by Padawan Zol-Tan

He felt, rather than saw, the red blade swing. He let it come. He was old, tired; it was finally time. The blade inched closer. He knew it was a swift stroke, but it took eons for it to reach him, for the world to explode into stars.

The room seemed to expand endlessly until only a vague haze remained, a shadowy hint of what had once been reality. It was if a blindfold had been lifted, for suddenly he could see far beyond the boundaries of sight. For the first time, he knew the universe as it was, because now he was a part of it, incorporated wholly into the Force that bound it.

One last duty, and then he could let go entirely, forever. He sent his voice on a current of himself, of the Force, telling the frightened, angry boy below to run, that it was not his turn yet. Why he cared he did not know, but it mattered, somehow. And then it was done, and the child was safe for the moment, although he could not remain so for long. The old man smiled slowly and watched the physical world disappear entirely.

They were there. All of them, welcoming him at last, just as he remembered them, although their bodies were little more than dust, if that. One, the one he had waited and longed to see for longer than he could remember, stepped forward, embraced him. He saw his own hands before him, still the wrinkled, time-spotted hands of his old age. He could shed that appearance at any time, be as he had been once. But not yet.

The other man smiled and held him at arm's length, but his eyes looked slightly sad. "Obi-Wan," he said, as if to reassert the fact. "It's good to see you again."

"And you, Master."

Then another came forward, pretending not to hesitate, and Obi-Wan froze. For a long time no one spoke. He, too, was just as Obi-Wan remembered, and his eyes glowed golden in the soft light that wasn't really there, the light of a smoky bar, an apartment bedroom.

"You've changed," the other said, and Obi-Wan shook like a falling tree at the sound of his voice.

"Yes," he agreed. "It's been a long time, Maul."

The rest of them, even Qui-Gon, had drawn off, so they faced each other alone. Obi-Wan could not speak. There was too much to say, far too many memories.

Finally, Maul broke the silence. "You hate me, don't you?" he said, but it was more a statement than a question.

Obi-Wan chewed his lower lip. "You didn't leave me much of a choice," he said, glancing toward Qui-Gon.

Maul shrugged slightly. "I hated him," he explained simply. "I don't share."

Obi-Wan's eyes widened. "You..." he couldn't bring himself to finish, but Maul knew he understood.

"I wanted you for myself. That's why the first time it was just him."

Obi-Wan searched for words, found them at last, awkwardly. "There never was any competition. From him or anyone else."

Maul shrugged again. "Well, that's the Dark Side for you."

"You've changed."

"Really?" Sarcasm.

Obi-Wan looked at his feet. "You let me, didn't you? Let me kill you? You could have blocked that shot."

He heard Maul snort. "Yeah, whatever. Sure."

Obi-Wan looked up, feeling a familiar sting behind his eyes, but Maul wouldn't meet his gaze. A long, awkward pause stretched between them.

"That kid down there," said Maul lightly, "he's pretty stupid."

Obi-Wan laughed shortly, bitterly. "He'll do all right, I think."

Maul snorted again. "The Jedi have gone downhill pretty fast, huh?" he remarked, then added, in a barely audible whisper, "since you."

Obi-Wan swallowed, although he knew he didn't need to, ever again. He looked around, not quite seeing anything but feeling it, knowing it. Somehow he couldn't bring himself to look at Maul.

Finally, Maul asked the question they'd both been thinking: "Do you... think we might ever--"

"Maybe," answered Obi-Wan, and slipped his hand into Maul's. "Maybe."



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