Second disclaimer: I never publish unfinished fanfic. But I've put so much work into this one. I ran out of steam after several months of effort, but I didn't want all that effort to go to waste. So I hope folks enjoy reading this. At this point, I honestly don't believe I'll ever finish it.
An unfinished sequel to "Requiescat"
I know I said I wasn't going to write a sequel to "Requiescat," but I was talking to Rose about all the rape fic out there, and how unrealistically rape and abuse survivors were portrayed. She had several interesting theories as to why women wrote slash like that, then bemoaned the lack of fic that realistically dealt with the aftereffects. So I knew I had to write this. I hope I do justice to survivors with it. None of this is based on personal experience, so if you are a survivor and feel it doesn't ring true, I apologize. I did try to do research, but that's clearly not the same. This is for all my friends who weren't as lucky as me.
Mucho thanks as usual to Rose and Jedimom for their brainstorming and betaing help.
This story assumes you read the bonus sex scene in Requiescat. Backgrounds for all characters, minus Maul, were gleaned from various Lucasfilm sources. Just like Maul's backstory in this universe, the other characters' backstories could easily be contradicted by later Lucasfilm sources. Such is life.
Shmi took one last look at the small space that had been her home these past many years and let a bittersweet smile cross her face. She was finally moving on. The dream she'd hoped her Ani would fulfill instead was given to her. Freedom. Power. A future. All things she'd long since given up on.
Anakin was supposed to have all this, not her. But she would do it in his memory.
Shouldering her bag, she picked up one of Anakin's toys and headed out the door. "Don't look back," she murmured to herself.
Obi-Wan and Maul both shot her a puzzled stare when they saw the toy speeder in her hands, but the look she returned challenged them to say anything. Maul tossed C-3PO over his shoulder, and the three of them headed out to the outskirts of town where their ships were waiting.
As they approached the ships, the three of them noticed a sudden movement. Obi-Wan pushed Shmi behind Maul, ignited his lightsaber, and called out, "Come away from the ship now and you won't be harmed."
Shmi peered around Maul to see a pair of terrified blue Twi'leks emerge from behind the landing struts of one of the ships. "Take us with you," one meekly asked.
"Ann? Tann?" Shmi asked, stepping forward. "Is that you? What happened to your slave collars?"
"They fell off," one whispered.
"I swear," the other added. "It just happened. And then we knew to come here."
Maul stared hard at them, his yellow eyes gleaming in the harsh suns, then nodded. "They're meant to come with us."
Obi-Wan closed his eyes and Shmi could literally feel him extending himself beyond his skin, then he nodded as well. "You're right. I can feel it too. So, where should we go next?"
"You pick a place," Maul replied. "I had very few secrets from Sidious. He knows all the same hiding places I do. The Jedi aren't hunting for us yet, so we should use a place you know."
"I'm thinking either Hoth or Endor."
"Sidious knows about Endor. I've never heard of Hoth."
"It's an ice planet."
"No," Maul and Shmi said in unison.
"How about Yavin Four? It's a jungle moon."
Maul and Shmi exchanged a glance, then turned to look at the Twi'leks.
"We'll go anywhere," one of them said.
"Yavin Four it is," Obi-Wan said. "Maul, I'll send you the coordinates from my ship."
"Who should we travel with?" Shmi asked.
"I have no room for passengers," Maul replied. "You'll all travel with Obi-Wan."
"Don't you want company?" Shmi asked, putting a gentle hand on Maul's arm.
"I don't require company."
"If you change your mind, my Ani's droid is rather chatty," Shmi grinned, giving Maul's arm a little squeeze. "But if you're like most people, I suspect you'll want to switch him off after a few minutes of listening to him."
"I will remember that," Maul replied with uncharacteristic softness before he turned and headed up the ramp of the Sith Infiltrator.
"Well, come on," Obi-Wan said. "It's a bit of a trip, so let's get started."
Shmi took one long last look at Tatooine, then clasping Ani's toy to her chest, she walked up the ramp to begin her life anew.
The small group unloaded their ships and set up camp in a fairly solid old stone building on the moon. The moon hadn't been settled for centuries, but the previous inhabitants had built their structures to last. "Tell me again what this droid is good for?" Maul asked as he dumped C-3PO unceremoniously in the corner of the main designated common room.
"He's a protocol droid," Shmi replied.
"And we need one because?"
"Because my son built it."
Maul met her gaze unflinchingly and nodded, then asked, "Will the three of you require privacy for sleeping?"
"I've already set up a room for the three of us just down that hallway, and another one for you and Obi-Wan down the other hallway."
"You're not a slave anymore. You didn't need to do that for us."
"You were unloading heavy things from the ships, so I did my part. I gave Ann and Tann the cots and the rest of us bedrolls. I hope you don't mind."
"Not at all."
"Are you two all right?" Obi-Wan asked the twins, who had been silent the entire trip. "We really should get you better clothes. That mesh is, ah, pretty revealing."
"You can wear some of mine," Shmi offered.
"No, we don't want to be a burden..."
"You're not a burden," Obi-Wan countered. "We want you here. We...which one of you is Ann and which is Tann?"
"I'm Ann, she's Tann."
"We're all about the same height, really," Obi-Wan said. "You could even wear my clothes, or Maul's."
"No, we're fine," Ann said. "Really. All we wanted to do was get away."
"Do you have any idea why you're here?" Shmi asked.
They shook their heads.
"Obi-Wan, why don't you tell them what's happened."
He nodded, then gestured Maul to come over and join the group. All five of them settled on various surfaces around the room, Maul and Obi-Wan sitting together, Ann and Tann also together, and Shmi alone. "I'm a former Jedi," Obi-Wan said, "and Maul's a former Sith. Together, we found that there's a lot more to the Force than either order acknowledges. We went to Tatooine because we felt that Shmi could be a powerful Force user if she weren't bound by the strictures of either order. Neither of us had met her, but we just knew. It looks like you two could be also."
"Oh no," Ann said. "We're not Force-users."
"I didn't think I was until just a few hours ago," Shmi countered. "The two of them showed me things about me that I hadn't realized were there. And they also let me look into their hearts." She smiled. "It was amazing."
"You're not going to do that to us, are you?" Ann asked with obvious trepidation.
"Only if you want us to," Obi-Wan replied.
"I don't know..."
"Trust us," Maul said. "Your slave collars didn't just fall off. You made them fall off. You're powerful, but you can't see it yet."
Ann and Tann murmured at each other for a moment, Ann shaking her head furiously the whole time, but Tann clearly pressing home her point. Finally, Ann sighed and said, "Well, Tann agrees with you, but I don't know."
"Tann?" Obi-Wan asked.
She shook her head and whispered, "I don't want to talk yet."
"When you're ready, we'll listen," Obi-Wan said warmly.
"You know, we'll probably be together a long time," Shmi said. "We should probably do a round of introductions and learn a little about each other." She grinned self-consciously then added, "I know, I sound like such a mom."
"No, you sound totally reasonable," Obi-Wan replied, matching her grin with one of his own. "We probably should have thought of that."
"You can't think of everything," she retorted. "Well, since it was my idea, I'll start." Shmi cleared her throat nervously, then said, "I was born to a family of merchants. When I was very young, our ship was boarded by pirates, who separated me from my family and sold me into slavery. I've spent my life since then doing domestic work for several different owners. Nine years ago, I gave birth to Anakin. I don't know how--I wasn't a sex slave, and I kept to myself, so I honestly don't know how I became pregnant." She lifted her chin, eyes sparkling. "Ani was everything to me. He gave my life new purpose, gave me a reason look forward to every morning. I wanted him to have better than a slave's life, but I was just so happy to have him, and happy that Watto treated him well, for a slave." She took a deep breath, looked Maul dead in the eye, and said, "I forgive you for killing him, but I'm still angry at you."
"You should be angry," Maul replied. "And I don't expect forgiveness."
"You killed Anakin?" Ann gasped, clutching Tann tightly. "You killed him?"
"It's all right," Shmi said. "He's not the same person anymore."
"What do you mean? He's a murderer!"
"Let him tell his story next," Shmi said. "Listen to him."
"I was a Sith lord," Maul said simply. "I did what my master commanded, including murder. I served his every command without question or hesitation, and hoped to someday take over the order and take on my own apprentice."
"What about your life before you became a Sith?" Shmi asked.
Maul hesitated, then said, "My mother and sister were killed when I was twelve, and Sidious took me in and made me his apprentice, promising me revenge. He trained me to hate, to kill, to feel superior to the weak." He paused, then quietly added, "I suspect that he was responsible for my family's death."
Obi-Wan reached out to put his arm around Maul, but Maul jumped up and walked away.
"How did he train you?" Shmi asked.
"Severely," Maul said simply, clasping and unclasping one fist. "The details are unimportant."
Tann gasped and clamped both hands over her mouth, shooting Maul a knowingly pained look. "What?" Ann asked, putting her ear to Tann's mouth. As her sister whispered in her ear, Ann's eyebrows shot up and her expression softened into sympathy.
"I'm done talking," Maul said sharply as he started pacing, arms tightly folded across his chest.
"This is why I forgive you," Shmi said. "You were made that way by someone else, but you've changed."
"I don't know if I can trust him, though," Ann whimpered, watching him pace with nervous eyes.
"We will," Tann whispered. "Tell our story."
"Go ahead," Shmi said. "We'd love to hear it."
"Our mother died when we were nine, and our father sold us the next year," Ann began. "Twi'lek twins are rare, so he got a lot of money for us. We were sold to a rich old Corellian as sex slaves."
"When you were ten?" Obi-Wan gasped.
"We're Twi'leks," Ann shrugged. "Ten's not that young." She looked over at Tann and said, "He only used my sister. He kept me around in case anything happened to her. He wasn't bad, as far as owners go, but..." She trailed off helplessly.
"That's all right. You don't have to tell us everything," Shmi said.
Ann nodded, then continued, "When we were fifteen, he died, and his niece inherited us. She used us as domestic servants, which wasn't too bad. Actually, she was really nice. But three years later, she got into financial trouble, so she was forced to sell us. Sebulba just used us as masseuses. Nothing sexual. He mostly had us around to make other people jealous. He was pretty good to us." She turned to Obi-Wan and said, "Now you."
"I was raised as a typical Jedi. My parents gave me to the Temple when I was an infant, and the Jedi raised me and trained me to be a knight."
"They took you as an infant?" Ann asked.
"My parents gave me to the Jedi," he countered.
"Why? Why would someone just give up their baby?"
"I gave Ani to the Jedi because I thought he'd have a better life," Shmi said. "Was your family poor?"
"I don't think so," Obi-Wan said. "They gave me to the Jedi because I had a high midichlorian count, I suppose. I'm not complaining. I had a good life with the Jedi."
Shmi shook her head. "You never had the love of your family, which is something that all of the rest of us did, even if we lost it when we were young."
"It's late," Maul interjected. "We should sleep. Tomorrow we'll explore the moon, see what sorts of edible plants there are, and possibly send someone out in one of the ships to trade for supplies."
"But Maul, we've just started a conversation," Obi-Wan protested.
"I'm going to bed," he replied flatly. "I intend to be busy tomorrow, and I require sleep." Without another word, he headed out.
"Go," Shmi said to Obi-Wan. "We'll be fine."
As he retreated, she turned to Ann and Tann and said, "He's probably right. We should sleep."
"Maul's in a lot of pain," Tann whispered. "But he's not ready to talk about it."
"I know. Maybe he'll talk to Obi-Wan. Come on, I'm giving you some of my clothes to wear."
"Shmi, honestly, we're fine," Ann protested. "It's warm here."
"No, you're not on display anymore. Never again. We're dressing you properly."
They smiled, and Tann whispered, "Thank you."
"Maul, what's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong," Maul said as he sat on the edge of his bedroll and methodically undressed for bed.
"We were just starting to talk about ourselves."
"I was finished."
"Don't you even want to listen?"
Maul fixed Obi-Wan with an intense stare and said, "I am sharing living quarters with a woman whose son I killed and two Twi'leks who are terrified I'll do the same to them."
"I don't think that's it."
Maul cocked his head to the side. "Do me a favor tonight, Obi-Wan."
"Keep the hell out of my head." Maul pulled his bedroll across the room from Obi-Wan's, slid under the blankets, and closed his eyes.
Obi-Wan stared at Maul's back, suppressed a sigh, and extinguished the lamp.
Obi-Wan sat bolt upright with a ragged gasp, running shaking fingers through his hair as the aftereffects of the nightmare echoed in his brain. Where the hell had his subconscious come up with such horrific imagery?
He heard Maul whimper from across the room, and suddenly realized it wasn't his subconscious at work.
With a few muttered curses, he managed to get the lamp going, and crawled across the floor to where Maul was writhing beneath his blankets, his face set in an uncharacteristic grimace of fear. "It's just a nightmare, Maul," he crooned as he reached out to gently shake him awake.
A violent backhand was his immediate reply.
By the time Obi-Wan's vision stopped swimming, Maul was sitting up, hand over his heart, visibly trying to control his breathing. "Are you all right?" Obi-Wan asked, gingerly touching his swelling temple.
"Damned Tann," Maul growled.
Maul shook his head, then stood up and started pacing, rubbing his face and neck with his hands. "She saw right through me," he murmured. "I was fine until she gave me that fucking look." With a snarl, he spun and kicked the wall with his bare foot, sending a small rain of dust down from the ceiling. "I'm awake," he mumbled, as if trying to convince himself of the fact, then turned looked at Obi-Wan with shock. "I hit you."
"You were having a nightmare."
"That bastard!" Maul roared, then put his hand over his heart again and breathed. Obi-Wan watched as Maul visibly calmed himself once more, tentatively reaching out with the Force along their bond. "Don't," Maul warned.
"I just want to help you."
"Don't. I'll take care of myself."
"I want to help."
"No. I don't need help. I will take care of this myself. Let me heal your eye."
"If you can take care of yourself, then I can take care of myself," Obi-Wan countered pointedly.
Maul fixed Obi-Wan with a serious stare and softly said, "I caused your pain. You're not responsible for mine."
"Why won't you let me help?"
"Because it's not required."
Obi-Wan reached out to touch Maul, but Maul sidestepped the gesture. "Let me go get the medical kit," he said, grabbing a flashlight and heading out to the common area.
"Don't need help? Liar," Obi-Wan whispered as he watched him walk away.
Shmi rose before the dawn as was her custom and reached for Anakin's toy speeder. She'd known for weeks now that her son was dead, but somehow being told the news had driven it home hard. And not just being told, but being told by his killer.
No mother should have to go through this.
Quietly, she wrapped her blanket around herself and crept out to watch the sunrise. She found a nice spot a dozen meters from the entrance to their dwelling and settled down on a large rock to wait and watch. For years, this had been her favorite time of day. The air on Tatooine was still cool right before the suns rose, and the planet was quiet. Anakin would always wake up shortly after the suns were up, when his bedroom became too hot for sleeping, so she'd use these precious moments to get ready for the whirlwind that was her son.
As the horizon turned crimson, she clutched the toy to her chest and wept.
The sun slowly rose, filling the lush jungle with light and warmth, and Shmi was suddenly aware she was not alone. Pushing off her blanket, she turned her tear-stained face and saw Maul standing in the doorway, watching her with a guarded expression. "You shouldn't forgive me," he said. "I've done nothing to earn it."
"You had a hard life."
"So did you, and you're a good person."
"I wasn't raised by a monster."
"I wasn't either, until I was twelve. That's old enough to know better. He wouldn't have taken me if he hadn't seen potential for cruelty in me."
"I can't go through life hating, Maul."
"Yes you can. Trust me."
"I'm not you."
"You shouldn't hate everyone, Shmi, but you should hate those that deserve it. Anger is a strength. Don't throw it away needlessly."
"I can't help it," Shmi shrugged. "I don't want to be angry at you."
"But you are."
"I'm working on it."
"Don't. And don't tell me you're going to try to be angry at Sidious instead for doing this to me."
Shmi's eyebrows shot up. "You sound like Tann."
He snorted. "I don't have the sight like her. I've just heard the argument before."
Shmi stood up, gathering her blanket with one arm, and headed back towards the building, towards Maul. "What did Sidious do to you?" she asked.
Maul looked away. "I'm going for a run," he said brusquely. "If Obi-Wan asks where I am, tell him I'll be back in about an hour." Before Shmi could say another word, Maul had sprinted off into the jungle.
Shmi sighed, clutched the toy tighter, and went back inside.
Obi-Wan sat up in bed and rubbed his ankle. He sent a little inquiry through his bond and determined that yes, Maul was all right, and yes, Maul would be back shortly. Hearing activity in the main room, he slid into his clothes and headed out to find Shmi standing next to a jerry-rigged table surrounded by five makeshift chairs. "Shmi? Why are you up so early?"
"Obi-Wan, I didn't mean to wake you...what happened to your eye?" She put down her mixing bowl and cradled his face in her hands.
"You didn't wake me, and I got bruised accidentally by Maul last night. I woke him up from a nightmare, and he freaked. I'm fine. It's nothing."
"No concussion?" Shmi asked, looking appraisingly into his eyes and turning his head gently side to side.
"I'm fine. Honest."
"Well, all right then," she said, picking up the mixing bowl again. "I'm making breakfast. Maul's out running."
"You don't need to do this, Shmi."
"I don't mind, really. I like having people to take care of," she said with a warm smile. "So, what did wake you up? Are you an early riser?"
"Not really. I woke up because Maul twisted his ankle."
"How can you tell?"
"We're bonded. Let me help you with that."
"Sit down," she chided. "I can take care of this. It's just food capsules."
"But you've got the little grill going. And it smells a lot better than food capsules."
"You'd be surprised what you can make with food capsules if you're creative and have some native plants to work with," Shmi winked. "And yes, I checked them with your scanner. They're safe to eat. Is Maul all right? Should you go out after him?"
"He always says that."
"I know. I think he means it this time." Obi-Wan watched as Shmi took some of the mixture from the bowl flattened it into a cake, then dropped it on the grill. "You really do like cooking, don't you?"
"Mmm hmm. I do. Like I said, I like taking care of people."
"Is that the slave, or the mother in you talking?" Obi-Wan asked pointedly.
She shrugged. "Probably both. I don't care. If I'm happy, then what's the harm in it?"
Before he could point out the flaw in that line of reasoning, Obi-Wan heard a gasp behind him, and turned to see Ann and Tann standing sheepishly in the hallway. "You're awake," he noted.
"Come in! Breakfast's almost ready," Shmi added.
"We should have helped," Ann said. "We are so sorry."
"You're not slaves anymore. You've got nothing to be sorry for," Obi-Wan said. "Look, Shmi's made us a kitchen. Sit down. Relax."
"Actually, I think Maul must have set this up," Shmi said, flipping the cake over with a fork. "It was here when I got in from watching the sunrise."
"He's back," Tann whispered.
They all turned to watch Maul limp through the main door, arms laden with foliage. "I collected some possible food samples..." He stopped, looked at Shmi, then said, "I see you're way ahead of me."
"No, you look like you found things I didn't," Shmi said. "How's your ankle?"
"Only mildly twisted. I'll be fine. I was careless and tripped over a root." Maul limped over to the table and deposited his collection.
The twins whispered at each other, then Ann said, "I can help your ankle."
Maul regarded her silently for a long moment, then nodded. Ann quickly went down on her knees, but Maul touched her on the shoulder and said, "No, we'll both sit." and as he sat, gestured to the chair next to him. Ann sat down, Tann standing behind her, and Maul took off his boot and sock and put his clearly swollen foot in her lap. "I apologize for the smell," he noted. "I've been running."
"We used to work for a Dug," Ann grinned. "This is like flowers compared to him."
Shmi laughed and put another cake on the grill.
Obi-Wan stood behind Maul, resting his hands on his shoulders and hooking his thumbs under the straps of Maul's tank top. "That doesn't look 'mildly twisted.'"
"I can still walk."
"So by 'mildly twisted,' you mean 'not broken in five places,'" Obi-Wan quipped as he squeezed Maul's shoulders.
"By that logic, yes. You and I were both trained to function with worse injuries than this."
"True," Obi-Wan conceded.
Ann bit her lip and murmured, "I don't know. This is worse than I thought."
"Just do what you can," Maul prompted. "The rest will take care of itself in time."
Ann nodded, then gently placed her hands on either side of Maul's ankle and gently started massaging.
"Doesn't that hurt?" Obi-Wan asked with a wince.
Maul shook his head. "Not in the least. I'm impressed."
"She was always a better masseuse than me," Tann whispered, resting her chin in the nook between her sister's head-tails.
"She's not massaging. She's healing," Maul noted. "That's a very special Force talent."
"Oh no no," Ann quickly stammered. "I told you, we don't have any Force abilities."
"You heal, and your sister sees into people's minds," Maul said. "Those are Force abilities."
"But we're no one special."
"Apparently, you are to the Force," Obi-Wan replied.
Ann blushed a deep blue.
"My ankle is much better," Maul said, lifting his foot from Ann's lap and rotating the ankle experimentally. "Thank you."
"All I did was rub it!" she protested.
"No, you did much more than that," Maul said, standing up and taking a few tentative steps, then several more purposeful ones. "It's completely healed."
"I did that? Really?" Ann looked stunned.
"Look at it. The swelling is gone," Maul pointed out. He took a few more steps away from the group, then did a back-flip, landing hard on both feet to drive his point home.
Ann laughed with delight, covering her mouth self-consciously with her hand.
"And now you should eat," Shmi said, setting steaming plates of hot cakes on the table in front of each of them.
Ann looked over at Obi-Wan with a shy grin. "I think I'll try your eye next."
"I'd like that," he grinned back.
"We thought we'd talk a little about what we've learned together," Obi-Wan said as the five of them sat down in the grass under the late morning sun. He turned to look over at Maul, who was literally radiating contentment through their bond, and raised an eyebrow.
"I like the sun," Maul said simply.
"I've got to get you out in the sun more often."
Maul snorted, then said, "What you just witnessed was a particularly cloying and insipid demonstration of the bond we've formed."
"How did it happen?" Shmi asked.
"We're not sure," Maul replied. "It seemed to form itself when we both started reaching beyond the boundaries of Light and Dark. Obi-Wan would call it the will of the Force, I call it the work of our subconsciouses. Despite what we have here, we're still of very different minds about many things."
Obi-Wan leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees, saying, "We're individuals, but we're strengthened by each other, especially considering how totally different our respective training was. I was taught to suppress my darker emotions: hate, anger, jealousy, rage, love, lust, desire; and focus instead on the calmer emotions: empathy, kindness, friendship, compassion, caring. Maul learned exactly the opposite. The emotions I draw on for strength are not the same ones he does. Together, we're emotionally complete."
"And when we totally surrender ourselves to our bond, we are amazingly powerful," Maul added.
"So why don't you do it all the time?" Ann asked.
"It's a very...odd sensation," Maul said, brow furrowed, eyes focused to the distance. "Being so open is very disconcerting. We may get used to it over time."
Obi-Wan shot him a look that clearly said, "Bullshit."
Maul closed his eyes and sighed. "When you're bonded, you're totally open to each other. There's no privacy. It's difficult for me because there are things I don't want to share." He shook his head as if to clear it, then looked at Ann and said, "I suspect you and your sister are already bonded and already used to being open to each other."
Tann looked at the ground, and Ann said, "Well, I suppose a little."
"You probably don't even need to speak to communicate."
"That's because we're Twi'leks," Ann countered.
"I'm not talking about speaking only with your head-tails. I'm perfectly aware that Twi'leks can communicate that way. I'm talking about language of any sort being unnecessary. You only use it as a formality."
"Do you expect I'll bond with someone?" Shmi asked. "Is that something I need to do?"
Obi-Wan shrugged. "You know, we're honestly not sure. And besides, Ann and Tann are bonded because they're twins. I suspect they've been bonded their whole lives. Maul and I are probably bonded because we were incomplete alone. You may not need to bond to be whole."
"Or maybe I was already bonded," she noted.
Obi-Wan felt a wave of shame pour off of Maul which was quickly tamped down as Maul pulled back within his own skin. "Maybe," Obi-Wan conceded, wishing that Maul would let him help but knowing from recent experience that that was the last thing he'd want. Sitting on his hands to keep them from reflexively reaching out to offer comfort, Obi-Wan continued, "I think what will really be important will be for us all to stay open to any possibilities that develop. If the three of you decide to stay and try and develop your abilities, it's probably best if you're always fairly close to either Maul or me. We're both trained Force-users, so if anything happens that you can't control, we should be able to help."
"Of course I'll stay," Shmi said. "I can't imagine leaving. Ann? Tann? Do you want to stay?"
"Yes," Tann whispered. "Yes we do."
"Great," Obi-Wan grinned. "We should probably start you in on a few basic Force exercises. Jedi meditate on the Force with a quiet mind."
"Sith focus on pain, or anger," Maul said. "But what's been working for us now is surrendering ourselves to whatever's at the forefront of our minds. It's usually the key to our connection to the Force."
"I'm not sure I understand," Ann said.
Maul looked at her a moment, then asked, "Will you let me in?"
Tann put her hand on Ann's arm for support, and Ann nodded nervously.
Maul leaned forward and put one hand gently on the side of Ann's face, reaching his other hand back toward Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan took it, and then felt Maul gently slide into the confused eddies of Ann's thoughts. Tann's own energy danced in the background of Ann's mind, giving it an ethereal flavor. And between Obi-Wan and the twins, he felt the walls Maul had erected to contain memory upon memory that he didn't want to share, didn't want to face. The shame of Anakin's murder was currently at the forefront, but Obi-Wan could sense many other major hurts being held firmly at bay.
Looking deep into Ann's eyes, Maul said, "You're afraid and confused."
"How will that help me meditate?" Ann asked.
"Fear is a healthy reaction to a situation that you feel you cannot control. Focus on that."
"I don't want to be afraid."
Maul's gaze burned into Ann's, and she met it unflinchingly. "Fear is a powerful emotion. Feel the power of your fear, and understand that it is something you create and you control. All emotions are powerful. Learn the power of this one." He turned to look at Tann. "And you are surprisingly fearless. You didn't expect that, did you?"
She smiled and shook her head.
"You're very curious as to what will happen if you stay; what kind of powers you might develop. You should focus on that." Maul dropped his hand from Ann's face and sat back on his haunches, watching the twins clasp hands and close their eyes.
Obi-Wan gently caressed the back of Maul's hand with his thumb, and felt Maul's defenses relax a fraction. "Shmi?" he asked.
"I know what I should focus on," she grinned, then closed her eyes.
How about you? Obi-Wan sent. Going to take your own advice?
I can't, Maul mentally sighed, squeezing Obi-Wan's hand then dropping it. Not in front of them.
We're asking a lot of them. We should be prepared to give as much in return.
I'm supposed to be their teacher. I won't burden them with my problems.
Then just enjoy the sun.
A bittersweet mixture of contentment and shame wafted over the bond before Maul reined his feelings in, then lay on his back in the grass, soaking up the morning sun. Obi-Wan watched his face relax, then closed his own eyes and surrendered himself to his concern for Maul, desperate for the Force to give him some help.
By the time he opened his eyes again, all the Force had counseled was patience. And patience was the virtue that Obi-Wan had always had in short supply.
Shmi was vaguely amused at how hard everyone tried to dissuade her from making lunch, but she persevered, and from the sound of it, they were grateful to have failed. Especially Obi-Wan. She'd always assumed the Jedi had the best of everything, but apparently not so with cooking. Ann and Tann certainly seemed to have enjoyed the meal. And Maul...as usual, he tried very hard to be unreadable. He thanked her, but was the only one not to actually compliment her skills. She suspected it would be quite some time before he was able to. It was so strange to look at him. She knew he was her son's killer, but all she could see was a lost child.
"Our turn to forage," Obi-Wan said as he rose from the table. He and the twins headed for the door.
"Wait," Maul said. "You need shoes."
The twins looked down at their bare feet. "We'll be fine," Ann said.
"Going barefoot in a jungle is a very good way to get injured," Maul countered. As he pulled off his boots, he looked over at Shmi.
"Oh, of course," she said, sitting down and unfastening her laces.
"Yet another illustration of how desperately we need supplies," Obi-Wan commented. "Can you two go out to pick some up while we're away?"
"Without shoes?" Maul asked.
Handing his boots to Tann, Maul said, "When you get back, Obi-Wan, you and Shmi go. You're the most unobtrusive of the five of us. Sidious is sure to have sent more bounty hunters out for me, and Sebulba probably has sent out hunters of his own. Twi'lek slaves are too valuable to simply let go."
"I'll check all that out," Obi-Wan said with a nod.
Maul continued, "I have currency and gems in my ship, and I'm sure Aurra Sing has some hidden in hers as well. We'll draw up a list of what we need while you're away."
"Sounds like a plan."
Tann slid her feet into the large boots and giggled. "You have big feet," she commented in a small voice.
Shmi marveled at the ghost of smile that played across Maul's face.
"These fit really nicely. Thanks, Shmi," Ann said.
"Oh, you're welcome."
"I'll try not to get them dirty."
"Ann, take a good look at those shoes. I challenge you to find a single atom that isn't already covered in dirt."
"Are we all set?" Obi-Wan asked. The twins nodded, and he said, "Great. Let's go. We'll be back soon."
The trio headed out the door, a clomping Tann bringing up the rear. As she reached the doorway, she turned and flashed Maul a bright smile, then disappeared into the jungle with the rest of the group.
"She seems to really like you," Shmi noted.
Maul looked uncharacteristically baffled. "I have no idea why."
"I suspect she sees a kindred spirit."
Maul closed his eyes and murmured, "I don't understand how you're able to so conveniently forget that I spent over half my life as a killer."
"I'm not forgetting. But I can't help but believe that you became that way because of Sidious, not because of anything inherent to you. You weren't violent when you were still with your family, were you?"
Maul shook his head and started gathering up the dishes. "I wasn't a killer, no, but I was raised to be warrior caste. I had already been trained to fight." As Shmi moved to help him, he said, "No, you cooked. I'll do this."
"I don't mind."
Wiping her hands on her skirt, she sat down at the table and watched him finish gathering the dirty dishes and start washing them at the portable water recycler. He seemed quite comfortable to work in silence; he was a doer, not a talker. But he had started talking about his family, and Shmi dearly wanted to hear more. She knew she could connect with him if she just tried. She had to make him see that he deserved forgiveness. In her best casually conversational tone, she said, "You know, I've never seen anyone of your species before."
"We're not generally space-faring."
"So, how old were you when you first learned to fight?"
"My mother started training me as soon as I could walk," Maul replied in the same neutral voice he'd use to discuss the weather.
Shmi decided to carefully press on. "What about your father?" she asked, keeping her tone light.
"Fathers aren't part of my people's family units. Women are released from caste service to raise children, then return to the caste when their children are named. My sister and I were very likely sired by two different men."
"That's a very interesting family structure, Maul," Shmi noted. "Have you ever thought about going back to find your family?"
"They're dead," he replied flatly.
"All of them? I thought just your sister and mother were killed."
Attacking a dried-on piece of food with his thumbnail, he said, "That was my entire family. We don't have any concept of extended families like other species do."
She wasn't sure if it was her newly-awakened Force senses or just simple observation that warned her that Maul was closing off. "Maybe you could go back to your caste," she offered.
"No. I have no caste."
"I thought you said you were warrior caste?"
"That's what I was raised to be, but I was never named," Maul said, still picking intently at the same spot. "The ambush happened on the way to my naming ceremony. It's too late now." He stopped picking and examined the spot carefully, running his thumb over it and listening to it squeak, then dunked the dish back in the water. "Besides, tattooing is taboo for my caste. Even if I had been named before Sidious took me, they'd kill me on sight once they saw what I'd done to my skin."
"So Sidious really did take everything from you," Shmi sighed. "No wonder you turned."
Maul's voice finally lost its flat tone. "Shmi, don't pity me. Of all the people here, you're the last one who should."
Good, now he was actually letting himself feel. Now maybe he'd let her connect. "Maul, I was taken from my family when I was very young as well. I understand how hard that is. If I'd had someone there to encourage me to be hateful for it..."
"You could never have turned out like me," Maul protested. "Trust me. I understand how evil works. It was my trade."
"No, I don't think you do."
Maul stacked the clean dishes on the table and said, "Shmi, people don't just turn to the Dark Side because they have a rough life. Billions of beings have rough lives. There has to be something inside them that predisposes them to embrace that kind of evil."
"Sidious drove you to it, I'm sure of it. I feel it. He took advantage of an angry little boy and tried to make him into a monster."
"He merely guided me."
"He indoctrinated you," she retorted.
"I could have gotten out at any time."
"I could have killed myself."
Shmi gasped and stared for a long moment, too stunned to speak. Finally, she whispered, "That's hardly a way out."
"It most certainly is," Maul replied matter-of-factly.
"You did think about it, didn't you?"
"Of course. But I didn't do it. I chose to endure my training because I thought it made me stronger. And it did."
"But you got out," she challenged.
Maul sat and started drying the dishes. "What you see today is a testament to Obi-Wan." The flat tone was back.
"It can't be that simple."
"I don't believe that. He must have just unearthed the kindness in you."
"No, he didn't. I had none."
Shmi softly asked, "Didn't your mother treat you with kindness?"
Maul's shoulders slumped, and Shmi could literally feel the longing in his bones. "Of course she did. She loved me, and I loved her. But that was all gone by the time I abducted Obi-Wan."
Maul looked across the table at Shmi and said, "This all started when I attempted to convert Obi-Wan to the Dark Side. I keep trying to remind you, I am not a nice person."
She lifted her chin and said, "Well, I think you are one now."
"Even if that were true, it wouldn't mean I've earned your forgiveness."
"You have earned my sympathy."
"I don't need that. You of all people..."
"Understand how hard it is to lose your family and be thrust into a situation beyond your control. And I also understand how easily swayed little boys are."
Maul's gaze locked tightly with hers, forcing her to stare helplessly into his burning yellow eyes. In low, measured tones, he said, "Shmi, I enjoyed my work. Do you understand that?"
Shmi felt her chest tighten and grabbed at it with one hand. "Enjoyed?"
Blinking back tears, she murmured, "Oh," as the full weight of those two words in. Not Ani. No please no, not Ani. How could anyone possibly enjoy killing a defenseless little boy? No...
In a voice so low it made her bones rattle, Maul said, "Do not forgive me, Shmi."
"But I have to," she whispered helplessly.
"No, you don't."
"Please, I..." She held up her hands defensively, breaking out of his spell. "I can't talk about this anymore." She wiped the tears from her eyes, cleared her throat, and said, "We need to come up with a list of supplies, remember?"
Maul looked away, then picked up the clean dishes and put them back in their crate. "Make sure to get plenty of clothes for yourself and the twins."
Nervously tucking stray hairs back into her bun, Shmi replied, "I'll make sure we're sensibly attired."
"Get yourself something nice as well. We have the money."
"I don't need nice things."
"You should have some anyway."
"I wouldn't know what to do with them."
Maul turned back, eyes soft. "You'll learn."
"I've never gone shopping with so much money before," Shmi said with a guilty smile as she and Obi-Wan reentered the atmosphere of Yavin Four.
"Neither have I, actually," Obi-Wan grinned. "That was fun."
"I think we bought too many clothes."
"No we didn't."
"Obi-Wan, I didn't need that dress..."
"It looks great on you, Shmi," he gushed. "Look, we all need one nice outfit, just in case something comes up where we need to look good. I just hope Ann and Tann like the ones you picked out for them."
"I hope so too. I think they'll look stunning in them. Now what I can't imagine is Maul actually wearing his nice outfit."
"I think he'll look great in it! Besides, it's black. Black's his favorite color."
"But can you picture him voluntarily dressing up?" Shmi asked with a dubious look.
"I'll just have to convince him nicely," Obi-Wan grinned.
Shmi laughed. "Now that I'd like to see. Oh, do you mind if I ask you a personal question?"
"Sure, ask me anything."
"Are the two of you lovers?"
Obi-Wan's smile faded into a sigh. "Well, maybe. Time will tell."
"I'm sorry, I thought you..."
"We did," Obi-Wan blurted. "We probably will again. Maul's just not too forthcoming with his feelings."
"Well, I get the impression he was brutalized out of it."
"We talked a little while you were away. He says you've changed him a lot. That his transformation away from the Dark Side was all your doing. But I can't help but believe that there was still some good in him."
"Shmi, I'd believe him. He was brutal when we met. I still have scars from it."
"Physical scars?" Shmi gasped.
"He broke both my legs. Deliberately." Obi-Wan sighed, then said, "He may have had a good childhood before Sidious, but by the time he abducted me, he'd buried and twisted it so much that he couldn't remember it without it turning to hate."
"Maul told me he'd kidnapped you, but I didn't realize he'd hurt you."
"Shmi, he orchestrated my master's death so he could turn me to the Dark Side."
Shmi's eyes went wide. "Maul killed Qui-Gon too?"
"No, Sidious did, but Maul manipulated him into doing it so he could be there with me to watch it happen. Maul hurt me on more levels than you realize. And he almost succeeded in swaying me to the Dark Side. It was very tempting. However," he added pointedly, "this isn't all one-sided. He also changed me a lot for the better. It may not be as obvious, but he did."
"I'm stronger. A lot stronger. You'd be amazed at how much Jedi training goes into suppressing abilities instead of enhancing them."
"That doesn't make sense."
"I think the Jedi are afraid of their full potential, so they stifle it to keep it from being abused. They also don't let themselves feel things very deeply, and that's changed since I met Maul. I had been considered over-emotional as a Jedi, but now I'm no longer ashamed of my emotions."
"But you're still afraid of your 'darker' emotions, aren't you?"
"I am, but I'm not ashamed of them, and I am working on them."
"Well that's good."
"And I'm no longer a hypocrite. Jedi ideals are very...well, self-serving. I know that doesn't make sense for an organization seemingly dedicated to peace and justice, but consider how unevenly we applied that peace and justice. I mean, on Tatooine, I didn't even think twice about not going back to free you, or any of the slaves, for that matter."
"You knew you couldn't," Shmi protested.
"No, that wasn't it. It just didn't even occur to me. I mean, there we were, taking a young boy away from his mother, and I didn't even think twice about it. After all, I'd been taken away from my family, and I'd turned out all right. It didn't matter that I was taken as an infant and was too young to remember anything. Anakin would either adjust or he wouldn't. I didn't care which. The Jedi have a very convenient emotional detachment, and Maul's influence has made me lose that."
"That's odd, because he seems very emotionally detached to me."
"But he is hyper-aware of the emotions of everyone around him, and he is excellent at manipulating them. He may work hard to bury his own emotions, but he's damned good with other people's."
"I know," Shmi sighed. "I learned that this afternoon." Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow, looking momentarily away from the controls at her, and she said, "I tried to get him talking so I could hopefully get him to see that he did deserve forgiveness, but he just ended up twisting it back on me."
"Sounds like Maul."
"I'm worried about him."
"Me too," Obi-Wan said softly.
"You love him, don't you?"
Obi-Wan laughed harshly. "Jedi aren't good at strong emotions. I'm still getting a handle on love."
"You've never been in love?" Shmi asked incredulously.
"'There is no passion; there is serenity.' It's written right above the doors to the Jedi Council chamber. I've had fondnesses, and flings, and of course sex. But love?" He shook his head. "Love's not for the Jedi. I thought I loved Qui-Gon, but in retrospect, I'm not so sure."
"I miss him," Shmi murmured.
"So do I. Okay, we're landing now." Once the ship had safely touched down, Obi-Wan unbuckled his flight harness and said, "Let's start unloading."
The two of them each grabbed a crate of clothes and attached anti-grav units to them, then guided them down the ramp. Ann met them at the bottom. "Can I help?"
"Here, take this crate," Shmi said. "It's yours. I'll go get another one."
"This is all mine?"
"You needed clothes," Obi-Wan said.
"I didn't need this many!"
"You never know," Shmi chided as she walked back down the ramp, pushing another crate before her. "Where's your sister?"
"She and Maul are talking."
"Really? What about?"
"I don't know. As soon as I saw them start, I snuck out."
"Why?" Obi-Wan asked.
"She never talks to people on her own. I didn't want to inadvertently get in the way."
They silently approached the doorway to their dwelling, and Obi-Wan had them stop just outside the door to watch the scene playing out inside. Tann and Maul were sitting cross-legged on the table, and Tann was reaching out and touching the tips of Maul's horns one by one as he tilted his head to give her easy access to each one. "They're not that sharp," she murmured.
"No, not really," he replied.
Tann bit her lip and slowly ran a finger down the ridge of Maul's central horn. When she reached the red ring at the base, she started to run her finger around it, but Maul shook his head and gently removed her hand, then turned to look at out the door. "You're back."
"We bought everything on the list and then some," Obi-Wan said.
"Excellent. I'll help unload the ship." He slid off the table, followed by Tann, but he turned to her and said, "Not until you get shoes."
"She was outside barefoot," Tann said quietly, pointing at her sister.
Maul looked at Ann sternly.
"I was careful. I swear!" she said.
"Don't go back out until you get shoes as well."
"I'll make sure they get them," Shmi said.
Maul nodded, and he and Obi-Wan headed back out to the ship together. "Tann's opening up to you," Obi-Wan noted.
"That's really good."
Maul walked silently for a moment, then in a pained voice that made Obi-Wan's heart break, said, "She reminds me of my little sister."
Obi-Wan bit his lip and reached out to take Maul's hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. "This is really hard for you, isn't it?"
"It's difficult, yes, but I'll adjust."
"I'm sorry. I should have known. We shouldn't have gone to Tatooine so soon. You needed time."
"I will be fine," Maul said, voice gruff. "Shmi deserved to be released from slavery as soon as possible. Leaving her there unnecessarily would have been criminal."
"Is there anything I can do to help?" Obi-Wan asked, caressing the back of Maul's hand with his thumb.
"No, I need to face my past alone."
"But you're not alone. We've bonded, remember?"
"Which is why I need to do it alone." Maul stopped, turned to face Obi-Wan, and took his other hand. "I will not drag you down with me," he vowed. "I need you to stay strong."
"You won't drag me down."
"I might. I can't risk it."
Obi-Wan squeezed Maul's hands and said, "Let me use my strength to help you."
"I won't expose you to my past."
"I've seen your past. I know what Sidious did to you, and I know what you did as his apprentice. You have no secrets from me, just like I have none from you. Let me back in. Please."
"It's different now."
"I know. I want to help. You don't need to face your past alone. You know we're stronger together."
Obi-Wan watched the subtle emotions playing over Maul's face, completely belying the churning Obi-Wan could feel behind the walls Maul had erected to keep him out. "How can you possibly help when you have no regrets?" Maul whispered. "How could you hope to understand?"
"I have regrets, Maul," Obi-Wan said softly, gently reaching out through the Force to nudge at Maul's defenses. "Not as many as you, and not as strong as you, but I have them." He sent Maul a subdued burst of his own pangs of regret, and felt Maul reflexively reaching out to try and soothe him. "And I saw what that monster did to you, what he took from you. I remember your sister and your mother, and how much you loved them. I remember what Sidious did to you to make you hate. I do understand, Maul. And because of all that, I forgive you, and I want you to forgive yourself."
"No, I..." Abruptly, Maul dropped Obi-Wan's hands and turned to look down the path, where Ann and Tann were standing at a distance, clearly waiting. "Yes?" Maul asked, voice calm. Obi-Wan felt the walls painstakingly sliding back into place.
"We didn't want to interrupt," Ann said guiltily.
"You're not," Maul replied.
The twins exchanged a concerned look, then Ann said, "Well, we have shoes now. We're here to help. Is there...?" They exchanged a look again, and Tann nodded. "Um, how much is Sebulba asking for our return?" Ann asked. "Did you find out?"
"It wasn't much, actually," Obi-Wan said. "It's low enough that I think we should try to buy you off of him and then legally emancipate you. And as we suspected, there's no bounty on Shmi. She thinks she's too old to be worth hunting down."
"What about Maul?" Tann whispered.
"Any bounty is only a formality," Maul replied. "Sidious wants me at any price."
"And it's high," Obi-Wan added. "Very high."
"Do you know of any specific hunters looking for me?"
"I couldn't get much information. I didn't have time, and I didn't want to attract unwanted attention. But from what little I could tell, the fact that we actually killed Aurra Sing is scaring off most of them."
"Leaving only the best of them to try and capture the bounty," Maul noted. "We may need to move soon. I'm sorry."
"Don't be." Obi-Wan took one of Maul's hands in his own again. "Besides, I think we're powerful enough to shield ourselves from them."
Obi-Wan watched as Maul squinted up at the sky, feeling him extending his Force-senses outward. "You weren't followed," Maul said.
"I know." Obi-Wan sent out his own energy to aid in Maul's efforts.
"They won't be looking here," Maul said decisively as he wove a Force-cloak over their location. Focusing back on Obi-Wan, he asked, "And 'Palpatine'?"
"Stepped down. 'Health problems.'" Obi-Wan snorted. "That would be us. I'm actually surprised he's sending people after you, Maul."
"He's underestimated our abilities. We may need to send him a reminder if the shielding doesn't deter him." Maul paused, staring at Obi-Wan with eyes that already seemed to know the answer, then asked, "And what's the news on you?"
"The Jedi think I'm dead," Obi-Wan said flatly.
Maul stroked the back of Obi-Wan's hand with his thumb and asked, "Do you want to disabuse them of that idea?"
"I don't know yet," he sighed. "I'm thinking about it. It's easier this way, but..." He trailed off with a helpless shrug.
"We'll do whatever you want," Maul replied softly.
Ann looked up from drawing circles in the dirt with the toe of her shoe and said, "Um, Shmi's cooking again. We tried to stop her, but you know how she is."
Maul sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose, and Obi-Wan felt and mirrored the exasperation radiating off of him. "Don't worry about it," Obi-Wan said. "Let's just unload as much as we can tonight, and we'll work on weaning Shmi from the stove tomorrow."
"I didn't need this many clothes," Maul said as he pawed through his crate.
Lounging contentedly on the new bed, Obi-Wan said, "You didn't complain when Ann and Tann thought they had too many clothes."
"They need them. I don't."
"And how do you figure that?"
"They were slaves. They need possessions to remind them that they're not anymore." Maul froze, an incredulous look playing across his face, and then he lifted out a silky black jacket with his fingertips. "And why exactly did you buy this?"
Obi-Wan grinned and felt his face flush. "We all got one dress outfit, just in case."
Maul reached back in and pulled out a crimson shirt, nice black pants, and black dress boots. "You seriously expect me to wear this. In fact, you're picturing me in it right now."
The flush grew hotter. "Guilty," Obi-Wan admitted.
"Then I don't need to try it on," Maul said as he folded the garments up and put them back in the crate.
"Please?" Obi-Wan asked with a saucy grin.
Maul shot him a glare, then started undressing for bed.
"I got you new pajamas too. Don't worry, they're functional."
Maul shook his head in exasperation and pulled the red sleep pants from the crate. "Red is functional?"
"It matches your tattoos."
"You need help."
Obi-Wan laughed, then said, "Come to bed." He bounced on the new mattress and grinned, "Look, it's nice and comfy. And I got pillows with tear-proof fabric so your horns won't rip through them."
"We didn't need this," Maul grumbled.
"A nice place to sleep won't kill us."
"Big enough for two."
Maul slid into the pajama bottoms, then sat down gingerly on the edge of the bed.
"It's just a bed, Maul," Obi-Wan joked. "It's not going to kill you."
"I know," he said softly.
Obi-Wan moved over to Maul's side of the bed and started rubbing his tense shoulders, silently offering support. He could feel Maul still holding himself in tightly, tamping down on scores of hurts and regrets. "You have to start letting go," Obi-Wan murmured.
"What we're doing now is important."
"It doesn't bring back Shmi's son."
"No. But nothing will."
"Stop punishing yourself."
"Someone has to."
"Come to bed, Maul," Obi-Wan said, guiding Maul's body under the covers. Just relax, he sent as he lowered his head and started kissing Maul gently. Maul moaned and wrapped an arm around Obi-Wan, slowly deepening the kiss. Obi-Wan sent waves of reassurance through their bond, and felt Maul gradually loosening the walls on his side, letting Obi-Wan in.
The kiss persisted, unhurried and luxurious, and Obi-Wan's hand smoothed across Maul's scalp, gently caressing the rings at the base of his horns, sending delicious shivers through Maul's body. He could feel the tension melting, Maul's worries fading into the background as he focused on nothing but what was happening right now. Maul tightened his grip on Obi-Wan, rolling them over so he was on top, and deepened the intensity of the kiss even more.
Obi-Wan's hands glided down the corded muscles of Maul's bare back, then settled on his clothed buttocks, kneading them solidly...
Maul keened and reared back, twisting out of Obi-Wan's grasp and surging off the bed, radiating terror.
"I'm so sorry!" Obi-Wan gasped, jumping out of bed as the echoes of Maul's flashback still rattled inside his skull. He put his hand on Maul's shuddering frame, but Maul twisted out of his grasp and backed away, arms wrapped tightly around himself.
"I can't," he rasped. "We can't."
"Please Maul," Obi-Wan begged, hands outstretched. "Please let me help you."
"Don't touch me!" Maul spat.
"Okay," Obi-Wan whispered, stiffly forcing his arms down. "Okay. But let me help. Let me in."
Maul turned his shaking body towards the door and looked at it longingly. "No, I have to go. I have to get out of here."
"You'll be back?"
"I will. I p...promise. I just...I need to go."
Obi-Wan stared at him helplessly for a moment, then said, "Put some shoes on first."
Maul nodded shakily, slid on his boots, and then bolted through the common area and into the jungle.
Obi-Wan sat on the edge of the bed and dropped his head into his hands. He'd never felt so helpless in all his life. He could still taste the echoes of Maul's fear, still feel the memory of the repeated violations. Maul was wide open, defenses down, somewhere out there in the jungles of this moon, and there was nothing Obi-Wan could do to convince him to let him help. He tried to follow their link, make sure that Maul was all right, but the burst of panic Maul released in response sent him retreating back to his own skin.
He looked up and saw Ann standing in the doorway. "I'm so sorry. Did we wake you?"
"No, Tann picked up on what was happening. Shmi's still asleep. Can I give you some advice, as someone who's kind of been in your place?"
"I'll take any advice I can get right now."
"Don't press him."
"He's not healing on his own."
"It's going to take time."
"But we had something, and now it's gone."
"It won't come back if you try to force it. Even though it's the hardest thing you'll ever do, you have to let him get through this at his own pace." She sat next to Obi-Wan on the bed and said, "When Tann and I got sold, and that man started using her and not me, I tried so hard to get her to let me help, but she wouldn't let me." With tears in her eyes, Ann continued, "She was getting violated, and she was worried about hurting me."
Obi-Wan blinked back tears of his own and said, "Sounds familiar."
"I'd try to hold her, she'd have flashbacks of being immobilized. I'd try to get her to talk to me, she'd clam up. That's when she stopped talking. I still don't know everything he did to her. He made me watch sometimes, but the times she seemed the most hurt were the times he used her alone."
"Time heals," she said, wiping tears from her face. "But Maul has to be in control of this."
"Oh," Obi-Wan said, understanding finally dawning. "Because he had no control before."
Ann gave Obi-Wan a bittersweet smile, then said, "Exactly. Just let him decide how to pace his recovery. Talk to him when he lets you. Hold him when he asks you to. Let him rage when he has to. Let him run when he feels trapped. Just don't force anything. You'll only make things worse."
"I just hope he doesn't do anything stupid out there," Obi-Wan sighed.
"He won't. He's a survivor."
Obi-Wan watched as Maul's eyes fluttered open as the sun first peeked over the horizon. "Good morning."
Maul propped himself up on his elbows, looking over at Obi-Wan, who was sitting cross-legged a few feet away from him on the flat roof. "How did you find me?"
"You started having a nightmare, I felt it, so I came up here to make it go away."
Maul rubbed a hand across his face, then said, "Thank you."
"You spent the whole night up here?"
"It's not the most comfortable place I've slept, but I've been through worse," Obi-Wan quipped.
"You didn't need to..."
"I wanted to."
Maul fell silent for a moment, then asked, "Did you sleep?"
"Yes. Don't worry."
"If you can, then I can," Maul retorted gently.
Obi-Wan smiled and rolled his eyes. "Fine. You're all right, aren't you? You're all scratched up."
"I'm fine. I went running and was a little careless. None of the scratches are major."
"That's good. Why didn't you come back to bed?"
"I couldn't." Maul sat up and moved closer to Obi-Wan. "About last night. I'm sorry."
"Don't be." Obi-Wan slowly reached out, and sensing no resistance, put his hand on Maul's bare shoulder. "We'll take this at your pace."
"We won't take it at all," Maul countered.
"What do you mean?"
"I clearly can't have sex without having flashbacks, so I'm not having sex."
Obi-Wan used nearly every ounce of self-control to keep his voice from cracking when he replied, "What about Dagobah?"
"Things have changed since then. I'm sorry."
"We can get through this. You can get through this." Obi-Wan could feel the rising desperation in his chest, could feel it pounding against his carefully constructed air of neutrality, and wasn't sure how long he could hold it back.
"I know this hurts you," Maul murmured, cupping Obi-Wan's cheek in his hand. "But I will only hurt you more if I don't do this. If I let down my guard around you, then the memories hurt you too, and I won't do that to you."
Obi-Wan closed his eyes and covered Maul's hand with his own. Turning his head to kiss Maul's palm, he whispered the one thing he most didn't want to say. "Whatever you want, Maul."
Maul slowly extricated his hand, then said, "We need to get back inside before Shmi does."
Maul pointed, and Obi-Wan looked over the edge of the roof to see her sitting on a rock, watching the sunrise. "The only way we can keep her from making breakfast is to beat her to it."
"An excellent plan."
"But you're still in your pajamas!" Shmi protested.
"I can cook in my pajamas," Obi-Wan countered, as Maul took Shmi by the arms and gently guided her away from the stove.
"No, really, I like cooking. I don't mind..."
"I like cooking too, Shmi," Obi-Wan replied.
"Then let me teach you a recipe that I think will work really well with that plant you're chopping," Shmi said, rising out of her chair. Maul put his hands on her shoulders and gently pushed her back down.
"No, I've got everything under control, Shmi."
"Then I'll help set the table..."
Maul firmly but gently pushed her back down in her chair again.
"Would you stop that?" she snapped.
"Only if you do," Maul replied.
Ann and Tann poked their heads out, took one look at what was happening, and started setting the table.
"But you're also still in your pajamas!" Shmi cried. "I'm dressed already. You go get dressed and let me take care of this."
"That's okay, Shmi," Ann grinned. "Besides, these pajamas are really comfy. I don't mind wearing them a little longer."
"Thanks for getting them for us," Tann whispered as she set silverware in front of Shmi. "I really like them."
"Please," Shmi murmured helplessly through a haze of tears. "I just want to help."
Obi-Wan looked over his shoulder at Maul, and they exchanged a concerned look.
"Honestly, Shmi," Obi-Wan said. "We've got everything under control. Just sit back and let us take care of this meal."
"You don't understand," she whimpered. "I need to help. I need to do something."
"You cooked all day yesterday," Ann said, looking to Maul for reassurance. "You deserve to take a break. Everything's fine."
"No! Please!" Shmi cried, panic rising in her voice. Maul and Obi-Wan looked at each other again, and Tann started backing away, grabbing Ann by the arm and dragging her along with her. "You don't understand! I need to do something!"
Maul gently rested his hands on Shmi's shoulders and gave them a little squeeze. "Just relax," he crooned.
Suddenly, she rocketed out of her chair, whirling on Maul, screaming, "Don't touch me, you monster! You killed my son! My poor innocent son! And you enjoyed it! My whole life died with him!" She pounded her fists against Maul's chest as he stood there stoically, absorbing her anger. "I let him go and you killed him! All I wanted was for my son to have a better life! I thought I was taking care of him! I just..." Her voice broke, and she sobbed, "I just need someone to take care of," as she crumpled to the floor at Maul's feet. "Oh my poor Ani! How could anyone enjoy killing a little boy? My poor boy...my poor Ani..."
Obi-Wan abandoned his chopping and raced over to Shmi's side, but she shoved him away, sobbing, "I trusted you to take care of him. I trusted you..."
As Ann and Tann knelt beside Shmi, Maul took Obi-Wan by the arm and lead him outside and around to the side of the building. "I'm sorry she yelled at you," Maul said once they were out of earshot. "You didn't deserve that."
"Neither did you," Obi-Wan sighed, leaning back against the wall.
Obi-Wan shuddered as Shmi's wails carried over to them. "She's in so much pain."
"She needed to get this out. This is good for her."
"How can you stand to listen to this?"
"I've earned it," Maul said simply.
"Come here." Obi-Wan slowly reached out and wrapped his arms around Maul, hugging him tightly as Shmi's anguish raged through the air.
"What do you call this?"
"It's too easy."
"Well, that's because you're using the Force." Obi-Wan crossed his ankles and stared up at the sky from his vantage point on the roof, enjoying the warmth of Maul's bare belly as his pillow. "Are you sure you don't need me to move my head?"
"No, I'm fine."
"Too bad you can't lie on my stomach."
"I could. I'd just leave gaping holes in it."
"Sometimes those horns are damned inconvenient."
"I like my horns," Maul protested.
"I know." Maul's hand reached down and ruffled Obi-Wan's hair affectionately.
"Mmm. That feels nice." Maul's hand lingered in Obi-Wan's hair, caressing his scalp with fingers that were both strong and gentle. The bond between them was humming softly, and Obi-Wan simply let himself relax and enjoy it. He'd learn to take comfort in these little moments if they were all he was going to get. "Do you think we can go back in yet?" he asked.
The two of them reached out, then simultaneously said, "No."
Maul added, "I suspect she'll be ready to see you before she's interested in seeing me. Hmm."
Maul pressed his fingertip to Obi-Wan's forehead, then pulled it away and watched the spot intently. "You have a sunburn."
"Just my luck."
Ann's head poked over the edge of the roof. "Hey, I brought you some food."
Obi-Wan sat up and sighed, "Thank you. How's she doing?"
Ann climbed the rest of the way up and set down her pack. "She's throwing things without actually touching them."
"Great time for her to discover that ability," Obi-Wan sighed again.
"I still don't get what set her off," Ann said.
Maul sat up, tilted his head from side to side to crack the vertebrae in his neck, then said, "She had been compensating for the loss of Anakin by focusing her energy on taking care of us. She associated cooking and cleaning with caring. When we took that away from her..."
"...we yanked the rug out from under her," Ann said. "Okay, that makes sense now. How long ago did you figure that out?"
Maul and Obi-Wan exchanged a shrug, then Obi-Wan said, "Probably thirty seconds before she exploded."
"Good. Now I don't feel so dense."
"We're all playing this by ear," Obi-Wan said. "The two of us will probably learn more from you than you learn from us."
"You know, I'm still new at this," Ann said. "But it occurs to me that with all this heavy emotion flying around, you might want to check on that shield you two built yesterday."
Obi-Wan squinted at the sky, then looked over at Ann. "You're right. It's weaker. How did you know?"
She shrugged. "Just a hunch."
"Now that you're opening yourself to the Force, you should really start paying attention to hunches. They're usually correct."
Obi-Wan reached out to take Maul's hand, but Maul shook his head. "No. Do it with her."
"No, I don't have that kind of power," Ann stammered.
"Give it a shot," Obi-Wan said with a grin, holding out his hand to her.
She took it with trepidation, then gasped as her consciousness flew along with Obi-Wan's to the atmosphere of the planet. "This is incredible!"
"Isn't it? Now help me find the weak spot."
"I don't know how."
"You found it before. Just relax and you'll get there."
A huge grin split her face. "I think I found it!"
"Great, and now we repair it. Maul, an assist?"
Maul's energy soared upwards to meet them, and together they patched the weak spot with a tapestry of energy. When they finished, Ann gushed, "That was the most amazing thing I've ever felt!"
"I think you'll be doing that on your own soon enough," Maul said.
"Oh no, I don't think I could ever do that without help." The three of them heard the sound of shattering crockery, and Ann shivered. "So what happens if she can't be around you, Maul?" she asked.
"I leave," Maul replied.
"You can't leave," Obi-Wan protested. "She'll just have to learn..."
"...to coexist peacefully with her son's killer?" Maul replied flatly. "No, if it's a problem, I will leave. And you will stay."
"I can't do this alone, Maul."
"I will not short-change Shmi. I owe her a greater debt than I can ever repay, and I will not deny her the training she deserves," Maul snapped. "And if I go, you won't have to worry about bounty hunters."
Ann held up her hands and said, "Maybe it won't come to that." As Maul and Obi-Wan backed down, she said, "Here, eat something," handing them each a pair of containers.
Maul took the lid off of one of the containers and raised his eyebrows. "What is this?"
She shrugged. "Beats me. I made it, and I don't know how to cook. The other container has water in it." She looked over at Obi-Wan and asked, "Did you know you have a sunburn?"
"Yes, I do."
"You should get into the shade so I can heal you."
"You should," Maul agreed.
"Let me just eat my, um..." Obi-Wan peered into the container with a puzzled expression. "Let me just eat my lunch here first."
Ann grinned and said, "If you get stomach cramps, I can help with those too."
Obi-Wan gingerly walked in after sunset and stood in the main doorway, scanning the wreckage of the common room. He found himself grateful for their laziness the day before--most of the new supplies were still packed up in crates. Everything else, save for C-3PO, was smashed.
He felt Shmi before he saw her, her arrival in the hallway announced by a wave of tightly controlled fury, burning like a cold fire. Shmi stood in the doorway and stared icily across the room at Obi-Wan, but made no further motion.
Hands open in front of him, Obi-Wan asked, "May I come back?"
"I have no legitimate gripe with you," she said coldly.
"Maul's spending the night in his ship."
"How are you feeling?"
"How do you think I'm feeling?" she snapped.
"I mean beyond the obvious."
Shmi's gaze grew steely. "Powerful."
"It's the Dark Side."
"I know. I like it, but I know I shouldn't."
"I liked it too when I started tapping into it. It's very lush, very powerful, very straightforward."
"No wonder the Jedi are so afraid of turning."
"The Jedi are right about a good many things, and this is one of them. You'll move past this."
Her eyes narrowed dangerously. "How do you know that?"
"Because you're a good person."
"I don't feel like one right now."
"Your anger is just, Shmi. But it will pass."
"What if it doesn't?"
"You'll make sure it does. Do you really want to spend the rest of your life like this?"
The steel in her voice slipped fractionally. "No."
"I didn't think so."
Shmi looked at him appraisingly a moment longer, then without a word, turned and headed back down the hallway.
Obi-Wan exhaled, then skirted the wreckage and headed to his bedroom. Once he arrived, he commed Maul. "Will you be all right alone tonight?"
"I'll be fine," Maul replied.
Obi-Wan ran his fingers through his hair, pushing it out of his eyes. "What if the nightmares come back?"
"It's more important for you to keep an eye on Shmi than on me."
"All right, but if I sense you're having a nightmare, I'm going to help you out."
"You don't need to monitor me."
"I can't help it. I just do."
The line was silent for a long moment. Then Maul said, "I'll do my best not to dream tonight. Get some rest, Obi-Wan."
"Good night, Maul."
Shmi stood at the ramp to the Sith Infiltrator the next morning, waiting. The anger that had raged through her the day before had quieted to a dull roar, but it persisted, buzzing through her body like a current. She liked it, but a small voice at the back of her head kept reminding her that this should scare her. So far, she'd been able to ignore the voice, but it was getting louder. She needed to see Maul before it drowned out her resolve.
Maul appeared at the top of the ramp moments after Shmi arrived, and looked down at her deferentially. "Just tell me what you want from me," he said softly. "You can have it."
"I want revenge," she said simply, then she wrinkled her brow and looked at the ground in confusion. "But I don't know how to get it."
Maul slowly walked down the ramp. "I do."
Her head snapped back up. "You're volunteering for punishment?"
"So what do you suggest?"
Stopping a few feet away from her, he said, "Open yourself to me and show me what I destroyed. Show me Anakin. Show me what he meant to you. Show me the life you had together. Show me the joy and innocence I extinguished. Show me your pain. Make me live with it."
Shmi nodded, and she felt the floodgates go crashing open.
Obi-Wan's head jerked up off the pillow. "Shit," he muttered as he dashed out of the building towards Maul's ship. He skidded to a halt several meters away from the ramp. Shmi and Maul were locked in a massive energy exchange, waves of emotion pouring off of Shmi with seemingly no end in sight. Jolt after jolt hit Maul, who stood on shaky legs, barely keeping his balance. Maul was absorbing all he could, but Obi-Wan could feel overflow splashing off of him: a child's laughter, the simple joy of holding an infant, the pride at a child's accomplishments, the terror of watching a pod race, the love expressed in a child's painting, the hope for a better future, the absolute trust given to a stranger, and the gut-wrenching loss of it all. Emptiness. Mourning with no end. Loss beyond compare. A mother outliving her child. A dream destroyed.
Without warning, it ended. Shmi turned, wiping tears from her face, her demeanor much like it had been when she first arrived, and wordlessly headed back for the building.
Maul crumpled to the earth.
Obi-Wan knelt at his side tried to help him up, but Maul pushed him away, weakly growling, "Leave me."
"No," Obi-Wan insisted.
Shakily pushing himself up on hands and knees, Maul snarled, "I've earned this."
Obi-Wan ran a gentle hand across the back of Maul's head, crooning, "Release it to the Force, Maul. Let it go. Heal."
Obi-Wan focused his thoughts and called Shmi? as he reached his arms around Maul, holding him tightly.
A faint voice replied, Let it go, Maul. You've suffered enough. I'm satisfied.
Obi-Wan could feel Maul struggling, feel him trying to hold on to the pain, feel him trying to continue his punishment, but then Shmi sent a wave of forgiveness over her weak bond, and Maul gasped and sagged in Obi-Wan's arms, the self-loathing flowing from him like a black tide, until all Obi-Wan could feel was emptiness. He pulled Maul's unprotesting body into a hug, murmuring, "It's all right. You'll be all right."
Maul tightened his arms around Obi-Wan, a tremor running through his body. "After all that, she forgives me," he rasped. They sat together as Maul slowly caught his breath, his head carefully nestled in the crook of Obi-Wan's neck. Pulling away, in a strained voice he said, "Take me back. I need to talk to her."
Obi-Wan helped Maul to his feet, then wrapped an arm around him to support him as they walked back together in silence. Shmi waited for them at the doorway, hands clasped in front of her. "I saw into you," she said.
Maul was clearly not expecting to hear that. "You did?"
She nodded. "I know you feel genuine remorse. I also know that you're lying. You weren't evil before Sidious got to you. What you became was all his doing. The blame for my son's death lies squarely at his feet."
Maul opened his mouth to protest, but Shmi held up her hand. "No," she said. "Stop lying to yourself, and stop lying to us. What Sidious had you to do my son was far more merciful than what he did to you."
"I took pleasure in your son's death," Maul said helplessly.
"Yes, I know. I felt it." Shmi wrapped her arms tightly around herself. "But his death was quick. You saw to it that it was. He felt nothing. You even took care to make sure that he didn't see you coming. I know you feel you were just being efficient, but it was a mercy." She walked over and put her hand on Maul's cheek, watching as his eyes squeezed closed. "You are forgiven. You will repay me by never allowing it to happen again."
She moved her hand, and his eyes fluttered open, the faint hint of tears making them glisten. "I will never forget," he vowed. "I will carry his life with me always."
"As will I," Shmi said, chin high.
"You should rest," Obi-Wan murmured, giving Maul a supportive squeeze. "You're exhausted."
"No," he said, loosening himself from Obi-Wan's grasp and standing on his own. "No, I'm not going to wallow in my pain any longer. It accomplishes nothing." He licked his lips, gaze locked with Shmi's, then said, "Shmi has forgiven me. Anakin's murder was my last violent act. It's time to move on. What's important is how I live now."
Shmi nodded, gave Maul a small smile, then stepped aside to let him back in.
As he walked in, Ann and Tann looked up from the table. "We cooked," Ann said. "Be afraid."
Maul closed his eyes and grinned, shaking his head gently from side to side.
Tann walked over to him, smiled, took his hand, and led him back to the table. "I'm glad you're back," she whispered as he sat down, and then gave him a quick kiss on the very top of his head before rejoining her sister at the cookstove.
In the doorway, Shmi looked at Obi-Wan and said, "She needs him here far more than I ever needed him to be gone."
"They're the oddest pair of kindred spirits I've ever seen," Obi-Wan replied.
After the breakfast dishes had been cleared away, Ann and Tann stood in the corner of the main room, staring down at C-3PO. "He's not finished yet," Ann commented.
"No, he's not," Shmi replied as she walked over to join them. "Ani didn't have time to put coverings on him. But I do believe he's fully functional."
Tann squatted down in front of the slumped droid and pushed his on switch. He came to life with a dull squeal, his eyes lighting up and his posture straightening. "Hello!" he chirped. "I am C-3PO, human-cyborg relations."
Shmi shook her head. "He always says that when you switch him on."
"Good day, Mistress Skywalker! How is Master Anakin today?"
Tann winced and reached for the switch again, but Shmi grabbed her hand and said, "Master Anakin is dead."
"Oh dear! I am terribly sorry. How rude of me to bring it up..."
"You couldn't know," Shmi replied.
"My sincere condolences, Mistress Skywalker."
"Dear me, I don't believe I can get off the ground from this position," C-3PO said, waving his arms awkwardly. "If you would be kind enough to assist me, I would greatly appreciate it."
Ann and Tann helped the droid to his feet, then stood by uncertainly as it wobbled unsteadily and complained about the floor.
"He's quite the prissy thing," Obi-Wan quipped. Shmi turned to see both him and Maul leaning against the table wearing nearly-matching bemused expressions.
"Prissy?" C-3PO yelped indignantly. "Hardly! I am protocol droid, fully conversant in several thousand languages."
"Only several thousand?" Obi-Wan retorted.
"I have the capacity to learn many thousand more! Prissy. My word!"
"Does it clean?" Maul asked.
"Clean? I am a protocol droid..."
"And we don't need a protocol droid right now," Maul replied, "which is why I am attempting to determine if you're useful."
The droid spluttered some more, and Shmi leaned over and switched him off. "I don't know why Ani made him such a chatterbox," she winced.
"We'll put him back," Ann offered, but Shmi held up her hand.
"I want to try something." Shmi narrowed her focus until there was nothing in her mind but her and the droid. Reaching out with the Force, she lifted the droid, floated him back over to the corner, and gently rested him against the wall. She turned back to Maul and Obi-Wan with a huge smile on her face.
"Excellent work," Obi-Wan said with a grin.
"It wasn't that hard," she replied, pride evident in her posture. "I thought something that size would be difficult to move, but the size really doesn't make a difference, does it?"
"Only in your mind," Maul replied.
Obi-Wan looked back over at C-3PO and quipped, "Maybe we could use him as a coat rack?"
"We should download a list of all the languages he knows," Maul replied. "He might eventually be useful."
"I would have loved to have a droid like him when I was a kid," Tann murmured.
"Remember ZD-87?" Ann asked. Tann rolled her eyes and grinned.
"Who was that?" Shmi asked.
"Our father's business partner's droid," Ann explained. "We thought she was so cool. She was a cross between a protocol droid and a battle droid. Great brain, great moves."
"I wanted to be her," Tann sighed.
"Really?" Shmi asked. "Why?"
"She could do anything," Tann shrugged, then looked over at Ann.
"Twi'lek women don't have many options," Ann explained, sitting cross-legged on a crate marked "medical supplies." "If we're good looking, and our families need money, most of us get sold. If we're good looking, and our families don't need money, we usually end up being concubines or dancers. Most of the rest of us just end up having kids and supporting our husband's business."
"Most of the rest of you," Maul prompted. "That still leaves a few."
"If you're very smart, very lucky, and not particularly good looking, you could get a job as a political advisor," Ann said.
"Or you could escape," Tann added softly, leaning against the crate. "I've heard some Twi'lek women have."
"You two have," Obi-Wan said.
"Yeah, we have," Ann beamed. "It's still sinking in." Turning to Tann, she said, "Mom would be so proud if she were still alive."
Shmi crossed back to the table and sat down in one of the chairs. "She didn't want you to be typical Twi'lek women?" she asked.
"No," Ann replied. "She sent us to school, and she spent extra time with us every night to make sure we understood the homework. Twi'lek teachers don't answer girls' questions or grade their homework. They think it's a waste of time. But Mom made sure we got as good an education as our brothers."
"I miss them," Tann replied.
"How many brothers?" Obi-Wan asked.
"Six," Ann replied.
"There were eight of you?" Shmi asked incredulously. "I had my hands full with just one. I can't imagine having eight."
"It was great," Ann beamed. "We used to play with them all the time. Of course, they didn't tell any of their friends that they played with their sisters. Boys aren't supposed to play with girls. But we didn't like any of the girls we knew because they were all being trained to be pretty instead of being smart or fun." Turning to Maul, she asked, "You played with your sister, didn't you?"
"All the time," he said as a small smile ghosted the corners of his mouth. "I did everything with her."
"Did your friends care?" Tann asked.
"I didn't have friends."
Obi-Wan turned and gave him a puzzled look. "Why not?"
"That's not how I was raised," Maul said simply. "My sister and mother were my whole life."
"Didn't you ever see other kids?" Obi-Wan asked.
"Only when we went to market, but we didn't interact. It's just the way my caste was structured. My mother, my sister, and I were a unit. We did everything together."
"Sounds lonely," Shmi said.
"It wasn't," Maul replied. "I was perfectly happy once my sister was born. Before that, I was too young to care."
"I just remember how lonely I got when my family went on long trading voyages," Shmi said. "I was so young when I became a slave, so I don't remember a lot, but I do remember being lonely without other children around when we'd go on a long trip. But then again, I was an only child."
"See, that seems hard to me," Ann said. "Eight seems normal. One seems really lonely."
"I had friends," Shmi replied.
"But friends go home," Ann retorted. "What did you do then?"
"Oh, my parents read to me, and I learned to read very young, so I'd read to myself as well. And when I first got sold, there was a young woman who took care of me and would make up stories with me." Shmi shook her head nostalgically. "She was a godsend. I never would have made it without her. And eventually that household got another little girl and I'd play quietly with her when no one was around. But mostly I read and made up stories."
"I think all kids make up stories," Ann replied. "I know we did."
"I didn't," Maul replied.
"Really?" Tann asked.
"Why make up a story when you can take your glider out over the sand dunes with your sister? Or go swimming in the vapor lakes? Or hunting lizards for that night's dinner?" He paused, a faraway expression on his face, then added, "My sister sometimes made up stories. I'd forgotten that. Girls were encouraged to be more creative than boys."
"Why's that?" Shmi asked.
"Because they grew up to raise the next generation of the caste. Boys didn't."
Tann looked over at Obi-Wan and quietly asked, "What about you?"
"Me?" He looked startled. "I wasn't raised in a family."
"But surely you had friends at the Jedi Temple?" Shmi asked.
"You were talking about families," Obi-Wan said, looking distinctly uncomfortable. "I didn't want to interrupt."
"But your creche was like a surrogate family," Maul said, resting a supportive hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder.
"'There is no emotion; there is peace.' We learned that one early." He looked down at the floor. "It was like a family, but it wasn't a family. I have to admit, I'm insanely jealous of you all for having had one, even if all of yours came to bad ends. I mean, I don't envy you losing your families," he added hastily. "What you all went through was just horrible. But..." He trailed off, shrugging helplessly. "I just wonder sometimes what it must be like to have a family that loves you."
There was an uncomfortable silence, before Maul finally said, "I can show you."
"So can I," Tann added.
"I'll do it too," Ann said.
"I'd be happy to share what I remember," Shmi said. "I think we'll need Maul's help..."
Obi-Wan held up his hand and stammered, "I, um..." A flush crept across his cheeks. "I appreciate it. Really." Looking up at Maul, he took a deep breath and said, "Maybe just you and me later."
Maul nodded, then said, "We should stop talking about this now."
"No, I'll be fine..."
"No, you're not. And we should spend some time teaching today." Turning to the twins, Maul asked, "All Twi'lek girls are taught how to dance, correct?"
"Of course," Ann sighed. "I hated that."
"But have you continued to practice?"
"Yes. We never knew what our next owner would want us to do, so we practiced, just in case."
"Good. Then you can easily learn martial arts. Go change into loose pants and tops and meet me outside." As they left, he turned to Shmi and asked, "Have you ever had any physical training of any kind?"
"No," she said sheepishly.
Obi-Wan cleared his throat and said, "I'll get her started."
"I feel so clumsy," Shmi said as they took another break and sat down at the table.
"You're in excellent shape. You just need training," Obi-Wan replied. The two of them watched out the main door as Maul led Ann and Tann through some slow kata. He was good with them, Obi-Wan mused. In just a couple of hours, he'd taken two women who'd never done martial arts in their lives and taught them some fairly impressive, very energetic moves. Now they were just cooling off, but the precision and grace in their bodies was a wonder to behold.
"I think it was when they started tumbling across the lawn that I felt old," Shmi sighed.
"Don't feel old," Obi-Wan replied, slumping forward onto his elbows and resting his head in his hands. "I can't do any of that either, and I'm Maul's age. Well, I could probably do what they're doing now."
"I should get him to teach me. Teach us, really. We could both do that."
"It looks so easy," Shmi mused. "It must mean it's terribly difficult."
"So, do I get to cook again?" Shmi asked.
"Why not?" Obi-Wan shrugged. "Just not all the time."
The trio finished their exercises and came in. "We stink," Ann said succinctly. "Tann and I are hitting the showers."
"That sounds like a good idea," Shmi replied. "Once one of them is done, I'll wash up and then start lunch."
"We have a third shower around here somewhere," Obi-Wan said, looking around the main room. "We did buy three, didn't we?"
"It's still in the crate," Maul said. "I'll set it up, but it won't be ready to use until its water recycler is primed." Turning to Shmi, he said, "You're cooking again?"
"I have Obi-Wan's permission," she said with mock seriousness.
"I'd like to watch."
"You want to learn to cook?"
"I should learn to contribute fully to the group."
"Well, I'd be happy to teach you."
After they'd finished setting up the third shower in a separate room from the first two and everyone had finished getting clean, Obi-Wan watched from the kitchen table as Maul followed Shmi around the kitchen area like an inquisitive child, taking in everything she did with a seeming awe.
"How do you know what flavors will mix together pleasingly?" Maul asked, tattooed brow furrowed as he watched her tossing several different types of plants in a mixer.
"A lot of this is just experience, Maul."
"But these plants are all new to you."
"True," she conceded, letting the mixer chop the plants to a fine consistency. "But with experience, you can learn to imagine how new foods will taste together. Here, try this." She lifted the lid off the mixer, spooned out a small amount, and gave it to Maul.
He carefully sampled it, and his eyebrows shot up.
She grinned. "Now, let's toss in a little bean paste and spices. Here, smell this..."
Obi-Wan smiled. A mother who had lost a son, and a son who had lost a mother. And both lost them to the machinations of the same man. Somehow, it seemed right.
[And that's all I wrote.]
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