Baze had been looking for Chirrut all afternoon.
He’d searched the Temple from top to bottom, every back passageway and hidden space that they’d played in as children. He suspected he would not find Chirrut until Chirrut wished to be found, but he continued his search regardless. Shoving the fear aside in his mind, he focused on the search. He would deal with whatever was wrong once he found him and it was a waste of energy to speculate on worst case scenarios until then.
He decided to check one last spot before giving up and simply waiting for Chirrut to reappear. Baze headed down a passage that he knew led to an unused storage room they had once used as an escape from their caretaker when they were small children. He quickly realized that his shoulders had grown too broad for the passageway and he was forced to turn sideways and step awkwardly when he got tired of scraping his shoulders against the rough stone.
It was here that he found him. Chirrut was sitting with his knees pulled up to his chest on the floor of the small dusty room. The only light was coming from the one tiny window high above, showing a stack of crates and an empty, broken locker. Chirrut’s head was bowed, his forehead resting on his knees.
There was no way Chirrut had not heard him enter the room, even though Baze moved habitually with stealth. Yet Chirrut gave no indication that he knew Baze was there. Baze was reluctant to speak first so the silence stretched out, Chirrut sitting motionless and Baze standing loosely just inside, blocking the doorway. Baze was as patient as Chirrut was iron-willed - or - perhaps Baze was as iron-willed as Chirrut was patient - or - perhaps they were both just stubborn. Pigheaded was the word their caretaker had used liberally.
It made Baze uneasy to see Chirrut so despondent. He had know him his entire life and he had never seen him like this. There was no one Baze knew that was more optimistic. Even now after the incident and the loss of his vision, Chirrut’s demeanor had remained lively and his spirit hadn’t seemed to dim. The cruel twist of fate had seemingly not slowed Chirrut down at all. He was, according to their teacher, still young enough to adapt. And he’d been doing just that, able to get around on his own almost right away. Progress in his Guardian training had slowed to a crawl initially, having to relearn so much, but it was going better. Just this morning he had put Baze flat on his back while they sparred, causing their teacher to give rare praise.
Finally, after the rectangle of sunlight had moved a few inches up the wall, it was Chirrut who spoke first.
“I have always trusted the Force, I know it…” His voice trailed off. He heaved a heavy sigh before continuing. “This is not what I would have chosen for myself. I find it difficult to trust again, but if I do not place my trust in the Force, how...” Chirrut lifted his head and turned his face as one would turn their face into the sun, toward Baze. “How can I be one with the Force?”
Baze felt a lurch in his gut as if he were aboard a ship whose artificial gravity had suddenly been shut off. He would fight armies, carry any burden, vanquish monsters and scale heights for Chirrut, but he didn't know how to offer comfort here, not even where to start. He had no skill with words and no idea how to fix this for Chirrut. He desperately tried to think of something to say, some words of reassurance.
His own faith was less a belief or trust in the Force and more an allegiance to the Guardians, his trust placed in flesh and blood people, not in the ambiguous all-powerful Force controlling everything. Chirrut’s belief, on the other hand, his devotion to his spirituality, was as much a part of him as the blood that ran through his veins. His faith was a pure certainty. But their faith in each other trumped all other allegiances, over the Guardians and the Force.
Apparently Baze had hesitated too long to answer because Chirrut tipped his head back against the wall with a chuckle and a smile tugged his lips up.
“I’m sorry my friend, I do not mean to distress you with such an existential question.” His smile grew. “I know thinking is difficult for you.”
On the tip of Baze’s tongue had been rejection of Chirrut’s apology, a plea to not fear sharing with him, to not hide his pain to spare Baze. Instead he found himself letting out a grumble.
“Existential questions, my ass,” Baze muttered.
Chirrut laughed, some of the tension leaving his shoulders, which had the domino effect of Baze relaxing as well.
“I’ve been looking all over for you,” Baze blurted out.
“Again, I apologize, I just needed... to think.” Chirrut sighed. “I did not intend to worry you.”
There was a pause where Baze shifted awkwardly. He had never more keenly felt the difference in their natures. Before, his more taciturn nature, while at odds with Chirrut’s exuberance, had not been a problem, they had balanced each other well. But now, now Chirrut couldn’t read unspoken words in Baze’s face, could not see the emotions in his eyes. They were now out of balance and Baze realized with a sinking feeling that part of that was his fault.
“Was there something you wanted? ” Chirrut asked. When Baze did not speak he prompted again, worry plain in his voice and on his face, “What is it Baze?”
Baze felt sick with guilt. Chirrut was working so hard to find his feet and Baze knew he could not be expected to know the thoughts in Baze’s mind if he did not speak them aloud; he could not ask so much of him. Baze realized he would need to adapt as well. Not just adjusting his fighting techniques to compensate for Chirrut’s lack of vision, but he would need to change how he communicated. He would need to find his voice.
Baze took a deep breath. “I need to speak to you.”
There was worry in Chirrut’s voice when he responded “Oh?”
“Yes, but I’m not sure how to start,” Baze admitted.
“Oh,” he said again. The tension returned to Chirrut’s shoulders and his voice was heavy with resignation. “I understand, I had thought this might happen. Do not worry, I don’t blame you. You shouldn’t let me hold you back, shouldn’t let me burden you. It was kind of you to stay at my shoulder until now.” His voice cracked. “Until I adjusted.” Chirrut had never been very good at masking his emotions. Even though he was clearly doing his best to seem calm Baze could see his sorrow.
It was the pain that Chirrut was trying to hide that brought Baze to his knees, an unformed sound of denial bursting past his lips. Closing the distance between them until he sat on the floor in front of Chirrut, who accommodated the invasion of his space, folding his legs so they sat with their knees pressing together. Baze reached out and took Chirrut’s hands in his.
“Shut up, you ass,” Baze said. “I’m not trying to leave you, you idiot, I mean I need to speak in general more. I’m... trying to help. I do not want to be free of a burden, you are not a burden, for all you are a fool for thinking you are one.”
At this Chirrut snorted in amusement. “You know you insulted me three times just now?” Chirrut commented.
“Well, if you think I’d ever leave you, you are an idiot.” His hands tightening on Chirrut’s, gripping too hard but unable to let go. “You are no burden.” Baze said it with a convection he felt in his bones.
At this, the fear and tension drained out of Chirrut completely and his smile returned. Baze was unable to resist moving forward to touch. He did not even try and stop the urge to reach out and trace the smile on Chirrut’s face. His fingers touching Chirrut’s lips only caused the smile to grow.
“You may be an idiot, but you’re my idiot.” Baze’s harsh words were softened by the tenderness and love in his voice.
Chirrut reached up to cup Baze’s face, running his fingers along his jaw. His thumb swiped across Baze’s lips, then traced up his temple and, feather light, over his brow. Baze suspected he was looking for an answering smile but he could not summon one
“You still frown Baze, what is it? What are you not telling me?”
Baze did not know how Chirrut saw so easily into the heart of him. Now that the question was spoken, he knew only the truth would do.
“I haven’t been sleeping well,” he confessed. Chirrut made an encouraging noise and Baze couldn’t help but let the words bubble up out of him. He’d been holding onto them so long.
“I... every time I close my eyes I see you fall, again and again. I fear…” He trailed off, struggling to voice the nightmares that plagued him.
“Oh, Baze.” Chirrut pulled their foreheads together.
“It's not so bad.” He tried to make light of the panic that visited him nightly. “When I wake I stay and watch over you, seeing your chest rise and fall. It calms my fear.”
“How have I not noticed?” Chirrut probably did not seek an answer; he spoke more to himself than to Baze.
But Baze wanted him to understand that he was not a fault for not seeing what Baze had hidden from him. “I’ve been careful to not wake you. My dreams... are quiet at least.”
They sat for a moment, their foreheads pressed into each others, sharing breath. Chirrut digested Baze’s admission before he asked, “Why didn’t you say anything?”
Baze said nothing for a long moment, once again struggling to find the words. He shifted his weight and took a breath before finally answering.
“You have enough to worry about, I didn’t want to add to your troubles.” Baze desperately did not want Chirrut to feel any blame.
“Baze, if my troubles are your troubles, are your troubles not mine to carry as well?” Baze was reluctant to ever ask anything of Chirrut, preferring to give rather than take, but he could not deny him his logic.
“I suppose,” he admitted with a shrug, knowing Chirrut would feel it with how close they were pressed together. Baze wasn’t sure how they’d gotten here, Chirrut comforting him instead of the other way around.
Chirrut cupped Baze’s face with his callused hands. “From now on you wake me. No more watching over me. I will face this with you, at your side just as we have faced every other challenge and will face every other challenge we ever encounter, together, as one. You will wake me and I will watch over you.” Chirrut’s voice was firm.
“If you insist. I do not think it’ll make any difference, but if you wish... ”
“I do,” Chirrut said firmly. Baze heaved a breath and blinked a few times to stop the tears he would have denied existing, feeling a weight lift from his shoulders.
“Very well.” Baze conceded, as he usually did, to Chirrut.
“Good.” Chirrut leaned back just enough for Baze to see the bright smile on his face before he leaned in and kissed Baze, just catching the corner of Baze’s mouth.
Baze tilted his head slightly so their lips lined up properly and returned the kiss. Putting the love and devotion he could never find the words for into it, knowing Chirrut did not need his eyes to understand what Baze was trying to tell him. Baze could feel Chirrut’s smile under his lips and could not help but smile as well, even if it made the kiss awkward. The things Baze loved about Chirrut were countless, but he loved nothing more than kissing him while he smiled.
As Chirrut commonly did when kissing started, he clambered into Baze’s lap. Baze grunted at the sudden weight but adjusted his position to accommodate Chirrut and wrapped his arms around him to keep him secure. Chirrut began dropping little kisses onto Baze’s face and Baze simply let his head drop back to grant better access to Chirrut’s wandering lips and hands.
“Baze! What is this mess?” Chirrut demanded suddenly, leaning back, his hands having found their way into Baze’s hair.
Baze was reluctant to admit that as soon as he had noticed Chirrut was missing after they had been released from the training grounds, he'd simply thrown on fresh clothes and begun searching for him, not bothering to bathe or comb his hair. Chirrut ran his hands over the tangles on Baze’s head.
Baze leaned forward until his face was pressed into Chirrut’s shoulder, relaxing deeper into Chirrut’s touch. “I was thinking about cutting it. It's getting so long, not worth the bother,” Baze muttered into Chirrut’s shoulder, knowing the empty threat would distract him.
“Don't you dare,” Chirrut scolded, tugging lightly on Baze’s hair. “I love your hair, you great oaf.”
Baze just smiled into Chirrut’s shoulder, listening to him mutter about rats-nests. Enjoying the closeness even if the kissing seemed to have been derailed, he couldn’t help the jerk when Chirrut’s fingers snagged in a particular nasty tangle.
“Well then, I guess I should do something about this mess. Turn around.” Chirrut pushed at Baze’s shoulders.
Baze shifted accordingly, his back now to Chirrut who had moved about, pulling the locker over to sit on so that now Baze sat between his knees. They paused here. Baze leaned his head back against Chirrut’s stomach and Chirrut rested his hands on Baze's shoulders. Baze felt the warmth of Chirrut behind him, more than just his physical heat, but his presence.
“Besides, how else would you hide these?” Chirrut tweaked one of Baze’s ears and Baze swatted at him ineffectively. Chirrut just laughed and pulled a comb out of the folds of his robe. Baze simply sighed heavily and settled, for all his bluster always willing to do as Chirrut asked.
There was silence as Chirrut worked. His first few strokes with the comb caught on large tangles. Instead of forcing the comb through them, Chirrut set the comb aside. Baze felt fingers tugging through the hair at the base of his neck, testing the tangles, then Chirrut started working them out with his fingers. Once the worst of the knots were gone Chirrut picked the comb back up, starting with the ends and working his way up to the roots.
He worked diligently at the snarls, smoothing the locks slowly with the comb until they had all loosened and fallen free. He drew the comb slowly through from crown all the way down to the ends, seeking further knots. He ran his fingertips across Baze’s scalp and Baze couldn’t help but melt a bit. Baze made a tiny, choked off sound of pleasure. Chirrut repeated the motion and did not comment on the noise.
Finally every tangle was gone and Baze's hair fell smoothly. Then he felt Chirrut’s hands return to their work. Unable to see what he was doing, Baze focused on the feeling—the gentle tug on his scalp as Chirrut divided a small section of his hair, the tiny movements as his deft fingers wove the strands back together again. It was incredibly peaceful, feeling Chirrut slowly smoothing each chunk before weaving it into the braids he was creating. Chirrut was meticulous, moving at an unhurried pace, seeking precision and symmetry; add to that the fact he had to work by feeling alone, it would take some time before he was done. Baze was so soothed by Chirrut’s ministrations he did not notice when he slipped into a light sleep.
When his eyes fluttered open the light had faded completely and he had no idea how many hours had passed. For the first time since Chirrut had been hurt he felt well rested. He had forgotten what it felt like to wake so smoothly, not to jolt awake in a cold sweat. He slowly became aware of his surroundings, the cold hard ground below him and a point of pain where the broken locker dug into his back. But he was overwhelmingly at peace, the heat of Chirrut behind him, the sensation of Chirrut stroking his hair, the sound of Chirrut humming quietly. Baze shifted, stretching his shoulders, and tipped his head back so he could see Chirrut’s face, lit only by the small amount of starlight through the window.
Chirrut continued to pet his hair while Baze looked up at him. “Better with me here to watch over you, hmm?” Baze heard the smirk that Chirrut was wearing in his voice, the pleased, self-satisfied one he wore when he was right. He wore it often enough Baze wouldn’t have needed any light to know it was there. In this case, and every one before, he found he did not mind in the least for Chirrut to be proven right.
“Shut up and kiss me.” Baze had meant the words to come out as an order. Instead they were soft, a prayer barely murmured, one that Chirrut did not deny for a single moment before leaning down, pressing his lips to Baze’s, answering his prayers.