A lone car passes on the street below, pebbles on the pavement crunching quietly beneath its wheels. Its headlights, on, illuminate a dark avenue before it made desolate by nighttime. Dawn is approaching. It’s evident by the pale blue glow on the horizon visible in patches between large buildings and small trees. Few on the street are awake so early on a Saturday. Baze Malbus is one of them.
Baze’s bad habit has made him an early riser, before it, his insomnia. It’s nothing new. Around him, in the short, well-kept trees lining the street, birds chitter prematurely and he listens vacantly. He’s only half-awake. Between his lips rests a cigarette that will help with that. He intends to light it, but before he can manage the glass door behind him leading out onto the balcony slides open, giving him pause. It isn’t long before Chirrut stands beside him, and when his partner’s traveled hand finds his cheek, Baze remains still, halted mid-action.
Chirrut’s palm is warm against the early morning chill felt up on the balcony of their apartment, and it would be a more comforting touch were Baze not so wary of what the other is up to. There is a chance, as always, Chirrut is merely stealing a glance through his fingertips, orienting himself as he does often. There are times his hand will come to Baze’s face to feel for a grimace or grin, or chart the landing of a kiss, but right now, Baze suspects he has other intentions. For one, it is early for even Chirrut to be awake. All the same, Baze closes his eyes in silent resignation as his partner’s knuckles turn to skim his jaw. They brush over hair too long to be considered stubble, too short to be considered a beard (yet), and Baze toys restlessly with the wheel of his lighter still gripped in a fist at his side.
Lighters are not quiet things, and Chirrut is not, nor has he ever been, an oblivious man. He’s well aware of Baze’s purpose out here on the balcony; something that’s been ritual since they’d met. He’s well aware what he’s interrupting, and Baze waits for him to reveal his motive with a thinning patience.
Another car passes on the quiet street, briefly disrupting the silence which persists between them. While Baze watches it disappear on a turn up the road, quick, nimble fingers take advantage of his distraction, plucking his cigarette from his lips.
“Chirrut,” Baze warns lowly with a voice that hasn’t shrugged off sleep entirely. He opens his eyes just in time to watch with rising irritation as Chirrut places the thing between his own lips.
Feigning deafness, Chirrut turns instead to face a view off the balcony he cannot see. His body curls around the railing, leans out in a carefree way that puts Baze on edge, and he spins the stolen cigarette around in his mouth, blithe. Baze knows Chirrut possesses no interest in actually smoking it. He’s made it clear many times his opposition to Baze’s vice. Instead, he’s doing this solely to rile him, and Baze lacks the patience.
“Give it back,” he growls.
Chirrut responds plainly. “No.”
Baze’s scowl deepens. Chirrut often chastised him for the lines it put in his face though Baze knows he adores them. Right now however, he doesn’t want to recall Chirrut’s adoration of him or anything fond, more and more frustrated with his partner by the minute. This is his first smoke of the day, for fuck’s sake. They’ve talked about this.
Exhaling heavily, his breath making a small, swirling cloud in the air that makes him ache for his smoke that much more, Baze debates if he shouldn’t just retrieve a new cigarette from the pack in the pocket of his sweats. He’s hardly about to wrestle Chirrut for his old one back.
“It’s early,” Baze grumbles instead, less a comment on the time and more a warning, a plea. He has a feeling censoring himself is only going to get harder the longer he goes without a smoke. For both of their sake’s, he hopes that isn’t much farther.
“It is,” Chirrut agrees. “A little chilly however. Perhaps we should head inside.”
Baze snorts at that. It’s a derisive sound more than an amused one. It’s probably around fifty degrees out, and truthfully he’d been finding the temperature pleasant. Chirrut has always run cold, in perfect contrast to Baze’s warm-blooded body, but that has little to do with this. Chirrut is wearing that ridiculous, fuzzy robe of his, anyways, and can go inside anytime he wants. Baze certainly isn’t keeping him out here.
His lips part to reply, but before the words make it out Baze is distracted by the sight of Chirrut’s teeth scraping over the cigarette’s end. He twitches with both annoyance and the barely contained urge to snatch it back.
Were it anyone else…
“Chirrut,” Baze repeats. It’s less a warning this time, though he’s in no mood to fight. He’s in no mood for any of this. He hasn’t even had the chance to wake up yet.
“Or we could enjoy the view,” Chirrut teases with the flash of a grin. Baze doesn’t return it.
There was a time when they both enjoyed their mornings out here together; Baze, the view and his first smoke of the day, Chirrut, the texture of Baze’s skin and the sounds of the waking city all around them. Lately however, Chirrut rarely joins him out here and when he does it’s to make some offhanded remark on what he’s doing to his body.
It’s my body, Baze thinks. I’ll treat it how I want. His 6, 7, 8 cigarettes a day won’t kill him - immediately, at least.
“Be easier to enjoy with a cigarette,” Baze replies bitterly.
Chirrut smiles. “No one is stopping you from lighting one.”
Baze’s eyes narrow. He senses a trap, but the prideful part of him senses a challenge. With an irritated huff, he fishes his pack from his pocket and sweeps open the lid with his thumb. He eyes Chirrut warily, but Chirrut has yet to move.
Distrustful, Baze withdraws a new cigarette. He’s grateful at least that it’s a relatively new pack, that the one Chirrut has taken hostage doesn’t leave much of a dent. Carefully, he places this one, too, between his lips, warding off a sense of déjà vu. He raises his lighter, but before he can lift his free hand to provide shelter to the flame, one of Chirrut’s own whips through the air, quick as lightning, and knocks the cigarette from his mouth. It flies off the balcony and lands somewhere unseen on the street below.
Baze’s face contorts with frustration, rage. “Chirrut!” He roars. His hands, dropped now, are trembling slightly at his sides in loose fists. Chirrut’s being selfishly immature ( yet again, his mind reminds, only fanning the flame).
“Must have slipped,” Chirrut replies impassively. He remains facing away from Baze, gaze pointed off the balcony in an act that’s purely to spite him.
Baze stares at him in disbelief for one, then two seconds, then storms back inside without a word. He leaves the sliding door leading outside ajar. He doesn’t care. A hot shower, at least, Chirrut cannot take from him, though Baze suspects that if he ever felt the need to, he’d still find a way.
“Why do you smoke?” Chirrut asks him.
Baze heaves a sigh, smoke billowing with it from his lips out into the evening. He sinks a little further into the metal patio chair he sits in before replying, gruffly, “Something to do.”
It’s the truth, in a roundabout way. The habit had been adopted more from boredom than anything, but had grown to be so much more than a means of passing time.
Baze recalls walking out after the final straw with his father. When asked where he would go, what he would do without all the “support” the man provided him, responding “Let’s find out.” He recalls shivering with cold, a bag with his most important possessions slung over his shoulder, at a bus stop late at night, aware no buses would come until morning but with no better place to wait until then. He’d raised one of the cigarettes he’d intended to ration to his lips then for one small reprieve, one small moment of peace in that period of vast uncertainty. It had warmed him, a little.
Baze recalls himself hunched over a railing by the backdoor of the shipping complex that had recently employed him. Exhaustion was a tangible ache. His hands were raw with new blisters, every muscle in his back, arms, and shoulders were sore, and his feet in his boots were swollen from too much time spent on them, begging for his weight off of them. The lighter had hurt to spin then, aggravating the worn pad of his thumb, but he’d ignored it long enough to get his cigarette lit. For a few, blissful minutes, he knew an escape.
Baze recalls shaking hands, his fingers smeared with blood and dirt. His split knuckles throbbed with each rapid beat of his heart. He’d nearly dropped his lighter this time, and cried out a curse when the flame wouldn’t come as easily as it should. His voice broke for the first time since his teens, but eventually, he got the thing to work. After his first drag he’d sighed out in relief, allowed to forget, just for a moment, his inclinations towards violence and their implications. He was no better than - no - he was worse than his father. Baze shuddered, then inhaled again.
“Are you sure that’s all it is to you?” Chirrut presses. He senses a lie, but he cannot sense the truth, not completely.
Baze releases the hand holding his cigarette to the side a moment, staring absently out at the city skyline in the distance; black against a backdrop of orange and purple. With Chirrut in the chair beside him, their hands linked comfortably at the pinky, Baze realizes that for the first time in his life he’s found peace beyond the first drag. Still, he remains terrified to drop the habit, as Chirrut’s beginning to suggest he does. Can’t trust anything to stay constant, can’t trust anything good to last.
Their kitchen is compact, but clean and uncluttered. They have a small, wooden table on the far end, large enough to only seat four, at most, though it suits the two of them just fine. This morning, Baze sits at it alone. He has a cup of coffee next to him, a newspaper before him, and hair still damp from his shower tied back in a bun so that it stayed off his neck. His temper has cooled, idled but he remains antsy without having smoked. Under the table his leg bounces, and he can’t seem to occupy his mouth or hands. Unconsciously, he chews at his lower lip, aggravating the cracks the wind has placed in it.
When Chirrut comes back inside, finally, moving for the kitchen, Baze observes he no longer carries the stolen cigarette between his lips, or anywhere on him (not that he’d expected him to). He wonders, resentfully, if this one too had met its fate on the street below.
Chirrut says nothing to Baze, and passing through the kitchen, feet bare on the linoleum tile, finds the green tea kettle hanging near the stove by memory. He fills it with water from the sink, and Baze realizes their dishes have piled high on the side opposite the one Chirrut uses now, stacked haphazardly. He thinks about washing them soon, then finding something else, too, that might serve as an apology. He reconsiders however, watching the calm and unbothered way his partner moves as he sets the kettle on the stove and switches on the electric coil beneath it. Chirrut’s behaving still as though nothing at all had happened between them, as if this is just another morning. He is the one who wronged Baze, not the other way around. Baze shouldn’t be feeling the need to apologize.
He shakes his newspaper indignantly to straighten it, but though his eyes have returned to the page, Baze doesn’t absorb any of the words on the article they skim. His and Chirrut’s schedules land them both with this weekend together, and Baze doesn’t think he’ll make it through today, let alone tomorrow with the hostile silence inhabiting their apartment alongside them both. He needs time away from Chirrut, he thinks. He needs to get out.
“I’m going shopping,” Baze decides, then announces, dropping his paper back down on the table. There’s a relief to be found in breaking the silence he finds, even if he isn’t sure how Chirrut will take it.
Chirrut rests with his back against the counter, his eyes closed as he waits for the telltale whistle of the kettle. They open at Baze’s words, though his gaze doesn’t shift from where it’s pointed towards the living room.
To an untrained ear, the word may be taken as friendly, amused even, but Baze recognizes its accusatory undertone after years with this man. He sighs, then swallows.
Feebly, the kettle on the stove begins its shrill cry, delaying whatever response Baze would have received. Chirrut turns to draw a mug from the cabinet, then pours the steaming water into it with a practiced hand. He neither spills any, nor scalds himself, hasn’t once since Baze had met him, but to this day the action still makes him anxious. Chirrut prides himself on his independence however, and there are places Baze has learned not to interfere.
Chirrut sets the kettle back down, turns off the stove, and retrieves a teabag from a box on the counter. It’s green; his usual choice in the morning. After freeing it of its package and untangling the string, Chirrut eases it into his drink.
“And what,” he asks, “Will you be buying?”
They’d gone out grocery shopping only two days ago, Baze remembers too late. It’s impossible the pair could have gone through anything so quickly, and the excuse falls flat. He rubs a rough palm down his face, struggling to salvage the lie, but he takes too long. It’s nearly two cigarettes Baze has missed now. He can’t think straight.
“I see,” Chirrut finishes for him after a minute, almost cruelly.
Wound, exasperated, and even more desperate to escape this than he’d been before, Baze shoves his chair back from the table at those words, and rises bluntly. He heads for their bedroom, pursuing a pair of shoes. He just needs to go - he can figure this all out later once he’s got a clear head. His sweats, worn too many times since their last wash, and his white, threadbare tee shirt likely aren’t the most presentable things, but it doesn’t matter. Disregarding his outfit he simply tugs on a pair of old, dependable boots, not bothering to lace them as tightly as he might have with more time to spare. Once they’re both knotted, he leaves out the front door without another word to Chirrut, and all but slams it behind him.
After jogging down several flights of stairs, Baze soon finds himself out on the street without breakfast or a jacket or a clue as to where he’s going.
It feels too much like older, more unpleasant times.
Baze ends up heading for the nearest grocery store on foot, ultimately. It’s only a direction for him to walk, an objective. He has nowhere else to go, hadn’t even thought to grab his wallet. So long as he is moving, none of it really matters.
Walking warms him some, but Baze is beginning to recognize Chirrut was right about the cold now that he’s been out in it for more than a few minutes. Along his bare arms, goosebumps have risen, further contributing to both his misery and remorse. He can ignore it however, and intends to before, recalling his partner, Baze stops flat on the empty sidewalk.
In his anger with Chirrut, Baze had forgone common sense, leaving it as it had been pushed out irresponsibly. Chirrut will inevitably leave the kitchen, if he hasn’t already, and it rests directly in his path to the living room. Heading for the couch with his cup of hot tea he could trip on the unseen obstacle. His mug could shatter, and he might land in it. He could strike his head on the counter, or table, or chair…
Chirrut is remarkably self sufficient. Particularly in their apartment where Chirrut has an intimate knowledge of his surroundings, it is too easy sometimes to forget his vulnerability. Two years ago, there had been an incident in a wet bathroom. Baze had forgotten to replace the bathmat he’d thrown in the wash with a clean one, having grown too complacent, too careless. He’d been home then, thankfully, quick to respond to the sudden crash. He isn’t home now. A million possibilities, all nightmares, play through Baze’s mind as he races the blocks he’d walked back to their apartment.
He arrives out of breath, flinging open the door he’d neglected to lock when he’d left and barely recalling the sense to kick it shut behind him.
Before Baze, unharmed, comfortable, and content on the couch Chirrut sits. His posture is straight but relaxed, and from the speakers on the shelves on the opposite end of the room music plays, awkwardly upbeat. Baze’s gaze darts to the kitchen table. His chair isn’t toppled, but instead tucked neatly back under. He sags with relief, and has almost forgotten their fight entirely before Chirrut remarks;
“I hear no bags.”
Baze sighs, his breath unsteady still from lingering adrenaline, and shakes his head. Still, through everything, he finds Chirrut hopelessly endearing. Without replying, Baze removes his boots then moves for the couch himself. He sinks down beside Chirrut, and Chirrut, in rare form, appears bemused.
Before dropping his head back against the furniture, Baze takes a moment to link their hands. From the corner of his eyes, just before he closes them, he catches sight of a small smile playing across Chirrut’s lips.
Chirrut asks no questions, and Baze is grateful not to have to answer for himself. The day’s been difficult enough already.
Together, in a comfortable quiet removed from their fight, they sit. Though Baze won’t admit it, his partner’s awful taste in pop music has gradually grown on him.
Under the cool, blue glow of early dawn leaking through closed blinds, Baze admires Chirrut where he lay in bed across from him. He’s half-positive the other man is feigning sleep, but for now he’s fine to let him pretend. It allows this moment to extend a little longer, and Baze would prolong it forever if he could. There is a peace here, now, that he cannot trust to last. The day, once it hits, will bring new, uncertain territory. Things had come together so quickly, so seamlessly between them; it only seems natural that they will just as quickly unravel.
With a looming sense he’ll soon lose the opportunity, Baze studies Chirrut with tired eyes (it’s hard to sleep well in another’s bed, another’s home, and the bags beneath them are prominent). Only the man’s face is visible now, his body covered by the heavy comforter he holds snug around his shoulders, though of the rest of him Baze had gotten more than a glimpse last night. Chirrut’s nose is long, narrow, casting a slight shadow over his cheek as he lay, and his lips are round (soft, too, Baze had learned), parted slightly as he’s relaxed. His features as a whole are smooth, balanced, and possess a level of graceful severity different from Baze’s unshakably disgruntled expression.
It takes several minutes for Baze to summon the courage to touch the other again. Sleep has heightened the boundaries toppled last night, and Baze remains feeling out of place here, as though what occurred between them was something he’d only been privy to a night of, as though he needs to leave soon, return to where he belongs. He’s graceless and frayed at the edges. The hand he finally raises to cup Chirrut’s cheek now has committed a hundred crimes, and guilt stirs in his gut to think the other still remains in the dark. As his thumb smooths just beneath Chirrut’s eye, Baze is left to wonder if the other’s interest could remain. He’s left to wonder, if he revealed the things he’d done, if Chirrut could forgive him.
He doubts it.
Confirming Baze’s suspicion that he’s been awake this whole time, Chirrut smiles slowly at the touch. His eyes crack open after a moment, and Baze’s breath catches at the sight of them. There is a second for which Baze fears scrutiny of his own disheveled morning appearance, but belatedly he remembers the obvious. Chirrut’s eyes are clear, free of the cloudy cataracts he generally associates with blindness. In moments such as these, with his mind still clinging to sleep, it’s almost easy to forget.
Baze hasn’t asked yet the cause. He knows better than many not to prod into other’s pasts, and Chirrut has so far shown him the same courtesy.
As Chirrut turns his face to press a careful kiss to the side of his palm, goosebumps rise along the length of Baze’s arm. It’s a simple touch; he shouldn’t be affected so easily, but something about Chirrut is intense and captivating, no matter what he does. Were this all somehow to last, Baze doesn’t think the feelings Chirrut conjures would fade in the least, but there’s no chance of that.
“You have yet to ask me,” Chirrut speaks vaguely after a moment in substitution of a ‘good morning.’ His smile hasn’t entirely faded, and Baze is wary of a larger joke.
“Ask you what?”
Baze’s thumb stills on the other’s skin, though he lingers, unsure if he should withdraw his hand.
At his question Chirrut laughs softly, and even recognizing that it may be at his own expense, Baze cannot deny the charm of that sound. He’s damned.
“Why I am blind,” Chirrut elaborates, starting this as though it were obvious. His eyes glitter with amusement. “We met nearly a week ago. I’m beginning to think you haven’t noticed.”
Baze withdraws his hand and sits up, feeling scolded though he’s done nothing wrong. It’s basic respect to stay out of others’ business and he knows this much decency, at least. He doesn’t know what game Chirrut is playing, but he’s wary. The stakes are high. He doesn’t know what kind of response Chirrut expects from him, and if he supplies the wrong one he might lose all of this even faster than he already suspects he will.
When Baze fails to reply, Chirrut sighs and sits up too. He folds his legs beneath himself then extends his hand slowly until it brushes Baze’s cheek. Chirrut’s fingers are softer than his own, but not untouched by the world (or rather, Baze thinks, the world hasn’t gone untouched by him.) As Baze sits, still and reluctantly entranced, they slowly map his face. They travel from his cheek to his nose, his brows to his eyelids, then pause, after drifting lower, lingering over his lips.
Carefully, Baze opens his eyes which had fallen shut at the touch.
“Your face bears lines of stress.” Chirrut begins. “I might be blind, Baze, but I am not dense. You have a history you aren’t sharing with me.”
The slight lull the touches had sent Baze into evaporates. It doesn’t matter the efforts he’d made to conceal it, he thinks. Chirrut has found him out regardless. Whether it was actually the “lines of stress” decorating his face, or something telling, betraying in his behavior doesn’t matter. Whatever shitty cover he’d thought he maintained has been blown. His time is up.
Stricken with shame and the welling urge to flee, Baze begins to reply, even before he’s formed the words in his mind. An excuse, an apology - it doesn’t matter. Something will fall out, Before he can open his mouth however, Chirrut presses the fingers still resting on his lips down a little firmer, effectively hushing Baze. He doesn’t fight it.
Eventually, the pressure of Chirrut’s fingers relents. His hand leaves Baze’s face, and smooths down his neck, coming to grip his shoulder. With this hold, Chirrut guides Baze back down onto the mattress and Baze goes down easy. Chirrut swings a leg around his waist, planting himself in his lap, and as the blanket shifts off them both, Baze is reminded they are still naked.
Chirrut’s hand continues down his chest.
Baze’s pulse picks up alongside his breath, loud to him, but silent in the room. Chirrut’s touch is just shy of ticklish, and there remains a doubt Baze cannot shake. Though their current positioning suggests Chirrut may keep Baze for longer yet, he still expects any moment now to be asked to leave.
Brushing his lower abdomen, Chirrut’s fingers find the gnarled scar Baze had hoped they wouldn’t, and pause there. Beneath them, Baze’s stomach tenses reflexively at the touch and he swallows. He waits, bracing himself for the coming question, and finds himself subsequently baffled by the word which Chirrut speaks next.
“Glaucoma,” he says, sounding suddenly tired, resigned.
“What?” Baze asks. Void of context and with his nerves still alight and tingling, Chirrut’s odd statement doesn’t properly register
“‘The silent thief of sight,’” Chirrut continues. All hints of amusement have dropped from his face and he’s far tenser than he’d sat before. “Developed when I was in my teens. We did not catch it until it was too late.” He offers a sad smile then, a mitigating tactic. It makes Baze ache a thousand times worse. By the ease and comfort with which Chirrut navigated the world, Baze had assumed he’d always been blind. The thought that he had once been able to see and had lost that is a thousand times more devastating. The weight of the confession hangs heavy in the room.
Baze can think of no appropriate response. He isn’t sure there is one. He brings a hand to Chirrut’s knee instead, stroking over it in silence.
Above Baze, Chirrut closes his eyes. Whether he is remembering something or composing himself, Baze cannot tell. After a deep breath, Chirrut opens them and addresses Baze once more.
“That was my bargaining chip.” His eyes are pointed at the headboard before them, rather than Baze himself. It’s slightly off-putting, something that would take getting used to (though Baze won’t get the chance). Chirrut’s fingers begin to move once more, tracing around the scar they’ve rested on.
The touch is light and ticklish on the sensitive tissue. Baze does his best not to twitch.
“Now you are obligated to tell me how you got this,” Chirrut continues, his grin returning.
Baze blinks, digesting this, then protests, “I never asked!” finding his voice now in frustration.
Chirrut appears unbothered by the point he makes, shifting lower on his thighs then bending until his lips are all but pressed to the scar. “I still told you,” he teases. His breath, hot, puffs out over it.
Goosebumps erupt over Baze’s skin. He wants to be more upset over the obligation Chirrut has roped him into, but it’s difficult. Chirrut’s tongue runs over the scar now and Baze can barely keep a coherent thought. It shouldn’t be arousing. It is.
Baze throws an arm over his face, as though Chirrut could, or even needs to see the dignity he’s stripped from him. He sighs, then relents;
“Stabbed, two years back.” Baze has a feeling this won’t be enough to sate Chirrut’s curiosity, but he tries to keep things short, anyways.
“Doing what?” Chirrut presses, lifting his mouth only enough to speak.
Baze mutters, keeping his voice low as though that will lessen the impact of his words. He hardly wants to relive the experience now of all times, but it’s too late now. “Deal went South. Ended up collateral.” They hadn’t warned him what he was getting into. He was new, and naive, and Baze wonders now if they hadn’t just been trying to get rid of him. At first, Baze had thought he’d only taken a harsh punch to the gut. It wasn’t until he glanced down, breath returning slowly to his lungs, that he’d seen the blood. The pain truly announced itself when the blade was promptly ripped back out. Baze hadn’t thought he’d survive that one, still doesn’t know how he managed.
“I see,” Chirrut replies softly. His mouth finally abandons the scar and dances even lower.
It’s more of a pardon than Baze thinks he deserves. Perhaps a drug deal is condonable, but Baze has done his fair share of stabbing, too, though he’d prefered his gun - less messy, less personal, when done from a distance. He groans softly all the same, the effort drawing him finally from his mind. His hand rises from his knee to slide through Chirrut’s short-shorn hair, finding it remarkably soft, and somehow even the texture drives his mind into further of a haze.
Glancing down, Baze spots a devilish smirk playing over Chirrut’s lips just before he takes him into his mouth.
Baze speaks to no one about his past, yet if Chirut were to press him for more he would answer. A massive, incomprehensible feeling wells in his gut at the realization, and he wonders if this is devotion. He wonders if this is love.
Baze doesn’t leave the house again, having calmed enough not to repeat his mistake, but by evening he’s frustratingly restless. He begins on dinner early solely to occupy himself.
His head throbs, keeping his eyes lidded against the lights of the kitchen he’d never found harsh before, and his fingers, toes tingle in a symptom that’s hardly the worst of them but only contributes to his discomfort. Constantly, Baze reminds himself of the simple solution to all of this. The pack remains in his pocket, and though Chirrut would hear him slipping out, Baze doubts he would attempt something like he had this morning a second time. He’s made his point. Still, Baze continues holding out, partially out of reluctance to reignite his fight with Chirrut, and partially that he remains evaluating his own values. He doesn’t know if he’s ready to abandon the habit, if he’ll ever be, but he doesn’t know what place it serves other than to damage the life he has now.
Currently, it’s difficult to concentrate on anything at all, let alone the life-altering decision facing him. Even cooking, Baze finds, is a challenge. He’d nicked himself chopping peppers, and twice caught himself trying to put ingredients back in places they didn’t belong. It’s a simple meal, too; chicken fried rice. It’s a bachelor’s meal, something Baze had known how to make long before having met Chirrut, though perhaps not as well.
Alone, Baze had been an unremarkable cook, knowledgeable only on the bare basics and complacent with that. Through Chirrut’s aid however, and half against his will, he’s improved.
Baze had cooked nearly all of the first meals they’d shared, half as a means of compensating for the rent he couldn’t pay yet. He was content doing so, save for the fact Chirrut had had a comment to make on anything Baze would put in front of him. The critique hadn’t been intentionally malicious, but wore on Baze. He could only take so many complaints before he snapped.
That had been their first fight of many they’d had as a new couple. Through its resolution Baze came to learn Chirrut’s motivation; that he had enjoyed cooking when he was younger, even been good at it, before he was robbed of his sight. Chirrut can still cook some things for himself, but not the more complicated dishes he wants to, and after too many burns Baze had had to intervene. Compromise had been found in Chirrut teaching Baze how to cook, instead. Chirrut would feed him recipes, describe the proper motions and even guide his hands, taste test, but this was a struggle too.
Chirrut was initially impatient with Baze, harsh. Baze soon recognized, rather than at him personally, just as the comments had been, this was directed towards the loss of his prior capabilities. Gradually, Baze learned to be patient with Chirrut; a skill he’s never been great at, and Chirrut learned patience with Baze, too, moreso himself.
Baze improved. He’ll admit his food tastes better, and he’s learned more than the five meals he used to cycle through, too tired and hungry to care much what he put in his mouth. All the same, a part of him still aches to be at the stove when Chirrut is nearby.
Currently, Chirrut sits at the table. He lifts his nose to test the air shortly before Baze finishes.
“Not bad, today,” he comments. It’s stiff. They still aren’t back on level ground after the incident this morning, but they’ve been together long enough to learn how to set down a fight when necessary, like for meals, as neither of them had a great temper hungry.
“My memory is not as bad as you like to think it is,” Baze teases, though, as he remains on edge, it comes out sounding half-defensive.
After a few more minutes on the pan, he divides food it onto two plates before fetching them both drinks. They eat in silence, but Chirrut’s appreciative hum as he takes the first bite is almost enough.
After dinner Chirrut takes his routine shower and Baze accompanies him in the bathroom, seated on the toilet lid with a well-worn book in his grip. He’s supervising; here to identify bottles if their placement gets mixed up, here to pass the towel when Chirrut is finished. Despite the tension lingering between them, Baze is reluctant to leave his partner’s side, especially in the same bathroom he’d slipped in years back. Time hasn’t buried that memory. The terror of the moment still strikes Baze sometimes, and there have been nights where he’s dreamt of worse endings.
Barely audible under the stream of hot water gradually fogging the bathroom, Chirrut hums quietly. It’s one of the songs they’d listened to earlier, Baze thinks, though which, or which artist even, he couldn’t say. They all sound the same. He’s struggling to read, running back over the same sentence he’s been working on for several minutes now, leg bouncing, and comprehending none of it. He tries again and again. The more he struggles to force his attention, the more difficult it gets, and in the background, still, is Chirrut’s off-key voice, only serving to further grate on Baze’s nerves.
Eventually, Baze snaps. He slams his book shut over fingers that now serve as a bookmark and growls out “Shut up, Chirrut!” without thinking first, without thinking at all.
Chirrut immediately pauses, his hand stilling in the air where it had been in the process of returning a shampoo bottle to the shelf.
Baze knows he’s fucked up, but there’s nothing he can do now but wait stiffly for Chirrut’s judgment. He deserves it. He deserves worse. Baze covers his face with the hand not wedged in his paperback, and holds his jaw too tightly.
For a long time, the small room stays silent save for the steady stream of water running off Chirrut and into the drain. Chirrut says nothing, simply standing there, then eventually, eerily unaffected, he reanimates, placing his shampoo back on the shelf. He finishes his shower as normal, though his hum never resumes. As he steps out, Baze passes him his towel stiffly.
Chirrut utters a terse, quiet “Thank you,” as he accepts it that cuts Baze more than anything.
Once he’s certain Chirrut is safe back on the carpet, and that his pajamas are laid out where he can access them, Baze retreats to the balcony driven by shame. He doesn’t know how long he stands out there in the cold, staring at nothing and numbly igniting his lighter over and over, only that Chirrut joins him eventually.
Light from the living room casts over them both where they stand in the darkness, and neither move.
Baze speaks after a moment, turning finally from the railing to face the other. “Chirrut-”
Chirrut lifts a hand to cut him off. Baze closes his mouth. A minute passes before Chirrut comes to stand beside him, and heaves a long, burdened sigh more characteristic of Baze than himself.
“Do you know why I want you to quit?” He asks.
It’s such a ridiculous question Baze barks out a laugh, the sound startled from him. “Seems obvious.”
“And yet not obvious enough to stop you.”
Baze stops, digests this. He drops his head, and stares down at the empty street below him. The dry winter wind felt up here whips at his cheeks. He’s never cared for his own well being, not enough. He ate, bathed himself, but it wasn’t until Chirrut Baze felt he had anything to lose, or anything to stay for. Before they’d met, Baze hadn’t cared enough to even look for cars when crossing the street, let alone been bothered by the threat of lung cancer thirty years down the road. Now, he takes a moment to reevaluate.
Regardless of the years that have passed, the fear remains that he will lose all of this. It’s unshakeable. Baze’s life has always been unsteady, and he prides himself on his ability to adapt, to endure. Cigarettes have been his only constant, and he realizes now that to abandon them is an act of faith, and act of trust.
Baze doesn’t trust others; it’s a principle, a survival skill, but others aren’t Chirrut.
Baze closes his eyes and breathes in deep. The air is cold enough to cut his lungs a little. He’s terrified, he realizes, a funny way to feel towards an act so tame in comparison to others in his life. All the same, he steels himself. For Chirrut, he thinks, then reaches into the pocket of his sweats to withdraw his last pack. “Here,” he grunts, as discretely, he presses it into Chirrut’s hand. He stretches, nect, unwilling to invest anymore sentiment in the matter than he has already.
Chirrut lifts the package, running his fingers over it as though confirming it for what he suspects it to be. A warm smile breaks his face.
Baze aches, hurt in too many places to count. His teeth don’t seem to fit together right as he grinds them over one another restlessly, and he can feel his pulse in a no doubt bruising portion of his jaw. He takes a final drag from his cigarette, then extinguishes it on the concrete step he sits on.
It’s cold out, the kind of cold that hurts to endure for more than an hour, and Baze is miserable. He wipes his running nose on his jacket sleeve only to discover blood instead of snot.
The sun set an hour ago, and it’s getting late. Baze doesn’t know where he’s going to sleep tonight, though he’s beginning to suspect it’s wherever sleep takes him. This isn’t the first time he’s faced this dilemma, and he doubts it will be the last, but this is the least concerned he’s ever found himself over it. He’s apathetic and mentally numb. Things really can’t go worse at this point, unless they decide a beating was too soft and come looking to kill him, instead. He doubts it, though.
Baze sits on the steps of some shuttered up building on a near empty street, the concrete freezing under his ass. Cars rarely come down this road, let alone people, and thus at the odd tapping and scraping he hears from further up the sidewalk, Baze is drawn from his sorry mind long enough to look up for the first time in hours. He’s initially wary more than curious, but soon finds he has no reason to be.
A distance away from where Baze sits a slender man navigates the sidewalk. He is blind, if his cane gives any indication. He’s alone, Baze recognizes quickly, and by the way he pauses and turns often, recognizes he’s lost, too. No threat to him.
Baze doesn’t deal with others, not unnecessarily, and he hardly has the energy to even take care of himself right now, but what remains of his tattered conscience guilts him to interfere. This is a bad part of town; Baze would know as he continues to be one of the bad people in it, even if recently disowned by his previous gang. This man’s going to get robbed, at best. After licking his dry, split lips in too short of deliberation, Baze clears his throat.
“Lost?” He calls out. His voice is hoarse, and Baze winces at the sound. It’s still consoling to know that at least the stranger cannot see his bloody, swollen face.
The stranger pauses, listening a moment, then approaches Baze, continuing until he stands almost before him. He addresses the space just over Baze’s head with a small smile. “So you’ve noticed. This town is new to me.”
Baze wonders how someone can maintain such a cheery demeanor wandering around lost in the cold at night. It’s both admirable and unnerving.
The stranger continues, filling Baze’s silence. “Would you know how I might get to Whills Avenue?”
Raising his brows, Baze comments “You’re a long way from home.”
“So I am.” The stranger replies with a slight shrug.
Baze considers giving him directions before realizing they’re irrelevant to someone who can’t read street signs. Aren’t blind people supposed to have guides? Dogs, at least? Rather than directions, this man needs someone to walk him home, and Baze hesitates to offer. He’s sore, tired, and it isn’t his problem. God knows he has enough of his own. All the same he has nothing else to do tonight, nowhere else to go, and he doubts the next person this man stumbles across will be interested in anything more than his wallet. One good act on Baze’s record, while it could never outweigh his sins, won’t hurt. He’ll keep this one, blind idiot out of trouble for tonight.
“Do you want me to walk you there?”
“I thought you’d never ask.”
Baze clicks off the bedside lamp before sliding under the covers after Chirrut. The sheets are soft, the blanket heavy and warm, but as Baze drops his head down on his pillow, he knows he won’t sleep well tonight. He remains twitchy and restless, unjustifiably anxious, as well. These are all symptoms of withdrawal, he’d read, and things are only going to get worse until he passes the three day mark. Still, he isn’t sleeping on the couch and he’d thought he might earlier in the fight.
It’s a ridiculous thought now, in the peace of their resolution. Baze hasn’t slept there since his first few nights in this apartment. He still doesn’t know just how Chirrut had sorted out he had nowhere to stay, but many things about his partner still perplex him, and Baze has learned his own behavior is less subtle than he wants to think.
Before settling completely, Baze turns to press a soft kiss to Chirrut’s lips. In the dark of the room, he can just make out the slight upwards quirk which catches them in response.
“You’ve softened,” Chirrut comments quietly after they lay together several minutes, neither asleep.
“You’ve softened me,” Baze laughs. He finds Chirrut’s hand under the blankets, then lifts it to press his knuckles to his lips.
I’m a fool, Baze thinks, to have ever doubted this. He'd found his true constant, his true comfort, his true grounding years ago.
What he has is right here.