Baze had known Chirrut for over thirty-three years, and in that time Baze had learned that there was very little that could shake Chirrut’s iron composure. The man was relatively fearless, good-natured, and as sharp-witted as anyone Baze had ever met. He had the patience of a monk and the bravery of a warrior.
Baze had never met a soul as fascinating as Chirrut Îmwe, and he doubted he ever would. Chirrut was like a beacon in a dark, unforgiving galaxy that Baze found himself returning to, again and again. The bright smile that split Chirrut’s face when Baze had returned to him after his stint as an offworld mercenary was worth Baze giving up his well-paying job. Protecting Chirrut was worth the effort required to scrounge for whatever work he could find in the dying city of Jedha.
Baze had been trained from a very young age to protect, whether that protection be of holy crystals or a spirited blind man with a whip-crack sense of humor, and he found that Chirrut was much more entertaining than the crystals.
Baze was forty-four standard years old when the temple fell, and it was that day that Baze realized that even Chirrut’s iron composure could be cracked.
The Empire had been monitoring Jedha for at least three months, and Baze was beginning to get a very bad feeling about what their intentions were.
“The worry you feel originates with the Force,” Chirrut said from his meditation mat in the central courtyard of the temple where he often practiced his forms. Baze sat on a crate nearby and watched idly, mostly keeping a careful ear out for trouble. He made a scoffing noise.
“It’s called simple intuition, Chirrut.”
Chirrut ignored him, going back into meditation as Baze sighed, knowing this was a fight he would never win. If Baze was to be true to himself, he didn’t want to win the fight, because that meant that Chirrut would have lost his faith in the Force, and while Baze had lost his, the thought of Chirrut giving up on the Force was unbearable.
Even in meditation as he was, Chirrut was the first to notice something was wrong. His head tilted to the side and a frown formed on the corners of his mouth.
“What is it?” Baze asked, bristling.
Chirrut held up a finger to silence him. After a moment of tense stillness, he spoke. “The Empire sent troops into the city. They’re pushing their way towards the temple.” His frown deepened. “The Force moves darkly around them.”
Baze stood. “Come. I need to get my blaster, and I’m not leaving you out here alone.”
For once, Chirrut did not complain or make any smart remarks. He simply picked up his staff and followed Baze as he hurried to the living quarters in the temple. Baze could feel his uneasiness growing with each stride, which meant Chirrut could probably feel it as well. Chirrut was so in tune with him that Baze often forgot that most people couldn’t tell what he was feeling.
Baze was quick to lift his ammunitions pack over his shoulders and load his blaster. He wished, at this moment, that Chirrut had a better weapon than his simple quarterstaff, but there was no time to find one if the Stormtroopers were nearly upon them.
“We should warn the rest of the temple,” Baze said.
“They know,” Chirrut replied, adjusting his robes and gripping his staff in tight fists. “The violent intent surrounding the ‘troopers is strong.”
Baze allowed himself a moment to close his eyes, to strengthen his resolve. The Guardians didn’t have the firepower of the Empire, but they would fight to the death to protect the kyber. Baze knew this wouldn’t end well if the Empire was intent on getting into the temple.
Baze made to pass Chirrut on his way out of their shared quarters, but Chirrut stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. He gave it a firm squeeze, face turned towards Baze’s, eyes unseeing but expression focused. “May the Force be with you, Baze.”
Baze covered Chirrut’s hand with his own. “I don’t need the Force with you by my side.”
Chirrut smiled, and in that moment he looked much older than his forty-two years.
There were too many ‘troopers, and they were not concerned with the preservation of life in the same way that the Guardians were. Baze and Chirrut were crouched behind a crumbled outer wall of the temple, ducking out of the way of the constant barrage of blaster fire. Baze was taking shots at any Stormtrooper that came near, but there were too many of them, which meant it wouldn’t be long before they got through the Guardians and into the temple. There had already been casualties, and each time a Guardian dropped, Chirrut flinched as if struck. Baze’s fury rose with each stricken look on Chirrut’s face, and he channeled that energy into trying to keep the Empire out of the temple. His arms shook with each kickback of his weapon and he could feel sweat tracking its way down his face.
Every time Chirrut shot out of hiding to attack a Stormtrooper that got too close, Baze’s heart jumped to his throat. Every time Chirrut won another fight, he felt a rush of short-lived relief.
With every Guardian fighting and the aid of the crossbow blasters that the temple was armed with, it still wasn’t enough.
There was a scream that cut through the blaster fire. Chirrut’s head snapped to face the sound and Baze followed his blind gaze.
One of the young Guardians had left the safe room where they had been instructed to stay and was crouched, hands over her head on the front steps of the temple, which were in the middle of the crossfire. On the steps next to her was a small leather-bound book, likely what she had come back for despite orders to stay in hiding.
In the next moment, Chirrut was leaping up from his spot behind the wall.
“Chirrut, let me!” Baze shouted, making a grab at Chirrut’s robes. “No!”
Chirrut was already over the wall and sprinting towards the girl.
Baze cursed, struggling to his feet and making to follow Chirrut into the rain of fire.
An explosion sent Baze right back to his knees, forcing him to cover his head from the rain of rubble around him. The concussive force left a ringing sound in his ears and horror clawing at his throat. The explosion had hit the front steps, leaving them nothing but a crumbling mess. The child. Chirrut.
Baze’s eyes raked over the mess, heart lurching in his chest as he tried to pick out the bright red of Chirrut’s robes. There were other Guardians that had gotten caught in the explosion, and they wore the same robes. Each time Baze realized their crumpled bodies were not those of his dearest friend, he ground his jaw and prayed to the Force that Chirrut was alive. The Stormtroopers had started moving through the wreckage towards the temple and there weren’t enough Guardians left to keep them out. Baze was more worried about his friend than the temple, at this point, so he didn’t bother firing at the Stormtroopers as they marched past.
He found Chirrut by spotting his staff, lying a few meters from a splash of red and black robes sprawled in the entrance to what used to be the front hall of the temple. Baze hauled himself to his feet, fought his way through the steady trickle of Stormtroopers, and fell to his knees by Chirrut’s side.
“Chirrut,” he said, hooking his blaster over his back and getting his arms around Chirrut’s back.
There was soot on Chirrut’s face, and there was a gash across his cheekbone that was bleeding sluggishly. His eyes were closed, but when Baze touched him, they shot open.
Baze let out a relieved breath. “Chirrut, talk to me.”
He didn’t respond, eyes wide and alarmed in a way Baze had never seen before, hands coming up to grip Baze’s arms. His breath started coming in quick gasps, and his hands tightened painfully.
“Chirrut, it’s okay, I’m here. Chirrut.” He tried to pull Chirrut out of whatever panic he was experiencing, but it was like Chirrut couldn’t hear him. Blaster fire hit the wall over Baze’s head and he cursed. Not having time to wait for Chirrut to snap out of his shock, Baze made a decision that he knew Chirrut would be angry at him for, but would ultimately save Chirrut’s life.
Baze hooked an arm under Chirrut’s knees, the other around his back and made the difficult escape from the temple, ducking behind walls, sprinting past ‘troopers, lurching through the panicked streets of Jedha. He found a secluded alley far enough away that the fighting was echoing in the distance, and he set Chirrut down gently. Chirrut’s eyes were closed tightly, and he was clutching at his left arm. Baze used his fingers to gently examine the limb under the flowing robe, finding the break in the forearm easily. Chirrut hissed.
“We’ll need to find someone to set this. Are you hurt anywhere else?”
Again, Chirrut didn’t respond. Baze’s frown deepened. He cupped his hand around the back of Chirrut’s neck, watching as Chirrut leaned into the touch. His breath was still working too quickly, and Baze could see the tension lining Chirrut’s shoulders.
Something was very wrong.
Chirrut reached out with his uninjured arm and found Baze’s face with his soot-covered fingers. His hands were shaking. Baze allowed him a moment to map his face, and then he caught Chirrut’s fingers between his own, squeezing gently.
“Baze,” Chirrut rasped, voice ruined and soft. “My ears. I can’t hear.”
The explosion that was still ringing in Baze’s ears had done much more damage to Chirrut, who had been thrown by it. Chirrut was wrapped in darkness and silence with nothing but his connection to the Force and touch to help him. Baze wanted to throw something, wanted to kill a Stormtrooper with his bare hands. How dare they?
Struck with a sudden idea, Baze shifted their hands so Chirrut’s palm was facing outward. He used his finger to trace individual letters on Chirrut’s palm.
Baze let out a heavy sigh.
Chirrut closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall, letting out a long breath that sounded old, weary.
“Where did you take us?”
Chirrut simply nodded, face pale and expression flat.
Baze always kept emergency credits on his person, which meant he was able to find a healer to set and bandage Chirrut’s arm, a room for the night, and some food. He imagined, with the temple taken over, that they would need to find accommodations for the long-term, but Baze was working in the moment. He coaxed Chirrut into eating, helped to clean his face and hands in the basin of water Baze had fetched, and made him lie down on the small cot in the room.
He made sure to touch Chirrut softly as often as he could, to try to assure him that he was there, that Chirrut was safe. The blank expression and silence coming from Chirrut were enough to make Baze’s heart ache, not to mention the loss of their childhood home and livelihood. He wondered if Chirrut could feel the loss of the temple in the Force, and he suddenly wished he couldn’t. If Chirrut had lost his sight and hearing protecting the temple, then Baze didn’t want him to feel its loss so profoundly.
Chirrut slept through the night and then far into the next morning while Baze talked to people in the city to determine exactly what had happened at the temple and tried to find them a more permanent place to stay. His morning wanderings left him feeling more grim than before.
The Empire had chased all the Guardians that survived the attack out of the temple and had started taking kyber from the planet in huge quantities. What they were using it for, no one knew, but the damage was done. There was nothing to do for it than survive and hope that the Empire would do nothing to them if they stayed out of the way. Baze would leave the planet if Chirrut was willing to follow him, but knowing Chirrut, he would want to remain in their birthplace, regardless of the circumstances.
Baze knew he would have to find a more permanent job and hope that it would be enough to sustain both of them. If Chirrut didn’t get his hearing back, there was no way he would be able to work.
Baze never wandered too far from the inn where they were staying, coming back often to check on Chirrut. He was still asleep, and Baze wanted to make sure he was there when Chirrut awoke. There was nothing he could do but wait and be there for Chirrut when he was needed.
Chirrut stirred fifteen hours after he had fallen asleep, when the afternoon sun was slanting through the grimy window, throwing rays of light over Chirrut’s face.
“Baze?” he said softly, and Baze was by his side in an instant, crouching by the side of the cot.
“Chirrut?” he grabbed Chirrut’s hand on his good arm, squeezing it gently.
Chirrut turned his face towards Baze, expression exhausted despite his long rest. “Sound comes to me as if I am underwater.”
Baze smiled, relief spreading through him. “It is coming back, then. Good.” He reached the hand that wasn’t still wrapped in Chirrut’s and brushed a soft thumb across the gash that marred Chirrut’s cheekbone. “You will heal, in time.”
Chirrut’s face crumpled, and he turned into Baze’s hand. Baze was at a loss, seeing the sorrow on Chirrut’s face, hearing him cry. Baze cupped both hands around Chirrut’s jaw and pressed their foreheads together, hoping to convey his dedication, his support.
“Baze, what do we do now?”
Baze’s voice was thick when he replied. “We survive, Chirrut. We keep living. The Empire thinks us disposable. We prove them wrong.”
Chirrut let out a sob, reaching his hand up and placing it on the side of Baze’s face. “The Force has a path for all of us, I know this, but how can I accept this great loss, this great pain and suffering, as the will of the Force?”
“Perhaps this loss will push us into some greater destiny. Perhaps this darkness is only readying us for a greater light.” Baze was furious at the Empire, furious at the Stormtroopers that had invaded the temple, furious at the galaxy and the Force, but if Chirrut needed to hear that the Force hadn’t left them, Baze would do whatever he could to make sure that Chirrut heard it from him.
Chirrut sighed. “You are no believer, Baze Malbus.”
“One of us has to be.”
Chirrut pulled on his arm. “Come up here. The floor can’t be good for your old knees.”
Baze smiled and helped Chirrut rearrange so that his head was resting in Baze’s lap, careful not to jostle his bandaged arm. His weight was comforting, helping to cement the fact that they both were alive and together. Even with their home destroyed and their livelihood scattered, they would continue living in spite of the forces that tried to grind them down and eradicate them.
Baze brushed his fingers through Chirrut’s short hair, watching his face carefully. “We fought as hard as we could. We’re both alive, and that’s what’s important.”
“Samir did not survive. She was twelve.” The girl on the steps that had only wanted her journal. Baze wondered what had become of the other children in the temple.
Baze closed his eyes and felt a rush of pain thinking about it. So many lost. Eventually, they would return to the temple and figure out exactly how many had died, who had survived, where everyone was and if anyone needed help, but for now they would heal and regroup. For Baze, whose job had become protecting Chirrut, following the blind Guardian of the Whills wherever he went, it was easier. Baze had seen many deaths and knew how to wall up his emotions and continue living out of spite. For Chirrut, this was something different entirely.
“I would be dead, if not for you,” Chirrut said softly, many long moments later.
Their conversations were usually a back-and-forth of friendly quips traded with rapid accuracy, but this was not the time.
“It’s my job to protect you,” Baze replied simply.
Chirrut’s hand wrapped around Baze’s arm, a comforting pressure that remained there while they basked in each other’s presence, secluded from the cruel galaxy beyond their window. Chirrut might never recover from this, Baze realized, and a resolve hardened in him; he was going to do everything in his power to make sure Chirrut knew he was cared for, knew he was safe, even if it killed him. And if Chirrut went, Baze went with him.
Baze didn’t think the galaxy had room for things like love and faith, not really, but in that moment, staring down at Chirrut’s striking face, feeling his hand curled around Baze’s arm, he thought maybe small moments like this were enough.