing again.

“I… wasn’t expecting that,” Chirrut admits.

“Hold your hand out.” Baze folds the sash into a square, which he then puts in Chirrut’s palm. “You make good use of it, which is as it should be. It’d make me happier for you to keep this.”

Chirrut’s expression is still a little pinched, and Baze wonders if he’d overstepped a boundary. Then he says, “Are people dancing?”

Baze turns to look. A small group – mostly children, with a few adults – are moving in a loose circle near the podium of musicians. “After a fashion.”

“Would you?” Chirrut asks. “Because I’d like to? If you don’t mind.”

Baze sways back in surprise. “What?”

“I don’t ask for a lot of – all right, that’s a lie, I ask for many things, but this is… This is a small thing, isn’t it?” Chirrut’s shrug seems overly casual. “With so many people moving in a confined space, it can be – it helps to have someone to focus on. A friend, to focus on.”

The first thing to strike Baze is the use of the word ‘friend’. Although he’d assumed that they were friends already, it is a joy to hear Chirrut say it out loud. The second thing to strike Baze is also the thing that makes that joy sink like a stone, i.e. he doesn’t dance. He has no skill for it, and until this moment even less interest in learning.

It is fitting that Chirrut isn’t like him, though. Chirrut seems to be as comfortable being himself as he is wearing the sash that Baze gave him.

“I – I’m not – not so good with the…”

“Ah!” Chirrut says, excited. “Have I finally found something that Baze Malbus is not good at?”

Baze scowls. “I’m not good at lots of things.”

“Including dancing? Well, here’s your good fortune – I’m blind, and won’t be able to tell.”

“Chirrut.”

“We must trust the Force in all things, including this.”

“I don’t—” Baze is startled by the sudden gentleness of Chirrut’s smile. Although lovely to see, it is earnest and hopeful in a way that Baze rarely sees in Chirrut, and Baze’s only responding thought is that he’s going to do something awful like fall on top of him and break his spine and then the least of Baze’s worries will be to whom he can donate all his belongings before he leaves for a brief yet permanent exile in the desert.

A familiar sight just beyond Chirrut’s shoulder snags Baze’s attention, and he blurts out, “Teela!”

“What?” Chirrut says.

“Yes, Teela,” Baze says. “She would be much better suited to assist. She dances with the children all the time, and she’s very good at it.”

“Teela,” Chirrut echoes flatly.

“She is,” Baze insists. “Actually, she’s right over there, I can bring you to her.”

Chirrut doesn’t react for a long moment, but then he says, voice distant, “Yes, that sounds good, thank you. You may take me there.”

Though the suggestion was Baze’s, he becomes uneasy as he leads Chirrut over to where Teela is chatting with someone. The uneasiness only worsens when Baze tells Teela of Chirrut’s wish, and Teela shoots Baze a sharp look in response.

“I am honoured.” Teela takes Chirrut’s hand, though she’s still looking at Baze as she does it.

 


 

Baze knows that he made a mistake. The logic of it may have been sound in his head, but that doesn’t negate the insult he’d made in rebuffing Chirrut’s request. He tries to make amends once Chirrut is done spinning and allows Teela to lead him away from the podium, but the opportunity is lost when Chirrut slips back into the throng of his friends.

Over the next few days the sour note persists, as does the difficulty of finding an opportune moment to address it. While Chirrut has had no problem finding Baze alone, the reverse just isn’t true. Whenever Baze has a free moment, Chirrut is either in lessons, or meditating (which Baze would never interrupt), or with friends (who seem to have picked up on the sour note and treat with Baze with an eerie sort of politeness).

Baze prays for guidance or, failing that, acceptance.

This means that it’s almost a relief when it’s time for the annual kyber delivery to Coruscant. The arrangement with the Jedi is that they alternate between pick-up and delivery, and now it is the Guardians of the Whill’s turn to make the journey to Coruscant. Baze himself has been part of the delivery crew for a few years now, and is glad for the opportunity to go off-world and, perhaps, regain some equilibrium.

It’s a bit of an event when the shuttle arrives on the temple’s rarely-used landing platform. While other guardians and pilgrims watch the proceedings with interest, Baze and the rest of the crew focus on loading the crates of kyber, and Master Laa helpfully points out everything they’re doing wrong.

Teela is there as well, to see Baze off. She tells him to mind what he eats and not talk to strangers, and to please pick up some recent news holos.

“If you can spare the time and effort,” Teela says.

“I’ll try.” Baze clasps Teela’s forearm in a farewell, and resists to urge to ask if Chirrut is in the watching crowd. “Take care.”

“Force be,” Teela says with a sigh. “Is there something you’d like me to do while you’re gone?”

“Study well, train well. And don’t let the temple fall into ruin.”

“Yes, I’ll save that for when you get back. Anything else?”

Baze considers this. “Thank you for being my friend. I always value your honesty, and I apologize if I have not been appreciative enough.”

“See, this is exactly what Ommol says is your hurdle,” Teela says, though not unkindly. “You’re so busy looking inward that it doesn’t always occur to you to check out the other direction. All paths are valid, but we can’t find those paths by ourselves. No, don’t argue, I don’t want to have a debate with you before you go. Be safe.”

“And you,” Baze says.

 


 

The Coruscant visit is uneventful, though this seems to be because the Jedi are preoccupied with galactic matters beyond the interest of the Guardians of the Whills, and are less inclined to ‘lively debate and exchange of ideas’ at this time (Master Laa’s words). This isn’t to say that the Jedi aren’t welcoming; they are, and they bring the Jedhan contingent into the Jedi Temple with gratitude and aplomb. The transfer of raw kyber proceeds without any hassle.

They spend six days at the Jedi Temple, a great portion of which Baze spends in their massive library, and another great portion of which he spends – by request of the Jedi – talking to padawans about the properties of kyber. A few times he goes with Quan and Holgor to the arena and watch the Jedi Knights practice with their lightsabers, and on one memorable occasion watch Master Laa spar with the Jedi’s Master Windu. There are other diplomatic tasks – a visit to the Republic Census Bureau with the latest Jedha pilgrimage data, a dinner with the Republic’s chancellor, et cetera. The other guardians also go out into the city for informal exploring, but that’s optional, and Baze less interested in it.

Generally, Coruscant is too noisy and too crowded for Baze’s liking. Despite its trappings of metal and glass it’s pretty much just Jedha City, only a hundred thousand times over. Baze was wowed the first time he’s visited, but soon enough it’d become clear that the planet city had the same types of micro-communities as Jedha – traders, swindlers, warriors, pilgrims, government officials – only greatly enhanced with self-importance. One would think that with a city this large it would feel less cramped but the opposite is true. Baze feels that Coruscant boils down to simply too many people, systems, and self-interests packed into too little space.

It’s far more interesting to think of what Chirrut might think of Coruscant. Perhaps he’d find the city more interesting, and identify patterns and practices in its people that Baze missed entirely. Navigation would be both simpler and more complex for him – there are droids and travel resources at every corner for every possible species requirement, but everything moves so fast, and getting lost is a rite of passage for every new off-worlder.

At the very least, it’s doubtful that Chirrut would do what Baze has done, which is spend most of his time in the same few locations of the Jedi Temple.

Baze concedes that he is a predictable person, and raises this in discussion with Master Laa during one of their private sessions in his guest quarters.

“It’s not out of disinterest in the new,” Baze says, when Master Laa prompts him to explain. “Though I feel that there is no right nor wrong in that.”

“There can be,” Laa says. “If the spirit is closed off it can fester dangerous thoughts, but yours is not. In fact you keep yourself alarmingly open most of the time, which is its own issue, but who I am to talk about how vulnerable we leave ourselves?”

Baze laughs. “Are you worried that I might be susceptible to Jedi thinking?”

“Worried? No.” Laa shrugs. “They have good ideas on occasion, but their rigidity is… Well, it wouldn’t do to criticise our hosts.”

“Saving it for the trip home?”

“Saving it for the trip home.” Laa stretches his legs out in front of him. “Tell me more of your progress.”

“A friend commented that I look too inward.”

“That is true.” Laa gives him a look when Baze frowns. “I’ve mentioned this before, so it surely cannot be a surprise to you. You know of Master Candurous? Wise, fearsome, an inspiration in just about every way. She found that through her search that led her inward, and to which the Force answered. Do you search in you for the Force?”

“No,” Baze says sheepishly. “I mean, the Force is always—”

Laa waves his protest away. “Then what do you search for?”

“The best version of myself.”

“How would you know that version is the best? Would you not have to ask those around you?”

“Do I need the approval of others before I can decide who I am to be?”

“Balance, Master Baze,” Laa says. “We are the stewards of the Whills, and there is a reason that that stewardship is a collective. Search inward all you wish, but you are part of a group, and it would do you better to not think of yourself as alone in holding our Temple. In fact, you are not a temple, either. Do you understand?”

“Yes, it means I’m not a building.” Baze clasps his hands in apology when Laa raises an eyebrow. “A poor joke.”

“Try again,” Laa says.

“I’m not a temple because I’m part of the living Force – I am alive and changing. The temple is not alive and does not change its meaning.”

“So?”

“I cannot seek the perfection of the temple in myself. Such a state cannot exist in the living.”

“Good.” Laa sighs and presses a hand to his forehead. “This friend who commented that you look too inward – was it Îmwe?”

“No.” Baze tries his best not to sound unsettled at the name. “It was Teela.”

“Oh, that’s a surprise,” Laa says, rubbing his beard. “It sounds like something Îmwe’s mentioned of you before.”

“You speak to him of me?”

“Just because you don’t like to discuss your colleagues doesn’t mean everyone else is the same. Besides, how else is Îmwe to better observe the devotional practices of others? That study must be supplemented by proxies.”

Baze nods, chastened. “That’s right, I wasn’t thinking. I don’t know Chirrut well.”

“Not as well as you’d like to, yes yes,” Laa says irritably, while Baze’s heart leaps to his throat in terror. “That is your business. I’m just pleased that it isn’t Îmwe’s comment that has you in this state, as it bodes much better for the future. Now let’s return to this inner seeking of yours.”

Baze shakes himself free of the questions that immediately pop up in his head – what else has Chirrut said, what future is Laa talking about – and by force of will returns to the purpose of the session by reflecting on his own journey to the Whills.

 


 

Returning to Jedha is a little more exciting, in that smugglers try to waylay them (kyber crystals are less interesting to steal compared to credits), which leads to a minor skirmish, an off-world stop, and a total travel time that’s extended to almost as long as their sojourn on Coruscant itself.

The final result is that everyone is exhausted by the time they land. Master Laa is even more irritable than usual, and comms ahead of their landing that there will be no reception for their arrival, upon pain of overnight lectures. The other grandmasters of the temple agree, so Laa, Baze and the others have the pleasure of landing the shuttle outside the city gates, and slipping into the temple itself without fanfare.

It is early evening when they arrive, so most pilgrims and guardians alike are preoccupied with dinner and other early evening rituals. Master Laa dismisses everyone without ceremony, and everyone – save Holgor, for whom food is more important than sleep – part ways to return to their quarters.

Baze makes the trek slowly, and not because his pack is heavier coming back than it was leaving. He moves up two flights of stairs in the ancillary building, and then turns the corner onto the landing overlooking the eastern courtyard. There, on the other landing down the walkway, is Chirrut Îmwe, standing at ease with his staff set in front of him, and looking resplendent in his dark robes.

Baze relaxes.

The status of Chirrut’s health settled, Baze turns and makes his way up the next flight of stairs. He’s ready for sleep now, and his limbs grow heavier with each step.

At the next turn, a slight shift in the air is the only warning Baze gets that he’s no longer walking alone. Well, there’s that, plus Chirrut’s cheerful, “Master Baze, when did you arrive?”

“What? Oh.” Baze adjusts his stride, allowing Chirrut to fall into step beside him. “Just now.”

“How was the trip to Coruscant?”

“Fruitful and hectic. I enjoy traveling most of the time, but I always forget how tiring it is.” Baze contemplates referring to the oddness that existed between them before he left, but it feels foolish to bring it up so long after the fact. “Are you having your evaluation soon?”

“What makes you say that?”

“You trimmed your hair.” Baze’s palms twitch a little, curious to know if the neat fuzz over Chirrut’s head is soft or bristly.

“You’re correct, I do have an evaluation.” Chirrut seems more poised, too. He must have accomplished a lot while Baze was away. “In fact, your timing couldn’t be better. I leave for the ruins tomorrow.”

Baze has to stop walking. Chirrut stops a half-second after him, confused, until Baze clasps his shoulder and squeezes it. “Congratulations, Chirrut. I hope it goes well. Soon you’ll be racing past me to the seventh.”

“No rush.” Chirrut grins, and every frustrating minute of dealing with those raiders on the way back from Coruscant is suddenly worth it. “I’m just glad to have made it this far, really.” As they resume walking upward, Chirrut regales him with Temple events of the past weeks – a droid malfunction out in the marketplace, sudden hail in the middle of morning prayer, vandals breaking into the lower treasury. It’s all useful, and Chirrut talks without needing any prompting.

Baze expects Chirrut to bid a farewell and peel off at some point, but he doesn’t, not even when they finally arrive at the door to Baze’s quarters.

“Don’t take this the wrong way,” Baze says, “but I’m poor company right now. All I want to do is sleep.”

“That’s all right.” Chirrut plants his staff firmly in front of him. “You don’t have to do anything.”

Baze is too tired to be confused. He lets Chirrut follow him into his room, figuring that Chirrut’s intelligent enough to know that he can wander off whenever he likes.

Everything is as Baze left it, except the air which is now stale. Baze goes to the wall console to fiddle with the circulation settings, while Chirrut putters around behind him, presumably not getting into trouble. Baze’s luggage is settled next – he unhooks the various packs from their straps and sets them in a pile near the wall for dealing with later.

When Baze finally sits down on his pallet, he notices that Chirrut is standing by the work desk. Chirrut’s back is to him, and he’s holding a hand over the partially-completed pieces strewn across the table. Baze cannot see his face, but he has the impression that Chirrut is frowning in concentration, perhaps to sense the kyber infusion in the metals – the thought makes Baze smile. Baze also lets his gaze drop, following the pleasing shape of Chirrut in his robes – his slope of his back, his slim waist, his strong thighs held snug by the dark drapery.

Chirrut starts a little, and turns. He’s frowning. “Baze?”

“Mmm?”

Chirrut’s mouth opens and closes a few times. “Um. Your lightbow?” Baze has the impression that he was going to say something else. “Is… this your lightbow?”

“It will be, if the Force allows it.” Baze stretched out on his pallet and closes his eyes. “Work in progress.”

There’s a rustle where Chirrut sits down nearby. “Shall I pray? Blink once for yes, twice for no.”

Though exhausted, Baze laughs. “Go ahead. I could sleep through your hailstorm right now.”

When Chirrut starts chanting, his voice isn’t a hailstorm but a gentle rain. Baze closes his eyes and lets it wash over him, and then he’s drawn into the peaceful slumber of having finally returned home.

 


 

When Baze wakes, one of his first thoughts is that he must have dreamed Chirrut coming into his room, because it seems like such an improbable thing in the light of day. But that is proven false when Baze finds one of his tea cups used and turned over to dry at the dispenser.

Though if Baze hoped for an explanation, that too is denied, because it is as he remembers Chirrut saying last night, which is that Chirrut has gone into the desert to complete the rituals for the sixth duan. Baze also realizes that, to his dismay, he didn’t offer Chirrut any advice that might have been useful.

Anyway, there’s a little that can be done about it now.

Baze unpacks his things and resumes his duties, among them being a late morning check-in with Teela over the fruits of the Coruscant trip. During the meal, Teela thanks Baze for the holos, listens to Baze’s tales of the Jedi Temple, and shares her own accomplishments over this time.

“Oh, and Chirrut’s just gone for his sixth-seeking walk,” she adds. When Baze replies that he’s aware, she says, “Already? What do you need me for, then?”

“Chirrut told me that last part, don’t be offended.”

“He told you himself? Of course he did.” Teela regards Baze carefully. “How are you? It was worrying, when the temple lost contact while you were on Mayvitch 7.”

“The Force listened to your prayers. The worst I had were some t’kith bites.”

“Those can be pretty bad.”

“Though admittedly not as bad as being shot out into space.”

“Baze,” Teela says sharply. “I was worried. And I wasn’t the only one.”

Baze ducks his head sheepishly. “Sorry. I – I didn’t mean to – yes. Thank you.”

“What are you working on now?” Teela asks, gently now.

“Oh, I…” Baze rubs a hand over his face. “Based on what happened, I think I’m going to propose more modifications for our shuttles. Out here it makes little difference, but in the Core Worlds – the Inner Rim, even – the technology changes so quickly. Not just the shuttles – there are things that could be changed in our cleaning, cooking, security, you name it.”

“I assume you’ve brought materials back with you?”

“Just enough to start with,” Baze says.

These thoughts and their ensuing proposals keep Baze busy for the rest of the day. He meets with various grandmasters, talks to various guardians, and goes all over the temple making notes.

At night, he goes to the great hall and sets out a submission. It’s comforting to be back in familiar trappings, and more comforting to know that he made it back in time for this. Baze finds a quiet corner amidst the non-stop flow of pilgrims – even into the late night and early morning – and makes himself comfortable.

He’s startled out of meditation when Janos sits next to him. Janos supplicates himself in a low bow before sitting up and saying quietly, “An all-nighter, Baze?”

Baze checks his chrono; he hadn’t realized he’d been here this long. “I might as well stay for morning prayer.”

“Ah the joys of planetary jet lag.” Janos folds his legs under him and lets his head drop forward in his own meditation. Baze follows his lead and resumes chanting his mantra, casting into the Force his hope for Chirrut’s success, Teela’s next assignment, a good spring season, and a better new year for everyone in the galaxy.

Not too long later Janos’s comm buzzes faintly. Janos reads it and says, “Chirrut’s entering the city. Would you like to join us in greeting him? He should arrive before the bell.”

“Oh, I—” The word Baze almost says is ‘shouldn’t’. But there is a lesson learned during these past weeks away from the temple, and that is if Baze really respects Chirrut the way he purports to, then he should do better by him, and find out what Baze’s shortcomings are in achieving that. “Yes,” he says. “I’ll join you.”

He follows Janos out of the great hall, down to the gates where a handful of Chirrut’s other friends are already gathered and quiet with expectation. The main gates are still closed but the side gate is open, and that is where they’re all clustered at now.

“Baze!” Dalharil exclaims when she sees him. “That’s so nice. Come, stand with us.” Sesslyn and Arnjak welcome him warmly as well, and Baze would be confused by this, except that Chirrut is approaching.

It’s still dark out, so it’s by the lamps along the outer wall that Chirrut’s figure is visible. The closer he comes, the more obvious it is that the walk was a good one. Chirrut has an air of serenity about him, and his mind is still in the thick of the desert meditation. He will be dissecting his achievements for weeks to come, though the grandmasters will bestow the rite of sixth upon him long before that.

Baze’s chest swells with pride, along with gratitude that he is here to see it.

Chirrut pauses at the doorway, his staff out in front of him before he steps inside. He tilts his head up, greeting the temple he knows is there, and then opens a hand to acknowledge his friends. They move towards them in excited greeting, but are quiet and respectful of what Chirrut has accomplished. Chirrut speaks to all of them and accepts their congratulatory hugs in turn.

“Baze is here,” Dalharil says.

“Yes, thank you.” Chirrut inclines his head. “Master Baze?”

“Chirrut,” Baze says, stepping forward. “The desert has been good to you?”

“The Force, through the desert.” Chirrut sounds so peaceful. “Many things are made at least a little clearer.”

“I’m glad,” Baze says. Chirrut smiles and waits, as though expecting Baze to say something else, but there’s not much else that comes to mind. This isn’t the time to talk about petty concerns, especially with Chirrut’s friends nearby. “Are you hungry?”

“Actually, yes.” Chirrut holds a hand out towards him. “Let’s go the commissary.”

Baze blinks and in a split-second of panic thinks: Chirrut knows. Baze’s feelings are more obvious that he thought, so someone as perceptive as Chirrut has picked up on them.

Hot on the heels of that is a calmer thought: does it make a difference if Chirrut knows? Baze has felt no shame in these past few months of knowing him, because there is nothing of Chirrut – not even his supposedly rambunctious traits – that would make Baze qualify his attachment. It is the entirety of Chirrut that appeals, and Baze can see no wrong in that. If that entirety of Chirrut includes his being aware of Baze’s feelings for him, then that is simply the state of things, and Baze accepts it.

Baze steps forward and offers Chirrut his arm. Chirrut takes it and they start walking towards the temple, with Dalharil, Janos and the others following close around them, chatting with each other and with Chirrut in asking the details of his desert journey.

 


 

Here’s a truth: Baze is more attached to Chirrut than is strictly necessary for a friendship. This is also a truth: this attachment is such an unusual occurrence in Baze’s life that he hasn’t really thought of its consequences to other people (namely, Chirrut himself).

Baze Malbus is a quiet man, and tries to be as unassuming as someone built the way he is is capable of. This is in reflection of how he was when he was first taken into the temple, because survival on the streets of NiJedha required a particular skillset and a particular way of thinking. It was with time that he trusted his new life enough to let that skillset and thinking go.

Basically, it is with the privilege of being a Guardian of the Whills that Baze can avoid infringing on other people – their lives, their livelihoods, their beliefs – for his own sake. Chirrut, as well as Teela and Master Laa noticed well enough that Baze chooses to express his faith in giving instead of taking, which is in response to those earlier life lessons. Perhaps the Force has been nudging him for a while now, hinting that he’s taken this too far in the other direction.

Perhaps he hadn’t really wanted to listen, for fear of what he’d be opening himself to.

The day after Chirrut returns from his desert walk is a quiet one. After an unusually social breakfast where Baze sat at a table with Chirrut and his friends – Teela joining as well, once she arrived – Baze spends the rest of the day mostly in contemplation, meditation, and later still on a devotional journey of his own to one of the great colossi overlooking the city.

Through it all Baze thinks about various things, among them the upcoming new year, and of the resolutions that all guardians will make to celebrate it. The Force brought him to NiJedha and the temple, and fashioned him thus to be its servant and protector. Baze has been searching for new ways to fulfil that service, and this – this attachment with a fellow guardian of faith and finding different from Baze’s own – could be another part of it. He simply has to do something about it.

Baze returns to the temple just before sunset, feeling refreshed and prepared to pursue this new resolution.

Of course, then Chirrut has to go and ruin this newfound focus by waiting for him at the city gates while Baze traipses up the pathway.

“Are you redoing your walk?” Chirrut says by way of greeting.

“In a manner of speaking, yes,” Baze says. “An informal one. What are you doing out here?”

“Is it not obvi—oh, right, I forgot who I was talking to.” Chirrut turns and starts to walk back to the temple, though he keeps his steps slow enough that Baze can catch up with him.

“Are you angry at me?” Baze asks. “I’m sorry.”

“How can you be sorry when you’re not even sure if I’m angry?”

Baze decides not to point out the absurdly aggressive tapping of Chirrut’s staff on the cobblestones. “You’re right. It’s unlikely that you’re angry, because you have just completed your sixth, and have, in fact, been raised to an increased level of spiritual enlightenment—”

Chirrut stops walking suddenly, forcing Baze to skid to a halt. “Everyone,” Chirrut says decisively, “who says I’m annoying must have never met you.”

“That is possible. I’ve been told that I’m rather quiet.”

“I found an echo-box transmitter in my cubby hole today,” Chirrut says. “Was it from you?”

“Really? That sounds like a congratulatory gift for—”

“Was it from you?” Chirrut presses. “Be careful how you answer, because I know that it’s from Coruscant, and only a handful of people with access to my cubby hole have been to Coruscant recently.”

“How can you tell that it’s from Coruscant?” Baze says in bewilderment.

“The Force told me.” In a less haughty voice Chirrut adds, “Actually it’s because there are touch-writings on it, which I assume you didn’t know, and they list its make and origin.”

“Oh.” Baze carefully steps out of the way of passers-by on the path, and Chirrut follows. “You’re right, I didn’t know.”

“Say it properly, Master Baze.”

Baze takes a deep breath. “The echo-box was from me.”

“And the starbird? Permission from Master Varm to enter the mines? The temple kitchens adding Goran food to its menu?”

“That last one was by committee. I suggested it, but it was committee approval that… uh.” Although Chirrut isn’t sighted, Baze knows well enough that he is being glared at.

“You do all of this, and yet you don’t follow through,” Chirrut says, shaking his head. “What am I supposed to think?”

“I just thought it’d make you happy,” Baze says weakly.

“You’re kind to everyone, I know this.” Now Chirrut seems sad, which is far worse than being angry. “Everyone and always. It’s hard to tell, so I can only ask – am I different, Baze? Am I not like everyone else to you?”

Baze can’t lie. “Yes.”

“How am I different?”

Perhaps the Force is testing him here, too. It is easy to be firm in a resolution when alone with one’s prayers, as opposed to when one is standing before the subject of said resolution, who looks so despondent.

“I could very well love you,” Baze says. “Either I do already, or I am shortly to.”

Chirrut’s mouth falls open a little, as though he hadn’t expected that. After a beat where he takes a breath, swallows, licks his lips, and then finally says, “Why didn’t you say before?”

“I didn’t… It didn’t seem to matter.”

“It didn’t seem to matter,” Chirrut echoes. “I have your love, or am shortly to have your love, and it didn’t seem to matter?”

“That’s right,” Baze says, irritated despite himself. “I wasn’t going to demand anything from you—”

“Not even your own happiness? Wouldn’t the chance of my returning these feelings make you happy?”

“You already make me happy. Just knowing you’re around, just seeing you, hearing your voice, hearing other people speak of you – all of that makes me happy.”

This seems to upset Chirrut even further, for he turns away as his face crumples. Baze is immediately apologetic, and rushes towards him saying, “Chirrut, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that you’re—”

“Watch my staff,” Chirrut says, as he stabs the staff into the sand.

“All right, but—” Baze is cut off again when Chirrut throws his arms around him. Baze now has a full-grown man in his arms and clinging to him as though his life depends on it.

Chirrut is… solid. Though just a little smaller than Baze, holding Chirrut feels like holding living steel – all coiled muscle and sinew – except for the part where living steel shouldn’t tremble. Chirrut is shaking, and he inhales sharply when Baze carefully puts his hands on Chirrut’s waist, holding him close.

“This is who you are,” Chirrut says, face pressed against Baze’s neck. “I understand that, the Force made you this way, so I can’t… Ah, here it is!” He tightens his grip, holding on with all his might. “By refusing to tell me of your feelings, you’re denying me the chance to love you back, and my happiness with it. Hah, there! Would you deny me that? I’ve caught you, Baze. I’ve caught you at last.”

A part of Baze feels at a remove from what is happening, and can only reflect on the ludicrousness of anyone thinking that Baze is in need of being caught. The rest of him is busy being stunned that it’s Chirrut who’s telling him this. It is Chirrut who is surprising him yet again, this time with a depth of feeling that leaves Baze dizzy and reeling.

“Yes,” Baze says, breathless. “You’ve caught me.”

It seems like an age that they stand there, unaware of anything in the galaxy but each other. Baze presses his face to Chirrut’s crown – his hair’s slightly bristly, it turns out – and strokes a hand up and down Chirrut’s back to soothe him. It then occurs to Baze that there might be other ways to do that.

He cups the side of Chirrut’s head, and carefully draws him away so that Baze may study his face. Chirrut’s eyes are half-lidded in exhaustion, and his mouth still downturned. Baze trails a thumb along Chirrut’s brow, dismayed at this realization that Chirrut has been holding his frustration alone. Chirrut is a man of passion and action, and Baze hasn’t been cooperative.

“You want me back,” Baze says.

Chirrut scowls. “If you’re only figuring this out now I’m – wait, are you about to kiss me? I’ll stop talking.”

Baze was indeed considering that, in that he was weighing the need for a kiss right this instant against the relative lack of privacy. It’s true that two monks kissing in the streets is hardly the worst thing that that Guardians of the Whills have done in the city, but such a momentous occasion should probably not be occurring within a stone’s throw of a fullery.

That said, all those thoughts fade away in view of Chirrut’s upturned face, which is too lovely to refuse. Baze leans in, his eyes open.

Chirrut’s expression is determined, though he hiccups a little when Baze’s lips touch his. Baze pauses there for a second before pressing in, slotting his mouth against Chirrut’s with purposes. After a beat Chirrut kisses back with fervour, and coaxes Baze’s mouth open for his exploration.

It is soft and warm and easy, in the way that many of Baze’s interactions with Chirrut are. Baze feels a knot in his stomach unwinding – perhaps he’d unconsciously worried that an incompatibility would make itself known at this point, or that Chirrut would laugh and say that he’d been mistaken.

Chirrut doesn’t do either. When Baze pulls back, Chirrut’s smile is bright enough to light up all the kyber mines of Jedha (though when Baze tells him this later Chirrut will tease that it must’ve just been the sunset reflecting off his face).

“Dinner soon,” Baze says.

“You always remember the important things.” Chirrut takes his staff in one hand, Baze’s arm with the other. “Yes, let’s go.”

 


 

They have the dinner in the commissary, where they sit next to each other like friends who haven’t just kissed. Or maybe friends who have just kissed do things like this all the time; Baze can’t say that he’s an expert. At one point Baze sees Teela arrive and lifts a hand in greeting. She starts to approach but hesitates, until Chirrut lifts his own hand and smiles.

“The Force moves all of us in its own time,” Chirrut tells her. This is apparently all that needs to be said, for Teela nods and starts talking about the next roster rotation. She is in need of their opinions, and Chirrut is happy to oblige.

While dinner is pleasant, Baze realizes quickly that no matter how surprised he personally is about the situation (i.e. that Chirrut needed no convincing on changing the nature of their relationship), it pales in comparison with Chirrut’s own disbelief. Although they sit at a polite distance and talk amiably, every so often Chirrut will touch Baze briefly – a hand poke here, a nudge of the foot there – but not with salacious intent. There is an inspective nature to each touch, as though Chirrut is making sure that Baze is still there.

Which, considering how inattentive Baze has been thus far, he can’t really blame Chirrut for.

There’s a pause when Chirrut has to go for lessons and Baze has to discuss his duties for the next week with Master Krannurak, and during evening prayer Baze takes his usual spot near the wall while Chirrut stays in the thick of his friends.

But afterward, when Baze goes to Chirrut’s quarters as per an earlier invitation, it resumes. There’s Chirrut touching Baze’s back when he lets him into the room, there’s Chirrut holding Baze’s hand when he gives him a tour and describes his things, and there’s Chirrut pressing his knee against Baze’s when they sit together on the mats to study the echo-box.

“There’s too many settings now.” Chirrut toggles a few switches on the ancillary casing. “I’ve used such equipment before, but… You know I’ve used this before, don’t you?”

“You wore one during the Foss Day assignment,” Baze says.

“That’s where you got the idea?”

“Yes, the one you had looked very old. Was it Master Ran’s?”

“That’s right, he’d bequeathed it to the temple. I borrow it sometimes but I feel like Master Krannurak would rather I didn’t. Perhaps because I have a tendency to break things.”

“You can break this one all you like.”

Chirrut angles his head, coy. “Because you’ll get me another one?”

“Because this one comes with schematics, so you can build another one,” Baze says. “You’ve proven yourself far more resourceful than me. Even Master Laa can barely keep track of my whereabouts at times but you – no one has been able to find me as easily as you, whether in the temple or the city.”

Chirrut steeples his hands under his chin and says, “That’s because I have friends, Baze. Helpful friends.”

“I thought you’d credit the Force.”

“It is the will of the Force that I have helpful friends. Whom I must also thank, for putting up with my endless questioning about a certain Baze Malbus.” Chirrut reaches out, finding Baze’s shoulder and then his face, which he pats gently. “Are you blushing?”

“No, sorry to disappoint.”

“Disappoint? Hah, no.” Chirrut squeezes Baze’s shoulder experimentally, feeling its width and give, and then hauls himself onto Baze’s lap, where he rests his head on Baze’s shoulder. Chirrut’s about the weight of a sack of bailo, which is hardly the heaviest that Baze’s had to carry for zama-shiwo training, though this is far more fun to hold. “Now read the instructions to me,” Chirrut says.

Baze puts an arm around Chirrut’s back and shifts his legs against the mat, making himself comfortable. He pulls up the display screen on the casing and scrolls through, finding the appropriate paragraphs before he starts reading them aloud.

It’s all really interesting. Baze detours a little when the instructions go into deeper detail, choosing to instead tell Chirrut how he’d done some rudimentary research in the temple library, and found some old papers written by Master Ran and other blind masters that experimented with modifying echo-box tech to account for Force sensitivity. He’d also done some research at the Jedi Temple, but he’d found that the Jedi’s constant demands of the Force wasn’t relevant for Chirrut’s needs, so he’d not pursued that further.

“I could, though,” Baze says. “The librarian was very helpful, so there’s a channel open if you wish to pursue it. Wait, where was I? Was it the modulator?”

“I… I can’t believe you’re actually reading the instructions to me.”

“You asked.”

“And you’re letting me sit in your lap.”

“Do you… expect me to protest? Because I’m enjoying it.”

Chirrut smiles against Baze’s neck, just as it occurs to Baze that Chirrut might be well-used to people protesting a great deal of his behaviour, no matter that this is perfectly harmless and charming. Chirrut adds, “This is why you’re going to be my favourite.”

“Am I not your favourite already?”

Chirrut gasps, then bursts out laughing. “So provocative.” He sighs, his breath warm against Baze’s collarbone. “Why are so many people wrong about you? You’re aloof? Really?”

“They are wrong so that you can better enjoy being right,” Baze says.

“Such wisdom.” Chirrut tilts his head up and kisses Baze’s cheek. “All right, keep going.”

Baze has things to do tomorrow morning, but it’s a noble cause to entertain Chirrut – and be entertained by Chirrut in turn – late into the night. They talk for hours – of the echo-box and other methods to aid Chirrut’s independence, of Baze’s many duties around the temple, of Chirrut’s family and what it was like to grow up in the south, of Baze’s early favourite off-world missions, so on.

At some point Baze’s legs start to go numb, so they move onto Chirrut’s pallet, where Chirrut stays curled up next to Baze, determined not to move his head from Baze’s shoulder. The conversation slows, with Baze’s voice dropping to an unnecessary whisper as he describes his earliest memories on the streets, and of how difficult he was when he was first brought into the temple.

“It wasn’t so much the teachings that got through to me,” Baze confesses. “Of course it’s all important, but I didn’t – I couldn’t absorb it until I’d settled into and understood the order’s routine. Faith without function just doesn’t…”

“Doesn’t make sense?” Chirrut supplies.

“To me. If it does for others, who am I to say what is valid?”

“A guardian in every sense of the word.” Chirrut’s been trailing his fingers all over Baze’s face, but now pauses just over Baze’s temple, stroking a thumb between his brows. “I don’t know if that would be as relevant to me, but I understand it. You have a very broad forehead.”

“As broad as a washboard. So I’ve been told.”

“Is it?” Chirrut leans in closer, perhaps to better reach other parts of Baze’s head, but the movement brings him more firmly onto Baze’s thighs where he brushes up against Baze’s half-hard member.

“Sorry.” Baze tries to shift his hips away, but Chirrut’s too heavy for it. Baze’s face burns a little in embarrassment, despite his being well-aware that some reactions are inevitable when Chirrut is so close, but then it finally sinks in that Chirrut hasn’t moved. In fact, Chirrut seems content to stay right where he is, draped over him.

“It’s all right,” Chirrut says. “I don’t mind.”

“I mind,” Baze says carefully. “Some parts of me are delicate.”

“Would you let me discover so for myself?”

Baze definitely did not come up to Chirrut’s quarters for this purpose, but he can be flexible on occasion. There is also an element of fairness in this, for Baze has had months to admire Chirrut’s physical shape, while Chirrut hadn’t even known that Baze is too large for them to share robes.

Chirrut unwraps Baze carefully, and then touches the rest of him with the same level of care and curiosity as he’d done with his face. The neck and shoulders are first, then down to his chest, over the span of his ribs and pouch near his navel (“Don’t do that,” Chirrut says when Baze tries to suck it in) then down the width of his thighs. With Chirrut’s hands on him, Baze becomes conscious of his body in a way he’d never been before; every joint and line and curve becomes a lesson in itself.

Baze’s body thrums. Chirrut’s study takes him to Baze’s ankles and calves, and he finally presses a kiss to Baze’s knee before sitting up with a satisfied nod. Baze would be happy to dress himself, but Chirrut unties the knots of his own robes, then pulls Baze on top of him.

The kisses that follow aren’t like the kisses they shared in the city. Here, Baze kisses Chirrut until his jaw aches, until Chirrut’s clutching at him, until it’s not enough. Baze finds space between Chirrut’s legs and starts moving, bringing their bodies to meet in a steady rhythm. Chirrut sighs and plants his hands on Baze’s back, pulling him as close as is able.

There is no urgency in finding release. It comes upon them gradually – Chirrut first, with a gasp and one heel digging hard into Baze’s lower back. When it’s Baze’s turn Chirrut holds him tight with all limbs (“Let me feel all of it,” Chirrut whispers), while Baze shudders and spills between their bodies.

Chirrut kisses him the aftermath, gentle yet persistent. Baze understands the compulsion, for he thinks he’d be content falling asleep like this, Chirrut underneath him like a particularly wriggly bolster. That wouldn’t do, though. Baze rolls over, then contentedly watches the play of muscles in Chirrut’s back when he gets up to fetch wash cloths.

“By southern custom,” Chirrut says, once they’re clean, “we’re married now.”

Baze huffs. “Then where’s my dowry?”

“You were courting me, so obviously everything you’ve ever given me is my dowry.”

“No, that’s not right,” Baze says. “You misunderstood overtures of friendship for courtship, which was especially in error because I made no declaration.”

“The misunderstanding wasn’t on my part, it was yours. You misunderstood yourself.”

“I misunderstood you, Chirrut, not myself. Though I do apologize.” Baze sits up to set his chrono close to the pallet, and pulls Chirrut back into his arms. Chirrut makes a token show of resistance but goes easily, snuggling under the blanket that Baze throws over both of them. It’s a thin blanket – enough for Chirrut, but less so for two people. Baze will have to get him another one.

“Alas,” Chirrut says. “One might not think it impossible to be more fond of you now than I was five minutes ago, yet here we are.”

“Don’t feel bad. I’m very fond of you, too.”

“We’re not actually married, by the way,” Chirrut adds. “I was teasing.”

“I know.”

“I know you know, but I still wanted to make it clear, since apparently that is necessary for you. And also because if we do get married someday, there will be no error involved whatsoever.”

“Very agreeable.”

Baze lifts an arm, allowing Chirrut to roll in close and press his nose against Baze’s shoulder. “That didn’t even faze you.”

“Eh,” Baze says, “there are worse people to marry.” That earns Baze a pinch in his side, along with the wind getting knocked out of him when Chirrut climbs on top of him to teach him a lesson.

 


 

From winter comes spring, and another turn of the temple’s routine in cycle. As for Baze and Chirrut, they find a new cycle of their own, though it does take a few weeks to come together into a proper rhythm.

A few days before the new year, Baze goes into the high tower for deep reflection and stays through to the early morning. Before the morning bells chime, Baze finishes up and comes down, pausing at a few stops along the way. When he reaches the dome landing he waits for a few minutes, up until Chirrut comes around the corner and Baze falls into step next to him.

“I left a meteorite in your cubby hole,” Baze says. “There was a shower last night when I came back in, and I found a piece on the way.”

Chirrut sighs. “I doubt I’ll ever catch up with you on gift-giving at this rate. Was it really necessary?”

“Yes. It made me think of you.”

“Falling rocks remind you of me? Are you implying that… Hmm.” Chirrut frowns, and keeps on frowning even when Baze curls a hand at the base of Chirrut’s neck and kisses his brow. “My arrival was that memorable, was it?”

“Memorable and full of portent.”

Chirrut brightens. “Do you know what would it be excellent portent for?”

“Oh no,” Baze says. “Has Master Laa asked you to speak to me again? You do know he only does it to appeal to your ego.”

“No harm if it works,” Chirrut says airily. “It just makes sense. If all the other sixths – including myself – are participating in the demonstration, there will be a message in your absence whether you like it or not.”

“You’re that confident in your skills as a teacher?”

“Sssh,” Chirrut says, smacking Baze’s chest with the back of his hand. “What kind of surprise would it be if you tell everyone?”

Baze shakes his head, but politely does not mention quarterstaffs, or the fact that he’s been improving at his usage of it thanks to Chirrut’s tutelage. “You just want to show me off.”

“That, too.”

“I’ll consider it,” Baze says. “Don’t forget that you’re supposed to be in the mines today with Quan.”

“I didn’t forget.”

“You’re wearing the wrong shoes.”

“Oh. Well, it doesn’t really—”

“I’ll get your shoes.” Baze turns, but is stopped by Chirrut’s hand on his arm. “I don’t mind.”

“Don’t be silly, I’ll get them myself later.” Chirrut lets his hand linger, his fingers finding the bead of strings he’d made and now rests around Baze’s wrist. “Thank you for the thought but please, no.”

There is more conversation, though they lower their voices the closer they get to the courtyard. When the bell rings, Chirrut taps Baze’s foot with his staff. “Mid-day?”

“Yes, I’ll be there. The Force is with you.”

“And you are with the Force.” With that, Chirrut walks off to join his friends who are already loosely gathered in the courtyard. Baze watches him go, and smiles when, just before Chirrut slips into the crowd, he turns back to face Baze. Chirrut is smiling.

Baze knows by now that Chirrut can’t actually tell whatever Baze is doing at a distance. Chirrut’s Force-sensitivity is still a work in progress, and although he can tell when someone’s focus is on him, a lot of his actual behaviour is him faking it for his own amusement. Hence, there’s actually no point to Baze opening a hand in an acknowledging gesture in return. He does it anyway.

At the last bell, Baze lifts the hem of his robes and steps out into the courtyard, moving close to the wall in search of his own spot. It will be the new year soon, and although he doubts that it can bring anything else as marvellous as Chirrut into his life, he will face it with open heart and open mind.

Right now, Baze is content and grateful.