As per usual, the lion's share of the thanks must go to Jedimom and Rose for brainstorming and betaing. Thanks also to Vyola for helpful suggestions and betas, Raonaid and Joan the English Chick for nitpicking, and Ishyko for being a cheerleader. Thanks also to Filter for "The Best Things," which somehow became the soundtrack for the first part of the story, and Vast, whose album covered the ending.
Disclaimer: Lucasfilms owns the boys, much to my dismay. What's been done to them is copyright 2000 by Siubhan. This can only be archived with my express permission.
He feels the final blow as keenly as if it has been dealt directly to him.
A scream tears from his throat as he falls to the floor, both hands wrapped around his waist. Blind agony courses through him as he feels the other's body split in two, the life force pouring from him like a purple river, his own life pouring out along with it. He is helpless, raw, empty. So empty.
He doesn't know how many days elapse before he finally moves again, the tiniest of life-sparks flaring within him. He stirs, fingers tracing his waist, looking for the wound he is sure has to be there. Nothing. He is whole, physically at least.
The apprentice slowly rises to his feet, still dizzy with loss, and knows what he has to do.
Obi-Wan sat in vigil by the ashes of his former master. Train the boy, he'd said. Hell, Obi-Wan could barely train his braid to behave, never mind a headstrong padawan! He'd petitioned the Council, but secretly hoped that they'd disagree and assign Anakin to someone else. He was pretty sure Yoda agreed with him. It was nice to have Yoda on his side for a change.
And where was Senator Palpatine? He wanted to get off of this damned planet, but the Jedi were supposed to stay until Palpatine arrived and Naboo could have their victory celebration. No one had seen the senator in days, and his likely nomination to chancellor had been postponed until he could be located. Even Yoda and Mace Windu felt that the celebration should go on without him, but Queen Amidala was holding firm.
He didn't need to extend his vigil this long, but what else was there to do? Spend time with the Queen and young Anakin? Obi-Wan wasn't yet in the mood to have fun. He still ached from the violent severing of his training bond with Qui-Gon. Every time he closed his eyes, he still saw the savage grimace of that hooded monster as he unleashed a torrent of purple thunderbolts at Qui-Gon's helpless form.
Obi-Wan idly fingered the mostly-healed scorch-mark on his forehead. He'd gotten lucky. There was no other way to explain how he'd been able to slice that monster in half. His fingers drifted to scratch at the base of his braid, and he stopped, startled once more to find it gone. He was a knight, raised from padawan status through a centuries-old loophole. "Kill a Sith, become a knight," Mace Windu had explained. "It's like a battlefield promotion. Even though we thought the Sith were extinct, we still kept that on the books, just in case. You don't need to go through the trials, but we can still have a knighting ceremony for you when we get home." Obi-Wan had rejected the idea. Why commemorate blind luck with ceremony, especially when his master couldn't be there to watch?
He scrubbed at his face and sighed. The rest of the Jedi thought he was handling this well, but he didn't feel well. Not even close.
And then he felt it.
Darkness, like a raw, gaping wound, heading his way. Undisguised, uninhibited evil.
Obi-Wan drew his lightsaber in anticipation, and felt the Jedi masters dashing in from the city to intercept, but they wouldn't arrive in time. He'd have to face the darkness alone.
Damn, had he killed the master or the apprentice? If he'd asked himself this just five minutes ago, he would have said the master, but this tidal wave of darkness was so strong... He silently willed the Jedi masters to get here faster.
And then he saw the face. That red and black streaked face, yellow eyes burning with fury. He'd never seen raw evil like this before, not even from the Sith that killed his master. At least there'd been intelligence behind those eyes. These were simply the eyes of a predator.
The black-cloaked creature glided to a stop just out of range of Obi-Wan's lightsaber and dropped to one knee. "I swear allegiance to you," it purred.
Obi-Wan blinked. This wasn't quite what he was expecting. "You what?"
"You killed my master. You are my master now."
"And how do you figure that?"
"You were stronger than my former master. You have earned his position, and deserve my allegiance."
Mace Windu and Depa Bilaba arrived at that moment, lightsabers drawn. Obi-Wan held out his hand to stop them, gaze still fixed on the figure kneeling before him, and asked, "I am your master now? You'll do what I say?"
"Yes, my master."
Obi-Wan exchanged a startled glance with Depa and Mace, then turned back and said, "Then you'll come back to Coruscant with me and answer all the Jedi's questions about the Sith."
"I will answer your questions, my master."
"Fine, then you'll come back to Coruscant with me and answer all my questions about the Sith."
"Yes, my master."
As Adi Gallia, Plo Koon, and Saesee Tin arrived and took up defensive positions behind the Sith, Obi-Wan finally felt secure enough to take charge of the situation. "Hand over your weapons. Slowly."
The dark-robed figure unclipped his lightsaber and handed it to Obi-Wan, who handed it back to Depa without a glance. He then reached into his boot and pulled out a vibro-shiv, then dug a garrote and a dagger out of his tunic and handed them all to Obi-Wan.
"Is that everything?" Obi-Wan asked.
"Of course, my master. I obey you in all things."
Depa shook her head. "I do not trust him in the least."
"I agree," Mace added as Yoda, Even Piell, and Ki-Adi Mundi pulled up in a hovercar and joined the crowd. "We'll do a more thorough search before we leave."
"Good," Depa replied. "Knight Kenobi, your vigil is over. We're leaving immediately for Coruscant. We can no longer wait for Senator Palpatine to arrive."
"Senator Palpatine will not be found," the kneeling figure replied.
"And why not?" Obi-Wan asked.
"You killed him, Master."
The assembled Jedi were stunned. "Palpatine?" Mace finally asked.
"He was the Sith master?" Obi-Wan added.
"Yes. He was Darth Sidious."
Obi-Wan shook his head. "I never sensed that from him when I was in his presence."
"He was the master. He was very good at deceit."
"I looked him right in the eye when I killed him," Obi-Wan muttered under his breath. "I can't believe I couldn't see that." He sighed, tucked away the self-recrimination, then looked down at the red-and-black face and asked, "Do you have a name?"
"Yes, Master. My name is Darth Maul."
"Maul will do. You're not a Sith anymore."
"Master?" The wave of confusion pouring off him was palpable.
As Depa and Plo stood off to the side making arrangements to leave, Yoda picked up Maul's lightsaber and examined it, making little grunts of appraisal. "Double bladed this is?"
"Answer him," Obi-Wan ordered, impatient with Maul's reticence.
"He's a Jedi, Master."
"So am I."
Maul swallowed hard, then said, "Yes. Double bladed."
Depa finished speaking into her comm unit and said, "We're going, now."
Maul stared up at Obi-Wan, still kneeling.
"You heard her," Obi-Wan said. "We're going. Get up and come with us."
Maul rose and fell in two paces behind Obi-Wan as the group started to move, but Obi-Wan grabbed him by the arm and pushed him in front of him. "I want you where I can see you," he snapped.
"I cannot disobey you..."
"Like hell you can't."
"Not a word."
Maul obediently fell silent.
Mace walked alongside Obi-Wan and said, "I want you to go along with this for now. He appears to feel bonded with you, one-sided as it may be, even though I suspect it's just a ruse."
"I don't sense that from him."
"Neither do I, but neither of us pegged Palpatine either. Clearly, we can't count on being able to read a Sith. This is not going to be an easy assignment, and it may preclude you training Anakin."
"I will do what the Council wishes."
"Try not to let your anger guide you in your dealings with him, as difficult as that may be."
"Anger is a path to the Dark Side. Yes, I know," Obi-Wan sighed. "It's not going to be easy."
"Try to let the Force be your guide."
"May the Force be with us all."
"Ask him to strip."
Ringed by Jedi in the main Theed hangar, Maul glared at Depa, then turned to Obi-Wan and said, "I will not perform for their pleasure."
"We need to search you for weapons," Obi-Wan replied. "Strip."
"I gave you my weapons, Master."
"I know. Strip."
"I wouldn't lie to you, Master."
"I can't read you. We have no training bond, and I hope we never do. So prove your loyalty and truthfulness and strip."
The assembled Jedi watched the Sith shed progressive layers of black fabric until he finally stood naked before them, proving that the tattoos did indeed go all the way down. Several of them winced.
"You've trained a lot, haven't you, Maul?" Mace asked as he studied his muscular physique. "We're going to have to keep an eye on you."
"Here, wear these," Ki-Adi Mundi said as he handed a pair of loose gray trousers and a gray tunic to Maul.
"Master, my clothes..."
"If Master Ki-Adi says you can't have them back, then you can't have them back. The fabric could be laced with explosives, or the fibers could be razor-sharp if unwoven," Obi-Wan noted. "You'll wear what we give you."
Maul nodded and stepped into the pants.
"You're going to have to learn to take orders from Jedi, Maul. The sooner you come to grips with that, the easier this will be for all of us."
Maul froze, arms halfway into the gray sleeves, a stricken look on his patterned face. "You trained me to fight the Jedi."
"Sidious taught you to fight the Jedi," Obi-Wan corrected. "I am a Jedi. Get that through your skull."
Maul opened his mouth to speak and quickly closed it, blinking dizzily as his obvious confusion grew stronger.
"I do not know what to do," he whispered helplessly.
"Finish putting your shirt on. Now walk up that ramp and onto that ship. You're coming back with us to Coruscant."
"And stop saying that."
Pain. Betrayal. Nausea crashes through him in waves. The severed bond still bleeds raw. The new master should have taken care of that by now. Rushing emptiness still echoes in his head as he tries to get a handhold on something, anything. There is no ground below him. The chasm yawns, his fingers scrabble. What has he done to deserve this punishment? His master will save him. His master will save him. He has to.
His fingers slip, and he is falling.
An hour into the trip, the captive started screaming.
Obi-Wan ran back to the cargo hold and saw four Jedi masters piled on top of Maul, trying to contain his thrashing. "Maul!" he barked. "Stop it, now!"
"Master!" he gasped, falling still. Adi, Plo, Ki-Adi, and Mace waited several long moments, then slowly backed away. Maul rose to his feet and strode shakily towards Obi-Wan.
"No," Obi-Wan said. "Stay there."
Maul stopped in his tracks.
He sat cross-legged on the ground.
"This is insane," Obi-Wan muttered as Yoda took him aside. "He's like a damned pet."
"More truth to that there is than you realize," Yoda replied. "Looked briefly into his mind, I did. Very damaged, he is. Totally dependent he was on his master. Unable to function without him, he is."
Obi-Wan looked over his shoulder at Maul and said, "I lost my training bond too. Get over it."
"And stop calling me that! My name is Obi-Wan."
"But you...he taught me..."
"If you can be taught, then you can be re-taught."
"Difficult that will be," Yoda noted.
"With all due respect, Master Yoda, I don't want to spend the rest of my life with him trotting along at my heels."
"Unfair to you that would be, but options right now there are few. Calmer he grows when you are near."
"I agree," Adi added. "The longer you were away, the more agitated he became. It would make things easier if you stayed back here with him for the remainder of the trip."
"I suppose I should get used to it." Obi-Wan replied, forcing back the sarcasm from his voice. Turning back to Yoda, he asked, "Do you think there's any chance we can eventually teach him to be self-sufficient?"
"Highly fixed his thought processes are. Much work that will take. Never has he thought for himself, I believe."
"But do you think it's possible?"
"Perhaps. Very twisted, his mind is. No sign of normal development, I could detect. Trained from a very young age, he would seem to have been. However, answer my questions about it, he would not."
"I believe that's my cue," Obi-Wan quipped bitterly as he walked over to where Maul was sitting. "So tell me, how long were you trained by Sidious?"
"Since I was an infant, Mas..." He stopped, a confused look crossing his brow as he massaged his throat nervously.
"What's wrong now?"
"You punish...he punished me when I failed to call him 'Master'."
"I'm not going to do that. Look, I understand this is going to be difficult for you since it sounds like you were trained with abuse, but things are different now. That's not going to happen anymore. How do you feel about that?"
"Feel? How should I feel?"
"You tell me."
"Ma..." His hand flew to his throat again.
"Never mind." Obi-Wan scrubbed his face with his hands, walked to the edge of the small cargo bay and sat down against the wall.
"Are you tired, Ma...Obi-Wan?" Maul asked.
"Very good." He could feel a faint flicker of pride from Maul at that. "And yes, I am."
"Do you require service from me?"
"No. And I don't think I even want to know what you're offering. Just stay where you are until we get to Coruscant. Don't cause trouble."
"As you order."
"I've never been in the basement of the temple," Obi-Wan noted.
"Most Jedi haven't," Adi replied. "It's not often we have prisoners."
Adi, Obi-Wan, Maul, and a phalanx of armed Jedi knights entered the cavernous leaden-gray holding area ringed with cells, where Eeth Koth, Yaddle, and a group of doctors and healers awaited. Heavy durasteel doors closed behind them with a resounding clang. "Where do you want him?" Obi-Wan asked.
Eeth gestured to the examination table at the center of the room. "We'd like to check him out while he's being questioned."
"On the table with you, then," Obi-Wan said, emphasizing the command with a pointed finger. Maul climbed onto the table and gazed levelly at Obi-Wan. "Now, I'm only going to say this once. I want you to cooperate fully with everyone in this room. You will answer all their questions, you will allow them to conduct their tests, and you will not block them from your mind. Do you understand this?"
"I don't want any obfuscation from you, or protests. If you truly believe I'm your master, then you will obey me without further prompting."
"All right then." Obi-Wan took several steps back, and the work began in earnest.
"Your name," Eeth Koth asked as one of the doctors took a blood sample.
"Maul." His burning yellow gaze remained focused on Obi-Wan.
"Is that all?"
"I was Darth Maul. My..." He stopped and rubbed at his neck, eyes momentarily stricken, but unwaveringly focused. "Obi-Wan told me I was no longer to use that title."
"This bothers you," one of the healers noted.
"I worked very hard to earn that title. I do not believe I have committed a grave enough failure to merit losing it."
"Very high midichlorian count," one of the doctors noted.
"Still working on it."
Eeth turned back to Maul. "Do you know what species you are?"
"I do not."
"What do you know about your origins? You were taken as an infant, but from where?"
"My master...my former master told me I was from Iridonia."
"I'm from Iridonia, and I've never seen anyone like you on my home planet. Are you lying?"
"I have been commanded to cooperate. I will not lie."
"Is it possible that Sidious lied to you?"
"Why would he do that?"
"It was his prerogative."
"No matches on species," the doctor said. "We'll check for possible hybrids, but that will take time." A second doctor stepped forward with a scanning device and started taking readings. Maul flinched, but kept looking steadily at Obi-Wan.
"You're doing well," Obi-Wan said reassuringly.
"Knight Kenobi's approval means a lot to you," another healer said.
"He is my master."
"Then why don't you address him as 'Master'?" Eeth asked.
"He commanded me not to."
"Earlier, when you misspoke, you rubbed your neck. Why?"
"I was anticipating correction."
"My former master often disciplined me by putting me in a Force choke-hold."
"Is that the worst thing he did to you?"
"He did what was necessary to train me."
"Let's talk about your former master. We're searching 'Palpatine's' apartment now, but where did you live?"
"The Old Coruscant Zoo in sublevel six."
"Interesting. That section of the planet was abandoned over a hundred years ago. Did Sidious stay there with you?"
"When he was not being Palpatine."
"Was that some kind of headquarters for the Sith?"
"Where were the headquarters?"
"Wherever my master was at the time."
"Where did he keep his records?"
"On his person."
Eeth turned back to Obi-Wan, who shook his head and said, "Sidious was completely destroyed by the melting pit. There were no physical remains to speak of. It all died with him."
Eeth looked over to the healers. One said, "As far as we can tell, he is telling the truth."
"Is he blocking you?"
"He doesn't appear to be, but we're having a hard time understanding his brain."
He cast a glance at Yaddle, who said, "Concur with them I do. Master Yoda's assessment I agree with. Warped he was at a young age. Abused. Twisted his mind is."
"But you seem calm now," Eeth noted as he turned back to the prisoner.
"I am with my master. He has given me orders, and I am carrying them out."
"And if your master commanded you to abandon the Dark Side and embrace the Light?"
"I am a Sith."
"It's that simple?"
"Yes." The plain conviction behind that word echoed throughout the hall.
Eeth turned back to the doctors. "Anything yet?"
"His physiology is fairly standard for a humanoid, but has enough subtle differences from most other species that we can't peg one. It's entirely possible that he was partially molded by the Dark Side. We don't know enough about how the Dark Side works to rule that out."
"Is that possible?" Eeth asked Maul.
"My master was very powerful."
"Hmm." Eeth pondered this last piece of information as he strode across Maul's line of vision to Obi-Wan. Maul leaned around Eeth, trying to reestablish line of sight. Noticing this, Eeth stepped back between them and watched Maul frantically twist himself on the table to try and catch Obi-Wan's gaze again.
"Interesting," Yaddle murmured.
Eeth stepped back out of the way, watching as Maul calmed visibly. "I think that's all for now. The Council will confer and discuss what you've told us so far. We'll be back later with more questions and quite possibly more tests."
Adi nodded at Eeth, and he and the healers left as the doctors began packing up their equipment. She turned to Obi-Wan and guided him off to the far side of the room by his elbow. "I'm afraid you'll have to stay here with him tonight," she murmured. "We can't afford a repeat of what happened on the ship right now. Food and bedding are being brought down as we speak. We'll lock the Sith up in a cell, and you'll always have a full complement of knights standing guard. The monitoring systems will be on at all times."
"So if he starts successfully converting us to the Dark Side, you'll have deprogrammers down here in a flash."
Adi grinned. "Something like that."
"Why are we whispering?"
"It appears that Sidious laid a series of booby traps to go off in the case of his untimely death. There's been a severe outbreak of food poisoning in the Senate, shipping lanes are encountering far more aggressive piracy than normal, and the planetary communications grid has been experiencing sporadic outages that no one can trace. The timing of all this is too uncanny to be coincidental, and we're afraid this is the tip of the iceberg. We're going to spend tonight discussing whether we think our captive is trustworthy enough to question about these things, and if we decide he is, we'll start interrogating him in the morning. Don't bring any of this up. If this is all just an act, then he could be helping set off these time bombs."
"Would you like company tonight? I can send for one of your friends, if you like."
"No, I think I'd just like to sleep, maybe read a book. I think there's a half-finished one by my bed."
"I'll make sure it's sent down. Are you sure you want to be alone with him?"
"I'll have a dozen knights keeping me company."
"They'll be on duty, so they won't be chatty."
"I'm not feeling chatty."
Adi nodded understandingly and put her hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder. "I'm sorry this is happening so soon after losing your master. Qui-Gon was a remarkable man, and while we all feel his loss, none of us can feel it as keenly as you."
"Thank you, Master Adi."
The food and bedding arrived just as the doctors finished packing up. "Where would you like this?"
"Maul, you go in this cell," Obi-Wan said, pointing to the one next to him. "So set the cot up against that wall, directly across from him."
Maul obediently entered the cell and looked at the bedroll, pillow, and blanket on the floor. "Is this where I am to sleep?"
"It's not much, I know."
Maul shook his head. "It is more than I require."
"A soft place to sleep is an unnecessary luxury."
"Must I sleep on it?"
"For the love of... No, you don't need to. If you want to, go for it. If you don't, then don't. It's up to you." Maul's dinner was set down in the cell. "Are you going to complain about this as well?" Obi-Wan asked.
"It is...more than I am accustomed to."
"What did you used to eat?"
"Military ration bars, and whatever vermin I could kill in the sublevels."
"Well, soup, bread, water, and a piece of fruit shouldn't kill you then."
"I have never eaten fruit."
"That would explain your teeth. Now step back. I'm locking you in." Obi-Wan nodded to the knight closest to the guard's station, who reached down and activated the controls for Maul's cell. Thick durasteel bars slammed down, and Obi-Wan exhaustedly crossed the room and slowly eased himself into a sitting position on his cot.
"Your book," Adi said as she strode back over to Obi-Wan.
"Are you sure you want to be alone?"
"Positive. I'll be fine."
She nodded. "We'll be back in the morning. Sleep well."
The heavy durasteel doors closed behind her, and Obi-Wan looked across the room at the reason he was stuck here. Maul, sitting cross-legged in front of his tray of food, felt the scrutiny and looked up. "I do not wish to be a burden to you," he said.
"If you would just accept the bond with me..."
"Not a chance."
"I only wish to serve you."
"I don't need serving."
"I...I do not understand."
"What's not to understand?" Obi-Wan snapped. "I'm a Jedi knight, you're a Sith apprentice. This is an oil and water situation, get it? We do not mix. I have dedicated my entire life to serving the Light Side, and the last thing I need is a Dark Side apprentice."
"But I am yours."
"What would you have me do with you?"
"Train me. And when you felt I was ready, send me on missions."
Maul blinked rapidly. "N...no."
"Then what kind of missions?"
"Whatever you deem necessary."
"That would be Jedi missions."
"This is going nowhere," Obi-Wan sighed.
Maul swallowed hard, then asked, "If you do not intend to bond with me and use me as you will, then why don't you kill me?"
"Because that's not what Jedi do."
"But you are my master, and that is your prerogative."
"And as a Jedi, I cannot exercise that prerogative." Maul opened his mouth to speak again, but Obi-Wan put up his hand and said, "No, I'm not having this conversation with you right now. You're going to eat your food, I'm going to eat mine. Then I'm going to read my book and get some sleep. I'd suggest you sleep too. Use the bedroll, sleep on the floor, or sleep while doing a headstand. I don't care. Just keep quiet and leave me alone."
Maul nodded, confusion still radiating from every pore, and obeyed.
Warm food. There are tastes here he has never experienced. The soup seems to explode on his tongue. It looks so deceptively simple, but the taste is anything but. He looks across at his master as he eats his meal. His master has a spoon. Maul does not. Now his master is dipping his bread in his soup and eating it. This merits a try. Eyes widen. This is even better than the soup alone. Fruit. He's never had fruit. Putting the empty soup bowl aside, he picks it up and takes a bite. The sensation nearly makes him cry--an emotion he hasn't felt in nearly two decades. He's never tasted anything so sweet. The closest has been when he licked his own wounds. This is amazing.
What has he done to deserve this?
The thought makes his food curdle in his stomach. This has to be some kind of a test. He isn't worthy of this kind of luxury. Violently pushing the tray away, he rockets to his feet, frantically backing up against the wall. The punishment will be coming soon. He casts a stricken gaze across the room to where his master is calmly finishing off his own piece of fruit, nose buried in a book.
He feels his thundering heart gradually slowing down. His current master is a Jedi. What had Lord Sidious said about them? Do-gooders, altruistic, never thinking of themselves. They reared their young to be soft and kind-hearted. Never raised a finger to them. What an unnatural way to forge a warrior.
And yet it had forged his current master, who had slain Lord Sidious.
Maul begins pacing the length of his cell as his mind races. His master looks at him over the rim of his book and asks, "Why are you doing that?"
"It helps me focus."
"Ah. Well, carry on." He goes back to his book.
Jedi. His master is a Jedi. There will be no future punishment. No matter what he does, his master will not raise a hand to him.
This is intolerable.
Think. Remember what Lord Sidious said. To understand the enemy, you must study them, learn to understand how they think, but never identify with them. You are a Sith. You are better than everyone else. Never forget that. You are a construct of fear and hate; the very things that most civilized people shun. They cast away power. Feed off their castaways.
His new master is strong. He defeated Lord Sidious in battle, and thus earned Maul's allegiance. But his master could be stronger. He needs to be stronger. Two Sith had survived for over a millennium against thousands of Jedi. There will be two again.
He will learn.
And then he will turn.
Obi-Wan woke up to the artificial morning light of the holding area. He yawned and stretched, feeling the creaking of his bones more acutely than normal. He'd certainly slept in far less comfortable places, but never in a situation quite as disconcerting as this.
His "apprentice" was curled up on the bare floor of the cell at the foot of his bedroll.
With a snort of derision, Obi-Wan rolled out of bed and padded over to the cell. "Hey, wake up."
Maul immediately sprang up into a defensive crouch.
"Cut it out, it's just me. Didn't you even use the blanket?"
"I did not require a blanket," Maul said, rising to a standing position.
"It's not exactly warm down here."
"I do not wish to get soft while I am not being trained."
"Brilliant," Obi-Wan sighed. "Look, I really need to freshen up; take half an hour for a shower and a shave and a change of clothes. You behave while I'm gone."
"Of course," Maul purred.
Obi-Wan started to walk out, then doubled back, shaking his head. "You've figured it out, haven't you?"
"Yes. You will not punish me."
"Excellent. But you'll obey me, because you swore allegiance to me, right?"
"You are my master."
"If I find you've been causing trouble..."
Obi-Wan reached through the bars and grabbed Maul by the chin. Maul flinched at the touch, fear leaking back into his eyes. "If I find you've been causing trouble, then I won't come back. That is a threat I can make good on without breaking my Jedi vows."
"I will obey," Maul whispered.
"Good. I'll be back soon." He released Maul's chin and headed for the exit, not looking back to see Maul sinking to his knees in the cell, trembling.
"From what we observed yesterday and from monitoring the cell after we left, we believe you exhibit all the signs of having been severely abused as a child," Adi Gallia noted as she circled Maul. "Would you concur with this assessment?"
"I was trained to be a Sith," Maul countered from his chair in the center of the holding area.
"And yet you are not able to function without a master," Eeth said. "How does that make you able to take over the Sith order?"
"My master had not completed my training. He did not foresee his death happening this soon."
"Are all Sith apprentices trained as you were?" Adi asked.
"I do not believe so. Lord Sidious said I was a special case."
"Sith are traditionally recruited when they are older and have proven themselves. Sidious selected me as an infant in order to train me my entire life. That way, I would not be saddled with compassion or empathy."
"Or free will," Eeth added.
"I was not yet ready for that."
"So let me recap," Adi said. "You were taken as an infant, and trained with punishments your entire life. You were never nurtured. You were never rewarded."
"I was rewarded."
"By lack of punishment."
"You are, by design, psychopathic. You will never fit into regular society."
"I am not meant to."
"You would never have been able to pull off the ruse of a public life like Sidious did as Palpatine."
"Once his plans were complete, that would not have been necessary."
"Speaking of his plans," Eeth said, "how much do you know about them?"
"I know what he deigned to tell me."
"Did he tell you about plans timed to go off upon his death?"
Maul hesitated and looked over at Obi-Wan. "Go on. Answer him," Obi-Wan said. "What, do you feel some sort of allegiance still to that old bastard even after what he did to you?"
"He made me what I am today."
"And you're happy with that?"
"I am what I am. I know no other way to be."
Obi-Wan closed in. "Think back to all the punishments he gave you. Don't you have even the tiniest desire to get back at him?"
"He was my master. I deserved any punishment he gave me."
"You said he used Force choke-holds," Obi-Wan said, squatting down next to Maul's chair. "When you were bad. Like this." His hand darted out and grabbed Maul square on the neck. Maul's eyes widened and his hands scrabbled ineffectually at his neck, not daring to pry off Obi-Wan's hand. "Ah, so this scares you. You don't like it."
"No," Maul gasped.
"And I'm not even squeezing. Imagine how you'd feel if I did. Remember how it felt last time he did this. Now don't you want just the tiniest bit of revenge? You're a Sith. Feed on your dark emotions. It makes you stronger."
"Yessssss," he hissed.
"Good, now tell us what you know about the traps."
"I don't know if he told us everything he knows," Obi-Wan said as the three of them stepped out into the hallway.
"I can't tell," Adi concurred, "but if what he said about the communications grid is true, we'll know shortly. And Obi-Wan, what you did in there; don't do that again."
"He's figured out that I'm not going to punish him physically, so I thought that extreme measures would be necessary to get him to talk. I just related to him in a way he could understand."
"It's still unacceptable. He's been abused all his life, and you just abused him some more to try and get information out of him. If he weren't a Sith, would you have done that?"
"You're right," Obi-Wan sighed. "I wasn't thinking."
"You've been under a lot of stress," Eeth said. "It's understandable, but don't let it happen again."
"I won't. I'll take some time to meditate and try to work things out."
"You may want to see a healer as well," Eeth noted. "You're carrying around a lot of anger, which, as I said, is understandable, but unacceptable. However, the Jedi Council has to shoulder part of the blame for this. We shouldn't have asked you to do something this difficult immediately after the loss of your master, especially at such a crucial time in your training."
"Well, it all happened so suddenly, there was no time to think."
"We're the Jedi Council. That's no excuse. Oh, before I forget, whatever you do, don't form any sort of training bond with him."
"I wasn't planning on it."
"Sometimes things happen that we don't plan for. I brought this up because the healers that saw him yesterday are currently seeing healers to recover from the experience. Maul's mind is a very treacherous place, and they were all deeply shaken by being in it. The last thing we need is to have a promising young knight with a constant pipeline to something that dangerous."
"When they're feeling better, and if they think they're up to the task, I want to let the healers at him again, but frankly, I don't think they'll have much success. From what we know of his upbringing, I don't think there's any way to heal his mind."
"Sidious didn't know what he was doing when he raised Maul," Adi sighed. "Even the most rudimentary psychology text will tell you that raising a mammalian without basic nurturing results in an extremely traumatized, damaged individual. There is no way he ever could have finished training him to have a mind of his own and take charge of the Sith order. It's almost sad, really."
"It is sad," Eeth said. "And if he were just abused, we could work with that. But he was abused and molded with the Dark Side. I'd say there's no hope for him."
"So what are you going to do?" Obi-Wan asked. "If there's no hope, are you just going to toss him in a cell for the rest of his life?"
"We're still at a loss," Adi said. "We'd like to keep him with you until we manage to disassemble all of Sidious's traps, but after that...well, it's up to you."
"The choices being either he stays with me, or he's locked up?"
"Or anything else we manage to think up by then."
"And how likely is there to be a third option?"
"Unknown, but it's our duty to come up with one."
Obi-Wan turned away and drummed his fingers against the wall. "What of Anakin?"
"Mace Windu has offered to take him as a padawan if you're unable to."
"That's probably for the best. The boy's powerful, and he needs an experienced master. I think Qui-Gon would understand." He felt a stinging in his chest and quickly blinked back tears. Turning back, he said, "I think I'm going to go try to meditate in the gardens now. I'll ask Maul to behave while I'm away, but if he doesn't, just call me back."
"Well, we may not know what species he is," Eeth said, "but we know enough about his physiology now that we could gas him."
"That's comforting," Obi-Wan noted wryly.
"Like I said, we're going to work hard to come up with more options. Anyhow, we need to go meet with the rest of the Council. If you require any assistance, just ask."
"I will. Thank you."
Obi-Wan squared his shoulders and headed back into the holding area. Walking over to Maul's cell, he said, "I want to apologize for earlier. I mistreated you, and that was wrong."
Maul blinked rapidly, fingers rubbing circles around the base of his temple horns, and finally choked out, "You...apologize...to me?"
"I'm sure that's something your previous master never did, but I'm a Jedi, and when I wrong someone, I apologize. What I did was inexcusable, and I won't do it again." He reached through the bars and gently moved Maul's hands away from his head. "Just relax. I know this is difficult for you to deal with, but just relax."
Maul nodded, forcing himself to take several long, slow, deep breaths. "I will try," he finally said, voice nearly calm.
"Look, I know you're going through a lot, but so am I. I lost my master too, and I still need to heal from that. I know you understand."
"Bond with me. We can heal together."
"I can't do that. I'm a Jedi knight now. The only bonding I'll be doing is with a padawan someday. As a knight, it is my duty to heal myself through meditation and discipline, and I'm going to do that now. I'm heading out to the gardens to meditate. I don't know how long I'll be gone. Probably several hours."
"You can make it without me. From what I've heard of your former master, you've been through a hell of a lot worse. Here, hang on." Obi-Wan crossed the room, picked up his book, and headed back. "You can read Galactic Standard, yes?"
He held the book out through the bars. "You might like this. It's a historical novel about the Old Republic. Light on romance, heavy on battle scenes, hardly any mention of the Jedi at all."
"Is this fiction?"
"Historical fiction. It's based on fact."
"Reading fiction is a waste of time."
"What would you rather do in here while I'm away?"
"I..." Maul fell silent.
"You don't need to read it if you don't want to. I could always have them bring down something else for you to read. Or you could meditate. Or listen to music. What would you like to do?"
"Choose for me."
Obi-Wan sighed. "We still need to work on that, don't we? Look, try this book. I think you'll like it. If you finish it before I get back, and you liked it, ask one of the guards to bring you another one. I really need to go meditate now. My temper's getting really thin again, and that's not good."
Maul nodded and sat on the floor with the book.
"Oh, Maul? Why don't you try sitting on the bedroll?"
Warily, he resettled on the soft surface. "I don't know if I like this."
"Stay there through the end of chapter one. Give it a chance. If it really bothers you, then move after that."
"As you wish."
"Maul, this is about finding out what you wish. Ideally, I shouldn't have to force you into things, but if that's what it takes at first, then that's what I'll do. Now, enjoy the book, I'll be back when I'm feeling calmer."
Several hours later, Obi-Wan strode back to the holding area. "Well, I'm feeling a little better. How about you?"
Maul was still sitting on the bedroll, engrossed in the text.
He looked up guiltily over the top of the book. "Master, I..."
"Don't apologize, and don't call me master. How's the book?"
"Haven't made it that far in, I see."
"No, I'm on my third reading."
"Third? Why didn't you ask for another book?"
"I want to get this one down."
"There's not going to be a test."
"I know. I just want to make sure I understand everything. I keep noticing new things every time I read it. I should be more attentive than that."
"It's not a matter of attentiveness. You just notice new things each time because you've read it all the way through already, and you know how things turn out, so you have a different perspective and can see how things were woven in throughout the book."
"I'm noticing less things the third time through."
"See? And it looks like you didn't mind the bedroll."
Maul looked vaguely startled. "I'd forgotten about it."
"So, what do you like about the book?"
"I am intrigued by the justifications the people make for their actions. Their motivations are fascinating."
"How about the battle scenes?"
Shaking his head, Maul said, "They're flawed. I could have outmaneuvered the entire Republican army on my speederbike."
"Yes, quite easily. I am hoping that was just a flaw in the writing. If not, then the Sith should have tried to take over centuries ago."
Obi-Wan grinned and leaned against the bars. "Lucky for us you weren't paying close enough attention back then."
"Okay, how about the romance?"
"That made no sense to me."
"I suppose not. Look, when you're done with that book, what would you like to read next?"
"Something about the Jedi."
"Brushing up on the enemy?"
"If I am to serve you, I need to understand you."
"I'll have to get that cleared by the Council."
The outer door swung open, and Adi Gallia and Depa Bilaba strode in. "I'd like to thank you for the information you provided earlier, Maul," Adi said. "We were able to get your former master's sabotage under control."
"Obi-Wan, we need to speak with you in private," Depa said. "Maul, if you'll excuse us?"
He nodded and turned back to his book.
Once the outer door had closed behind them, Depa asked, "What is he reading?"
"A historical novel. He's on his third read-through. I don't think he's ever read fiction before. I think it would do him a lot of good to read more. He asked for a book on the Jedi, but I'm not sure that I trust him enough for that."
"We can find him something inoffensive to read about us," Depa said. "There's that Jedi murder mystery series that Master Skillen wrote. It's accurate, and it's doing really well on the market, but doesn't give away anything about us that the public doesn't already know. Let's give him that. I agree, he should read."
"And you're right," Adi said. "I'm sure he hasn't read fiction. We just got the report back from the scouts who went to the Old Coruscant Zoo. Sidious may not have left behind records of his Sith exploits, but he did keep a journal of how he raised Maul, and it's more brutal than we imagined. There were beatings, starvation, staged wild animal attacks. When he was a toddler, Sidious started putting him in a sensory deprivation suit. He did everything he could to create the ultimate brutal warrior. According to his notes, Sidious seemed surprised that no one had thought of this before. I'm guessing that they had, but quickly learned that it didn't work."
"It is a testament to Maul's strength that he is able to function at all," Depa added. "We checked out his living area. Nothing but clothes, training equipment, food bars, and piles of animal bones. Vermin."
"He told me he ate them."
"Analysis of the food bars indicates that he had to. They weren't nutritionally sufficient for his metabolism. He would have starved if he hadn't killed his own food."
"So no nurture? No comfort? No entertainment?"
Depa and Adi exchanged a glance. "Actually, here's where it gets interesting." Depa held up a viewscreen. "The scouts poked around a little, and found this hidden away in a corner."
Obi-Wan leaned in for a better look. "Is that sculpture?"
"Two small sculptures made of animal bones," she replied. "He made them. There are references in the early parts of Sidious's journal to him beating Maul's 'frivolous artistic time-wasting' out of him, but it would seem that he wasn't successful. Maul must have just learned to hide it."
"After they found that, they decided to do trace analysis of the rest of the rooms on a hunch," Adi added. "They found traces of blood forming patterns on the walls."
"He painted on the walls with his own blood?" Obi-Wan asked in horror.
"Mostly with vermin blood, but also with a little of his own. It looked like he'd do it, then scrub it clean, then do it again. Once more, he was hiding it from Sidious. My guess is that he did it whenever Sidious left him alone."
"So...he's an artist."
"He's an artist," Adi concurred. "And this surprises us just as much as it surprises you."
"I'm thinking we should give him art books."
"Maybe some paint."
"No brushes or pens yet."
"No. Not yet."
Depa turned to Adi and asked, "Don't you have a few graphic novels that he might like?"
"You're right. I'll bring them down immediately."
"May I take this viewscreen in to show him?" Obi-Wan asked.
"Of course. We'll be back down shortly with the books."
Obi-Wan walked back in, staring over at Maul with a haunted look for a long moment before asking, "Maul?"
Maul looked up from the book. "Yes?"
Walking over to the cell, Obi-Wan said, "I just got the report on your living quarters in the old zoo. They found this." He held up the viewscreen.
The book fell from Maul's hands.
"I didn't know this about you."
"I forgot to destroy them," Maul whispered.
"You know you're not going to get into trouble with me for this. I actually think it's kind of touching. Maul? Maul, come on. Snap out of it. Remember, I will not punish you. I am not Sidious."
"He punished me very severely for creating things."
"No, not art. Just projects."
"It is art, Maul. It's actually quite good. They also found that you used to paint on the walls."
"He punished me for that as well."
"That must have been terrible for you."
"They were lessons. They taught me. I deserved them."
"No you didn't."
"He did let me do one thing. These markings." Maul gestured to his face. "I would paint myself with the blood from my food. He liked it, and allowed me to make it permanent."
"Would you like to do your projects again? We can bring you clay and paint."
"No, I can't..."
"Sure you can. We don't mind."
"I only work in blood and bone."
"You can transfer those skills to paint and clay."
"Clay does not shatter like bone does."
"You don't need to shatter it to hide it anymore."
"No, my projects have to be destroyed."
"What about your tattoo?"
"I have permission to keep that."
"Well, as your new master, I give you permission to keep your new projects."
"That won't...that's not how it works."
"You mean it's not what you're used to. Look, if it bothers you, you can squash the clay down when you're done. You know we can't let you have bones. You're still a prisoner, and you know as well as I do that bones could be used as weapons."
"I will do what you order."
"I'm not going to order you to do anything. I'm just giving you options. And more books."
"I still have to finish this one."
"If you've already read it through twice in the past couple hours, you'll get through it a third time soon enough."
Maul picked the book up from the floor, and slowly thumbed through it, looking for where he left off. "Red paint," he murmured.
"Red paint it is."
So many books. There's a five-book mystery series on the Jedi, two art books, a military history book, and three "graphic novels." He had intended to start with the books on the Jedi, but the graphic novels intrigue him. Words and pictures together. He didn't think that was possible. He is having a very hard time putting them down. That shouldn't be. He has worked his entire life on single-minded focus. He cannot let it fail him now.
He decides to read through the graphic novels once, then go on to the books on the Jedi.
This would be so much easier if only his master would tell him which books to read first.
The next morning, Saesee Tin, Eeth Koth, and Adi Gallia stormed into the holding area unannounced. "Maul, put that book down. There's been another incident," Eeth barked.
Obi-Wan set down his datapad and joined the group at the cell.
"What incident would this be?" Maul asked.
"There was an explosion in the main Senate chamber during a full session. That should be impossible. The Senate is routinely scanned for explosives."
"The explosive was placed in the Supreme Chancellor's platform," Saesee added. "Not Senator Palpatine's. His platform was removed and replaced several days ago."
"Did you know about this?" Adi asked.
Maul looked over at Obi-Wan with a steady, hooded gaze.
"Answer them," Obi-Wan commanded.
"I am protecting the Sith order."
"The Sith are dead, Maul. You failed to become the master when Sidious died. There's nothing left to protect."
"How many dead?" Maul asked.
"Ninety-eight, including Chancellor Valorum, with nearly double that wounded," Adi replied.
Eeth stepped closer to the bars. "If you ever want your freedom, you had better tell us what attacks are yet to come."
"You would give me my freedom?"
"If you earn it. Otherwise, you can spend the rest of your life in this cell. But I'm warning you, if there's one more death, your chances of ever being free will be slim to none."
"We've been accommodating so far," Adi said. "We've given you books, we're getting art supplies together for you, but if you deliberately withhold information, we'll take that all away."
Obi-Wan watched as Maul looked off at the far wall, mind clearly racing. The offer of freedom had to be overwhelming to someone who'd spent his entire life in brutally enforced servitude. Did he even realize what it meant? Could he?
Maul nodded imperceptibly, then stood up and walked to the bars of his cell. Looking Eeth dead in the eye, he said, "The planetary defense grid will start firing at all incoming ships."
"That I do not know. But soon."
"How do we disarm it? And more importantly, what happens after that?"
"If I disarm it alone, nothing will happen after that."
"You know we can't let you do that."
"If you don't, then the defense grid will turn and fire on the planet itself. Then the next incident will be a massive crop infection on all Agri-Corps worlds."
Adi's eyes narrowed. "I get it. All this is set up to distract the Jedi and give you time to get on your feet and seize control of everything that Sidious had been working on while our attention was focused elsewhere."
She turned to Obi-Wan and nodded. "All right then," he said. "If I order you to disarm this latest threat, you'll do so then return directly to us."
"I will obey."
Saesee shook his head, but said, "I don't like it, but it seems to be the only viable option. We'll have to chance it."
Maul fixed Obi-Wan with an intense gaze and said, "If you bond with me, you can ensure that I do as ordered."
"No," all four Jedi said as one.
"We're just going to have to do this one on trust," Obi-Wan added.
That was easier than he thought it would be. They are willing to give him freedom in exchange for his cooperation. Jedi do not make false promises. That's what the back cover of one of these books says, and since it was written by a Jedi, he has no reason to question the truth of that statement. Sidious was right; they are weak. He knows they pity him, and their compassion will be their downfall. They still do not trust him fully, but he will make them. He will disarm Sidious's traps and return to his cell. He will continue reading the books they give him. He will paint. He will behave. He will be a model prisoner, and when they let him out of his cage, he will be a model apprentice. They will believe all of this is a genuine transformation for him, because their pity dictates it.
And once he learns enough about them, he will make Obi-Wan into the glorious Sith Master that he knows he can be. There will be two again. The Sith will live on.
His path is finally clear.
Even on a planet as cosmopolitan and jaded as Coruscant, Maul stood out. The problem was, he didn't realize it.
"I fail to see why I need to paint my face and wear lenses. My outfit should be sufficient disguise."
"Maul, the average citizen of Coruscant believes that the Sith have been extinct for over a thousand years, but trust me, if they get one good look at your face, they'll realize they were wrong."
"But I'm dressed in one of their uniforms."
"Yes, but none of the orbital defense platform workers have blood-red facial tattoos and glowing yellow bloodshot eyes. The horns are going to be enough of a stretch."
"They will let me pass."
"The Council still wants you disguised, just to be safe."
"There are far stranger creatures than me on this planet."
"And the only ones with government jobs are senators. Folks in uniforms like yours are a pretty boring bunch. Trust me." Obi-Wan dipped his fingers in the jar of black makeup and reached out to apply it to Maul's face. Maul flinched back.
"I can do it myself."
"It's no trouble."
"I want to do it myself."
"You don't like being touched, do you?"
"Touching is for combat and punishment."
"So all your talk of 'servicing me' wasn't what I thought it was?"
"I don't understand."
"I thought you meant something sexual."
"How does that work if I don't touch you?"
"You are the master. I touch you. You don't touch me."
"Oh. Sorry I asked. Look, I'd like you to try and let me do this for you, all right?"
"If you so command."
"I don't command. I just want you to try if you can. If you can't, then just say so." Noting the doubt in Maul's eyes, he added, "Think of it as a test of bravery."
"I can do that." He closed his eyes in preparation.
"I thought so." Obi-Wan dipped his fingers into the makeup again and said, "Just try to relax."
As Obi-Wan gently reached out to brush the black makeup over Maul's jagged red markings, he kept a careful eye on the tightness of Maul's jaw, the rigidness of his frame. By the time he got to the red rings at the base of Maul's horns, the tendons of his neck were straining alarmingly. "Why don't you do those yourself?" Obi-Wan offered.
"No, you do it," Maul choked out.
"This isn't supposed to be agonizing. I was being gentle."
Maul's eyes snapped open. "I failed you," he whispered.
"You didn't fail me. You actually did really well."
"I was not able to complete the task."
"It wasn't about that. For someone who's never been touched with kindness, you did remarkably well. I mean it. Now finish up your horns, put in the lenses, and we'll be off."
The phalanx of Jedi stood in a circle around Obi-Wan and Maul in the passenger area of the transport. "If this is a trap, and any harm comes to Knight Kenobi, we will hunt you down," Mace Windu vowed.
"No harm will come to him. I will disarm the trap and return."
"You'd better not be lying about needing to do it alone."
"If there is more than one person with me, it will be clear that I am not there of my own free will. There are only two Sith at any time."
"But Obi-Wan's not a Sith."
"But I am loyal to him. If there are any Force-sensitive traps, they will sense that."
"I've never heard of any such thing. You'd better not be making it up." Mace glanced meaningfully at Obi-Wan, who looked over at Maul.
"No, I am not making that up," Maul replied.
"We're putting a lot of trust in you with very little to back it up," Mace said. "I hope you realize that. I still think you're engineering this so you can escape."
"I am not. I will not leave my master."
Mace sighed and shook his head. "Go. Get it over with."
Obi-Wan and Maul, both dressed in navy blue government maintenance worker uniforms, left the shuttle and walked across the dock towards the small transport the Jedi had procured for their mission. "So, how does it feel to be outside after being cooped up in a cell?" Obi-Wan asked.
"Feel? I don't understand."
"You don't like being outside in the evening air?"
Shaking his head, Maul said, "I still don't understand."
"How about this. Do you like being out of your cell?"
"I would like it more if I were training."
"Or out permanently?"
Maul shot Obi-Wan an incredulous look.
"What?" Obi-Wan asked as they climbed into their transport. "I'm flying."
"I can fly. I know where we're going."
"Give me the coordinates. I'm flying."
Maul reached over and punched them in, and Obi-Wan gently maneuvered the shuttle up towards the outer atmosphere. "So, why don't you believe me when I say you could be let out permanently? It is a possibility, you know. Master Eeth said so."
"I am your apprentice, even though you have not accepted me as such. I don't get let out permanently until I become the master."
"That's not how it works anymore. I was never locked up."
"How did your master keep tabs on you?"
"He didn't need to. I was there voluntarily."
"Even though Jedi are taken from their families as infants and raised at the Temple? I read that in the first Jedi novel you gave me. That is true, yes?"
"Yes, it's true."
"And you could have left the Temple at any time?"
"Well, no, I was a child. I was supervised." Obi-Wan sighed and said, "Okay, you're right, I couldn't have just walked out the door. Still, once I was older, if I'd really wanted to leave, I could have. And yes, before you say it, I was indoctrinated to want to stay, but it sounds like my indoctrination was a lot more pleasant than yours."
"Sith aren't supposed to be pleasant."
"Palpatine sure seemed nice enough. Had us all fooled."
"Even if I am released from my cell, I will not be allowed to leave the Temple."
"Not right away, no." Glancing at Maul out of the corner of his eye, Obi-Wan said, "You know, it's fairly remarkable how different you look right now."
Maul glanced down at the reflective surface of the toolbox. "I don't look that different."
"Your face looks softer without the tattoos, although I think it's the eyes that do it. They seem less intense now that they're brown. We're here. Is that the right platform?"
"Docking." Obi-Wan maneuvered the ship up to a docking port, waited for the airlock to connect and cycle, then popped the hatch. "Let's do it."
The two men climbed out of the ship and headed through the mostly-deserted station towards the main control center. When they arrived, a tech stopped them. "You're new, aren't you? Can I help you?" she asked.
Maul waved his hand in front of her face and purred, "Coil adjustment."
The woman's eyes glazed slightly, and she nodded and gestured to a ladder.
"Post-hypnotic suggestion from Sidious," Maul explained as they climbed down. "There are no coils anywhere on this orbital platform."
At the bottom of the ladder were three small access tunnels. Maul looked at each one in turn before picking one. "This should be it. Wait here."
"Wait here? No, I'm coming with you."
"If you do, there is a high chance of failure, and an even higher chance of setting off a boobytrap that would destroy the entire platform."
"Sidious would have you dead?"
"He might if he thought I'd fallen into enemy hands."
"Right. I'll wait." Obi-Wan sat back against the wall and watched as Maul crawled out of sight.
Maul takes a deep breath. He has to stay calm and focused. Disarming this trap is not a matter of cutting wires or flipping switches; it is a matter of being a confident, convincing, independent Sith, ready to take over the order and lead it to future glory.
And since he is none of the above, he will just have to fake it.
He abandons the toolbox at the first bend. He only brought it to keep up the ruse that this would be a straightforward mechanical task. Had his master asked him how the trap worked, he would have told him, but since he hadn't, that knowledge didn't need to be shared. It would hinder his mission, having to deal with his master's concern. That is difficult enough to deal with in his cell.
One more bend. He can see the purple glow of his former master's Force-signature shining from around it. One last deep breath. He draws on reserves of calmness he didn't realize he had. Perhaps the Jedi are rubbing off on him. He hopes the trap won't sense that.
No, he is calm for the right reasons. He has a master, and he has a plan for restoring the Sith to its former strength and power. It is an unorthodox plan, but Sidious had often told him that the Sith never took the obvious path.
In the end, he has to fake nothing.
He rounds the last bend.
After only a few minutes, he crawled back. "Done."
"Yes. There should be no further incidents."
"Good. Let's head back."
"What is he doing out of his cell?"
Obi-Wan ushered Mace Windu and Adi Gallia back to the main door of the holding area. "I made the decision to let him out to do some physical training. There's a dozen guards in here with him, so I didn't think it could do any harm."
"Didn't think it could do any harm?" Mace snapped.
"Hey, temper," Adi countered, putting her hand on his arm. "Qui-Gon was a good friend of yours, wasn't he?"
"What does that...? You're not suggesting..."
"That's exactly what I'm suggesting," Adi said. "Stop letting your grief dictate your actions. Obi-Wan, you should have consulted with us first, but I do think it's the right decision."
"He is our prisoner," Mace said.
"He is an individual who spent a large chunk of his life living in a cage at an abandoned zoo," Adi replied. "And he is an individual who just did us a favor."
"That remains to be seen."
"What do you mean?" Obi-Wan asked.
"Just that time will tell if he really disarmed everything," Adi said. The three of them watched Maul going through training exercises for several minutes in silence before she sighed, "Whoever trained him to move did an amazing job."
"And he calls this 'rusty,'" Obi-Wan quipped. "I'd hate to see what he's like when he's at his peak."
"Or what he's like to fight when he's at his peak," Mace added pointedly.
"Mace," Adi snapped.
"I'm not buying his conversion," Mace countered. "It's too conveniently timed."
"I don't think any of us are," Obi-Wan replied. "But we can't leave him locked up forever."
"And why not?"
"Because he hasn't committed a crime," Adi replied.
Mace fell silent.
"So," Obi-Wan said after a moment's pause, "how long do we keep him down here?"
"I'll confer with the Council," Adi said, "but I suspect that if there are no further incidents within the next few days, we'll start transitioning him out of round-the-clock confinement. In the meantime, feel free to let him train with supervision down here. If he'd like mats, I can bring them down."
"He'll reject them, I'm sure. Too cozy."
"The offer still stands."
"I'll pass it on. What are your long-term plans for him?"
"We're still working on that, but from what I'm seeing right now, I'd love to see him train our fighters. I mean, look at him. I've never seen a Jedi move that well."
"Well, we're trained to do more than fight," Obi-Wan said. "I doubt he was. He's specialized."
Maul took off his sweaty shirt, and Adi smiled and shook her head.
Mace rolled his eyes. "You aren't seriously thinking what I think you are?"
"Not seriously. But if I were ten years younger and he weren't a Sith..."
"I can't believe I'm hearing this," Mace groaned, face cracking into a wide grin. "You are too much."
"I can't help it. I like the way he moves."
Mace threaded his arm through Adi's elbow and joked, "I'm taking her out of here. She's clearly being corrupted by the Dark Side."
"I'll see you later, Obi-Wan," she grinned. "If you need anything..."
"Just go before Mace carries you out of here!" Obi-Wan laughed.
As the door closed behind them, Obi-Wan heard a sudden thud, and spun around to see Maul sprawled on the floor. "Are you all right?" he asked, trotting over.
"I will be fine," Maul grumbled, easing himself up off the ground.
"Your laughter distracted me."
"Not a sound you're used to, I take it."
"No," he replied, rubbing a sore spot on his flank.
"Do you want someone to look at that for you?"
"I will be fine."
"We can bring down exercise mats. You won't be as hurt when you fall."
"I do not require them."
"But would you like them?"
Maul hesitated, then said, "No. Pain is a necessary part of training."
"Oddly enough, for once I'm in agreement. Are you done for today?"
"Right, back in the cell. How are you doing with the books?"
"I am nearly done."
"I'll have them send down some more. Any requests?"
"More graphic novels, and are there books solely on why people do what they do?"
"Psychology, sociology. Do you want individuals or groups?"
"Both. And governments."
"Political science. Right, I'll pass that on." The bars came down, securing Maul in his cell. "Oh, Maul? I have a request."
"I'd like to go upstairs and sleep in my own bed tonight. You'll be all right for a night without me, won't you? I mean, you seem a lot calmer, and you did fine when I went off to meditate. I just...I need a little time alone."
Maul blinked a few times, finger unconsciously ghosting around one of his temple horns, then said, "I will manage."
"Thank you." He turned to the nearest guard and asked, "If he gets worked up, can you call me?"
"We can do that," she replied. "Not a problem."
"Thanks. Good night, Maul. See you in the morning."
He's made it through two books when the itch sets in.
This is intolerable. It is only a night. One night. As his master said, he'd survived far more difficult tasks. He can do this. He'd spent days at a time alone when Sidious was his master.
But Sidious had bonded with him.
And Sidious would beat him if he failed.
He lacks motivation, direction. Instead, he is given choices. What does one do with choices? He isn't ready yet to make choices for himself. That's why he'd sought out a new master. He still needs a firm hand to guide him.
The hand that stroked the makeup over his face was anything but firm.
He jumps up and begins pacing the cell. One night. Just one night. How much time has passed already? Perhaps the night is almost over. He walks to the bars of his cell and asks the nearest guard how much time has elapsed since Obi-Wan left.
"Three hours, give or take a few minutes. He probably just crawled into bed an hour ago. Do you want me to call him?"
No, he doesn't want to call him. He want Obi-Wan to come down here because he can sense that Maul needs him. He wants Obi-Wan to come down here because he feels the burning need to be close to Maul. He wants Obi-Wan to come down here to touch him. He wants Obi-Wan to come down here to punish him. He wants him. He needs him. He has to know that. He has to.
He asked for the night away. He asked. That's worse than a command.
Hands shaking, Maul drops to his knees, breath coming in ragged gasps. He threads his fingers through his horns and casts his eyes frantically about his cell.
And sees the container of red paint.
The next morning, Obi-Wan walked into the holding area and gaped at the sight before him. Every inch of Maul's cell was covered in vivid red swirls and slashes, including the bedroll and Maul's clothes. His hands were still dripping with paint. The books Obi-Wan had had brought down last night were lying unceremoniously on the floor outside the cell.
Maul looked over at Obi-Wan with obvious relief. "You are back," he sighed, sinking to his knees, exhaustion radiating from him in waves.
"Maul, that's really beautiful."
"I'll clean it."
"No! Don't you dare!"
"I'm sorry, that didn't come out right," Obi-Wan said. "I want you to leave it alone because I want to look at it some more and show it to other people. You have real talent, you know. I mean, it's abstract, but it's so clear what it means."
"It means nothing."
"No, it means something," Obi-Wan said, eyes brimming with guilt. "Did you sleep at all?"
"I should have stayed. I'm sorry."
"I can sleep now."
"I won't go away again tonight."
"You still can. I will just sleep when you are here."
"Please, Master. Let me do this for you."
Obi-Wan sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I'll think about it. Look, let's get you washed up and into some clean clothes. Do you want to sleep in an unpainted cell, or do you want to sleep in there?"
"I want to clean this cell and sleep here."
"You can clean it when you're rested. Come on, let's get you to a new cell."
Obi-Wan turned to one of the guards and asked her to open the cell, but she shook her head and gestured him over to her. "I'll be right back, Maul." He strode over to the guard with a questioning look on his face.
"I just wanted to give you a heads-up," she murmured. "When you clean him, you'll find cuts on him."
"He cut himself? How?"
"With his nails."
"Why didn't you stop him?"
"Because of why he did it. He said the paint wasn't quite right without it. It seemed to help him stay calm, and the cuts were small, so we let him do it."
"So he bled into the paint."
"Not much. It really seemed more symbolic than anything. He went through two jars of paint last night. He opened one vein for each, bled a little into the jar, shook it up, and then put pressure on the wound to stop it bleeding. He also bit into his fingertips to get them to bleed a little too before he started fingerpainting."
"Why didn't you wake me?"
"Because, like I said, once he did that, he was calm."
"You think this is healthy behavior?"
"With all due respect, I spent some time working with abused children when I was a padawan, and yes, this is healthy behavior for him. I saw the report. I know he used to paint with animal blood on the walls of his previous home. The blood is important to him. Eventually he'll get used to paint."
"But until then... Thank you. Sorry I snapped."
"It's no problem. I'll let him out now."
Obi-Wan walked back over to the cell and helped an exhausted Maul to his feet. "I can walk," he protested.
They walked in silence over to the very next cell, Maul leaving a trail of red footprints behind him, and Obi-Wan helped him out of his clothes. Maul accepted the help without comment or protest, prompting Obi-Wan once more to wonder just how much "service" Sidious had required of him. Wetting a washcloth in the sink, Obi-Wan murmured, "Just relax," backing it up with a subtle Force-suggestion, and started gently scrubbing the paint flecks off of Maul's face.
By the time he'd finished, Maul was sound asleep.
Obi-Wan continued cleaning until Maul was totally paint-free, noting the small scab on each wrist and the smaller ones on each fingertip. When Maul was clean, Obi-Wan lifted him onto his bedroll, covered him with the blanket, laid a clean set of clothes in the cell, then stepped out and nodded to the guard.
The bars came down on Maul's new cell.
Obi-Wan walked back over to the paint-covered cell and spent several long minutes losing himself in the patterns. There was pain here. Loss. Confusion. Maul may not have been able to articulate his feelings in words, but he'd screamed them in paint.
He activated his comlink and said, "Master Adi? There's something down here you should see. Bring a camera."
After her viewing, Adi took Obi-Wan by the hand and led him to the gardens. When he tried to protest, she merely shushed him and kept walking until they'd arrived and sat down side by side in a lush, secluded corner. "How are you feeling, Obi-Wan?" she asked.
"A little tired," he shrugged, staring down at his hands.
"That's not what I mean. You lost your master a little over a week ago, and his killer's apprentice, who is most likely clinically insane, has decided to try and bond with you. I think it's an understatement to say you're under some serious stress."
A wry grin ghosted across the corners of Obi-Wan's mouth then disappeared. "I think I'm doing all right."
"I'm sorry. I'll try harder."
"That's the last thing you should do."
Obi-Wan looked up at Adi, confusion evident in his blue-green eyes.
She smiled kindly and said, "Obi-Wan, you've been trying too hard. You haven't had time to grieve properly. I think you've been holding yourself together too tightly, and that's not healthy. I mean, look at you. You look so calm. That's just not natural after all you've been through."
"But what about Maul?"
"What do you do down there with him all day?"
"Nothing, really. I read, he reads."
"Do you talk?"
"So I don't lose my temper and snap at him. I'm trying to be a good example, I suppose. Show him what being a Jedi is all about."
"And grieving isn't part of that?"
Obi-Wan scrubbed his face with his hands and sighed.
"If you really want to be a good example to him, the way to do that isn't to walk around with all this unresolved anger and grief buried inside you. Yes, a good Jedi controls his emotions, but he also honors them and works through them."
"Not in front of Maul. I can't do that yet."
"You could grieve together."
"With all due respect, Maul's master was responsible for my grief, and I was responsible for his. I'm not going to grieve with him over the death of that monster, and he shouldn't want to grieve with the person who killed him. It's bad enough that I'm stuck down there with him."
"I know I shouldn't be. 'Fear leads to anger,' etcetera, etcetera."
"You have every right to be angry. It is unfair how this all turned out. But that doesn't mean you need to punish yourself because of it. You need to work through that anger, and that's impossible to do alone. You need to get out of there and spend time with other people. With your friends."
"I don't really want to be around people right now."
"Then that probably means that you need to. And you need time to grieve."
"Don't worry, I cried myself to sleep last night and I'll probably do it again tonight now that I'm spending the night in my quarters," Obi-Wan sighed.
"Don't forget to take care of your body as well. Maul's not the only one who should be doing physical training. It's a great stress reliever."
"And I'm probably the poster boy for stress right now," Obi-Wan joked.
"Like I said earlier, that would be an understatement."
"Well, I'll try and find a little time to take away from him."
"He'll be fine without you."
"You didn't see him this morning."
"No, but I saw what he did, and I'd say it was good for him. He's got a lot of issues of his own to work out, and you leaving him alone for a night forced him to start dealing with them."
"What he has goes way beyond 'issues.' I don't think he'll ever be sane."
"We've been reading Sidious's journal, and I think I have to agree, although the healers still want to try."
"There's nothing in him that could ever be a part of polite society. You'd need to completely destroy his current personality and build him a new one."
"I don't think the healers are aiming for normalcy. Just sanity. That journal is chilling."
"He sexually abused him, didn't he?"
Adi nodded. "Although that wasn't what I was thinking of. Why do you ask?"
"I've gotten a few very strange offers from him. And just some of the things he says and the way he reacts..." Obi-Wan trailed off, hand waving helplessly as words failed him. "Why, what were you thinking of?"
"He's actually committed murder several times under Sidious's orders. And I don't mean as part of a mission. Just random murders, for practice."
Obi-Wan paled. "Oh," he finally said.
"Mace tried to use that to build a case for putting him on trial and keeping him incarcerated for the rest of his natural life, but it seems clear from Sidious's notes that Maul only did so under his direction. I think the passage that saved Maul from going to trial was the one where Sidious bemoaned the fact that Maul seemed to take no pleasure from a kill."
"Now that actually surprises me."
"Yaddle had an interesting take on it. She seems to think that he's so disconnected from his emotions that he couldn't even identify with his chosen victims enough to take any sort of sadistic pleasure out of their deaths. The only pleasure he got out of it was when his master praised him. His entire world focused around his master."
"So I've gathered. How many of these 'practice murders' are mentioned?"
"Seventeen," Obi-Wan muttered under his breath. "I suppose it's too much to hope that he didn't torture anyone as well."
"Sidious did try to teach him how, but he didn't understand the necessity. When Maul was instructed to kill, he did it quickly and cleanly. From the descriptions we have from Sidious, most of his victims didn't see him coming, and barely felt a thing. There's one documented instance of Sidious literally talking Maul step by step through killing someone slowly and painfully, but Maul clearly didn't get any enjoyment out of the process. He never repeated the experience when Sidious ordered him to kill and gave him carte blanche on how to do it."
"I suppose we should be grateful for the small things," Obi-Wan noted.
"I do think there's some hope for him. The art really is a promising sign. It shows that there is a part of Maul's personality that Sidious didn't create, so that means there might be more pieces buried inside him that we can get to and bring out. Yaddle really wants to try. She has a good feeling about it."
"I hope she's right."
Adi squeezed his shoulder and said, "You know, Maul will probably be asleep for a few more hours. Why don't you go do something? Like talk to your friends, or work out?"
"I think a workout sounds like a good idea," Obi-Wan replied. "Thank you."
"Take care of yourself, Obi-Wan."
Several hours later, a freshly-showered Obi-Wan walked back in to the holding area and slowly made his way over to the cell where Maul was still sleeping.
The only time Obi-Wan had ever actually set out to kill someone was when he killed Sidious. And then only because he knew it was the only option. Maul had killed people just because his master wanted him to get some practice and learn to enjoy it.
Mind you, it sounded like he hadn't enjoyed it. But he hadn't been troubled by it either.
One of the guards spoke into his comlink, then turned to Obi-Wan and said, "That was Master Yaddle. She's on her way down to do an evaluation of the prisoner."
"Thank you." Squatting down, Obi-Wan murmured, "Maul, wake up."
His eyes snapped open, but for once, he didn't startle. "Master."
"I know you just woke up, but don't call me that. Get dressed. Master Yaddle's on her way down here to see you."
Sitting up and pulling on his pants, Maul said, "I need to clean the cell before she arrives."
"I think she'd like to see it, actually."
Maul surged to his feet. "No, I need to clean it..."
Obi-Wan grabbed Maul's wrists and said, "Maul, look at me. Be calm. You will never be punished again for painting."
"I don't want anyone to see it. It's not for people to see."
"They need to see this one. It might just buy you your freedom. You can do this."
Maul nodded slowly. "I will try."
"All right. Put your shirt on. They should be here soon."
"What will she be asking me?"
"I don't know. Just answer truthfully."
A few moments later, the doors opened, and Yaddle came in, flanked by Adi and two healers. "His cell you will open," she commanded.
The bars slid up, and Maul stood and stared, waiting. Yaddle stared back calmly, watching Maul's expressionless face for a quiet moment before turning her attention to the painted cell. "Impressive work that is. Self-taught, you are?"
"Where get you your ideas?"
"I do not understand."
"When you paint, how decide you what to paint?"
"I do not think about it in advance. I just paint."
"Painted your whole life, have you?"
"As long as I can remember."
"Encouraged you were not?"
"No, I was not."
"Then why paint you?"
"It's a compulsion."
"Read your master's journal I have. Trained to control your compulsions, you were. Control this one you could not."
"Come here." Yaddle held out her hand. With obvious trepidation, Maul walked over to her. She rested her hand gently on his thigh, ignoring his flinch, and said, "Sit."
Maul looked over at Obi-Wan with genuine alarm, and Obi-Wan came to his side and said, "I'll sit with you. Come on."
The two men sat on the floor next to the small Jedi master and looked at the painted cell. Obi-Wan looked at Maul out of the corner of his eye and saw the tension etched around the corners of his mouth. "Just relax," he murmured. "You can do this."
"When painted this you did, what thoughts had you?" Yaddle asked.
Maul slowly shook his head.
"Try to answer," Obi-Wan said.
"Can not, or will not?" Yaddle asked.
"Can not. It is just...red paint on the wall."
"More it represents, Maul. Your emotions, those are. Your individuality. Why painted you this?"
"I was agitated and needed to calm myself."
"Paint you real life images?"
"Hmm." Yaddle walked in a slow circle around the two of them as Adi and the two healers watched from across the room. Coming to a stop in front of Maul, she said, "Killed you have many times."
"Enjoyed it, you did?"
"Disliked it, then?"
"Enjoyed the hunt, you have?"
"With some animals, yes. The challenge is interesting."
"And intelligent creatures?"
"I have never hunted one that has been aware it was being hunted. The challenge was minimal."
"If choice you had between hunting a challenging humanoid or painting?"
"Whatever my master decreed, I would do."
"No decree. Choose."
Maul sat in silence for a long moment, finger stroking the base of one temple horn. Finally, he said, "I don't know."
"But I do know you wanted me to say painting."
Yaddle leaned forward and very gently touched her hand to the underside of Maul's chin, waiting as his eyes grew wide and panicked, then slowly back to normal, only the clenching and unclenching of one fist betraying his discomfort. "Very unfortunate your life has been. Very strong, you are to have survived this long. In a cage you do not belong. Confer with the Council, I will, but into Obi-Wan's custody, I predict you will be released."
Maul closed his eyes in relief as Yaddle withdrew her hand and walked away. "May I clean my cell now?" he whispered.
"Of course," Obi-Wan replied.
Obi-Wan stood before the assembled Council members and bowed.
Adi smiled and said, "We're not going to keep him locked up any longer. If you're willing, we've set up quarters for him right next to yours."
"Where he will be under house arrest," Eeth added. "We can't risk setting him free, but we're not keeping him in a cage any longer. We could press charges against him on numerous counts," he said, casting a sidelong glance at Mace Windu, "but all that would accomplish would be getting Maul officially declared mentally incompetent to stand trial. At which point, due to his midichlorian count, they'd just ship him right back to us for rehabilitation."
Mace shook his head, but said nothing.
"You said if I'm willing. I am, but what are the other choices?"
"You could share quarters," Depa said, "or we could slowly start weaning him away from you and giving him full-time to the healers. But we think that adjacent quarters is probably the best compromise between what's good for him and what's good for you. For instance, if you shared quarters, we'd need to go through and pull out anything of yours that could conceivably be used as a weapon."
"And if I'm living next door to him, then I'll probably want a weapon handy, just in case."
"We'll install a connecting door which will lock from your side, if you like," Depa added.
"That would be fine."
"You're sure you're willing?" Mace Windu asked. "You have thought about this, haven't you? This is not something you should feel forced to accept."
"I am willing," Obi-Wan replied.
"You don't seem enthusiastic," Mace noted.
"I'm not, but I am a Jedi, and I do have a responsibility to aid those in need. As unusual as this situation is, it does fall under that rubric. And I believe it's what Qui-Gon would have done in my place." Obi-Wan's jaw tightened.
"Don't live your life for Qui-Gon," Mace said. "He wouldn't have wanted that. He would have wanted you to live for yourself."
"I know, and I am."
"This isn't a permanent arrangement," Adi said. "This is only until we can slowly wean Maul away from you. You're a very promising young knight, Obi-Wan. We're not going to ask you to throw away your entire career for one person, or for one person's memory."
"Then it's settled," Depa said. "We'll be moving him up there as soon as the door is installed. Thank you, Obi-Wan."
"A world of good, you have done for him," Yaddle noted. "Very proud, you should be."
The guards stayed outside the door as Maul and Obi-Wan walked into Maul's new quarters. "I know they're a little small," Obi-Wan said apologetically. "And you don't get a window."
Maul slowly made his way through the small apartment, silently noting every detail in the living, sleeping, and bath areas. "The bed is yours?" he finally asked.
"No, it's yours. I'm sleeping next door in my own apartment. It's right through that door. Fair warning, I'll be locking it."
"That is not necessary."
"Most likely not, but I'm locking it anyway."
"This is all mine?" Maul asked.
"Yes. You can finally have some privacy. There's art supplies, a nice private shower, a library, food. I think the silverware is pretty minimalistic, and you don't have a cooking range, but over time, that should change if you continue earning our trust."
"I don't need all this."
"Well, it's yours. They tell me there's clothes for you in the bedroom. They're probably still gray, though. We're pretty big on earth-tones, if you hadn't noticed. You probably even get shoes now. Oh, feel free to paint the walls if you want. I think they gave you mostly red paint, but there's also other colors, and some brushes. Look, you've had dinner, right?"
"Good. I'm going to head to bed. You settle in, get comfortable with this place, and get some sleep, all right?"
"I will be quiet."
"No, don't worry about it. The walls are pretty thick."
Maul blinked. "You're not staying here?"
"No, I'm already said I'm going to my own quarters. I'll just be on the other side of the wall. You'll be fine. There's an intercom right over there if you have an emergency, or you can knock on the door. You made it through last night. You can make it through tonight."
"Stay. I won't keep you awake."
"I need some privacy, Maul. I need a little time alone. I've still got healing of my own to do. Just paint until you get tired, or clear the furniture away and work out until you're tired enough to sleep. I need time alone."
Obi-Wan turned and headed for the connecting door, but Maul shot his hand out and grabbed his wrist. Looking down at the jet-black hand, Obi-Wan said, "Maul, let go."
Maul looked Obi-Wan dead in the eye, wordlessly pleading for him to change his mind.
"Maul, I'm commanding you to let me go."
After a brief moment's hesitation, Maul dropped his hand.
"Thank you. I'll see you in the morning."
Obi-Wan stepped through the connecting door and locked it behind him. He had a really bad feeling about this that he just couldn't shake. Picking up his comlink, he called Yaddle and said, "Sorry to disturb you, but I'm really concerned about leaving Maul alone tonight. He's very agitated."
"Agitated he was last night as well."
"This is different. He feels more desperate."
"Alone he should be for another night. More distraught he may be tonight now that he knows how difficult being alone is. Good this is for his development."
"Are you sure?"
"Fine he will be."
"All right. Thank you, Master Yaddle."
Obi-Wan switched off his comlink and sat uneasily on the sofa along their connecting wall, resting his ear against it. Waiting.
Maul paces before the connecting wall, deep in a stare-down with it. He's already moved the sofa to the other side of the room. It was in the way. He stops and leans his full body against the wall, pressing his face into the cool surface. His master is so close, but he's not here.
He digs his fingers into the surface of the wall, leaving small gouges in the formerly smooth surface. If only his master would bond with him, any distance would be tolerable. But this is worse than the cell. He's not locked up anymore. He's been granted a small measure of freedom.
But he doesn't need freedom. He needs his master.
And if he can't have a bond with him, he needs his presence.
He reaches for the intercom, then flinches back. His master wants the night alone.
He is the master. What the master wants, the master gets.
Exercise. His master suggested exercise. Maul paces to the center of the room and tries going through kata, but his body will not respond properly. He feels like the gravity has been increased ten-fold, and finds himself on his hands and knees, struggling to suck air into his lungs.
Painting. Painting will help. He crawls over to the cabinet with the art supplies and pulls out a can of red paint. Prying it open with his nails, he stares down into it, a puzzled expression on his face. It's not quite right.
He knows what will make it right.
Obi-Wan suddenly snapped awake, dizzy from sickening eddies in the Force. Blinking in confusion for a few moments, he swore under his breath, launched off the sofa, and unlocked the connecting door. Stepping through, he saw Maul slumped against the red-smeared wall, blood still trickling from numerous cuts on his wrists. Grabbing Maul's face, he shouted his name until Maul's eyes fluttered open.
"Painting," he muttered weakly.
"Dammit, why didn't you call me?"
Maul's eyes slowly glazed over.
Obi-Wan ran to the front door, unlocked it, and turned to a guard and said, "Get a medic. Now," before running back in. Pulling off his tunic, he tore off strips of fabric and started binding Maul's arms. "Just hang in there," he crooned. "Someone will be here soon."
"My fault this is," Yaddle said, laying a gentle hand on Obi-Wan's knee. "Foresee this I did not."
"It's not your fault, Master Yaddle. You couldn't know this would happen," Obi-Wan said, fingers threaded through his hair as he sat and waited for news outside the infirmary.
"Your concerns you voiced, and ignored them I did."
From the other side of the waiting area, Mace said, "Let's hold off on the self-recrimination until we know what's going on."
Depa appeared in the doorway and said, "He's stabilized, but they can't reach him."
Obi-Wan raised his head. "What do you mean?"
"He seems to be catatonic."
"But...he actually said something to me when I found him."
She shook her head. "He's not talking any more. The mental healers can't reach him. They want you to come in and try talking to him."
"Of course." He and Yaddle walked in to the next room, where Maul was lying unconscious on a bed, arms bandaged from his wrists to his elbows. Monitors showed minimal brainwave activity, and the three healers by his bedside looked grim. Despite the transfusion, his skin had a distinct grayish cast to it.
Mace Windu walked in behind them and stood in the doorway, hands gripping the doorframe. "I know you're just going to ignore me again, but has it occurred to anyone that maybe we should just leave him this way?"
Depa pointed towards the door. "Out."
He shook his head and left, and Depa stood off to the side of the room and placed a call to Adi to ask her to go talk to him.
Obi-Wan stepped forward and murmured, "Maul, can you hear me? It's Obi-Wan. Remember, that Jedi you think is your master."
Yaddle looked over at the brainwave monitor. "No change."
Reaching out to take Maul's hand in his, he said, "I know you've lived through a lot worse than this. Come on. You can pull through."
"Still no change."
Obi-Wan slumped his head forward onto the edge of the bed. "Maybe Mace is right," he mumbled.
"You can't mean that," Depa chided.
"I do. I mean, look at him. He's not getting better. He's getting worse. What can we really do for him?"
"We have to try," Depa said.
"But for how long? What if he succeeds in killing himself next time? Or what if this is just the first in a long series of attempts at self-mutilation? I mean, maybe this is for the best. This could be the closest to being at peace that he'll ever get."
"This isn't living," Depa countered. "We're duty-bound to try everything we can to give him some semblance of a normal life, and this isn't it."
"One more thing we will try," Yaddle interjected. "If works it does not, then leave him for a time we shall."
Obi-Wan lifted his head and said, "Fine. One more thing."
"A partial bonding you will perform."
"I can't authorize that," Depa snapped. "It's too dangerous. You'll never get the rest of the Council to go along with it."
"To the Council I am not taking it. Incomplete the bond will be. Simple procedure, it is. Guide him the healers and I will, and once Maul responds, break the bond we shall."
Depa shook her head. "I really don't like this. Are you positive you can break it?"
Depa turned to the healers and asked, "Are you positive?"
They all nodded.
"What do you think, Obi-Wan?"
"I still haven't recovered from the last bond I broke," he quietly replied.
"That's it. This isn't happening," Depa said. "Obi-Wan, I'm taking you back to your quarters so you can get some sleep. We can talk about this again in the morning after the full Council has debated it." She helped Obi-Wan to his feet.
"Wait," he protested. "I should do it. Qui-Gon would have."
"Qui-Gon was an experienced Jedi master. You are an exhausted knight who was just elevated from padawan status less than a fortnight ago. Qui-Gon would at the very least want you to get a full night's sleep before doing something this hare-brained."
"All right, but call me if his condition changes."
"Don't worry. We will."
Morning found Obi-Wan standing in Maul's quarters, staring at the blood-smeared walls. Maul hadn't even attempted to create a pattern. This was nothing but a suicide attempt. And if Obi-Wan hadn't shown up when he did, it could easily have been a successful one. The question was, did Maul realize he was trying to kill himself?
There was a knock on the door. Obi-Wan unlocked it, and Adi smiled at him from the hallway and handed him a mug of tea. "May I come in?"
"Of course." He sipped at the tea, feeling it slowly warm him from the inside, then asked, "How's Mace?"
"He's not dealing with this very well."
"So I noticed."
"He and Qui-Gon were lifelong friends. I hadn't realized that."
"Qui-Gon told me that they met when they were toddlers in the crèche."
"No wonder he's reacted so poorly."
Adi sighed and said, "That remains to be seen." She walked past him and stared at the wall. "This isn't even a painting."
"I know. And look at the can of paint."
"It's practically full. Oh," she said, understanding dawning across her face.
"So, did the Council decide to allow the procedure?"
"It wasn't unanimous, of course, but yes."
"Then I'll do it."
"Are you sure?"
Looking back at the wall, Obi-Wan said, "It's better than the alternative."
This time, seven healers were crammed into the room, along with Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Yaddle. Adi, Depa, and Eeth watched from the hallway.
One of the healers took Obi-Wan's hand and said, "Just clear your mind and let us guide you through this."
"All right." He closed his eyes and let the Force wipe his thoughts clean.
"Very good. Now slowly reach out towards Maul. Slowly."
"I can't feel anything."
"Try to picture him as a banked ember. What you're looking for is that faint."
"I can't...wait. I've found something."
"Very slowly, reach out for it and see if you can make a very small connection."
Obi-Wan nodded, lip bit in concentration, and extended himself.
And then the entire world shifted under his feet.
The healers closest to him grabbed him before he fell. Eyes wide, his hands scrabbled for purchase as Maul's eyes suddenly snapped open and he drew in a long, shuddering breath.
"Pull him out!" Adi yelled from the hallway. "Pull him out now!"
"We're trying!" one healer cried as Maul sat bolt upright then tried diving through the sea of bodies for Obi-Wan.
Eeth, Adi, and Depa ran in and tried pulling Maul back as the energies in the room swirled about like a violent Mobius strip. "Break the bond!" Adi yelled.
Obi-Wan thrashed blindly and reached a hand out towards Maul, who snarled and twisted out of the Jedi masters' grasp, making a dive for it. One of the healers thrust herself between them, and was knocked aside by a shower of purple sparks. But Depa got hold of Maul again, pulling him back as Adi and Eeth managed to join back in to the fray.
Yoda and Yaddle's voices sang out in their native language, and crackling of the air increased to a fever pitch before abruptly dissipating with a loud clap. "Master!" Maul cried out, then sagged in the Jedi's arms.
They eased Maul back down onto the bed, and Eeth said, "He's unconscious, but with normal brain wave activity. How's Obi-Wan?"
"He's unconscious as well, but his mind feels safe," one healer replied.
Adi straightened her headpiece, then took Obi-Wan in her arms and carried him to a bed. "Sleep well," she whispered.
Obi-Wan started awake with a gasp and found golden eyes staring down at him. "Maul, you're awake."
"He's only been awake a little longer than you." Obi-Wan lifted his head and saw Adi leaning in the doorway. "He insisted on coming in to see you the moment he opened his eyes. How are you feeling?"
"Like I was pummeled for several hours straight."
"We were nearly bonded," Maul said.
"I know. I felt it."
"They would not let us complete it."
"Can I have a minute alone with Adi please?" Obi-Wan asked, painstakingly raising himself up to his elbows. "I really need to talk to her in private."
"As you wish." Maul carefully stood, balancing himself against the wall with a bandaged arm, and headed for the door. Adi nodded to the waiting guards, and they escorted him away.
Sitting next to Obi-Wan's bedside, Adi raised her eyebrows and asked, "Yes?"
"Adi, it was terrible," he whispered. "His mind is terrifying. I felt everything he'd ever been through, and I still couldn't help wanting to complete the bond. It was the most seductive feeling I've ever experienced."
"Sssh, it's over now," she said, resting a hand on his trembling shoulder. "We won't ever do that again."
"I feel like I'm unraveling. If we'd completed the bond, I don't think I would have been strong enough to maintain my sanity."
"Do you think you can meditate? Try and find your center and calm yourself?"
"I don't know."
"I can have one of the healers help you."
"That might work."
"If it's any consolation, you seem to have rubbed off on him as well. He seems much calmer."
"Yes. Hopefully it sticks."
"I hope mine doesn't."
"Let me go get a healer."
"Adi, can you try to help me meditate instead? I think I need someone familiar right now."
With a sad smile, Adi replied, "I'd be happy to."
Maul and Obi-Wan entered Maul's quarters together. "I'll spend the night," Obi-Wan said.
"You don't need to."
"No, I want to. After last night, I'm not letting you out of my sight. The bed's big enough for the two of us."
"I will sleep on the floor."
Obi-Wan grabbed Maul by the forearms and said, "No, you will sleep on the bed, your back to my back. I want to know that you're there so I know I won't wake up to a repeat of this morning." He turned Maul around and said, "See that wall? That clean wall? Remember what it looked like this morning?"
"Yes," Maul whispered.
"Never again. I'm exhausted, you're exhausted. We're going to bed."
The strange softness of the bed cannot distract Maul from the feel of his master's back against his own. His mind still echoes in Maul's thoughts. Such calmness. Such purpose. Such clarity.
Empathy. An odd sensation, but he feels the faint stirrings of it in his chest. His master is guided by empathy. Feeling what others feel. This is not solely the weakness he has been taught it is, but a strength as well. Empathy with other creatures allows you to anticipate their reactions to situations. This could be very useful if he can manage to master it.
And he hadn't expected to see fear. Fear of himself.
The master is not supposed to fear the apprentice.
Obi-Wan gasped and sat bolt upright, heart racing. The rational part of his brain fervently hoped that this wasn't becoming a habit, but the rest of his mind was still reeling from the nightmare. The details were fading fast, but he still remembered sticky, inky blackness yawning all around him, sucking him down.
"You'll get used to them," Maul commented dryly, not looking up from his book.
Obi-Wan looked over at Maul, who was sitting up in bed, ankles crossed, nose buried in a graphic novel, and groused, "Great, you get my desire to read in bed, and I get your nightmares."
"Last night you were very insistent that I not leave your side while you slept," Maul noted.
"You had to leave to go get the book, didn't you?"
Maul casually held his hand out and Force-pulled a book in from the living room.
"Or not," Obi-Wan said, suppressing a shiver. He'd forgotten how powerful Maul was. "You know, that's even the exact way I sit when I read in bed."
"I'm not surprised."
"No, I suppose you wouldn't be. I, uh. I think I need a shower, some clean clothes, and then breakfast. Did you eat yet?"
"Right, I'll make us something. Will you be all right alone?"
"Maul, look up from that book when you answer me."
A very calm set of golden eyes fixed Obi-Wan in their steady gaze. "Yes, I will be all right alone."
Obi-Wan reached out and grabbed Maul by a bandaged wrist, watching as Maul's eyes briefly narrowed in pain. "Are you sure?"
"When you left me two nights ago, I was clearly agitated, was I not? Do I seem agitated to you now?"
Obi-Wan stared warily at Maul for several beats, then said, "All right. I'll be back shortly."
Maul nodded, then turned back to his book.
Obi-Wan headed to his own quarters, closed and locked the door, and leaned against it for a long moment. Something was definitely not right here. He could feel it in the pit of his stomach. He headed over to his comlink. "Master Adi?"
"Yes Obi-Wan? How are things this morning?"
"He's calm. Very calm."
"You don't sound calm."
"Well, it's rather unnerving to see him this way."
"Are you sure it's not just that you're still rattled from yesterday?"
"I don't think so, but...well, I did have a nightmare."
"That could be it, Obi-Wan. Look, we'd like to have the healers come up and do evaluations on the two of you today."
"That sounds like an excellent idea. Can you just give us an hour to get ready?"
"We don't need to do it right away..."
"I'd really like it if you did."
"Are you feeling all right?"
"No, no I'm not," Obi-Wan said, running shaky fingers through his hair. "Look, maybe it's just the nightmare, but if it's not..."
"We'll be there in an hour."
"Do you want me to come up there now?"
"No, I can make it an hour. You may be right. It might just be me having trouble shaking off the nightmare."
"All right, but if you change your mind, I'll be there for you."
"Thanks. I should be fine."
"Then we'll see you in an hour."
Adi, Eeth, Yoda, Yaddle, and a new batch of healers arrived at Maul's quarters just as Maul and Obi-Wan finished clearing away their breakfast dishes. "Excellent timing," Obi-Wan said as he opened the door and gestured them in.
"Smells good," Eeth commented.
"I made vegetable omelets. Maul seemed impressed."
"I had never had anything like them before," Maul replied. "Once you've gained enough trust in me to let me near a cooktop, I'd like to learn how to make them."
"Eating for pleasure as well as sustenance is still new for you?" Eeth asked.
Obi-Wan leaned against the sink and quipped, "One of these days I'm going to try to tackle eating for pleasure only, but I'm not sure I'll win that one."
"Sit. Relax," Adi said, gesturing at the sofa. Obi-Wan looked over at Maul and bobbed his head, and the two men silently settled down together on the sofa; Obi-Wan sitting first on one end, and Maul sitting right next to him. Obi-Wan looked warily over at Maul, who nodded and relocated to the other end. Yoda and Yaddle each claimed one footstool, and Eeth and Adi the two chairs. The healers, as usual, stood in a silent pack.
Yoda and Yaddle exchanged a glance, then Yoda asked, "How feel you, Maul?"
"Like you this feeling?"
He paused, then said, "I believe I do."
"New feeling this is for you?" Yaddle asked.
"I have never felt this way without being bonded to a master. I believe I owe this new ability to my near-bond with Obi-Wan."
"Educational, it was?"
"And you, Obi-Wan?" Yoda asked.
"I'm still a little shaken up from yesterday."
"Nightmare you had this morning?"
"Yes, yes I did."
"Tell us about it, you will."
Obi-Wan leaned forward, elbows on his knees. "It's all very hazy, but I dreamed about being pulled down into a pit of blackness."
"Familiar this is to you?" Yoda asked.
"It was a common nightmare of mine when I was a child."
"Troubling, it is, that having your nightmares Obi-Wan is," Yoda said with a sidelong glance at Yaddle.
"Temporary this will be," Yaddle replied. "Counseling and healing we will offer you, as well as our thanks for your sacrifice. But for Maul, fortunate this has been," she said, turning to face him. "Teach you to meditate we can. Hold on to your calmness, you will learn. Major breakthrough for you this has been, yes?"
Maul's eyes narrowed, and the tension in the room immediately rocketed up an exponential degree. His eyes quickly went wide and darted to look at Obi-Wan, who was still leaning forward on his knees. Obi-Wan sighed and asked, "Now what?"
"You do approve of this, yes?"
"Approve of what? Your actually being calm? Of course I do."
Maul nodded and looked down at his hands as the tension level in the room slowly eased back to normal.
Eeth stood up and asked, "Maul, would you like to meet with a Jedi artist? We have someone who would like to spend some time with you to teach you techniques and art appreciation."
Maul looked over at Obi-Wan, who nodded. "Yes, I would," he replied.
"Good. We think that will help your progress. We also have some books that we'd like you to read on normal child development so you can understand how yours differed from the norm."
"Normal child development or Jedi child development?" Maul asked.
A small grin ghosted the corners of Eeth's mouth. "You are learning fast. We'll give you both."
Adi nodded to one healer, who broke off from the pack, and then stood up and said, "Obi-Wan, we'd like to talk to you privately. Your quarters?"
"Certainly," he said, walking over to her side. "What about Maul?"
"Let the healers into his mind, we will," Yoda noted. "His cooperation we will need."
"You'll get it. Right, Maul?"
"If that is your wish."
Maul nodded, then turned to face Yoda and Yaddle.
Obi-Wan put his hand on Adi's arm and whispered, "Hang on, I want to see this."
The healers, Yoda, and Yaddle all closed their eyes and concentrated, and a split second later, Maul's eyes clamped shut and he gripped the arm of the sofa until his knuckles went gray.
"Relax," Yoda crooned.
"Can't," Maul snarled through gritted teeth.
"Your calm center you should find again."
Obi-Wan walked back over to the sofa and put a hand between Maul's shoulder blades. "Relax," he murmured.
Maul gasped, then slowly steadied his breathing until the healers released him and he sagged forward, fingers laced through his horns. "Thank you, Master."
"Don't call me that."
"Gentle our mental probes were," Yoda noted. "Why tensed you?"
"Your touch was...overly familiar."
"You'll be all right now?" Obi-Wan asked.
"Right." Obi-Wan walked back to Adi, and with the healer, they walked into his quarters. Once the door was safely closed behind them, Adi asked, "How did you know?"
"I just did."
"Are you still bonded?"
"I don't think so."
Adi put her hand on his shoulder and said, "Obi-Wan, I want you to let Peva take a look inside your mind, just so we can be sure."
"I've seen you before, haven't I?" Obi-Wan asked the healer.
Peva nodded. "I was one of the first batch of healers to see Maul. They keep rotating us because it takes such a toll on our abilities to try and see into him. His mind is not a pleasant place, as you're well aware."
"That would be an understatement."
"Although it's getting much better. I was very impressed with what we just saw. Yaddle may have been naive in her expectations of how your near-bonding would work, but it really seems to have helped him. Anyhow, may I take a look?"
Nodding, Obi-Wan said, "Go ahead."
He felt the gentle caress of the healer's touch in his mind, and let the familiarity of the sensation calm and center him. "There's no bond," she said. "But there is a heightened awareness of Maul's mental state."
"Well, that's to be expected," Adi noted. "Look, would you like some time away?"
"I can't. Not now. I mean, look at him. He's really progressing."
"A little over an hour ago you were extremely agitated."
"The dream's wearing off, I suppose. I'm feeling better." Turning to the healer, he said, "Thank you."
"I did nothing," she protested. "You actually started calming down the moment you helped Maul calm himself."
"Should I be disturbed by that?" he asked.
Peva shook her head. "I don't think so. It's a natural outgrowth of attunement to the Living Force. You simply feel better when helping others."
A wry grin teased at the corners of Obi-Wan's mouth. "I guess Qui-Gon did rub off on me a little."
"Speaking of Qui-Gon," Adi said, "I'm still not convinced you've taken the time you need to mourn. We'll have that artist come by later today. His name's Jarobe Keene. Perhaps getting Maul painting will help give you some free time alone. We've also got some books we'd like Maul to read, and in a day or two we'd like him to give a demonstration of his fighting abilities."
"I'll be sure he gets some training in before then."
"And any time you need to take a break, one of us will come down and take over for you if you like."
"I think he can be left alone."
"Yes, but it might do him some good to talk to someone other than you."
"Maybe. If he'll talk to anyone else. So," he asked, sitting on the arm of his sofa, "how are things with you? You look as tired as I do."
"Well, the Council has been fairly busy disciplining itself," she sighed, crossing her arms. "Mace Windu and Yaddle are basically on probation for their actions of late. Yaddle I'm not so worried about, but Mace has a padawan to think of."
"They won't be kicked off the Council, will they?"
"Most likely not, although Mace might be temporarily relieved of his duties so he can spend all his time with Anakin. They haven't really bonded, you see."
"That's not good."
"Mmm. That was our feeling as well. Well, unless you have anything you need to ask me in private, shall we see what our esteemed colleagues have determined about our charge?"
"After you," Obi-Wan said, gesturing to the door.
They walked through just in time to see Maul slapping away Yoda's hand. "Don't touch me," he spat.
"He doesn't like being touched," Obi-Wan said.
"Noticed I have," Yoda quipped. "Work on this you should."
"I'm impressed, Maul," Obi-Wan said. "Normally you just flinch."
Maul narrowed his eyes appraisingly. "You are right."
"Good sign this is," Yaddle said with a faint air of pride.
"Stubborn he is, but healthy he seems to be," Yoda said. "Healing his mind is. Long way to go, he still has, but good for him your near-bond seems to have been. How feel you now, Obi-Wan?"
"I'm feeling better, Master Yoda. Thank you."
"Then leave you we shall. Soon will your books and your art teacher arrive."
Maul nodded and looked over at Obi-Wan with a level gaze, fingers drumming silently on his thigh.
The Jedi filed out of the room, leaving the two of them alone.
They do not like it when Maul seems competent. He will remember this. They take him at face value, no matter how deeply their healers try to probe, so he must remember to appear harmless and helpless at all times when around the Jedi. Their presence in his mind was sickeningly unsettling, and he slipped briefly twice today, once wearing an expression of cunning and another time openly defying a respected Jedi master. But he will take care not do so again. He still has much to learn, so he must hold on to their trust for now. This empathy is useful.
His master is a different matter. When Obi-Wan is tired or upset, he is easy to manipulate. He will remember this. There is more he must teach Maul, more Maul must teach him. He will take care to do it when Obi-Wan is vulnerable or when they are alone, although he will take any opening that makes itself available. Obi-Wan is his master and Maul obeys him in all things; he cannot let Obi-Wan have the opportunity to command him to stop.
And he will continue to make and hide weapons in his quarters whenever he has a moment alone. The Jedi think they've given him safe quarters, but they are wrong. His previous master taught him that anything could be converted into a weapon. He learned that lesson well.
If only they had completed the bond. Maul could have learned so much more.
He feels his hands shaking and tucks them up and under his armpits to still them. If only the Jedi had not crawled around in his brain...
"You're thinking," Obi-Wan said.
"I didn't like having them in my mind."
"Even though I told you you had to let them in?"
"Only you belong there," Maul raged, pacing the length of the room.
Obi-Wan crossed his arms, standing his ground "I'm not bonding with you, Maul."
"What, and you would rather cast your lot in with them?" he spat, gesturing contemptuously at the door.
"They trained me. And I killed your master."
Maul's pacing paused, his back to Obi-Wan, and Obi-Wan could see the muscles of Maul's shoulders twitching. Maul suddenly turned on his heel and purred, "You're better than them."
"No, I'm not. I still have a lot to learn."
Slowly walking up to Obi-Wan, Maul said, "I wouldn't be so sure about that. After all, my former master did kill your former master. Is he not the one who trained you?"
"I see where you're going with this, and I'm not taking the bait."
"I simply want you to live up to your full potential."
Obi-Wan looked down into Maul's eyes, which were now just inches away from his, and said, "This conversation is over. And that's an order."
Maul's eyes briefly widened, then dropped down deferentially.
Obi-Wan pursed his lips in thought, then took one of Maul's bandaged arms in his hands and asked, "How are you feeling? Are you up for training again?"
Maul looked down at his bandages and said, "I believe so. This should not hinder me. I have trained with worse."
"You don't seem to mind it when I touch you anymore."
"No, I don't."
Obi-Wan gently pressed his thumbs down the length of Maul's inner arm. "Let me know if this hurts."
"The pain is negligible."
After checking the other arm, Obi-Wan said, "All right then. The Council would really like to see you in action in a couple of days, so you should probably get some training in. They were impressed with what little they saw back when you were still locked up in the holding area."
Maul looked up into Obi-Wan's eyes and said, "I will be able to show my abilities more fully if I spar with a partner."
"If you are ready."
A slow smile crossed Obi-Wan's face. "You're on." Stripping off his tunic, he said, "Although from what I saw from you in the cell, you'll make quick work of me."
"You did kill my master," Maul replied, pulling his own tunic off, then his shoes.
"Your master didn't exactly fight," Obi-Wan countered, kicking off his boots. "He just threw Force-lightning around."
"True," Maul noted. "He was not the one to teach me to fight."
"Right, he just hired people to train his Sith apprentice."
"There is a large segment of the Coruscant economy that is dedicated to keeping secrets."
Obi-Wan and Maul walked together to the center of the room, and Obi-Wan quirked an eyebrow and asked, "This isn't going to be a battle to the death, is it? I mean, you do know how to just spar, right?"
With a small feral grin, Maul replied, "Of course. Ready?"
A split second later, Obi-Wan was flat on his back on the ground. "How the hell did you do that?" he gasped.
Maul stood over him, head cocked. "I learned that from a Mandalorian mercenary."
"Damn, can you teach me that one?"
Maul held his hand out and helped Obi-Wan to his feet. "You will want mats brought in for that."
"Yeah, I guess I would," Obi-Wan replied as he rolled his shoulder to get the kinks out. "Okay, this time I'm really ready. Let's just spar. Don't try to throw me yet."
He lasted a little longer this time before falling over.
"You're...unusually flexible," Obi-Wan said as he rubbed his lower back.
"I'll bet you can put both feet behind your head."
"Why would I do that?"
"Never mind," Obi-Wan replied, taking the proffered hand. "Are you sure you didn't kill any of your teachers?"
"They were too expensive to kill."
"Are you just as good with your double-bladed lightsaber as you are with hand-to-hand?"
"Then I'm damned lucky Sidious didn't send you to Naboo instead of doing the job himself."
"He did not think I was ready for a mission on my own."
"He was wrong."
Maul studied Obi-Wan for a long moment, then asked, "Do you really think so?"
Maul pulled thoughtfully on his decorated lower lip, smiled, then scowled and shook his head. "Are you ready to try again?" he barked, pacing in a tight circle.
Obi-Wan's eyes narrowed. "Yes."
This time, Maul ended up on the ground. "How did you...?"
"I took advantage of your distraction. It's how I killed your master."
Obi-Wan held out his hand, and Maul took it, rising fluidly to his feet. Wincing, he reached one hand behind his head and gingerly touched one of his horns.
"Are you all right?" Obi-Wan asked.
"My horn is cracked. It's minor. Again?"
"Let's get mats brought up first," Obi-Wan said, rubbing at his sore shoulder.
"Let me," Maul said, gently turning Obi-Wan around and applying strong fingers to his aching muscle.
Obi-Wan stifled a moan and said, "You don't need to do that, you know."
"I caused the injury. I will treat it."
"You're really good at this," Obi-Wan gasped.
"I have detailed knowledge of anatomy and the physiological responses to stimuli."
"I'll bet your former master never dreamed you'd put it to pleasurable uses."
Maul's hands froze momentarily, then continued their work.
"Oh, sorry," Obi-Wan said sheepishly. "I'd forgotten. Actually, you know what?" he asked, turning around. "Your turn." He turned Maul around and applied a mild healing touch to the cracked horn. "I'm not very good at this, but I can help a little."
It was Maul's turn to gasp. "Master...I..."
"Don't call me that...whoa!" Obi-Wan caught Maul as his knees gave out and guided him over to the sofa. "Hey, are you all right?"
Blinking back tears, a clearly bewildered Maul stammered, "I...that feeling...it felt..."
"I was just healing you. It's supposed to feel nice."
"Nice," Maul repeated, before angrily wiping the tears away. "Nice."
"You're not used to nice, are you?"
There was a knock on the door.
"That would be my art teacher," Maul rasped. "I require a shower." And he bolted for the bathroom.
Obi-Wan let out a long breath, then got up to answer the door.
Weak weak weak.
He has not merely picked up empathy, but a whole host of other emotions from his master. He nearly cried in front of him. Cried. Sith do not cry. Maul does not cry. He has spent the greater part of two decades going through trial after trial without crying. His master tortured him, neglected him, used his body in the most degrading and depraved ways, and never once did he cry.
This is worse than before the bond.
Maul lets the water from the shower run between his horns, and reaches out to make it hotter. He knows that if he turns it up any higher, he will scald himself, but somehow he cannot bring himself to do it. He cannot give himself the punishment he deserves. Snarling in frustration, he rips off his bandages and stares at the nearly healed wounds.
Just a little pressure with his thumbnail in the right place...
"If you'll excuse me," Obi-Wan said, smiling at Jarobe, and heading for the bathroom. Opening the door, he walked in, closed it quietly behind him, and asked, "What do you think you're doing?"
"Showering," Maul hissed in reply.
Obi-Wan pulled open the door to the shower stall and stared in. "What else are you doing?"
Maul moved his thumb away from his wrist. "Nothing."
"What were you doing?"
Maul turned away, staring numbly at the wall.
Obi-Wan stepped fully dressed into the shower and turned off the water. Maul slowly sank to the floor. "Maul, I command you not to injure yourself anymore."
"Yes, Master," he whispered.
"Let me see that," Obi-Wan said, gently taking Maul's wrist and running his thumb over the slightly reopened wound. "Looks like I got here just in time. You won't do this again, right?"
"Then I won't tell anyone that you slipped. Do you want me to heal this?"
Obi-Wan ran his fingers through his wet hair, then said, "I'd call the healers, but I don't think they've helped you any. Look, Jarobe is out there, and I'm willing to bet that painting would make you feel a lot better right now. Maul, look at me."
His golden eyes fixed on Obi-Wan's with a hopeful stare.
"Breathe. Slowly. Feel the strength and the purpose of the Force filling you. Find your calm center. You can do this. Let the tension leave you," he crooned, smoothing at the lines around Maul's eyes and mouth with his thumbs, feeling the pent-up emotions dissolving into calmness. "There, you're feeling better now, aren't you?"
"Yes. Thank you, Master."
Obi-Wan grinned and shook his head. "Stop calling me that. Now get dried off, put on some clothes, and go learn how to paint."
"You're wet," Jarobe noted as Obi-Wan stepped out of the bathroom.
"You're observant," Obi-Wan quipped in return. "Maul will be out shortly. How much do you know about him?"
"I got the full briefing. Ex-Sith who was raised in the order from infancy, severely emotionally damaged as a result, and uses art as an outlet. The only materials he had to work with were animal bones and blood, and he had to hide his work or risk punishment."
"He's not completely an ex-Sith. You'd do well to remember that. And he's very functional for someone who by all rights should spend most of his time curled up in a fetal ball."
"What are you saying?"
"I'm saying not to underestimate him."
"Is he dangerous?"
"Mmm, no. Not really. You're safe. Just don't touch him. He doesn't like that."
Maul emerged from the bathroom, towel slung around his waist. "I require clean clothes. I will be back."
"Wait," Jarobe said, surging to his feet. "Are those tattoos or it that natural pigmentation?"
"I've never seen anything like them before."
"I designed them myself."
Jarobe blinked. "Wow. Those are amazing. Do you mind if I take a look at them?"
"No." The towel hit the ground, and Obi-Wan hid his amused smirk behind his hand.
"Whoa," Jarobe said. "You tattooed your...whoa. Did you do the work yourself?"
"How did you reach...?"
"Obi-Wan has commented that I am remarkably flexible."
"I had seen the pictures of your cell, but I had no idea... You clearly have an amazing amount of native talent, Maul. I am really looking forward to working with you."
Gesturing to the door, Obi-Wan said, "I'll just leave the two of you to it. Call if you need anything." And then he beat a hasty retreat before he started laughing out loud.
"And then he just dropped his towel and stood there totally naked!"
"You're kidding!" Adi howled. "What did Jarobe do?"
"After he got over just how...extensive the tattoos were, he gushed about Maul's artistic talent."
"Trust an artist to be so focused in on the details that he misses the whole picture."
"Not that again!" Obi-Wan groaned.
She grinned. "Face it, he's easy on the eyes."
"Adi, I can't think of him like that."
She shrugged. "Your loss. More tea?"
"That would be great, thanks."
Adi got up off her sofa and headed to her cooking area. "You know, he was a lot more resistant to undressing in front of others not so long ago."
"Well, I ordered him to last time. This time it was his choice."
"That's actually a big step," she said, returning with a steaming mug in each hand and settling back on the sofa with Obi-Wan. "Are you sure he's all right to leave alone right now?"
"Can you feel him from here?"
"Not really, but I think I'd be able to tell if he was agitated. He broadcasts that pretty loudly."
Adi took a sip of tea, then rested the mug in her lap and asked, "So why aren't you spending time with your friends?"
With a sigh, Obi-Wan replied, "Adi, my life has changed so much in the past couple of weeks. I lost my master and discovered the Sith still existed when I killed the Sith master. Now I have a Sith apprentice following me around like an abused pet, and I've got the ear of the entire Jedi Council." He paused, then said, "I really don't have that much in common with my friends anymore."
"Well, you know you can come to me if you need to talk."
"I do appreciate it, but I hate to take you away from your duties."
Adi grinned and put her feet up on her coffee table. "Are you kidding? It's a nice break. I've only been on the council for a few years, but it's exhausting. And besides, I like you. I'm really glad I got to know you. I just wish it hadn't been under such...trying circumstances."
"You and me both," Obi-Wan replied, lifting his mug in a toast.
"It's late," Obi-Wan commented as he walked into Maul's quarters.
Totally engrossed in his work, Maul didn't reply. There were canvases propped up all over the room, each covered with intricate abstract swaths of color. Obi-Wan slowly walked from canvas to canvas, drinking in the varied emotions pouring from each piece. "These are amazing," he murmured. "Jarobe told me you were a quick study, but I had no idea. And you're using more than just red. Okay, still mostly red, but not just red." He paused and looked back over at Maul. "Have you heard a single word I've said?"
Maul continued painting.
"Apparently not," Obi-Wan quipped. He settled down on the sofa and watched, absorbing the clear sense of focus radiating from Maul. This felt right.
Obi-Wan awoke to the sensation of fingers brushing across his face. He must have fallen asleep on the sofa. Slowly opening his eyes, he saw Maul studying his face intently, fingers smoothing paint across Obi-Wan's skin. "What are you doing?" Obi-Wan whispered.
"Giving you warrior markings. Close your eyes."
Obi-Wan obeyed, feeling the gentle touch of paint being smoothed over his eyelids. "Is this permanent?" he asked.
"No. Not unless you want it to be."
Obi-Wan opened his eyes again, watching as Maul turned and dipped his fingers in a jar of red paint. "Why are you doing this?"
"You killed Sidious. You've earned them."
"You just ran out of blank canvases, didn't you?" Obi-Wan joked.
The eyes that turned back to meet his held no trace of humor in them, and Obi-Wan suppressed a shudder. Naked devotion was all he could read in them, and a small voice in the back of his head pointed out that maybe Adi wasn't the only one who found Maul attractive anymore.
"I'm sorry," Obi-Wan said. "I'm honored."
The two men lapsed into silence as Maul continued his work, fingers gracefully dancing over Obi-Wan's hypersensitive skin as if he were intimately aware of where each and every nerve ending lay. Obi-Wan had to stifle a gasp when Maul applied stripes of paint to his lower lip, the touch was so electric. He'd never been the object of this kind of scrutiny before, and certainly not from someone as focused as Maul. It was unnerving, and more than a little exciting, but at the same time it comforted him as well. "I'm finished," Maul finally said, sitting back and wiping his fingers off on his shirt.
Obi-Wan sat up from the sofa, pushed himself up to his feet, and headed to the bathroom, Maul following several paces behind him. Gaze fixed at the floor, Obi-Wan walked up to the mirror, grabbed hold of the sink, and looked up.
This time it was Maul's turn to brace Obi-Wan.
Obi-Wan gaped at the mirror, gaped at the image it presented him. He looked ferocious, feral, noble. He wanted to think that he looked nothing like himself, but it wasn't true. Maul had somehow found a buried part of Obi-Wan and brought it to the surface. He slowly became aware of Maul's firm hand between his shoulder blades and blinked himself back into full awareness. "This is amazing," Obi-Wan murmured. "I feel..." He furrowed his brow, watching as the image in the mirror did the same, only it looked so much more powerful there. "I feel very strong, actually. I feel like a different person."
"You're not," Maul replied, looking over Obi-Wan's shoulder and into the mirror.
"Is this how you see me?"
Obi-Wan stared into their joint image in the mirror, feeling every millimeter of the painted designs on his own face. Their patterns were so different, but had been made by the same hand, driven by the same soul. He could feel something growing between them, something dancing and seductive and alive, twining together like the twisting lines on their faces. So easy. It would be so easy to fall into this. The golden eyes drew him in and he turned and reached out to cup a patterned cheek in his hand...
...then gasped and stepped back, shaking off the incipient bond. "Sorry," he murmured. "Didn't mean to let that happen."
Maul drew in a ragged breath and sagged against the doorframe. "No, of course not."
"You didn't expect that either, did you?"
Maul's brow furrowed. "No, I didn't."
"But you'd like it."
"I have never hidden that from you."
Obi-Wan let out a deep breath. "Well, thank you for this," he said, gesturing at his face. "I will be washing it, but not right away."
"If you want me to do it again at any time, I will."
With a shy grin, Obi-Wan replied, "I may just take you up on that." Clearing his throat, he continued, "Why don't you show me your artwork from yesterday?"
"Yesterday?" Maul seemed genuinely puzzled.
Obi-Wan glanced out into the living area at the chronometer. "It's morning. Were you up painting all night?"
"I...must have been. I wasn't tired."
"You really had no idea?"
"I haven't seen a sun since Naboo."
Guiltily, Obi-Wan said, "Oh. Well, we'll have to rectify that. Look, you should get some sleep, and when you wake, I'll make you something to eat and we can talk about your art then."
"I don't require sleep."
Maul closed his eyes and murmured, "Not from staying up all night."
"No, I know," Obi-Wan replied, guiding an oddly unprotesting Maul into the bedroom. "Sometimes...sometimes I wish I could be what you needed. Just get some sleep."
After watching Maul's golden eyes close and his face soften with the quick approach of sleep, Obi-Wan crept to his own quarters and called Adi.
"Are you all right?"
"Maul misses the sun."
"We'll fix that. Anything else?"
Obi-Wan hesitated, then said, "No, nothing else. Thank you, Adi."
His eyes snapped open. "Master, I..."
"Relax," Obi-Wan smiled down at him, hand pressed gently against Maul's sternum. "You're not in trouble. You've just been asleep for a while and I figured I should wake you up. Your doctor's going to be here in about half an hour to look at your arms."
"The paint dried and started cracking, so I washed it. Come on, get up. I cooked dinner."
"Yes, dinner. Like I said, you've been asleep for a while." He got off the bed and extended his hand.
Maul took it, raised himself from the bed, and let himself be led to the living area, where he stopped and stared open-mouthed at the sight before him.
"Your room actually does have windows," Obi-Wan noted with a smile. "The Council just wasn't sure about giving you access to them."
Maul slowly walked across the room and pressed his hands against the surface of the glass, staring out at the setting sun as its light reflected off the windows of Coruscant. "The view is magnificent," he croaked, throat tight with emotion.
"I know." Obi-Wan bit his lip in thought, then asked, "Would you like to eat there? I could bring your plate over to the window."
"Yes I would."
Dinner passed in silence as Maul continued to stare out the window, enraptured by the vivid colors of the Coruscant sunset. As the sun finally disappeared completely over the horizon, there was a knock at the door.
"I'll get it," Obi-Wan said, pushing his chair back and heading for the door. "It's Doctor Heen."
"Hello, Maul," she smiled. "You're looking a lot better than the last time I saw you."
Maul turned and narrowed his eyes at her. "My arms are fine."
"I still need to take a look, just to be sure."
Maul opened his mouth to protest, but Obi-Wan held up his hand and said, "You need to do this, Maul."
"Your health is our responsibility."
"And when do I get to exercise control over what happens to my own body?"
"As soon as you prove yourself capable of doing so," Obi-Wan countered.
Maul opened his mouth, closed it, then said, "I will do this for you."
Doctor Heen's smile faltered, but she valiantly plastered it back on as she crossed the room. "Would you like to sit down?" Maul made no move whatsoever to reply. "Um, is that a no? Okay, we'll just look at you here. If you'll just hold out your arms..."
Maul glared over at Obi-Wan, who nodded. Maul then reluctantly pushed up his sleeves and bared his arms for the doctor. She gently reached out to touch the largest of the scabs, and Maul hissed and pulled his arm back.
"Sorry, did that hurt?" she asked.
"Oh, sorry," Obi-Wan said, crossing the room to stand by Maul's side. "He's not comfortable being touched." Turning to Maul, he said, "I know you're going to hate this, but see if you can't let her do her job, all right?"
"You do it," Maul hissed.
"I'm not a doctor." Putting a stabilizing hand on Maul's back, he said, "Now let her try again."
Maul gritted his teeth as the doctor gingerly poked and prodded at his scabs for a few seconds. "You look good!" she said nervously, smile straining.
"You barely looked at him!" Obi-Wan protested.
"She looked enough," Maul snarled, and the doctor backed up several paces, eyes wide with fright.
"No, she didn't," Obi-Wan barked. "Doctor Heen, he's not going to hurt you. Now please, if you would give him a proper exam."
"He'll be fine," she stammered. "He's healing well."
"Are you sure? Just look, please, and be sure."
She inched back nervously, glancing down at Maul's arms. "Well, I am a little concerned about one of those cuts."
She pointed, careful not to touch. "That one on his wrist. It's not as healed as the rest of them, and that worries me."
"Ah, that one was reopened by accident," Obi-Wan noted, casting a sidelong glance at Maul.
"Oh, well, that's understandable I suppose. That probably wouldn't have happened if you'd kept the bandages on..." She met Maul's gaze, and he snarled at her. Jumping back with a gasp, she grabbed at her chest with one hand, but quickly calmed herself and continued, "So I'll just leave you some bacta ointment for it. Put it on the area twice daily."
Obi-Wan glared at Maul as the doctor pulled the ointment from her medkit and then beat a hasty retreat. "Was that really necessary?" he asked after the door closed behind her. "I know you don't like being touched, but that was over the top, even for you."
"I don't like doctors," Maul growled as he began to pace the length of the room.
He shook his head. "I don't know why. I just don't."
"Did Sidious have doctors do things to you?"
Maul stopped, fists clenched, clearly searching his memory, before snarling and resuming his pacing. "I can't remember."
"Then he probably did."
With a roar, Maul kicked through one of his paintings.
"Wait, don't do that!" Obi-Wan protested, but Maul didn't listen. He turned to another piece, picking it up off the ground and smashing his fist through it, then ripping the canvas to shreds. Obi-Wan took one look at the fire in Maul's eyes and stepped back, making the heartrending decision not to interfere. Arms wrapped tightly around himself, Obi-Wan watched from a safe distance as Maul methodically destroyed each and every canvas in the room, save one. When he reached that last one, he dropped to his knees, breathing hard, and stared at it with bright eyes.
"What's that one?" Obi-Wan tentatively asked.
"It's the one memory I have from before Sidious," he whispered.
"What is it?"
He shook his head. "I don't know. I was just a baby."
Obi-Wan walked over and stood next to Maul, reaching down and putting a hand on his shoulder. "It's beautiful."
"Would you like more canvases? Do you want to start over?"
Maul looked back at the ruins of his previous work, and his shoulders sagged. "Not tonight."
Destruction has never hurt like this before.
He was accustomed to destroying all evidence of his work to avoid punishment, but this...doing it of his own choice. It hurts. He feels like he's bleeding inside, a feeling he is well acquainted with. Only this is no physical wound.
He has made a choice, and he regrets it.
Would this have happened had they successfully bonded earlier today? The bond had taken Maul by surprise; he did not realize what was happening until it was over. He will have to be more careful in the future not to let an opportunity like that slip past him again. Had he noticed what was happening, he would have dived in head first, dragging his master along with him.
He looks back at his remaining painting, feeling the stabbing pain of remembrance. Color, warmth, safety.
And then the abject terror when it was all ripped away.
He had nearly mastered the terror. Now it is back and he is at its mercy.
This is not how it is supposed to go.
His resolve is slipping. He needs to find his focus again. Needs to regain his purpose.
Perhaps he should go with his strengths.
As the morning sunlight filled the room, the two men sparred. Obi-Wan hit the mat with an "oof," then said, "I held you off a while that time!"
Maul reached his hand down to help Obi-Wan to his feet. "You're learning."
"I think they'll be impressed this afternoon, although I'm sure they'll have you fighting better people than me."
"If you think I'm the best fighter the Jedi have to offer, you're sorely mistaken."
"But you understand me. You anticipate my moves."
"I'm also too slow to block most of them. Again, or do you not want to tire yourself out before this afternoon?"
"You've injured your shoulder again. We should stop."
"It's not that bad."
"Would you like me to massage it for you?"
"No, I'm fine."
"It would be no trouble."
"Ah, but I'm an altruistic Jedi, and I'd feel compelled to return the favor."
Maul paused, then nodded. "Understood. I'll just go shower."
"Same here," Obi-Wan said, heading back towards his own quarters. "Oh, did you get any of that child development reading done yet?"
"No. I spent the morning cleaning up from last night."
"Where did you...?"
"The broken canvases are in the bedroom."
"Okay. Well, you should probably start in on the reading soon. I'm sure they're going to want to talk to you about it. Hell, you're a fast reader. You could probably finish it before this afternoon."
"Is this something I must do?" Maul asked hesitantly.
"You've read everything else we've put in front of you. Why is this bothering you?"
Maul's gaze flicked to the remaining painting, then back to Obi-Wan. "You're right. I should do that reading. I'm being a coward."
"You're not a coward. Eight days ago you couldn't call me by name without grabbing your throat."
"I know. It feels like so much more, doesn't it?"
Maul looked back at his painting, index finger rubbing the base of his left temple horn, face impassive. "I should shower and read," he murmured.
"I'll be in my quarters. Knock if you need me."
Obi-Wan headed to his own quarters, closed the door behind him, and headed for the shower. Shrugging off his clothes, he stepped under the warm spray and let it wash over him. As usual, now that he was away from Maul, he felt a strange emptiness inside that let all the pain of losing Qui-Gon come rushing back in. Head bowed, he let the tears mingle with the cascading water as it flowed off his body and slipped down the drain.
"I read your books," Maul said from the sofa as Obi-Wan, Adi, and Eeth arrived in his quarters. He was dressed to spar in loose pants and a tank top.
"Good," Eeth replied, sitting down on the arm of one of the chairs. "What did you think?"
"I know all the ways in which you think I am emotionally crippled. I understand what you think of me because of it."
"Do you understand that what Sidious did to you was wrong?"
"Yes. He would have been far more successful had he taken me later in life."
Eeth shook his head, saying, "That's not exactly what we had in mind for you to get out of this."
Adi stepped forward and asked, "Do you understand how you might have turned out differently had you stayed with your parents?"
"I have no idea what species I am. For all I know, my parents would have raised me to be just the same."
Obi-Wan pointed to the lone painting and said, "I don't get that impression."
Maul looked for a long moment at his work, then closed his eyes and said, "I honestly cannot envision how my life would be right now had I been raised either by my parents or by the Jedi." When he opened his eyes again, they were steely. "Is it time to show me off to your colleagues now?"
"Are you willing?" Adi asked.
"It's better than being locked up in here all day."
She cast a quick glance at Obi-Wan, who shrugged, and she said, "All right then. Let's go."
The halls were eerily deserted as the four of them made their way to the main auditorium, flanked by a full dozen knights. Once they got there, Eeth gestured Maul to the center mats, where a group of seven Jedi fighters awaited him. Obi-Wan joined Eeth and Adi in the small group of spectators and looked around; the full Council was here, as well as a few other masters, but that was it.
And then Obi-Wan watched as Maul beat fighter after fighter in rapid succession.
Adi leaned over and murmured, "He's not even breathing hard."
"I know. I thought they'd be more of a challenge to him," Obi-Wan replied. "I last longer against him than they did."
They tried again, this time in groups of two, then four. Still he beat them, sending one out of the fight with a broken nose. The remaining six took him on together, and did moderately well before being soundly defeated.
Ki-Adi Mundi looked down at Maul appraisingly. "Your focus is very different than our fighters'. I believe that is your advantage. They fight for victory, but you fight for survival, even though you know you are not threatened."
"That is why one fights," Maul replied.
"Indeed. We appear to have forgotten that."
"Not to downplay your physical abilities," Saesee Tin added. "And your Force abilities. Your training was exemplary, and your body is a finely honed weapon. Do you think you could try fighting more instructionally? I would like to see you make a fight last longer so we can examine your technique."
As Maul wiped the floor much more slowly with his two opponents, Adi leaned over to Obi-Wan and said, "I heard from Doctor Heen."
"Wonderful. Is she all right?"
"She's been happier. Do you have any idea what set him off?"
"For starters, she touched him. And apparently he has issues with doctors. I asked him about it, and he said he didn't remember Sidious sending doctors after him, but that doesn't mean he didn't. I have a feeling that Maul has probably forgotten a lot of his childhood for sanity's sake."
"I'm guessing that his physiology wasn't solely molded by the Force," Adi noted.
"You're probably right. And it's probably too much to hope that anesthesia was used. I'm actually surprised he didn't have problems in the infirmary."
"I don't think he saw a doctor when he was conscious."
"That would explain it."
"Did he calm down after she left?"
"No. He actually destroyed nearly every piece of art he'd created. I tried to stop him, but it felt like something he really needed to do."
"He's carrying around a lot of anger all of a sudden. I don't think we've seen him angry before."
"To be expected that is," Yaddle interjected from her seat in front of them. "More aware of his limitations he is now. More that will bother him."
"Is Obi-Wan in any danger?" Adi asked.
"Mindful you should be of Maul's emotions, Obi-Wan. But discourage his anger, you should not. Helpful part of his growth process, it is. If feel yourself in danger you do, call us."
Adi winced at the action on the floor. "Ooh, he's just toying with them now."
"If I didn't know any better, I'd say he's having fun."
"Thank you, Maul," Saesee said as he stood up. "You can stop embarrassing our fighters now. We're all most impressed with your abilities, and would very much like it if you helped train our fighters."
"If my master wishes it."
"I do," Obi-Wan said.
"Thank you. You may go now," Saesee said.
Obi-Wan walked down from the stands and rejoined his companion. "What did you think?" he asked, suddenly acutely aware of the thin sheen of sweat covering Maul's body.
"I think my previous master might have triumphed against you had he retained any physical fighting abilities."
The two of them headed out to the empty hallways, once again accompanied by a full regiment of guards. "Would you have preferred that?" Obi-Wan asked.
Maul silently contemplated the question, pace unwavering. As they neared his quarters, he finally said, "My life would be much easier had he won."
"And much more brutal."
"I was used to that."
"But did you like it?"
They stopped outside Maul's door, and he looked Obi-Wan dead in the eye and said, "At least then I had a purpose."
"You can have one again."
"Doubtful." Maul walked into his quarters, grabbed some fruit, and started eating.
"Of course you'll have a purpose," Obi-Wan replied.
"Really? And what will it be?"
"You just heard them. They want you to train fighters."
"Train Jedi to be better Jedi," Maul snarled. "And I'm supposed to find that fulfilling?"
"You said you'd do it."
"Because you want me to. So, will that be my function for the rest of my life? Training Jedi how to fight?"
"No. There'll be more."
"Well, what do you want to do? Do you even know?"
"I want to do what I was trained to do all my life."
"Which was what? Be obedient? Afraid? Sneaky?"
"I was trained to fight and to conquer."
"Jedi don't do that."
"And why not?"
"The code forbids it."
"Ah yes, your code." Maul finished off the fruit and sucked his fingers clean, a gesture that made Obi-Wan's mouth suddenly grow dry. "Why is it that you allow your abilities to be constrained by a selfless code? Why can't you use them for personal gain?"
"Because due to our abilities, we're stronger than most people, and we need a code to prevent us from abusing our power."
"There's a difference between abusing your power and using your power."
"A difference the Sith don't seem to care about," Obi-Wan countered.
"Every other creature in the Republic is allowed to have selfish interests. Why not the Jedi? Why do you only get to use your abilities for enforced altruism?"
"Like I said, so we don't take unfair advantage of other people."
"Because you're stronger than them."
"Which means you're better than them."
"Now hold on..."
"And you should rule them."
"No, that's not the Jedi way."
"Let me see if I have this straight," Maul said as he advanced on Obi-Wan. "Because you're powerful and have abilities the majority of the populace doesn't have, you need to be locked away and bound by self-abnegating rules. You're punished for being strong."
"We're not punished! We use our abilities to help others."
"You don't have any choice in the matter."
"I like what I do. We all do."
"You were indoctrinated to since infancy."
"As were you," Obi-Wan countered.
The two men stood nose to nose for a tense moment before Maul finally purred, "Which is why I can't spend my life working for the Jedi."
"I don't see that you have much choice in the matter," Obi-Wan murmured.
"And why not?"
"Because I'm a Jedi, and you swore an oath of obedience to me."
Maul grinned, and Obi-Wan felt a shiver travel up his spine. "Ah, but you taught me there are always choices."
Obi-Wan cleared his throat and stepped around Maul, desperately trying to shake off this sudden attack of nerves. "Well, we'll deal with that when you're ready. Look, what do you want to do with the rest of your day?"
"Those fighters were substandard. I still want to fight."
Obi-Wan turned around and looked at Maul, who was standing at the edge of the exercise mat, clenching and unclenching his fists. "I'm not any better than them," Obi-Wan said.
"Yes you are."
"You always beat me."
"I never beat you."
"You know what I mean."
"As do you."
Obi-Wan stared at Maul for a long moment, then nodded and shrugged off his tunic as Maul pulled his already sweaty tank top over his head. "Let's do it."
The two men advanced to the mat at the center of the room, gazes locked, each looking for any sign of weakness in the other. They waited, deep in a stare-down, for an opening that did not come. Obi-Wan recognized this as a match of patience, and stilled himself to the core, his entire body prepared to spring into action at a moment's notice. This was a battle he knew he could win. These past eight days had been a testament to his patience--another few minutes would be no problem. His breathing slowed, heartbeat softened, focus narrowed. Slowly he became aware that his eyes were starting to dry as they ached to blink, and suddenly realized that he had hardly ever seen Maul blink. Those sunburst eyes would never surrender unless he commanded them to. A small smile creased his face as he felt his lids start to close of their own accord, and knew that the strike was imminent.
Maul did not disappoint.
But Obi-Wan was ready for him. Neatly sidestepping the deft lunge, Obi-Wan tackled Maul from behind and flipped him to the mat, pinning him with the full weight of his body. "How did you know?" Maul rasped.
"Blinking is a sign of hesitation."
"Not always." Obi-Wan slowly rose up off of Maul's back and sat on his heels as Maul got up on all fours and looked over at him appraisingly.
"Using weakness to your advantage. A novel idea."
"It worked for you."
"What do you mean?
"Look where weakness got you. Smack in the heart of the Jedi Temple with a large chunk of our resources dedicated to your well-being."
Maul pushed himself up into a kneeling position. "That wasn't my intention."
"It still worked."
"Why did you take me in? Why didn't you reject me on the spot?"
Obi-Wan closed his eyes for a moment, saying, "Because that's what Qui-Gon would have wanted." Opening them again, he pressed his hand to his breastbone, desperately trying to contain the burn of loss, then rose to his feet and said, "I'll just shower and be back for dinner."
He headed for his quarters, leaving Maul kneeling in the center of the mat.
Dinner was late and silent, and when it was over, Obi-Wan found himself back in his quarters, pacing restlessly. With a small laugh, he realized that pacing was something he'd picked up from Maul, but that didn't still his feet. Back and forth, in front of the wall separating their two quarters. He pressed his palm against the cool surface, imagining that he could feel Maul doing the same from the other side.
Was he imagining? Was this just conceit on his part? It didn't feel like it, but that was the tricky thing about conceit. It preyed on the ego, convincing you that any crazy thing was possible so long as it was all about you. Conceit, or just heightened awareness of Maul?
And what was the difference between heightened awareness and a bond? Semantics, most likely. True, what he was feeling was nothing like the bond he'd had with Qui-Gon, and certainly nothing like what he felt the one time he and Maul had nearly bonded. Okay, the first time he and Maul had nearly bonded. Still, this was something that he had with no one else. He'd never felt this before.
Should he tell Yaddle or Adi? They both knew he had this awareness of Maul's emotions, and neither seemed concerned, so perhaps that meant he shouldn't be either. Surely if this were a problem, they would have said so. Wouldn't they?
Pacing. Obi-Wan knew he should try to sleep, but he'd already tried, and sleep hadn't come. Leaning against the wall, pressing his cheek on the bare white expanse, he imagined Maul on the other side doing the very same thing and laughed again at his conceit.
He leans against the wall, head tilted as his central and foremost right horns rest against it, arms spread wide. The cool surface drains the heat from his forehead, from his bare chest, but still he cannot sleep. He is restless, and he can feel his master's restlessness radiating from the other apartment. He's looked at his paints, but he still feels the loss from yesterday, feels almost as though it would be a dishonor to the work he's destroyed to replace it so soon. His fingers trace patterns on the wall. He can visualize in his mind how his master would look decorated in them. He would be magnificent. If he could only decorate Obi-Wan from head to toe, he would see what strength lay within him. He would not need the Council, the Jedi; only Maul.
His master must feel it too.
Obi-Wan found himself opening the door between their two apartments, not at all surprised to see Maul pushing himself away from the wall. Wordlessly, he walked over to the art supplies, picked up a jar of red paint, and handed it to Maul. Maul solemnly took the jar from Obi-Wan's hand as Obi-Wan shrugged out of his tunic and dropped it to the floor, waiting.
Maul dipped his fingers in the jar and started tracing spiral patterns over Obi-Wan's face as Obi-Wan stood there in a trance, feeling both oddly detached from his body and hyperaware of it all at the same time. He could see in his mind's eye exactly how he looked, even though there wasn't a mirror in sight. The patterns were different this time, Maul's touch more purposeful. Slick fingers danced across his cheeks, his forehead, his nose, his lips. The touch was electric--the swirls being painted on his face seemed to thrum with energy, even after Maul's fingers had moved on.
One final touch on his chin, painting in his cleft, then strong fingers fluttered paint down his neck, and he found himself leaning away from the touch to give Maul access to a greater surface area. He was hypnotized by Maul's gaze; Obi-Wan had never been treated like a piece of art before, but he could feel the devotion, the worship flowing from Maul's fingers as he painted loops and whorls over his naked chest. He'd tried looking earlier when Maul was painting his face, but the intensity was too much for him. He'd had to close his eyes to just keep breathing. But now that Maul was no longer looking at his face, he could watch. Still, he didn't need to look at Maul to know where Maul was looking. That concentration burned the skin it focused on.
Despite the gentleness of the touch, this was the most intense physical sensation he'd ever felt, and a wave of dizziness washed over him, but through sheer determination, he remained on his feet. The energy from the patterns was buzzing through his entire body, and he wondered if this was what it was like to be Maul, to have these designs full-time. Maul was working as much with the Force as he was with paint; tracing the energy lines that whirled around Obi-Wan, focusing them into intense channels. As Maul's fingers slowly moved further down his torso, Obi-Wan found it increasingly difficult to keep his knees from giving out, and a part of him urged him to give in, especially as Maul dropped to his knees and swirled paint into his navel.
And then suddenly Maul's hands were on his waistband and Obi-Wan belatedly realized that he had one of the most intense erections of his life. He could feel Maul swallowing hard and cringing as he moved to pull down Obi-Wan's pants, but he seemed oddly determined, despite his obvious discomfort.
No, that's not how Obi-Wan wanted it.
Obi-Wan knelt, grabbed Maul's face, and kissed him.
Eyes wide, hands scrabbling in the air, nonononono this is not supposed to be happening. Why won't his master just let him service him and be done with it? Why is he dragging Maul along with him? Not fair, not fair...he hasn't done anything wrong. He doesn't deserve this, hasn't earned this. Please no, please please no.
One gentle hand wraps around the back of Maul's head, another strong hand presses on his lower back, strong paint-slicked chest against his, and he finds himself softening. Maybe...maybe this is all right. It's what his master wants. He has not earned this, but Obi-Wan will be far less cruel to him than Sidious. It's wrong, but it won't be humiliating, degrading, painful. He won't spend the night curled up in the corner, shaking, vomiting, and bleeding.
A tongue teases at his lips, and he obediently opens them, shocked at the intensity of the sensation. It is just two mouths meeting, but the experience is overwhelming. He's dizzy, grabs hold of Obi-Wan so he won't fall, and finds himself moaning into his mouth. He can feel his heart hammering in his chest, and knows that Obi-Wan must feel it too. The hand on his back slides down the back of his pants, and he's moaning again, writhing, helpless under his master's touch. A push of Obi-Wan's hand, a shift of Maul's hips, and he feels his erection brush against his master's and jerks back with a sharp gasp.
His master smiles, then ducks his head, pushing Maul's pants down around his bent knees and taking him in his mouth and Maul thinks he is going to die. No no no wrong, he's not supposed to feel pleasure, not supposed to be in the master's mouth, not supposed to take. He's falling, falling, and then there are strong hands bracing him by his shoulder blades, and Maul distantly realizes that he's bent over backwards, head inches from the floor.
No, it can't be like this. He needs to take control. Needs to make sure his master is fulfilled. Needs to maintain the proper order of things. Silently begging his master for forgiveness for such brazen disobedience, Maul takes Obi-Wan's head in his hands, pulls it up, and rolls him over onto his back. Covering Obi-Wan's body with his own, he brings his mouth back down to kiss his master fiercely, grabbing Obi-Wan's wrists in strong hands and holding them over his head. If Obi-Wan will not allow him to service him, he will force him to. The proper order must be maintained. His master has to understand this.
But he feels a soothing caress in his head, a gentle touch, an odd dissolution, and then he is lost in sensation. Legs twined with his master's, he feels their bodies moving together, straining for release. This is nothing like anything he's ever experienced. Nothing like the furtive playing with his own body before Sidious punished the urge out of him. Nothing like the times his body had betrayed him when his former master had used him. He didn't realize he had this many nerve endings, didn't realize that something could feel so wonderful without killing him, never thought it was possible to be this close to another being without one of them being subservient to the other. Never thought mind and body could join so joyously.
The world explodes around them. For a glorious moment, they are one.
And slowly become two again
As the feeling crept back into Obi-Wan's extremities, he tightened his arms around the trembling figure draped across his chest. "Maul?" he whispered.
Maul's head jerked up abruptly. "Shower," he croaked, and dashed for the bathroom.
Obi-Wan propped himself up on his elbow, wrinkled his brow, then said, "Shit."
Maul scrubs himself briskly with the soap, cursing himself under his breath, desperately trying to snap out of the pleasurable haze that permeates him to the bone. This was not what he wanted. This was not supposed to be pleasurable for him. He let himself be distracted by his traitorous body and the bond slipped through his fingers like sand. He'd almost had it. Almost. So close.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Sidious was right to teach him to deny his body pleasures. They are addictive, distracting, counterproductive. It was right there! He had it! And then in the dazed afterglow, he let it go.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
He watches the red paint swirling down the shower drain and lets himself be drawn in by it, thinking back to the swirls he decorated his master with...
He can still feel pieces of his master inside of him.
Pushing aside the self-recrimination, shaking off the lush haze, he searches deeply, examining every corner, every niche of his mind. The echoes of Obi-Wan clearly linger. He can feel them giving him badly-needed strength. He focuses, letting the strength grow and fill him, sliding into every millimeter of his body. There is steel in his veins. He is alone, but not weaker for it. For the first time in his life, he feels strong on his own.
They may not have bonded, but Maul has what he needs.
It won't be long now.
Obi-Wan was waiting for him as he stepped out of the shower. "I'm sorry."
"Don't apologize," Maul said, reaching for a towel.
"I shouldn't have let myself go like that. You were clearly upset. I was just...it had been a long time, and I guess I just didn't think."
"I am fine," Maul said offhandedly as he unabashedly dried his naked body. "I was simply unused to the sensation of consensual and pleasurable sexuality and needed a little time to adjust."
"You're sure?" Obi-Wan asked, looking uncomfortably at the floor.
"When the Council finds out what I've done..."
"You don't have to tell them."
Obi-Wan sighed and leaned against the wall. "I really should."
"I'm fine. You don't need to tell them anything." Maul noted Obi-Wan's careful aversion of his eyes and wrapped the towel around his waist. "Why don't you take a shower and wash the paint off of your body? It's all smeared."
"I'm sorry I didn't get to look at what you painted."
"You felt it. That is enough."
"I did. Well, I should go back to my place to shower. You don't have any shampoo. You sure you're all right?"
"Okay. Are we...uh, are we going to do that again?"
Maul stared at Obi-Wan for a long moment, face unreadable. "I don't know."
"I should go."
Obi-Wan silently returned to his quarters and made a beeline to the bathroom, where he stopped and stared at the image the mirror presented. Red smears covered his face and chest, making him look for all the world like a predator soaked in blood. "What have I done?" he whispered to the figure in the mirror. "What have I done?"
The sun rose, and a sleepless Obi-Wan watched the view from his sofa, legs tucked up against his chest. He'd made a massive, massive mistake last night. There was no excuse for what he'd let happen. None at all. If he were lucky, the Council would simply cut him loose and ship him off to the Agricorps. If he weren't...
He didn't deserve to get lucky.
He was pretty damned sure that the Council's charge to look after Maul didn't include having sex with him. Maul had made it clear that he would obey Obi-Wan in everything, so could he really have fully consented? Obviously not, no matter how much he might try to claim otherwise. Maul had so clearly been distressed...no, frightened when Obi-Wan kissed him, but he'd kept going anyway, pushing his way into Maul's mind to dissolve his apprehension. That was a blatant violation of Jedi ethics, but he'd done it without a second thought. And never mind the fact that they'd formed a temporary bond during the act. At least this time it dissolved on its own, which was damned lucky for both of them.
Okay, lucky for Obi-Wan.
He was going to have to tell the Council, tell Adi. There were no two ways around it. What he'd done was wrong, and the only thing to do was let them know now before things got any worse. Adi had put so much faith in him and in Maul...this was going to hurt her most of all. He had to make sure she knew this wasn't her fault. He would shoulder all the blame.
He didn't even want to think what Qui-Gon would have thought of this whole mess. He kept trying to convince himself that every decision he made, he made in Qui-Gon's memory, but that was a lie. Oh yes, he'd made some very altruistic decisions that would have made Qui-Gon proud, but then he'd turned around and sullied them with his own selfish needs and fears. "I've dishonored your memory," he whispered. "I'm sorry. I'll make up for it. I swear."
Blinking back tears, Obi-Wan stood up and opened the connecting door between their quarters, then stifled a gasp as he saw Maul standing directly on the other side, waiting.
"I've never actually seen your quarters," Maul commented coolly, leaning one hand against the doorframe.
"Oh, um, sure. Come in," Obi-Wan said, stepping back to let Maul pass through the door. "Sorry, you just startled me."
"I'm surprised," Maul said as he took in his surroundings. "I knew you were coming to the door. Are you shutting me out?"
"I needed to think, so yes, I was shutting you out."
Maul fingered a wall hanging appraisingly, then turned and looked at a row of photographs. "Family?"
"Friends. I don't really know my family."
"You should, you know. It's not fair of the Jedi to have taken them from you."
"Maybe I will someday. I don't know."
"You've been thinking about last night, haven't you?"
"Yes. I'm going to have to tell the Council what happened."
Maul looked over his shoulder at Obi-Wan. "If you do that, they'll separate us."
"That would probably be for the best."
"You don't want that, though."
"This is no longer about what I want. It's about doing the right thing as a Jedi," Obi-Wan sighed, shoulders slumped, looking at the floor.
Striding across the room and grabbing Obi-Wan by the forearms, Maul growled, "You cannot tell the Council. We can hide this together. You know as well as I do that we belong together. Last night proved it."
"Last night proved just the opposite!" Obi-Wan barked as he broke free and crossed the room. "I can't be trusted with you. My judgement is way off."
"You felt something last night and you know it."
"What I felt was something expressly forbidden by the code! Masters and padawans are not supposed to do that."
"I'm not a padawan."
"Dammit Maul, I can't do this anymore, don't you get it?" Obi-Wan yelled, tears starting to well up in his eyes. "The more time I spend with you, the less I live by the Jedi code. I've been hiding things from the Council for you."
"You don't need the Council. We don't need anything but each other."
"I'm a Jedi, Maul. I've trained my whole life to be a Jedi. It's all I have. Being a Jedi means everything to me. I can't be around you any more."
"Obi-Wan, we're stronger together and you know it."
"I'm weaker when I'm with you! You're rubbing off on me."
"And you on me. You know you feel it. We could be glorious together..." Maul slowly advanced on Obi-Wan, hand stretched before him.
Obi-Wan stared helplessly through his haze of tears, feeling his hand rising up to meet Maul's of its own accord, and he saw his future flashing before his eyes. Darkness welling up before him, the Jedi Temple in flames, bitterly hunting down and killing all of his friends, seeing Maul die under the swing of his lightsaber, and all the while the darkness pulling him down...down...
And Qui-Gon's disapproval echoing through his soul.
"Don't touch me!" Obi-Wan howled, Force-palming Maul across the room. "I want no part of you! You've done nothing for me, do you hear me? Nothing! You don't deserve me. Do you have any idea how much I've sacrificed for you? I've given up my friends, my training, a padawan, my future." The tears started trailing down his face. "I've even put aside grieving for my master for you! I ache so badly inside, but I've been ignoring it just for you. And for what? What the hell am I getting out of this? Temptation to the Dark Side? Well, what a prize! I am a Jedi, Maul. A Jedi. But thanks to you, not a very good one. You know, we both lost our masters, but you just took the easy way out and found a new one! But I can't do that, no matter how much I want to!" Obi-Wan's breath hitched in his throat, then he choked out, "I miss Qui-Gon so much," before dissolving into sobs.
When he finally looked back at Maul again, through the haze of tears, he saw nothing but disgust.
This is intolerable. Obi-Wan will never turn. Never be strong enough to lead Maul, to lead the order. He was wrong. All this time Maul spent trying to get Obi-Wan to see his true strength has been a waste. He does not truly possess the strength required to be the Sith master. He is too afraid to seize control of his emotions and rule them instead of letting himself be ruled by them. He holds on to petty loyalties--to a master who was not strong enough to live, to a Council that is not strong enough to see, to a Code that is not strong enough to rule. If Maul stays with him, follows him, he will never restore the Sith order. All his training, all his suffering will be a waste. His entire life will lose all sense of purpose. His existence will be meaningless.
If he stays, Obi-Wan will simply continue to weaken Maul, drag him down to his level. Look at him; weeping like a baby. Pathetic. If Maul stays, will he end up like that?
He cannot allow that to happen. The Sith must be restored to its former glory. He will not be the one to let it fall. Maul has what he needs from Obi-Wan. If he takes any more, he'll never be able to leave.
There is only one thing to do.
Obi-Wan's lightsaber flew through the air into Maul's hand. In one fluid motion, Maul knocked Obi-Wan flat on the ground and held the point of the blade to his throat.
"Release me from my vow," Maul growled.
"What?" Obi-Wan gasped.
"I cannot obey you any longer. Release me."
"What's going on? Why are you doing this?"
"I am a Sith."
"The order must be restored, with or without you."
"You expect me to release you from your vow just so you can restart the Sith?"
Maul planted his foot on Obi-Wan's chest and said, "I expect nothing."
"I'm a Jedi! I can't do that."
"I can no longer serve the Jedi. Release me."
"Or what?" Obi-Wan spat. "You'll kill me?"
Maul snarled, then said, "You have taught me gratitude, and so I feel compelled to give you the option to live in exchange for all you have done for me. But if you do not release me from my vow of obedience, I will kill you."
"You really would kill your master?"
"It is the Sith way."
"I'm no Sith."
"So I finally see. Last chance."
Obi-Wan closed his eyes, cursing himself for his cowardice, cursing the nine days that had led him to this point, cursing his blindness and trust, cursing fate for taking Qui-Gon instead of him, cursing the rest of the Jedi for being as gullible as he was, cursing his traitorous emotions for wanting Maul to stay. Nine days. Nine days, and his life was destroyed. The right thing to do would be to say no. But Obi-Wan had proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he no longer knew how to do the right thing. "I release you," he whispered.
When he opened his eyes again, Maul was nowhere to be seen.
Epilogue, Ten Years Later:
Obi-Wan trailed his fingers through his shoulder-length hair and properly scruffed himself up. Mos Eisley wasn't the friendliest place for a Jedi, so he had to be sure he didn't look the part. Straightening his battered leather jacket and checking the inner pocket to make sure his lightsaber was securely stowed, he headed out for the spaceport, hoping that he'd finally be able to get the information the Jedi needed to break up the slaving ring they'd been tracking for the past two years.
It was no coincidence that they'd sent him. It didn't take much work for Obi-Wan to look seedy nowadays. It hadn't for a quite some time, actually. Blue-green eyes darted side to side under tight brows as he kept his guard up. This wasn't exactly a safe place, even for someone attuned to the Force. The place was swarming with malcontents of nearly every stripe, and something as simple as placing an impolitic bet at a bar could start a brawl. The entire city was a powder keg. He felt oddly at home here.
But there was something else here. Something familiar. As he walked down the narrow alleyways that passed for streets in this part of town, he could feel the little hairs at the base of his neck pricking up.
No. It couldn't be.
He stopped and looked down a nearly hidden alley and saw the patterned face.
"Maul." Obi-Wan stepped into the alley, pulling his lightsaber from its pocket. "Do you have any idea how much damage you did to the Jedi?"
"Do you have any idea how little I care?" Maul barked.
Obi-Wan tapped on the hilt of his unlit lightsaber, deep in a stare down, before noting, "You've done well for yourself."
Maul snorted. "Have I? I doubt the Sith masters who came before me would agree."
"You've pretty effectively taken over key shipping lanes in the Outer Rim, and most of the governments out here have your stink on them."
"You really think that?" Maul asked. "I barely did anything out here. It was already corrupt. All I needed to do was make a few key alliances."
"Never mind your effect on the Jedi."
"That was their own doing," Maul replied. "They trusted me. They thought that all I needed was a hug and I'd turn into a good little Light Sider." He laughed. "I can't believe how naive they were."
"We're not naive anymore. Thanks to you, we don't trust anybody. We hardly even help people anymore."
"Afraid to have the wool pulled over your eyes again by someone who looks pathetic and helpless?"
"Damned right. We've become insular and paranoid, and it's all because of you."
Obi-Wan glared at Maul. "I don't like what we've become because of you."
"The feeling is mutual."
"Oh please. Look at you! When you first showed up on Naboo, you were a basket case. If it weren't for me, you'd still be that way."
"If it weren't for you, I wouldn't have this thrice-damned empathy!" Maul seethed. "Oh, yes, I can take a shit now without asking your permission, but I can't effectively carry out a plan without worrying if someone's going to be hurt by it."
"Good," Obi-Wan hissed.
Maul's nostrils flared. "With any luck, my apprentice will do better than I did."
"You have an apprentice?"
"No. Not after what happened with you."
A small grin crossed Maul's face. "Good. Still, I'm surprised they kept you in the order."
"There was enough blame to go around that no one had the nerve to single me out for punishment. Although Adi voluntarily left. We couldn't convince her to stay. I couldn't convince her."
Maul raised an eyebrow. "Don't you think she overreacted? Surely I'm not the only failure to escape the Jedi Temple."
"I do, yes, but the way she sees it, she was the Council member most responsible for letting the Sith Order come back into power. She trusted you. She thought you could be rehabilitated. We all did, except Mace Windu."
"And yet he's still on the Council, despite what happened with Skywalker."
"Ironic, isn't it?"
"Well, for what it's worth, I hope Adi's doing well, wherever she is.."
"Oh, that means a lot coming from you," Obi-Wan snorted.
"No, she was kind to me, and never patronizing. I appreciate that."
"I don't want to talk about her anymore," Obi-Wan said defensively, before adding, "So, who's your apprentice?"
"Don't worry. It's not Skywalker. He's a free agent."
"That's something, at least. I take it you didn't make Sidious's mistake and nab an infant?"
"No, I found a very angry adult. If she has half a brain in her head, she'll kill me and take my place shortly. I'm running out of things to teach her, and she's running out of patience with my compassion." He spat the last word out, face twisted into a grimace.
"'She'? Anyone I know?"
"I doubt it."
"It's not Adi, is it?"
"That woman didn't have an ounce of hate in her. She'd make a poor Sith."
"At least tell me your training methods are different from Sidious's."
"They are. Everything she does is her choice. It's far more effective to corrupt someone through her own actions than to simply force her to do your bidding. It's what you did with me, after all."
"I didn't corrupt you."
"I'm sure if Sidious were still alive, he'd disagree."
"You know, we should be trying to kill each other."
"But we won't. I still feel gratitude towards you, and you still have a sliver of pity towards me. Ironic, isn't it?"
"Damned ironic." Obi-Wan snorted and put away his lightsaber. "I still can't believe you thought you could convert me to the Dark Side."
"Is that any more implausible than you thinking you could convert me to the Light?"
"We gave you everything you needed to be well!"
"You gave me books and some art lessons. For that I'm supposed to abandon what I'd been trained to do my whole life?"
"I gave you a hell of a lot more than that," Obi-Wan snarled.
"Sure you're not interested in the Dark Side?" Maul taunted. "I have an apprentice who'll probably need an apprentice of her own soon."
"Don't tempt me."
"Sorry, that's my job."
"And it's my fault you're so damned good at it."
Maul snorted. "Not that good. At least I had a negative effect on the Jedi. I won't be remembered as a total disgrace in Sith history. You're here about the slaving ring, aren't you?"
"Are you behind it?"
"No, just taking notes. It's Skywalker, you realize."
Obi-Wan grinned a grin very unbecoming to a Jedi. "I thought so. Mace Windu will be...interested to hear this."
"You mean he'll shit bricks."
The two men lapsed into an oddly comfortable silence before Obi-Wan finally said, "Well, no sense putting this off any longer." He reached into his pants pocket, pulled out a comlink, and said, "Maul's here. Zero in on my position."
Maul smiled, saluted, and vanished into the shadows.
If you liked this, then email me: email@example.com. Feedback is the only payment I get for my stories, and the only way I know that I should keep writing.