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.
"You're thinking," Obi-Wan said.
"I didn't like having them in my mind."
"Even though I told you you had to let them in?"
"Only you belong there," Maul raged, pacing the length of the room.
Obi-Wan crossed his arms, standing his ground "I'm not bonding with you, Maul."
"What, and you would rather cast your lot in with them?" he spat, gesturing contemptuously at the door.
"They trained me. And I killed your master."
Maul's pacing paused, his back to Obi-Wan, and Obi-Wan could see the muscles of Maul's shoulders twitching. Maul suddenly turned on his heel and purred, "You're better than them."
"No, I'm not. I still have a lot to learn."
Slowly walking up to Obi-Wan, Maul said, "I wouldn't be so sure about that. After all, my former master did kill your former master. Is he not the one who trained you?"
"I see where you're going with this, and I'm not taking the bait."
"I simply want you to live up to your full potential."
Obi-Wan looked down into Maul's eyes, which were now just inches away from his, and said, "This conversation is over. And that's an order."
Maul's eyes briefly widened, then dropped down deferentially.
Obi-Wan pursed his lips in thought, then took one of Maul's bandaged arms in his hands and asked, "How are you feeling? Are you up for training again?"
Maul looked down at his bandages and said, "I believe so. This should not hinder me. I have trained with worse."
"You don't seem to mind it when I touch you anymore."
"No, I don't."
Obi-Wan gently pressed his thumbs down the length of Maul's inner arm. "Let me know if this hurts."
"The pain is negligible."
After checking the other arm, Obi-Wan said, "All right then. The Council would really like to see you in action in a couple of days, so you should probably get some training in. They were impressed with what little they saw back when you were still locked up in the holding area."
Maul looked up into Obi-Wan's eyes and said, "I will be able to show my abilities more fully if I spar with a partner."
"If you are ready."
A slow smile crossed Obi-Wan's face. "You're on." Stripping off his tunic, he said, "Although from what I saw from you in the cell, you'll make quick work of me."
"You did kill my master," Maul replied, pulling his own tunic off, then his shoes.
"Your master didn't exactly fight," Obi-Wan countered, kicking off his boots. "He just threw Force-lightning around."
"True," Maul noted. "He was not the one to teach me to fight."
"Right, he just hired people to train his Sith apprentice."
"There is a large segment of the Coruscant economy that is dedicated to keeping secrets."
Obi-Wan and Maul walked together to the center of the room, and Obi-Wan quirked an eyebrow and asked, "This isn't going to be a battle to the death, is it? I mean, you do know how to just spar, right?"
With a small feral grin, Maul replied, "Of course. Ready?"
A split second later, Obi-Wan was flat on his back on the ground. "How the hell did you do that?" he gasped.
Maul stood over him, head cocked. "I learned that from a Mandalorian mercenary."
"Damn, can you teach me that one?"
Maul held his hand out and helped Obi-Wan to his feet. "You will want mats brought in for that."
"Yeah, I guess I would," Obi-Wan replied as he rolled his shoulder to get the kinks out. "Okay, this time I'm really ready. Let's just spar. Don't try to throw me yet."
He lasted a little longer this time before falling over.
"You're...unusually flexible," Obi-Wan said as he rubbed his lower back.
"I'll bet you can put both feet behind your head."
"Why would I do that?"
"Never mind," Obi-Wan replied, taking the proffered hand. "Are you sure you didn't kill any of your teachers?"
"They were too expensive to kill."
"Are you just as good with your double-bladed lightsaber as you are with hand-to-hand?"
"Then I'm damned lucky Sidious didn't send you to Naboo instead of doing the job himself."
"He did not think I was ready for a mission on my own."
"He was wrong."
Maul studied Obi-Wan for a long moment, then asked, "Do you really think so?"
Maul pulled thoughtfully on his decorated lower lip, smiled, then scowled and shook his head. "Are you ready to try again?" he barked, pacing in a tight circle.
Obi-Wan's eyes narrowed. "Yes."
This time, Maul ended up on the ground. "How did you...?"
"I took advantage of your distraction. It's how I killed your master."
Obi-Wan held out his hand, and Maul took it, rising fluidly to his feet. Wincing, he reached one hand behind his head and gingerly touched one of his horns.
"Are you all right?" Obi-Wan asked.
"My horn is cracked. It's minor. Again?"
"Let's get mats brought up first," Obi-Wan said, rubbing at his sore shoulder.
"Let me," Maul said, gently turning Obi-Wan around and applying strong fingers to his aching muscle.
Obi-Wan stifled a moan and said, "You don't need to do that, you know."
"I caused the injury. I will treat it."
"You're really good at this," Obi-Wan gasped.
"I have detailed knowledge of anatomy and the physiological responses to stimuli."
"I'll bet your former master never dreamed you'd put it to pleasurable uses."
Maul's hands froze momentarily, then continued their work.
"Oh, sorry," Obi-Wan said sheepishly. "I'd forgotten. Actually, you know what?" he asked, turning around. "Your turn." He turned Maul around and applied a mild healing touch to the cracked horn. "I'm not very good at this, but I can help a little."
It was Maul's turn to gasp. "Master...I..."
"Don't call me that...whoa!" Obi-Wan caught Maul as his knees gave out and guided him over to the sofa. "Hey, are you all right?"
Blinking back tears, a clearly bewildered Maul stammered, "I...that feeling...it felt..."
"I was just healing you. It's supposed to feel nice."
"Nice," Maul repeated, before angrily wiping the tears away. "Nice."
"You're not used to nice, are you?"
There was a knock on the door.
"That would be my art teacher," Maul rasped. "I require a shower." And he bolted for the bathroom.
Obi-Wan let out a long breath, then got up to answer the door.
Weak weak weak.
He has not merely picked up empathy, but a whole host of other emotions from his master. He nearly cried in front of him. Cried. Sith do not cry. Maul does not cry. He has spent the greater part of two decades going through trial after trial without crying. His master tortured him, neglected him, used his body in the most degrading and depraved ways, and never once did he cry.
This is worse than before the bond.
Maul lets the water from the shower run between his horns, and reaches out to make it hotter. He knows that if he turns it up any higher, he will scald himself, but somehow he cannot bring himself to do it. He cannot give himself the punishment he deserves. Snarling in frustration, he rips off his bandages and stares at the nearly healed wounds.
Just a little pressure with his thumbnail in the right place...
"If you'll excuse me," Obi-Wan said, smiling at Jarobe, and heading for the bathroom. Opening the door, he walked in, closed it quietly behind him, and asked, "What do you think you're doing?"
"Showering," Maul hissed in reply.
Obi-Wan pulled open the door to the shower stall and stared in. "What else are you doing?"
Maul moved his thumb away from his wrist. "Nothing."
"What were you doing?"
Maul turned away, staring numbly at the wall.
Obi-Wan stepped fully dressed into the shower and turned off the water. Maul slowly sank to the floor. "Maul, I command you not to injure yourself anymore."
"Yes, Master," he whispered.
"Let me see that," Obi-Wan said, gently taking Maul's wrist and running his thumb over the slightly reopened wound. "Looks like I got here just in time. You won't do this again, right?"
"Then I won't tell anyone that you slipped. Do you want me to heal this?"
Obi-Wan ran his fingers through his wet hair, then said, "I'd call the healers, but I don't think they've helped you any. Look, Jarobe is out there, and I'm willing to bet that painting would make you feel a lot better right now. Maul, look at me."
His golden eyes fixed on Obi-Wan's with a hopeful stare.
"Breathe. Slowly. Feel the strength and the purpose of the Force filling you. Find your calm center. You can do this. Let the tension leave you," he crooned, smoothing at the lines around Maul's eyes and mouth with his thumbs, feeling the pent-up emotions dissolving into calmness. "There, you're feeling better now, aren't you?"
"Yes. Thank you, Master."
Obi-Wan grinned and shook his head. "Stop calling me that. Now get dried off, put on some clothes, and go learn how to paint."
"You're wet," Jarobe noted as Obi-Wan stepped out of the bathroom.
"You're observant," Obi-Wan quipped in return. "Maul will be out shortly. How much do you know about him?"
"I got the full briefing. Ex-Sith who was raised in the order from infancy, severely emotionally damaged as a result, and uses art as an outlet. The only materials he had to work with were animal bones and blood, and he had to hide his work or risk punishment."
"He's not completely an ex-Sith. You'd do well to remember that. And he's very functional for someone who by all rights should spend most of his time curled up in a fetal ball."
"What are you saying?"
"I'm saying not to underestimate him."
"Is he dangerous?"
"Mmm, no. Not really. You're safe. Just don't touch him. He doesn't like that."
Maul emerged from the bathroom, towel slung around his waist. "I require clean clothes. I will be back."
"Wait," Jarobe said, surging to his feet. "Are those tattoos or it that natural pigmentation?"
"I've never seen anything like them before."
"I designed them myself."
Jarobe blinked. "Wow. Those are amazing. Do you mind if I take a look at them?"
"No." The towel hit the ground, and Obi-Wan hid his amused smirk behind his hand.
"Whoa," Jarobe said. "You tattooed your...whoa. Did you do the work yourself?"
"How did you reach...?"
"Obi-Wan has commented that I am remarkably flexible."
"I had seen the pictures of your cell, but I had no idea... You clearly have an amazing amount of native talent, Maul. I am really looking forward to working with you."
Gesturing to the door, Obi-Wan said, "I'll just leave the two of you to it. Call if you need anything." And then he beat a hasty retreat before he started laughing out loud.
"And then he just dropped his towel and stood there totally naked!"
"You're kidding!" Adi howled. "What did Jarobe do?"
"After he got over just how...extensive the tattoos were, he gushed about Maul's artistic talent."
"Trust an artist to be so focused in on the details that he misses the whole picture."
"Not that again!" Obi-Wan groaned.
She grinned. "Face it, he's easy on the eyes."
"Adi, I can't think of him like that."
She shrugged. "Your loss. More tea?"
"That would be great, thanks."
Adi got up off her sofa and headed to her cooking area. "You know, he was a lot more resistant to undressing in front of others not so long ago."
"Well, I ordered him to last time. This time it was his choice."
"That's actually a big step," she said, returning with a steaming mug in each hand and settling back on the sofa with Obi-Wan. "Are you sure he's all right to leave alone right now?"
"Can you feel him from here?"
"Not really, but I think I'd be able to tell if he was agitated. He broadcasts that pretty loudly."
Adi took a sip of tea, then rested the mug in her lap and asked, "So why aren't you spending time with your friends?"
With a sigh, Obi-Wan replied, "Adi, my life has changed so much in the past couple of weeks. I lost my master and discovered the Sith still existed when I killed the Sith master. Now I have a Sith apprentice following me around like an abused pet, and I've got the ear of the entire Jedi Council." He paused, then said, "I really don't have that much in common with my friends anymore."
"Well, you know you can come to me if you need to talk."
"I do appreciate it, but I hate to take you away from your duties."
Adi grinned and put her feet up on her coffee table. "Are you kidding? It's a nice break. I've only been on the council for a few years, but it's exhausting. And besides, I like you. I'm really glad I got to know you. I just wish it hadn't been under such...trying circumstances."
"You and me both," Obi-Wan replied, lifting his mug in a toast.
"It's late," Obi-Wan commented as he walked into Maul's quarters.
Totally engrossed in his work, Maul didn't reply. There were canvases propped up all over the room, each covered with intricate abstract swaths of color. Obi-Wan slowly walked from canvas to canvas, drinking in the varied emotions pouring from each piece. "These are amazing," he murmured. "Jarobe told me you were a quick study, but I had no idea. And you're using more than just red. Okay, still mostly red, but not just red." He paused and looked back over at Maul. "Have you heard a single word I've said?"
Maul continued painting.
"Apparently not," Obi-Wan quipped. He settled down on the sofa and watched, absorbing the clear sense of focus radiating from Maul. This felt right.
Obi-Wan awoke to the sensation of fingers brushing across his face. He must have fallen asleep on the sofa. Slowly opening his eyes, he saw Maul studying his face intently, fingers smoothing paint across Obi-Wan's skin. "What are you doing?" Obi-Wan whispered.
"Giving you warrior markings. Close your eyes."
Obi-Wan obeyed, feeling the gentle touch of paint being smoothed over his eyelids. "Is this permanent?" he asked.
"No. Not unless you want it to be."
Obi-Wan opened his eyes again, watching as Maul turned and dipped his fingers in a jar of red paint. "Why are you doing this?"
"You killed Sidious. You've earned them."
"You just ran out of blank canvases, didn't you?" Obi-Wan joked.
The eyes that turned back to meet his held no trace of humor in them, and Obi-Wan suppressed a shudder. Naked devotion was all he could read in them, and a small voice in the back of his head pointed out that maybe Adi wasn't the only one who found Maul attractive anymore.
"I'm sorry," Obi-Wan said. "I'm honored."
The two men lapsed into silence as Maul continued his work, fingers gracefully dancing over Obi-Wan's hypersensitive skin as if he were intimately aware of where each and every nerve ending lay. Obi-Wan had to stifle a gasp when Maul applied stripes of paint to his lower lip, the touch was so electric. He'd never been the object of this kind of scrutiny before, and certainly not from someone as focused as Maul. It was unnerving, and more than a little exciting, but at the same time it comforted him as well. "I'm finished," Maul finally said, sitting back and wiping his fingers off on his shirt.
Obi-Wan sat up from the sofa, pushed himself up to his feet, and headed to the bathroom, Maul following several paces behind him. Gaze fixed at the floor, Obi-Wan walked up to the mirror, grabbed hold of the sink, and looked up.
This time it was Maul's turn to brace Obi-Wan.
Obi-Wan gaped at the mirror, gaped at the image it presented him. He looked ferocious, feral, noble. He wanted to think that he looked nothing like himself, but it wasn't true. Maul had somehow found a buried part of Obi-Wan and brought it to the surface. He slowly became aware of Maul's firm hand between his shoulder blades and blinked himself back into full awareness. "This is amazing," Obi-Wan murmured. "I feel..." He furrowed his brow, watching as the image in the mirror did the same, only it looked so much more powerful there. "I feel very strong, actually. I feel like a different person."
"You're not," Maul replied, looking over Obi-Wan's shoulder and into the mirror.
"Is this how you see me?"
Obi-Wan stared into their joint image in the mirror, feeling every millimeter of the painted designs on his own face. Their patterns were so different, but had been made by the same hand, driven by the same soul. He could feel something growing between them, something dancing and seductive and alive, twining together like the twisting lines on their faces. So easy. It would be so easy to fall into this. The golden eyes drew him in and he turned and reached out to cup a patterned cheek in his hand...
...then gasped and stepped back, shaking off the incipient bond. "Sorry," he murmured. "Didn't mean to let that happen."
Maul drew in a ragged breath and sagged against the doorframe. "No, of course not."
"You didn't expect that either, did you?"
Maul's brow furrowed. "No, I didn't."
"But you'd like it."
"I have never hidden that from you."
Obi-Wan let out a deep breath. "Well, thank you for this," he said, gesturing at his face. "I will be washing it, but not right away."
"If you want me to do it again at any time, I will."
With a shy grin, Obi-Wan replied, "I may just take you up on that." Clearing his throat, he continued, "Why don't you show me your artwork from yesterday?"
"Yesterday?" Maul seemed genuinely puzzled.
Obi-Wan glanced out into the living area at the chronometer. "It's morning. Were you up painting all night?"
"I...must have been. I wasn't tired."
"You really had no idea?"
"I haven't seen a sun since Naboo."
Guiltily, Obi-Wan said, "Oh. Well, we'll have to rectify that. Look, you should get some sleep, and when you wake, I'll make you something to eat and we can talk about your art then."
"I don't require sleep."
Maul closed his eyes and murmured, "Not from staying up all night."
"No, I know," Obi-Wan replied, guiding an oddly unprotesting Maul into the bedroom. "Sometimes...sometimes I wish I could be what you needed. Just get some sleep."
After watching Maul's golden eyes close and his face soften with the quick approach of sleep, Obi-Wan crept to his own quarters and called Adi.
"Are you all right?"
"Maul misses the sun."
"We'll fix that. Anything else?"
Obi-Wan hesitated, then said, "No, nothing else. Thank you, Adi."
His eyes snapped open. "Master, I..."
"Relax," Obi-Wan smiled down at him, hand pressed gently against Maul's sternum. "You're not in trouble. You've just been asleep for a while and I figured I should wake you up. Your doctor's going to be here in about half an hour to look at your arms."
"The paint dried and started cracking, so I washed it. Come on, get up. I cooked dinner."
"Yes, dinner. Like I said, you've been asleep for a while." He got off the bed and extended his hand.
Maul took it, raised himself from the bed, and let himself be led to the living area, where he stopped and stared open-mouthed at the sight before him.
"Your room actually does have windows," Obi-Wan noted with a smile. "The Council just wasn't sure about giving you access to them."
Maul slowly walked across the room and pressed his hands against the surface of the glass, staring out at the setting sun as its light reflected off the windows of Coruscant. "The view is magnificent," he croaked, throat tight with emotion.
"I know." Obi-Wan bit his lip in thought, then asked, "Would you like to eat there? I could bring your plate over to the window."
"Yes I would."
Dinner passed in silence as Maul continued to stare out the window, enraptured by the vivid colors of the Coruscant sunset. As the sun finally disappeared completely over the horizon, there was a knock at the door.
"I'll get it," Obi-Wan said, pushing his chair back and heading for the door. "It's Doctor Heen."
"Hello, Maul," she smiled. "You're looking a lot better than the last time I saw you."
Maul turned and narrowed his eyes at her. "My arms are fine."
"I still need to take a look, just to be sure."
Maul opened his mouth to protest, but Obi-Wan held up his hand and said, "You need to do this, Maul."
"Your health is our responsibility."
"And when do I get to exercise control over what happens to my own body?"
"As soon as you prove yourself capable of doing so," Obi-Wan countered.
Maul opened his mouth, closed it, then said, "I will do this for you."
Doctor Heen's smile faltered, but she valiantly plastered it back on as she crossed the room. "Would you like to sit down?" Maul made no move whatsoever to reply. "Um, is that a no? Okay, we'll just look at you here. If you'll just hold out your arms..."
Maul glared over at Obi-Wan, who nodded. Maul then reluctantly pushed up his sleeves and bared his arms for the doctor. She gently reached out to touch the largest of the scabs, and Maul hissed and pulled his arm back.
"Sorry, did that hurt?" she asked.
"Oh, sorry," Obi-Wan said, crossing the room to stand by Maul's side. "He's not comfortable being touched." Turning to Maul, he said, "I know you're going to hate this, but see if you can't let her do her job, all right?"
"You do it," Maul hissed.
"I'm not a doctor." Putting a stabilizing hand on Maul's back, he said, "Now let her try again."
Maul gritted his teeth as the doctor gingerly poked and prodded at his scabs for a few seconds. "You look good!" she said nervously, smile straining.
"You barely looked at him!" Obi-Wan protested.
"She looked enough," Maul snarled, and the doctor backed up several paces, eyes wide with fright.
"No, she didn't," Obi-Wan barked. "Doctor Heen, he's not going to hurt you. Now please, if you would give him a proper exam."
"He'll be fine," she stammered. "He's healing well."
"Are you sure? Just look, please, and be sure."
She inched back nervously, glancing down at Maul's arms. "Well, I am a little concerned about one of those cuts."
She pointed, careful not to touch. "That one on his wrist. It's not as healed as the rest of them, and that worries me."
"Ah, that one was reopened by accident," Obi-Wan noted, casting a sidelong glance at Maul.
"Oh, well, that's understandable I suppose. That probably wouldn't have happened if you'd kept the bandages on..." She met Maul's gaze, and he snarled at her. Jumping back with a gasp, she grabbed at her chest with one hand, but quickly calmed herself and continued, "So I'll just leave you some bacta ointment for it. Put it on the area twice daily."
Obi-Wan glared at Maul as the doctor pulled the ointment from her medkit and then beat a hasty retreat. "Was that really necessary?" he asked after the door closed behind her. "I know you don't like being touched, but that was over the top, even for you."
"I don't like doctors," Maul growled as he began to pace the length of the room.
He shook his head. "I don't know why. I just don't."
"Did Sidious have doctors do things to you?"
Maul stopped, fists clenched, clearly searching his memory, before snarling and resuming his pacing. "I can't remember."
"Then he probably did."
With a roar, Maul kicked through one of his paintings.
"Wait, don't do that!" Obi-Wan protested, but Maul didn't listen. He turned to another piece, picking it up off the ground and smashing his fist through it, then ripping the canvas to shreds. Obi-Wan took one look at the fire in Maul's eyes and stepped back, making the heartrending decision not to interfere. Arms wrapped tightly around himself, Obi-Wan watched from a safe distance as Maul methodically destroyed each and every canvas in the room, save one. When he reached that last one, he dropped to his knees, breathing hard, and stared at it with bright eyes.
"What's that one?" Obi-Wan tentatively asked.
"It's the one memory I have from before Sidious," he whispered.
"What is it?"
He shook his head. "I don't know. I was just a baby."
Obi-Wan walked over and stood next to Maul, reaching down and putting a hand on his shoulder. "It's beautiful."
"Would you like more canvases? Do you want to start over?"
Maul looked back at the ruins of his previous work, and his shoulders sagged. "Not tonight."
Destruction has never hurt like this before.
He was accustomed to destroying all evidence of his work to avoid punishment, but this...doing it of his own choice. It hurts. He feels like he's bleeding inside, a feeling he is well acquainted with. Only this is no physical wound.
He has made a choice, and he regrets it.
Would this have happened had they successfully bonded earlier today? The bond had taken Maul by surprise; he did not realize what was happening until it was over. He will have to be more careful in the future not to let an opportunity like that slip past him again. Had he noticed what was happening, he would have dived in head first, dragging his master along with him.
He looks back at his remaining painting, feeling the stabbing pain of remembrance. Color, warmth, safety.
And then the abject terror when it was all ripped away.
He had nearly mastered the terror. Now it is back and he is at its mercy.
This is not how it is supposed to go.
His resolve is slipping. He needs to find his focus again. Needs to regain his purpose.
Perhaps he should go with his strengths.
As the morning sunlight filled the room, the two men sparred. Obi-Wan hit the mat with an "oof," then said, "I held you off a while that time!"
Maul reached his hand down to help Obi-Wan to his feet. "You're learning."
"I think they'll be impressed this afternoon, although I'm sure they'll have you fighting better people than me."
"If you think I'm the best fighter the Jedi have to offer, you're sorely mistaken."
"But you understand me. You anticipate my moves."
"I'm also too slow to block most of them. Again, or do you not want to tire yourself out before this afternoon?"
"You've injured your shoulder again. We should stop."
"It's not that bad."
"Would you like me to massage it for you?"
"No, I'm fine."
"It would be no trouble."
"Ah, but I'm an altruistic Jedi, and I'd feel compelled to return the favor."
Maul paused, then nodded. "Understood. I'll just go shower."
"Same here," Obi-Wan said, heading back towards his own quarters. "Oh, did you get any of that child development reading done yet?"
"No. I spent the morning cleaning up from last night."
"Where did you...?"
"The broken canvases are in the bedroom."
"Okay. Well, you should probably start in on the reading soon. I'm sure they're going to want to talk to you about it. Hell, you're a fast reader. You could probably finish it before this afternoon."
"Is this something I must do?" Maul asked hesitantly.
"You've read everything else we've put in front of you. Why is this bothering you?"
Maul's gaze flicked to the remaining painting, then back to Obi-Wan. "You're right. I should do that reading. I'm being a coward."
"You're not a coward. Eight days ago you couldn't call me by name without grabbing your throat."
"I know. It feels like so much more, doesn't it?"
Maul looked back at his painting, index finger rubbing the base of his left temple horn, face impassive. "I should shower and read," he murmured.
"I'll be in my quarters. Knock if you need me."
Obi-Wan headed to his own quarters, closed the door behind him, and headed for the shower. Shrugging off his clothes, he stepped under the warm spray and let it wash over him. As usual, now that he was away from Maul, he felt a strange emptiness inside that let all the pain of losing Qui-Gon come rushing back in. Head bowed, he let the tears mingle with the cascading water as it flowed off his body and slipped down the drain.
"I read your books," Maul said from the sofa as Obi-Wan, Adi, and Eeth arrived in his quarters. He was dressed to spar in loose pants and a tank top.
"Good," Eeth replied, sitting down on the arm of one of the chairs. "What did you think?"
"I know all the ways in which you think I am emotionally crippled. I understand what you think of me because of it."
"Do you understand that what Sidious did to you was wrong?"
"Yes. He would have been far more successful had he taken me later in life."
Eeth shook his head, saying, "That's not exactly what we had in mind for you to get out of this."
Adi stepped forward and asked, "Do you understand how you might have turned out differently had you stayed with your parents?"
"I have no idea what species I am. For all I know, my parents would have raised me to be just the same."
Obi-Wan pointed to the lone painting and said, "I don't get that impression."
Maul looked for a long moment at his work, then closed his eyes and said, "I honestly cannot envision how my life would be right now had I been raised either by my parents or by the Jedi." When he opened his eyes again, they were steely. "Is it time to show me off to your colleagues now?"
"Are you willing?" Adi asked.
"It's better than being locked up in here all day."
She cast a quick glance at Obi-Wan, who shrugged, and she said, "All right then. Let's go."
The halls were eerily deserted as the four of them made their way to the main auditorium, flanked by a full dozen knights. Once they got there, Eeth gestured Maul to the center mats, where a group of seven Jedi fighters awaited him. Obi-Wan joined Eeth and Adi in the small group of spectators and looked around; the full Council was here, as well as a few other masters, but that was it.
And then Obi-Wan watched as Maul beat fighter after fighter in rapid succession.
Adi leaned over and murmured, "He's not even breathing hard."
"I know. I thought they'd be more of a challenge to him," Obi-Wan replied. "I last longer against him than they did."
They tried again, this time in groups of two, then four. Still he beat them, sending one out of the fight with a broken nose. The remaining six took him on together, and did moderately well before being soundly defeated.
Ki-Adi Mundi looked down at Maul appraisingly. "Your focus is very different than our fighters'. I believe that is your advantage. They fight for victory, but you fight for survival, even though you know you are not threatened."
"That is why one fights," Maul replied.
"Indeed. We appear to have forgotten that."
"Not to downplay your physical abilities," Saesee Tin added. "And your Force abilities. Your training was exemplary, and your body is a finely honed weapon. Do you think you could try fighting more instructionally? I would like to see you make a fight last longer so we can examine your technique."
As Maul wiped the floor much more slowly with his two opponents, Adi leaned over to Obi-Wan and said, "I heard from Doctor Heen."
"Wonderful. Is she all right?"
"She's been happier. Do you have any idea what set him off?"
"For starters, she touched him. And apparently he has issues with doctors. I asked him about it, and he said he didn't remember Sidious sending doctors after him, but that doesn't mean he didn't. I have a feeling that Maul has probably forgotten a lot of his childhood for sanity's sake."
"I'm guessing that his physiology wasn't solely molded by the Force," Adi noted.
"You're probably right. And it's probably too much to hope that anesthesia was used. I'm actually surprised he didn't have problems in the infirmary."
"I don't think he saw a doctor when he was conscious."
"That would explain it."
"Did he calm down after she left?"
"No. He actually destroyed nearly every piece of art he'd created. I tried to stop him, but it felt like something he really needed to do."
"He's carrying around a lot of anger all of a sudden. I don't think we've seen him angry before."
"To be expected that is," Yaddle interjected from her seat in front of them. "More aware of his limitations he is now. More that will bother him."
"Is Obi-Wan in any danger?" Adi asked.
"Mindful you should be of Maul's emotions, Obi-Wan. But discourage his anger, you should not. Helpful part of his growth process, it is. If feel yourself in danger you do, call us."
Adi winced at the action on the floor. "Ooh, he's just toying with them now."
"If I didn't know any better, I'd say he's having fun."
"Thank you, Maul," Saesee said as he stood up. "You can stop embarrassing our fighters now. We're all most impressed with your abilities, and would very much like it if you helped train our fighters."
"If my master wishes it."
"I do," Obi-Wan said.
"Thank you. You may go now," Saesee said.
Obi-Wan walked down from the stands and rejoined his companion. "What did you think?" he asked, suddenly acutely aware of the thin sheen of sweat covering Maul's body.
"I think my previous master might have triumphed against you had he retained any physical fighting abilities."
The two of them headed out to the empty hallways, once again accompanied by a full regiment of guards. "Would you have preferred that?" Obi-Wan asked.
Maul silently contemplated the question, pace unwavering. As they neared his quarters, he finally said, "My life would be much easier had he won."
"And much more brutal."
"I was used to that."
"But did you like it?"
They stopped outside Maul's door, and he looked Obi-Wan dead in the eye and said, "At least then I had a purpose."
"You can have one again."
"Doubtful." Maul walked into his quarters, grabbed some fruit, and started eating.
"Of course you'll have a purpose," Obi-Wan replied.
"Really? And what will it be?"
"You just heard them. They want you to train fighters."
"Train Jedi to be better Jedi," Maul snarled. "And I'm supposed to find that fulfilling?"
"You said you'd do it."
"Because you want me to. So, will that be my function for the rest of my life? Training Jedi how to fight?"
"No. There'll be more."
"Well, what do you want to do? Do you even know?"
"I want to do what I was trained to do all my life."
"Which was what? Be obedient? Afraid? Sneaky?"
"I was trained to fight and to conquer."
"Jedi don't do that."
"And why not?"
"The code forbids it."
"Ah yes, your code." Maul finished off the fruit and sucked his fingers clean, a gesture that made Obi-Wan's mouth suddenly grow dry. "Why is it that you allow your abilities to be constrained by a selfless code? Why can't you use them for personal gain?"
"Because due to our abilities, we're stronger than most people, and we need a code to prevent us from abusing our power."
"There's a difference between abusing your power and using your power."
"A difference the Sith don't seem to care about," Obi-Wan countered.
"Every other creature in the Republic is allowed to have selfish interests. Why not the Jedi? Why do you only get to use your abilities for enforced altruism?"
"Like I said, so we don't take unfair advantage of other people."
"Because you're stronger than them."
"Which means you're better than them."
"Now hold on..."
"And you should rule them."
"No, that's not the Jedi way."
"Let me see if I have this straight," Maul said as he advanced on Obi-Wan. "Because you're powerful and have abilities the majority of the populace doesn't have, you need to be locked away and bound by self-abnegating rules. You're punished for being strong."
"We're not punished! We use our abilities to help others."
"You don't have any choice in the matter."
"I like what I do. We all do."
"You were indoctrinated to since infancy."
"As were you," Obi-Wan countered.
The two men stood nose to nose for a tense moment before Maul finally purred, "Which is why I can't spend my life working for the Jedi."
"I don't see that you have much choice in the matter," Obi-Wan murmured.
"And why not?"
"Because I'm a Jedi, and you swore an oath of obedience to me."
Maul grinned, and Obi-Wan felt a shiver travel up his spine. "Ah, but you taught me there are always choices."
Obi-Wan cleared his throat and stepped around Maul, desperately trying to shake off this sudden attack of nerves. "Well, we'll deal with that when you're ready. Look, what do you want to do with the rest of your day?"
"Those fighters were substandard. I still want to fight."
Obi-Wan turned around and looked at Maul, who was standing at the edge of the exercise mat, clenching and unclenching his fists. "I'm not any better than them," Obi-Wan said.
"Yes you are."
"You always beat me."
"I never beat you."
"You know what I mean."
"As do you."
Obi-Wan stared at Maul for a long moment, then nodded and shrugged off his tunic as Maul pulled his already sweaty tank top over his head. "Let's do it."
The two men advanced to the mat at the center of the room, gazes locked, each looking for any sign of weakness in the other. They waited, deep in a stare-down, for an opening that did not come. Obi-Wan recognized this as a match of patience, and stilled himself to the core, his entire body prepared to spring into action at a moment's notice. This was a battle he knew he could win. These past eight days had been a testament to his patience--another few minutes would be no problem. His breathing slowed, heartbeat softened, focus narrowed. Slowly he became aware that his eyes were starting to dry as they ached to blink, and suddenly realized that he had hardly ever seen Maul blink. Those sunburst eyes would never surrender unless he commanded them to. A small smile creased his face as he felt his lids start to close of their own accord, and knew that the strike was imminent.
Maul did not disappoint.
But Obi-Wan was ready for him. Neatly sidestepping the deft lunge, Obi-Wan tackled Maul from behind and flipped him to the mat, pinning him with the full weight of his body. "How did you know?" Maul rasped.
"Blinking is a sign of hesitation."
"Not always." Obi-Wan slowly rose up off of Maul's back and sat on his heels as Maul got up on all fours and looked over at him appraisingly.
"Using weakness to your advantage. A novel idea."
"It worked for you."
"What do you mean?
"Look where weakness got you. Smack in the heart of the Jedi Temple with a large chunk of our resources dedicated to your well-being."
Maul pushed himself up into a kneeling position. "That wasn't my intention."
"It still worked."
"Why did you take me in? Why didn't you reject me on the spot?"
Obi-Wan closed his eyes for a moment, saying, "Because that's what Qui-Gon would have wanted." Opening them again, he pressed his hand to his breastbone, desperately trying to contain the burn of loss, then rose to his feet and said, "I'll just shower and be back for dinner."
He headed for his quarters, leaving Maul kneeling in the center of the mat.
Dinner was late and silent, and when it was over, Obi-Wan found himself back in his quarters, pacing restlessly. With a small laugh, he realized that pacing was something he'd picked up from Maul, but that didn't still his feet. Back and forth, in front of the wall separating their two quarters. He pressed his palm against the cool surface, imagining that he could feel Maul doing the same from the other side.
Was he imagining? Was this just conceit on his part? It didn't feel like it, but that was the tricky thing about conceit. It preyed on the ego, convincing you that any crazy thing was possible so long as it was all about you. Conceit, or just heightened awareness of Maul?
And what was the difference between heightened awareness and a bond? Semantics, most likely. True, what he was feeling was nothing like the bond he'd had with Qui-Gon, and certainly nothing like what he felt the one time he and Maul had nearly bonded. Okay, the first time he and Maul had nearly bonded. Still, this was something that he had with no one else. He'd never felt this before.
Should he tell Yaddle or Adi? They both knew he had this awareness of Maul's emotions, and neither seemed concerned, so perhaps that meant he shouldn't be either. Surely if this were a problem, they would have said so. Wouldn't they?
Pacing. Obi-Wan knew he should try to sleep, but he'd already tried, and sleep hadn't come. Leaning against the wall, pressing his cheek on the bare white expanse, he imagined Maul on the other side doing the very same thing and laughed again at his conceit.
He leans against the wall, head tilted as his central and foremost right horns rest against it, arms spread wide. The cool surface drains the heat from his forehead, from his bare chest, but still he cannot sleep. He is restless, and he can feel his master's restlessness radiating from the other apartment. He's looked at his paints, but he still feels the loss from yesterday, feels almost as though it would be a dishonor to the work he's destroyed to replace it so soon. His fingers trace patterns on the wall. He can visualize in his mind how his master would look decorated in them. He would be magnificent. If he could only decorate Obi-Wan from head to toe, he would see what strength lay within him. He would not need the Council, the Jedi; only Maul.
His master must feel it too.
Obi-Wan found himself opening the door between their two apartments, not at all surprised to see Maul pushing himself away from the wall. Wordlessly, he walked over to the art supplies, picked up a jar of red paint, and handed it to Maul. Maul solemnly took the jar from Obi-Wan's hand as Obi-Wan shrugged out of his tunic and dropped it to the floor, waiting.
Maul dipped his fingers in the jar and started tracing spiral patterns over Obi-Wan's face as Obi-Wan stood there in a trance, feeling both oddly detached from his body and hyperaware of it all at the same time. He could see in his mind's eye exactly how he looked, even though there wasn't a mirror in sight. The patterns were different this time, Maul's touch more purposeful. Slick fingers danced across his cheeks, his forehead, his nose, his lips. The touch was electric--the swirls being painted on his face seemed to thrum with energy, even after Maul's fingers had moved on.
One final touch on his chin, painting in his cleft, then strong fingers fluttered paint down his neck, and he found himself leaning away from the touch to give Maul access to a greater surface area. He was hypnotized by Maul's gaze; Obi-Wan had never been treated like a piece of art before, but he could feel the devotion, the worship flowing from Maul's fingers as he painted loops and whorls over his naked chest. He'd tried looking earlier when Maul was painting his face, but the intensity was too much for him. He'd had to close his eyes to just keep breathing. But now that Maul was no longer looking at his face, he could watch. Still, he didn't need to look at Maul to know where Maul was looking. That concentration burned the skin it focused on.
Despite the gentleness of the touch, this was the most intense physical sensation he'd ever felt, and a wave of dizziness washed over him, but through sheer determination, he remained on his feet. The energy from the patterns was buzzing through his entire body, and he wondered if this was what it was like to be Maul, to have these designs full-time. Maul was working as much with the Force as he was with paint; tracing the energy lines that whirled around Obi-Wan, focusing them into intense channels. As Maul's fingers slowly moved further down his torso, Obi-Wan found it increasingly difficult to keep his knees from giving out, and a part of him urged him to give in, especially as Maul dropped to his knees and swirled paint into his navel.
And then suddenly Maul's hands were on his waistband and Obi-Wan belatedly realized that he had one of the most intense erections of his life. He could feel Maul swallowing hard and cringing as he moved to pull down Obi-Wan's pants, but he seemed oddly determined, despite his obvious discomfort.
No, that's not how Obi-Wan wanted it.
Obi-Wan knelt, grabbed Maul's face, and kissed him.
Eyes wide, hands scrabbling in the air, nonononono this is not supposed to be happening. Why won't his master just let him service him and be done with it? Why is he dragging Maul along with him? Not fair, not fair...he hasn't done anything wrong. He doesn't deserve this, hasn't earned this. Please no, please please no.
One gentle hand wraps around the back of Maul's head, another strong hand presses on his lower back, strong paint-slicked chest against his, and he finds himself softening. Maybe...maybe this is all right. It's what his master wants. He has not earned this, but Obi-Wan will be far less cruel to him than Sidious. It's wrong, but it won't be humiliating, degrading, painful. He won't spend the night curled up in the corner, shaking, vomiting, and bleeding.
A tongue teases at his lips, and he obediently opens them, shocked at the intensity of the sensation. It is just two mouths meeting, but the experience is overwhelming. He's dizzy, grabs hold of Obi-Wan so he won't fall, and finds himself moaning into his mouth. He can feel his heart hammering in his chest, and knows that Obi-Wan must feel it too. The hand on his back slides down the back of his pants, and he's moaning again, writhing, helpless under his master's touch. A push of Obi-Wan's hand, a shift of Maul's hips, and he feels his erection brush against his master's and jerks back with a sharp gasp.
His master smiles, then ducks his head, pushing Maul's pants down around his bent knees and taking him in his mouth and Maul thinks he is going to die. No no no wrong, he's not supposed to feel pleasure, not supposed to be in the master's mouth, not supposed to take. He's falling, falling, and then there are strong hands bracing him by his shoulder blades, and Maul distantly realizes that he's bent over backwards, head inches from the floor.
No, it can't be like this. He needs to take control. Needs to make sure his master is fulfilled. Needs to maintain the proper order of things. Silently begging his master for forgiveness for such brazen disobedience, Maul takes Obi-Wan's head in his hands, pulls it up, and rolls him over onto his back. Covering Obi-Wan's body with his own, he brings his mouth back down to kiss his master fiercely, grabbing Obi-Wan's wrists in strong hands and holding them over his head. If Obi-Wan will not allow him to service him, he will force him to. The proper order must be maintained. His master has to understand this.
But he feels a soothing caress in his head, a gentle touch, an odd dissolution, and then he is lost in sensation. Legs twined with his master's, he feels their bodies moving together, straining for release. This is nothing like anything he's ever experienced. Nothing like the furtive playing with his own body before Sidious punished the urge out of him. Nothing like the times his body had betrayed him when his former master had used him. He didn't realize he had this many nerve endings, didn't realize that something could feel so wonderful without killing him, never thought it was possible to be this close to another being without one of them being subservient to the other. Never thought mind and body could join so joyously.
The world explodes around them. For a glorious moment, they are one.
And slowly become two again
As the feeling crept back into Obi-Wan's extremities, he tightened his arms around the trembling figure draped across his chest. "Maul?" he whispered.
Maul's head jerked up abruptly. "Shower," he croaked, and dashed for the bathroom.
Obi-Wan propped himself up on his elbow, wrinkled his brow, then said, "Shit."
Maul scrubs himself briskly with the soap, cursing himself under his breath, desperately trying to snap out of the pleasurable haze that permeates him to the bone. This was not what he wanted. This was not supposed to be pleasurable for him. He let himself be distracted by his traitorous body and the bond slipped through his fingers like sand. He'd almost had it. Almost. So close.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Sidious was right to teach him to deny his body pleasures. They are addictive, distracting, counterproductive. It was right there! He had it! And then in the dazed afterglow, he let it go.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
He watches the red paint swirling down the shower drain and lets himself be drawn in by it, thinking back to the swirls he decorated his master with...
He can still feel pieces of his master inside of him.
Pushing aside the self-recrimination, shaking off the lush haze, he searches deeply, examining every corner, every niche of his mind. The echoes of Obi-Wan clearly linger. He can feel them giving him badly-needed strength. He focuses, letting the strength grow and fill him, sliding into every millimeter of his body. There is steel in his veins. He is alone, but not weaker for it. For the first time in his life, he feels strong on his own.
They may not have bonded, but Maul has what he needs.
It won't be long now.
Obi-Wan was waiting for him as he stepped out of the shower. "I'm sorry."
"Don't apologize," Maul said, reaching for a towel.
"I shouldn't have let myself go like that. You were clearly upset. I was just...it had been a long time, and I guess I just didn't think."
"I am fine," Maul said offhandedly as he unabashedly dried his naked body. "I was simply unused to the sensation of consensual and pleasurable sexuality and needed a little time to adjust."
"You're sure?" Obi-Wan asked, looking uncomfortably at the floor.
"When the Council finds out what I've done..."
"You don't have to tell them."
Obi-Wan sighed and leaned against the wall. "I really should."
"I'm fine. You don't need to tell them anything." Maul noted Obi-Wan's careful aversion of his eyes and wrapped the towel around his waist. "Why don't you take a shower and wash the paint off of your body? It's all smeared."
"I'm sorry I didn't get to look at what you painted."
"You felt it. That is enough."
"I did. Well, I should go back to my place to shower. You don't have any shampoo. You sure you're all right?"
"Okay. Are we...uh, are we going to do that again?"
Maul stared at Obi-Wan for a long moment, face unreadable. "I don't know."
"I should go."
Obi-Wan silently returned to his quarters and made a beeline to the bathroom, where he stopped and stared at the image the mirror presented. Red smears covered his face and chest, making him look for all the world like a predator soaked in blood. "What have I done?" he whispered to the figure in the mirror. "What have I done?"
The sun rose, and a sleepless Obi-Wan watched the view from his sofa, legs tucked up against his chest. He'd made a massive, massive mistake last night. There was no excuse for what he'd let happen. None at all. If he were lucky, the Council would simply cut him loose and ship him off to the Agricorps. If he weren't...
He didn't deserve to get lucky.
He was pretty damned sure that the Council's charge to look after Maul didn't include having sex with him. Maul had made it clear that he would obey Obi-Wan in everything, so could he really have fully consented? Obviously not, no matter how much he might try to claim otherwise. Maul had so clearly been distressed...no, frightened when Obi-Wan kissed him, but he'd kept going anyway, pushing his way into Maul's mind to dissolve his apprehension. That was a blatant violation of Jedi ethics, but he'd done it without a second thought. And never mind the fact that they'd formed a temporary bond during the act. At least this time it dissolved on its own, which was damned lucky for both of them.
Okay, lucky for Obi-Wan.
He was going to have to tell the Council, tell Adi. There were no two ways around it. What he'd done was wrong, and the only thing to do was let them know now before things got any worse. Adi had put so much faith in him and in Maul...this was going to hurt her most of all. He had to make sure she knew this wasn't her fault. He would shoulder all the blame.
He didn't even want to think what Qui-Gon would have thought of this whole mess. He kept trying to convince himself that every decision he made, he made in Qui-Gon's memory, but that was a lie. Oh yes, he'd made some very altruistic decisions that would have made Qui-Gon proud, but then he'd turned around and sullied them with his own selfish needs and fears. "I've dishonored your memory," he whispered. "I'm sorry. I'll make up for it. I swear."
Blinking back tears, Obi-Wan stood up and opened the connecting door between their quarters, then stifled a gasp as he saw Maul standing directly on the other side, waiting.
"I've never actually seen your quarters," Maul commented coolly, leaning one hand against the doorframe.
"Oh, um, sure. Come in," Obi-Wan said, stepping back to let Maul pass through the door. "Sorry, you just startled me."
"I'm surprised," Maul said as he took in his surroundings. "I knew you were coming to the door. Are you shutting me out?"
"I needed to think, so yes, I was shutting you out."
Maul fingered a wall hanging appraisingly, then turned and looked at a row of photographs. "Family?"
"Friends. I don't really know my family."
"You should, you know. It's not fair of the Jedi to have taken them from you."
"Maybe I will someday. I don't know."
"You've been thinking about last night, haven't you?"
"Yes. I'm going to have to tell the Council what happened."
Maul looked over his shoulder at Obi-Wan. "If you do that, they'll separate us."
"That would probably be for the best."
"You don't want that, though."
"This is no longer about what I want. It's about doing the right thing as a Jedi," Obi-Wan sighed, shoulders slumped, looking at the floor.
Striding across the room and grabbing Obi-Wan by the forearms, Maul growled, "You cannot tell the Council. We can hide this together. You know as well as I do that we belong together. Last night proved it."
"Last night proved just the opposite!" Obi-Wan barked as he broke free and crossed the room. "I can't be trusted with you. My judgement is way off."
"You felt something last night and you know it."
"What I felt was something expressly forbidden by the code! Masters and padawans are not supposed to do that."
"I'm not a padawan."
"Dammit Maul, I can't do this anymore, don't you get it?" Obi-Wan yelled, tears starting to well up in his eyes. "The more time I spend with you, the less I live by the Jedi code. I've been hiding things from the Council for you."
"You don't need the Council. We don't need anything but each other."
"I'm a Jedi, Maul. I've trained my whole life to be a Jedi. It's all I have. Being a Jedi means everything to me. I can't be around you any more."
"Obi-Wan, we're stronger together and you know it."
"I'm weaker when I'm with you! You're rubbing off on me."
"And you on me. You know you feel it. We could be glorious together..." Maul slowly advanced on Obi-Wan, hand stretched before him.
Obi-Wan stared helplessly through his haze of tears, feeling his hand rising up to meet Maul's of its own accord, and he saw his future flashing before his eyes. Darkness welling up before him, the Jedi Temple in flames, bitterly hunting down and killing all of his friends, seeing Maul die under the swing of his lightsaber, and all the while the darkness pulling him down...down...
And Qui-Gon's disapproval echoing through his soul.
"Don't touch me!" Obi-Wan howled, Force-palming Maul across the room. "I want no part of you! You've done nothing for me, do you hear me? Nothing! You don't deserve me. Do you have any idea how much I've sacrificed for you? I've given up my friends, my training, a padawan, my future." The tears started trailing down his face. "I've even put aside grieving for my master for you! I ache so badly inside, but I've been ignoring it just for you. And for what? What the hell am I getting out of this? Temptation to the Dark Side? Well, what a prize! I am a Jedi, Maul. A Jedi. But thanks to you, not a very good one. You know, we both lost our masters, but you just took the easy way out and found a new one! But I can't do that, no matter how much I want to!" Obi-Wan's breath hitched in his throat, then he choked out, "I miss Qui-Gon so much," before dissolving into sobs.
When he finally looked back at Maul again, through the haze of tears, he saw nothing but disgust.
This is intolerable. Obi-Wan will never turn. Never be strong enough to lead Maul, to lead the order. He was wrong. All this time Maul spent trying to get Obi-Wan to see his true strength has been a waste. He does not truly possess the strength required to be the Sith master. He is too afraid to seize control of his emotions and rule them instead of letting himself be ruled by them. He holds on to petty loyalties--to a master who was not strong enough to live, to a Council that is not strong enough to see, to a Code that is not strong enough to rule. If Maul stays with him, follows him, he will never restore the Sith order. All his training, all his suffering will be a waste. His entire life will lose all sense of purpose. His existence will be meaningless.
If he stays, Obi-Wan will simply continue to weaken Maul, drag him down to his level. Look at him; weeping like a baby. Pathetic. If Maul stays, will he end up like that?
He cannot allow that to happen. The Sith must be restored to its former glory. He will not be the one to let it fall. Maul has what he needs from Obi-Wan. If he takes any more, he'll never be able to leave.
There is only one thing to do.
Obi-Wan's lightsaber flew through the air into Maul's hand. In one fluid motion, Maul knocked Obi-Wan flat on the ground and held the point of the blade to his throat.
"Release me from my vow," Maul growled.
"What?" Obi-Wan gasped.
"I cannot obey you any longer. Release me."
"What's going on? Why are you doing this?"
"I am a Sith."
"The order must be restored, with or without you."
"You expect me to release you from your vow just so you can restart the Sith?"
Maul planted his foot on Obi-Wan's chest and said, "I expect nothing."
"I'm a Jedi! I can't do that."
"I can no longer serve the Jedi. Release me."
"Or what?" Obi-Wan spat. "You'll kill me?"
Maul snarled, then said, "You have taught me gratitude, and so I feel compelled to give you the option to live in exchange for all you have done for me. But if you do not release me from my vow of obedience, I will kill you."
"You really would kill your master?"
"It is the Sith way."
"I'm no Sith."
"So I finally see. Last chance."
Obi-Wan closed his eyes, cursing himself for his cowardice, cursing the nine days that had led him to this point, cursing his blindness and trust, cursing fate for taking Qui-Gon instead of him, cursing the rest of the Jedi for being as gullible as he was, cursing his traitorous emotions for wanting Maul to stay. Nine days. Nine days, and his life was destroyed. The right thing to do would be to say no. But Obi-Wan had proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he no longer knew how to do the right thing. "I release you," he whispered.
When he opened his eyes again, Maul was nowhere to be seen.
Epilogue, Ten Years Later:
Obi-Wan trailed his fingers through his shoulder-length hair and properly scruffed himself up. Mos Eisley wasn't the friendliest place for a Jedi, so he had to be sure he didn't look the part. Straightening his battered leather jacket and checking the inner pocket to make sure his lightsaber was securely stowed, he headed out for the spaceport, hoping that he'd finally be able to get the information the Jedi needed to break up the slaving ring they'd been tracking for the past two years.
It was no coincidence that they'd sent him. It didn't take much work for Obi-Wan to look seedy nowadays. It hadn't for a quite some time, actually. Blue-green eyes darted side to side under tight brows as he kept his guard up. This wasn't exactly a safe place, even for someone attuned to the Force. The place was swarming with malcontents of nearly every stripe, and something as simple as placing an impolitic bet at a bar could start a brawl. The entire city was a powder keg. He felt oddly at home here.
But there was something else here. Something familiar. As he walked down the narrow alleyways that passed for streets in this part of town, he could feel the little hairs at the base of his neck pricking up.
No. It couldn't be.
He stopped and looked down a nearly hidden alley and saw the patterned face.
"Maul." Obi-Wan stepped into the alley, pulling his lightsaber from its pocket. "Do you have any idea how much damage you did to the Jedi?"
"Do you have any idea how little I care?" Maul barked.
Obi-Wan tapped on the hilt of his unlit lightsaber, deep in a stare down, before noting, "You've done well for yourself."
Maul snorted. "Have I? I doubt the Sith masters who came before me would agree."
"You've pretty effectively taken over key shipping lanes in the Outer Rim, and most of the governments out here have your stink on them."
"You really think that?" Maul asked. "I barely did anything out here. It was already corrupt. All I needed to do was make a few key alliances."
"Never mind your effect on the Jedi."
"That was their own doing," Maul replied. "They trusted me. They thought that all I needed was a hug and I'd turn into a good little Light Sider." He laughed. "I can't believe how naive they were."
"We're not naive anymore. Thanks to you, we don't trust anybody. We hardly even help people anymore."
"Afraid to have the wool pulled over your eyes again by someone who looks pathetic and helpless?"
"Damned right. We've become insular and paranoid, and it's all because of you."
Obi-Wan glared at Maul. "I don't like what we've become because of you."
"The feeling is mutual."
"Oh please. Look at you! When you first showed up on Naboo, you were a basket case. If it weren't for me, you'd still be that way."
"If it weren't for you, I wouldn't have this thrice-damned empathy!" Maul seethed. "Oh, yes, I can take a shit now without asking your permission, but I can't effectively carry out a plan without worrying if someone's going to be hurt by it."
"Good," Obi-Wan hissed.
Maul's nostrils flared. "With any luck, my apprentice will do better than I did."
"You have an apprentice?"
"No. Not after what happened with you."
A small grin crossed Maul's face. "Good. Still, I'm surprised they kept you in the order."
"There was enough blame to go around that no one had the nerve to single me out for punishment. Although Adi voluntarily left. We couldn't convince her to stay. I couldn't convince her."
Maul raised an eyebrow. "Don't you think she overreacted? Surely I'm not the only failure to escape the Jedi Temple."
"I do, yes, but the way she sees it, she was the Council member most responsible for letting the Sith Order come back into power. She trusted you. She thought you could be rehabilitated. We all did, except Mace Windu."
"And yet he's still on the Council, despite what happened with Skywalker."
"Ironic, isn't it?"
"Well, for what it's worth, I hope Adi's doing well, wherever she is.."
"Oh, that means a lot coming from you," Obi-Wan snorted.
"No, she was kind to me, and never patronizing. I appreciate that."
"I don't want to talk about her anymore," Obi-Wan said defensively, before adding, "So, who's your apprentice?"
"Don't worry. It's not Skywalker. He's a free agent."
"That's something, at least. I take it you didn't make Sidious's mistake and nab an infant?"
"No, I found a very angry adult. If she has half a brain in her head, she'll kill me and take my place shortly. I'm running out of things to teach her, and she's running out of patience with my compassion." He spat the last word out, face twisted into a grimace.
"'She'? Anyone I know?"
"I doubt it."
"It's not Adi, is it?"
"That woman didn't have an ounce of hate in her. She'd make a poor Sith."
"At least tell me your training methods are different from Sidious's."
"They are. Everything she does is her choice. It's far more effective to corrupt someone through her own actions than to simply force her to do your bidding. It's what you did with me, after all."
"I didn't corrupt you."
"I'm sure if Sidious were still alive, he'd disagree."
"You know, we should be trying to kill each other."
"But we won't. I still feel gratitude towards you, and you still have a sliver of pity towards me. Ironic, isn't it?"
"Damned ironic." Obi-Wan snorted and put away his lightsaber. "I still can't believe you thought you could convert me to the Dark Side."
"Is that any more implausible than you thinking you could convert me to the Light?"
"We gave you everything you needed to be well!"
"You gave me books and some art lessons. For that I'm supposed to abandon what I'd been trained to do my whole life?"
"I gave you a hell of a lot more than that," Obi-Wan snarled.
"Sure you're not interested in the Dark Side?" Maul taunted. "I have an apprentice who'll probably need an apprentice of her own soon."
"Don't tempt me."
"Sorry, that's my job."
"And it's my fault you're so damned good at it."
Maul snorted. "Not that good. At least I had a negative effect on the Jedi. I won't be remembered as a total disgrace in Sith history. You're here about the slaving ring, aren't you?"
"Are you behind it?"
"No, just taking notes. It's Skywalker, you realize."
Obi-Wan grinned a grin very unbecoming to a Jedi. "I thought so. Mace Windu will be...interested to hear this."
"You mean he'll shit bricks."
The two men lapsed into an oddly comfortable silence before Obi-Wan finally said, "Well, no sense putting this off any longer." He reached into his pants pocket, pulled out a comlink, and said, "Maul's here. Zero in on my position."
Maul smiled, saluted, and vanished into the shadows.
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