"I believe it's meant to be celebratory." Obi-Wan eyed the bottle, then looked past it to his temporary working partner. "Also doubtless some manner of intoxicating."
Outside, the ocean shushed against the shoreline; the scent of the salt tangled with the sweet smell of the wildflowers, brilliant in daylight and dusky at night, that climbed the walls of this hardbaked little dwelling. Insects hummed background, a half-chaotic symphony keeping the night alive. It was idyllic; the halcyon hours of early evening having given way to the deep blue of night, the wide spread of stars, the air finally cooler but no less humid.
Inside, the bottle sat on the small, round table. A beautiful piece of work; hand-blown, hand-labelled, three thin iridescent shells tinkling against the side in the breeze that slipped through the open windows, having been tied there by pieces of thin brown twine.
It had been a gift he had tried to hand back, to no avail. Somewhere on the walk back from the landing pad it had become something else, even if Obi-Wan wasn't sure what that was yet.
Maul barely glanced at it, indifferent, and didn't say anything before he went back to adjusting the mechanical knee he had half-disassembled; no doubt the humidity of Iloh meant some minor tweaking to what had otherwise been proven sound.
At least, Obi-Wan thought that was what it was; it wasn't as if Maul was in any hurry to volunteer.
"Have you ever even been intoxicated?" Obi-Wan asked after a moment, his tone lighter than he felt, watching past the bottle sitting there like a silent challenge.
"Not of my own volition," the ex-Sith answered, setting aside one tool just to pick up another, not bothering to look up from his work. He didn't need to add the caveat, Not that I can remember.
Obi-Wan had learned fairly early on that asking for a clarification on an answer like that would either lead to Maul dispassionately recounting some horror he had endured that no one should ever have to endure, at a sickeningly young age, or just saying nothing at all and leaving Obi-Wan to fill in the blanks himself.
Then, roughly half of the time when he did recount whatever horror it was, Obi-Wan would be able to keep his reaction off of his face. The other half, though, he would fail to do so, and then he would be be faced with a flash of teeth and the soft-spoken, razor-edged response: "If you didn't want to know, you shouldn't have asked, Kenobi."
And half again, Maul turned out to be right.
The other half, Obi-Wan didn't know how to define. Not anymore; not for quite some time now.
Tonight was one of those nights where Obi-Wan didn't have the energy to ask for more; tonight was one of those nights where he wanted the universe to right itself even for a moment. For a victory to be a victory, no matter how small; for all of the broader concerns to narrow down to something clearer, cleaner.
He could feel the Force all around him; the life here, the flow of it, the light of it, the shadows of it.
He just couldn't quite feel himself. There was a difference between peace and numbness, he had found over the years, a lesson he kept relearning.
"Do you want to try it?" he asked.
Maul paused his tinkering. "To what end?"
"Celebration," Obi-Wan said, a verbal shrug, reaching over to turn the bottle and read the label for a third time. "A mission accomplished. Appreciation of a gift. Something new. Take your pick."
A challenge, was what he didn't say, but it whispered in the tinkling noise the shells made against the side of the bottle when he finally looked up from the label he'd been staring through to find Maul watching him speculatively. It wasn't as reckless as it sounded; Obi-Wan knew well that there was no danger here. This world had shadows, but they were thin and pale; the darkest shadow that existed here now that their mission had succeeded sat across from him, eying him calculatingly, probably weighing every potential outcome between murder and abstinence.
Their war had never ended, not really; the battlefield had transformed, but the push and pull remained, something Obi-Wan spent just as much time denying as embracing.
Sometimes, he wondered what the final victory would be.
Silence stretched, then Maul quirked his brow in silent agreement, before turning his attention back to reassembling his knee. "I'm not going to drink out of the bottle," he said, as though the very thought was somehow too low.
Despite himself, Obi-Wan found himself smiling as he got up to check the cupboards in the tiny kitchenette for glasses, shaking his head the whole way.
(Even five years after Theed, even standing several feet away, Obi-Wan can feel the hate Maul has for the Council. It isn't the blind, mindless rage of a brainwashed Sith assassin towards the Jedi, any Jedi; it's personal.
Obi-Wan has been the primary go-between in all of that time; has gotten surprisingly good at negotiating, if one could call it that. "The assassin is said to be an Orsis graduate," he says, hands folded between his knees, not looking away. "Before your time, but your help would be invaluable."
He would think any opportunity would be leapt at, for Maul to get out of the Detention Center for even a moment, but somehow he also knows better.
"Are you asking for them, Kenobi?" Maul asks; bitter, clipped words.
"No, Maul. I'm asking for myself," Obi-Wan answers, honestly.
Six hours later, they're en route to Iloh.)
The fact was, the Council still had no idea what to do with their prisoner. After the initial disaster and after they learned all they could from Maul, they were left with an ex-Sith assassin who was too powerful for any common prison, too powerless to justify executing, too damaged and too dangerous to even bring to a trial by outside authorities. A dark secret hidden in the Detention Center of the Temple, but what else could they do with him?
Maul was utterly unrepentant. He made no apologies for his former life; if he had any regrets at all, he kept them to himself. Obi-Wan strongly doubted that he did. He had survived being cut in half on nothing but deep, burning hatred and an even deeper survival instinct, and Obi-Wan was loathe to think of what would have happened had he not been found laying in the trash on Naboo, halfway to being offloaded onto a dump transport.
Obi-Wan didn't have any illusion that Maul wouldn't have found some way to claw his way back from the grip of death, not now. The jolt he'd felt finding out that his fatal cut had not actually been fatal was one he had never forgotten; the realization of what it would take for anyone to survive such a thing.
The realization of what it was to be at the center of it. The later realization of what it took to break even that.
Now, the more gentle realization that they were sitting together drinking.
The rum was intoxicating in more ways than one; beyond the obvious alcohol content, the taste was enticing. It started tart, turned sweet, then left a faintly bitter aftertaste, some blend of tropical fruits that was oddly refreshing. He could feel the warmth of it spread through his shoulders, down his spine; could feel the flush of it on his skin, the way it softened the world, the way it muffled but didn't drown his sense of the Force.
Still, alcohol hadn't provoked any conversation, which left his mind free to wander. He thought of Anakin, in the midst of puberty and therefore three times as difficult. Thought about the Council and the constant watch kept on them; the scrutiny he knew was genuine concern, but that felt just as often like censure. Thought about Anakin's peers, some of them unkind enough to remind Obi-Wan of darker moments of his own childhood, which inevitably led him to the thought, Was it really that long ago?
"I think I've forgotten how to celebrate," he said, mostly to himself.
He could feel Maul watching him, and when he finally looked up from contemplating the glass, he wasn't too surprised to be met with an expression that could be called either amusement or derision. "That would imply you knew how to celebrate in the first place."
"Point taken," Obi-Wan said, dryly. "I suppose you know how?"
"I don't," Maul said, some hint of a smirk on the corners of his lips. "This was your idea, I'm just," he paused, as if thinking of the word, and then the smirk got broader, "indulging."
Obi-Wan snorted. "In what?"
He waited for some answer along the lines of watching you drown in self-pity -- it wouldn't be far from the truth -- but instead, Maul just picked up the bottle and refilled the glasses and asked, "Have you ever been intoxicated?"
"Once or twice." Obi-Wan waited until the bottle was set back down before resting his fingers around his glass. "Of my own volition," he added, not unkindly.
"Talk. This is all--" Maul gestured to the glasses, the bottle, "--an excuse. You're hardly subtle, Kenobi, so talk, if that's what you want to do."
Obi-Wan eyed him, keeping his amusement as much off his face as he could. "You're indulging yourself by listening to me talk?"
"It's that or watch you wallow in self-pity. That stopped being entertaining, so I'll have to settle for something else."
There it was; completely expected, but it still made Obi-Wan grin. They were not so predictable to one another that there were no surprises left, but there was a certain level of-- comfort in knowing these little things. Every once in awhile, he paused to dissect the layers of their interactions; the foundations and the shattered pieces made of old grudges and old pain, the duracrete they hadn't intended to fill the broken spaces that crept in anyway, made of reluctant understanding neither could have guessed in the beginning.
It was how he was able to sit across from someone who had run his Master through, drinking enough to dull his reflexes and soften his thoughts, and feel no fear. And, Obi-Wan supposed, how Maul could poke at him, a man who cut him down in two, and do it without any bitter malice.
He would not stretch to assigning affection to it, but there was no cruelty, either.
"I was thirteen," Obi-Wan confessed, smile still playing on his lips, as he picked up his glass and took a sip. "Melida/Daan; I had handed over my lightsaber -- after coming within a muscle-twitch of a duel with Qui-Gon -- and left the Order. I had decided to stay behind and help fight a civil war. That night, one of the other boys brought out a bottle of truly dreadful wine, and I shared in it."
Comforted by the limited predictability as he was, it was still gratifying when he could be the one surprising Maul. If only for the sake of watching the way it made Maul's mask dance as he processed that, intrigue lighting up in the low gold of his eyes. "You left the Order, joined a war and got drunk," he stated, rather than asked.
"I did. Those were all related, too, though I hadn't thought that way at the time. Then, like now, it was supposed to be a celebration."
Maul scoffed, but he was still watching Obi-Wan's face with a gaze particularly well suited to something which had been both hunter and prey, quiet fascination. "You're right, you don't know how to celebrate."
"I would say that I'd practice more, but--" Obi-Wan gestured.
"Jedi." It was a fangless dismissal, at least. "Then?"
"I woke up with a horrible hangover and swore I'd never touch alcohol again, of course." There had been more in that question, but the exasperated huff he got back was what Obi-Wan had been aiming for with his answer. After a moment, he sobered in thought, if not in body. "I was in over my head. We won--" He paused, then shook his head. "--thought we won. Then came governance; a war-torn world, bitterness and fear and distrust. And children trying to lead it. I was not well suited to politics."
Conversation was never a guarantee; even now, many of their visits were conducted in silence. Presence, nothing more. Obi-Wan wasn't ready to consider this another victory, but his own pervading sense of numbness was giving way, so perhaps it was, if considerably more bittersweet.
He shook his head to himself and rolled his glass between his fingers. Let it all flow through him, instead of around; let the thoughts come as they would. Of Cerasi. Of the other Young. Of Qui-Gon and the many small ways they had glanced off of one another in those early years, painful little shocks like unexpected static. Of being so certain, until he had been left with nothing. It had been a long time since he had allowed himself such remembrance.
Maul was right; this was an excuse. Obi-Wan took it.
He took another drink, didn't look up, and then he told the rest of the story.
(It's just over a year after Theed; they exchange a glance of mixed exasperation and annoyance, not at each other, but at the situation. Later, it isn't the emotion or the situation that Obi-Wan remembers, but the mutuality of it; the way they know to look to one another to find a reluctant understanding.
He struggles with it and has no doubt that Maul does the same, because it's weeks before they really exchange a conversation again.)
Night had deepened; the air took on a vaguely clammy feel, just cool enough to border uncomfortable. Alcohol notwithstanding. Obi-Wan wasn't sure when his eyes had closed, but even though his sense of the Force was softened to a background hum no more notable than the insects singing outside, he sensed no danger which made him want to open them again.
After he had finished his tale, not bothering to follow it up by telling the next one of the crisis right after, silence had fallen again. Some older (younger) part of himself expected a critical reaction, but Maul said nothing. There was only the breeze, the tinkling of the shells, the sounds of the night outside, the ocean murmuring against the shores.
He must have been half-asleep, halfway to dreaming, when Maul did speak, voice only loud enough to carry across the short space of a table.
"Kilindi Matako. Nautolan. Of a similar age to me, while I was training at Orsis." There was no telltale drunken slur, but when Obi-Wan peered across the table through his eyelashes, Maul was contemplating his empty glass and didn't look up. "She was competent. A skilled warrior." He drummed his barred fingers against the glass softly, expression distant.
"A friend?" Obi-Wan managed to prompt, after several beats where it seemed there would be no more, curiosity piqued. Enough to wake him a little, even in this state.
"A-- partner," Maul said, after another long pause, tripping over the word. His brow furrowed and he narrowed his eyes, thoughtfully, then apparently dismissed whatever had crossed his mind with a half-shake of his head. "We worked well together."
"A friend, then," Obi-Wan said, knowing he was chancing anger, but catching and grasping the threads of wistfulness, braiding them into some fragile thing.
Maul finally picked his gaze up and stared levelly across the table. "You're going to regret this tomorrow."
It wasn't a threat, despite the words.
Obi-Wan accepted it for what it was and picked up the bottle, down to its last quarter and likely just enough to finish them off, and split the rest between their glasses.
(Their war has never ended, not really. The battlefield only transforms; turns confused and muddled, leaving them using weapons they are unfamiliar with but having nothing else. There is so much debris, it's easy to trip.
"Anger," Darth Maul says, flashes his teeth in mean triumph even broken in two, from across his cell. "What you're feeling is anger, Jedi."
They throw definitions at one another like knives.
"Lost," Obi-Wan says weeks later, and tries not to savor it behind his self-possession wrapped around himself like a cloak, staring back. "What you're feeling is lost."
Above, the Council debates the will of the Force; the lines between darkness and light. What to do with the prisoner. There is talk of ethics, talk of practicality. There is strategizing, trying to find some interrogation method which can make its way past the blinding, defiant rage, by whatever means necessary.
The galaxy itself may depend on it.
Below, though, they are young and wounded and without ever meaning to, they define for one another the things they have never been allowed to feel or understand.)
"Are you going to regret it?" Obi-Wan asked, the glasses just now empty; he was dizzy, but it wasn't unpleasant. It reminded him of waking from deep healing, if with some lesser amount of impending pain. To clarify, he gestured to the empty bottle, trying not to knock it over.
Maul was draped loosely in his chair, arms crossed; he looked over drowsily and answered casually, "Half of me will."
It took a moment for that to sink in, and then it clicked. "That's horrible," Obi-Wan said, which was why it surprised him when he started laughing, hard enough that it felt like he would end up falling out of his chair.
This time when Maul showed his teeth, it was in a grin.
(Maul runs out of definitions first; it's not the victory Obi-Wan wants it to be, needs it to be.
Desperation, he thinks, watching as reality dawns slow and inevitable over his enemy, as days pass and words give way to silence.
The first time he defines them both: Exhaustion.
Obi-Wan was a little chagrined to find out that a man with half the circulating blood volume, who drank just as much as he had, still was steadier than he was himself. Not perfectly so, but it struck him as unfair.
"I'm not carrying you to your bed, Kenobi," Maul said, watching him with open amusement, despite the fact that he had his hand braced on the table. It could have been a sinister look easily, on that painted face, but even through a faintly drunken blur Obi-Wan could see the humor was real.
"How are you standing?" he groused back, planting both hands to the table to push himself up on his third attempt.
"Physiology. Constitution. Cybernetics. Take your pick."
"Dark side tricks," Obi-Wan murmured, and was too far gone to smother his grin when Maul actually laughed, a sound so rare that he could count the number of times he'd heard it on one hand.
(In the days and weeks after this, before a thousand other concerns press on him drowning it, Obi-Wan turns this memory over and over in his mind. It's soft-edged, and in another life he might deny it's real at all, but instead he turns it over and over and stares at it, recalls all of its pieces, not always lined up.
Even after he has too much else to think about to contemplate it further, he tucks it deep in his chest and protects it, half-embracing, half-denying; can hear his own voice in his mind whispering the definitions of victory.
Maul is wrong; he doesn't regret it.)
He was still smiling some when they ended up leaning together, robbed of grace and most agility; his knees had wavered, he'd caught himself on Maul's shoulder, and Maul's hand snapped up and wrapped around his wrist, born of some self-protective instinct deeper than conscious thought.
Obi-Wan could feel the push and the pull, the war between pushing him away and holding him up; when he looked up, he could see the confusion and vague unsettled agitation and then the bafflement on Maul's face for the split second there was between when Obi-Wan said, "Camouflage," and kissed him.
It was clumsy and unpracticed and unreturned, but the black palm wrapped hot and dry around Obi-Wan's wrist loosened and when Obi-Wan pulled back, only all of inches, Maul looked like he didn't know whether he was supposed to be offended or fascinated, though he certainly was surprised.
"What are you--?"
"Celebrating," Obi-Wan said, certain of that if not of what for. "Have you ever been kissed?"
Some part of him remained lucid enough to hope desperately that there would be no horror story behind the answer, enough to be relieved when Maul answered with uncharacteristic caution, "No."
"Oh," Obi-Wan said, making it a declaration, before kissing him again.
(Years later, when Yoda sends him to Padmé, to tell her to break away from Anakin, Obi-Wan stands outside of the Temple torn between his duty and his code and his honor and his heart and listens to the definitions of things he has never been allowed to feel.)
It went no further than that; Obi-Wan could have fallen asleep standing there, unsure of when exactly he had hooked his chin over Maul's shoulder, but appreciating the counterpoint of body heat against the clammy chill in the air. Appreciating the way Maul canted his head just a little to the side to avoid possibly bumping him in the head with an even thoroughly blunted horn; appreciating the hands on his hips light like birds on some long-ago visited world, so light they didn't bend the grain when they landed on it.
There was no transcendence or painful shocks like unexpected static, no reckoning, no great disturbance in the Force. Just life, not dark nor light; the flow of it, through and not around.
He didn't know how long they were there, only that the startled tension had bled away, that they were breathing the same quiet rhythm. A victory, not final; a victory, nonetheless.
"I'm still not carrying you to your bed," Maul said, voice low and now decidedly drowsy, vibrating against Obi-Wan's shoulder.
Obi-Wan huffed, but he finally pulled back; enough of the alcohol had worn off that he could at least stand on his own, reluctant as he was to give up the proximity to someone whose body ran naturally hotter than his own. He had no quips left; he went and fell on the bed, and somehow managed to get the covers over himself, though he didn't let himself sink into sleep, waiting on the hum in the air.
Maul hadn't moved yet; watched him instead, and then he spoke as if making a decision, "She was kind."
Obi-Wan knew better than to say what he thought -- "Good." -- but when he closed his eyes and felt sleep washing over him like the shush on the shoreline, it was with some warm ache of gratitude to two children long dead.
(It is five more years and he is digging through Maul's meager collection of possessions to find a clean shirt to replace the one ripped and dried stiff with blood; when he hears the tinkle of the shells once tied to a bottle of rum, he is for a moment back on Iloh, breathing in the scent of wildflowers tangled with seasalt, feeling the counterpoint rhythm of two hearts beating to his one.
He pulls them from the scrap of dark blue cloth they're wrapped in, iridescent blues and violets and oil-rainbow whites, the brown twine rough against his fingers, and he can read the feelings impressed upon them through time by black-padded fingers; can feel the warm, uncertain, gentle thing they are graced with.
His heart constricts, expands and dares whisper the very definition of rebellion:
Love. This is called love.)
"Camouflage?" Maul asked, the next morning, squinting and irritable and hung over, but Obi-Wan could see the hint of wariness on his face, in his eyes, waiting for the regret.
Obi-Wan was drinking water, perhaps unfairly using the Force to heal himself from his indulgence, accepting the dry eyes and throbbing head for only as long as it took to make it go away. Even in that state, he went to answer -- about predators, prey, the fall of sunlight and shadow through leaves -- and then he thought better of it and smiled instead.
It got the reaction he was expecting; frustration, narrowed eyes, and some lingering fascination, before Maul made a dismissive noise in the back of his throat and went back to packing his gear.
Obi-Wan left him to it; went outside to spend their last couple of hours on Iloh in the sun, feeling warm and alive and something like peace.