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.
"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...