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Staring into open flame

Chapter Text

Later


 

Kill him.

The voice hissed in the space between his ears, reverberated around a battered skull he didn't feel more than distantly, coiled dark and cold and down and down and down--

Kill him.

It whispered about his failures and his weaknesses and it promised him redemption, promised him a return of everything he had lost, from skin and bone to memory and simplicity, everything that had been stolen from him.

Maul panted. Felt the hum of his saberstaff through his hand, the bones of his forearm, a counterpoint to the discordant, overlapping voices in his head.

One voice was louder than all of the others, vicious hissing like white noise given malevolent form.

Lord Maul. Kill him.

He flung a hand out casually and knocked Bail Organa two meters backwards, the power called to him with such ease that it paused his harsh breathing. It wasn't a fatal strike, just a way to get the man out of his way, but it had been so easy.  When he started breathing again, it was with an unhinged, dry, quiet laugh.

He was here for a reason; it was not the senator.

Redeem yourself. Kill him.

It would be so easy. The Jedi looked at him with glazed, pained eyes, like a prey animal staring at its own death and accepting the inevitable, and everything in Maul -- everything -- was trained to do this, to slaughter the opposing Order, everything in him was screaming that he should do what he was made to do. That this was how he could reclaim and regain, all he had to do was take Kenobi's head off of his shoulders, one swipe and everything everything everything said to do it everything everything--

Everything except one thing. His own voice.

Not you.

In the angry howl, in the discordant desperation, in the toxic whisper.

Not you.

He had known perfection once. This wasn't it.

His hand trembled when he thumbed off his staff. "Kenobi," he said, mouth clumsy; wet his lip and tasted blood and by some greater will than he knew he had, he dropped that staff in the dirt and followed after it, sitting down hard. "Obi-Wan," he said, more quietly, not caring if Bail heard the currents running under the tone.

"Welcome back," Obi-Wan said, voice wrecked, but relief in his eyes.

"We're in so much trouble," Bail declared, coming back bruised and dirty and determined.

Even that was mastery of an understatement.

Chapter Text

Immediately after Geonosis


 

If Vokara Che was surprised to see him, it didn't show on her face.

The Halls of Healing were whisper quiet; even the flanking Temple Guards walked particularly softly. The lights had been lowered and the elegant curves of the walls arched in deep blues and washed out grays, softened in the night.

Maul knew the layout intimately; knew every possible route of escape, every weak point, every exploitable asset. One decade of living in this cage of a Temple had not removed two decades of learning how to assess every situation and find a way to survive, triumph or both. The process of it had long been automatic, instinctive; he knew, too, how uncomfortable it made some of the Jedi and reveled in that knowledge.

He had no intentions of using any of his observations, though; he only looked levelly at the healer with his hands folded behind his back and asked quietly, "Will you grant me access, Master Jedi?"

Che was the only Jedi aside Obi-Wan himself that Maul didn't spit that title at like poison. He respected her; her intelligence and her professionalism, her discipline, her dedication to her art. She was not effusive, but she was kind.

More importantly, she had only ever treated him calmly and fairly.

"He's in a deep healing trance," she said, not bothering to ask who Maul wished to see.

Maul had figured that was likely, from what small pieces of rumor he was able to pick up -- and those truly were small, the Detention Center only had one occupant and his guards right now, not a breeding ground for gossip -- but he just tipped his head in acknowledgment of that statement and made no move to leave. He would if Che told him to, but until then, he stood his ground.

This was a calculated risk.

At least, that was what Maul told himself. He wasn't usually given to deceiving himself, but he was doing so this time.

She studied him a moment longer, then nodded once. "Remain out here," she ordered to the guards, then stood aside to allow Maul to pass, pointing him in the right direction and affording him the dignity of not watching him go.

Yes, he respected her, but he still hoped he was less transparent to her than he was to himself.

 

 

 

He masked his own Force presence as a matter of both habit and defiance usually; even for as long as he had been a prisoner here, Maul still had so many layers of surveillance and control between himself and freedom that he knew he would never escape on his own. He took some pleasure early on in the sheer amount of security they thought he required -- some built right into the cybernetics that had returned his mobility to him -- but now, he alternately chafed against it or resigned himself to it.

When in the Halls of Healing, he masked it for the sake of Master Che, knowing that it would unsettle her patients and disrupt this place, this bastion of light-sided serenity.

Now, he masked it because he was seething.

He was outwardly calm, but behind his shields, he railed and burned like he hadn't done in a long time. The temptation to let it flow out through his limbs like liquid fire, to fight, was so real and immediate that the intensity startled him; so real that he could feel the hum of his saberstaff like a ghost against his fingers, could feel it like an extension of the long bones of his arms.

Even in his cell, even there, he could feel the shift in the Force that could only mean war. Like any warrior, it sang to him; clarion and siren's song.

It was also wholly at odds with how he felt watching the slow rise and fall of Obi-Wan Kenobi's chest.

There was no point to being here; Obi-Wan was too deep under to sense him even if he wasn't masking himself. Yet, here he was.

Here he was.

Surrounded by light-side energy; the faint scent of bacta, the mellow incense. A firestorm staring at the quiet eye of it, embodied in someone else. Obi-Wan was clearly not in any danger, despite the bandages, despite his face being paler than usual, and even if he were in danger, there was nothing Maul would be able to do about it, and yet, here he was.

He stood a moment longer, then scoffed silently at himself as he moved the chair next to the bed closer to it, sat down, and crossed his arms to wait.

 

 

 

(The Force shifts in uneasy ways, so much larger than this one place, this one time; it shifts in machinations so much broader and bigger than he is, but none of this matters in these moments.

He has never felt (can't remember ever having felt) anything like this before; close, the same Force that is restless above is so very clear here and flows through him with inexhaustible power, a perfectly tuned symphony. As if everything he has ever been, ever could be, ever will be, comes down to this.

He is in Theed, crossing blades with Jinn and Kenobi, and every lunge and parry and strike and kick and push sends him higher and higher, and this feeling he has never felt (can't remember ever having felt) is the very embodiment of passion.

And after Jinn falls, he and Kenobi dance; his staff broken, Kenobi's wild power matching his every blow, they dance.

Even after he falls, even after he is cut in two, even after he is captured, even after he is shattered, even after his life becomes a complex thing that is wrapped in complicated feelings and uncertainties he never had to contend with before, Maul never, ever regrets this battle, these moments before victory, before defeat.

Even after he grows to feel clawing unease whenever Kenobi hurts, he can't make himself regret this dance.

Never regrets these moments he knows perfection.)

 

 

 

It was still dark when the brush of Obi-Wan's hand pulled Maul out of a state that was somewhere between meditation and dozing; where he was awake enough to keep himself shrouded and still enough to allow his restlessness to calm to hard-learned patience. He blinked his eyes open and turned his head and was met with a tired smile.

"This is a nice surprise," Obi-Wan murmured, tone dry enough to make it humor without turning it to sarcasm.

Maul just hummed back an agreement, studying Obi-Wan's face and letting the man have possession of his arm long enough to re-position it on the bed. Beyond the art of tone, Obi-Wan had somewhere along the line mastered the art of reaching and touching, and while the fact he was willing to do so in the Temple was quietly alarming, Maul had no urge to resist it.

Something was wrong.

"Geonosis," Obi-Wan said, still only speaking just above a whisper; his fingertips found the lines on the back of Maul's hand without him looking, guided by memory, and after another moment, Maul turned his forearm, put his palm up, felt the dry slide of their fingers against one another and granted himself some momentary relief for this small thing. Even as Obi-Wan added, "We've gone to war."

"Yes." He knew. That, if little else.

Just after a healing trance it was doubtless hard to think; if it was anything like coming out of deep sedation, Obi-Wan was probably lucky to string two thoughts together right now. It was pointless to try to press him for information, no matter how badly Maul wanted to know the state of things.

"Anakin," Obi-Wan said, face screwing up a little. "His arm, he was--"

"Settle, or Vokara Che will think I caused this," Maul ordered quietly, despite knowing it was wholly unlikely Obi-Wan would listen; shielded or no, though, he could feel the startle and the sudden grief, the way it radiated off of the Jedi, the way it made something in his own veins itch, agitated. He closed his eyes for a moment and broke his own shrouding enough to ascertain where Skywalker was, then put it back in place. "He's in a trance. Alive, asleep. I sense no pain from him right now."

Obi-Wan looked at him for a long moment, then nodded and closed his eyes again, his breath out a little shaky. His hand was vaguely cool; the callouses from holding the hilt of his lightsaber familiar. "We've lost a lot of Jedi."

His voice was calm, but it was clear that it hurt him, no doubt more deeply than the wounds which had put him in that bed.

Maul didn't say he was sorry; he wasn't. He also didn't gloat, because he could find nothing in that to gloat about. But he did rub his thumb against Obi-Wan's and tried to ignore his own voice in his head going, But not you.

It was longer than necessary after Obi-Wan's hand went slack over his before he gently pulled his free and recrossed his arms, listening to the man breathe.

Not you.

 

 

 

The Temple was a poor place for a warrior during a war.

Obi-Wan had managed to convince the Council to allow Maul out with him on missions with decent regularity over the past five years, those times where Skywalker was busy or otherwise couldn't go, starting with Iloh and using Maul's prior experience at Orsis to justify it, which then led to several more where Maul's specialized skills were useful. Tactically, strategically, the logic had been impeccable; enough that even the very reluctant Council allowed it.

But there was more to it. They did not pretend otherwise when they were alone.

Obi-Wan ceded none of the ground he had gained on Iloh; in fact, had pressed and gained more and often kept Maul on his back foot. There were times when it made Maul grin wryly to himself, a subtle little edge of a grin, and take stock of how well a Jedi could act a thief, could steal moments, minutes, hours.

The second time Obi-Wan woke up, he was more clear-minded and told Maul everything he could; it was just now edging dawn on Coruscant, and the quiet tones of their voices trading information blended in easily with those of the Halls coming awake. He told him of the clones, the battle, Dooku, Amidala and Anakin, and annoyingly they were running out of time before Maul could ask for more clarification on several of those things.

"Take me with you," Maul said, finally, which (quite gratifyingly) made Obi-Wan's eyes widen a little. "I'm wasted here."

"I think the Council would explode," Obi-Wan answered, but there was something lighter about him as he did, eyes narrowing. "I know Anakin would."

Maul quirked his brow. "Collateral, and a sacrifice I'm willing to make."

He was careful not to examine too closely how it felt, to make Obi-Wan laugh. When Vokara Che looked in, surprised, he blinked back at her. She didn't look displeased, though, by the sound.

Obi-Wan had already concluded that the Jedi would be neck deep in this war, had already concluded that they had entered dangerous times, something both of them could feel in the very air around them. Neither of them were soldiers, but both of them were warriors, and while Maul's experience with strategy had been cut short and his ability to work in teams had always been weak, he knew that his understanding of these things -- his ability to measure outcomes and assess situations -- would be useful.

He knew, at least, that he worked well with this Jedi.

And with less of them, he was more of an asset.

"We can try," Obi-Wan said, after falling quiet to think about it, probably already planning on how he would convince a paranoid Council half-blinded by the darkness of their times that an agent of that darkness should be at least free enough to help wreak it on their behalf.  (Not their behalf, Maul thought.) "You had better go," he added, more quietly, soft reluctance.

Back to his cell, inside this cage. Maul didn't grudge it, but he hoped Obi-Wan succeeded; he would likely go mad here, if he was forced to stay here, while a war raged out of his reach. He nodded and stood, rolling his shoulders to stretch them after the long time sitting and then blinked down at Obi-Wan's hand, caught around his wrist.

"Come here," Obi-Wan murmured, giving him a tug, and after making sure no one was watching or lurking outside of the door, Maul gave an exasperated roll of his eyes and leaned in and kissed him thinking:Thief.

He gave a nod to Master Che and spoke his gratitude on the way out of the Halls, and then collected his guard so he could go back to his cell for whatever intolerable wait.

Chapter Text

"A lesson let this be, Master Kenobi. Attachment leads to suffering for a Jedi."

Amidst the mad scramble of thought, the heartaches great and small; amidst the devastation that was Anakin, embodied; amidst the doubts and the anxieties and his own complicity in them, Obi-Wan was drowning.

His wounds were healed, but he felt more damaged and confused than ever.

War was officially declared. Shmi Skywalker was dead. Anakin Skywalker was maimed. Yoda had tasked Obi-Wan with breaking Padmé Amidala's heart and, no doubt, Anakin's as well.

He had stood there in the early evening on the Temple steps and he had tried to find any compromise to it, any way to not do what it was that he was supposed to do. Obi-Wan knew why attachments were forbidden, he knew it logically, he knew that heartbreak was the path to the dark side because it had been that path for many, and yet--

And yet.

Would I be able to let you go? he asked now, silently, watching Maul run through forms down on the training room floor with the zhaboka that he used in lieu of the saberstaff he once wielded.

There were months that would go by, sometimes, when missions called him away and they didn't see nor communicate with one another. There were times when Obi-Wan was in the Temple, but responsibilities kept him from being able to do more than visit briefly. He didn't pine during those times; he knew Maul didn't, either. Whatever Maul thought of the Order, he understood on fundamental levels the concept of duty, and so did Obi-Wan. They were both disciplined, regardless of Force alignment.

He didn't resent being parted for duty, but oh, he had come to bridle against being under scrutiny.

Obi-Wan kept an open eye out for any time to steal Maul away, out on some mission, to get them away from the security and surveillance. To be able to speak his mind openly, knowing it wouldn't be recorded somewhere; to be able to reach out and touch and live moments in the simple pleasure of that. Of just occupying the same space, whether it was working or talking or resting or silence.

How much peace he found with his former enemy. How it felt to just be accepted, even with his flaws, perceived or real. They bantered sometimes, they poked at one another, they even occasionally had a real debate about their respective views, but he knew that he would not be found wanting. That whatever they had built over this last decade had hardened and tempered.

He tried to imagine his life without that foundation. If Maul hadn't been there, a challenge to his dogmatic certainties and personal insecurities by his existence and presence alone. If he had died on Naboo, or managed to escape.

Obi-Wan wasn't sure he liked who he himself was right now; he also thought he would like himself even less, in that scenario.

He had done what Yoda asked. He had gone to Padmé, feeling wretched and desperate, and he had told her to break it off, to let Anakin go. He had done so more gently than he might have, if not for his own secret affections, and when he left her--

He did it knowing that his warning would go unheeded.

He did it knowing that when Anakin escorted her back to Naboo, she would tell him of Obi-Wan's visit and warnings.

He did it knowing how well Anakin would listen to such things.

Oh, I'm sorry, he thought, aching and miserable and guilty. I'm sorry.

Obi-Wan didn't know who he was apologizing to, only to who he wasn't.

 

 

 

Even after a decade's imprisonment, with no saberstaff and no sparring partner -- the Temple wouldn't so much as let Maul have a training saber to work with, citing his skill with machines -- he still moved beautifully.

Obi-Wan could see the flaws, he could see where openings were that would prove dangerous in a real battle against an experienced foe, he could see where some of that bone-deep grace had been lost to his own blade, but even then, there was beauty there. He could also see where having a partner to practice with would remove most of those flaws, too, maybe even all of them, even if that grace would remain lost.

It gave him an unexpected hope for Anakin's eventual recovery.

He knew that even if it were allowed, putting Anakin and Maul to sparring one another would be disastrous, but he wished that weren't the case. Anakin actively disliked Maul; Maul was indifferent to Anakin. They didn't cross paths, and Obi-Wan was sure they both preferred that; to occupy different parts of Obi-Wan's life separately. It sometimes made things difficult, but Obi-Wan had gotten good at managing it.

It was a shame, though. Anakin was bound to struggle with losing his arm, relearning how to fight without flesh and blood and bone to channel his power. Sparring with someone who had lost half of himself and yet still reclaimed the vast majority of his prior abilities might have been good for Anakin.

Obi-Wan had never sparred with Maul, partly because it wasn't allowed, partly because he was concerned about the feelings that might come up if he did. But when he had finally managed to decouple his feelings from his memory of Theed, a few years after it, he was able examine it and admire it for what it was. Not losing his Master. Not almost losing his own life. Not cutting Maul down. But the duel itself; he had never fought better before that, not in training or in life.

He was a far better swordsman now, and owed that to Maul, if obliquiely.

It had taken him some time to contain his thoughts again, but eventually he had been able to; given that Maul was training hard, as he always did, he hadn't interrupted himself to go talk to Obi-Wan. It gave Obi-Wan time to re-center himself as well as he could, at least, before they spoke.

Now, he stepped out onto the main floor, picking up a towel off of the shelf and carrying it over; a small show of affection he could get away with, that would look innocuous, that Maul would nevertheless grasp. "How long have you been at this?" he asked, lighter than he felt.

Maul took the towel with a glance bordering soft, then went to rubbing his face and head off. "Four hours, give or take. What news?"

"The Council will grant me -- us -- a meeting in two days time." They were more than busy at the moment; Obi-Wan still chafed against the wait. Most of the Jedi had been recalled, while half-theoretical warplans were being hammered into something workable, and he knew that the longer he had to consider the broad ramifications of everything happening, the more time he would have to dread.

Maul nodded, leaving his towel around his neck, and tossed the zhaboka to one of the Temple Guards who were his near-constant companions, so that it could be locked away.

"Only you can walk around with guards and make it look like they're personal servants," Obi-Wan teased, mostly because it wasn't far from the truth. They followed the ex-Sith everywhere, aside into the Halls of Healing, and stood guard outside of his cell. Maul paid them exactly no mind, seemingly ignoring their presence with such totality that it appealed to some adolescent part of Obi-Wan that had somehow survived thus far and could appreciate the humor of it.

He was grateful for that brief levity; with the phantom sensation of Anakin's tears against his shoulder, with the haunting look on Padmé's face in his mind's eye, with the weight of lost lives (lost friends) and more to be lost soon, he was grateful for it.

"Dark side tricks," Maul just said, and then only partially succeeded in hiding a grin when Obi-Wan found himself startled into laughing.

 

 

 

(The first time Obi-Wan looks at his nightmare after Theed, said nightmare is still unconscious and floating in bacta; the first time Maul stops being a nightmare is moments later when Senior Healer Vokara Che gives him a basic report.

"Dathomirian. A Nightbrother. From what I can tell, between twenty-two and twenty-three standard years of age; his prefrontal cortex isn't finished developing."

It makes Obi-Wan feel uneasy, vaguely sick; the realization, the thought, How can he be younger than I am?

It doesn't take away the anger and the pain, but when Obi-Wan speaks to Maul later, he's speaking to a peer and not some nebulous, well-wrought terror; speaking to someone who can know no more than he does himself, about how it all works. Who has only been in this galaxy just over two decades, and only a few years less than Obi-Wan.

It makes him more honest than he might have been otherwise.)

 

 

 

"Asking for your parole, Master Kenobi is."

The meeting had taken hours. First Obi-Wan alone, standing in front of the Council, hand over wrist, offering his argument. He had leaned on every bit of diplomatic ability he had; had run down the list of merits and an honest assessment of the risks, of giving Maul some much larger measure of freedom than he'd had these past ten years.

He walked through all thirteen missions they had completed together, including the three which had lasted longer than a month; the Council knew all of them, but Obi-Wan repeated the bullet-points anyway. He pointed out that Maul's understanding of stealth and infiltration tactics was invaluable; the Jedi were peacekeepers, undercover was not their strong suit. He pointed out how the ex-Sith's understanding of the underworld and how to navigate it had led to Obi-Wan finding informants he never would have, on his own.

He pointed out how useful it would be to have someone who could do black ops work, who could manage tactical risks, who could be a private asset they could deploy into situations where a Jedi would be unsuited, but a trained Force user could make all of the difference.

Every bit of it was honest, grounded in logic. Nothing else would work.

Then Vokara Che and the Temple Guards gave their assessments, just as factual.

No one here -- not the Council nor Obi-Wan -- did the disservice of pretending Maul had somehow been turned, had somehow transformed into a creature of light. Subterfuge was useful, but lying would only sabotage the whole effort.

Now, Maul stood across from Yoda with squared shoulders, cast in the evening light through the windows, and Obi-Wan smiled internally even on tenterhooks for the image of him there, proud and defiant, lit gold.

"He is," Maul answered, nothing deferential in his tone, just a statement of fact. He made no effort to hide how much he held the Council in disdain even whilst standing among them, though he also wasn't giving into any desire to tell them exactly what he thought of them, either. Restraint, not respect; Obi-Wan knew the difference well.

"What I want to know," Mace Windu said, over his steepled fingers, gaze calm and hard, "is what you think you could offer us."

Obi-Wan somehow kept his wince off of his face, kept his expression schooled, when Maul gave a little sneer back and answered in clipped, biting tones, "You know my history as well as I do, Master Jedi. You know of my training, you know of my missions. What Jedi do you have capable of what I've done?"

"None, mercifully," Windu answered, no less hard. "Slaughter isn't an asset."

Yoda held a hand up before that could turn into a fight, something Obi-Wan felt a sagging rush of relief for. "Undeniable, some of your skills are. And logical, Master Kenobi's points as to their use is. But in the fog of war we are; your opportunity for escape or worse remains undeniable."

"I have not tried to escape in the decade you've kept me trapped here--"

Yoda raised his ears, calmly. "Not strictly truth, you speak."

Obi-Wan almost opened his mouth there; even he could feel a spike of something wholly unbecoming a Jedi Master at those words, and it was only the fact that it would destroy everything they were trying to accomplish here that kept him from saying anything.

He could also feel the hot fury radiating off of Maul, too, enough that half of the Council shifted in their seats. There were some members still here who had once debated executing him; some of them likely still would, given the chance.

In the roiling silence, Obi-Wan closed his eyes for a long moment and grappled with his own control.

When Maul spoke again, it was with a hint of the underlying, inhuman growl he was capable of, but the words were otherwise steady by some measure of fortitude that hummed like a power transmission line.

"Beyond the fact that you can shut me down like an errant droid," he said, showing his teeth, "and beyond the fact that I have repeatedly gone out on missions on behalf of this Order and Republic, I have never pretended to be anything more or less than what I am. I am largely indifferent to your Order these days and I am largely in contempt of you.  But I have no love of the Separatist cause and no desire to return to the master who would rip me apart only to allow this Council to claw through the remains." His chin jerked up a fraction. "You are facing a situation that the Jedi have not faced in one thousand years, your numbers are dwindling and your vision is clouded. You have at your disposal a useful, foolishly discarded tool; if you refuse to make use of it because of hubris, that will be on you."

It was a strange thing, to feel proud of someone even as they challenged the very center of everything you had ever known.

Yoda took the words with a patient, slow blink and then only said, "Wait outside, you two will. Deliberate on this, we must."

Obi-Wan bowed. Maul didn't. But they turned as one and walked out together.

 

 

 

It was twilight when the answer came, and while there were conditions -- many, many conditions -- for the first time they were able to walk with no guard on their heels, through the halls of the Temple.

Maul hadn't spoken since his rebuttal in the Council's chambers; Obi-Wan could feel the lingering fury, and underneath of it the echoes of older times, of misery and exhaustion and despair, whenever their shoulders brushed. And while it wasn't the first time he'd been exposed to any and all of those feelings inside of this Temple, it was the first time he had just enough freedom to do something active about them.

That was how they ended up in a quiet alcove on the way back to the Detention Center; how Obi-Wan wrapped arms and robes around Maul and just held on, relief and affection and sorrow and hope, until finally the tension faded and the ache dissipated and Maul held on back, breathing falling into the same soft rhythm.

Into the flow of life, not light nor dark, through and not around.

Chapter Text

Christophsis


 

Maul would have given an entire Sith-promised empire for two things. The fact that he wasn't sure which of those two things he wanted more was indicative of the situation he was in.

Blaster fire sent chips of rock over him every few seconds and the few times he was able to return fire or force-fling something at the droids wasn't enough to put a pause in their onslaught. He had managed to get himself under good cover, but he was pinned down and vastly outnumbered.

The first of those things was a lightsaber. He would have been back behind their own lines two hours ago, if he'd had a blade in hand. One couldn't deflect with a blaster; he was a good shot, but even with the Force (and plenty of anger), it was a limited and limiting weapon. It offered poor defense and it didn't slice droids into scrap metal.  Then there was Ventress, which was an entirely different issue.

The second thing was to never, ever see this shade of green again.

If the various types of anger at the droids weren't enough to fuel him, the fact that the population of Christophsis felt the need to color-coordinate their entire planet would have done it handily.

And to top it all off, there was Kenobi.

"Are you tired of target practice yet?"

Their communications were crackly and disrupted thanks to jamming attempts, but Maul could pick that lilting accent out of a thousand voices, never mind some static. He peeked around the corner and knocked off two more droids trying to get around the debris, all while hoping no one decided to bring a grenade to a blaster fight, before he took a moment to answer, "Are you going to quip this war to an end, or are you going to give me covering fire?"

Obi-Wan had always been a quick wit, but war had brought that so far to the fore that it seemed every other sentence out of his mouth was some form of acerbic joke. Maul could appreciate that to a point; gallows humor appealed to him.

But only to a point.

"We're almost there. When we send up the flare, give us your relative position," Obi-Wan answered, more seriously. "Stand by."

"Acknowledged."

Obi-Wan was good for his word, as always; the flare went up and Maul relayed back where he was in relation to it, where the enemy was, and the next thing he heard was the sound of heavy artillery firing offsides into the enemy's forces.

He took a breath, a second, and then dove out of cover and made for the flare, vaulting over debris; when he heard some stray droids start firing, he force-flung a quarter ton of rock and shattered crystal back at them, twisting mid-stride to do it, and didn't bother looking to see if it hit before he was over the next gauntlet of rubble.

Obi-Wan had come half across the debris field in front of the AV-7, lightsaber hilt in hand, and had the audacity to call out, "Welcome back! I brought a you present!" as he gestured back to the cannon.

Said heavy cannon was retreating even as the gunner kept up the covering fire, and Maul didn't dare slow down, though he managed to call back between strides, "Could have been quicker!"

But anything that might have followed was quickly cut off at the whistling sound of bombs.

Obi-Wan had a hand up in a heartbeat to knock them down, but there was no batting them far enough away to avoid all of the blast. There was cover to his right, but--

The world went red at the same moment Maul barreled into Obi-Wan, leaping on him like a particularly agile or suicidal primate, putting himself between the man and the explosion, protecting Obi-Wan's head and center mass.

He had half a second to think, At least it wasn't green--

And then black.

 

 

 

Ten years had dulled his edge to pitiful, and no one was more aware of that fact than Maul was.

Parole was not all too different from life before; he still had to sleep in his cell, and he was restricted to Temple grounds unless he had an escort. He was only allowed in certain places even there; more than he had been, but considerably less than someone who wasn't a prisoner. He was pleased that the guards weren't on his heels anymore, but aside that, not much had changed in terms of his freedom to move.

Most of that didn't matter, though. He didn't exactly have much in the way of free time to spend thinking about it anyway.

It had been a thousand years since the Jedi had been the foundation of the Army of Light. Now, they were scrambling to relearn skills that had been set aside in their mission to become peacekeepers; how to command men, how to manage a battlefield. Maul had some training, especially at Orsis, on how to raise a mercenary force and lead it, but he certainly wasn't going to be put in charge of anyone.

What they did do, though, was schedule him for training with a blaster. Of course, he wasn't allowed to keep it outside of the firing range set up not far from the Temple, but he was-- relieved that they didn't plan on leaving him wholly unarmed in battle. He was also given some refresher courses in explosives and munitions; given his prior profession, he had a few tricks to teach the clone commanders in turn, as well.

Obi-Wan spent most of his time rehabilitating Skywalker, what time wasn't spent learning how to be a general, which left them little time to speak to one another. And of that time, even less to speak plainly. Still, Maul wasn't inclined to complain; even if he'd wanted to, watching Obi-Wan chew on a thumbnail fitfully as he tried to wrap himself around the size of responsibility he was having put on his shoulders would have snuffed out any desire to.

Skirmishes broke out, but both sides were in a critical stage of build up.

Still, when it came time for proper engagement, none of them had really been prepared.

 

 

 

Maul had learned very early on in life to submit himself to being handled, be it by droid or by living beings, and it was really only that training that kept him from any number of potential incidents over the years. That momentary pause, conscious or half or less, where he assessed the situation before acting in some permanent, possibly fatal, manner.

That didn't stop him from having the medic by the wrist before he'd even opened his eyes.

"Relax, sir, we're just patching you up," the clone said -- Maul didn't know which, he only knew half a dozen of them by name, those he was exposed to often enough to differentiate between them -- though the clone didn't try to pull his arm away from the grip on it, just looked down at him with a bemused expression.

"I'll take care of it," Maul answered, head ringing and mouth coppery and clumsy, letting go with a little push and closing his eyes again to take stock of himself. His side was searing, he was likely concussed, but there was nothing there that he couldn't deal with on his own. His cybernetics were responding normally, too.

Not for the first time, he was grateful for the zabrak half of his heritage; his skills might be rusty, but he was at least durable.

He took a breath and then looked up again, only this time to find Obi-Wan Kenobi standing there above him, glaring daggers.

Obi-Wan had made it out not too much the worse for wear; his hair was a mess, there was a scrape on one of his cheekbones and his skin and clothing was dusty, dirty. But he was otherwise intact; intact enough to stand there with his arms crossed tight, looking every bit like a thunderstorm contained in flesh.

"The charges are set. So are the relays," Maul reported, after a long moment, figuring that he had better get that part out of the way before anything else.

Obi-Wan's voice was level, but that quiet fury in his eyes hadn't abated. "We've beaten them into retreat, but they'll make another advance soon enough."

"Good. I'd hate for the day to have been wasted." Figuring (probably rightly) that Obi-Wan was going to get to the point eventually, Maul centered himself and pushed up, hissing in a breath when his side pulled, tacky with half-clotted blood. The medic had been kind enough to leave some disinfectant foam and some bacta patches and bandages, though, so aside it being uncomfortable, it was a relatively minor inconvenience.

His head spun briefly, then settled, and he glanced up again.

"What were you thinking?" Obi-Wan finally asked, some of the tight control on his voice slipping. "There was half a building you could have dodged behind."

"But you couldn't have," Maul pointed out back, vaguely bemused.

That had apparently put Obi-Wan on his back foot; he opened his mouth, then closed it again, clearly doing his best to seek whatever calm center he usually sought at times like this. Though only to partial success, because after a moment, he said, "The whole point of us bringing artillery was to get you back intact."

"I am intact." Maul gestured, then reached for the disinfectant. "This is nothing."

"That's not what I meant."

There was a beat there, where they just stared at one another, and then something clicked in Maul's head and he asked, baffled, "Kenobi-- Obi-Wan, what do you think I'm here for?"

Silence fell; Obi-Wan looking almost stricken, Maul feeling more confused that he cared for, both of them apparently not quite sure how to start talking again. Then, when his comm demanded attention, Obi-Wan crouched down and grabbed the disinfectant Maul had been reaching for, pressing it into his hand. "We'll-- we'll talk about this later. You should get back to base."

Maul had no intentions of retreating until he got to see his day's work justified, but he knew arguing right now was a lost cause. He just nodded.

 

 

 

Needless to say, when his explosives went off -- the booming distant but distinct, a rolling wave of incendiary destruction -- Maul was sitting on the highest stable floor in one of the intact buildings, watching with a hunter's smirk on his mouth as the droid army was cut off from any possible retreat, pinned down in front of Kenobi's cannons, their shield gone thanks to Skywalker and his new padawan.

Slaughtering droids was poor sport, but he was pleased when he could take out enough of them to make up the difference.

 

 

 

"A little higher, a little more to the left--" Skywalker said, gesturing with a finger across his throat, something cold glittering in his eyes.

Maul had forgotten the third thing he would give an entire Sith-promised empire for, but it came back quickly upon exposure to Anakin Skywalker. Namely, for Skywalker to go and bait someone else. They had only been trapped on this planet for days -- long days, yes, but only days -- and every time they crossed paths, Skywalker took shots at him.

Maul just gave back an indifferent facial shrug; where the shrapnel had torn a hole in his side was patched for the moment, though his shirt was a permanent lost cause. "Had that happened, it would more likely have scalped Kenobi than decapitated me."

"You're him," the Togruta girl said, her expression pegged somewhere between wide-eyed wonder and some vague horror. "The Sith who fought on Naboo."

"The Sith who lost on Naboo," Skywalker made sure to interject, quite clearly grinding his teeth.

More for the sake that it was apparently driving Skywalker crazy than any real urge to engage, Maul turned his full attention to the girl, tilting his head and looking down at her. "Former Sith, but yes."

"We watched that fight from the surveillance footage," she said; unlike many (most), she didn't shy away from eye contact and Maul wondered if they had edited out the part where he had run Qui-Gon Jinn through. "I'm Ahsoka Tano," she introduced, offering her hand out, then apparently thinking better of it and half pulling it back, before deciding and then offering it again.

Skywalker was practically bristling behind her. That was the single only reason why Maul shook her hand. "Maul. Formerly Darth Maul." He let go of her hand, then looked to her master. "Where's Kenobi?"

"Right here," Obi-Wan said, walking over to join them and giving them all three a look, probably guessing with accuracy what had been going on in his mediating absence. "We have a new mission. Anakin, Ahsoka, you're going to find Jabba the Hutt's son. Yoda's at the transport, he'll brief you on the details. Maul, you're with me; we'll take a courier."

Skywalker couldn't resist one more glare, particularly when Maul said calmly, "Of course."

Many of his skills might have gotten rusty during his imprisonment, but getting under Skywalker's skin was brand new and if he was going to have to put up with being made a target, Maul was going to take what he could get back.

 

 

 

There is no pain where strength lies.

Maul couldn't remember anything substantial of his Master; he remembered the pain and he remembered the lessons, but there was a black hole left where anything more solid had once been. Sometimes, he thought he could almost remember the voice, but it was usually gone like mist through his fingers when he opened his eyes again. He could remember the choking, the lightning, but not the figure beyond with hand raised to deliver both.

He didn't know what he would do if he did remember.

He remembered his lessons, though. He just couldn't use them properly, anymore.

His side hurt. Steadily, throbbing despite the bacta, which made it throb less at least. His head ached, as well, and he was starting to feel the bruises on the rest of his remaining skin. Before Theed, he could have channeled that into any one of his endless wellsprings of rage, overcoming through sheer will. His entire mission to Cog Hive Seven had been a series of physical insults, some grave, and yet he had survived that without much thought.

"Lost. What you're feeling is lost."

Obi-Wan's words, long ago; wrapped in his cloak, blue eyes narrowed, pretending he wasn't still somehow angry. More damningly, he had been right. And since then, lost was a feeling Maul had gotten very used to, something he didn't foresee an end to.

Right now, he left his eyes closed, listening to the hum of the small courier's engines as it made its way through hyperspace towards Tatooine. Back to the beginning, then. Though this was in no way an ending.

He had cleaned himself up in the tiny 'fresher, then redressed his side and sat back down in the co-pilot's seat, leaving his torn, blood-stiff shirt in the disposal to be incinerated when they got around to it. Obi-Wan had disappeared into the back some time ago, presumably to change his clothes or maybe to steal some time to gather his thoughts.

Something they were both in need of. Maul tried to find some wellspring of anger, some spark of rage, to dull the throb in his side and the ache in his head, and found nothing except a quiet sort of relief that they were away from Christophsis and that Obi-Wan was in one piece. He was aware of being tired, but he was likewise aware that the man currently in the aft section was even moreso.

Every other sentence out of Obi-Wan's mouth might have been a quip, and he projected such calm and control on the battlefield that it was easy to fall into the trap he set, but there was so much more underneath of that.

Camouflage, Maul thought, and smiled to himself, shaking his head in surprisingly warm, somewhat rueful amusement.

They were due a talk, and when he heard Obi-Wan coming back forward, he let a slow breath out and gathered himself to sit up and conduct it properly, even with some vaguely unsettled feeling for how it might go.

Instead, he was met with the sight of the man standing there, some expression written on his face made of too many things to name, too many things that Maul didn't know how to name, holding a clean shirt in his hands.

 

 

 

(About a half a year later, they are laying in bed together, talking drowsily as much for the sake of hearing one another as to exchange information, and this topic rolls in like a tide, gentle and inexorable.

Maul asks, half-asleep, "What were you thinking, then, anyway?"

And Obi-Wan is silent for long enough that Maul almost thinks he actually has fallen asleep, but then he says, "I found your shells, from Iloh, and I figured out the answer. To questions which you had asked. To questions I had asked you. To questions that I had asked myself." A beat. "And I realized that I could survive losing you, but that I wasn't ever going to let you go."

He says this as though it's a truth which one can carry a universe on.

Maul has no way he knows, how to answer this in words. It leaves him feeling shaken and so many other things he doesn't have enough definitions for, but he drags Obi-Wan in against him and tucks the great general, the negotiator, under his own chin and holds him that way the rest of the night and hopes that speaks where he doesn't know how to.)

 

 

 

Being kissed back into the seat wasn't the talk Maul had been expecting, but he wasn't in any hurry to kick Obi-Wan out of his mouth, either.

When Obi-Wan drew back, it was only just enough to break their mouths apart; horn to hair and nose to nose. His breathing was trembling, but the hand he had on the side of Maul's face was steady.

"--I thought we were going to talk?" Maul asked, at length, even if he wasn't ready to give up the proximity to whatever bright, determined thing that Obi-Wan was radiating. It almost ached, being close to it, but nothing like pain.

"Later, maybe." Obi-Wan stole another quick kiss, just a brush of the lips, before pulling back and setting the shirt down on the arm of the chair. He sat down in his own seat and checked the read-out, palmed down his face, and then he huffed a shaky little laugh. "After this mission, we're going to take a little detour."

"To where?"

"To find you a crystal." Obi-Wan shook his head, then glanced over and smiled, a wavering thing that broadened until he was practically beaming. "Or two."

Chapter Text

Now


 

The night was warm.

Somewhere beyond the lights, the city faded off into bands of rain and flashes of lightning; here, the air foretold the storm, heavy and thick, hazy. Not unpleasant, but a palpable weight. He could taste the ozone in it when he breathed in, in lungs that felt too tight and had done so since war had been declared.

No matter how fast Obi-Wan drove the rented airspeeder, he was never going to be able to outrun the lives left behind.

That didn't stop him trying, racing the thunder.

Maul was quiet beside him; that wasn't any surprise. He had retreated so far behind his walls that he couldn't have done so more thoroughly if he'd physically removed himself from the world; aside from rare moments, he had been that way for awhile. Against Obi-Wan's hip, tucked hidden under his robes, was the new saberstaff. When Maul had walked back to the courier with crystals in hand, he had just paused at the ramp and looked up at Obi-Wan and they stood there for long minutes, counting heartbeats, as if they could find some answer if only they stood there long enough.

Now, a couple of weeks, sourced parts and a borrowed civilian machine shop later, and the saberstaff was finished.

Obi-Wan had bent rules, but this was flying so directly in the face of them that neither of them would be able to dodge the trouble that would follow if they were caught. He had never broken them like this before; had never done something so deeply, unapologetically in defiance of every single thing he had been taught was right and true, not intentionally. He was fairly sure that the Council would forgive the more intimate parts of their relationship before they would forgive him arming Maul with his preferred weapon, one the likes of which had once cut down a Jedi master.

Obi-Wan didn't let himself think about what Qui-Gon Jinn would make of his defiance.

When he glanced over, Maul had his eyes closed and his head tipped back, like he was waiting for the rain to come down.

Maybe that was what they were waiting for; something that would make the carbon from blaster fire slough off. Something that would drum out the sound of the clones screaming as they fell. Something that might run away the pressing worries and responsibilities and the uncertain future.

Something that could wash them clean.

 

 


They had spent the day separately, but in the evening they had gone out, ostensibly to check in with informants that Obi-Wan had collected over the past ten years and see how they fell on the line between Republic and Seperatist. It was going to be a long process and it involved a great deal of the underworld, but it was also a good excuse to get them both away from the Temple and he took it.

Here on Coruscant, the war was everywhere and yet it still seemed distant. It ran on newsfeeds, narrated like a game instead of the horror that it really was; when they were passing through throngs of people, the feelings seemed to mingle between fear and apathy.

There were so many lives on this world, so many tangled in intricate and wide-flung webs; if Obi-Wan spent too much time thinking about it, he thought it all too likely he would get wrapped up and lost.

By desperation as much as necessity, there were a lot of things he had to learn how not to think about. Like how he felt about Anakin leading troops; so recently knighted, now a master and general both. How he felt about the men under his command and how it felt like a wound every time one of them fell. Obi-Wan would not survive this, they would not survive this, if he didn't harden himself to the inevitable losses, at least enough to keep commanding effectively.

Sometimes, he wondered how the Jedi of the Old Republic had done it. The Army of Light. If it ached inside of them when their men were cut down; if they felt so raw internally on the battlefield.

How many scars were left on their hearts, invisible but real.

The warehouse was in an industrial district; not the Works, where he knew Maul had trained before, but not dissimilar in form and function. It was supposedly empty and large, with good floor space and high ceilings, and Obi-Wan had procured the security codes from one of his contacts in exchange for not reporting certain minor (and assuredly harmless) black market dealings. He also hadn't asked too many questions about what its purpose had been in the past or what it might be used for in the future, only that he be allowed to use it for now.

"If you weren't a Jedi, you would make an effective pirate," Maul had said to him after they stepped out of the seedy diner into the even seedier street, one of the few times he'd broken his own silence these past weeks, some trace of amusement in his voice.

Despite everything, it made Obi-Wan grin, relieved. He hadn't told Maul why he had garnered the codes, and Maul hadn't asked, but the brief distraction of imagining himself a pirate was something he could latch onto. "A proper ruffian?" he had asked, raising his eyebrows, teasing and hunting for more of that good humor.

Maul had scoffed quietly. "You're already a thief, Obi-Wan, it's not too far down from that to ruffian."

"And what have I stolen?" Obi-Wan eyed him, resting his hands on his own hips, trying and failing to project offense.

Maul held up a hand and ticked off fingers, loftily. "Lightsaber parts, warehouse codes and a former Sith assassin. Recently, anyway; I've no doubts your list of crimes is longer than I could possibly know."

"I salvaged the parts, the warehouse codes were technically blackmail and not theft, and as to the former Sith assassin--" Obi-Wan felt his grin turn more fierce, even as he stepped over and caught the back of Maul's hand, holding it up to kiss the heel of his thumb. "--guilty, as charged."

He got the exasperated eye-roll he had been chasing. "Ruffian and reprobate," Maul had added, but he'd started smiling anyway, in that subtle way he had where he was clearly trying not to. He turned his hand in an elegant gesture and captured Obi-Wan's for a brief squeeze, for the moment eying the man in amused fondness.

Then gravity and reality seemed to reassert itself and the smile fell away and Obi-Wan almost felt the loss as a tangible thing, as Maul slid past him and headed back for the airspeeder.

Now, the thunder rumbled quietly in the distance and Obi-Wan had parked them outside of one of the doors of the warehouse, putting up the weather screen on the speeder before slipping out. The codes turned out to be good; within a minute they were standing inside, and Obi-Wan turned on a few different combinations of light switches until he found a setting that felt comfortable.

Maul scanned the empty space with his usual quick efficiency, then turned his head to raise a brow at Obi-Wan in a silent question.

Obi-Wan suddenly found the answer far harder to express than he had expected.

Instead of trying to speak, he shed his outer robe and tossed it to land by the wall, before unclipping the saberstaff from his hip and offering it over.

 

 

 

(When he remembers this moment later, it's forever colored by its context, by what happens next; forever tied to the memory of blood.

But while he lives it, all Obi-Wan really thinks about is how tired he is. He counts these days since his master fell as if he's waiting to reach the number where he stops feeling half-numb, half-devastated.

As they pass triple digits, it's starting to sink in that he might never make it back out of a hole much deeper than the one he'd sent the Sith down.

The Council had asked him to go talk to said Sith when he was conscious; had done that when Qui-Gon's death was so raw that Obi-Wan imagined he could still feel how his own tears had dried against his face. He had done so, but all it really ended up with was them spitting venomous words back and forth.

It was only after a couple weeks, while his new padawan was in classes, that Obi-Wan had thought to ask why.

"Because it's you he hates," Master Windu had said, frankly.

It made no sense to Obi-Wan at the time, but now that he stands there across the cell from Maul, he thinks he might understand. Maul has barely bothered to sneer at him the past several days, and when Obi-Wan has the mental energy to think on it, he realizes that the viciousness has been fading steadily now for awhile, as if it's just too much effort to sustain it.

He knows that the Council is constantly trying to figure out how to break through Maul's shielding; he knows that they attempt it at any hour or every hour, in singles or multiples, and that Maul hasn't broken yet.

Now, Maul looks at Obi-Wan and wrinkles his nose, not even quite a half-hearted snarl. Even cut in two and back to both a literal and figurative wall, there's a hard light of defiance and determination in his eyes, but underneath of that, there's something else that Obi-Wan can feel resonating in his own chest, heavy and sore.

He's startled by his realization: This is exhaustion.

And: You're just as tired as I am.

This thread of common suffering disturbs him so much that he leaves again without saying anything.)

 

 

 

When Obi-Wan had planned this, he had known that there would be nothing about it that wasn't complicated. He knew that he would have to process and deal with any number of things coming up in his own mind; that if he had any lingering anger or resentment over Theed, over Qui-Gon, the potential for this to turn disastrous was very real. He was fairly sure that he had overcome those feelings, but he had learned over the years that old hurts could lurk quietly, waiting for the chance to resurface.

He also knew that he wasn't asking to spar a fellow Jedi. That whatever else, no matter how 'former' he was, Maul would fight like a Sith and Obi-Wan would have to contend with everything that came with that.

He knew he wasn't the only one who would find it complicated and potentially disastrous, too.

What he hadn't counted on was Maul stepping backwards away from him, stiff with fight-or-flight tension that even his self-control couldn't hide, and answering, "No."

It took Obi-Wan a moment to blink off the surprise at that snapped answer and a further moment to stop the automatic witty remark that wanted to tumble out of his mouth -- a habit he sometimes even recognized as self-defense -- before he was able to re-center himself and shift his thoughts from sparring to talking. "Why not?"

It wasn't a challenge, but he still took the extra effort to make sure that the question was a gentle one.

"It's a terrible idea," Maul said, bluntly, fists firmly at his sides.

Obi-Wan let his own hand, the one holding the staff, come down and didn't take offense to the words; they weren't anything he hadn't thought himself while he was planning it. He nodded, just to show he heard that and acknowledged it, and tried to figure out how to answer it.

Maul was a study in how not to raise any sentient being. He had a beautiful voice and an expansive vocabulary; he spoke well and with no shortage of eloquence when he had the need to or felt like it. He rarely raised his voice; even back when he and Obi-Wan had been trading insults and definitions, he had been soft-spoken. Obi-Wan remembered how completely incongruous he had found that voice paired with that feral coloring back then, but over the years, he had come to associate it with-- a lack of judgement. An understanding.

In more recent years, he associated it with affection; occasionally overt, but usually humming under the surface.

But for all of the eloquence when it came to expressing a concept or even telling a story, that same voice often failed whenever it came to Maul trying to express himself.

Obi-Wan knew his history; he knew why that was. But it had been awhile since it had been an issue.

After another moment, and the fact that Maul actually startled when a crack of thunder sounded overhead, Obi-Wan nodded again and clipped the saberstaff back to his belt. "All right," he said, calm acceptance, before he tipped his head towards the wall with a little grin he didn't quite feel. "I suppose we can just sit and wait out the rain; I'd hate for my pirating to go to waste."

Maul eyed him with a wariness that made Obi-Wan's heart ache, but after another moment, he gave a short nod and followed him over to sit down against the wall.

So many wars. Obi-Wan resisted the urge -- the pull -- to give into the despair that had been lurking ever-present since the declaration of the most recent one, now focused closer; he just closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall and blindly offered his hand with the certainty it would be taken before too many heartbeats passed.

And it was.

 

 

 

(Anakin cries at night.

Not every night, but at least once a week his muffled sobs and the loneliness and ache emanating from his room wake Obi-Wan, and he goes and sits with Anakin and rubs his shoulder much like Qui-Gon had once done for him, and he tells the boy to meditate, also like Qui-Gon had once done for him, and he doesn't let the child know how helpless he feels when it doesn't make any notable difference, and how much that aches.

They spend most of their time at the Temple; Anakin has much to catch up on to reach the level of his agemates in knowledge, regardless of his innate power and skill. He misses his mother. He cries for the Jedi Master he wanted, instead of the one he got. He doesn't mesh comfortably with the other children; when he gets frustrated or angry, it colors everything around him and they avoid him.

Obi-Wan goes, talks with teachers, feels the looks against his back.

At some point, he realizes that Maul isn't the only one desperately, hopelessly lost. They all are. All of them touched by that mission, all of them left in the wreckage after.

He meditates and he tries to find his way, their way, but it's in the Detention Center that he feels anything like direction and success.

A year and a half after Theed, he and Maul have reached some state that is more truce than not; Obi-Wan visits every day he's in the Temple and not otherwise occupied, usually to bring lunch, and then he stubbornly refuses to quit bothering Maul until Maul gives in and goes with him to the training room to eat. It isn't the same as sitting down at a table, but there are high transparisteel windows to let in natural light and there's considerably more open space; it feels better there for Obi-Wan, and he's hoping it's the same for Maul.

Half of the time, he knows Maul is only going along with it because Obi-Wan isn't above bodily pulling him there; Obi-Wan's threatened it, and once or twice early on, he's even acted on it. A few weeks after the attack (which still remains a mystery), and the brutal aftermath (which isn't), he had decided he was done with losing ground, even if he didn't know what ground he was trying to hold, and he stopped letting bared teeth serve as a warning to back off.

It's the other half of the time that Obi-Wan focuses on these days, when the apathy and despair are background and Maul is more engaged, usually listening to Obi-Wan talk, but occasionally even talking himself. When he tries something new that Obi-Wan brings with lunch and then silently decides he likes it enough to take his time on it. When he sits with a cup of tea cradled between his hands, eyes closed, and being near him doesn't feel like desolation or misery or worse.

Obi-Wan has stopped pretending that he doesn't care; he still cannot define why he does, except that something has to come out of all of this suffering.

Something has to survive.

This particular day is unremarkable; they've finished lunch, the trays are pushed aside, and they are lingering over two mugs of tea and a silence that feels almost peaceable, something which has slowly been growing, resolving, over the past months.

It's destroyed so fast that it's half over before it even really starts.

The mug shatters on the floor and Maul is off the ground in a flash, automatically falling into a fighting stance, and for a split second Obi-Wan thinks that he's about to attack, and he's up with his own hand already on his lightsaber hilt; out of the corner of his eye he can see that the guards are moving quickly from their position by the door and he shifts his focus back forward--

And Maul isn't fighting, he's shaking, eyes wide and focused on something invisible--

Obi-Wan can feel no danger, but he can feel that panic and he can see what will happen only moments before it does; he holds a hand up to the guards going, "No, don't--" but they advance and then Maul force-throws them across the room, backing off at the same time.

There are half a dozen ways to incapacitate Maul built into his cybernetics, from painless to lethal, and it's easy to tell when one of the guards activates a failsafe because he stumbles on a backstep and ever after, Obi-Wan never forgets the look of sick, resigned terror on his face and in his eyes before he goes down, drugged to oblivion.

Obi-Wan's quick; slides in and manages to catch Maul before his head hits the hard stone floor, and the silence that falls there is so far from peaceful that his own hands tremble.

Long seconds pass while they catch their breath, and Obi-Wan doesn't know how his voice is so calm and even when he says, "Send for a healer."

It takes Vokara Che fifteen minutes to determine what had happened.

"The Council had voted to review some information they had gathered before," she says, voice calm but her blue eyes hard with disapproval; when Obi-Wan realizes the implications of that, he feels a sympathetic jolt so strong that he realizes he's tightened his grip on Maul, deadweight and still sprawled half across his lap, and has to loosen it again. "I've informed them of my opinion," she adds, and even though there's no crack in her professionalism, Obi-Wan can gather what that opinion was.

Some part of Obi-Wan remains detached enough to ask, "How long will he be out?"

"No more than a few hours." Master Che turns to the guards. "Bring him to the Halls of Healing--"

"I've got him," Obi-Wan interrupts, thoughts a jumble and heart still beating hard, and then he gets up and gets Maul across his shoulders and takes him there himself.

He has to go and retrieve Anakin from classes, but once he's settled the boy with his tutor, he goes back and sits vigil, and he wonders what the Council could have possibly thought was worth trying to dig around in Maul's head for, and that's when Obi-Wan realizes that he's furious over it. That it seems so arbitrary, so careless, that no ends could possibly justify the means.

"They shouldn't have done that," he says, before they leave the Halls of Healing -- Maul still dazed but steady enough on his feet to be released, Obi-Wan in some state between boiling and determined to keep this ground he's won -- and his determination only gets stronger when Maul squints at him, confused, as if he can't fathom why Obi-Wan would even say it.

Obi-Wan doesn't leave it at that; he holds that eye contact and says: "You didn't deserve that."

Two nights later, when Anakin wakes up crying, Obi-Wan doesn't rub his shoulder, doesn't tell him to meditate.

Instead, he gathers the little boy into his arms and closes his eyes tight when it takes Anakin so long to realize the support he's being offered is something he's allowed to take, and then he holds Anakin while Anakin sobs into his shoulder, gripping his sleep clothes.

He saves his own tears for when he returns to his own bed, and then accepts them as they start to wash him clean.)

 

 

 

The thunder had tapered off, but the rain kept pounding down on the metal roof, a strangely soothing cacophony. The tension had faded and they were sitting shoulder to shoulder; after everything was again calm, lost to the staccato noise, Obi-Wan grabbed his outer robe and used it to wrap around both of them, as though they were a pair of children huddling together.

"You're warmer than I am," he explained, with the best cheeky grin he could muster up, lacing their fingers together again. It was nothing he hadn't said before -- sleeping next to Maul was particularly enjoyable in a cold climate -- but he was hoping for a reaction. "You may have a point, about my piracy. Sometimes I think I stole you in lieu of a portable heating unit."

Probably despite everything, Maul still cracked a grin, shaking his head with a quiet chuckle. "You really are a reprobate, Kenobi."

Considering that he was usually the one making Obi-Wan laugh, it was always a treat when Obi-Wan could return the favor; enough that his own grin went from mustered to broad. "Well, I'm glad I chose the right option. A heating unit doesn't provide such scintillating conversation."

"There are droids programmed to provide that," Maul pointed out, pressing his shoulder harder to Obi-Wan's in a nudge.

Obi-Wan pretended to think about it, then shook his head. "I could have one customized to also act as a heating unit, but that would be terribly expensive. I suppose that means you're stuck with me."

"I suppose I am."

"I want you to be able to defend yourself," Obi-Wan said, not giving himself too much time to hesitate. He didn't need to explain why he switched the tracks of their conversation; both of them knew.

Maul closed his eyes, looking weary, and sighed, "Obi-Wan..."

Obi-Wan didn't look away. "I could get you remotes to practice deflection. I might even be able to cobble together a training droid from spare parts. But that won't help if we run into Ventress, Dooku or Grievous."

Or whoever your former master is.

Obi-Wan couldn't pretend to understand all of the reasons that made Maul so reluctant to take up a blade again -- to practice against someone who could challenge him, could get him back to a fighting form -- but even while Obi-Wan wasn't going to force the issue, he also wasn't going to let it go without explaining why he was offering this.

"I know teräs käsi." Maul used his free hand to rub at the bridge of his nose, then dropped his head for a moment before saying, "I wanted a blade on Christophsis. But beyond the trouble that could get you into, I don't..."

He trailed off, and Obi-Wan waited, but after a few moments it was fairly clear that even if Maul knew what he wanted to say, he didn't have the right words to say it. At least, given the way he shook his head to himself.

Sometimes the best answer was the honest one.

"I don't want to lose you," Obi-Wan said. "I know we're at war, I know the risks from all sides, and I know that I don't want to lose you."

It also turned out to be the answer that worked.

After a long minute of searching Obi-Wan's face -- and not bothering to hide that there was battle going on in his own head, even if not in his expression -- Maul finally nodded, looking something between deeply resigned and quietly determined. "Very well."

 

 

 

("Come on," Obi-Wan says, hand held out, the tote carrying their lunches in his opposite. "I brought tea."

Maul doesn't say anything; hasn't said anything since what happened a few days ago. But he eyes Obi-Wan's hand and he doesn't bare his teeth, and then even though it looks like he has to fight gravity itself to do it, he reaches up and wraps his fingers around Obi-Wan's forearm and lets himself be hauled up to his feet.)

 

 

 

The new saberstaff had gold blades, and though Obi-Wan had been carrying it (hiding it) for Maul, he had never seen it activated. The color caught him by surprise; the crystals were natural, taken from a backwater vein, but somehow Obi-Wan had still expected the blades to be red.

Instead, they were just a shade lighter than the dark gold Maul's eyes had become over the past ten years.

"The Sentinels of the Old Republic used to carry lightsabers that color," Obi-Wan said, not really able to or willing to stifle his own smile, watching as Maul dialed down the power of the blades so they wouldn't be immediately lethal. "I've only seen a few in my lifetime."

"The Sith occasionally did, as well." Maul held the staff out, likely getting used to the feeling of it. Then he deactivated one of the blades and took a breath, measured and careful, looking down at it as it hummed quietly in his hand. "I made my own crystals, before. These sing differently."

That was something Obi-Wan hadn't known, and he tilted his head, watching. The lesser part of Maul's original saberstaff was locked away in a vault, but he almost had to wonder what it would feel like, to wrap his hand around the only remaining crystal.

To wonder what song it would sing, given the hand that had created it, rather than corrupted it.

"Ready?" Maul asked, finally, looking up again.

Obi-Wan pulled his own saber off of his belt, taking a moment to adjust the power of the blade, and then turned it on and nodded, centering himself and his thoughts. "Ready."

After another moment of silence to mark the fact of it -- from the fight on Naboo, to the shorelines of Iloh, to the battlefield of Christophsis, over all of the ground they had fought so hard to take -- they gave each other a salute and then started the slow process of learning how to dance again.

Chapter Text

Maul had designed this saberstaff long before he had built it.

Stagnating in the Detention Center, it had been one part longing and one part mental exercise; it also served as a way to test his damaged memory, as he disassembled his old one piece by piece inside of his own mind, and then contemplated its weaknesses. There were some disadvantages in using a saberstaff that couldn't be compensated for, but of those it had that could, Maul had spent many hours whittling them down and then mentally rebuilding a newer version to replace his original.

He hadn't thought -- let alone hoped -- that he would ever lay his hands on the design he had crafted in his mind.

There were some variations. It had natural crystals; its blades were a yellow leaning more towards orange than green, a richer color than the pikes the Temple Guard carried. Some of the internal components were different. But the design itself was as he'd intended it.

He didn't know how to feel about it.

As a piece of engineering, he felt some pride, especially when he let Obi-Wan really study it before their second sparring/exercising session three nights ago, and then walked him through how he had come up with his ideas. Explaining the process that led him to the balanced weight of the hilt, the isolated power sources and internal components, the black hand-grips and polished silver of it made as much with flow in mind as utility. There was also the fact that he could take it apart with a twist or a Force-nudge and use both blades separately if he needed to; the fact that a strike along most of the center of the hilt would not disable either blade easily.

He had learned from his old mistakes, but his ability to wield it--

Maul maintained that this was a terrible idea; it was the only thing he could seem to maintain.

Their first night had been calm enough once they had gotten started; like children, they ran through chains of sequences together, starting with Shii-Cho. They had both been taught the same forms, the same opening and closing moves, the same sequences; for all of the complicated underpinnings of their lives, it was incredibly easy for them to fall into the rhythm of it, at first slow and then more quickly, until they were pushing each other back and forth across an invisible circle on the warehouse floor, blades singing.

It didn't even occur to Maul until later that it was the first time he had ever practiced these basic moves with another living being; the meditative quality of the movement was a balm he hadn't expected, enough that he was able to lose himself in it as if he had not been ten years out of practice and crossing blades with a former enemy.

After warming up with Shii-Cho, Obi-Wan took Makashi and Maul took Soresu, and they traded forms again for the next set, Soresu to Ataru, and came back together for Djem So and Niman.

It was when Obi-Wan readied for Juyo sequences that Maul had backed off and shook his head, and felt a spike of red hot frustration at himself when he couldn't knock down the wrenching anxiety that squeezed like a fist holding both of his hearts; when the calm quality of their prior exercises evaporated that quickly and completely.

He fully expected Obi-Wan to insist, but after a long, searching look, he nodded and deactivated his lightsaber and declared it a night, which just added to the turmoil Maul couldn't seem to settle in his own mind. When they went back to the Temple after midnight, he had ended up laying awake on his sleep pallet for hours, trying and failing to detangle the mess.

They sparred properly the next day, once they were finished in the underworld, and it only got worse.

Obi-Wan won every match at first and quickly; Maul had the burns to prove it, and he redoubled his efforts to hold his ground, at least, even if he couldn't win. By the end of the second night, both of them were trembling and drenched in sweat and it took them a long time to cool down, not just physically but mentally.

There were times when Maul didn't see Obi-Wan; when he only saw Jedi, and in those moments, he existed as nothing more than what he had been made to be.

Whenever he managed to snap back to the present, it was usually because Obi-Wan was holding him off and letting himself be driven across the warehouse; where he was deflecting every blow calmly, but making no effort to disarm Maul or counter-attack. Where, past his blue blade, his face was a study of the compassion that Maul had always been taught was weakness.

Those were the times when Maul remembered why he would put himself between Obi-Wan and an explosion and never pause to reconsider it, not before and not after.

He slept the second night by virtue of fatigue alone; when he woke up, he was curled up and shielding his head with his hands, fingers splayed around his horns, feeling the vague soreness of bacta-treated burns and the more immediate sensation of muscles so stiff that he felt he had been fighting for his life all night.

Last night, he had improved enough to win some matches, but he couldn't find any triumph when he did; could not find what was missing, what empty space there was that he wasn't able to fill. His body -- what was left of it -- remembered the motions and he could see where his weaknesses were enough to begin dealing with them, but there was no--

He didn't know; didn't know what he was missing, what he had lost, only that he had lost it.

He knew he couldn't feel his feet on the ground, though; couldn't feel the Force uninterrupted, the flow of it from horn tip to toe tip.

Tonight, Obi-Wan lowered his blade while they both took a moment to breathe and said, "You're throwing everything at me but Juyo."

It was a topic Maul wanted nothing to do with. "Not everything."

"Well, I haven't had to dodge a 'fresher sink yet, but nearly everything else."

"What I need to be working on is Soresu," Maul pointed out. He knew the form, he'd even used it to compliment Juyo before, but he was half-hoping Obi-Wan would drop this particular line of conversation and given that the entire point of this was self-defense, that also happened to be the truth.

He couldn't even explain it to himself, let alone explain it to someone else, the reasons why he didn't want to go back to the form he had mastered and made his own. Even this particular someone else. They were only half-fragments of thoughts, sharp edged and painful, about what it once was and what it could never be and--

"All right," Obi-Wan was saying, voice soft, his blade off and back on his belt, his hand held out. "All right. Here, come here."

Maul blinked at him, confused, and that was when he noticed that his hands were shaking and that it must have been a minute or two since he had spoken. He stared down at his saber, not understanding why, then managed to turn it off and offer it over.

Apparently, that hadn't been what Obi-Wan had meant; he shook his head with a worried look and Maul found himself spending the next twenty minutes with his nose buried in Obi-Wan's shoulder, ensconced in arms, half-listening to the rising-falling notes of Obi-Wan's voice as the man went on about how there should be documentation written about the difficulty of cuddling zabraks.

This was a language Maul was still learning, even after five (ten? twenty? thirty-two?) years; the choice to touch, or to allow touch, as something to want rather than something practical or something to endure. When to reach for it, or if he was even supposed to reach for it. He knew on academic levels something about how it all worked, he thought, but translating it to action remained elusive.

He did know enough to slide his arms around Obi-Wan in turn, though; had learned that long ago, that doing that seemed to relax the both of them, and now was no different.

"Soresu?" he requested, after it had been quiet for a minute or two and things again felt steady.

"I think we might be better off starting fresh tomorrow," Obi-Wan answered; he didn't seem to be in any rush to let Maul go which, if Maul were being honest with himself, he had grown entirely too used to.

Regardless, Maul shook his head. "We don't know when we're going to be deployed next. We have time, we should use it."

There was a long moment there where Maul could all but feel Obi-Wan gauging things and weighing things, and then finally he nodded and let go, stepping backwards and drawing his blade.

It turned out that Maul was correct, partially, insofar as them using the time they had with the assumption they might not get any after.

He had only rarely in his life wished to be wrong more.

 

 

 

"I don't like this."

"Neither do I, but now isn't the time to turn down intelligence from a trusted source."

The sunlight of morning cut through the hallway in bands, lines of light between shadow; hardly an ominous scene, as they walked towards the hangar, but Maul had felt little more than foreboding from the moment he had woken up. Finding out that Grievous had taken three hyperspace routes -- critical ones -- hadn't helped with that, though he didn't think it centered there.

He wasn't overly gifted with premonition, but in this galaxy where light was obscured and the Force shifted in chaos, he thought he had at least a better chance at seeing ahead clearly than the Jedi.

It was just convincing Obi-Wan of that.

"I trust Dex," he was saying, in that tone which strongly suggested that he had already set a course in his mind and would see it through regardless. "He was the one who led us to Kamino and the clones; I have no reason to think he would lead me into a trap."

You trust too easily, Maul thought; he did know who Dex was from Obi-Wan's stories, but that meant very little to him. "Then take me with you, if you insist on going in broad daylight. There are potential dangers well beyond your friend."

"He asked me to come alone." Obi-Wan glanced around and made sure they were alone before leaning over and murmuring, smoothly, "Besides, you're hardly inconspicuous. Striking, certainly, but not inconspicuous."

"You're not going to distract me with this-- this idle flirtation," Maul answered, pointedly, chewing on his irritation. They were almost to the hangar, which left him little space to press his argument.

"It isn't idle, but beyond that, I've also managed to schedule you with a private room with a remote on the firing range." Obi-Wan stopped walking before they got to the doors, putting a hand out and stopping Maul as well. The light seemed to flee his eyes, even with the sun shining on him, and he said more seriously, "We need any help we can get right now."

"Something is building." Maul knotted his jaw briefly, glaring. "Can't you sense it?"

Obi-Wan passed his hand down his face, over his beard, and sighed before crossing his arms and dropping his head for a moment, mouth in a line. Then he looked up again. "I sense it all of the time, Maul. It feels like danger is a lightning strike away at any given moment. I can't allow paranoia to keep me from doing my duty despite that; I have my orders, I mean to follow them."

Duty was a hard thing to argue with; Maul knew well what the word meant. Sith were primarily self-serving by their nature, but he had still put his life on the line repeatedly on his Master's orders, without resentment, and did so with the understanding that failure could -- likely would -- mean that life was forfeit.

That didn't give him any sort of comfort right now.

"I'm taking precautions, I have no intentions of making myself a target." Obi-Wan nodded towards the doors to the hangar. "Come on, now, I managed to smuggle a training saber and the remote onto the range two days ago. It's in locker six-three-eight-two; the range officer will give you the key card to your private room. Just don't get caught."

Blaster deflection practice. While Obi-Wan went flying off to receive potentially critical intelligence in broad daylight, in a bustling and busy place, alone. There was nothing about this that didn't feel unnerving.

Maul had not survived to adulthood by ignoring his instincts; while he felt that they had been greatly dulled and were suspect now, he wasn't going to ignore them outright.

"No," he said, taking a step backwards and shaking his head. "If you won't take me with you, then I'm staying here."

"Oh, honestly," Obi-Wan said, rolling his eyes in frustration; then, apparently realizing that they had reached an impasse, he palmed down his face with both hands, took a deep breath in, let it out slowly and while he still looked displeased, there was no small amount of affection there, too. "All right, suit yourself; I don't have any more time to argue it. I'll tell the troops to go to the range without you."

"You will be careful." If Maul had the skill and willpower to try it on a Jedi, he might have even tried to make it a compulsion. It would have failed, but he wasn't above the attempt.

"I will." Obi-Wan hiked an eyebrow at him, then turned for the door, but not before giving a cheeky grin and adding, "Relax, darling. I'll be home for dinner."

He left Maul standing there, staring after him, baffled in his wake.

 

 

 

It was only a matter of time before one of the Temple Guards came to see what he was doing, but Maul still stayed there, resting his hands on the window sill and peering off into the bright Coruscant morning. He was a little disturbed with how badly he wanted to pace and fought down the urge on principle alone; his inability to control himself as he had once was a constant irritation and one he was determined to rid himself of.

He had reached some state of tolerable, after the first few years here; some state that was not anything quite recognizable as living, but also wasn't torment. He didn't know how to quantify it; it was largely a drift, a sense of being constantly in a current he had no control over. Unlike his life before; a different current then, one he raged inside of, fighting for--

Everything.

A wave of weariness washed across him and left him feeling heavy. Even now, there were times when all he wanted was to sleep. It never seemed to remove this feeling, when it hit, but at least asleep he was mostly absent from it.

It wasn't even a feeling he could channel into power; instead, it worked the opposite. A lack of.

There was some point where Vokara Che had been checking on him and he had grudgingly admitted to feeling this weariness. He didn't remember with certainty when it had been -- sometime after Obi-Wan had decided to show up every day he was in the Temple, sometime before Obi-Wan had convinced the Council to allow Maul out of the Temple to Iloh -- but he remembered what she had said, looking at him with a searching expression he could later recognize as sympathy: "Of course you're exhausted. You've been fighting for your life for the entirety of it."

At the time, he had managed to bite back the retort that doing so had made him strong.

Now, he wasn't so sure that had been true.

He felt the presence and straightened himself up; he had expected the Temple Guard, coming to see why he hadn't gone back to the floor the Detention Center was on, but instead of that, he found Skywalker's apprentice standing there.

She seemed a little surprised to see him, and eyed him with an intelligent amount of caution; she was holding a droidcam, deactivated. After a moment of shifting her weight awkwardly, she offered a sheepish smile. "Hi. Am I interrupting?"

Maul shook his head, not sure how to respond. She hadn't been interrupting anything he minded being interrupted, anyway.

"I'm not sure what to call you. I mean, obviously you're not a Jedi, but you're not a Sith anymore--" she said, walking over to stand a few feet away, shrugging her thin shoulders.

"Maul is fine," he answered, one of his brows ticking upwards of its own accord. Behind Tano, the door opened again to the expected guard, who paused briefly inside of it assessing the situation, then stepped through. Maul waited a moment to see if he was about to be escorted, but the guard just waited there.

Tano swung a look back, then nodded respectfully to said guard, before turning and sitting against the window ledge. Apparently, she was hunting conversation; Maul wondered if he should be leaving before that had a chance to happen. But there was something about her bearing that kept him from making his exit.

"My Master is due back soon," she said, turning her droidcam over and over in her hands. "We're supposed to be going over my exercises."

Such nervous habits had been trained out of him very young; he knew the Jedi trained their apprentices differently, but her fidgeting was still notable. "What were you working on?" he asked, nodding towards the cam and folding his hands behind his back.

"Niman, level one," Tano answered, her restless hands settling as she looked up. "He wanted me to do fifty repetitions and then study it, and come up with five good things and five bad things about my technique. I came up with ten."

Desire to excel or fear of disappointment; perhaps both. Maul could understand both; had felt them himself, once, though he didn't think that her failure would have the same repercussions. "Did you?"

"Yeah, I did." She nodded, though her pride seemed shadowed. "I'm hoping to learn Jar'Kai when I-- when my Master allows it."

There was some academic temptation -- there was always some temptation -- to hint to rebellion and nudge Jedi in some direction off of their narrow, restrictive path. Maul supposed that was ultimately woven into the training of Sith, and while he had long come to the conclusion he had always been intended to be disposable and had never really been intended as a successor, the use of mental manipulation and coercion was something he was familiar with, even if it had never been his strength. Still, the fact that she was Skywalker's padawan didn't help his temptation any.

While he was contemplating how far he could get in making Skywalker's life difficult by planting seeds of insurgency in his padawan -- and knowing he wouldn't do it anyway, because Obi-Wan would be upset and Maul cared far more about that than he liked admitting even now -- Ahsoka Tano was apparently doing some thinking of her own, because she asked, "You specialized in Juyo?"

Maul eyed her; he didn't want to deal with this topic again. "Yes," he said, clipped.

"We're not allowed to learn it, unless we get special permission. Almost no one does." She raised her brows, looking up at him with open curiosity. "What's it like?'

It was only there, that he realized why he had stayed. The memory of a Nautolan girl, bright and curious and sharp and competent, surfaced and he felt a not unfamiliar sense of something even he could recognize as grief.

Maul didn't regret much, but he regretted killing Kilindi Matako. Not at the time, not even for years after, but it had crept in and made its home in his chest at some point since his capture, the realization that her kindness had been as real as her strength, this former slave girl who cared enough to ask him about himself and cared enough to remain his friend even after he could offer her little back. Ahsoka Tano was not the same, but cut from the same cloth.

He hoped Skywalker didn't ruin her.

"Focused," he finally said, after half-contemplating, half-wrestling with himself. "Juyo is focused. It requires great discipline. It--" He paused, trying to find the words, and then hissed in frustration at himself when they refused to line themselves up in his head.

And at the sore, hollow space inside of himself that they must exist within.

"Master Windu says that Vaapad is a variation on it; that it requires the user to channel their emotions and accept the emotions of their enemies, allowing them to flow through them," Tano said, as if citing a textbook.

Maul felt his lip go up, his eyes narrow. "Vaapad is Mace Windu's pretentiousness on display. He takes all that is Juyo and pretends that it isn't Juyo because a Jedi is the one using it; as if the same feelings aren't involved, as if somehow they are purer or cleaner because the user is aligned to the light, as if they are so easily forgotten or released at the end of the battle."

Despite his snarl, Tano didn't flinch or look away, though her eyes widened at hearing him give a frank, quite unflattering opinion of a Council member. Good, he thought, some part of him viciously aimed in the direction of the Council's chambers.

The guard had shifted into a more ready stance, which was a strong suggestion Maul get control of his temper. Not often a problem, but between being on edge about Obi-Wan and discussing a number of topics he felt strongly about, it took him a moment to compose himself.

It was Tano, though, who managed to find one of the words Maul hadn't been able to. She looked down at her droidcam, then back up at him and asked, "You're supposed to take joy in it, though. In the battle, right? Did you?"

He didn't remember what happened next, but came back to himself sitting in an alcove on the way back to the Detention Center, mechanical knees drawn up and his head in his hands, fingers hooked around horns, trying to hold himself together.

Yes. I did.

 

 

 

He didn't know which one of them had called Vokara Che -- the guard or the girl -- but he didn't bother putting up any resistance when she told him to walk with her. The healer was perceptive; she didn't attempt to make conversation. Maul didn't care for idle talk, absent a single exception -- Obi-Wan, of course -- and it was a relief to not be pressed to it.

Damningly, it was also a relief to be given something to do, even if it was just to walk with the Twi'lek and, presumably, reassure her that he was neither ill nor homicidal.

Maybe he had been too hasty in turning down range practice.

"Sit," she ordered, pointing to one of the seats in the area where the healers typically did physical therapy, and since there was no point to being rebellious about it, Maul did. He had some sense of half-hearted dread when she came back and handed him a mug of tea, sat herself and asked, "How long has this been happening?"

He could have feigned not knowing what she was referring to, but since he was Temple property, trying to dodge the person who could have him taken off of the battlefield with a word was a fool's errand. Maul bought himself a moment by taking a sip of the tea, just to try to arrange his answer in the least alarming manner he could, then answered, "A few days." More recently, anyway; losing time had been distressingly common over different periods during the past decade, but it had been a long time since he'd had to contend with it.

"When did it start? What caused it?" she asked, holding her own tea between her hands and watching him, calm and steady.

She was formidable. Chief Healer at the Temple; she had little tolerance for nonsense, though she had never been unkind about it. She was also responsible for his return to mobility and him being allowed to practice with the zhaboka in the training room. Whatever confused feelings Maul had about everything -- including his own survival -- he did appreciate it; he hadn't had anything left of use to the Temple by then, but she had quite bluntly told him that his life itself had value and that she was going to ensure the quality of it was as good as it could be.

Maul still knew that telling her that it had started when he had started properly training with a saberstaff again would be disastrous. "I'd rather not say," he answered, frankly; he didn't want to lie to her, but he wasn't going to admit to his and Obi-Wan's rule-breaking, either. Then, figuring that would only provoke more questions, he added, "It doesn't last long. It doesn't-- happen when I'm in any precarious situation."

Beyond healing, she was a master of holding eye contact; Maul was, inevitably, the one who looked away first. "Not on the battlefield," she said, clarifying, while he contemplated the tea.

"No." He shook his head. "I acquitted myself-- reasonably on Christophsis."

"I heard," she said, some amusement making it into her voice. "Planting explosives behind enemy lines and acting as body guard to generals."

One general, anyway, Maul thought, huffing a breath out at himself. He just nodded, though, in answer.

"What I'm asking, obliquely," she said, ducking her head to catch his gaze and then holding it once she did, "is if you're all right. If you're going to be all right. I don't expect a perfectly certain answer, Maul, but I do want an honest one."

Formidable indeed.

'All right' was an incredibly relative term. He wasn't sure he even knew what it meant. Functional was the first word that came into his mind as synonym to it, and he had been here long enough to know she was not asking for that. He frowned to himself and held up a hand to tell her he was thinking about it, and then he did just that; worked on the tea and tried to figure out what the honest answer would even be.

He hadn't felt particularly stable the past few days -- had not since he got the crystals for his saberstaff and the reality of touching the life he once knew, really -- but before that he had reached some level state. He forgot himself sparring with Obi-Wan, but it wasn't the same as losing himself. Battle and war were not particularly stressful for him, beyond worrying about Kenobi keeping his head on his shoulders; even that was a manageable worry. He trusted in Obi-Wan's skills and ability to defend himself, even if he had thrown himself between the man and incendiary violence.

After another moment, he finally nodded, looking back up at her. "I believe so."

She still had a searching look, but apparently decided to take him at his word. "All right. Finish your tea and relax for awhile before you go," she said, rising to her feet.

Maul inclined his head, relieved. "Master Jedi."

She hadn't even walked past him, though, when he felt the shift in the Force; not local, more distant, but he was on his feet before he had to think about it, and beside him, Vokara Che had also stopped and stiffened, alarm crossing her face.

--chaos, violence-- his mind supplied, blood quickened in automatic response to battle readiness and some edge of bloodlust that had never entirely vanished; he turned in the direction it was coming from, reaching out with his Force sense, catching the threads of terror and rage and--

No.

"Obi-Wan," he said, and he was reaching for the saberstaff he wasn't wearing, not catching the surprised look Master Che gave him, ready to take his chances and leave the Temple and chase down the awful, pained signature he could feel even at this distance; amidst the adrenaline, there was that clawing sensation--

"Stop," the healer ordered, firm and uncompromising, and when he turned on her ready to snarl, she added, "Wait," and moved to the comm, likely calling to the Council's chambers.

Waiting was not something Maul wanted to do; briefly, he had lost the sense of Obi-Wan's signature, though he could at least sense that the man was alive somewhere, and he closed his eyes, fists clenched, trying to find him again. Even with ample practice, the darkness and chaos were hard to read; the number of instantly shattered lives, the ripple of fear coming from that direction, was vast, quickly spreading outwards in concentric circles, the way a thrown rock disturbs water.

Finding the single point of familiar light in it was difficult; he was growling low to himself, unaware.

"There's been a bombing," Che said, coming back as healers started rushing in, probably called there while he was busy trying to find one wounded Jedi's signature in a maelstrom of misery and fear. "Do you know where he is?"

"Not specifically; somewhere on the periphery of it, nearer to the Temple." He had known where Obi-Wan was going, but not where he currently was, except in the midst of something large and dark. "He's alive. Wounded."

Vokara Che turned and started snapping off orders, as the healers sprung into action; she took only a moment more to give Maul, pressing her fingertips to his chest to get his attention and push him backwards out of the way, staring him down. "We will get him. Stay in the Temple, and stay out of the way."

It wasn't what he wanted to hear, and he nearly bared his teeth at it, but ten years of respect held and he managed to give a short nod before turning and leaving, inevitably heading in the direction he could feel was the epicenter of the chaos.

 

 

 

The smoke was a black mar over the skyline, an apt visual representation of the darkness that it referenced.

Maul took no pleasure in it; he could feel it, could feel the power of it calling him somewhere from the depths of a life living in the like, but he had always been more hunter than anything else. Terrorism was an effective tool, but it was blunt and required little skill; it was a tool for the weak-minded, the weak-willed. When Maul had hunted, sentients or beasts, he prided himself in his precision; this, by contrast, was both messy and cowardly.

He had lost his grip on where Obi-Wan was in it, but he kept trying; knew Obi-Wan was alive, knew he was suffering, knew nothing else but that.

The skies had cleared of all but emergency vehicles. The terror had spread far wider than its initial blast radius, as people realized what had happened, had felt their sense of security shatter.

Somewhere in the hot boil of it, something cold brushed past his senses, sweeping, seeking, observing.

Maul didn't even know the wall was there, until his back hit it.

--Master.

His hearts pounded hard enough to drown out any other sound, and he waited for pain, knew it was coming and felt the blinding fear wash over him...

...but it had already moved on, passed over him like a shadow across the sun and just as indifferently, and left him feeling cold to the bone.

 

 

 

Skywalker was out of his seat and bristling fast enough to startle his padawan next to him. "What are you doing here?"

Obi-Wan was back in the Temple, being worked on by healers; it had not taken them long to return with him, and Maul was still trying not to shiver when he came back to the Halls of Healing. He took no satisfaction at all that the Temple Guard took one look at him and allowed him to, likely figuring he needed to be there for himself.

Walking back in to this was unexpected, but within a moment, Maul realized that he didn't find it unwelcomed.

Skywalker was radiating anger and fear and guilt, and Maul did take pleasure in that; he mostly didn't care enough about Skywalker, not positively nor negatively, to bother. But right now, his nerves were frayed and he was on high alert and he was finished with playing nicely; if Skywalker wished to make a challenge of it, in his misplaced possessiveness, then so be it.

"The same thing you are: Waiting." Maul's head ticked over to the side, and he didn't try to stop himself from showing his teeth. "I have as much a right to as you do."

"You're a prisoner and a murderer," Skywalker spat back, "the only right you should have is sitting downstairs until someone can declare you competent to stand trial."

The ice was melting out of his skeleton only to be replaced by a searing heat, the spread of it like wildfire. Maul embraced it, letting it chase away the cold fear.

"Tell me, how does it feel to be half or more to the dark side?" he asked, stepping closer and letting the power course through him, eyes on Skywalker, grinning in a way that had nothing at all to do with humor. He ignored the girl who was tugging on Skywalker's arm. "I can smell the rage and fear, Chosen One; you should watch before you're declared a killer yourself. If you aren't one already."

That apparently hit how he intended; the flare of white hot rage and power off of Skywalker was akin to being hit in the face with a volcanic blast.

Good.

"Master, please," Tano pleaded, having no luck whatsoever controlling the man.

On the other side, no doubt having sensed this -- it would be impossible not to -- a very displeased Vokara Che had come out into the room. "Both of you, stop this immediately!"

As much as he wanted to continue, there was enough sense left in Maul's head to hear the command, no matter how hard it was to heed it, and while he could feel himself still growling, he went to take a step backward and disengage.

Skywalker had no such qualms; he didn't attack, but every line of his body screamed that he was about to, and then he asked back, voice dripping with spite, "Tell me, how does it feel to be Obi-Wan's little pet project? You do know that's all you are, right?"

That hit home, smashing right through his desire to wound and landing in his desire not to be wounded, a hammer's blow of half-thought insecurities; it was the last strand of a cable parting and Maul snarled, snapping a hand out and throwing Skywalker back against the wall.

The sight of Skywalker clawing at his throat, caught offguard by the sheer ferocity of the attack, lasted for only a few seconds before the world spiralled down into darkness.

 

 

 

(He sleeps.

The current moves without any direction from him; he doesn't swim with it, doesn't fight it, sometimes floats to the surface like a corpse and sees ceiling, whichever or wherever; it doesn't matter. Then he sinks, down and down and down, until there's no time no space no light no pain, no nothing.

Sometimes it's shattered by color; blue, or off-white. Once when he manages to open his eyes, he finds legs where there shouldn't be, dark gray metal; he feels their existence but not much else, shifts a foot, then uses the new weight to shift the rest of himself to curl up facing the wall, and sinks again.

All he feels is tired, as if every moment where he went without rest has now come back around to claim a place, a piece of him, to whittle away whatever he has left. He has never in his life slept like this before, uncaring of what might happen to him. Sometimes he can feel the echo of something else, but the dark quiet under the surface is always there waiting for him.

Maul is a pitiless creature, including to himself. There's no feeling sorry for himself, only acceptance. Failure, death; they are all the same thing.

He doesn't know how much time passes. It's easy to not be there for it, so he isn't. Occasionally Kenobi breaks into it, at some intermittent interval, and Maul can't even manage to hate the man, can't really do more than summon some vague irritation at being disturbed, enough to raise a lip in warning before turning away again.

One day -- or night or afternoon or morning -- he breaks the surface only to find Kenobi with a grip on his wrist, inspecting his forearm curiously. It's so unexpected that it shocks him and he snaps his arm out of the hold, snarling openly.

"There you are," Kenobi says, one of his eyebrows going up. "How come your scars heal the same color as your tattoos? I would think they would heal red."

...what? Maul wonders, confusion creeping into the startled surprise. It's enough to get him to stop snarling, anyway.

Apparently, Kenobi is determined to raise the stakes; he sits on the edge of the pallet without concern that Maul would have no issue with kicking him off, invading that space with casual flippancy. As if visiting a friend and not someone who gutted his master, and who he in turn cut in two. "That's better," he says, that eyebrow still raised. "While I appreciate that they must have fixed your teeth, being snarled at does get old."

"What...?" Maul finally asks, going from confused to outright incredulous.

"They were a nightmare on Naboo."

"I painted them," he says, slowly, since Kenobi seems to be either mad or particularly thick. He does spend a few seconds wondering why anyone would think he would train as hard as he did only to neglect his teeth, of all things, especially given that he's used them as weapons.

That seems to surprise the man; Kenobi blinks, brow furrowing. "Why?"

This is, paradoxically, exhausting. "You already answered yourself."

"--oh. Nightmare." Finally he seems to get it. "Intimidation."

"Yes. Now, go away."

Kenobi eyes him, some of his flippancy falling away; something flashes across his expression and he leans a hand on the wall after he stands up. "I will. But tomorrow, I'm going to come back, and you're going to get up."

Tomorrow is a nebulous concept, not a reality; Maul can't make himself think beyond the next few minutes, let alone hours or a day. He huffs a breath out of his nose in dismissal, shifting to his side in some attempt to close everything back out. "No."

"Yes." Kenobi leans the other hand on the wall and looms, effectively making sure he has Maul's attention. His gaze is sharp, but somewhere under it there is something--

Familiar. Weary.

"If I have to live with it all," he says, tone gone oddly gentle, "then so do you.")

 

 

 

It had been quite a long time, since he'd woken up here like this.

Even groggy, Maul took a moment to assess the situation, assess his own condition and come to the correct conclusion that Vokara Che had decided she wasn't going to deal with fighting in her Halls and had handled it in the swiftest manner possible. Namely by removing one of the combatants.

After having spent however many hours unconscious, he couldn't summon any real blame for her, particularly when thinking about what she had been dealing with at the time. He winced; on the other side of oblivion, his own lack of control seemed egregious, even if throttling Skywalker had felt good for the few seconds he'd had to do it.

Obi-Wan was close by. Asleep, not in pain, though Maul could feel the echoes of it even here.

"I'm sorry," he said, not opening his eyes, sensing the healer as she stood in the door. Whatever his pride, she had not deserved having to deal with that.

"The blame goes around," she said, after a moment. When he did finally sit up and look, waiting until his head stopped spinning, she looked tired; she also didn't hide any of the disapproval in her expression. Though she added, not unkindly, "Obi-Wan is all right. Or, will be, provided he rests."

Maul could imagine how well that would go over. He nodded, rubbing at his eyes and resisting the unfamiliar urge to apologize a second time. "Thank you."

"Anakin was the one who found him," she said, voice stern. "I also made certain he knew that we wouldn't have gotten there half as fast as we did, if you hadn't alerted us. I won't have fighting here; I've made him leave and he's barred until morning. I'll do the same to you, if you don't keep control of yourself."

"I understand." Provided Skywalker wasn't here, Maul didn't think self-control would be too much a problem. At least, not in the manner that Vokara Che meant.

She was quiet for a few beats, long enough to get Maul to look up; something had softened her expression, enough that he almost looked away again, not quite sure how to feel about it. "What Anakin said wasn't true. You've never been a pet project, not to Obi-Wan Kenobi and not to myself," she said, the hard edge gone from her voice. "Go. Sit with him, once you're sure on your feet."

Apparently, he was more transparent than he had originally hoped several weeks back. The thought made him huff quietly. But then he nodded back, not chancing a verbal reply, and turned his attention to testing his control of his cybernetics; they were some of the highest quality he had ever seen, and even after ten years worked as if new, but if the mind controlling them was still too foggy from chemical sedation, then he could well find himself sprawled on the floor and ordered back to bed.

Once he was satisfied he had control -- even still feeling that latent drowsiness -- he put his feet to the floor, checking for the familiar sense of resistance and pressure; nothing like flesh and blood, but adequate for the purpose of moving.

It was dark, through the windows. That explained why he still felt half-asleep; he had been gone from the world for most of the day and would be be awhile shaking it back off.

They had cleaned Obi-Wan up, but Maul could still pick out the faint traces of blood in his scent; he was pale again, for a human of his complexion, but aside a thin red scar on his brow that was no doubt a far more vicious wound hours before, he looked intact, what of him was visible and not hidden by blanket or clothing.

There was something wholly unsatisfactory about not even having the urge to go I told you so. Maul hoped that he regained that urge by the time Obi-Wan made it back to the waking world, if only because he had told him so. As before, he tugged the chair over closer to the bed, close enough to hear the man breathing. That breath sounded short; Obi-Wan probably had broken ribs or worse. Nothing unsurvivable; both of them had worse in their lives.

Unlike before, though, this felt different; he wasn't even sure how it was. It wasn't just the more severe injuries; something else had shifted.

He reached out, hesitated for a long moment, then slid his fingers through Obi-Wan's hair. Not the first time he had ever done so, but it was the first time that Obi-Wan had not prompted it by butting his head into Maul's hand like some overgrown cat species. The thought made him half-smile to himself, just a moment's amusement.

The realization that followed was oddly quiet, for the power that it had:

It hurts seeing him like this.

It was a truth Maul wasn't sure how to cope with -- this unfamiliar thing, to be so invested in someone else that their pain echoed around your rib cage like a shout -- but after this day, after everything that had happened, he didn't have the wherewithal to even start working it out.

Instead, in some strange waters, some new current, he just let himself get lost in the way Obi-Wan's hair felt sliding between his fingers and unwittingly put himself back to sleep.

Chapter Text

Even before Obi-Wan fully returned to the world, the swirl of worry slid through his hazy mind like malevolent fog; wound its way through what should have been a state of peace and recovery and left him feeling some vague sense of cold.

It wasn't his first waking. His first had been Yoda, coming to tell him that Dex's message had been received. That Anakin was going to be given a battle-group and sent to defend Bothawui, which Grievous was after. He had gotten the laundry list of his own wounds, which discounted him from going himself. Even just drifting back again, to this time and place, the worries jostled for the forefront of his mind.

Dex had been frightened. Not much disturbed Obi-Wan's old friend; the fact that something had only made their meeting more anxious, and that was before he even heard that Grievous was after Bothawui and therefore the Bothan intelligence network. Once he did, the same fear knotted under his own breastbone and tightened down like a vice.

He had come straight back towards the Temple, only to get caught on the edge of an explosion.

From there, his memory came in fragments; chaos and anger and fear, heat, light. Pain.

Something had hit him, and then he had hit something else. Then Anakin, trying so hard to sound sure, still sounding so frightened. Then the Temple healers. The order of everything was logical, but suspect in his mind, too, shattered around the agony of his wounds and his inability to keep a grip on it for more than seconds-long stretches at a time.

He could still feel the whispers of it in his bones.

Center yourself.

There was some reluctance to come back to the world; to come back to the worries and the recovery. But finally, knowing he had to, Obi-Wan turned his attention from inward to outward, letting the waking world properly filter into his perception.

As wakings went, this one was both more pleasant than his first and also somehow entirely unexpected.

Oh, he thought, unbidden, taking in the scene and his company with something which could only fairly be called adoration, albeit interspersed with scattering little jolts of anxiety. Hello, darling.

It was a term of endearment he hadn't ever used on Maul before the prior morning, and even then he had only used it because he knew it would throw Maul off-guard and therefore give Obi-Wan at least some small sense of victory in their argument, but right now, it was unexpectedly sincere. Maul was dozing with his cheek pillowed on his own shoulder in a position that was a guaranteed neck ache in the making, arm crooked at the elbow over Obi-Wan's head and his opposite forearm tucked against Obi-Wan's upper arm, body twisted in the chair. His radiating body-heat was a pleasant complement to the chill Obi-Wan felt, the echoes of his own injuries.

There were several things right with this, and several things wrong with it, too. If they were anywhere else, Obi-Wan would shift his battered, sore self closer and give into the unforgivably lazy urge to steal a few more minutes before properly waking up; given they were in the Temple, it was almost sure to provoke a number of questions he had no desire to answer.

It was also an incredibly vulnerable display, from someone so guarded.

Even knowing well just how much trouble they could already be in -- if they were witnessed -- Obi-Wan still couldn't (wouldn't) rush to put distance between them. They hadn't learned to sleep next to one another easily; it had taken time, patience and practice to overcome two lifetimes of relative isolation from such things. Well worth it, he thought, but not easy.

He leaned his weight over a little more and reached across himself, firmly tamping down on his anxieties and being mindful of his own ribs, and traced his fingertips along the edge of Maul's mask, over his right eye, letting his own affection and warmth flow out through his skin.

Maul pulled in a quick breath, but didn't startle any further than that, gold eyes snapping open distantly focused for a moment before sharpening. Then he winced and made a quiet noise in the back of his throat, apparently discovering what he'd done to himself napping like that, and sat up stiffly.

Obi-Wan failed to chew down a smile, resting his hand back on his own chest. It was still dark out, but he thought it was a new day at least, so he whispered, "Good morning."

"I leapt in front of one explosion to protect you, so you had to go and find yourself another?" Maul asked, colored incredulous, the usually soft tone of his voice sleep-coarse as he scrubbed at his eyes one-handedly.

"Well, I promise I wasn't looking for it. From what Master Yoda told me, it was a Separatist bombing; I don't think I was the target." Reality intruded, as it often did, as Obi-Wan thought about the carnage he had been caught in, heart sinking. So many lives. Too many. "Dex's intelligence was that Grievous was going after Bothawui," he added, because he knew that Maul would want to know what had put them in this position to begin with.

"Do you believe him?"

"I do. As sources of intelligence go, he ought to be a Bothan himself."

Maul hummed back some note that was still decidedly noncommittal, but he didn't argue about it as he tried to rub loose whatever muscles he'd just abused along his neck and shoulder. "When will you be released?"

"Not in time to go, at any length. They're giving Anakin a battle-group and sending him." It was something Obi-Wan had more misgivings over than he felt wise voicing to Yoda, and more than he had the mental energy to go into right now. Anakin wasn't a child anymore and they needed every Jedi that could be deployed, but it still worried him; his former padawan had many good qualities, but patience wasn't among them, and to be given charge of that many lives was a very large responsibility to be putting on very young shoulders.

He had agreed that it would work, but only after yet another lecture on attachment.

Something unreadable flashed across Maul's expression, there and then gone, but he didn't voice whatever thought prompted it. "He'll doubtless be back to see you after dawn."

"After meeting with the Council, too, likely." It didn't take a detective to guess that something more had happened while Obi-Wan was in the depths of a healing trance, but pushing for it right now was unlikely to result in anything but frustration. Obi-Wan glanced at the windows; the faintest pre-dawn glow was just beginning to edge into the sky past the perpetual glow of the city lights. "Well, my kidney may be plotting rebellion as we speak," he said, turning his attention back to Maul again and notching up his charm as best he could, "but my stomach appears to be working fine. Feel up to hunting up breakfast for us?"

Maul gave him back a flat look, but Obi-Wan was well adept at catching the underlying amusement and was heartened to see it. "I suppose," he said, with just the right amount of disgruntled annoyance, clearly insincere. "Any preferences?"

"Something light? And tea."

Maul huffed a mildly put-upon scoff, but he got up, trying in vain to roll the soreness out of his shoulder and neck for a moment before heading for the door.

Vokara Che was just on the other side; she offered over a jar of something light green and said, "For your neck."

--so she had seen. Obi-Wan felt an unpleasant jolt of adrenaline even as Maul took the jar and thanked her, the only evidence that he was just as startled in the subtle but quite real stiffness in his spine. Once he was out of sight, the healer stepped in, walking over to eye Obi-Wan.

She had to have been up all night in addition to the day before; she certainly looked weary. They were short-staffed in the Halls; healers who were usually here were deployed, and those left often had to cover a normal shift of work and then some, dealing with everything from training injuries to severe wounds from Jedi hurt in the field. Obi-Wan thought very highly of her, but right now, he wished Bant was here; she would perhaps be curious as to why they had been so close, but she would also not ask any probing questions about it. There were benefits to having grown up together, turning a blind eye to the inevitabilities of puberty.

He took a slow breath and focused on calming his own surprise; he could feel her checking him over not just visually, but through her gifted Force sensitivity. "How do you feel?" she asked.

"Considerably better than I did yesterday morning," Obi-Wan answered, offering a smile. "Thank you."

He was waiting for questions; barring those, he was waiting for some kind of censure about the nature of attachment. The thing that worried Obi-Wan was that he wasn't even sure what his answers would be.

"You'll be a few days more, before you're back to rights," Vokara Che said, resting her fingertips to his forehead and closing her eyes, no doubt getting a better sense of what his healing body was doing. "Still, you're coming along well."

"Have you been up this entire time?"

"I slept for a few hours yesterday afternoon. I intend to catch up later." She looked down at him again, her vividly blue eyes thoughtful. Obi-Wan had the distinct feeling she was working things over in her mind, weighing and measuring his rate of recovery versus the nature of their respective and mutual realities.

Waiting on tenterhooks would be more bearable, if not for everything that he -- they -- had gone through recently. Obi-Wan shifted, using the control on the bed to put himself carefully more upright, and then inclined his head respectfully. "Ask, if you wish to ask, Master."

"I was going to ask how mutual this was, but I think you've just answered me," she said, voice level; there were no small number of questions and misgivings in her eyes, though. "These are dangerous waters you're treading, Obi-Wan."

There were so many ways to take that statement that he could think of a half-dozen (and argue against all of them) right off of the top of his mind. But in truth, life itself was dangerous water; he had quite handily proven that with his body just the day before. Obi-Wan nodded that he had heard her, but he firmly kept a grip on his feelings. The urge to be defensive and defiant would do him little good; what leeway he had gained -- a considerable amount -- with regards to Maul's place in the Temple and in his life had been gained by diplomacy and logic.

Admittedly, it was very hard to argue logic over what could loosely be defined as romance, but Obi-Wan wasn't even slightly above the attempt. "I think I have a well-grounded understanding of the risks."

"Perhaps you do," she answered, though she sounded entirely unconvinced. "But does he?"

"You would have to ask him."

Vokara Che gave him a look that was most definitely disapproval at that; even with the disapproval, though, there was a measure of compassion. "How long has this been going on?"

Obi-Wan held her gaze, his own serene despite the anxiety seated below his breastbone, beating inside of his rib cage like a trapped bird. "Five years, roughly." The answer was more complicated than that, but Iloh was the sensible starting point.

That apparently surprised her; her brows shot up. "You've hidden it well."

He firmly resisted the urge to say 'thank you,' there.

She regarded him a moment longer, then moved to sit on the edge of the bed, holding up her hand for a moment seeking silence. Obi-Wan nodded back and kept his hands folded still and loose over his midsection, just waiting. It was not as though he had never searched his own soul about this; had never sat down and wondered if it was right, if it was safe, if it was even good for them, no matter how good it often felt.

It was just that his conclusions always led him back to the same point: He didn't regret it.

"You're no where near the first Jedi to have a clandestine relationship, Obi-Wan," she said, after a few moments thought. "I have not forgotten your own master and his devotion to Tahl, or the joy they took in one another. But nor have I forgotten his suffering after her death." She turned her gaze back to him, intently. "I've watched the good the two have you have done for one another this past decade. But surely you can see where I also see the potential for tragedy."

"We're in a galaxy filled with tragedy right now," Obi-Wan answered, frankly. Then he dropped his head and contemplated his own hands, before looking up again. "He keeps me honest. I know that sounds-- paradoxical, considering this relationship we carry on, but it's true."

"I know. As I said, I haven't failed to notice the good." Vokara Che didn't look away from him. "You've become more fair with yourself and with others. More balanced. I do know the good. But what happens if -- or when -- he's cut down on the battlefield?"

There was some temptation to point out just how incredibly hard to kill Maul was, but Obi-Wan also knew the wrong pressure at the wrong time was no less potentially deadly than a mortar or blaster; honestly, even more so. He shoved the thought aside, firmly. "I would grieve. Certainly no less than Qui-Gon grieved Tahl. But I would survive it and I would continue to walk in the light."

The healer nodded, slowly, then said, "I won't say anything to the Council, though I reserve the right to change my mind if this becomes a notable, clear danger to either of you. But only on one condition."

Obi-Wan let out a breath he didn't even know he was holding, though he did so subtly. "Name it."

"You can survive losing Maul. I believe you. But what I want you to really consider is whether he could survive losing you."

She left Obi-Wan staring after her, only realizing that he was gripping the blanket over him when he had to force his hands to let it go.

 

 

 

Breakfast after was a quiet affair, as dawn broke properly over Coruscant. Obi-Wan's appetite had suffered a little for the thoughts running through his head; Maul, in the meantime, just watched the door with an expression pegged firmly between guilt and defiance, though he didn't speak up and explain in what way he was feeling either of those things.

Obi-Wan still didn't let Maul go without first helping rub the sweet-and-spicy smelling liniment into the muscles between his neck and shoulder, and without second getting a kiss; something in his heart tweaked when it lingered a little longer than usual.

In for a credit, in for a thousand, he thought after, steadying himself with a few careful breaths.

When Anakin came in roughly a half-hour later, he somehow managed to also look both defiant and guilty. Obi-Wan was starting to wonder if there was something in the tea.

"Obi-Wan," he said, coming over and sitting down, his flesh-and-blood hand finding Obi-Wan's. "I'm sorry I wasn't here earlier, I was-- uh--"

Obi-Wan gave his fingers a careful squeeze, smiling a little bit to himself. "Sleeping, I hope? Pacing nervously, thinking about your new flagship? I certainly hope you weren't sitting around worrying about me."

"No, it's every day you nearly get blown to pieces and char-broiled," Anakin said back, something on his face calming to a smile as he dropped his head and shook it, then looked up again. "How are you feeling?"

"Oh, a little tenderized, but not altogether bad." Obi-Wan leaned his head over, regarding the young man he had half-raised, all the while trying to ignore his own misgivings about Anakin flying off to take on Grievous alone. He was a man now, but it sometimes seemed the Council forgot how young nineteen was; how much there was yet to learn. He had been glad to recommend Ahsoka for Anakin to train, seeing the potential they had to teach one another, but he wouldn't have recommended a whole battle-group, not yet. "When do you leave?"

"As soon as the ships get here." Anakin took his hand back after another squeeze, his face breaking into a smile that was a mix between tentative hope and boisterous pride. "Mine's the Resolute. My own flagship."

The tentative hope, Obi-Wan knew well, was entirely down to Anakin's desire to live up to the expectations the Order had put on him. Expectations that he almost did himself, when Anakin was still a little tow-headed boy. Attachment or not, he didn't regret letting go of his own myriad feelings about Anakin being called the Chosen One; didn't regret treating the little boy as a little boy, once he'd figured out that was what Anakin needed.

One of the best decisions he had ever made was letting go of his promise to Qui-Gon Jinn, and turning Anakin's apprenticeship into a choice he made for himself.

They still had clashed, as Anakin grew, impetuous and temperamental from the first to now. But Obi-Wan had been careful to try his best to listen, rather than scold; to make certain that Anakin knew he didn't have to try to prove himself so desperately to his own master. Obi-Wan hadn't always succeeded; sometimes he became a little too demanding, sometimes a little too harsh, but on the whole, he did better than he had been on course to do, when he was twenty-five and lost.

"I'm proud of you," he said, and meant it.

Anakin's face broke into a wide smile, light and joy; even after all these years, he still ached for praise and reassurance. "Thank you, Master."

"I do expect you to be careful," Obi-Wan added, more softly, holding Anakin's gaze and keeping his own open. "You're a talented leader, Anakin. And I've already agreed that Rex should accompany you; one couldn't ask for a better second-in-command--"

"--aside Cody?" Anakin teased.

"Well, I didn't want to gloat," Obi-Wan shot back, grinning. But then he finished, "--but please remember your age. Please remember to be patient, when patience is called for."

Anakin nodded, respectfully. "I will, Obi-Wan. Thank you."

"Thank you for coming to pull me out of that bomb site. I can't quite pull off the char-broiled look, I'm afraid."

Something more shadowed passed across Anakin's face, just a flicker, and his smile fell away as he stood, taking up Obi-Wan's hand for one more squeeze. "You're welcome, Master. Please, get well and stay well. I'll keep in contact."

"I intend to." Obi-Wan chuckled, looking up at him. "In a hurry?"

"I have a few things to see to before we break orbit." Anakin smiled again, though more tightly this time.

Padmé, no doubt, Obi-Wan thought, offering something of a mirrored look back. Saying anything about that would be a hypocrisy he wouldn't be able to bear, and besides, Anakin truly had seemed more settled and focused these past several weeks. He didn't know if he would regret speaking and then turning a blind eye, but time would have to tell. "Go on, then. I expect a full report on the Resolute's performance when you have time."

"You've got it," Anakin said, smile going broad again, before he turned and left his master to go back to his own thoughts.

Obi-Wan watched him go, then closed his eyes; he had to great deal to meditate on.

 

 

 

Padmé regarded him, and Obi-Wan could feel her lingering anger at him.

Four days had seen him largely recovered; he still felt run down and a little out of sorts, but nothing he didn't feel capable of handling, at least physically speaking. He had not sorted out his feelings on what Vokara Che had put to him, however, though a full day had not even passed before he realized the truth that went with it. It was a chilling thought, what would happen if he fell himself; he would be the very last to doubt Maul's courage or his strength, Maul had both in abundance, but no, Obi-Wan honestly could not see him being able to mourn and move on after.

And who knew what the Council would do with him. Or to him.

Unable to figure out how to handle that realization, Obi-Wan did his best to live with it now in the hopes that some answer would present itself later. Something that wouldn't leave them both heartsick or miserable.

Distance was out of the question.

It was while still convalescing that he learned about the altercation between Anakin and Maul; that had not helped any, though he was able to keep enough perspective on it to realize where both of them had been emotionally when it had happened and understand how it had. He wasn't happy about it, but it had already been done, over and handled, and there wasn't any point to hanging onto it.

Still, he resolved to do a better job keeping them apart, as much as they could be, and keeping an eye on things when he couldn't.

Once he had been released from the Halls, they had gone back to their warehouse the past couple nights, though training only consisted of gentle -- very gentle -- sequences, in deference to Obi-Wan's state. But in their dancing, blades barely connecting before they shifted to another motion, life felt right and settled; it felt more natural than he had expected, and not once did he look past that gold blade and see his enemy from long ago.

It lacked the intensity of their prior sparring sessions, but seemed to make them both feel better. And the simple pleasure of sitting side-by-side after, eating good carry-out they had gotten with a few spare credits Obi-Wan had, had been no less so.

They were oddly kind, these small things.

Now, looking at the woman Anakin loved, he wondered if they took the same little joys in one another; of sharing a meal, or holding hands, or a thousand other small intimacies built -- or building -- over time. He thought that they must have. He understood her anger, though he wished it wasn't aimed at him.

"Thank you for coming," Padmé said, looking him over carefully. No doubt she had heard he was wounded. "You're looking well, considering."

"Our healers are talented; I assure you, I didn't look this way four days ago." Obi-Wan folded his hands into the sleeves of his robes. "Your message sounded urgent; what's happening?"

She gave a graceful little bow of her head to his answer, then looked over her shoulder to her apartment. "Bail Organa of Alderaan contacted me and asked to see me," she said, before turning her dark eyes back to him. "He claims to have received intelligence of an attack planned against the Jedi." A beat. "An attack by the Sith."

Well, that was a quick way to send ice down his spine. Obi-Wan drew in a slow breath, though that did little for the way his shoulders stiffened, the way his whole body automatically shifted to battle readiness, regardless of its condition for such things.

Padmé must have mistook the change in his posture as against her; her eyes widened a little and she shook her head. "His contact told him; I've said nothing."

"No, no. I know." Padmé was honorable; whatever their perceived differences, Obi-Wan didn't think that she would have told anyone about what she knew, what she had been sworn to secrecy over. He tried to settle himself, offering her a smile he didn't entirely feel. "What contact? What does he know?"

"I don't know, but he's inside. You can ask him. He was told that the information needed to be given to the Jedi, and while you and I have had our-- moments of difficulty, I told him I trusted you to listen to what he had to say fairly."

That was one way of putting it. Her diplomacy was certainly equal to Obi-Wan's own. This time, his smile went both more lopsided and more real. "Thank you, Padmé. I do appreciate it, despite our difficulties." He looked past her, but he couldn't see the senator from Alderaan from his vantage on the balcony. "Do you trust him?"

"I do. We work together, I've known him for some time now, and he's not a man who chases half-baked conspiracy theories," Padmé answered, watching his face, her own giving little away.

Politicians were something Obi-Wan nearly universally distrusted. Padmé was one of his few exceptions to the rule. The number of manipulations and dishonorable dealings in the legislature had long since left a bad taste in his mouth; the fact that the Order answered to the same Senate which seemed to find itself in a new scandal each week rankled.

There was also something about the Chancellor which left him feeling edgy and uncomfortable, though the man had never acted anything but gracious to him anytime they met.

Still, someone had informed the senator about the Sith. It would be wise to see what he had to say. "Very well. Let's go and hear what he has to share."

 

 

 

Bail Organa was a big man, broad shouldered and powerfully built, with a wide-set face. Obi-Wan had run into him before, had even been a part of helping him with Christophsis, but he had not really gotten to know him. He did know that Organa was well-regarded and well-respected, though, and a man of enough moral courage to put himself into a dangerous situation trying to bring relief to a besieged world, so while trust was perhaps a step too far, respect was some easier.

Of course, given the subject matter, the best of intentions quickly dissolved into them clashing like a pair of territorial rancors.

"They didn't give me the information to ruin your day, Master Kenobi, they gave it to me to prove that they have a wide, accurate intelligence network." Organa was sitting on the edge of the couch, shoulders stiff and gaze fixed on the Jedi. "They also didn't run to the media with what they knew, as you can easily tell."

"Surely you can understand where some strange group I've never heard of having sensitive -- and classified -- information about everything we're doing would be a serious security concern, Senator," Obi-Wan snapped back. He wasn't entirely sure how this had transformed into an argument, but somewhere between their polite greetings and now, tensions had slowly ratcheted up to nearly unbearable. "And yet, you kept their existence a secret even from your own Security Committee?"

"I gave them my word that I would protect their anonymity," Organa said, his chin up. "And in exchange for my good faith, they've given me information that I needed to save lives."

Somehow, too, this conversation had gone from informative to arguing ethics. Obi-Wan wasn't entirely sure how that had happened, either.

According to the senator, the Friends of the Republic -- and if that wasn't a name to inspire confidence! -- had not only given him intelligence in the past, but they also knew exactly what was going on with the Jedi on the front lines. Given how often it seemed that the plans of the Republic forces found themselves thwarted, how many times seemingly fool-proofed plans fell through, Obi-Wan's suspicion was high.

"All right. Fine. Let's say that your friends truly are friends, and are working on the best interests of the Republic," he said, doing his best to get as much of the sarcasm out of his voice as possible (and probably failing, given the way Organa's eyes narrowed), "what did they say about this potential Sith attack on the Jedi?"

Organa shot a look towards Padmé, who pressed her lips together.

"She only told me to ensure I would give you my full attention," Obi-Wan added, a little more gently. "You certainly have that, Senator."

"So, these Sith are real," Organa said, staring at him for a long moment before standing up to pace. It was less a question and more a statement, and one with no small edge on it. "Before I get into this... just how much of a threat are they? To the Jedi, to the Republic?"

No easy thing to answer. The return of the Sith -- starting with the former one in the Temple -- was a secret that the Jedi guarded zealously. The amount of potential fear and panic that could spread if the knowledge became widespread was something that didn't bear contemplating. In a galaxy already on edge due to war and terrorism, the re-emergence of an enemy supposedly long vanquished would be akin to throwing a match to rocket fuel.

At least, that was the Council's opinion. Obi-Wan happened to concur with the secrecy, though.

Padmé had turned her gaze to him now, her eyes hard. Obi-Wan had wondered if Anakin had informed her of Maul's continued presence and that was as good an answer to his own question as any.

He wasn't happy about that, but he couldn't very well go box Anakin's ears over it, either. Instead, he tamped down his irritation as best he could and chose his words carefully. "They are an immense threat. From what we do know, their order has survived for the past thousand years by immersing itself in deception, hiding in shadows and growing their power. They have manipulated politics, in addition to training select-- acolytes, and assassins. They've destabilized and even taken over key criminal enterprises."

Organa turned back to him, eyes narrowed and eyebrows drawn, and Obi-Wan felt a moment of sympathy for the man. "That severe?"

"Yes," Obi-Wan said, plainly.

"And you -- the Order -- didn't feel it necessary to warn the rest of us?" Organa asked, incredulously. "Just how wide-spread are we talking, here?"

"They were behind the blockade of Naboo," Padmé said, quietly, though her voice was level and contained an apology. "We suspect they're also behind this war with the Seperatists."

Now Organa was staring at Padmé. "You knew--?"

Obi-Wan felt a rush of affection, for the former child-queen of Naboo; while she had been sworn to secrecy, he appreciated her coming to his defense. Especially given how he had hurt her, no matter his intentions.

"Yes, Bail. I knew. I was sworn to secrecy by the Jedi," she said, tipping her head towards Obi-Wan, though she didn't look away from her fellow senator, "but I happened to agree with their reasoning. This isn't something the Senate could handle."

"If what you say is true, they're a threat to the whole of our democracy, Padmé! Even if the Jedi didn't think it was necessary to tell us, I would think you would have!"

Padmé took the anger without flinching, though she took a step or two forward with her back straight. "How is that any different than you keeping the Friends of the Republic from us?"

"They're on the side of the Republic. These-- these Sith are possibly instrumental in this massacre we're facing now." Organa passed a hand across his forehead, then looked back between them, eyes blazing. "There's a question of measure. Of scope."

"The same argument can be made for anything, great or small, good or ill," Padmé answered, firmly. "You want our trust, on behalf of your friends. Bail, all I'm asking is that you return the favor." There was a beat, then she added, more softly, "The Chancellor also knows of the Sith. And he also agreed that they were something best left to the Jedi to deal with."

Organa clearly looked unhappy about it, but his own expression also softened a little bit. "I do trust you. It's just--"

"--terrible," Obi-Wan finished, quietly, though his voice carried. "We're in agreement there, Senator Organa. Now, what intelligence did you get?"

"It wasn't much. They contact me via encrypted text, over a private -- and secure -- link that they gave me years ago." Organa sank back down on the couch, rubbing at his forehead now like he had a headache. That, too, Obi-Wan could sympathize with. "They said that the Sith were planning an attack. They mentioned it was related to the planet Zigoola? And they told me that I had to get the information to the Jedi. And here you are."

Obi-Wan had never heard of Zigoola, but once he was back at the Temple, he had every intention of asking Maul about it. If it wasn't in the archives, then it could well have disappeared like Kamino had. Or, barring that, it could have never been recorded in the first place.

He centered himself again, releasing his pent up agitation as best he could. "Thank you, Senator. I do appreciate you helping with this; I'll bring this to the Council immediately. If they ask to speak with you, will you be willing?"

"As long as they don't expect me to tell them anymore than I've told you, about my sources and who they are," Organa answered, dropping his hand, looking at Obi-Wan with a distinctly weary (and wary) expression.

"Fair enough." Obi-Wan stood. "And if they contact you again about this?"

"I'll make certain you know immediately."

Obi-Wan bowed his head, grateful that seemed to be it. He glanced sidelong to Padmé, then looked squarely back to Organa. "I have to ask you don't discuss the Sith. You'd do well to put them out of your mind -- difficult as that is -- and let us handle it."

Organa's eyebrow rose in an elegant reply as to how likely that was. Obi-Wan could only give him part of a rueful, tight smile, and then he bowed to both of them and slipped back out to his airspeeder to head back to the Temple with word of the next crisis on their list.

 

 

 

Word finally came from Anakin that his battlegroup still had not reached Bothawui; that he was still trying to engage Grievous, who seemed to have advanced notice of their plans and acted accordingly, harrying the Republic cruisers. It didn't help Obi-Wan's anxieties about the safety of Bail Organa's intelligence, or those he got it from, but there was little else he could do. He listened to the Council give Anakin both orders and some degree of censure, and exchanged a considerably more gentle look with his former padawan himself, before Anakin signed off and the meeting turned to the mention of Zigoola.

"Yes, it's real," Maul had confirmed, before Obi-Wan had even gone up to the Council. "I don't know where it's located; I've only been to Korriban and Malachor, at least so far as my memory holds. But it was -- or is -- a world the Sith numbered amongst their own."

Obi-Wan took that confirmation with him to the Council meeting, informing them of everything he knew, which was not nearly enough. Master Windu promised to go to the archives and search the old holocrons for mentions that the archives themselves didn't seem to contain; otherwise, they advised a wait-and-see approach, which left everything feeling as if it was about to come tumbling down.

Now, mid-afternoon, he and Maul were walking the hallways on the level of the Detention Center and Obi-Wan could feel the tension in the air that they both were caught up in.

"This reeks of my Master-- my former Master," Maul said, hands clasped behind his back, but the rest of his lines tight with ill-ease. "This business with Zigoola."

"Do you think it's a trap?" Obi-Wan asked, his own arms crossed in some subconscious attempt to feel secure. Maul's former master might have ripped his mind and memory apart, all of those years ago, but Obi-Wan wouldn't think to discount a statement like that. Particularly given that Maul admitted to sensing this former master immediately after the Separatist bombing.

Maul scoffed. "It's a Sith world, Kenobi. Of course it's a trap. The question is whether the trap is old and yet unsprung, or whether it's new and set in place for us."

"I should ask, do you think it's just a trap, or is it possible there is an attack in the works originating there?" Obi-Wan paused near to the hallway windows, putting himself in the wan light of an overcast day as if the presence, even dim, would help hold the shadows at bay.

Maul stopped a moment, looking at him, then his gaze slid away and he shook his head, uneasy. "That, I can't say," he said, turning and pacing back and forth. "I was trained to kill Jedi, but counselled to have patience. It's possible, I get the-- the sense of a weapon, of something--" He bared his teeth and jerked his head to the side briefly in frustration. "--large. Much larger than I am. But I don't know, for certain."

Even in the midst of all of this madness, the urge to reel Maul in and just wrap around him was no less powerful. Obi-Wan reached out and let his fingers ghost down Maul's arm, just to keep in touch with him, as he passed. "I know," he said, softly. "That's considerably more than I have to offer about it, anyway," he added, not quite a joke.

Maul huffed back at him, though at least his pacing became less edgy. It wasn't the calm hunter's prowl from the other side of the ray shield on Naboo; more a restless, unspoken anxiety finding its way to expression in motion. Not something Obi-Wan was unfamiliar with, anyway.

"Come on, let's get out of here while we still have a chance," Obi-Wan said, after a moment's more thought, nodding towards the adjacent hallway. "We can go and have lunch, work out, perhaps have dinner. Maybe even rent a room somewhere. I'll have the Temple forward any messages."

Staying here, motionless, was only going to make them both miserable, would only allow dread to build. Obi-Wan had come to the uncomfortable realization that he had become a minor celebrity, thanks to Christophsis and the holonet, but there were still places one could buy a decent meal without attracting any undue attention. There was a warehouse they could freely dance across with blades, and a wall there which was becoming a familiar place to sit against either before or after.

Perhaps there was even a bed to share, somewhere.

Once, long ago, he and Qui-Gon had attended a wedding; an arranged marriage, for political reasons, but it was one of those rare occasions where those who had been arranged into it were happy with circumstances. Obi-Wan had been young -- seventeen, just turned -- and he remembered sitting there as part of the diplomatic party while the toasts were given and, in teenage form, his mind not-so-helpfully wandered across any number of boyish thoughts about Satine (and occasionally Siri) which, of course, he would have to meditate away later.

But he remembered one blessing in particular because it had touched something inside of him that he didn't entirely recognize, let alone understand, then.

May you grow old together sharing one pillow.

Even in the midst of all of this -- a war, a potential plot, his former padawan leading a battle-group, his relationship now no longer a secret, nearly being blown to pieces -- the memory of those words made him smile.

He thought, perhaps, that he could understand now.

"What are you thinking?" Maul asked, brow furrowed, his pacing stopped for the moment as he no doubt was trying to work out what Obi-Wan could possibly be smiling about at a time like this.

"Just remembering something. I'll tell you, sometime," Obi-Wan answered, shaking his head with a little grin, as he went to go find a comm.

Later, looking back, he couldn't regret this decision, either -- to go, to hold onto their small joys, to find a bed to share however briefly -- in light of what came after.

Chapter Text

"I think, if I ever solve all of the complications, I will write that book."

"What book?" Maul asked, brows up, cracking his eyes open long enough to peer across the (incredibly short) span of bed to Obi-Wan.

Obi-Wan grinned back. "Intimacy with Zabraks: Expressing Affection Without Goring."

The day had been-- long, to say the least. From an early morning meeting with the senator of Alderaan, which Obi-Wan came back from looking harried and on-edge, to the reveal of a potential plot by Maul's former master involving the Sith world of Zigoola, to them leaving the Temple on an apparent whim and spending the rest of the day anywhere else.

The latter part of it was, of course, better than the earlier part. But it had still been long.

Now, the light of the advertisement screens outside occasionally flashed color and pattern against the wall through the primitive blinds. They were in one of Coruscant's many stop-over hotels, having rented a small and bare-bones room, equipped with little more than a bed, a pair of end tables and a 'fresher that most full-grown sentients would find claustrophobic. Maul was not overly picky about where his head landed, though he had taken several minutes to make sure the place was both clean and parasite free; the amenities didn't matter beyond those basic requirements, given the bed was big enough for both of them.

And Kenobi was being-- Kenobi.

Maul reached up and flicked one of his horns with a fingernail, then closed his eyes again. "I couldn't gore anyone if I wanted to." They had been thoroughly blunted before he'd even woken the first time in the Temple (probably for exactly that reason -- so they couldn't be used as weapons as easily), and as he hadn't lost any since then, they remained just as dull.

"No, but you could leave some impressive bruises." Obi-Wan's voice was mellow, lighter than it had been earlier in the day.

Maul spoke more to this man in a single year than he had spoken to anyone in the first twenty years of his life. Conversation had never been his strong suit, but it had slowly become something of a habit; there were still times when he either didn't have anything to say or just couldn't figure out what to say if he did, and therefore retreated to silence, but eventually they would start talking again. The words got easier, over time, though even now he often found them difficult.

"You would think you would get tired of doing that," he commented, mentally following along the tracks of Obi-Wan's fingers as they traced his markings, down his shoulder and arm. "You know them better than I do."

"I do know them. But I have my favorite parts I like to revisit."

That got Maul to open his eyes again, skeptical. "Favorite parts?"

Obi-Wan was eying him, something sort of-- predatory, or mischievous, written on his face. Perhaps measures of both. "Yes, favorite parts. Things about you which I find either aesthetically pleasing or otherwise enjoyable."

Aesthetics were largely a lost cause for Maul; he could appreciate craftsmanship, he thought, and occasionally something would strike him as worth really considering for longer than an initial assessment, but beyond that, it was an ill-understood concept. The last time he had given any true thought to such things, he had been-- perhaps sixteen, perhaps seventeen, he wasn't sure. Before that, he remembered flashes of things that he had found compelling enough to store in his mind for no other purpose than to keep them; the ocean on Orsis in morning light, blues and greens and iron grays. Kilindi's headtails, the graceful way they moved with her flowing form as she swam. The searing reds and oranges and yellows of Mustafar. The red light of sunset or sunrise from the Works. The first breach of atmosphere while piloting, the way the color of sky faded to star-studded space.

The song of his saberstaff, his original, the way it was an extension of himself. The beauty of moving, the sense of everything aligned, body and mind and soul and Force.

But rare thoughts of beauty had mostly been lost by the time he had been given his title, what hadn't been already lost by the slaughter at Orsis, which ultimately left only motion.

"Deep thoughts?" Obi-Wan asked, pulling him back to the moment, his fingertips still wandering with impunity.

"Nothing important." Though, when Maul really considered it, he had known beauty since. Kenobi, fire and anger and raw passion, at Theed. Those moments of perfection. Now, the same man's voice, the way it rose and fell in that distinctive lilt; the rhythm of it, long familiar. "Your voice; I find that pleasing," he said, closing his eyes when Obi-Wan stroked down the bridge of his nose, chasing diamonds.

"Well, that's good, given how much I talk," Obi-Wan said, sounding rather happy about it. There was the sound of motion and then he was stealing a kiss, mouth soft and water-cool, the bristly sensation of his beard making Maul's nose scrunch a little bit even as he kissed back. "Anything else?" Obi-Wan asked, after he broke it, still nearly lip-to-lip and his smile as distinct in his voice as it would be on his face.

Reprobate. "You'll have to give me a little more time, I haven't thought much about it."

Not surprisingly, that had Obi-Wan muffling laughter into the pillow next to Maul's head, a warm and deep-chested sound.

But that, too, Maul thought, a little unbidden smile sneaking up on him.

 

 

 

(He wakes up again and again, his mind trying out different terrors, trying to find one that fits this new experience.

Sometimes it's a snake, sometimes it's the dinkos. Sometimes it's Deenine with sparking electrodes out. Sometimes it's the wolf worm; sometimes it's the ice and freezing water closing over his head, the drag of his soaked clothes and boots pulling him down and down and down underwater on Mygeeto. Sometimes it's the assassin droids, the phantom sear of pain in a leg he no longer has, the fever making his head spin and the certainty that if he crashes into oblivion, he will never wake again.

Sometimes it's worse.

It's a day. Two. Ten. Twelve. He is a hound; point him in the right direction, and he will find his quarry. Kenobi is the one who does the thinking, the pushing, the talking. They camp in frozen mountain passes and under eaves. Even the heavy cold-weather gear is not enough to overcome six years of living in an unchanging, climate-controlled environment, so he feels constantly on the edge of hypothermia.

He can track, though. He can hunt.

Fear keeps him awake well past normal endurance and holds him in this twilight state, the world too white, the nights deep blue and too long. There is nothing to fear here, some sensible part of him even knows this, but when he wakes up too close to another living thing, he has no frame of reference that isn't survival. Has only instincts, a life at arm's length, further. Any change in that meaning something bad will happen. It's training alone that keeps him from hurting or killing Obi-Wan Kenobi; those momentary assessments, even impaired, that let him realize the danger isn't real, isn't present, isn't actually here.

They are tracking a kidnapped politician's daughter. Kenobi thinks that the kidnapping is likely an arrangement between young lovers. "Like a cliché holonovel," he says, ruefully amused, right after they leave a village with word of two young people well ahead of them, but no signs of bandits.

Maul doesn't know what that means; does not know how any of that works. He's still clear-headed then, though, so he asks and Kenobi explains the plot -- star-crossed lovers, he calls them -- and Maul cannot fathom the point of such fiction, let alone the same thing in reality. He says so; Kenobi grins at him, a wry grin, and reaches out to adjust the ruff on the hood of his parka, the humor fading into something a little softer, glove brushing against the line of his jaw.

Maul knows how to climb, free or anchored, but it's harder when he doesn't know exactly where his feet fit; he has never tried to do this without his own legs, without the perception the Force gives him, the way it used to ground him when he had the rest of his flesh to feel it through. He takes it like he would training, relentlessly pushing to improve, relying on his arms and hands more.

But the long stagnation and the restless nights take their toll.

It is the fourteenth morning -- he finds this out later, because the days have blurred together -- when Kenobi decides that they are staying put. "No. At this point, you're going to end up tumbling down off of a mountain," he says, face serious, still laying on the sleep mat, bundled in the oversized sleeping bag. "That pair we're tracking are native here; they're not likely to die if we stop for a day."

Maul can't grasp this idea, to just stay here while they have an objective to achieve; it must show on his face, too, because then Kenobi adds, frowning, "You'll get yourself killed at this rate."

In some twist of a half-asleep brain and a memory rife with paranoia, this becomes a declaration of failure. And he is

running from red photoreceptors

hitting the ice and breaking through it on Mygeeto

clawing at his throat against invisible fingers until he loses the strength to do even that

and then he's staring into blue eyes, while making a very sincere attempt to strangle the life right out of the Jedi, blindingly certain in these moments that it's a kill-or-be-killed situation and that he is somewhere else, with other beings.

He lets go the moment he realizes otherwise; Kenobi has him by the wrists and a judicious use of the Force, keeping him back. There's no anger in the man's expression, though, just searching, just patience.

"Back with me?" he asks, letting go an instant after Maul gets himself together enough to back off. When Maul finally nods, not sure how he got across the tent in the first place, Kenobi goes on, "Good. Come on, we're going to try this my way, this time."

Somehow -- and later, Maul finds this more amusing than anything else -- Kenobi's idea of fixing it involves more proximity, not less. And somehow -- and later, Maul does not find this even a little surprising -- Kenobi manages to get his way.

"I could use the practice, too," Kenobi says, once they're tenuously settled down and only several centimeters apart. "I mean, I'm certain I've had more than you, but it's been a long time since I've slept next to someone else. Those last weeks on Melida/Daan, I slept with Cerasi every night; I had stopped thinking of myself as a man by then, though I don't know if I really thought of myself as a boy, either." He pauses there, something sad and wistful and distant on his face, then adds, "I remember, though. What she felt like against my chest, how warm she was in contrast to the tunnels. I held Satine a few times, but anything more was precluded by my master's presence; he certainly kept an eye on me, which I couldn't blame him for. I was quite taken with her.

"I think one of the hardest lessons that I've had to learn is how to accept how much I don't know." Kenobi's smile is in his voice, soft. "That there is no point where I will cross a finish line to certain victory. Childhood to adulthood, or padawan to knight to master, or all of the other ways that we measure ourselves. That one, I think, I owe to you."

In the years after this, this proximity and intimacy becomes easy, though only by painstaking patience. Eventually there comes a point where even waking out of a dead sleep with Obi-Wan laying on him doesn't give Maul so much as a start.

But it starts here; in words which fade into the rising-falling notes of a cadence, until he can't tell the difference between that and the sound of his own breathing.)

 

 

 

The sound of the comm going off jerked them both out of sleep simultaneously, instantly, shattering the fragile peace they had insulated themselves in.

"Oh, hell," Obi-Wan muttered, detangling himself from whatever the position was called that they had ended up sleeping in, rolling back to his side of the bed and leaning over to dig through his robes to retrieve the communicator.

Maul took that opportunity to find the wall clock and check the time, waiting for the adrenaline rush to fade and for Obi-Wan to hopefully deal with this and then settle again.

According to the clock, it was a quarter past two in the morning; they hadn't been asleep more than a few hours. Occasionally, he would rue not being able to go several days without rest, relying on pure dark side driven energy to get through it, but those occasions had gotten decidedly rare and while there was still some part of him conditioned to view it as a weakness, sleeping in some regular, normal manner had other compensations. Which meant he'd like to get back to it.

"Grandmaster," Obi-Wan said, making sure the holocomm wasn't aimed anywhere in the vicinity of his bedmate, when Yoda appeared.

"Terrible news, we have received," Yoda answered, without preamble, which boded-- poorly. "The battle-group at Falleen, we have lost. All hands. An attack by Grievous, on three fronts. Added two more cruisers to his forces, he did."

Three Republic cruisers destroyed, at least, plus smaller craft and support vessels. More than a handful of Jedi, as well. Thousands of others; clones, attached forces from various Republic-world militias, naval officers, support services. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Maul idly wondered how they could afford to keep losing both vessels and lives at the rate they were and expect to win.

For himself, he didn't really care. Pretending that he did would be both pointless and dishonest. For Obi-Wan--

That was, as everything else seemed to be these days, more complicated.

"Oh," Obi-Wan answered, after a moment, the blue light coming off of the hologram making his face seem washed out of color, the same voice that was laughing only hours before now breathless.

Like he'd been hit himself.

"Report back to the Temple, you must; a meeting with the Chancellor, we have," Yoda said, grimly. "Stand in for the Council temporarily."

"It will-- it will take me some time, to make it back," Obi-Wan answered, sounding dazed. "I can handle any inbound comm traffic en route."

Yoda didn't admonish him -- probably for the better, Maul already had more reasons than he needed to want to see how far he could kick that little troll -- just gave a nod and then the hologram vanished, leaving them in the dark again.

Maul didn't waste any time crawling out of bed to get dressed. "I'll drive. That should free you to handle the comm, if you need to."

"Thank you," Obi-Wan said, though it seemed more automatic courtesy than any engaged reply. He sat for a moment longer, then gathered himself together and got up to get dressed himself, the shock and stirrings of fresh grief coming off of him like thunder rolling in from the horizon.

It made Maul feel oddly bitter, though he couldn't define why. Not at Obi-Wan, but-- perhaps over him, instead. A certain quiet anger simmering at everything that conspired to keep beating on the man, and the bone-deep frustration at discovering that there were some things that Maul couldn't put himself in front of, a shield or distraction or both.

All that in complement to the prior, dawning realization of how willing he was to do so anyway.

He rolled a shoulder back in some silent and restless agitation -- at the galaxy, at himself -- and then went and helped Obi-Wan dress, something he could do, hands moving with easy skill from the years he wore entirely similar clothing. The grief coming off of the Jedi was settling in properly now; the well of it like blood from a cut that was deep enough that it bled before it hurt.

"The whole group," Obi-Wan said, numbly getting his arms through his outer robe, his voice distant and devastated.

But not you, Maul thought, and didn't say anything -- didn't begin to know what he could or would say -- before gathering up their small amount of gear and Obi-Wan himself to steer him out to the airspeeder.

 

 

 

Skywalker was the next to call, not even twenty minutes later, though by then Obi-Wan had managed to wrap himself back up again to something resembling composed. He was terse over the comm, his voice was brittle, but he no longer sounded dazed. Apparently, Skywalker had made it to Bothawui, finally, only to find Grievous wasn't there; Obi-Wan pointed out the fact that he would be soon enough and with more than enough fire power to wipe out Skywalker's battle-group, given what he had done to the Falleen group.

Skywalker, of course, wanted to make a stand. Tano pointed out, despite his attempts to silence her, that suicide was not the Jedi way.

Maul was starting to like her; beyond the fact that she wasn't afraid to look him in the eye, she had courage enough to stand up to her Master in front of his Master, and even in what was shaping up to be a bad night -- or early morning -- that made Maul smirk.

Obi-Wan had barely managed to end that call when the next came in: Bail Organa needed to see him.

That was how Maul ended up sitting in the parked airspeeder, looking out over Coruscant's lights. The view, the vantage, gave him an odd sense of deja vu, but for some reason, it made him think of Tatooine. Inside, Obi-Wan was arguing with Organa, and occasionally was loud enough to hear; Maul had better-than-human hearing, but over the night traffic of the city, that was no small feat.

"Senator, you insisted on seeing me; if you don't need to, then I need to return to the Temple."

"Sit down."

Maul's brows shot up and he turned in the airspeeder's seat just to try to see into the apartment and see what was going on. He couldn't, but he put forth a fair effort. He wasn't sensing any danger, nor even any ill intent, but it wasn't every day that someone ordered Obi-Wan around like an errant child and it had his curiosity spiked.

Their voices had gone quiet again, though; at least, too quiet to hear from out here. Maul gave idle thought to getting out of the speeder and creeping in closer to listen, but given his appearance -- which seemed to alarm most other sentients -- and the lack of cover, he didn't really want to potentially run afoul of law enforcement or passersby who thought he was up to no good. Coruscant never slept, not really; even at this hour, the traffic was steady. Lighter than it was during daylight, but still steady.

Obi-Wan's voice drifted into hearing again, strident. "--us?  No, senator. Absolutely not. Zigoola is entirely likely to be a trap; give me the coordinates and I'll go alone."

Maul straightened up, just one brow up now, huffing at that. Oh, will you?

All right, then. Never mind law enforcement or passersby. He jumped out of the speeder and crossed the platform, taking in the security measures that were well-hidden but present, likely currently set to low-threat.

"Look, Master Kenobi. I'm the one with the coordinates, and I'm the one they trust. Either we go together, or I'll go without you," Organa answered, firmly.

After Obi-Wan had declared that he would go alone -- which Maul held out hope was just a misdirection, but even so -- Maul couldn't help but feel a little shot of satisfaction that the senator of Alderaan was pushing back. He didn't know the man, and he would likely agree that taking him to Zigoola was dangerous, but he unexpectedly found himself on Organa's side anyway, at least in this part of the debate.

"I'm not going to agree to that." Obi-Wan's voice had gone lofty.

"You don't get to decide that part," Organa replied, a tone of such pleasantness that it was almost venomous. "If you think I'm going to give you my comm and my decryption codes and let you fly off to meet with my contacts while I stay here like a pining bride, then I'm going to have to commission a study into what kind of education they give you Jedi in your Temple."

Even Maul had to hiss at that one; he wasn't sure if he feeling badly for Obi-Wan or not, but the turn of phrase was elegantly scathing.

"Oh, of the love of-- we've already agreed, Senator, that the Sith are Jedi business!"

"Wrong. They're my business, too, as long as I'm the one who's getting coded information about them. So, either you can pull your spines in and accept that we're in this together, or I'll just be off to handle this myself. Decide, Master Jedi. Either way, I have a ship to get to."

"--what do you mean?"

"I mean that I have a ship already standing by. No connections to Alderaan or the Senate, so no one should give it a second look. It's provisioned, it's sound and I'm ready to go."

"Senator, this is hardly going to be some inner core pleasure cruise--"

"--no, really?"

If not for the severity of the entire thing, Maul would have found a seat and crossed his arms just to watch this. He knew he shouldn't be finding it amusing -- he knew how upset Obi-Wan was right now -- but seeing the man meet his match in sheer obstinance was oddly entertaining. At least, it appealed to him given the number of times he had found himself running up against that hard-headedness, sometimes to success and sometimes to complete failure.

"Look, Master Kenobi, we can stand here trying to outdo each other in sarcasm, or we can go, work together and deal with this threat," Organa said, more diplomatically. "We both want the same things: A safe Republic. Defeated Sith plans."

"I'd be remiss in my duties if I allowed you to go."

"I appreciate your protectiveness, but you don't get to make that decision for me. This is my choice and I'm making it. I won't say that's not your business, because I'd rather have you with me than staying here to cool your boots, but I will say that I have as much of a right to risk my life in this mission as you do."

There was a long silence; Maul didn't even need to be in there to know Obi-Wan was narrowing his eyes and trying for one last moment to come up with another plan. But then he finally said, rather testily, "I have to confer with the Council."

"By all means."

Obi-Wan must have moved off to another part of the room or further away; Maul couldn't hear him put in that call. But he did become aware of Bail Organa stepping out onto the balcony platform, likely to get some air, and straightened from his unabashed eavesdropping lean.

It took the senator a second to spot him and then he startled sharply, jumping backwards with wide, dark eyes. "--kriff!"

Maul chewed down a smirk. Barely. He just folded his hands behind his back, face schooled. "Senator. Forgive the startle; I was waiting for Kenobi."

Organa huffed a few more quick breaths, hand over his heart, and then he blew a longer breath out. "I didn't know anyone else was out here. Don't worry about it," he answered, now that he had apparently gotten over the unintentional scare, studying his unexpected visitor.

"If he goes, then I'm going," Maul just said, not bothering to pretend he hadn't been listening in.

That apparently surprised Organa again, though less so. His eyebrows furrowed and he said, more hesitantly, "My contacts were pretty clear about only one Jedi going...?"

"I'm not a Jedi. I am, however, an expert on the Sith." Maul didn't look away, taking a moment to study Organa in turn. He didn't have many bargaining chips of his own to lean on; he didn't have any decryption codes and he didn't know enough of the world to even claim he knew terrain. But he knew he didn't want Obi-Wan going into the teeth of Zigoola without him.

Organa took a couple of moments to think about it. And then, this time to Maul's surprise, he nodded. "All right. You might have to, uh, cobble together dinner. I didn't provision for a zabrak."

Maul shook that off, mildly amused and oddly pleased that he hadn't had to fight it out. But then again, Organa had made a very good argument as to the risks and responsibilities in regards to his life and his right to take those; it was admirable that the man was willing to extend that same thing to someone else, too. Not everyone did. "No need," he said, shaking his head again. "I'm not a strict carnivore; I'm half-human."

"Oh." Organa blinked, then even looking rather exhausted and frayed, he half-grinned. "You don't look it."

"Thank you," Maul answered, laconic, and quite nearly found himself grinning back when that made Organa laugh.

"--all right, I--" Obi-Wan pulled up short when he found them out there standing together, waiting, a handful of minutes later. His gaze darted between them, anxiety in his eyes.

"So, do we pack some extra shirts?" Organa asked, folding his arms over his broad chest, one eyebrow up, tipping his head over to include Maul in the question.

The look on Obi-Wan's face when he eyed Maul promised we're going to have a talk later, that same thundering look he had worn on Christophsis, but then he managed to wipe it back off of his face, tipping his chin up. "Yes. We do."

Chapter Text

Being on the edge of deployment at any given moment meant being packed and ready to go. It took them very little time to pause at the Temple and grab their clothing and other gear for the trip, already in their respective carry-ons in case they were thrown back into active service quickly, and then pull away so they could report to where Organa's small, entirely unexciting and unnoteworthy ship was waiting.

They argued the entire way; from the Senator's apartment to the Jedi Temple, from there towards the hangar where the ship was parked.

Obi-Wan was driving this time, feeling almost frantic at the number of things which had all come crowding in at once; inside of his chest, his heart kept hammering in time with something that was not perhaps panic, but was close. Falleen. Zigoola. Anakin, going into battle on the gift of his brilliance alone with too few ships and too few options. What was soon to be a tense, uncomfortable trip in a confined space. Potential traps. Bail Organa. Maul.

As such, he didn't have the same control over his urge to argue as he usually did these days. "--of course I wouldn't have just left you without a word, but I would have appreciated the chance to discuss it!"

"Does that mean you would have left me with a word?" Maul asked back, never once raising his voice more than necessary to be heard. But he had his arms crossed and he was watching Obi-Wan intently, locking eyes whenever Obi-Wan managed to look over; for all of the calm of his tone, there was a fiery challenge in his gaze.

"No. I just--" Obi-Wan let out a harsh sigh, anxiety clawing at the base of his throat. "There's so much risk that it's almost making me sick. Taking the senator is bad enough, but--"

He cut himself off there, even though it was already too late.

"But what?" Maul asked, voice soft, but he was showing his canines in a way Obi-Wan hadn't seen consciously directed at him in quite a long time, as he bit off those two words.

This wasn't a conversation that they could have while driving. Obi-Wan swallowed down the queasy, miserable feeling as best he could and held a hand up, asking for a moment. He changed lanes, to a higher level, and then found one of the upper level, open-air park platforms that dotted Coruscant's skyscape. At this hour it was deserted; the carefully cultivated trees and flowers rustled with the twilight breeze, the smell a sweet oasis in the artificial jungle of the city, even on approach to it.

Despite their initial clashing all of those years ago, he and Maul never really argued in recent years. They would banter sometimes, debate sometimes, and not all of their conversations were light-hearted, but truly, sharply arguing just-- didn't happen. For it to happen now just added to the horrible sense of foreboding Obi-Wan had.

They didn't have much time to spare, but he still parked the airspeeder and got out, waiting for Maul to join him, wanting to retreat into the green growing things and let the life of them soothe his rattled nerves. He took careful, slow breaths to try to center his mind and calm himself; tried to make sure he would be more thoughtful with his words, for both their sakes.

They had not braided their lives together with unkindness or carelessness.

Or dishonesty.

"I'm terrified," Obi-Wan finally said, voice as even as he could get it, when the trees were closed around them. He ran both hands back through his hair before dropping them, trying to fight down the urge to-- shatter. To scream. To cry. "Everything is falling apart and I don't know how to hold it together."

Maul had followed, as Obi-Wan knew he would, but until that admission had been eying him with wariness and something that could have easily been transformed into hurt by saying the wrong thing. Now, his expression softened some, though worry sprung up to replace the wariness. He was clearly trying to figure out what to say to that; Obi-Wan couldn't blame him. It hadn't been an easy admission to make, nor was it likely an easy one to hear.

Sometimes, it came home that the only person he knew who would never judge him for that confession was the one who had once been his sworn enemy.

"Falleen wasn't your fault. And Skywalker will be fine," Maul answered, carefully, at length. "He's altogether too arrogant to let the likes of Grievous kill him. Senator Organa seems to be level-headed enough, hard as that head may be. You don't have to hold things together, Obi-Wan. They're as together as they're likely to get."

It wasn't exactly comfort, more an assessment of things as Maul saw them. But there had been plenty of times where Obi-Wan had found that different perspective had complemented or even changed his own; times when Maul's decidedly non-Jedi view was a fine counterpoint to Obi-Wan's often too-Jedi one.

He wished that was the case this time.

"What if your former master is on Zigoola?" he asked, the anxiety that was in his throat making the words crack, the thought almost too much to bear even in brief.

As composed as Maul was, he couldn't hide the fear in his eyes at that question, nor the minute shiver through his shoulders. Obi-Wan could see the effort it took for him to keep it contained and manageable; could feel the edge of it through the Force, cold and sharp.

"I suppose," Maul said, a hint of a rough note in his voice, "that I will take the opportunity to rise up and slay him in the grand Sith tradition. If that opportunity presents itself." A beat. "I wouldn't want to put myself out too much, after all."

The joke -- at least, Obi-Wan thought it was a joke, though he suspected it was only half so -- got a breathless little laugh out of him. It didn't take away the sensation of being caught in a disaster much larger than he was prepared for, but it was better than an argument.

"You're not leaving me here," Maul added, more resolute. "Whatever waits there, you'll have a better chance of success with me than without me."

There wasn't honestly anything Maul could do, if Obi-Wan forced the issue; his parole wasn't freedom, however much it had come to look like it of late. But the thought of taking advantage of that made Obi-Wan queasier than he already was. He wasn't above being overbearing, something he was even aware of, something he even used on occasion, but he knew that would be an awful breach of the trust they had spent the past ten years building.

That just left the equally sick feeling of possibly exposing Maul to the master who had used him and then abandoned him, after having tortured him right to the brink, leaving him shattered and defenseless for the Council to rake through the pieces.

His conflict must have shown on his face, because Maul's hands twitched at his sides, and then he was reaching out; he hesitated a moment, unsure, then took hold of Obi-Wan's robes to tug him in, wrapping around him.

Obi-Wan sank himself gratefully into it, some small shelter from one of their many wars, and held on back as tight as he could get away with.

 

 

 

("Desperation," Vokara Che says, voice layered sorrow and sympathy, "not calculation."

Somehow, that's actually worse.)

 

 

 

"Welcome aboard," Organa said, dryly, standing on the edge of the ramp with a large lidded mug of steaming caf, just as dawn was breaking over Coruscant. "She's not flashy, but I went over her from stem to stern while I was waiting. She'll get us there."

Obi-Wan still felt shaken, and he was starting to run up against the fact that he had been gravely wounded only a handful of days prior, but their little stop at the park had helped. He doubted they would get much of a chance to be close while onboard the ship, so soaking in a few extra minutes of mutual comfort and contact had settled his nerves some, even if all of the things pressing on his mind had yet to evaporate.

"Thank you," Maul answered, carry-on strap over his shoulder, as he headed up the ramp without delay. Obi-Wan had a momentary flash of amusement at just how drastic the difference in height was, between Organa and Maul, the former nearly a full head taller than the latter.

"Yes, thank you, Senator," Obi-Wan added, feeling a little contrite about their prior clashing.

"No problem, Master Kenobi." Organa's voice was both casual and polite, though it wasn't hard to see that he was still braced for a fight. "Let me know once you're settled, I'll get us into the sky."

Obi-Wan nodded back, wrestling for a moment with the urge to apologize, but finding the words stuck in his throat. Instead, he offered as much of a smile as he could, before heading up into the Starfarer.

Despite its age, the ship did seem to be in good form. It was clearly older, but also clearly maintained, and there was something to be said for the tried and true mechanics of a popular civilian ship, especially since Obi-Wan knew that at least two of them, possibly all three of them, were capable of repairing it if there were problems. A quick check in the utility compartment confirmed that the vessel had all of the basic spare parts and required tools most non-catastrophic repairs would need.

Organa hiked an eyebrow at him on the way past, looking vaguely irritated, but didn't say anything about Obi-Wan's double-checking of the inventory.

The passenger compartment wasn't anything fancy, either; there were four bunks built into the walls, each with a privacy curtain. Maul had already claimed one of the bottom ones, stowing his gear neatly in the drawers underneath it; he glanced up when Obi-Wan walked in, a silent question as to how he was doing, and Obi-Wan gave him a nod back that he was all right.

Pity that the ship was too small for rooms; while it would be foolhardy to share one, Obi-Wan couldn't deny the temptation was there. He had gotten a bit spoiled on them sleeping together regularly, another of those simple pleasures to hold onto. He eyed the bunk, calculating the size of it silently.

Maul stood, cocking his head at that look. Then it apparently clicked, because he actually chuckled, a low and amused sound that made Obi-Wan's heart feel lighter, shaking his head. "I think you would have to use me as a mattress, for that to work."

As if Obi-Wan hadn't done so plenty of times already.

"Yes, well, someday I'm going to figure out a way to use you as a blanket instead," Obi-Wan quipped back, reaching up to give one of Maul's horns a light tug, hooking a finger around it and jostling his head gently. "The final chapter of my book, perhaps. I ought to get the full benefits of my audacious theft."

Maul obligingly allowed it, then ducked his head to free himself from the handling and eyed Obi-Wan with an arch look. "I insist on receiving a percentage of the profits, whenever you publish it."

"Done," Obi-Wan agreed, readily, and double-checked that they were alone before sealing the deal with a kiss.

And pouring every bit of his gratitude into it, too.

 

 

 

When they got to the cockpit, Organa was fairly quiet; he gave them both a tight smile as they found seats, but he didn't do more than ask if they were ready. Obi-Wan ended up sitting behind him; Maul ended up in the co-pilot's seat, reclining in the chair casually, stretching both legs out to cross them at the ankles under the console. There were only four seats in the small cockpit; Obi-Wan had no trouble imagining the Starfarer being taken on family vacations sometime in its life, given its configuration.

Organa didn't hesitate to file a false flight plan, something that made Obi-Wan raise an eyebrow, but he agreed with the measure and didn't really want to start arguing again. Instead of saying anything, he just turned his attention to his console and keyed the transponder beacon to transmit to the Temple. Outside the viewscreen, dawn was coloring the sky vividly red as they took off, before they were out of Coruscant's atmosphere and into the velvet blue-black of space.

Once they were clear of orbit and heading further away from the planet at sublight, Organa turned and said, "I'm going to call my wife and tell her about her cousin."

Part of their arguing before, in Organa's apartment, had been brought on by the fact that one of the ships lost at Falleen had Breha Organa's cousin aboard. Still on the very edge over everything that had happened, Obi-Wan had reacted to the man's shock and grief poorly and insensitively; when he had tried to take his leave after the backlash, Organa had snapped at him to sit down.

Obi-Wan had, but it had set the tone for the rest of their negotiations. Even now, given the hard look in Organa's dark eyes, Obi-Wan wondered if he had poisoned that well beyond saving.

A protest was on the tip of his tongue despite that; he still wasn't anywhere near convinced that Organa's friends weren't behind some of the intelligence leaks that the Republic forces had suffered recently. Word had not yet been released of the Falleen battle-group's demise, either, and the potential for it to get out before it was released officially was troublesome, not only for their intelligence, but also for the sake of victims' families.

But there was no denying the look of genuine grief Organa was wearing now, just under the surface of his stony mask; no denying the feeling of it in the air, the way it resonated. And on Alderaan was the woman he loved who would be hurting soon, too.

Obi-Wan gave a nod, murmuring, "Of course, Senator."

It seemed to be the right call; some of the tension eased and Organa turned back to his console, keying in the comm code for his wife's private line. Obi-Wan intentionally tuned out of the conversation, not wanting to intrude on the private moment; instead, he closed his eyes and turned his attention afield, into the Force, feeling for any hint of immediate danger. He didn't find one, though after getting caught in the terrorist bombing, he wondered if he even would.

He did sense the heavy ache of sorrow here, though. It felt suspiciously like his own, when he thought of the friends he had lost only several hours ago.

When he pulled himself back to the physical world, the conversation was just ending.

"It shouldn't take too long, it's nothing to worry about," Organa said, tightly, but there was an aching amount of affection in his voice. "I'll call when I get back, Dove."

"You do that," Breha said back, gazing at her husband from her small holographic representation, looking quite like she wanted to reach out to him. It was impossible to see her tears, but Obi-Wan could hear them in her voice. "And get some sleep, B. You still look run down."

"I will. I love you."

"I love you, too."

All through that, Maul had been watching, face unreadable but for a quiet curiosity. It surprised Obi-Wan a little bit, but he supposed that it shouldn't have.

What surprised him even more, though, was the way Organa glanced over to Maul and explained, after he had signed off with his wife, "She and her cousin were close. More like sisters; they grew up together. I didn't really want Breha to hear it from the Senate communiques, or even worse, from the holonet." As if there was nothing at all awkward about having been watched through that deeply personal call. "You have any siblings?"

"No, not that I know of," Maul answered, after nodding courteously for Organa's explanation.

Organa put them into hyperspace, once his first set of coordinates were keyed in -- another thing he and Obi-Wan had argued over, the fact that this trip would be done in stages and they would only receive their next destination after reaching the first -- then turned in his seat and crossed his arms. His face was still written in tired, solemn lines, but he didn't seem to have any problem paying attention to Maul. "I forgot to ask, but what do you identify as? Zabrak, human, hybrid? Something else?"

"Zabrak," Maul said, brow furrowing a little. "I suppose technically I'm Dathomirian, but--" he cut himself off and gestured to his horns as illustration. "Clearly I take after one half of my genetic code more strongly than the other half. I've always just thought of myself as zabrak."

"Dathomirian? As in, from Dathomir?" Organa thought about it for a moment. "I don't know much about it, except that it's in the Outer Rim and not very friendly to visitors from the Inner Core. I sometimes get travel advisories about it to pass on to traveling citizens of Alderaan."

"I don't know much myself; I can't remember ever being there."

It was surreal, watching Maul interact with someone else. He tended to keep to himself even when he had enough freedom to talk to others; by contrast, he was being downright conversational with Bail Organa. Obi-Wan wasn't quite sure how he felt about it. It wasn't a bad thing, but he still had to resist the urge to break into it and steer the conversation to more mundane topics.

And Organa didn't chase up any explanation for that answer, just nodded thoughtfully, which didn't help Obi-Wan's sense of wanting to intervene any. Then the senator glanced to Obi-Wan, drawing him back into the conversation with the look. "Well, I'm guessing none of us got enough sleep, but unless I'm mistaken, only one of us got blown up a week ago."

"I'm fine, Senator," Obi-Wan answered, impassive, trying to maintain this truce they seemed to have. "I'm capable of working on short sleep and I am healed."

"Sure. And there's a perfectly good bunk back there you could be in, too," Organa said, casually. "For supposedly being healed, you look awful. Go."

Back to this, then. Obi-Wan pressed his mouth into a line, crossing his own arms. "Well, while I appreciate that my good looks aren't enough to coerce you, you don't exactly look fresh yourself."

Organa shrugged. "No, but I don't have qualms about taking a stim, either. Are you always this obstinate, Master Kenobi, or have you just been saving this little dance for me? Should I be flattered? Offended?"

Maul was watching this exchange with a smirk tugging on his mouth, looking back and forth between them as they spoke. Obi-Wan felt a shot of mild pique at that, though he already knew he wasn't going to call attention to it. That would just encourage him, probably, he thought, peevishly, before eying Organa again. "I'm not being obstinate. Beyond the fact that stims are inadvisable for any number of reasons, your own wife thinks you need rest."

"You don't get to bring Breha into this," Organa answered, tone going a little frosty.

"The obvious solution to this problem," Maul said, straight-forwardly, breaking into the conversation, "is that both of you go and rest, and I mind the cockpit."

It was a perfectly sensible solution.

Obi-Wan knew full well his own urge to resist it was childish, tempted though he was. He huffed and palmed down his face, before rising to his feet. "Yes, fine."

Organa looked less certain at that; his face was fairly well-schooled, considering, but he didn't entirely hide his unease. But after a moment, he apparently made a decision and nodded. "Okay. It should only be about three hours before we reach the first set of coordinates. Wake us when we get there?"

Maul nodded back, and when Organa got up to push past Obi-Wan, he took the pilot's seat himself. "Thanks," Organa said, on the way out.

Obi-Wan lingered a moment longer, but he couldn't really stay irritated. He felt a little like they were already into some kind of uncharted territory, and it didn't help that once he stood, he could feel his fatigue keenly, and the faint but real echoes of pain.

He blinked out of his internal self-assessment to find Maul watching him, the worry back on his face. It honestly made Obi-Wan wonder if he really did look that bad; while he didn't doubt how much Maul cared for him, seeing it expressed so plainly -- by expression or touch -- was fairly new.

He tried and failed to force a smile back at it, and wished that they were back dancing in their warehouse, with no bombings and no dead friends and no continuing devastation in the near future. "That bad?"

"I can feel how tired you are from here, Obi-Wan," Maul answered, waving him off with a mild frown. "Go, rest."

Obi-Wan nodded, then palmed down his face and turned to head back into the passenger compartment. Organa had taken the other bottom bunk, so Obi-Wan just sat on Maul's and took his boots off carefully, then his belt and overtunic. He took his lightsaber with him when he crawled into the bunk above it, tucking it at the head of the bed, and then he sealed the curtain.

His thoughts ran over a dozen things, a hundred; fragments of anxieties and then more gentle things, and he hadn't really even started sorting them out by the time sleep overcame him. But just at the edge of it, the thought occurred that he and Bail had both been admonished to rest by someone who cared deeply for them, and if nothing else, they had that in common.

He rubbed his head against the pillow he wished he was sharing, and let sleep claim him.

Chapter Text

In the morning light, Coruscant was a jewel.

Oh, it had its flaws, to be sure. It had a truly unfortunate number of Jedi swarming around, for one. There remained some in the Senate who were thorns in his side. But on the grand scale, it was a jewel; a vast, heavily populated planet with teeming masses of sentient beings, none of whom were aware that they were actors on his greatest stage.

With every day that passed, Palpatine further cemented his grip not only on Coruscant, but on the galaxy.

His morning had begun early, but despite his affectations of weariness, he hadn't been asleep. When Windu and Yoda appeared to tell him about to fall of the Falleen battle-group, he had already been aware of it for almost an hour's time. After they had left, Palpatine had handled a few more calls he had needed to make, both for the Republic and for the CIS. When word came that Bail Organa was on the move, he had instructed his informant to follow and report back when Organa was in the air through the series of communications relays that assured his own anonymity.

The one thing Palpatine hadn't expected was the presence of his former apprentice.

He had known Kenobi would go. Organa, upon receiving the intelligence from his private network (which had been compromised quite some time ago, though they were unaware of that) had done exactly what Palpatine had predicted, and had gone to his fellow Security Committee cohort, Padmé Amidala. She, in turn, had contacted the Jedi she trusted most next to her secret husband. Thus had been his plan; Zigoola could defend itself and with even the smallest amount of fortune, he would be rid of the two of them at once with minimal effort. Organa was well-liked by many but difficult to control; Kenobi was merely in the way, especially in regards to young Anakin. Ridding himself of both was an opportunity he couldn't pass up.

That had been his plan, but Maul being there...

Oh, that changed things.

When Maul failed to die on Naboo, as he should have done when he allowed hubris to overcome his better judgment and fell to Obi-Wan Kenobi, it had been on Palpatine to render him incapable of identifying his former master. Getting close enough had not been easy -- as strong as Palpatine was, the Temple was a fortress -- and in the end, he could not get within enough proximity to kill his former assassin outright and had to settle for attempting a memory rub.

Given that he had been reading his apprentice's mind since childhood, whenever it suited him, it was much like walking the halls of a residence that he himself owned and shaped. There wasn't a secret that Maul had that his master didn't know; while forcibly mind-controlling him as he grew would have left him a vegetable -- Maul had willpower, if nothing else -- Palpatine had no trouble finding every insecurity, every desire, every fear, every idle thought and no trouble using those insights to gain the result he wanted, carefully forged over time.

Going back to that same mind allowed him a moment to reflect on how well he had crafted this weapon and, in some self-admonishment, to take stock of his own mistakes so that he might achieve better results the next time.

There was no resistance. He was pleased that Maul hadn't broken under the Council's continued onslaught, though he could feel where his former apprentice's shields had been battered and where the cracks were forming. By contrast, his own mental touch was not only allowed but desperately latched onto.

This gives me no pleasure, he had sent along the threads of dark energy he was weaving across the distance between them, but of course, that wasn't strictly the truth.

A blanket wipe would have taken too long. He targeted precisely his own presence, erasing his visage and voice with the sharpness of a scalpel and as much surrounding it as necessary to protect his own identity. At some point, Maul managed to rally in an attempt to fight back, stunned and betrayed and in agony, but it didn't matter. He never stood a chance.

Palpatine did have a moment where he felt regret, not for Maul, but for the fact that all of the effort he had put into his apprentice had been squandered in a moment of boyish pride. It was like seeing what had been an artist's first pivotal work destroyed.

No matter, though. On the shattered pieces of the first and the idealistic but foolish platform of the second, his third apprentice would be his greatest work of art yet.

After he was neutralized (and it only cost LiMerge, which was disappointing but not catastrophic), it turned out that Maul did have some use left.

Anakin hated him.

Anakin resented him.

And as the only one who knew about the ex-Sith in the Temple who wasn't a Jedi, Palpatine had the pleasure of basking in the boy's bitterness finding its way to expression. He was careful not to overtly encourage it, but he had no trouble at all doing so covertly.

Now, he had an unprecedented opportunity to push Anakin right over the edge. And once again, Maul was the tool which he could use to do it.

He watched the traffic moving over his city, thumb rubbing the facets of the crystal in his hand, and he smiled to himself.

Chapter Text

"Anakin!"

Bail's eyes shot open.

A moment ago, he had been trying to explain to his tutor why he hadn't completed his assigned coursework -- choosing instead to go fishing, whoops -- and in the next moment there was the anguished cry of a Jedi Master, sharply bringing him back to awareness. Bail stayed in his bunk for the three or four seconds it took to make sure his heart wasn't on the ceiling of the thing, grateful he hadn't sat up in a start to bang his head on it.

This wasn't his idea of a good time. Six days ago, he never would have guessed that he would be in a small Starfarer, flying off on the word of his intelligence network, with a Jedi and a-- well, so far only a confirmed expert on the Sith. But even though he hadn't really anticipated it, Bail knew that he had to be here.

He rolled out of the bunk that had been a few centimeters too short for his long legs, having not bothered pulling the privacy curtain, and then up onto his feet only to almost run into Maul, who was staring at Kenobi's bunk with a mildly startled expression.

"Prescient," Maul commented, eying Kenobi with worry when the Jedi opened the curtain on his bunk, looking out at them, still clearly spooked. "Skywalker wants to talk to you."

"Oh," Kenobi answered, seemingly dazed, scrubbing at his eyes before hopping down to the floor, heading for the cockpit with a faint stagger in his step; from what little look Bail got of him, he was a bit paler than normal.

"Are we there yet?" Bail asked Maul, managing to resist making a joke about family vacations that he was pretty sure, just on observation, Maul wouldn't get.

"Yes. We'd only just dropped out of hyperspace when Skywalker called."

Bail nodded and slipped past him to head into the cockpit, only to find Kenobi arguing with someone else for once.

"--lost Artoo in the field," Skywalker was saying, looking uncomfortable.

"Anakin, I know you're fond of Artoo, but--"

"Master, I could take a squad out there and find him."

Kenobi palmed down his face and then crossed his arms, sighing out in a way that parents the galaxy over had perfected somewhere during evolution, regardless of species. Bail kept his expression peaceable and did his best not to smirk. He didn't hate the Jedi -- far from it, he thought Kenobi was admirable in a lot of ways -- but it was nice seeing someone give him back a little of the frustration he had been giving Bail the past few days.

"As much as I appreciate your loyalty to Artoo, putting a squad at risk to find one droid is a bad idea," Kenobi said, softening his tone. "You might have to let him go, Anakin."

Skywalker winced. "Uh, about that..."

Bail felt Maul come back up to the cockpit entrance and glanced over to find him peering around Bail's shoulder in order to watch. He happened to be wearing the smirk that Bail really wanted to wear himself. He also apparently had no issue with Bail taking up most of the doorway, so long as he could see past.

"...I never wiped his memory."

Kenobi startled visibly, sucking in a breath. "Oh, Anakin."

"Is this a spectator sport for you?" Bail asked quietly, leaning his head to the side to keep it between him and the zabrak, barely glancing away from where Kenobi looked ready to have a whole litter of felinx kits right there in the cockpit.

Maul just nodded back, almost absently, which was as good an answer as any when paired with him grinning in a manner that Bail would readily classify as 'feral.'

Skywalker's hologram winced even more sharply. "I know, I know. Believe me, I know the risks if he falls into the wrong hands."

Kenobi covered his mouth and chin with the tips of his fingers, both hands, the distress pretty clear in his posture. It did make Bail feel a little less like smirking, unwilling sympathy for the Jedi creeping in. Then Kenobi dropped his hands and his head, looking down for a moment to compose himself before looking up again. "All right. Take a squad, find your droid. But Anakin, please be quick about it. The longer he's lost, the more dangerous this becomes."

"Thank you, Master," Skywalker said, his sag of relief even visible from back here. "Uh-- could you maybe, uh--"

Kenobi sighed. "Yes, I'll message the Council and tell them you're just handling the mopping up operations. But if it goes on too long, then you're going to have to face up to them on your own."

"Yes, Master. Thank you. May the Force be with you."

"And you," Kenobi said, before cutting off the transmission. Then he turned around and crossed his arms, expression turning distinctly irritated. "Don't you have anything better to do?"

Bail wasn't sure which one of them he was addressing, since Kenobi had eyed them both, but Maul answered before he had a chance to ask. "I could get you something to eat; we missed breakfast," he said, mildly, leaning on the doorframe opposite of Bail, who shifted sideways to accommodate.

"That sounds like a good idea. Grab me something, too?" Bail asked, while he caught Kenobi's expression shifting through emotions in his peripheral vision, as if he couldn't figure out whether he wanted to stay annoyed or maybe try something else on for size.

"Certainly." Maul pushed away from the frame and headed back to the closet-sized galley.

That left Kenobi and Bail, which was sure to devolve into a verbal wrestling match. Bail headed back up to the pilot's seat, sitting down and giving his eyes a quick rub. "Sounds like your padawan's a handful," he commented, trying for diplomacy.

"Former padawan," Kenobi answered, icily, returning to the seat he'd claimed at the start of the trip.

Well, so much for diplomacy, then. Bail dropped his hand and just regarded the Jedi for a moment, working things over in his mind. "Not so sure he knows that, though. The first thing he did was call you, when he got into trouble," he pointed out, not unkindly. "And you woke up yelling for him right before that."

Kenobi glowered at him, stiffly; in just a loose undertunic and some leggings, it wasn't nearly the intimidating picture he probably thought it was. "Do you have a point that you plan on getting to sometime today?"

"Mostly just curiosity." Bail shrugged. "I mean, the lives of Jedi are steeped in mystery and I'm pretty sure that the Coruscant gossip rags aren't exactly fact checking their constant stream of articles about the Order. You spend your whole life being raised in a Temple with no ties to your blood family and you're not allowed, what, attachment? I guess that call just seemed really familial."

It probably felt like a trap, even though Bail didn't mean it to be one -- not exactly, anyway -- because Kenobi failed to hide his wariness. It wasn't quite the lofty expression of offense that Bail expected it to be, which was another piece of the puzzle that he added to the larger picture he was building, and had been building since this mission came up.

"I'd thank you to mind your own business, Senator, and stay out of mine," Kenobi finally said, making a show of turning away to check the console he was sitting at and probably to send a message to the Temple.

The evasion was obvious, but Bail didn't push on it. He just shrugged to himself and turned back to check his own console. "We're about three parsecs trailing Kuat. Doesn't look like we've gotten our next set of coordinates yet."

Kenobi made a noncommittal noise back, half grunt and half explosive-breath-of-exasperation.

This is going to be a very long trip, Bail reflected, rubbing over his forehead and eyes and down the bridge of his nose.

 

 

 

It took Maul a surprisingly long time to make it back to the cockpit; long enough that Bail almost called back there to ask if he'd gotten lost. But when he came back, it was quickly evident why; he had actually bothered to heat the food for them -- looked like hot cereal and the smell made Bail's stomach rumble -- and put it into bowls, rather than just grab whatever packs were on the shelf and bring them. How he juggled three bowls, two mugs of tea and a bottle of water made Bail think he probably would have made a good waiter in another life.

"Wow. That's five star service," Bail said, grinning kind of tongue-in-cheek, not failing to catch the way Kenobi's face softened fractionally when he took his breakfast. He made sure to add, "Thanks," when he took his own.

"You're welcome," Maul answered, once he handed over the water and sat in his own chair. "I didn't know how you took your tea."

"Splash of cream, spoon of honey," Bail said, with a shrug. "But the water's fine."

Maul nodded back at that, crossing his ankles again and settling into the chair with a casual calm that Kenobi couldn't seem to manage to unbend enough to allow. Despite what he was starting to grasp was an incredibly complicated story, Bail liked the zabrak. He didn't seem in any hurry to cast judgment on the fact that Bail was a politician. He also had yet to eye Bail like he was an inconvenience to be tolerated.

And he had bothered to make them breakfast. The warm and sweet smell of the cereal made the cockpit feel about thirty times less tense; Bail didn't know how the other two felt about it, but for himself, it reminded him of home, enough that he could close his eyes and feel the morning light through the windows of the palace at Aldera, could see Breha's little grin as he made quick work of breakfast and got himself seconds.

Even Kenobi seemed to uncoil some, eating slowly but steadily, shoulders finally at rest against the back of his seat.

It made Bail smile, but he wasn't quite sure why.

"So, I have a question," he said, pointing at Maul with his spoon. "How long did it take for you to get all of those?" When Maul blinked at him, confused, that temporarily threw Bail off until it clicked. "The tattoos," he added to elaborate.

"I don't know; quickly, from what I've been able to gather." Maul eyed him in bemusement. "They're markings, rather than tattoos, though they've been called both by others. I've always had them."

"Really?" Bail blinked. "I've never seen a zabrak with any pattern like that before. Is that something specific to Dathomir?"

Kenobi had gotten tense again, though Bail didn't look directly at him. Huh.

"Supposedly." Maul just shrugged, not seeming put out by the questions, turning most of his attention back to his breakfast. "I know little about them, aside that they're apparently created via witchcraft and that the magic goes to the genetic level. They changed a little as I grew into them."

"Witchcraft," Bail echoed, though he kept his skepticism from his voice.

Maul nodded back. "I'm afraid I can't assuage much of your curiosity about Dathomir, though. I was born a Nightbrother, but I wasn't raised one. I've had no encounters with any others, though I have encountered Nightsisters in the past."

Bail nodded, just absorbing that, then half-grinned. "Well, if you have anything you want to ask about, I owe you a whole bunch of questions now."

"I wasn't aware we were counting." Maul tilted his head, regarding him, then quirked his brow in acceptance. "How did you meet her?" he asked. "Your wife."

Oh, there was a topic that Bail could jump onboard of with both feet. He didn't have any misgivings about it, though he supposed he should. But he thought he was a decent judge of character, and there had been nothing about the question that wasn't available in public record anyway, at least in terms of actual events.

So, he grinned broadly. "Actually, we were set up by our houses. I don't know if you know anything about Alderaan's history, but about ten years ago, there was a pretty tense period where everyone was trying to figure out whose family had claim on the crown. It was between the Organa family and the Antilles family. Eventually, it was granted to us, thanks to a team of Jedi to mediate--" There, Bail nodded respectfully to Kenobi, who managed to nod back the same. "--but given the hard feelings, they thought a marriage between houses might soften things up again."

"The Acendancy Contention," Maul said, which surprised Bail a little, though not unpleasantly.

"Yeah. I had seen Breha around before that, here or there, but we had never really interacted." Bail raised his shoulders in a cheerful shrug. "We hit it off in pretty spectacular form. I think that I was head over heels in-- oh, maybe five seconds. The first thing she did was look me up and down really slowly," he said, gesturing, "and say, with this thoughtful voice, 'Well, it could be worse.' I started laughing -- I was pretty nervous, I have to say -- and she grinned at me and that was it. I was done."

Just the memory made him chuckle, even with the deep ache of longing in his chest that he had become entirely too familiar with. He smiled down into his half-empty bowl. "She still makes me laugh. I'm only half as clever, but I try to do the same for her."

When he looked up, he found them both watching him with nearly identical expressions. It was probably the first time Bail had seen Kenobi's face without businesslike seriousness or some kind of hostility or wariness. The little smile tugging at the corners of his mouth was infectious and Bail grinned back at him, shrugging sheepishly.

Before any of them got a chance to talk, though, the communicator went off. Bail leaned back and fished it out of his pocket. "Oop. Time for the next set of coordinates. I'll be back in a few," he said, getting up and heading back to the passenger compartment for privacy.

It didn't take him long -- a few minutes -- to decrypt the coordinates, and then he slipped back up to the cockpit to input them.

"Where are we headed?" Kenobi asked, his voice considerably more relaxed than it had been.

"Working that out now," Bail answered, telling the navicomp to calculate them after he was finished typing them into the console. After a moment, the answer came up and he turned to look at the other two. "Atzerri. Just shy of seventeen hours flight time."

Kenobi nodded. "Towards the Inner Rim."

"Yeah." Bail sank down into his seat, leaning back and crossing his arms behind his head, after he'd put the ship back into hyperspace. "Plenty of time for us to catch up on our shut-eye, too. So, my turn to mind the ship and you two can hit the bunks."

"Do you ever plan on allowing me a turn?" Kenobi asked, but without any of his prior hostility. A nice change, Bail had to admit. Maybe telling the story of meeting Breha had made him into more of a person the Jedi could relate to, though that was a bit of a mind-bender, given what he knew of the Order.

"Maybe," Bail said, drawing the word out like taffy, grinning. "Later, though. I actually do have some work I'd like to get done. Correspondences, bill reviews, budget requesitions. Stuff like that."

Kenobi pulled a face that was unmistakably sour, though good-humored. "Sounds delightful. In that case, I'll take my leave," he said, rising to his feet and finishing his tea with one long swallow, then gathering his empty bowl and mug to take back to the galley.

Satisfied that he didn't have to argue it out with Kenobi, Bail turned his attention to Maul, who seemed to be lost in thought and contemplating his tea. Or maybe dozing with his eyes open. Bail stretched out a foot and knocked his ankle against Maul's leg, making him jump a little. "You too. Before you fall asleep."

Maul squinted at him, though there wasn't any notable irritation there. Then he gestured with his mug. "I have to clean the dishes, yet."

"Don't worry about it, I'll get them. You brought the food, the least I can do is clean up after." Bail made a shooing gesture. "Rest easy."

 

 

 

Working proved to be harder than Bail had really wanted it to be. After he finished the last of his breakfast and did the dishes like he'd promised, he went back to the cockpit to get to it, taking his valise with him. Like Bail, Maul hadn't bothered with the curtain; like before, Kenobi had his pulled firmly shut. Either way, Bail walked softly so he didn't disturb them.

The minutiae of being a senator could keep a man busy for more hours than there were in a standard day; he was the representative of his world and system in the Senate, but on top of that, he was a representative of the greater Republic, too. And in the midst of a war, that was a weight that could crush a person.

He still felt gut-churning unease whenever he thought about the sight of all of those clone troops marching in formation. He had introduced a bill already to provide those men with pay, but it had been shot down before it even made it out of committee; impassioned pleas about how the Republic didn't abide slavery also hadn't made it out of committee.

Bail was ready to take the fight all the way to the people, but he couldn't do it without enough popular support in the Senate. Political capital was expensive to build and easy to squander, and given the puff pieces that the media kept running on the success of the troops and the Jedi -- and carefully avoiding the sight of bodies and the names of the fallen -- Bail was going to have to work for a long time to build enough support to change conditions. Padmé was his closest ally in this, at least outside of his wife, but the whole group of them were vastly outnumbered.

In the meantime, there was also dealing with the Separatists and worlds that wavered on whether to join them. Dooku was a charismatic individual; well-spoken, seemingly sincere, though whenever Bail watched his speeches, he felt divided on how much the man actually believed what he said. The more heavily capitalist systems tended towards his philosophies on taxation and resources, which tapped into disputes older than time; disputes which were between those who had, those who didn't and how much responsibility anyone had for anyone else.

Bail was a fierce individualist, but only to his own right of self-determination; his family had a private fortune that was unrelated to his political career and he backed up his charitable contributions with his flesh, throwing himself into the work of renewal or distribution whenever he had the time. Alderaan as a world regularly opened itself to refugees and even more regularly sent aid to struggling worlds.

He was aware -- very aware -- of his own privilege in life. He had never wanted for anything; had never gone hungry, had never gone cold. His education was expansive and privately tutored. His family had employed living beings, rather than droids, as caretakers and teachers.

They had also taught him that all of his privilege in life meant one thing above all: He owed it back in service to others.

He started with half a stim and a cup of caf, and worked his way through the briefs that detailed current ongoing conflicts, not only in the Senate, but in the greater Republic. When he couldn't make himself read another word of those, he turned to correspondences. He wrote three recommendations for the Republic's Officer Candidate School for three of his constituents, once he reviewed their records, then he turned down two more based on their applications, though he did so kindly and suggested reapplying the next year. He answered letters of gratitude and letters of anger. His staff took a lot of the burden of this from his shoulders, usually handling anything that only required official responses -- on his platform, on his current sponsored bills, things like that -- but they passed on anything that they thought he should attend to himself.

In between all of these tasks, he thought about his company aboard.

When he wasn't thinking about them, he thought of his wife.

He had a bit of a headache by the time Kenobi came in, sitting down beside him in the co-pilot's seat.

Bail took the excuse to set down his datapad next to the four others he had laying on the console and rub over his forehead, though only after checking the chronometer. "Couldn't sleep more?" he asked, given it had only been about four hours.

"No, I feel all right." Kenobi eyed the console and the datapads on it, one eyebrow up. "You brought all of this with you?"

Bail huffed a little laugh. "The galaxy never sleeps. The senator occasionally gets to, though." He leaned back again and folded his arms behind his head, peering at the Jedi sitting there. Kenobi had put his belt and boots back on, though he was still only wearing his undertunic; he looked quietly preoccupied. "Something happening?" Bail asked.

"No." Kenobi shook his head. "Nothing I can sense, at least beyond a general sense of unease. But it's been that way since the war broke out."

Bail nodded; while he didn't really understand much about the Jedi, he trusted their intuition. Their ability to perceive danger was legendary, though it apparently didn't make them invincible, if how Kenobi had looked earlier was any indicator. "You said it, back at my apartment. It's terrible."

"And the pieces run on the news fail to convey that." Kenobi crossed his arms, but this time, the posture was more relaxed. "A friend of mine, right before the terrorist attack, told me that it all looked too clean from Coruscant."

"Sounds like a wise friend to have."

"Yes, he is." Kenobi smiled a little, shaking his head. "He has a diner I used to like to frequent; now that I'm apparently something of a celebrity, that's gotten much harder. I wish the Chancellor hadn't encouraged such media interest."

"I can understand why, though," Bail pointed out. "I don't agree with it, but I see his reasoning. I just don't think he realizes how it's going to backfire. And it will backfire, it's only a matter of time."

The Jedi looked up there, eying him more keenly. Still, it wasn't a return to hostilities, and after a moment, his mouth quirked into a rueful smile. "Indeed."

"Padmé was telling me some about how she thinks it all started with Naboo, after you left us that first time." Bail gestured loosely behind his own head, closing his eyes just so he wouldn't make eye contact with Kenobi and issue any unwitting challenges. "About the blockade, about the liberation. About the Sith showing up. I'm sorry about your master."

There was a long beat there, then Kenobi said, "He's one with the Force now."

His voice had taken on an edge again, though he did a pretty good job keeping it as unobtrusive as he likely could. Bail nodded. "I have to admit, though, I'm kind of curious as to how everything played out. According to her, you cut the Sith in half and sent him down a reactor pit."

Kenobi didn't answer.

"So, how come he's back there sleeping in a bunk?" Bail asked, only now looking at the Jedi.

Said Jedi was bristling; his face was composed, but his eyes were blazing and his body language was that of a man ready to throw down, be it with fists or saber. "Padmé told you that much?" he asked, tightly.

Bail shook his head, making absolutely sure he kept his own posture nonthreatening. "No. C'mon, Master Kenobi. I might be a politician, but I'm not an idiot. The Sith haven't been heard from in a thousand years. Maul's an expert on them, but he's not a Jedi. Padmé never told me you killed him, and she's not careless with her language. He sleeps with his shirt off but his boots on, and when I gave him that tap earlier, there was no give on that leg. There are other things that caught me, but those are more than enough to draw a conclusion."

"This is Jedi business." Kenobi was obviously furious right now. "It's not yours."

"He was part of an attack on a Republic world, against Republic citizens," Bail answered, reasonably. He finally took his arms from behind his head and crossed them instead, softening his own tone, because while it was clear Kenobi was very, very angry, it was also clear that he was afraid. "Look, I'm not rushing back there with my blaster or saying we should space him. I'm just asking for the story. A few days ago, you were telling me what a dangerous threat the Sith are, but I was just sharing breakfast with one a few hours ago."

Kenobi took a few breaths, jaw knotted and gaze fixed with uncomfortable intensity on Bail. Bail, in turn, wondered if Kenobi was aware of just how obvious he was and decided that he probably wasn't.

"Former Sith," the Jedi finally said, voice quiet, but diamond hard. "His survival and presence here is a long story."

"We have time, but I'm willing to settle for it in brief for now," Bail answered, relaxing into the chair as much as he could considering that look. If such looks could kill, he would have been vaporized a few times over by now.

"The dark side sustains, but doesn't heal." Kenobi crossed his own arms, though more tightly, and never looked away from Bail in open challenge. "He was angry enough and hateful enough to cling to life, and a maintenance technician found him right before he would have been loaded onto a dump ship. The Temple and Order took custody of him, healed him and he's been their prisoner since."

Their, not our.  Bail nodded, thoughtfully. There were several things about that explanation he definitely didn't like, but he was careful not to sound antagonistic when he asked, "Why wasn't he ever brought to trial?"

"I've already explained the secrecy to you."

"You said the Chancellor knew. Couldn't he have officiated?" Bail asked, brow furrowing. "I mean, you've been keeping Maul prisoner for ten years without even having a conviction."

That was apparently the last straw for Obi-Wan Kenobi; he didn't raise his voice, but he was baring his teeth. "Tell me, beyond the obvious logistics issues there are with trying a Sith Lord who shouldn't even exist, where would he ever get a fair trial? Do you mean to tell me that your courts would give due consideration to all of the facets of his case and bring back a truly fair ruling, Senator? Or would they see only a monster to sacrifice to the collective desire for revenge? Should the Chancellor whose judgement we're both questioning be the sole judge, the only jury?"

Now they were getting somewhere. Bail raised his eyebrows, but he didn't interrupt.

"Then say that he did get convicted, where would the Republic put him? The only place he could be safely contained is the Temple. The other options would require levels of cruelty that a non-Force user would never understand." Kenobi grit his teeth together, still looking like he could strangle Bail with his own two hands. "There is no one who has wrestled with these issues harder than I have. Not in the Temple. Not outside of the Temple. It was my Master who fell to Maul's blade, and it was my swing which cut him down, and I have spent the last ten years trying to find my way through this. So, whatever injustice you're suggesting is happening here, Senator Organa, I can guarantee you're wrong."

Everything Bail did know about the Jedi told him that such anger (and fear) was forbidden. That Kenobi was failing big-time at the serenity that the Order demanded of its members. That he had crossed several lines and broken at least a few confirmed rules.

But oddly, it made Bail warm to him. Like this, Kenobi wasn't lofty, wasn't exuding superiority out of every pore. He was just a man, imperfect and flawed, but clearly full of heart.

There were a lot more questions he intended to ask, but for now, Bail was willing to bide his time, both for a chance to think things over, and to give Kenobi a chance to handle how he had to be feeling right now. So, he just nodded back, then half-shrugged. "I like him. He reminds me of Breha, actually. Smart, observant, has a great sabacc face, but a good sense of humor laying in wait for the right moment. Thoughtful, but not overbearing."

That apparently caught Kenobi off-guard; he looked entirely taken aback and at a complete loss for words. After a moment, he nodded tentatively, then rubbed at his eyes with a hand that was trembling just enough for Bail to catch it. "I'd rather not talk any more about it."

"I should be getting back to work, anyway." Bail reached over and picked up his datapad. They were going to end up talking more about it, he was sure of that, but better to let there be some cool-down time. "Are you hungry yet? I'm thinking about lunch."

"Not yet." Kenobi rose to his feet, stiffly. "I'm going to go meditate."

Bail just nodded and let him go.

If they'd managed to call a truce once, then they'd figure out a way to do it again.

Chapter Text

His dreams were unsettled.

By some quirk of biology or psychology, Maul didn't dream often. When he did, it was usually unpleasant in some manner, be it from nightmares or from the vague sense of surreality that accompanied it. Most of the time, he didn't remember what he had been dreaming, even when it woke him in a start.

He didn't remember this time, either, but for the sense of unease on waking, the sense of having been somewhere else.

He didn't startle out of his bunk, though. Just took a moment to stretch out with his senses, and it only took him a split second to realize that Obi-Wan was meditating close at hand, the sense of the Force gathered around the Jedi almost like being caught in the warm-and-cool currents of a river, just on the edge of it, something not unlike a caress.

When Maul could be bothered with turning to his other side to watch, he did so, sliding his arm crooked back under his pillow and in no rush to get up yet.

Moving meditation was nothing he was unfamiliar with; he was good at both forms, stillness and motion, though after Theed he had usually tended towards the former. There was something unsettling about moving meditation when he could only really feel it halfway; he had always been most comfortable in a grounded state, drawing his power from the feet up, propelling himself into the air off of that platform and returning to it just as smoothly. For the same reason, Maul preferred being on a living planet to in a ship, though he was -- or had been -- equally as effective in both places.

Obi-Wan had, at some point, offered to help him come up with an alchaka routine of his own, but Maul had turned him down. Not because it was a light side technique -- he had found over the past ten years especially that the Force was more fluid than he had been brought up to believe -- but because he wasn't sure he wanted to feel the extent of what he wasn't anymore.

There were moments even now where the ache of loss was breath-stealing.

Still, he enjoyed watching Obi-Wan move through the repetitive sequences. Maul was relatively indifferent to the concept of attraction, and had been-- for quite a long time now, though he knew at some point in his teenage years he had started to grasp such things. But there was something pleasurable about watching someone who was less gifted with grace find a state of it anyway. Obi-Wan had always been the more blunt of the two of them, even at Theed; his grace came by work, by effort, whereas Maul's had been inborn and only in need of refinement. It was hard not to admire Obi-Wan's striving. His raw passion in their first battle had been beautiful; his refined art now was its own kind of the same.

And the light was drawn to him so naturally and completely that it seemed more like favor than anything else.

He must have sensed he was being watched, though, because his precise movements faltered; different Force users perceived such things different ways. For his own part, Maul tended to feel it as an almost tactile thing; the prickle of awareness across his skin, to complement the hum of the Force at large, the flow like invisible lines of current he could direct bodily. Obi-Wan had said before that he tended to perceive it more abstractly, though no less strongly; more a state of being than a state of body. Somewhere in there, he must have caught the focus on that being.

Every once in awhile, their mirroring of one another made Maul grin. It wasn't a perfect mirror, they did share commonalities, but there were enough opposites to keep things interesting, too.

Obi-Wan smoothly brought himself out of form and settled down with his back against the bunk, bare shoulders shining with sweat, breathing hard. Maul curled up a little more in a not-quite-half-circle behind that back, shifting his head on the pillow and his own arm just to be able to see Obi-Wan's face. "Good?" he inquired, still feeling pleasantly drowsy.

"Good enough, anyway," Obi-Wan answered, tipping his head backwards and to the side in a not-even-slightly subtle request to be petted.

He seemed disturbed, despite the meditation. Maul wrinkled his nose a little at combing fingers through sweaty hair, but he obliged anyway, careful not to accidentally yank on it. "What are you thinking?"

"The senator knows about Naboo." A beat. "About you."

Maul's fingers paused briefly as he tried to figure out the extent of that statement. That he was formerly a Sith? Beyond that, that he was currently quite deeply involved with a Jedi? But he couldn't honestly say he was surprised; he hadn't volunteered it, but he also hadn't gone to any pains to pretend to be anything but what he was, either. "I'm guessing he worked this out for himself," he said, neutral acceptance, resuming his petting.

Obi-Wan nodded, mouth in a thin line.

"I suppose the fact that I'm not locked up or worse suggests he's handling it well enough."

"I suppose." Obi-Wan took a deeper breath and let it out carefully, then resumed a slower rhythm as he cooled down from his exercises. "I don't like it, though."

Maul quirked his brow in something of a shrug. He really wasn't surprised by it, though he was a little bit moreso at his own hope that it didn't destroy his standing in the senator's eyes. He usually reserved his opinion on other beings, sometimes for quite a long time, but he came to an uncharacteristically quick conclusion that he liked Organa. There was something novel about being treated as if he were just another person, and not a prisoner or former-Sith or a very alarmingly colored zabrak.

Thinking on it, he wondered if that wasn't actually the first time anyone had ever done so.

"Why not?" he asked, after a few moments thought.

If it was uncharacteristic for Maul to decide quickly that he liked someone, it was equally so for Obi-Wan to struggle with words. But after half a minute of clearly doing so, Obi-Wan just gave a half-shake of his head. "I don't know. I just don't."

"He was bound to find out eventually. There are only so many ways to explain how I know what I do."

"What if he decides to tell everyone else? He wanted to know why you hadn't had a trial."

Maul huffed at that. Honestly, the concept had never crossed his mind, not even abstractly. Once he was a prisoner, he was a prisoner; for all of his raging against that fate early on, some part of him knew his likelihood of ever seeing anything remotely like freedom again was so unlikely as to be nearly nonexistent. "If he asks, I'll probably point out that where I am is considerably better than where I deserve to be."

That was apparently a surprise, because Obi-Wan turned and stared at him, shock and dismay on his face. "--what?"

Maul blinked back at him, mildly startled, pulling his hand back. "What?" he asked in turn, confused.

"Is that what you think?"

This had just gotten strange; for half a second, Maul wondered if he was still asleep. "I think you might have started another conversation without me."

"No, I really didn't." Obi-Wan palmed down his face, and then eyed him. "You didn't deserve to be in that situation in Theed in the first place."

More than strange. Maul narrowed his eyes as if he could somehow peer through that statement to see if it might make sense from the other side. What he ultimately came up with, though, was an even deeper bafflement. "I've killed two Jedi masters and one padawan. Beyond over a hundred others across various political, business and criminal organizations," he said, a little slowly; Obi-Wan knew all of that, but it had been years since the topic had really come up. "I have few regrets about it."

Kilindi Matako was one. Darsha Assant was one. Some of the other Orsis cadets. He was on the fence about Patch Bruit and Lorn Pavan. And even then, Kilindi was the only regret he had that was an aching, deeply personal one; the others were more abstract, the sense of lost potential rather than anything else.

But Qui-Gon Jinn was not, even if he had grown to regret the heartbreak that it caused Obi-Wan.

"And what exactly were your choices, at the time?" Obi-Wan asked back, though the flicker of grief across his eyes was unmistakable. "Succeed and live, or fail and die? If you would have succeeded against us, then you would have just been sent out on another awful mission, then another, then yet another, until finally, one of them proved to be the last. And if you had failed and returned to that monster who trained you from infancy, he would have--"

"Stop." Hard jolts of adrenaline were nothing new to Maul, but not being able to even fight back against the cause was a singularly awful experience he still hadn't fully come to grips with yet. "I'm not discussing this with you."

He couldn't bear to be horizontal anymore, so he managed to get out around Obi-Wan, though he was careful even then not to accidentally kick the man. He didn't really feel better up on his feet, but it was motion, at least, and he tightened his hands into fists in some attempt to control the urge to claw.

Through a wall, through himself, through whatever would make escape from this feeling possible.

Obi-Wan was up only a few seconds later, expression a confused mix between guilt and determination, and Maul heard himself say, almost at a distance, through a tunnel, "I don't--"

He wasn't sure what happened next, only that when sense returned, he was sitting in a sprawl of cybernetic and human limbs, all awkward angles, and shaking so hard his teeth rattled despite the fact that he had his face mostly buried in Obi-Wan's shoulder.

There was something about this which he thought was ill-advised, even if he couldn't remember right then what, enough that he managed to ask breathlessly, "What about--?"

And Obi-Wan answered, raggedly, "I don't care," and tightened the already tight grip he had, something that should have felt restrictive and yet didn't. "I don't care, darling, I have you."

 

 

 

There was nothing to feel after that but wrung-out.

Maul understood little about it, about these episodes or whatever they were, where he seemed to lose all place and all control of himself. He was more used to it than he liked to acknowledge, though it seemed to happen comparatively sporadically and unpredictably, at least to his own mind. The worst period had been the first couple of years after Iloh, though Maul had his moments before that, too. Obi-Wan was usually the one who could guess what was about to happen, and sometimes even seemed able to head it off before it hit. Occasionally, in the dazed and fragmented state after, Maul wondered if that was a function of Obi-Wan's Force senses or if it was just the years of practice.

He wished he knew how to stop it. He was a little distressed that it seemed to be getting worse again, not better. Sometimes it was only disorienting, usually for a block of minutes. Sometimes, though, it felt like he had just been in battle for hours, days, weeks, months and he felt adrift after, raw and lost.

He must have dozed off at some point sitting there; he woke up back in his bunk, still feeling sore and shaken up, but at least more together. Obi-Wan was still right there, this time sitting beside the bunk with his cheek on his forearm on said bunk, using his other hand to trace the markings up and down Maul's forearm lightly.

The urge to apologize in this context wasn't unfamiliar, so Maul did. His voice was rough, though he was at least mostly sure he hadn't been screaming.

"This isn't something you ever have to apologize for," Obi-Wan answered, firmly.

It was a lost cause to argue with that, whether Maul believed it or not; he never won that one, and he didn't know if he ever would. Arguing about the relative inconvenience of being rather defective only got a sustained look of concern and distress that Maul couldn't take but in small amounts.

So, he just nodded, using his free hand to rub at his eyes and trying to ignore the faint tremor left in it. "The senator?" he asked, finally remembering what it was he thought was ill-advised earlier.

"He hasn't come back," Obi-Wan said, though it wasn't a tone of perfect certainty, either. After another moment, he gave that forearm he was stroking a squeeze and got up; at some point, he had put his tunic and belt back on, though he was still barefoot. "Let me get you some tea."

"I'm all right." Maul got himself up to follow, shaking out his arms a little bit, just to see if they felt the way they were supposed to.

"I know, but I'm still getting you tea." Obi-Wan leaned over and pressed a lingering kiss to his cheekbone, then slipped back towards the galley, leaving Maul to find a shirt and pull himself back together as well as he could.

 

 

 

Bail Organa took one look at him and asked, "Rough time?" which made Maul wonder when exactly in his life he had become so blatantly, unforgivably transparent to other sentient beings. Still, there was nothing wary or angry about the look; like Obi-Wan's, it seemed more concern than anything else, which was yet another thing for Maul to try to figure out.

"Something like that," he answered, sinking down into the co-pilot's seat, looking over the array of datapads. "You're working?"

"Yeah, some. I just finished reading a bid proposal by the Corellian Shipping Consortium to take over production of a new generation of Starfighters from Kuat Systems Engineering. I'm going to end up forwarding that one to the whole of the committee for debate; their bid pricing is higher, but their initial specs are pretty impressive, at least on first glance." Organa shrugged, expressively. "Next up is a contention between Ralltiir and everyone else about the current bills for their levies. I can already feel a headache developing."

Politics had always been more difficult for Maul to grasp; he tried -- tried incredibly hard -- to learn enough about them to be competent in his former life, but he had never really managed to gain a fine enough understanding to do more than memorize dates, treaties and pay attention to conflicts that were large enough to possibly manipulate. "I can imagine," he said, dryly.

Organa set the datapad aside, scrubbing down his face with both hands. His eyes were mildly bloodshot; Maul thought probably he had taken a stim at some point. "I'll get to it," the man said, with a groan. "I mean, I might want to throw myself out of an airlock, but I can't think of anyone else I'd want to burden with this mess."

Maul wasn't sure how to answer that, but fortunately, Obi-Wan showed up before he had to try to think of how. He took the mug of tea handed to him with a quiet thanks, wrapping both hands around it.

"Can I get you a tea, Senator?" Obi-Wan asked, politely; not quite the glacial politeness he was capable of, though he still seemed to have found his way back to a state of uncomfortable.

"Actually, if you're offering to make me a drink, I'd love a Blackmoon ale," Organa answered, dropping his hands to his knees with a clap, eying the Jedi in what looked to be quietly banked amusement. "In a glass, no ice, a twist of sarsata peel? Check the conservator."

Obi-Wan narrowed his eyes a fraction, but then he gave a nod and slipped back out.

After he was gone, Organa shook his head with a rueful little smile. "He really doesn't like me, does he?"

"More, you worry him," Maul answered, before he thought about it. Once he realized he had, though, he just continued, "You're a politician entering into a situation guaranteed to be dangerous. Most politicians seem ill-suited to so much as breathe without having a debate about how much air they're allowed to use, let alone do something of this magnitude."

"I'm not most politicians," Organa said, flashing a sharper grin at that.

"No, you're not." Even with what limited exposure Maul had to the body politic, he knew that much. "You were on Christophsis, under fire."

"Where were you, during that?" Organa asked back, crossing his arms, eying Maul curiously. "Do they keep you up on current events at the Temple?"

The question was a little bit of a surprise, but not much of one, given Maul had been warned that the senator was aware of who he was and what his status was. He took a sip of the tea -- something herbal, rather than the black tea from earlier -- and then shook his head. "I was there myself."

Organa blinked, taken aback. "On Christophsis? In battle?"

"Yes."

At that, the senator's face darkened and his expression turned into a glower. "Wait a second. You're a prisoner of the Order, but they're sending you out into a war zone?"

It was Maul's turn to be on his back foot, and his brow furrowed as he wondered exactly why that seemed to be offensive. "I requested it."

"Requested it." That didn't seem to soften Organa's demeanor much, though it did a little. "Why?"

"I'm trained in stealth. The Jedi aren't. The clones are competent, but still comparatively inexperienced. I didn't want to languish in the Temple; I had already been allowed out on missions for the Order before, so it seemed sensible to request parole to join the war effort and make use of my prior training." It was more complicated than that, but Maul didn't think explaining that he specifically went to guard Obi-Wan's well-being was necessary at the moment.

That seemed to ease some of Organa's displeasure at it, though not entirely. "I guess it's a moot point to ask if they pay you or offer you some other kind of compensation for your service?"

Maul just shrugged at that. He had never been paid for any of his efforts, not as a Sith and not as a prisoner; he wouldn't know what to do with the credits if he had them. "It doesn't matter."

"I don't know if I'd agree with that--" the senator started to say, before Obi-Wan came back in and offered him his ale. After a moment of looking down into the glass, Organa looked up again. "That's perfect, thank you."

Obi-Wan looked on the edge of bristling, but the sincere courtesy deflated him some. Despite how Maul felt, that made him grin a little into his mug. He wasn't sure why he was so entertained by their back-and-forth, except that in many ways, they were similar in personality and likely didn't realize that.

"You're welcome," Obi-Wan answered, sitting down with his own mug of tea, looking between them with guarded eyes as if he was trying to guess what they had been talking about.

"Well, we have about ten hours before we reach our next destination," Organa said, checking the time, then looking back between them. "I figure I have about an hour and a half, maybe two, before this stim wears off and I'm on my back. Anyone care for a game of cards? Do either of you know how to play sabacc?"

"I do," Obi-Wan answered, which made Organa raise his eyebrows in surprise.

"I know the principle, but I haven't played it," Maul added; he wasn't against having the distraction, though, something to occupy his mind, draw it away from where it had been.

Organa eyed him, a look which seemed both cheerful and thoughtful. "Sabacc's pretty rough for a beginner. I mean, I don't doubt you're smart enough to pick it up, but every deck I've ever played with personally had the ability to be switched over to use for pazaak instead. It's kind of the great-granddaddy of sabacc, and a good way to build up to it. Want to try that instead?"

There was a mild temptation to insist on playing the harder game, but it was gone again swiftly and Maul just nodded his agreement. "If you like, Senator."

"Bail." The senator chuckled, shaking his head. "No sense in standing on formalities, especially if we're going to be gambling against each other."

Somewhat unwittingly, that made Maul grin a little. Then he raised his tea mug in vaguely joking salute. "Bail, then."

Bail grinned back, rising to his feet to head into the passenger compartment. "Great. Let me get the cards."

 

 


If watching Obi-Wan and Bail argue was entertaining, watching them play cards was at least twice as much so.

Bail had decided that they would play for questions; whoever took the round got to ask a question of one of the other players. Obi-Wan had protested with as much dignity as he could possibly wrap himself in, which led to the caveat that one could refuse a question if it was too personal or potentially distressing, but then Bail insisted that if they took a pass, they owed two more questions in lieu of, and generalized embarrassment wasn't a good enough reason to pass.

Maul had no part in any of those negotiations; he was quite content to just sit back and watch them banter.

Eventually, though, the terms of the game were hashed out and Bail patiently walked Maul through how to play it. Obi-Wan had claimed he already knew -- and he may well have -- but given the way he was paying attention to the lessons, he probably hadn't played anytime recently. Then they chose their side decks and got to the business of playing.

They hadn't even finished the first turn, when Bail and Obi-Wan started bickering anew.

"I think these cards should be checked for tampering," Obi-Wan said, staring in consternation as Bail was already at nineteen and standing on his cards.

"So says the man who can wave his hand and tell people to do his bidding?" Bail asked back, smartly, leaning back against his own bunk with the cards in his hand folded against his arm.

They had decided to play on the floor of the passenger compartment, and as such, were sitting there in a semi-circle, cards in the aisle and drinks at their knees. Maul had just enough taste for the surreal to appreciate the light absurdity of a Jedi master, an ex-Sith and a senator in such casual quarters.

"If you find me so intimidating an opponent, Senator, you're welcome to yield."

"Who said anything about intimidation?" Bail grinned, tongue-in-cheek. "I'm just saying that if anyone should be watched for game tampering, it should be the one who can pull a mind trick."

Maul didn't point out that he himself was quite adept at coercion, just looked back at Obi-Wan, who was narrowing his eyes. Though, it seemed that now, at least, it was a good-humored sort of belligerence.

"Those only work on the weak-willed, of which none of us are," Obi-Wan answered, finally laying down a card to add his score up to thirteen so far. "End."

Bail feigned shock. "Was that a compliment?  Why, Master Kenobi, be still my heart."

"A compliment of your will or a criticism as to your hard-headedness; take it as you will."

Maul drew his card and set it down, then contemplated his hand; he didn't have anything that would hit twenty there, nor did he have anything that would match Bail's play. After a moment, he set a two down with the eight on the aisle, thinking to make it up on the next draw perhaps. "End."

"Such charm," Bail said, with a dry grin. "Really, I'm flattered. Maybe even on the edge of swooning."

Obi-Wan scoffed back, picking up a card from the main deck and then throwing it down with a sour face as it took him out of the round with twenty-one. "I do aim to please."

Bail chuckled at that, shaking his head and then eying Maul. "Well, your turn, Maul. Let's see if you can win this one."

It was really down to chance, there wasn't a great deal of strategy involved, but he pulled a six and set it down. He didn't have anything in his hand that would edge him to twenty, though, or match nineteen. "Your round, it seems."

"So it does." Bail laid his hand down and started setting up the main deck for the next round. "Okay. Uhhhh, question... hm."

Maul finished his tea, but mostly he watched Obi-Wan practically squirm in place, especially when Bail took note of his discomfort and eyed him with a distinct expression of mischief.

"Well, get on with it," Obi-Wan said, a little bit stiffly, though he still seemed to be in decent enough humor. "No sense making me wait with abated breath."

"Hmmmmm," Bail answered, drawing it out to a long hum, which made Maul duck his head and grin. If nothing else, the man's sense of humor was far better than he had imagined a politician's might be. "Okay, got one. Resolution 36429 dash 26 states that all Republic worlds must pay a percentage per capita into the general relief fund for natural disasters on any non-Republic world, to be paid upon investigation and request of said world, not to exceed a predetermined percentage of the fund. Subsection senth, though, says that if a world is suffering a budget deficit of significant amount, they can withhold their payments or request forgiveness of the debt each standard year. Three worlds in the Republic -- just as an example--"

"Senator Organa, the implied agreement of this game was that torture would be off the table," Obi-Wan interrupted, sitting up straighter.

"--three worlds in the Republic," Bail continued, grinning even more broadly, "have been skipping their payments for several years, citing their deficit, but all other major indicators of economic stability suggest that their deficit might be a case of number-padding and bad bookkeeping. You are a member of the committee in charge of the general relief fund: What do you do?"

Obi-Wan gave him back a flat look, but he was doing a poor job hiding his amusement. "Why, I call my good friend Bail Organa and ask for his advice."

"I was going to say that I would break into the government offices, copy their records and hire someone else to handle the mathematics," Maul cut in, deadpan, "but that works, as well."

Apparently, that wasn't what Bail expected to hear, because he stared for a long moment between them with his mouth hanging open and then started laughing.

 

 

 

The game went on sporadically for another hour, but the questions remained within the same realm of intentionally humorous. When Obi-Wan won, he in turn grilled Bail about peacekeeping missions and how he would handle certain scenarios. Maul generally asked much simpler questions, such as where Bail got the Starfarer -- apparently, he borrowed it from a family of a friend of a cousin -- but none of them ended up crossing any lines into any uncomfortable territory.

Once the stim wore off, Bail crawled back into his bunk and Obi-Wan and Maul retreated back to the cockpit.

Several hours later, they were at the next set of coordinates. They woke Bail again, who groggily declared he could eat a bantha and then proceeded to bring them all dinner from the galley, something they had admittedly forgotten about while lost in their own thoughts and the swirl of hyperspace. Then it was a case of waiting.

Bail had turned more somber the longer he sat, pushing his food around the tray, though whatever he was thinking about, he didn't seem to wish to share. When the next coordinates came in, though, he decryped them there in the cockpit and then input them into the computer.

"Munto Codru," he declared, pensively. "That's--"

"On the far edge of the Outer Rim," Obi-Wan supplied, his misgivings on display in his voice.

Maul didn't particularly care for the way Obi-Wan was looking at either of them right then, though he held his peace for the moment and just finished the last of the vegetable stew he had been given. He could take a fairly good guess what was going to come next, though.

"Three days," Bail agreed. "Pretty far from home, but I guess that's not too big a surprise."

"We don't know how much further we're going, though." Obi-Wan set aside his own half-finished dinner and smoothed down his beard, then took a breath and said, "I think we should take the chance, while we're still in more civilized territory, to rethink this."

Bail frowned, eyebrows pinching together. "In what way?"

"In the way where you remain somewhere safe here, and this mission goes on without you."

Well, this was certain to go badly. Maul didn't fail to note that he wasn't included in either portion of that statement, but given the look he had gotten a few moments before, he had a feeling he knew which half he would fall under. He set aside his own tray and sat up, crossing his arms and not taking his gaze off of the Jedi.

"No. We've had this argument, Master Kenobi, and I don't know about you, but I'm kind of tired of hearing this particular song on repeat." Bail also crossed his arms, leaning further back in his chair to regard Obi-Wan himself. "I'm not going to be bundled off like a kid off to daycare."

"I'm not implying you're a child, Senator, I'm saying that this is dangerous. That even before we get to Zigoola, we're going to be crossing into nigh on lawless territory." Obi-Wan leaned forward, intent.

"Really? I hadn't guessed that," Bail answered, short and sarcastic, the merriment from the game earlier gone, leaving behind a hard edge of irritability. "Quick, we better turn around and go home, a mission to a Sith world might be risky!"

"This isn't a matter to joke about!"

"I'm not saying it is. But I'm also not about to go turning my tail and running home so you can assume all of the risk, either." Bail held a hand up. "I'm not doing this with you, Master Kenobi. You can either accept the fact that we're all going, or you can accept the fact that none of us are going."

Maul didn't speak up, but he did nod. He had plenty of his own misgivings, some of them from earlier in the day and some of them in general, but he still had no desire to turn around and let Obi-Wan go on this mission alone. He could think of few things that would be worse, for that matter.

"Senator..." Obi-Wan closed his eyes and then sighed out, before shaking his head and looking back at the man. "You're an important member of the Senate, but even more than that, you have a wife at home to consider, too."

Bail's eyes narrowed and his jaw knotted. "I told you once, Kenobi: You don't get to bring Breha into this."

"It's a perfectly valid concern!"

"If you're allowed to bring my wife into this debate, then I get to bring him into it just the same," Bail snapped, pointing at Maul, though he did shoot an apologetic glance over right after.

Maul was far too busy being speechless to acknowledge it.

That also shut Obi-Wan up; his mouth closed with a stunned click and his eyes went wide with something like shock, like fear. After a moment, he stood up and managed to say, "That's--"

"Do you have any idea how obvious you are?" Bail asked, standing up himself, bristling. "You might be able to fool the rest of the Jedi, but I didn't tumble off of yesterday's shalah transport. I started figuring that out from the balcony outside of my apartment! Do you think I've never been given the 'you better have a good explanation or you're sleeping on the couch' look in my marriage?"

"--the what?" Maul managed to ask, not exactly sure how he was feeling about this, blinking up at the senator.

It threw Bail off of the track he had been barreling down; the man blinked back and then his face reddened a little bit. "It's-- it's just a look, when your significant other is mad as hell at you and might make you sleep on the couch until they're not so mad at you. It's a figure of speech."

"Oh." Maul was still a little lost, but he couldn't deny the man was accurate in his assessment.

"Senator--"

Bail turned his gaze back to Obi-Wan. "No. No, you don't get to say this isn't my business. I could probably spend hours arguing with you about the ethics of you even being in a relationship with someone you're currently holding prisoner -- not even touching on your code as a Jedi -- but instead, I've extended enough faith to you to avoid jumping to too many conclusions. Now, it's your turn. Stop trying to make arguments about my life when I've already made it perfectly clear that it's my own. Mine to risk, or not, as I choose."

It was rare to see Obi-Wan at a true loss for words, but he was this time. He stood there for a long moment staring at Bail, then at Maul, then back at Bail again.

Finally, he seemed to reach some conclusion, even if he still looked stunned. "Very well," he said, a little thready. "If you'll excuse me."

When he turned around and walked out, Bail collapsed back into the pilot's seat, rubbing at his forehead. "I'm sorry," he said, after a moment, quietly.

"It's all right." Maul couldn't quite claim he was less stunned, and he felt like some of that had gone right over his head, but he didn't really think it warranted an apology. While it hadn't occurred to him that hiding their relationship would be any more difficult around a non-Jedi, it probably should have. "It was a fair argument."

He got to his feet to collect the trays and cups scattered around the cockpit, then went to go and check on Obi-Wan.

 

 

 

There weren't all that many places in the Starfarer one could go. Unsurprisingly, Obi-Wan was all the way back in the utility compartment, pacing the short space with his hands in his hair. He jumped when Maul stepped in, after having dropped off the trays and cups in the galley, then let out a breath in a hard whoosh of air, hints of panic written in his frame and in his eyes.

A far cry from the man who had been meditating, basking in the light drawn so effortlessly to him.

"It's not that," Obi-Wan said, without preamble, still sounding breathless. His expression held a plea in it. "It's not him knowing, even, it's--"

Maul waited, but Obi-Wan apparently didn't know how to finish that thought. After another moment, not really knowing any better than Obi-Wan, Maul suggested, "Call the Temple, before we go into hyperspace. That way, at least they'll know where we're going."

Obi-Wan gave a short nod, then a more certain one. But before he left, he all but crowded Maul back against the wall; pressed against him there and kissed him, deep and intent, fear and aching yearning and something like desperation, as readable on his mouth as in the Force around him.

Maul felt oddly bereft, when Obi-Wan left again, and stood there silently in his wake before going and finding something useful to do with himself.

Chapter Text

The next day was quiet, something Obi-Wan didn't know whether to be grateful for or anxious over.

Given there were three of them, they set up a three-watch schedule, simply so they would all be well-rested whenever they reached their next destination. They set a meal schedule, as well, and when Obi-Wan wasn't sitting in the cockpit trying to divine the future through the Force, he kept himself busy with exercises and meditations, trying to release the shocks of fear and anguish that seemed to run through him with electrical regularity.

The senator had been comparatively quite gentle towards him the past day, which rankled Obi-Wan, but he didn't have it in him to get into any arguments about why. There was some temptation to start another fight just to return them to their mutually antagonistic ground, but given the armor and weaponry that Organa now had, he couldn't bring himself to.

Everywhere he looked, there was something else which could turn disastrous. Afield, his fellow Jedi, fighting and dying. Afield, battles and losses. Anakin, seeking his lost droid. Here, a thistle-necked senator who had only one occupation under fire to his credit and still seemed determined to pit himself against a darkness the likes of which he had never truly fathomed. A man who spoke of his wife in a way that resonated into Obi-Wan's soul, and the realization that taking him into this might mean making this woman Obi-Wan had never met suffer a loss that he himself was loathe to face, whether he'd survive it or not. A man who managed to put together more information than Obi-Wan could stand with terrifying ease.

Here, the former Sith Lord that Obi-Wan had grown so desperately attached to, ready to put himself into a situation where he might end up facing the architect of his brutal early life.

More, ready to do it because of Obi-Wan.

It wasn't vanity that made him think that. It was that bomb on Christophsis, and Maul looking up at him like he couldn't fathom what other purpose he might have aside to possibly get himself killed protecting Obi-Wan. It was the horrifying and sickening thought that Obi-Wan might have inadvertently turned Maul into a tool and a shield without ever meaning to and that arming him wasn't enough to undo that.

It was knowing the senator had questions. It was not knowing the answers to them.

He avoided both of them as far as he could, even though some part of him wanted to confront these feelings head-on. Organa's relative kindness felt too much like pity. And Maul, who was thoughtful in his own quiet ways, afforded him space but for bringing him tea and brushing fingers across his back or hair in passing, speaking his own worry with his fingertips, stepping into the role Obi-Wan usually occupied without hesitation.

Every time he did that, Obi-Wan wanted to just grab him and hide him somewhere, where there were no evils lurking. Where they were far away from everything; back on Iloh, or better still, the last mission before the war broke out, where they had achieved such a stable, comfortable place that Obi-Wan had stood in the kitchen of their rental property one early morning and thought I could leave the Order for this, having a glass of water before just returning to bed and Maul's hearth-warm skin to keep the autumn chill at bay.

Despite being afforded the time now, Obi-Wan slept poorly.

Instead, he sat just outside the door of the cockpit with his back against the bulkhead and listened to the other two talk; Organa mostly worked when he was awake, but he would take semi-regular breaks and start a conversation. To Obi-Wan's immense relief, those conversations didn't deal with the Jedi, the Sith, or the ethics of relationships; instead, they meandered over everything from Organa's boyhood to an explanation of whatever political situation the senator was working on, to something as mundane as cooking. Usually, Organa was leading the topic, but in such a natural way that even Obi-Wan would have gone along with it without kicking about it.

It was strange and soothing, at once, listening to them. He had not sorted out how he felt about that interaction yet, but it was clearly benevolent.

He had been drifting in and out of a light doze, when he opened his eyes to find Maul crouched in front of him with bemusement written on his face.

There was no point in pretending he hadn't been eavesdropping. For reasons Obi-Wan couldn't begin to fathom, his throat felt tight and his eyes threatened to sting as he whispered, "I'm glad one of us has an interest in cooking. If you left it to me, we'd be living on toast. Or, if I'm feeling brave, toasted sandwiches."

Maul didn't whisper, but he spoke softly nonetheless, searching over Obi-Wan's face carefully, "Or living on pre-made meals."

"Don't forget the carry-out. I have all of those comm codes saved for a reason." Obi-Wan passed his hand across his eyes, heaving out a breath. "I suppose I should crawl into that bunk already."

"Do you want to?" Maul asked back, tilting his head a little.

There was no answer he felt was a certain truth even to that; Obi-Wan dreaded the idea of wrestling with sleep. But after a moment, he nodded and went to get to his feet, feeling too sore and far too old for his thirty-five years. He wasn't surprised when Maul caught him under the elbows and helped hoist him up, and after he was on his feet, he sagged there for a long moment and rested his lips against the top of Maul's shoulder, then turned his head and rested his cheek there instead.

Maul was apparently content enough to be a Jedi resting post; he just slid his arms around Obi-Wan's waist, making no effort to push the man into moving yet. "Do you want a mattress?"

"The senator..."

"He already knows. I highly doubt sharing a bunk will be a surprise, at this point," Maul said, dryly. "We might as well."

Half-fragmented thoughts about purpose and whether he was asking too much crossed through Obi-Wan's mind, mingling with the gratitude at Maul looking after him. It was something Obi-Wan often did going the other way, and was entirely happy to do -- care taking apparently came naturally to him when he stopped fighting so hard against the concept of attachment -- but it was some harder to accept it coming back to him.

At least, it was right now.

He felt like apologizing, but he didn't even know all of the reasons why.

Still, he also didn't have the will to turn down the offer, not after he had been longing for that proximity only a day before, and once he picked his head up, he nodded. "All right."

It took some shifting and the occasional grunt when an elbow ended up where it shouldn't, but eventually they both managed to fit themselves into that bottom bunk Maul had claimed first; Obi-Wan indeed laying at least half of himself on Maul, straddling one cybernetic leg and tucking the arm that wasn't under himself against Maul's opposite side.

He wished he didn't feel so overwrought that even this little thing was almost enough to break him apart.

Still, once he was settled, he did feel a little better; the familiar tandem beat of a pair of hearts under his ear, and after a minute or so, the brush of fingers through his hair eased just enough of the pressure for him to be able to take a breath. And he thought so many things in that breath, but all of them came back to one half-desperate thought:

What do I do?

He found no answers before he was lulled to sleep.

 

 

 


(He doesn't know why he keeps going back.

His mandate is finished; the Council no longer needs him to go and chip away at Maul's persistent hatred of him by time and exposure, thereby removing the power keeping Maul strong enough to resist. They have everything they could possibly need and, in moments where Obi-Wan is feeling more fair, he thinks they actually have more than they ever could need, ransacked from the broken Sith's mind. Six or seven of them, from what Obi-Wan heard, going through and ferreting out information. It didn't take them very long.

He goes anyway. Like prodding at the raw edges of a wound, he goes.

He wants to take some twisted pleasure in it. He wants to feel like justice has been served, at least in part, for the murder of Qui-Gon Jinn. He wants to feel like this is deserved.

But mostly, all he ends up feeling is the same heartsickness and exhaustion as before, now with the addition of no small amount of disgust at himself for some of the things he has thought in the interim.

Some of the things he's said.

Vokara Che is Maul's only advocate; she had kept him in the Halls for two weeks after the attack, had petitioned the Council for the rest of his cybernetics, had insisted the quality of them be as good as they would afford anyone else under their care, as good as they would give any Jedi cut down in battle, and then when she was granted them, she had put herself and the best cyberneticists they had available on installing them. Obi-Wan struggles with this, but then, he struggles with everything these days.

Four weeks post-attack, though, even she is at wit's end.

None of it seems to make any difference. Maul's not catatonic -- though privately, even Obi-Wan wouldn't be able to blame him if he was, no matter what else he thinks of the Sith -- just apathetic. Resigned. He hadn't said anything a week or so before the attack, at least that Obi-Wan knows of, and he certainly hasn't said anything since. The best Obi-Wan can get out of the zabrak is a raised lip, and even that seems more reflex than sincere.

Mostly, he just sleeps.

It's not even peaceful looking. Just-- shut-down. Burnt out. Hopeless.

Someone waiting for the final blow, and perhaps even viewing it as mercy.

Obi-Wan isn't sure when he decides to do something about it. It's just that one day, he finds himself in that cell, looking down at Maul, who is so heedless of everything that he could be killed without even waking and would probably not care about that, either.

Obi-Wan stands there and he wonders what it would be like, to have no purpose at all. To be so bereft that even survival doesn't matter anymore. To have lived so brutal a life that life itself has no meaning outside of that brutality.

He doesn't know how long he stands there. Certainly quite awhile. He loses himself in the gracefully curved lines that flow down Maul's arms, surprising himself by thinking about how pleasing they are to the eye; how they bar the backs of Maul's hands and how they flow into the solid jet-black of his palms down his wrists, as if some long ago ink had traced the path of least resistance.

He wonders if water follows those same lines. If blood does.

He feels a strange, half-ill jolt when he picks up one hand just to get a better look at those black marks, gentle as if he were handling glass, and realizes that this is the first time he's ever initiated any physical contact with Maul that wasn't violence. Vokara Che's words echo in his head, and so, he doesn't let go right away.

He finds old and new scars hidden under those patterns, faded by time or bacta, surprisingly soft skin otherwise that feels feverishly warm, and the realization of several new definitions for what brutality actually is.)

 

 

 


"I can probably keep watch awhile longer," Organa said, after taking one look at Obi-Wan, who unfurled himself into his seat.

Obi-Wan just shook his head; he had woken up only four hours or so after falling asleep, heart pounding, vaguely damp from sweat wherever he was still pressed up against Maul. After a few groggy reassurances, he'd managed to get out of the bunk without digging too many joints into too many soft spots, had gotten himself some water and then went to take his turn at the helm. "I'm fine, thank you."

Organa eyed him, and Obi-Wan shoved down the urge to snap at him, feeling churlish and still on-edge. He wasn't sure if the nod and look of sympathy made that urge worse or better, but after a moment, he closed his own eyes in as much of a retreat as he could pull and let himself sink into a light trance, just enough to ease the buzz of a headache that was behind his eyes and between his temples.

Of course, that was broken perhaps ten minutes later by a light tap on his shoulder and the smell of fresh brewed tea.

He almost expected to open his eyes to find Maul had followed him out of bed, but he wasn't terribly shocked to find it was Organa offering the mug to him.

"It's from Alderaan; they grow it in the southern hemisphere, in mountain valleys. Beautiful country. My family owns land and a vacation property down there," Organa said, when Obi-Wan finally took the tea. It looked like he had made his own Blackmoon ale this time, if the astringent scent coming from his glass was any indicator. "I haven't been there since I was a boy, but I always liked it there in summer."

Obi-Wan nodded, he hoped politely, and took a slow and careful sip of the tea. It was a lovely black blend, fragrant and floral, but lightly so. It had a natural sweetness to it and no bitterness in the aftertaste.

Qui-Gon would have greatly appreciated it, being the tea aficionado that he was. "Thank you for sharing it," Obi-Wan said, not looking at the man.

"I should have brought some wine. My family has a vineyard." Organa sat down again, leaning back in his chair and taking a sip of his ale. "When we get back, I'll have to give you a bottle or two."

"I don't drink very often." And depending on who was asking, Obi-Wan would perhaps claim he never did so. "Thank you for the offer, though."

"Then I guess you can just keep it for when you feel like celebrating."

Obi-Wan gave back a breath of a laugh. Alcohol and celebrating had led to one of the biggest shifts in his life and view of the galaxy, and he hadn't even known it at the time. "Perhaps."

Silence fell for a few more moments, both of them lost in their respective drinks, but then Organa broke it again. His voice wasn't hesitant, exactly, but there was a gentle sort of caution in it. "I'm not sorry that I defended my right to be here, but for what it's worth, I am sorry that I upset you so badly."

This wasn't really anything Obi-Wan wished to discuss. He heaved a slow breath out and shook his head. "I'd really rather not talk about this, Senator. If you don't mind."

"I kind of do mind, though," Organa answered, and didn't flinch when Obi-Wan gave him a long, hard look of warning. One could only give the man credit for his nerve, even if Obi-Wan found it more than a little bit frustrating. "I know there's a lot more to this story that I don't know, but I'd like you to put yourself in my shoes, Master Kenobi. I'm on a small craft with an ex-Sith who killed at least one Jedi that I know of, who is in a relationship with the former padawan of that Jedi, said former padawan who now happens to be more than a little famous -- even if I agree he shouldn't be, for his own sake -- while being held prisoner without trial by the Jedi Order. Further, being deployed into war zones without any kind of compensation? I mean, there are laws on the books about this. Even when we allow prisoners employment, we pay them the Galactic Standard Wage or better, and we definitely don't put them in battle. I'm already fighting to try to get the clone troopers a paycheck, too."

Obi-Wan's entire body felt sour at that, and he was quite sure his face reflected it as he muttered, "Well, when you put it like that..."

"Not sure how else I should be putting it," Organa pointed out, eyebrows raised. "You make a lot of noise about politicians doing shady things, but this--"

"I've already told you why he hasn't been brought to trial." Obi-Wan ground his teeth together for a moment, then carefully drew in a breath again. He didn't want baited into another argument. He didn't even want to be having this conversation, but he doubted that he was going to get away from it for two whole days they were stuck in this tin can together. After composing himself for a few more seconds, he added, "You're right that there's a lot more to this story, Senator Organa. I just don't believe it's a story you need to know."

Organa leaned back in his seat, eyes narrowed. A look of scrutiny, not anger; Obi-Wan wasn't sure if that wasn't worse. "Why not?"

"What good could come of it? Would you go back and haul up the Council? Would you force their hand?" Admittedly, this was a hard conversation to keep calm about, but Obi-Wan had been navigating between the Council and Maul for a decade; he wasn't sure why Organa was so easily able to slip under his skin, when he had plenty of practice at least appearing impartial. "What good would it do any of us?"

"That, I don't know," Organa answered, with a soft huff, sagging a little bit. "It just seems-- I don't know. Wrong."

There was a long pause there, the words hanging in the air. Obi-Wan still wasn't used to even one outside person knowing about this forbidden relationship he was in, let alone two. Bad enough that Master Che did, but now Bail Organa as well.

"How do you stand it?" Obi-Wan asked, finally, after another sip of tea and some thought. "You're on Coruscant all of the time; Queen Breha is on Alderaan. You love her, I can feel it shine on you whenever you speak of her, but you're always in the Senate. How do you bear that?"

Organa's jaw knotted and for a moment, it looked like he was going to freeze Obi-Wan out just as sharply as he had before. He opened his mouth, then closed it again, and after several seconds and a bit more of his ale, something about his expression softened. "I have a duty. To her, to Alderaan, to the Republic at large to go and represent the people. I miss Breha all of the time, Master Kenobi. Sometimes it feels like I can't bear it, but just like you, I was raised to serve. Someday, I hope to retire in peace and spend every single day with my wife, but until then, I serve."

Obi-Wan didn't doubt him, there. If there was one thing that had become clear in all of this, it was that Bail Organa was a true public servant. Even when he did do things he would call shady, he worked hard and diligently, and moreso, he worked fairly. Even if Obi-Wan felt like bristling at having his ethics called into question, there was something he appreciated about a man who was willing to challenge them on the basis of justice and the rights that all sentient beings should have anyway.

There was a time when Obi-Wan would have held a contrary opinion, especially about a Sith Lord, former or not. When he would have argued that once tainted by the dark, there was no such thing as redemption. That such beings should be quickly, painlessly killed, not given a trial or held prisoner longer than necessary.

It had been quite a long time, since he'd been so dogmatic.

"Maul was raised to serve. He was never given a choice." Obi-Wan took a swallow of his tea, then continued, "He doesn't have a memory of a home, or a family. If he did, though... Nightbrothers are born slaves. They rarely leave Dathomir; mostly, they're used for labor, fighting or breeding by the Nightsisters. Even we -- the Jedi -- are given the right to leave, if we wish to leave. It doesn't happen often, and we're raised to see it as disgraceful, but we won't be brutally tortured or killed if we do decide to go and leave the Order behind. He was born a slave, and no one -- not even he -- knows how he came to be under the control of his Master, but he never stood a chance."

Organa listened intently, mouth twisting into a frown that looked almost wounded. Obi-Wan nearly shook his head to himself -- maybe even at himself -- because it was slowly coming clear that the Senator had taken to Maul, quite a bit. And it was strange to have someone else, aside Obi-Wan and Vokara Che, who felt the need to advocate for Maul, but--

Perhaps even if they couldn't agree on anything else, they could agree on this much.

"That's why I wouldn't trust a jury, or the Chancellor, to handle him fairly. That's also why I can forgive what happened to my Master." Obi-Wan rubbed his hand down his face, letting out a breath that wanted to shudder. "I do know what it must look like to you. I--" He stopped himself, then just shook his head. "Believe me, I want him to have his freedom. I'm the one who asked for him to be allowed out of the Temple on missions five years ago. I'm the one who took and argued his request for parole for the war effort to the Council. I watch, Senator, and I worry because I don't want him on a battlefield either, but I want him slowly going mad in the Temple even less, while I'm off fighting campaigns. I'm hoping his compensation at the end of this conflict is his freedom. It would be the first time in his entire life that he's had that."

"Bail," Organa said, after a long minute where he seemed to be chewing on that thought. He offered a half-smile then. "Gambling or soul-baring, both of those are kind of first name basis things."

Obi-Wan chuckled, tiredly. "I suppose that means you can call me Obi-Wan."

"Obi-Wan," Bail repeated, smile going a little more even. Then he rubbed at his forehead broadly, before letting his hand fall again. "I'd kind of figured it had to be something like that. If the Jedi recruit young--"

Obi-Wan was quick to shake his head. "The Sith don't-- they don't typically take infants to raise. At least so far as we know, historically, they recruit older children or disgruntled adults. I've never heard any account of someone being raised from infancy to become a Sith Lord, until Maul." His mouth pressed into a line, before he continued, "Most of their philosophy supposedly centers on freedom. Ironic, given they're slaves to their own lust for power, but usually those who joined their Order made a choice to. There are some accounts of children, but most were adults."

"How many are there now?"

"Two. Supposedly."

Bail's eyebrows furrowed deeply at that, as he frowned. "--just two? And they managed to cause all of this havoc?"

"According to tradition, anyway. However, given certain-- circumstances, I don't believe they're following the rules like they did for a thousand years anymore. There are less than five, but we have cause to believe that the master who had Maul has another apprentice, who in turn has acolytes--"

"--Dooku."

Obi-Wan felt a tired jolt. However, he thought he now successfully understood just how keen Bail was, so he wasn't shocked, just-- dismayed. "We think so."

"Oh, kriff." Bail seemed incredibly distraught by that thought, the warm tan of his skin blanched some, as he set aside his glass and leaned forward as if nauseated, one arm unconsciously wrapping around his middle. "More than-- why didn't you--"

"Would anyone believe it?" Obi-Wan's felt his own face twist, as he regarded the man sitting there. "Dooku was a Jedi. He was-- my own master's master. He has the ear of so many worlds and systems; he's charismatic and well-spoken, giving voice to what the Separatists believe are legitimate grievances. What do you think it would look like if the Order came out and accused him of being a Sith?"

"Hysteria," Bail answered, hollowly. "It would look like hysteria."

"Exactly." There was no pleasure watching Bail struggle with the ramifications of it all; despite their prior antagonism and Obi-Wan's continued wariness, he knew that Bail wasn't the kind who couldn't handle things. Therefore, watching him founder under the weight of all of this was its own manner of painful. He tried to soften things by adding, "We're doing everything we can, believe me. The Order has been guarding the Republic for a very long time; we don't intend to fail it now."

Bail nodded, swallowing and pushing his glass across the console, further away. "I know. I know what the Jedi are sacrificing."

Somehow, Obi-Wan did believe that. He pressed his mouth into a thin smile and stood. "Let me get you some tea. It doesn't look like that ale's sitting well."

"Thanks," Bail answered, before scrubbing at his face with both hands.

 

 

 

It was an odd thing, though, how Bail being-- more informed lifted some weight from Obi-Wan's shoulders, even if he felt guilty about sharing the burden with the man initially. About the wider ramifications of the war effort. Even, to some degree, about his and Maul's relationship. It knocked the edges off of their mutual antagonism, though they still found some cause to bicker; now, at least, the bickering seemed lighter. Kinder.

"What did you do to him?" Maul had asked, eying Obi-Wan after observing for awhile, and Obi-Wan laughed outright at the implication he did something to Bail Organa. But it was a genuine laugh, startled and badly needed.

"We just talked things out some," he had answered, still smiling, sweeping his hands out across Maul's chest, thumbs sliding against collarbones, before holding his shoulders and leaning in to get a quick kiss. "Forgive me for putting a damper on your entertainment."

Maul had kissed him back, but then drew his head back to squint at him; the expression was suspicious but for the amused look in his eyes, bright and playful. "Are you implying that you went and 'talked things out' to put an end to my entertainment? That's quite devious. I'm not sure if I'm disappointed or filled with admiration, Master Jedi."

Force, Obi-Wan's heart ached in affection at that. Though he also had to embark on the very familiar battle with lust, as well; he didn't honestly know if Maul meant that to be flirtatious, but that didn't seem to matter much to his libido. "I know which I prefer," he had answered, stealing a softer kiss in the wake, before letting go. "I'm going to go meditate."

It did make the next couple of days more bearable. Sometimes the sheer level of anxiety came pressing back in, but Obi-Wan at least seemed better able to ignore it, if not manage it. Whenever he reached out to connect as well as he could with the other Jedi, he found triumph and tragedy both; he was careful not to do that too often, if only because it required him to calm back down after and return to the current moment. And apparently, Anakin still hadn't found his droid, which remained a deep concern.

Obi-Wan wondered, as he let himself come back to live in the present, if his master would be proud that he had learned how to do so, or if he would be disappointed that it was his illicit relationship that allowed him to in the first place. How his Master would feel, knowing it was all of those stolen moments with Maul that allowed Obi-Wan to truly appreciate how much a single moment could mean; how it could lend strength to all the ones beyond it. It bothered him a little bit that he wasn't sure how Qui-Gon would respond to it; that he had loved the man as father and brother, but couldn't guess with any accuracy how he would handle knowing this about his apprentice.

Still, the weight of it all started to return regardless of his meditations and lighter shoulders, slowly but surely, as they came out of hyperspace at the next set of coordinates. All three of them were in the cockpit, waiting on edge as the hours ticked past.

"It's almost been seven hours," Bail said; all of his data pads were packed away again, and he was drumming his fingers lightly on the console, staring out at Munto Codru, the nightside of the planet lit by city lights here or there, irregular like the raw facets of crystal. "I don't like this."

"Understandable. But I would give them more time," Obi-Wan said, even though he could feel the prickle of nerves, the little electrical tracers of it running up and down his spine. He took a couple of centering breaths, trying to keep the tension manageable while he still could.

Bail's mouth went into a thin line, but he nodded. "I hope nothing happened to them."

"They might be close enough to be observing us," Maul pointed out; of all of them, he seemed the most calm, leaned back relaxed in the co-pilot's seat, one boot up on the console's edge. "If it were me, I would be watching for signs of a tail."

"Like the one Obi-Wan thought the Council should send after us?" Bail asked, tossing a flat look over to the Jedi, one eyebrow up. It wasn't true anger, but there was a spark of some reproval there.

Obi-Wan opened his mouth to protest, feeling a spike of unpleasantness, but a good-humored glance from Maul shut him down. It was true, but he had been certain that his conversation in Bail's apartment had been private; he was a little chagrined that the senator either overheard or figured it out.

"Yes, that one," Maul answered, mildly, nodding and glancing to the scanners, which were checking the idents of every vessel that passed even remotely near to them. "The only vessels in the area are Codru-Ji, however, which hopefully won't lead to an incident."

"We ultimately decided against it," Obi-Wan said, after a moment, trying to keep the stiffness from returning to his voice. "We don't exactly have all that many Jedi to spare."

Bail nodded, still looking a little displeased, but he didn't ask or comment any further than that.

They didn't have to wait much longer anyway; Bail's comm went off before a half-hour passed and he pulled it out only to hear a voice coming from the other end, something which made the senator's eyes widen in surprise. The voice was seemingly female, from what Obi-Wan could hear, an older woman's voice. "Senator Organa? Do you copy?"

"Yes! I hear you," Bail answered, quickly. "Who am I talking to?"

"A friend," the voice answered, which made both Obi-Wan and Maul raise a brow, though neither of them interrupted.

"I know that, but I--"

"I'll give you a name when we properly meet, Senator. In the meantime, I'll shortburst the coordinates in a moment."

Organa scrubbed his free hand against the knee of his trousers, a surprising nervous tick from a man who seemed to pride himself in appearing to be self-controlled. "I'm looking forward to it. I was worried something went wrong, for how long it took you to call."

"Just a precaution. We wanted to make sure you were alone before bringing you the last leg to us."

Maul eyed Bail at that, a smirk teasing on his mouth, and Bail wrinkled his nose back in a moment of quick, playful levity, reaching out to swat at the boot Maul had up on the console, though not hard enough to knock it off. Despite the weight of the air, the little exchange made Obi-Wan grin, shaking his head.

"I'm alone. Well, aside a single Jedi and an expert on the Sith. I wouldn't dishonor our agreement," Bail said, turning his attention back to the comm. It was fairly clear to Obi-Wan that the man thought highly of whoever was on the other end; Obi-Wan still considered such invisible intelligence agents to be potentially dangerous, but they had come too far to turn back now.

Even if some part of him still wished that he could convince the other two to do so.

"You can't be too careful, these days," the woman answered, with a sad sounding chuckle. "Stand by for our coordinates and the transponder beacon frequency; that will bring you right to our front door."

"Understood," Bail said, breathing out in a huff, before the comm clicked off and left them waiting another few moments.

"Cautious," Obi-Wan commented, neutrally. The thought occurred that he might not have been able to complete this mission without bringing Bail this far; his contacts were clearly the types to cover themselves and their tracks well. It wasn't a thought he cared for. "They guard their identity well."

"Good thing I'm here, then, huh?" Bail asked back. When the shortburst came through, he quickly worked out the decryption and plugged the numbers into the computer. Then he blinked and sat back. "--the destination's coming back as unknown."

Maul finally took his boot off the console and leaned over to look at the readout. "How far?"

"Nine parsecs." Bail glanced over to him. "Past the Outer Rim."

For the first time, something definable as true, specific unease started twisting in Obi-Wan's belly. He went to protest again, and again stopped, though this time of his own accord.

"Out into Wild Space," Maul just said, seemingly accepting that at face value, though he did glance at Obi-Wan with a question in his expression.

It made Obi-Wan wonder if Maul was picking up on his unease, and he wasn't sure how to answer that silent question, so he just held that look for a moment and then noticed that Bail had also turned to eye him. "I'm going to go and try to see ahead," he said, after a moment. "I'm uneasy, but I can't exactly define why."

There was a beat there, then Bail asked, "Do you want us to sit here for a few more minutes?"

"No. No-- the Codru-Ji aren't very friendly and until I know more--"

Bail nodded, misgivings in his eyes, then turned back to the console to send them into hyperspace. And, rubbing absently at his chest, Obi-Wan turned back to the passenger compartment to see if he could sink himself into the Force cleanly enough to find some kind of answer to his unease.

 

 

 

The Force afforded him no answers, but he was left with a truly wicked headache after trying to see ahead.

Obi-Wan didn't have the same level of premonition of some Jedi, but he was -- used to be, at least -- fairly adept at sensing impending danger. But nothing solid, this time. He came out of his trance with a quiet groan, rubbing at his temples and leaning over his own knees, nauseated from the spike of pain in his skull.

He wished he knew what the hint of danger he felt was. Perhaps not even ahead, but what here it was attached to. Was it Bail? Maul? Himself? Was it Bail's friend? The uncertainty was enough to tempt him to go and try again, but his head firmly dissuaded him.

When he was able to stand, he went back to the cockpit only to be visually inspected by the other two.

"You look-- rough," Bail said, concern written on his features.

"Just a headache," Obi-Wan answered, going to sit down, putting his head in his hands for a moment or two just to allow it to fade further. "I can't figure out what I'm sensing, unfortunately. But I advise caution."

"Obviously. If whatever you're sensing gets stronger, let us know." Bail's voice was dry, but not unkind.

"I intend to." Obi-Wan might have said something else, but then he felt Maul rubbing circles into his temples and he dropped his hands, huffing a little laugh. However nervous it occasionally made him, Bail knowing about this, there were clearly some compensations. "That feels good," he murmured, tipping his head backwards and looking up at Maul, standing behind his chair looking back at him in mixed worry and warmth.

Maul just hummed back an affirmative. Bail, on the other hand, sounded gently amused as he said, "I do that for Breha, sometimes."

"His hands are ridiculously warm." Obi-Wan closed his eyes, letting his head rest against the back of the chair; the headache was dulling steadily under the attention, though the edge of danger and resulting stress he felt kept it from fading away entirely.

"Mine aren't ridiculously warm, but I think the pressure helped. Maybe the distraction, too. It was the worst when she was pregnant--"

Bail had cut himself off, and when Obi-Wan opened his eyes, surprised by the statement, those dark eyes had turned wary and guarded, as if Bail hadn't meant to say anything and just realized what it was he did say. Obi-Wan knew the man had no children; what he didn't know was what he could possibly say to that.

Maul, however, apparently did not know better, because he asked with some curiosity and confusion, "You have children?"

Obi-Wan winced internally. Bail, though, didn't seem to take offense to that; he rubbed over his face and shook his head, not making eye contact. "Uh... no. No, we tried, we wanted kids pretty badly, but-- she miscarried. Despite all of our doctors and how careful we were, she ended up, uh-- she ended up miscarrying five times, in all. The last time was the worst. She was pretty far along and..." He gestured, and Obi-Wan's heart ached hard for the man. "We can't try again. It would probably kill her."

Maul's fingertips faltered a little and Obi-Wan reached up to stroke past his hand, offering reassurance, though he answered Bail gently himself, "Should ever you have the opportunity to adopt, any child would be truly fortunate to call you and your wife parents."

"Thanks," Bail said, after a moment, voice a little ragged. He gave them both a pressed smile, then turned back to his console, a clear retreat from the subject. "We're not too far out now."

Obi-Wan released a long breath, too slowly to be a sigh. "All right. Thank you."

Bail nodded back, then got up and headed back into the passenger compartment. When he came back a few moments later, he was carrying a blaster, which-- was not really a surprise. Obi-Wan thought about saying something about it, about the man staying out of any trouble, and then thought now was probably not the best time to do so.

"You should go get your staff, too," he just said, opening his eyes and looking up at Maul, who was eying Bail's blaster and probably mentally calculating what sort of damage it was capable of. "It's in my drawer, under my tunics."

"All right." One more brush through Obi-Wan's hair, and Maul headed back to arm himself.

"He's armed?" Bail asked, most of his focus on his console. It wasn't a disapproving tone, though.

For the second time in the past couple of weeks, Obi-Wan thought, In for a credit... 

But he answered aloud, "Yes, he is. Ah-- not strictly within the rules, but..." he trailed off.

Bail gave a soft chuckle, edged sad. "I understand."

And Obi-Wan didn't doubt for a moment that Bail did.

 

 

 

The sense of foreboding hit him so hard that it would have staggered him, had he been standing, when they came out of hyperspace. Maul must have felt the same because he stiffened in his own seat, sitting up and saying, "Something's wrong."

Bail shot a look between them and doubtless could see the concurrence in their expressions. "What is it?"

"I don't know," Obi-Wan answered, willing his heart to stop pounding quite so hard at the adrenaline. "But it might be a good idea if we don't let them know we're coming."

"I can disable the homing beacon," Bail said, turning back to the helm, hands swiftly dancing across the console as he did so. "They might still pick us up, though."

Ahead, just now visible, was the rapidly approaching space station. Written in rough girder-work and practical but artless lines, it looked vaguely Corellian to Obi-Wan, though he couldn't be sure. There was no planet for it to orbit; it hung in space something like an industrial insect.

"We can glide in." Obi-Wan finally managed to wrestle his nerves back under his own control, not failing to catch the raised brow that Maul gave him at that. Instead of speaking aloud, Obi-Wan just returned a shrug, before adding to Bail, "Shut down everything non-vital and idle the rest, and then the only way they're going to see us is on a cam or through a viewport."

"This is crazy. How are we supposed to stop when we get to the station?" Still, the lights went out but for the low emergency lamps and the panel as Bail complied, and Obi-Wan was immediately, suddenly grateful that they had found something like trust between them these past few days. "We'll be coming in hot."

"This stinks of a trap," Maul pointed out, perfectly calmly. "I agree with Obi-Wan. We'll manage."

Bail scoffed, muttering without malice, "'We'll manage,' he says." Nonetheless, the ship was shut down to its bare minimum, the cockpit bathed in dark but for a faint green. "When you're scraping me off a landing gantry, Maul, I want that on my gravestone."

Maul just hummed back at him, a tone of amusement and perhaps smugness, and it didn't take Obi-Wan long to guess why, because he could feel power Maul was pouring into the Starfarer's frame only a moment later, almost like a hum through deckplates and skeleton. Bail made a startled sound, but Obi-Wan didn't say anything, just sank himself into the Force as well and joined in with guiding the small starship.

They had never actually used their respective power tandem before; had glanced off of one another sparring, and Obi-Wan had sensed Maul many a time and been sensed by him just as often. But working together so fully and completely--

It felt oddly wonderful. He was put in mind of rivers and fires; a flow and a crackle, but they didn't cancel one another out, just slowly slipped into something like a tentative harmony. Around, around, neither boiling nor extinguishing. Complement. Contrast. Serenity and certainty meeting passion and determination. He was grinning broadly, breathlessly, and even whatever headache had lingered had vanished.

He was vaguely aware of Bail calling out instructions, but they were already moving ahead of him, slowing the momentum of the Starfarer further and further, guiding her towards an open docking ring. At the last moment, they eased off of their control so Bail could maneuver the ship expertly into position, and then released it entirely as they docked softly.

Obi-Wan was still grinning when he opened his eyes, catching Bail looking between them wide-eyed. "Wow. Did you really just fly a starship with mind power?"

"More guide," Maul said, with a quieter grin of his own. But then he shifted right back to business, expression going grim as he checked his sensors, brow furrowing. "The station's shielded, but there's something wrong here."

Once Obi-Wan fully let go of the interconnectedness of the Force, the same sense of foreboding hit him again and quite a bit harder. His hand was on his saber's hilt before he even thought to put it there. "We need to get in there. Bail--"

"I'm going," Bail said, rising to his feet and thumbing his blaster's power pack on, the low whine as it primed rising until it was out of hearing range. "Those are my people. I'm not leaving them in trouble."

Maul went to brush past them both, moving with his usual efficiency, until Obi-Wan stuck an arm out and stopped him, his own motion instinctive. And for a moment they stared one another down, a silent struggle so very different from the harmony of only a minute or two ago.

What do you think I'm here for? Obi-Wan remembered those words, gut twisting.

It was only the space of heartbeats, and Maul glared hotly at him when Obi-Wan nudged him backwards, but there wasn't any more time for them to be in conflict about it.

Obi-Wan took the lead, saber in his hand ready to be lit.

Chapter Text

The smell of blood and char wasn't new to him, but Bail wasn't so familiar with it that it didn't turn his stomach some. Even in the midst of this station apparently under siege, he thought of Christophsis and the shelling they took before relief forces came; thought about the cut-off screams of clone troopers and Christophsis natives and the way he felt so incredibly, impotently angry at all of the blood spilled on their side by nothing more than mechanical henchmen on the other.

At how cheap life seemed in those moments.

It was incredibly wretched to realize that most of those men, by virtue of being clones, had only brothers to witness them or die with them and no home to return to if they made it through.

Here, there were three dead men on the other side of the hatch, and he knew they were dead before the other two did a cursory check for a pulse. Their wounds looked blaster-inflicted, blood and burn; the scent was distinct, acrid, mixed with the scent of voided bowels, all of it the sort of thing that Bail already knew was going to be waking him up at night from now to however long it took to fade from his mind.

Obi-Wan lit his lightsaber, going to apparently cut the blasters apart, but Maul stopped him and retrieved one, handing it to Bail. "Backup," he said, succinctly, then left Obi-Wan to finish his destruction so that he could go and put his back to the bulkhead, doing a quick peek around the corner and through the half-open door.

Bail knew that Obi-Wan certainly didn't want him here; a few uneasy, tense glances told that tale well enough. But for the moment, he seemed to be in a silent battle of wills with Maul, which left him little room to chase Bail back to the Starfarer; the two of them were stiff-shouldered and staring one another down again from either side of the door, just like they had been on the other side of the airlock.

Bail thought that was foolhardy, given that both of them were hardened warriors with experience, but when he hit upon the question of how he would handle it if Breha were here, armed and ready, he suddenly understood quite well. His queen was an excellent shot on the range and she had even been in war-zones before, but the thought of her facing this made him even queasier than the death here already had.

He also knew, in a heartbeat, how little she would care for or tolerate his protectiveness in this context, where his own life was on the line just the same.

"Now isn't the time," he reminded them both, quietly and tersely. "Obi-Wan, you lead; I'll bring up the rear."

It was the closest concession he would give to letting the other two bear the brunt of this, and that was because he knew it'd just be more arguing if he didn't. Maul took it quite gracefully, for his part; he looked at Bail for a moment's assessment, impassively, then nodded his agreement. Obi-Wan took it some less gracefully, but even he had to realize that they were courting disaster battling over it however silently here, and he nodded himself.

With the chain of command established (at least for now), the Jedi gestured for them to follow and crept out into the corridor, checking each way as they passed.

The floor was tacky and it didn't take Bail more than a few seconds to realize it was blood; it was further confirmed when they passed under a flickering, damaged light and the smeared red of it became lurid when the light flared brighter intermittently. He swallowed down hard, willing his hand not to tremble around the salvaged blaster, having reholstered his own to hold in reserve. For all of his practice, for even being under siege once, he had never fired on a living person before; hadn't even had the chance to fire at enemy droids.

The realization he was about to do so made something knot and twist like a serpent deep in his chest, compressing his lungs to under his throat.

"Steady," Maul murmured back to him with a glance back over his shoulder, barely above a whisper; it wasn't harsh, but it made Bail realize that his sudden anxiety was doubtless pretty notable to two Force users who were probably sensing everything, both seen and unseen.

"Sorry," he whispered back, making a concerted to calm himself down, slowing his breathing and taking those breaths deeper into his chest.

At the end of the corridor was a door; when they got there, Obi-Wan held his lit saber away from himself and closed his eyes, pressing his left hand flat against it. Bail caught himself watching before Maul tapped him on the arm with a pointed look back down the corridor, and when Bail realized why, he turned with his blaster up at ready in order to cover their backs; there had been a few broken hatches along the way, though at the time, all of them had been empty.

After a few long, tense moments, Obi-Wan said, "It's going to be a fight the instant that door opens. Stand ready."

Bail turned back at that, just in time to see Maul ignite one end of the long-hilted staff he carried, the deep yellow blade humming alongside Obi-Wan's blue one. Obi-Wan himself nodded, got his hand on the blood-smeared door handle and--

--a fight was probably an understatement.

Blaster fire flashed and screamed through hazy, smoky air, the noise overwhelming after the eerie silence of the corridor outside. Bail scanned the room fast, left to right; he could make out three attack droids, at least three men and two dead on the floor, but he was willing to bet his last credit on none of them being on his side of things. He brought his salvaged blaster up and returned fire, aiming for the droids, even as he was making his way to the nearest cover, just an overturned desk with smoking furrows dug out of it.

It looked like they were in some kind of command or operations center, but it was taking one hell of a beating.

It was once he was behind the desk that he spotted who had to be his contact; a blonde woman in a body suit, her hair pulled back in a braid. She was returning fire from behind a bank of devastated monitors, but when she made eye contact with him, she mouthed his name and flashed him a fierce grin, using her free hand to pull the comm link -- a match to his own -- out of her pocket to wave at him.

Bail didn't get a chance to answer her, beyond a half-relieved grin back, before a new barrage of blaster fire started hitting the monitor bank she was behind.

The air was sharp, burning his nose, stinging his eyes, but Bail still managed to peek around the far edge of the desk, which gave him about a two foot wide opening between it and some other debris that he thought was once a scanning console. He blinked, shook the tears out of his eyes and--

Both Obi-Wan and Maul were right in the line of fire; Obi-Wan blocking the door and Maul making his way flanking towards the other end of the room, their sabers deflecting back blaster bolts in a whirl of blue and gold light, the blades buzzing wildly. Over the mad din, Bail heard Obi-Wan call out almost jauntily, "I'll bet you regret skipping deflection practice now!"

He was wearing something of a grin, of all things, though it looked more like a baring of teeth than humor.

Maul didn't answer him, but he seemed to be holding his own well enough; even just for the brief period of observation Bail had, he could see where the ex-Sith was either less refined or just rusty, but despite a few close calls, nothing hit him and he was making steady progress in the direction he was heading.

The two of them had the attention of the aggressors split; Bail took that opportunity to aim carefully and fire.

One of the men went down under his blaster bolt, and he rolled back behind his cover as one of the attack droids turned its aim his way, giving him no time to think about what he had just done. Not even ten seconds of rapid fire later, there was a horrible whine and an explosion, and shards of hot metal embedded themselves in the desk, flew over top of it, hit the walls like deadly hail.

Bail looked over at the six centimeter spike smoking next to his head, it having gone through the desk, wide-eyed.

It was a bit of good fortune, though; he just happened to be facing the right way to see two more men and a droid shooting through a door he hadn't noticed before. His contact shouted a warning, and Bail called back, "I see them!" as he brought his blaster up and started firing, shifting to better cover and shoving down a cough from the smoke, his hands steadying again as he sank deeper and deeper into the necessities of the firefight.

Having backup helped, too.

While Obi-Wan was still in the middle of the room drawing fire from what was left of the first group of assailants, Maul was in the open to Bail's left; apparently, he had already figured out there was a door there and had found a position that allowed him to focus his attention on both groups. He had lit his second blade and now both moved in a blur, swift and smooth, deflecting back the rapid fire blaster bolts from both sides.

As he stood his ground, in the brief glance Bail got of him, his face was grim and hard and it almost looked like his eyes were glowing.

One of the droids was finally knocked backwards between the barrage of Bail's firing and Maul's deflection and when its shield went down, Bail finished it with the last shot of his salvaged blaster before it ran out of power. He tossed that one aside and grabbed his own out of its holster next and picked up firing again without hesitation, almost moving on automatic now, into some half-numb and businesslike state of mind where all there was left was him, the enemy and how much damage he could do to them before they got the chance to do it to him.

Behind them, he heard another whine as another droid started overloading. But Bail barely had time to think, Good, before the monitor bank his contact was behind exploded.

The woman screamed, a horrible and piercing noise; Bail threw himself behind another console just in time to avoid the worst of the shrapnel.

Just in time to watch the second droid go down in front of him.

And just in time to see the man who had been with it lift into the air, seemingly on invisible strings, dropping his blaster to claw desperately at his throat. Not even three seconds later, he flew forward and was impaled on the gold blade of a saberstaff, unable to so much as make a sound.

Maul barely took a moment to drag the blade up, the scent of burning flesh adding to the already thick and toxic smoke, cutting through the man's torso and taking off the edge of his skull before dropping him unceremoniously.

The zabrak didn't blink once the entire time.

It was in the panting, trembling after that Bail realized that the firing had stopped.

Obi-Wan's voice, rough from smoke or exertion, rang out through the air, which was now eerily quiet but for the crackling of fire and the sound of the woman's desperate, pained gasps: "Give it up! You're the only one left, this is over."

Bail picked his head up above his cover and could barely make out the shadow of the man through the smoky haze. A lone droid remained beside him.

Obi-Wan still had his lightsaber ignited in front of him, ready to defend himself. "Don't throw your life away like this. Stand down and--"

--he never got a chance to finish the sentence; the droid opened fire and the man, whether he had thought about surrendering or not, raised his own blaster. Bail didn't even think; he brought his blaster up and fired, hitting the man in the chest, and not even a second later, Maul's blade went through the droid's weakened shields, right through it and into the man beside it, who was dead before he hit the ground.

Bail only just realized his hands were shaking again, sitting for a moment staring, and then he crawled to his feet, stumbled once and then headed for the woman, shoving his way through debris and--

"Organa," she said, relief in her eyes when she saw him, and he had a hard time swallowing down what he felt when he realized she had been worrying about him. Even though she was covered in blood, her ripped suit soaked with it from her ripped skin, more trickling from cuts on her face and neck.

Bail went to his knees beside her, setting his blaster down, and caught the only hand that wasn't mangled to offer-- anything. Comfort. Grounding. Anything. "So, about that name?" he asked, throat thick and eyes stinging, feeling overwhelmed in the comedown of adrenaline and the sight of this woman torn apart on the ground.

He remained vaguely aware of the sounds of movement and digging behind him, enough to stay alert in case any more unexpected surprises cropped up, but almost all of his attention was on the woman laying there; on the tears cutting tracks through the soot and blood, back to her graying temples.

He only barely felt his own fall.

"Alinta," she said, trying to smile at him in reassurance and failing when it turned into a drawn grimace.

Bail nodded, rubbing his thumb at the back of her hand with enough pressure that she might feel the comfort through her agony. "Alinta. What happened here? Who did this to you? Who were these men, were they related to Zigoola?"

He didn't want to ask her, press her, but if it was related to the Sith--

She shook her head a little, then gasped when apparently that pulled something. "No, no. Kalarba pirates. Another-- another mission. They jammed our comms, we couldn't-- couldn't warn you." Her mouth trembled and a fresh wave of tears fell. "I'm so sorry."

Bail shook his head sharply, unable to summon any relief for the knowledge this seemed unrelated to the mission to Zigoola. "Don't apologize. Okay? Don't apologize, you didn't do anything wrong. You've done so much for me, for Alderaan and the Republic, you owe no one anything."

"There's still so much--" Alinta sucked in a breath and then gasped it out rapidly, the pain etched in every line of her, and Bail cursed-- everything, everything, because he couldn't take that away and give this woman the comfort she deserved. "--so much to do, and I--"

"You're going to be okay," he said, and somewhere inside himself, he knew that it was more because he wanted to believe it than it was anything like truth.

A pair of black boots stepped over, crunching on broken panels and scattered buttons, and both he and Alinta looked up.

Bail shivered before he even had time to fully process what he was seeing.

He thought for a moment there that this must have been what Maul looked like ten years before; there was a remote, hard look on his face, detached and impersonal, as if he were staring at particularly interesting insects and not people. In his hand was an incredibly battered med kit, but there didn't seem to be any hint he had the inclination to use it.

It lasted only a moment, though; when he made eye contact with Bail, it seemed to jar him and he blinked once, the icy facade cracking and dissolving into something just as composed but alive again, and then he knelt on the other side of Alinta, opening up the case and pulling out a hypo. His hands, unlike Bail's, were perfectly steady as he pressed it up against the side of her neck.

Her relief was quick; the rigid, tortured way she was holding herself eased and she managed a dry combination of a laugh and a cough. "Thanks." It was clear she was still hurting, but it seemed to take quite a bit of the edge off of it, at least.

"There are no other survivors," Obi-Wan said, from behind Bail, his voice rough and low. "I'm very sorry."

"This is Alinta," Bail said, looking over at the soot-streaked Jedi as he knelt down beside Alinta's head, voice tight to the point of quivering. "Can you help her?"

Obi-Wan flicked a glance over to him, then looked back at the woman, resting his hand gently over her forehead. But after a moment where he was clearly immersed in the Force, he shook his head, mouth twisting in empathy. "No. I'm sorry."

Even though it had to hurt to do it, if the look on his face was any indicator, Obi-Wan kept his hand there, rubbing his thumb against the center of her forehead in a gentle sweep, but it was Maul who spoke up. "Bail," he said, quietly, holding up a second hypo in silent question, when Bail looked up.

It would be a fatal overdose, Bail could put that together pretty fast; apparently, even in this state, so could Alinta.

"No-- no, not yet," she said, dragging in a few ragged breaths, turning her gaze back to Bail. "In my left pocket, there's a data crystal. The comp coordinates for Zigoola. Take it."

"Can you tell us anything about the planet?" Obi-Wan asked; Bail looked over, ready to snap his head off for asking a dying woman for more information of all things, but one look at the Jedi's face made him hold his tongue. The hand he had over her forehead was still there, thumb still trying to rub comfort into her skin; even if he was asking for information, it was clear he wasn't willing to push beyond what she could manage to give him.

"Wild Space," Alinta answered, her eyes drifting closed for a moment. "Zigoola... it's in Wild Space."

There was an underlying note of urgency creeping into Obi-Wan's voice as he pressed, "How do you know about it? How did you get this information? Is an attack imminent, do you know? Are the Sith there?"

Alinta's voice was getting more and more thready and remote, but she said, "No. A-- a temple. Artifacts, plans."

"Their plans to attack the Jedi?"

Bail used his free hand to scrub the tears off of his face as she managed to say, "Yes." Then she rolled her head against the ground, from under Obi-Wan's hand, looking to Bail with glassy, desperate eyes. "Organa-- Bail-- I've never lied to you. Never. Please trust me."

"I do," he said, through a throat so thick it felt like it was going to close off and leave him on the floor beside her. "I do, it's okay."

Something like relief flooded her graying face. "This station-- self-destruct it? Please, our secrets..."

Bail nodded, getting his other hand under the one he was holding, rubbing as if he could rub the warmth and life back into her by that alone. "How?"

"Right pocket, data crystal for the center comm panel," she whispered, eyes closing for what was likely the last time, a shudder running through her frame. "...put it in, then run."

"Bail," Maul reminded, still waiting with the hypo. Bail thought he saw Obi-Wan out of the corner of his eye opening his mouth to protest, but when he nodded himself, Maul pressed the hypo to the woman's neck without hesitation.

"Rest easy, Alinta," Bail said, quietly. "Thank you."

As far gone as she was, she would have died with or without it, but the last remnants of pain vanished from her face as she lapsed into unconsciousness, body going slack and head lolling to the side, her suffering at an end.

About a minute later, she took her last breath.

 

 

 

All three of them watched the station self-destruct from a safe distance away, taking the pirate ship with it. It was over fast, leaving behind nothing but debris which occasionally caught the starlight enough to glitter faintly, taking with it the body of a friend Bail had only just met face-to-face.

None of them had said anything on the way out, aside cursory instructions back and forth; they had only paused long enough before setting the self-destruct to see if the communications equipment was working in the hopes of updating the Temple, the stronger transmitter being able to reach where the Starfarer couldn't. But that had been melted to slag in the firefight, leaving them with no other option.

Now, the silence was so heavy that it was hard to breathe through it, but Bail wasn't even dully surprised when it was Obi-Wan who broke it. "We need to decide whether we should keep going."

"What's there left to decide?" Bail asked, arms crossed and tucked against his chest, hands in his armpits in the hopes that they would steady again, for the moment ignoring the score of cuts and bruises from tiny to moderate that were throbbing steadily. His voice was even, though. "This doesn't change anything. The Sith are still planning an attack and we're still here to stop them."

"We have the coordinates now," Obi-Wan answered, standing at the back of the cockpit, soot and grime layered on his pale face except for where sweat had blazed clean trails. He had a few burn marks in his tunic and a few cuts and bruises from flying debris, but seemed to have come out the best of them. "We can turn back to the nearest friendly space, comm the Temple and request backup. We no longer have to protect anyone's anonymity."

"And wait for how many days until they arrive?" Maul asked back; he was sitting in the co-pilot's seat and picking shards of metal out of his skin with tweezers and a detachment that made Bail feel a little more ill, dropping the splinters into an empty parts container, and pausing between each one to wipe the open cuts clean, then spray on disinfectant from the med kit he'd brought from the station. "Moreover, given the war and how it's going, we would be waiting for perhaps a handful of senior padawans and convalescing knights, or a member of the Council at the outside. In the meantime, if an attack is imminent, that's time we can't afford."

It was a perfectly reasoned argument, but Obi-Wan apparently didn't want to hear it. "I'm aware of that, Maul, but you've already said we're flying right into a trap! What good are we going to do if we end up killed before we can even stop this alleged plan?"

"It sounds like we're damned if we do and damned if we don't," Bail cut in, looking between them, jaw knotting intermittently. "I vote we go forward, albeit carefully."

"Bail's correct." Maul dropped another splinter into the container with a dull plink sound. "There are no good options, so we might as well press on."

It was hard to see Obi-Wan back against a metaphorical wall, as he stared at them with some underlying desperation, but Bail had no intentions of backing down, either. After a moment more, where Obi-Wan eyed Bail's tucked arms in their blood-stained sleeves, the Jedi turned his full attention to Maul. "I'd like a word with you," he said, stiffly, then turned to head into the passenger compartment.

Bail was about to open his mouth to protest, but Maul just said, "Very well," and stood, the only sign of frustration in the way he flung the latest splinter into the container hard enough that it almost bounced back out again.

There were a few seconds where Bail thought about going after them on the protest that he wasn't fragile, but then he thought this might have been a conversation meant to be kept between them as a couple. As much as it rankled, he stayed where he was, though he finally managed to uncross his arms to start working out of his devastated shirt, wincing as his own wounds pulled.  It was around there that he realized he'd left his blaster behind.

Kriff.

At first and for a few minutes, the two in the back were too quiet to hear. But then it was Obi-Wan who raised his voice, sharp, "--stay behind, then maybe he will!"

Oh, really? Bail thought, blood rising, which frankly was something of a relief considering how he felt otherwise. He went still, setting aside his dress shirt, sitting in his sweat-and-blood stained undershirt as he strained to listen in.

He missed whatever Maul had answered with, but it was apparently not enough to appease the Jedi, who sounded even more desperate as he said, "Did you see yourself back there?"

Maul was finally audible, though just barely; his usually smooth inner core accent had turned clipped as he answered, "What, exactly, did you expect me to do?  It was a firefight. Your quip about deflection practice aside--" and he almost spat that out, "--how else am I supposed to fight? You certainly didn't hesitate to kill. Or are we holding referendum on my feelings towards doing so?"

Bail was tempted to cover his ears or tune out again; this argument apparently was a messy mix of tactics and emotions and clearly personal. But in the end, he didn't; as grudging as the thought was, Bail thought that Obi-Wan had a legitimate reason to be concerned. Even for as short a time as Bail had known Maul, there was such a wide gulf between the calm, good-humored zabrak who sat next to him in the Starfarer and the being who split a man up the middle and dropped him next to part of his own skull like he had been nothing.

Even if it was a legitimate argument, though, Maul's retort seemed to put Obi-Wan on his back foot, because there was a contrite and quieter note in his voice as he said, "No. No, I-- I know. All right? I know it was a firefight. And I know what side you're on. I'm just-- I'm worried."

"What do you want me to say? I didn't enjoy it. It was a fight. I fought. That's all."

If Bail had been part of that conversation, he might have pointed out that there were a lot of things a person could feel aside enjoyment at killing that were pretty bad, too. But as soon as he realized that, he let out a breath and shook his head, the whole reason for the argument clicking into place like a puzzle piece.

He thought of Breha again, and his heart squeezed in sharp longing, sharp enough to catch his breath.

There was a long pause there, and Bail didn't need much imagination to picture them right back to the stare-down of earlier. Then Maul asked, voice chillingly even, "Are you going to force the issue?"

"No," Obi-Wan answered, almost plaintively. "No, I'm not going to-- to force the issue, I just wish you would listen to me."

"I have listened," Maul said, voice losing some of its edge in favor of weariness. "I wish you would afford me the same."

Bail winced, waiting to hear how Obi-Wan would reply, but after a good minute of silence, Maul was coming back into the cockpit and Bail realized that either the Jedi had been too quiet to hear or he hadn't managed to say anything at all.

Given the look Maul was wearing, Bail would lay credits on it being the latter.

"Are either of you planning on using the 'fresher yet?" Obi-Wan asked, following, looking worn and heartsick as he stood in the doorway.

"No, go ahead," Bail answered, gesturing Obi-Wan away when the Jedi paused to eye his cut and bruised arms and the knicks in his chest. "This isn't bad, go get cleaned up."

Obi-Wan nodded, not really making eye contact, and vanished again. Once he was gone, Maul didn't look up from where he was getting into the med kit again to say, "You should set the coordinates."

It wasn't an order, but it didn't need to be. Bail stuck the data crystal in the console and once the course was set, he engaged the hyperdrive, then rubbed one hand over his face, a little relieved that it wasn't shaking anymore. His chest was sore, but he wasn't entirely sure if it was from the smoke back there or the wretchedness of what he had just been party and witness to.

He left his hand over his eyes and breathed.

 

 

 

It took awhile for Bail to come out from behind the shelter of that hand.

He spent the time working over it. What he had done. What he was going to be facing in the next several hours or days. What he was going to tell his wife when he saw her next. How he was going to protect the other two. He ran over it so many times that he almost couldn't bear it, and when he finally managed to come back out of his own head, Maul disappeared into the back -- at some point obviously having gone and cleaned himself up, he was wearing clean clothes and looking not much worse for wear -- and came back with tea for them both and an offer to pick slivers of metal out of Bail's flesh for him.

That was a hell of an offer, so Bail took it.

The oppressiveness of the silence had eased a little, though; Obi-Wan was apparently in his -- or their -- bunk trying to meditate and seek some guidance from the Force, which just left the two of them sitting on the floor and the swirl of hyperspace out the viewport.

Obi-Wan hadn't been kidding; Maul did have ridiculously warm hands. More than once, Bail unconsciously leaned into whichever one was braced against his shoulder or chest, the heat a comforting counterpoint to the sting as metal splinters were picked out of his skin by tweezers. Luckily enough, most of those were above his mid-section; there wasn't anything like enough room to lay down on the cockpit floor to make any others easily accessible, and he didn't want to go and disturb Obi-Wan by going back into the passenger compartment.

"How do you see those really small ones?" Bail asked, more to make conversation after the prolonged silence than anything else, but also some measure curious; it wasn't exactly brightly lit up there and some of those pieces were only a millimeter long.

"They catch the light, and I have better low-light vision than a human does." Maul gestured to his own eyes, then picked out the last (tiny) shard, dropping it in the same container his own collection was in, before sitting back to grab the disinfectant spray. When Bail had asked him earlier why he'd brought that kit when they had a full one aboard the Starfarer, Maul had only replied that they should save what they had in case they needed it later.

Pragmatic. Unnerving, but pragmatic.

Bail closed his eyes, waiting for the sting. "Anything else?"

"Thicker skin, literally and apparently often metaphorically. Higher pain tolerance threshold. Two hearts. Higher body temperature. Various other minor or cosmetic differences."

Bail huffed a laugh out, even while wincing as the disinfectant hit the newly tweezed cuts and instantly sterilized them. "I knew about the two hearts. Does that mean one's a spare?" he joked, admittedly weakly.

Maul scoffed back. "No. Well, not in any permanent sense. I've survived one being stopped before, but it wasn't for very long."

The implications of that statement took a moment to sink in; by the time Bail opened his eyes, though, Maul was already up and packing away the battered med kit again, calm as anything. It was pretty hard to guess his age thanks to the bold markings that acted almost like camouflage, but Bail wouldn't have put him past his late twenties or early thirties; accounting for the ten years he had been prisoner to the Jedi Order -- and Bail highly doubted such a thing would have happened to him there -- that left an age range that was beyond disturbing, when Maul could have found that out.

Not that anyone should find that sort of thing out at any age, but that young...

Not knowing what to say to that, despite wanting to say something, Bail got to his feet slowly and stiffly, feeling every single bruise and sore muscle he had. He glanced to the chronometer and the navicomp. "We have eight hours; I need to get a shower, then we can split the difference on sleep? You go first and I'll wake you in four?"

For a moment, Maul eyed him almost warily -- Bail wondered if it was because of Obi-Wan's prior protectiveness, whether overbearing or not -- but then he nodded. "All right."

When Bail was finished cleaning himself off and dressing in clean clothes, he paused for a moment on the way back to the cockpit, just to look at his two companions.

Whatever troubles had sprung up between them, they were still sharing that same bunk, curled up together and holding onto one another, and for a thousand reasons -- some he could define and some that had no definition -- that sight made Bail's chest warm and ache all at once.

Unbidden, he thought about how lonely they must sometimes feel.

When he sat back down in the pilot's seat, to try to work a little more and maybe distract himself, he ended up writing a letter into a spare datapad to his wife instead, telling her about the firefight and Alinta and what he felt about everything, pouring his heart out.

 

 

 

For the second time, Obi-Wan Kenobi's voice rocketed Bail out of sleep.

This time, it was a scream.

Bail shot out of his bunk with his heart racing at the exact same time Obi-Wan rolled out of his, screaming again and thrashing on the floor, and Bail looked around wildly trying to see if there was some sort of attacker or-- or anything causing this. All he found was Maul just arrived, and for the first time since they had met, the zabrak looked thoroughly spooked, frozen in the doorway, wide-eyed.

That only made what Obi-Wan was doing seem even more terrifying.

The howling resolved into words, desperate and piercing -- "Get them off me, get them off me!" -- and then Obi-Wan was clawing at his head and face like he was trying to rip his own skin off, fingernails raking against flesh.

Bail and Maul almost knocked heads, hitting the ground and scrambling to try to catch his hands, ending up with one each, even as Obi-Wan fought against the hold. Bail was the first to find his voice, grateful somewhere in his own mind that it was steady. "Obi-Wan! Obi-Wan! Wake up!"

Obi-Wan fought for another moment, but then his eyes snapped open and he gasped, chest heaving and stare fixed on the ceiling for a few seconds before he caught sight of them. His hands were clenched into fists now. "--what?" he asked, a surprisingly small sound from a grown man, frightened.

"You were having a nightmare," Maul said, voice coarse, shifting his grip on Obi-Wan's hand to wrap around it and use it to pull the man upright. There was a bit of a question in that tone.

Bail nodded and helped, then sat back on his rear once the Jedi was sitting up, giving them both some space. Obi-Wan still looked disoriented, and when he reached up to rub at his eyes with his free hand, his fingers were trembling. His face was ghostly, drained of color, and the few red marks he'd left stood in sharp contrast to it.

"I'm all right," he said, seemingly almost to himself, as if he was trying to reassure himself of that fact.

"It was just a nightmare?" Bail asked, especially given that last time he'd known anything, Obi-Wan had been trying to glean information from the Force. "Not a premonition?"

Obi-Wan nodded, dropping his hand and drawing his knees up. "It was a memory."

"Recent?" he pressed, wondering if it was from the station they'd left back there, blown to tiny pieces.

"No. Not recent." Obi-Wan's voice was stripped raw from his screaming and he took a deeper breath then released it with a shudder. "I'm all right," he repeated, more certainly.

A glance over showed that Maul was just as unconvinced as Bail was; they exchanged a worried look, then Bail took a few steadying breaths of his own. "Can I get you something? Tea? Water? Brandy? Ale?"

"Water, please," Obi-Wan answered, forcing a smile.

Bail got to his feet and he wasn't too surprised to find he felt sort of shaken himself. Stress was nothing new to him -- sometimes a lot of stress -- but this was a different sort of pressure than he was used to. He took some time to wash his face off, then to lean on the sink and compose himself a little better, and then he got the tallest glass of water that he could and brought it back out, catching the other two apparently in mid-conversation.

"--wasn't like the dinkos," Obi-Wan was saying; in the few minutes Bail was away, he and Maul had ended up against the drawers that were between the bunk and the floor, sitting with their shoulders pressed together and fingers twined. "I was almost fourteen, for one."

Maul didn't look like he was happy with that answer; he worked his jaw, but he didn't say anything when Bail brought back the water and sat down, handing it off to Obi-Wan.

"Did I miss a story?" Bail asked, leaning back against the opposite bunk.

The color hadn't quite come back to Obi-Wan's face yet, but he looked more put together than he had been. He took a few sips of his water, then set the glass off to the side with a shake of his head. "I was just explaining what I was remembering," he said, scrubbing his free hand back through his hair. "It was a field trip to Taanab, I was practicing some exercises blindfolded and fell into a pit of firebeetles."

Bail shuddered at the thought. "Firebeetles? I thought those were extinct."

"No, not entirely. They still live in some unoccupied areas." Obi-Wan blew a breath out of his nose, not quite a laugh. "I was a little overconfident and lost my footing."

"That's horrible," Bail said, plainly, because it was; the idea of a thirteen, almost fourteen-year-old boy in that situation. Especially since it clearly left scars, even if not physical.

Obi-Wan shook his head. "It wasn't that bad. And really, I only had myself to blame; if I had slowed down and been more careful, I wouldn't have fallen."

It sounded like something he had said so many times that he was just repeating it rote.

Bail went to open his mouth, blinking in surprise, ready and willing to point out all of the things wrong with that statement, but that was apparently more than Maul could take, because he got up and left for the back utility section, leaving Obi-Wan to look after him with his hand still out.

Then the Jedi closed his eyes, expression abjectly miserable, and dropped his head into his hands, muttering some curse in a language Bail didn't know as he drew his knees up tighter to his chest. The more Bail got to know Obi-Wan, all prickly superiority and obstinance aside, the more he realized just how much of the man's outward facing attitude was self-protective shielding.

"I'll go see what's up," Bail said, getting to his feet and cutting off the immediate protest with a dismissive wave of his hand. "I'll send the bill for the marriage counselling after we get back."

It had the desired effect; even in this state, Obi-Wan had to smile, even if it was a wavering and unsteady one. But then the smile fell away and all he looked was worried; Bail didn't doubt for a second that if he stepped wrong, Obi-Wan would swoop down on him like the overprotective hawk he was.

There wasn't really enough room to pace back there in the aft compartment, but Maul was doing a pretty admirable job of trying to anyway. He paused when Bail showed up in the door, going stiff and drawing himself up defensively, but when Bail offered a tight smile, he just went right back to pacing again with a strident, "I don't want to talk about it."

That was probably a selective truth. Or maybe he didn't want to, but needed to. Bail nodded, crossing his arms and leaning against the door frame, blowing right past that objection without even bothering to wave to it as he passed. "I'm glad I'm not the only one who knows how wrong that statement was."

Maul paused and flung a hand up in the air, fingers splayed, in such an eloquent expression of frustration that Bail almost laughed. Not because the frustration was funny, but because the gesture spoke it so well. Then he went back to pacing, making a few more laps before he stopped and sighed out, head dropping. "The hypocrisy--" he started, then shook his head.

Bail's eyebrow jumped up. "You might have to break this down for me."

It took a few moments, and the words were still clipped short and sharp, but Maul tried to explain, "Something similar happened to me. I told him about it-- I don't know, seven or so years ago now, and he had the nerve to look at me in horror and tell me that it shouldn't have happened, that it was wrong, that I didn't deserve it, but then he does this--"

Oh. Bail pressed his mouth into a line, feeling for the both of them. "I'm guessing relationships weren't big for the Sith, either?"

Maul looked at him, eyes narrowed a little, right back to wariness. "No."

"Love is full of blind spots." It was a strange thing for Bail, to be in the position of trying to teach two emotionally-uneducated Force users how to deal with something so basic as relationship negotiation, but he happened to like them both enough to try. He leaned his head against the door frame, working out how he wanted to explain. "I mean, some of them aren't bad, like whether you snore at night or who steals the blankets. But some of them are bigger and they take more work."

Now that he thought about it, in this context, the way both of them had looked at him when he told them how he'd met Breha seemed a lot deeper.

"Things that you blindly accept for yourself -- like being eaten alive by firebeetles -- are things you would never, ever want someone else you love to go through," he continued, after working over the words in his mind, wanting to be clear. "It's not so much intentionally being a hypocrite, it's not--" Bail held out both hands, gesturing like a set of scales, "balancing things out right. I'm guessing there are things you've lived through that you'd do anything to spare him from, right?"

Maul didn't blink, watching Bail carefully, and only said, "Yes."

"Right. And there are things he feels the same way about." This was harder than he thought it would be; Bail hoped like hell that he was doing it right. "The hard part is where wanting to protect someone meets giving them the freedom to choose for themselves what they're going to do. You seem to already have that part figured out -- which puts you ahead of me, by the way -- but Obi-Wan doesn't."

It was a little like watching an internal lightbulb turn on; Bail couldn't deny feeling kind of gratified when Maul said, "Oh," like he had just finally gotten an answer to a question he'd been asking himself for a long time. Then, in a manner that Bail was learning was quite characteristic, he asked directly, "How do I fix that?"

"That-- I don't know," Bail answered, smiling despite himself. "Patience and communication are the only answers I have. You can't really fix someone else. But since you already know pretty well where the line is, I think you two will work it out eventually."

There were several beats of silence there, where Maul was clearly working that over in his mind, then he gave a considered nod and some of the tension uncoiled from him and the air around him.

Senator, adventurer, marriage counselor, Bail thought, tiredly amused, turning to go back up front. But then he stopped and turned back, giving the zabrak a poke in the shoulder. "Oh, and Maul? Neither of you deserved it."

He didn't wait to see how that landed, just headed back up to the cockpit, giving a worried Obi-Wan a reassuring look on his way by.

 

 

 

In his dreams, Bail was home.

Gold light poured through the windows of their bedroom, lighting up Breha's skin, her hair loose in a wave of black across Bail's chest that glistened in the sun, and he looked down at her sleeping on his shoulder through his eyelashes, losing himself in the way she formed to his side, the way she breathed.

Love could ache, he had found; an exquisite ache, where something was so wonderful that it almost couldn't be real. On these mornings when they were both home together, when duty didn't have them relying on a commlink to stay connected, Bail felt his most alive.

Love could hurt, too.

It was before the first miscarriage. Before the second, the third, the fourth, the fifth. Before that hurt and anger and grief -- the grief -- and the way they retreated from one another, wounded and unsure, desperately in love, desperately in pain. Every single time, they found their way back, but not always easily, not always cleanly. They were careful not to blame each other; even when they fought, they never crossed those lines. But it was much harder not to blame themselves.

Bail hadn't yet figured out how to forgive himself. He wasn't sure if he ever would. On the bad nights, when he was drunk and alone and didn't have a friend there to witness, he found himself apologizing to the woman he loved and the children he would have had, who died before they could even live, drinking to the point of blacking out with those heartbroken words still on his lips.

Dragging in a breath, he held on tighter to his wife, to the sun shining through the window and the peaceful way he could wake there. Then they would either get up leisurely or make love leisurely; they would have breakfast and he would have seconds (or maybe thirds) and they would start the day more slowly. They used to take holidays together; even duty-bound, they would take a few days or a week to travel, visiting the corners of their beautiful world, sometimes visiting other worlds.

He missed those times, when they still could do that.

I love you, he thought, desperately, watching the way the shadows of curtains played across her face. I love you, Breha. Don't make me leave.

Some part of him must have known he would get no such mercy, just as much as he knew that she would give him any mercy if she were here and could.

Bail opened his eyes with a ragged gasp, pain firing like lightning through his left shoulder and the taste of blood in his mouth, scrambling mentally to remember what happened and how he got here. He nearly gagged on it, awareness of the battering he took coming back hard, from the bruised feeling of his throat to his ringing head to his screaming shoulder to a spot in his left hip that felt like a landspeeder fell on it full force.

Pale yellowish light filtered through the hole in the roof of the Starfarer, where she had been peeled open like a cheap tin can.

Zigoola.

He grit his teeth, crying out through them as he rolled onto his right side and picked himself up to sit, head spinning wildly for a moment. Once his vision cleared again, he found the other two.

Obi-Wan was less than a meter away, blood not yet dry on his cheeks and beard and neck; just the sight of him was nearly enough to make Bail's heart try to force an exit through his throat. The image of him with his bloody, ashen face twisted into a wild, terrifying snarl came back; something had possessed him, it seemed, had reached out beyond the atmosphere of this world just as Bail was scanning for life on it, and the next thing that happened was pandemonium.

Flashes of the Starfarer screaming through atmosphere came back, out of sequence, jumbled thanks to a concussion.

Maul had tried to stop Obi-Wan, and for a brief time, it seemed that both Jedi and ex-Sith were matched for power, but whatever had possessed Obi-Wan ultimately won and he'd flung Maul off with frightening ease.

The last piece of anything Bail remembered was the way the dark trees were looming in the viewport, the horrified look on Obi-Wan's face as he finally broke free of whatever had been controlling him, turned and -- still ashen and still bloody -- threw himself towards them as if he could shield them from the impending disaster.

Maul was a little further away, though he didn't look quite as bad; out cold, bloodied up some and missing a few horns, but at least he wasn't bleeding from the nose or eyes or mouth or ears like Obi-Wan had been. Both of them were breathing and when Bail could swallow his own queasiness enough to be still, he could see that it was even and he didn't hear any telltale gurgling or rattling.

It took him about ten minutes to check over the both of them, looking for broken bones or signs of internal bleeding; even after that, though, he didn't dare try to move them for fear of invisible neck or back injuries. He could feel his own case of whiplash settling in even as he forced himself together, mind skipping across thoughts like a stone across the glassy surface of the lake, down where he spent summer breaks as a boy on Alderaan.

The Starfarer was damaged beyond repair, the cockpit crushed nearly past the point of recognition, taking with it even the distant hope they could call for help, every panel destroyed. The decking was warped in the passenger compartment, buckled and angled up towards the stern, and everything that hadn't been battened down was on the floor.

There was a tree limb, mangled horribly, stuck in the hole in the roof.

Bail sat for another few minutes, shaking and dazed, and then made himself get up and get to work.

 

 

 

Time moved inconsistently, at first.

He found the med kits -- the shipboard one had survived fully, the station's had some usable supplies left -- and put them close to his two battered companions. Then he managed to make it back to the short strip of the galley, pulling meal packs off of the shelves, counting them and recounting them when he lost track once or twice, despite the comparatively small number. He got out his brandy and as many bottles of water as survived.

He painstakingly took all of that outside, lining it up in the Starfarer's shadow, staggering and pausing once or twice to dry heave from the pain and vertigo.

His mind cleared a little at a time as he worked, though, mercifully; each small goal accomplished, each minute further away from the crash. By the time he was done with his salvage operations, he was about as all right as he was going to get, and headed into the trees to find enough deadfall to start a fire, not knowing when night would fall, but knowing they would likely need the warmth and light when it did.

When he came back twenty or so minutes later, picking his way out of the trees and underbrush and looking up once he was clear of both, he ended up dropping all of it in a dry clatter on the ground.

If he had thought he saw an echo of the Sith Lord Maul had been ten years ago on the station, that had nothing on the reality of it in front of him.

Maul was standing with such easy, predatory grace, straight-backed and chin tipped up, that it made the battering he'd taken seem utterly inconsequential; his saberstaff was in his hand, both blades lit, and he was staring at Obi-Wan with eerie intensity as the Jedi sat, bloody and dazed and trembling, looking up at him.

Maul's eyes were glowing, visible even at a distance, visible even in the daylight, harsh and toxic yellow light.

Bail didn't even know what he could do, but he headed that way because he had to do something and Maul didn't even look at him, just gestured casually in his direction and flung him backwards, the punch of it sending Bail to skid on the rough ground, pain and vertigo spiking.

Terror ran through his veins, cold and awful, and he swallowed down the urge to scream, sitting up and watching one friend looming over the other murderously.

For a moment, he thought it was going to end here. A blade swing, and everything they had fought for destroyed.

Then, much like on the station, Maul seemed to shake himself out of it, taking half a step backwards, entire posture changing and the mad yellow light fading out of his eyes. He extinguished his blades, hand shaking, and dropped the staff before dropping to the ground himself. He said something to Obi-Wan, Obi-Wan replied with his whole body shuddering in relief, and Bail released the breath he hadn't even known he was holding.

He swallowed down his terror and got back to his feet, leaving the deadfall there for the moment, and headed back over there to them.

"We're in so much trouble," he said, half to himself, when they both looked up at him, one with sick and dazed relief and one with chilling fear.

Chapter Text

The world was whispering.

The sensation of it wasn't unlike the crawl of electricty across skin, that period of nanoseconds where nerve endings woke before the pain started, but on the inside of his skull instead. Were it his arms, he would shake them out, but he couldn't do the same with his mind.

Maul knew he should have been hurting; his motions had been stiff crawling out of that wreckage, he could feel blood dried to his head and his face, he could taste more blood in his mouth.

But there was no pain.

Instead, there was a thrum of strength, fire-hot and seductive, a song in the marrow of his bones that he could feel distinctly in each and every one of his fingers, a not-ache that begged him to use it, to direct it. Tracers of flame, chasing one another through his forearms, to his shoulders, to his ribs and spine and back up again, and he wanted it; oh, he wanted it, wanted to feel it answer to the barest twitch of a fingertip, the slightest thought.

He vaguely heard Bail and Obi-Wan, but he wasn't listening.

Somewhere, some part of him remained-- before enough, sensible and logical enough, to know that much of what he was feeling wasn't his, however much it seemed to be. The heedless, careless way he felt about the two men a few meters away wasn't his. The contradictory spike of possessive jealousy at Bail helping to clean the mask of blood off of Obi-Wan's face wasn't his; in ten years, Maul had never felt either of those things about the Jedi, saw no point to such ownership.

The vicious tug in his veins to make them suffer wasn't his.

The fear, though... that was his.

He half-rocked himself in place with his arms around his metal shins, some ancient pre-memory instinct to self-soothe perhaps, willfully forcing himself not to look at them, to instead focus on something else. The loudest voice, the voice like a static hiss, like the sound of ice shards hitting a window, had fallen quiet, but the other whispers were still there; overlapping, encouraging, abusing, reciting information, demanding explanation, too chaotic to be much use, too loud to ignore.

He should have been talking to the other two. Figuring out a plan of action, maybe. But he couldn't; could not really hear beyond the whispers. He looked into gnarled trees and the shadows there and didn't see them.

When a different shadow fell across him, pale in this pale light, Maul snarled aloud without thought, one hand flying up, and it was by the slimmest of margins that he didn't throw or choke or break the shadow's owner.

Bail took a step back, looking frightened. Well contained, but frightened.

One voice in Maul’s head said, Good 
but another said, I’m sorry.

Trapped between the two of them, he stayed his hand, but only just.

Despite still looking shaken, Bail lowered himself to the ground, setting aside the medkit he'd brought. He was favoring his left shoulder heavily, face pulled into tight lines of pain, and when he settled onto the hard-packed ground, he did so with a drawn grimace. "That bad?"

Maul watched him and it didn't even occur to him right then that he was supposed to answer that question, not until Bail frowned, brow furrowed in worry. Then Maul remembered that he was supposed to speak, to respond, and he said, "It doesn't hurt."

"I was more referring to whatever was going on in your head, but that works, too." Bail popped open the medkit and then reached out; he paused when Maul raised a lip at him, but this time, he didn't draw away, just stared back, voice steady as he said, "Listen: It might not hurt, but you've had three horns torn off your head. I'm pretty amazed you didn't get your ear sheared right off, the way you hit that door frame. We're crash-landed and we have no idea when we're getting off this planet, so I'm going to patch you up so we don't have to deal with a potential infection later, you're going to refrain from doing violence to me, and we're going to be okay."

For some reason, that declaration made Maul want to laugh; to bark some unsteady, unstable sound with no relation to mirth. Something in him was whispering, I could crush you with barely a thought, Senator, and it must have shown on his face, because Bail's look back was both hard and afraid.

Afraid, but determined; not bothering to give any more credence to the warning, Bail just reached out and caught him by the chin, and Maul felt such a wave of revulsion and relief that he hissed a breath through his teeth. But after a few seconds, the revulsion faded away and left behind at least some sense of being-- still, being present, the shifting between feelings so intense that he shuddered when it finally stopped for a moment.

"Would this usually hurt?  Having horns knocked off?" Bail asked, after he'd settled, using that grip to turn Maul's head this way and that, inspecting the damage, hand firm but not bruising. His tone was more normal now, though there were still undercurrents of pain and unease there.

"Not much," Maul answered, the words coming easier, as he closed his eyes and left his neck loose, tucking his arms around himself. His voice was ragged, even to his own ears. "Some. They used to fall off as I was growing, too. They'll grow back."

There was a pause there, then Bail huffed. "Wouldn't that technically make them antlers?"

Not terribly far away, Obi-Wan laughed; it wasn't the chest-deep laugh, it was much thinner, but it was something real. Maul clung to that sound like the only rope over the edge of a cliff, saying, "Maybe. I've never given much thought to it."

He did wince when Bail checked his ear; it stung, quick and bright, right where it was joined to his head and for some bizarre reason, Maul was relieved to feel it through the thick, smoke-black hum.

Bail made a thoughtful noise, then said, "I'm going to clean all of this up and spray it down with disinfectant. Doesn't look like you need bandaged up, though."

Small mercies. When Bail let him go, he just nodded, keeping his eyes closed; the darkness was a false comfort, but a comfort nonetheless. Everything was overwhelming; the feel of this world all around him, the chaotic and violent energy right there, begging to be used. It was all too much. He was only aware he was digging his fingernails in over his elbows when Bail paused in his first aid to nudge his hands off.

"Something possessed him, when he grabbed the helm," Bail said, quietly so as not to be overhead, painstakingly scrubbing the blood away with the small cache of sterilized pads from the kit, being far more gentle around broken skin. "Something's having a go at you, too, isn't it?"

There was a fairly strong temptation not to answer that, for wondering how it might be used against him, but Maul was together enough to realize that it was unfounded paranoia. "Something," he agreed, not sure what else he could or should say about it, at least without having to go into the nature of the Force and the nature of having grown up using it as naturally as breathing; he could not remember a time when it didn't answer to him, either subtly or violently. "I'll manage it," he added, more declaration of intent than absolute certainty.

"Yeah." Bail didn't sound like he disagreed with that statement; it was another odd relief not to be blatantly distrusted despite Maul's earlier display. "All right, hold still, this'll sting."

 

 

 

You are--

Unlike the loudest voice, the others didn't call him by name, but that didn't mean they quit addressing him anyway.

You are--

It was a sentence that ended a hundred different ways. A thousand. --sithfailurevisitorlostapprenticeacolytebroken.

Maul kept catching himself growling at those voices, that low steady rumble at the base of his throat with roots somewhere deep in his chest, and he kept stopping himself when he did catch it, both in defiance of the urge and so as not to unnerve the other two. He had managed to put Bail's arm in a proper sling, retrieve the deadfall, start a fire; he didn't talk much, didn't idle, didn't feel any need nor desire to rest.

Didn't go anywhere near Obi-Wan.

It seemed they both felt the same way; Obi-Wan would occasionally look his way, mixed emotion and quiet desperation, but made no move to approach, either.

I am-- he thought, now picking through the wreckage for anything useful. His own voice in his head sounded very quiet against the others, barely a whisper, barely anything.

He didn't know how to finish that sentence.

He pawed absently at his face and then stared at the spare parts. None of them enough to make a transmitter; none of them useful. At best, he might be able to repair the Starfarer's auxiliary generator, but that would only do them good so long as there was power in the batteries, and his time was probably better used elsewhere.

You are--

"According to Obi-Wan, he thinks it's some kind of-- technology. He said something called a holocron could be modified to do this," Bail said, standing in the warped corridor of the Starfarer, looking thoroughly exhausted. "A trap, basically."

"Either set for us, or old and waiting to be sprung," Maul murmured, half to himself, paraphrasing what he had said in the Temple before. He shook his head. "I don't know. A trap, yes, but I don't know anything more than that."

"I thought I saw the temple that Alinta had mentioned, when we were crashing towards our deaths." Bail used his good hand to scrub back through his disheveled hair. "I think we should rest tonight and make for it tomorrow. It might have something we can use to get off of this miserable rock."

The Sith didn't tend to keep communications arrays laying around. Nor did they keep spare ships just on the off-chance someone might crash into a world. Bail's proposal was the longest of longshots, but it was really the only thing that they could do.

At least, there might be a way to shut these voices up.

"All right," Maul said, after a moment's more thought. That would mean provisioning for movement. Hiking. He was in the best shape of the three of them; Bail's shoulder meant he should be carrying less weight. And Obi-Wan-- "What condition is he in?"

"Nothing's broken, but he seems pretty miserable anyway." Bail half-slid down the corridor like he was skating, back to the passenger compartment; by design, it was the part of the ship best reinforced to survive a crash and it had done so mostly intact. After a moment more of staring at the spare parts, Maul followed him.

Bail was getting what was left of his clothes out of his drawers, as he asked, "What's going on with you two? I mean, in relation to each other."

There wasn't any anger in the tone, just a great deal of worry. Maul wasn't sure how to answer that question; he wasn't sure what he was feeling, except-- repelled. He couldn't really make himself want to talk to Obi-Wan, let alone get anywhere close to him, and he knew that was a very different thing than before the crash. He didn't know why or how to fix it, either. He went to try to explain and couldn't find any words to do so; after a moment, he just scrubbed at his eyes harshly and shook his head, before getting into the drawers under his bunk, having to yank against the warping of the tracks.

"Is it because he almost crashed us?" Bail asked, more carefully. "Or because you looked ready to take his head off? Because I'm pretty sure neither of you were yourselves there."

"He was possessed. I-- was not." It was a curiously hard admission to make. It also made Maul want to rip things apart with his bare hands, be it something else or himself; he gave his arms a shake-out, trying to resist that urge and finding it incredibly difficult, before he went back to getting out his clothes and other gear. "I spent every remembered day of my life before Theed learning how to slaughter Jedi. Wanting to slaughter Jedi. It would be easy here. There's so much power, and it answers me so readily."

There was a long beat of silence, then Bail said, "But you don't want to. Or you wouldn't have stopped yourself, right?"

The three shells from Iloh, on their rough brown twine, were reflecting in blues and violets and oil-rainbow whites, looking oddly clean even in the dirty light of this world. Sitting in a scrap of dark blue cloth, they were perfectly intact, unbroken by the crash landing.

Maul pulled them out carefully, looking at them laying in the black of his palm, and the ache tight like a fist in his chest caught his breath short.

"Right," he whispered, before closing his fingers around his shells, feeling the thin round edges biting light against his skin.

 

 

 

Whatever was at Obi-Wan was relentless.

He twisted and turned in the bunk they had shared before, trapped in nightmares or memories, and it was impossible to tell whether waking him would be more merciful, or if the fact that he needed sleep, even restless, was more important than his suffering. It was a choice Maul had no capacity to make; he sat against some debris in the dark, watching over the other two, as night descended deep, deeper still. He didn't feel tired himself; the energy of this world was stronger than any stim.

Even if it had not been, the one voice had come back.

It still had no distinct form of its own; still white noise, words formed out of radio static. It stung and itched at the inside of his skull, made him want to scratch it right out of his brain, but he couldn't. Sometimes, he thought the inflection, the rhythm of the words was familiar and he didn't know if it was alive, but it seemed like it.

Obi-Wan was hearing voices, too; did they call him by name? If they did, what would they say?

Could a modified holocron even perform such a feat?

Maul had not asked; could not ask. Like magnets turned wrong, they skirted each other's periphery. It wasn't that Maul had suddenly decided he didn't want to be anywhere near Obi-Wan Kenobi. It was as if he had never been in the first place; as if he had never slept against him, had never sat holding hands, had never been a mattress or resting post. As if none of it had ever happened, and they had always been enemies, opposites. Always destined to kill one another.

Some part of him ached for it; not the kill, even, but the battle. To give into the raw power of this world and reattain some prior state of grace, heedless of lost limbs and lost time, drawing on the offered strength that flowed so readily to him.

To remember, for even a moment, what perfection felt like. To forget, for even a moment, what it felt like to be always lost.

When those shells weren't in his pocket, they were firmly in his hand.

This was real. His own voice, quietly plaintive. This was real.

Iloh. Obi-Wan had gone outside with that enigmatic (and frustrating) smile. When Maul stood in the doorway after he was done packing, he found that Obi-Wan had taken off his boots and rolled up his leggings to the knees and he was standing in the surf with the wind tangling his hair, head back and eyes closed, and in the bright and tropical sun, he was a study of copper and tan with the reflection off the blue-green sea and the foam curling around his bared ankles.

Maul was not given to sentimentality; at least, he didn't think he was, but he still went and untied the twine on those shells and left the frosted, empty bottle on the table. Rubbed his thumb against the smooth surfaces of them, laid down by some kind of mollusk to protect itself from irritation, and then he had pocketed them and occasionally in the days, weeks and years thereafter when he was alone, he pulled them out just to remember: This happened. This was real.

What must it be, to be the pet of the Jedi? the voice asked, in his head, in faux sympathy.

Maul knotted his jaw. Ran the pad of his thumb against the thin edge of one of the shells, the tiny imperfections giving it a slightly rough feel. Not hard enough to cut himself or damage the shell. But holding to something solid, something tangible, something that couldn't be redefined later through different lenses by different voices.

There's a code. You remember it, don't you? Peace is a lie; there is only passion. Through passion I gain strength. Through strength I gain power. Through power I gain victory...

Through victory my chains are broken, Maul answered, rote, unbidden, and then bared his teeth at himself for doing so.

Very good.

The voice was surface. A hundred shallow cuts, nettle-stings. He ticked his head sharp to the side, as if he could shake it off that way; as if he could knock it loose, and away from him. It was surface, he could feel it in the topmost layers; it couldn't seem to reach past that, could not seem to read him unless he responded.

He wished he could layer pearl between it and himself; that he could go back to--

What to? What would he go back to?

He tightened his fingers around those shells again and breathed against his closed fist.

You can still break your chains, Lord Maul, the voice purred. All you have to do is what you were made to do.

 

 

 

Morning was cool and dry; the sky was clear, pale blue with the hints of the red nebula that occupied this area of space further out filtering into it. It broke slowly, out of low and dismal gray, offering little in the way of warmth.

At some point a couple of hours before, Obi-Wan had finally stilled, likely too exhausted to fight in his sleep any longer. By some feat of will that Maul was surprised he possessed, he made himself get up and throw the blanket back over the Jedi, not making contact but getting close enough to feel the raw and bleeding edges of Obi-Wan's Force signature. Whatever was eating at Obi-Wan was thick with guilt and shame, a poisonous combination, but he was at least still enough for the sleep to do him good physically, if not mentally.

Maul didn't feel the cold of the night air, but he could see his own breath crystallize in it, could feel the way it rubbed raw against his throat when he inhaled.

His own mind was no clearer. That one voice had quieted again after its parting shot, but the others still whispered and in between them, the maelstrom of his own thoughts swirled. He kept trying to sort out what was his. What wasn't. He had little luck on either of those.

You are--

He knew the fear was his. It was the rest that he wasn't sure on.

I am-- he thought, feeling desperate, looking at the lump of blanket and Jedi in the bunk as dawn broke slowly.

Bail got up first, looking haggard, eyes shadowed with fatigue and the bruises and cuts he'd gained the day before now standing vivid contrast with his skin. Obi-Wan woke second, with a hard gasp and a mad scramble out of the bunk he had slept in, only to dry heave on the floor beside it.

At least initially, they were so lost in their own misery that conversation was brief and terse. They packed supplies into two backpacks and one carry-on, and Maul took the reprieve of handling the distribution of everything with some measure gratitude. So long as he was focused on something, the voices were quieter; so long as he could sink his mind into the analytical necessities of their survival, he could tune them out some better. He packed the other two lightly and modified the strap on Bail's pack to keep weight on his good shoulder, and he took the carry-on simply because it was largest and most cumbersome and he was the one in the best condition to handle that.

Their inventory was limited. What food and water had survived wasn't enough. Maul didn't think that temple would offer any kind of reprieve, either; if anything, it would carve pieces out of them until they were pared down to bone and despair.

Sith thrived on such things. He had managed to survive any number of terrible scenarios on the strength he took from the emotions at the time and the Force which responded to them -- usually rage, sometimes fear, always the passion to reach a state of perfection -- and come out the other side largely intact. He just didn't know if he was Sith enough anymore to do the same now; to take this challenge presented to him and face it with fierce pleasure at the test and his own ability to overcome it.

One thing he did know: This world was a test for him, but it was toxic to Obi-Wan.

It wasn't the strong emotions, but the darkness of them; the current and flow of Zigoola's misery. Obi-Wan could play serene Jedi Master for the Council, for his padawan, for the Order, but Maul knew better; he had once danced with the thunderstorm that Obi-Wan could become, and he had also basked in the sunbright joy or felt the breathless ache of longing. The line between Jedi and Sith became very thin at the edge of passion, regardless of where that passion was directed and how. Strong emotions were nothing new to Obi-Wan Kenobi; he tempered them with experience and wisdom when he had to, hid them when necessary, but he accepted them internally and Maul never once judged him lacking for that.

It was that this world was going to find every insecurity and grief and feed it back to him until he choked on it.

"You don't have to worry about me, Bail," Obi-Wan was saying, shouldering his pack with his face drawn tight, the fatigue and injuries he had suffered clear, writ boldly in the sore way he carried himself as if every bone hurt.

"Uh huh," Bail answered, doubtfully, struggling into his own pack. "I know I'm talking to a duracrete wall, but have you taken a look into a mirror?"

"No, I'm afraid not." Obi-Wan's smile was pale and thin, but genuine. "I didn't want to seem vain, checking out my own good looks."

Even Maul felt a smile twitch at the corner of his mouth there; Bail, on the other hand, laughed outright and said, "Or you were afraid it might shatter?"

"For a politician, you're not very diplomatic," Obi-Wan said, with a haughty sniff.

"File a complaint with the Senate. Form 1845-4," Bail answered, offhandedly. "The form for Rude Senators Trapped in Hostile Environments with Stubborn Jedi Masters."

"It wouldn't surprise me terribly if there really was a form like that." Obi-Wan grunted and started walking. "How long would it take to be processed?"

"Three point two standard years, unless they want addendums filed. Then more like five. Then a formal hearing, where you have to present your case, and where I get to present character witnesses to my politeness. Then deliberations." Bail half-shrugged against the weight of the pack he was carrying. "But if you win, you get to personally slap me on the wrist as hard as you want to."

Obi-Wan laughed, a dry sound, but not unkind. "A reason to live, then."

Satisfied -- as much as he could be, anyway -- that Bail was going to be able to handle things, Maul went ahead of both of them. Walking across this rough ground was work, but if he scouted ahead, he could find the path least likely to result in strain on the other two. And the logistics of it kept his own mind occupied, giving less space to the voices, the relentless whispers.

The quicker they reached that temple, the less time there was for this world to work on them.

 

 

 

He came back to find Obi-Wan trying his hardest to pound Bail's head off of his shoulders with his fists.

The trees had ended in a plateau, wide and rugged and lifeless; the next band of forest or scrub was quite some distance away, hard to see even for Maul's keen vision, especially when the wind stirred dust and sand. There were hints of rain-beaten grooves worn into the ground, chaotic angles cutting across the cracks in uneven geometics, but no sign of water beyond that. He went ahead a little further, just enough to confirm that they were going to be in the open for quite awhile, then headed back.

The dust blew, had him shielding his eyes as best he could against it, and so he didn't see what was happening until he was almost on it.

Bail was trying in vain to protect his head with one good arm and one still mostly immobilized in a sling, and there was a terrific fury in Obi-Wan's motions, as if he were trying to cause as much pain as quickly as he could against an enemy, instead of a friend.

Maul didn't even think, he just flicked his fingers and sent the Jedi tumbling head over heels to land in a billowing cloud of dust, something flaring up across his chest and down through his arms as he actively tapped into the power of Zigoola and it sang praise and promise back to him.

You are--

Even some six meters away, Obi-Wan picked his head up snarling, and even at that distance, Maul could feel it when the Jedi tapped into that same power, ready to pay back the blow he had just received in kind and with interest.

You are--

Tableau. Invisible but to them, the wildfire power was singing clarion across what could become a battlefield.

Do it, Maul thought, the burn aching hungrily in his bones, and bared his teeth with his left hand still up. Come on, Jedi. Do it.

Something older and deeper still whispered behind it, something belonging on the other side of a ray shield, the scorched smell of Qui-Gon Jinn's burned organs behind him, the tremor like thunder beneath the ground he used to feel, and he started to grasp that this anger, buried in scar tissue and new growth, was his.

The whispers grew louder, more insistent.

I am--

"Knock it off!" Bail roared, a startling sound for the volume of it, making the both of them jump in a manner that would be comical if not for the fact that they had been a breath away from trying to kill one another. It took a long moment of internal wrestling to drag his gaze off of Obi-Wan, but when Maul did manage to, Bail was back on his feet and even for not being Force-sensitive, he cut an imposing figure.

His nose was bloody and so was his mouth, and the clothes that had been marginally clean before were caked in dust, but even injured he was using his height and breadth to good effect. He pointed between them, a growl in his usually calm voice, "We're not doing this. Do you hear me? No."

The urge to defy that was just as strong as the urge -- the desperation -- to heed it. The internal conflict was so strong that Maul shuddered, teeth rattling briefly, before it started to uncoil itself.

Obi-Wan looked stricken when Maul next looked at him; sitting in the dust, knuckles bleeding, he stared at them with such a look of rending guilt that even in this seething mess of feeling, self or other, Maul could feel the echoes of it. And when he spoke, his voice was taut, sharp and piercing as he asked, "Why did you do that?!"

The sound of that voice -- the one Maul could pick out of a thousand, the one he knew breathless with laughter next to his head -- was so infused with misery that it cut right through the detachment; even though Obi-Wan was addressing Bail, it hurt to hear it, and for a moment Maul was before, for a moment he could remember that they were something more than what they had been made to be, and he breathed through his teeth.

"You were in the middle of a flashback trying to rip your own face off!" Bail shot back. "What was I supposed to do, let you tear yourself to ribbons?!"

"Yes!" Obi-Wan struggled, then finally gained his feet, expression pleading. "Force, Bail, I could have killed you!"

"But you didn't." Bail still looked thunderous, face flushed and angry, but it was clear on observation that he was trying to calm himself back down. "I've taken punches before, Obi-Wan, and I hate to break it to you, but it would take a much larger and meaner man than you to take me out with nothing but fists."

That probably wasn't as true as Bail thought it was; Maul could kill the man with bare hands faster than Bail -- even with his size and strength -- could likely process it was happening. And Obi-Wan, even without the same level of hand-to-hand training, was certainly more trained than the senator was.

But he didn't know who's side to take in this, or even if he should take one.

"I was trying to, and I already tried to once before," Obi-Wan said, slowly walking back to them; he was shaking and disheveled, and when he stopped, he did so still far enough away from them to give them a chance to move if he attacked again. "I'm not-- I don't-- If I lose my grip, it could be fatal." His face crumpled briefly, almost to the point of tears, then he managed to regain control over it. "Leave me to it, please, so that at least the only person I injure is myself. I don't-- I don't want to have to worry that every time I slip, I might hurt one of you."

Maul wondered, somewhere in the mess of thought and voice and shattered dichotomies, if Obi-Wan realized how terrible it would be to Bail -- maybe to both of them -- to have to witness that self-destruction without intervening.

And then he realized that-- yes, likely Obi-Wan did. Maul had long since lost count of the number of times the Jedi had to deal with him in a similar state, and sometimes early on, that had involved fending Maul off. Even recently in their warehouse, he had lost himself, and had to be held off at the end of a blade until he managed to remember who he was again.

And in the beginning--

He went to open his mouth to offer to intervene himself, but then faltered.

He couldn't be trusted anymore than Obi-Wan could right now.

Bail looked between them, bloodied face twisted into a wretched, heartsick expression. He tried to say something and then failed, and he laid his head back looking up at the sky for a long moment before closing his eyes in clear resignation, throat bobbing as he swallowed.

"Fine," he said, almost inaudible in the wind and hiss of dust. "Fine."

There was a long moment of silence, then Obi-Wan said, just as resigned, "Come on, let me patch you up. I can't-- I can't heal you, but I can help."

 

 

 

The world got no kinder, nor had Maul expected it to.

He had stood off to the side like a sentry against something he couldn't see, let alone fight, while Obi-Wan did his best to clean Bail up, and then clean and wrap his own hands, using the disinfectant in lieu of water. Sometime during that, Maul picked up his right hand and opened it only to find he'd buried the edge of one of his shells into his palm for squeezing them, and he sucked in a short breath when he pulled it free, blood staining the twine and the edge of the pearl.

It, unlike him, remained unbroken.

It didn't bleed enough to bother with it; whatever the other two might have thought, he was still in the best condition of them, and the intermittent ache he could sometimes feel in the relatively shallow cut was something he latched onto, something real.

They started walking again; he waved off the offer to eat as they did, though he did take a sip of water just to wash the dust down his throat. Obi-Wan didn't lose himself to anymore flashbacks, but everyone had fallen quiet, stolidly tracking across the cracked ground, heads down against the dust.

Maul tried to think.

They were on Zigoola. There was a temple. Inside of it likely was the source of whatever was attacking Obi-Wan, whatever was whispering to Maul. Even just with this limited amount of time to assess things, Maul realized that coming here had been a much more focused and precise trap than he had anticipated; that whatever information was given to Bail's friend had been given with the intention of drawing them here. That they were the primary objective, not the Jedi Order as a whole.

Sometimes, in all of those whispers, he thought he caught hint of something so much bigger; something like that wild, chaotic twist in the Force above Naboo a decade prior, of everything in flux.

Sometimes, he thought he could almost feel the ground.

Phantom sensation wasn't anything new to him, but it had been years since he felt it as more than the rare ghost. Years since he would wake up with a sharp drawn breath and the brief sense memory of being whole and complete, of being himself, and then would have to come to the swift and despairing conclusion that it had been a dream. They were cruel, those dreams. It was almost a relief when he had realized at some point more recently that he had not had any such sensation for a long time; that his brain had forgotten what it felt like, to be intact, a whole person and not-- pieces of one, scattered shards he was slowly and painstakingly picking up to glue back together.

The cut on his palm throbbed dully. He still kept his shells in that hand, the twine wrapped around the back of it, a talisman. This was real, he thought, sometimes, when he could find the space in his mind. I was there, once; this was real.

When he wasn't looking at the trap, he was looking inward.

The earlier revelation of his own anger only added to his fear.

The voices of the Sith, real or echoed or imagined, only fed off of it; handed it back to him. But it was his, at the heart of it. It was the wide space, meaner than the plateau they were on, between the man who had cut him down in two and who had later held out his hand. Between the perfect kinetic motion of Juyo, the wild-hearted joy Maul never knew the word for, and the quieter feeling of something else, creeping in like a tide on that shoreline, growing steadily to now.

For all of these years they had been together, they had never talked about it. Had only forged ahead, as if by leaving it in the past largely unacknowledged, it might be forgotten; a mutual silence, a mutual denial.

This was a hellish place for such realizations.

Maul did his best to get his mind off that track, not liking how it was making him feel, not liking the way it sparked with something he refused to define. This duality of vision was maddening; what of him saw one facet of Obi-Wan and himself. What of him that saw another.

I am-- he thought, frantic to choose one and not the other, frantic because he couldn't.

You are-- the voices whispered back, trying to call home their lost son.

 

 

 

The day wore on as they walked; the sun moved across the sky, pitiless and lacking real warmth, though both Obi-Wan and Bail broke a sweat anyway. When they finally reached the trees, it was Bail who broke the silence. "Could we stop? Just for a few minutes?" he asked, practically trembling where he stood.

The thin shade didn't offer much even illusory shelter, but at least the variation in terrain was a relief. Maul had no issue with stopping, but Obi-Wan walked several more feet before he did; when he turned to look at them, his eyes were glazed in pain and fatigue. "We should keep going, use the light," he said, voice cracked.

"I'm pretty sure that if we do that, I won't make it very far," Bail pointed out, scanning the Jedi's face with some hint of defiance, but mostly just concern. "Pretty sure you won't, either. Let's just take a break, maybe tend our feet?"

It was clear enough that Obi-Wan had no desire whatsoever to do so, but after a moment, he gave a short nod. Bail practically slumped to the ground in relief, unshouldering his pack carefully next to a fallen tree trunk and then sitting down on it. "Okay." His boots were in bad shape, and it was clear that they hadn't been made for this abuse; he went to pull them off, wincing graphically.

Maul unslung his own carry-on, just so he could get in there and get one of their bottles of water. He didn't feel any need for it -- this world alone sustained, and he allowed it to without even a thought -- but the other two certainly were going to need some of it.

Bail's voice broke into his thoughts, confused and a little tentative when he asked, "Obi-Wan?"

Maul picked his head up, turning to look at the Jedi; Obi-Wan was staring with rigid poise, chest heaving, lightsaber hilt in hand. His pack was laying on the ground behind him, carelessly left there.

In that instant, Maul knew. Knew what was coming. All around him, the voices in crescendo, going from whispers to war cries.

Obi-Wan lit his blade and charged, teeth bared. Maul barely got his up in time to parry.

 

 

 

(He feels the cracks, like sharp edges against his mental fingertips; he shores them up with every trick he knows, trying to cement them closed again, to keep these cursed Jedi out, but all of his fury, all of his anger, all of his hatred is seeping away through them, and everything left behind is empty and worn. Sleep has only come but rarely; their pressing on him wakes him again quickly. He has stopped counting days, stopped speaking, turned inward in the hopes that he can hold onto what little he has left by not breaking.

But he's tired. He's tired in ways he's never known before.

That's why, when he hears his Master's voice, all he feels is relief.

Master, he thinks, desperately, reaching out for that familiar presence and somehow even after two decades and whatever time he cannot remember before it, he feels only relief; even knowing his Master will be disappointed in him, even though he is certain to be punished, he feels only relief.

He is a failure and he will never be what he was again, but at least he hasn't been abandoned.

Your shields have held, his Master says -- years later, he remembers only the words and not the voice and he knows that his Master left this memory mostly intact to punish him -- and his tone is one of approval, a hum.

Maul has always yearned for that approval, but never before as intensely as he does now; his hearts surge with hope. I gave them nothing, he reports; it has been months and the onslaught relentless and he has held firm and given up no secrets.

So I see. There is no comfort there, but that's no surprise.

What is a surprise is the pain that follows.

It's unlike any punishment he has ever felt before; incision, but mental, and it echoes in his chest as well, and he gasps, maybe aloud or maybe only in his mind, or maybe both at the suddenness of it; he has endured every kind of pain and even now he can feel the phantom electrical shocks of the lost half of himself, but he has never in his life had anything hurt like this hurts.

This gives me no pleasure, his Master says.

Why? Maul begs back, but gets no further answer.

It's a white hot knife cutting into him, into him, not this half a mortal husk, but into his soul, and distantly he can feel himself panting and struggling, but it's so very far away and the deeper his Master cuts, the more frantic he gets, until finally something in him snaps back, fights back.

It's a losing battle, but it's a battle nonetheless.

It goes on forever. Until he has all but forgotten he has ever known anything else. It goes on, and on, time blurred and meaningless, stretched out wire-thin, cutting and cutting and

When it stops, he is alone.

He doesn't know where he is. He doesn't really even know what he is. He is pieces. He is--

He is--

He is broken and defenseless when they come for him, the sudden pressure pushing and

pushing

and

p
  u
     s
  h
    i
 n
   g.

If he screams, he doesn't know it. If he sobs, if he begs, he doesn't know it. All he knows is them crowding and pushing and picking through his mind like so much rubbish and the sensation of being scattered and inspected and the pressure builds and builds and b u i l d s

until he takes the only way out that he has left.)

 

 

 

The battle was over quickly.

In the end, it came down to two things.

Dug into his hand, against the hilt of his staff, the shells of Iloh and with them the reminder of a long-ago choice he made: It wasn't a choice he had made that night, but one he had made years before it, when Obi-Wan stood there and held out his hand and everything in Maul ached to curl up and shut the world out again, to sleep until he finally drifted into whatever nothingness followed death, but he had reached up instead and let himself be pulled to his feet.

The second was his own voice, and for the first time in a very long time, he didn't feel lost.

In among the anger and the you are and the I am; in among the fear and the loss and the grief of newly opened scars and things they had not talked about and the cacophony of voices clamoring for blood or suffering or triumph or revenge; in among the offer for restoration, redemption, there were two words which belonged to him, deeper than all of it, perhaps even deeper than memory itself.

His line in the sand. Also a choice.

Not you.

He turned off his staff just as Obi-Wan came in for another pass, lightsaber up and face twisted in mindless hatred, and Maul knew that Obi-Wan wasn't seeing him, was only seeing an enemy, but he made the only choice he could or would and made it knowing it could be his last; he just let his saberstaff slip out of his fingers and closed his eyes and tightened his hand around his shells.

The heat of the blade hit his neck a split second before--

The blade itself didn't.

Chapter Text

For three seconds, Obi-Wan stood and stared in horrified fascination at the blue-light reflection off of the black skin he was burning a vicious line into, only a millimeter or so from making real contact, and then he jerked his blade away and extinguished it. Then he stared at Maul, who had not flinched once, just stood in quiet and statuesque acceptance as Obi-Wan had burned him, eyes closed, unarmed and waiting to see if Obi-Wan was going to carry the stroke through.

Obi-Wan staggered away, hit his knees and didn't stop heaving until long after he was empty.

 

 

 

Zigoola had reached past itself, past its own orbit, and had grabbed him by the throat.

The pain had crescendoed first, a spike of sharp and forceful pressure right in the center of his brain, enough to make him stagger and have to grab a chair to hold onto. Everything after that came only in pieces; Bail and Maul both trying to see to him, the former aloud and the latter mostly with touch. His own dead-voiced reassurances, rote training more than anything like fact. Then the clutch. The realization that he was no longer his own, the yawning and icy blackness freezing the higher thinking parts of his mind and ripping his limbs into motion without his permission.

There was fire and noise -- so much noise -- and a horrible chattering cackle in his mind. A flash of his hands on the helm. Of the fire shrouding the Starfarer. Of grappling with Maul, until he threw Maul off hard. Of doing the same to Bail, force-grabbing him by his throat and pinning him to a wall.

He remembered his voice, apparently still his own, whispering apologies.

Finally, in the horror of the last moments and Bail's voice pleading with him, strained through the force-choke, he broke free and wrestled the Starfarer's nose up, howling, and then turned and tried to shield the other two.

He wasn't even quite sure how he made it out of the wreckage. His head spun. Everything hurt.

The voices had started. First submit. Then die. An intimate whisper, a cold breath across his ear and the back of his neck; he caught himself jerking to look and finding nothing there.

It was almost a relief, when Maul was over him with staff lit, eyes burning yellow and glowing so brightly with dark side power that Obi-Wan could see it clearly even in broad daylight. In his own mind, duality of vision; the Sith Lord he had faced on Naboo, glorious and terrible. And the person he was closest to in the universe, who he had almost killed because he had been too weak to break free before crashing them on this miserable, hateful rock.

Obi-Wan wouldn't have blamed him. And still didn't.

The blow never came, though, and after Maul fell back and sat down, it was clear he was just as badly rattled by that as Obi-Wan was by his own loss of control, and they had stared at one another in that mutual understanding until Bail came back.

Now, Obi-Wan sat shaking against a tree. Bail must have been screaming at them, because his voice was incredibly hoarse; he checked on Maul, and then not long later he came over and crouched down, looking quite a bit like he had fought his own battle single-handedly, haggard and disheveled and emotionally exhausted. "What about you? What's going on?"

"I lost control." The self-recrimination was nothing new, but it still felt terribly bitter. Obi-Wan couldn't quite force himself to make eye contact. "The-- the voices. I lost my handle on them. I'm sorry, Bail."

"I know." Even hoarse, there wasn't anything harsh in that tone. Obi-Wan almost wished there was. Bail reached out and caught the back of his hand, pressing a bottle of water into his palm and holding it there until Obi-Wan grasped it; apparently, Bail had gotten out of his sling at some point. "I don't need an apology, but if you have any ideas about how we can keep this from happening again, I'm all ears."

Obi-Wan drew his knees up to his chest, some attempt to feel less-- less brittle. He took a few sips of water, wincing a little from the soreness of his own throat (his from retching), then tried to hand the bottle back.

There was really only one answer; he loathed the thought, but given what he had almost just done...

He shivered and unclipped his lightsaber from his belt with his free hand, then offered it over. "Hold onto this for me?" he asked, trying to keep his voice from quivering with only partial success.

Bail stared at it, then very carefully reached out and took it, face registering brief surprise when he did, likely for the weight of it. "Are you sure?"

"Yes." It wasn't entirely truth; Obi-Wan didn't want parted from his lightsaber, didn't like the feeling of vulnerability and loss that came with it. But the mere thought of coming back to his senses to find he had killed one of the other two was so deeply chilling that he thought any sacrifice would be worth avoiding it. "I'll get it back when we're away from this world," he tried to reassure, though he failed to force a smile.

"I'll keep it safe," Bail said, mouth in a rueful line. He tapped Obi-Wan on the shoulder. "Drink a little more of that water."

"I shouldn't." There was precious little of it, and they needed it, too. He tried to hand the bottle back for the second time. "We should get walking again."

Bail didn't take it, just shook his head. "We will, but only after you take at least two more sips of that. You look like you've been dragging yourself across a desert for a few weeks, instead of this place for day."

Not having it in him to argue, Obi-Wan did as he was told and then got to his feet, letting Bail steady him once he was there.

Maul was just waiting for them, quiet, carry-on back over his shoulder and saberstaff strapped across his back like a sword of old; Bail had likely bullied him into the bacta patch, stark white against his neck, where Obi-Wan had burned him. The bacta would heal it, but full-power lightsaber burns left scars; Obi-Wan, despite the healing and bacta treatment, still had the scars that Dooku had left on him when even those of the explosion he was caught in had vanished.

The realization that he had just put yet another mark on Maul made that water turn to lead in his stomach.

It took all he had in him not to throw it back up.

 

 

 

(The first thing he notices is that the Temple Guard isn't outside the door, where two are stationed at all times.)

 

 

 

"No," Obi-Wan said to himself, panting through his nose as quietly as he could. He had already contended with- almost every awful memory this world could drag out of his mind, over and over. The mental onslaught had started with the firebeetles, but it had quickly turned to things which he harbored guilt for, relentless and merciless. Bandomeer. Cerasi. Xanatos. Tahl. Qui-Gon. Maul, more than once. Anakin, so many times over. Padmé.

Every time his mind drifted, it found a failure on his part and reminded him of it in exacting detail, as if he were living it all over again.

No, he didn't want to see that one.

There was no light here; no way to release these emotions into the Force. No way to rid himself of them. The moment he let his guard down, something else came up. Sometimes he was able to keep walking anyway, head down and breath coming in short gasps.

Sometimes he couldn't. Then he would be lost and the glare of the sun would move across the sky some distance, and he would be back there again, staring at all of his failures, literal or otherwise.

It made it nearly impossible for him to view Zigoola as a calculation in tactics; what few plans he had in regards to making it to the Sith temple were nebulous. He felt like every step would shake him apart; each footfall jarred his bones, left him feeling as if his skeleton had been scoured. Each step forward seemed a tiny fraction harder, towards that black monolith.

And there were so many steps left.

The voices never stopped. Die, Jedi. A constant litany, of various volumes, until he finally caved into whatever impulses it gave off and acted on them. Once, now, he had beaten Bail. Once, he had nearly beheaded Maul. As much as it distressed him, being disarmed, for as many times as his hand went to check compulsively for the weight of his lightsaber's hilt, it was certainly for the better.

But even that thought had its shadows; he found himself wondering how often Maul had missed the weight on a hip he no longer had. And then he thought about the way Maul had backed away from him in that warehouse and it seemed so obvious now, the reasons why. Obi-Wan had been without his own lightsaber for mere hours and felt the loss like an ache. What must it be, to have something so intimate taken away, with no expectation it would be returned? To have been a master swordsman near unparalleled and then-- not.

To have someone offer you a chance to have it again, after you were already broken.

I made my own crystals, before, Maul had said, and Obi-Wan had thought that poignant then, but the true weight of what that meant hit him now.

I'm sorry, he thought, picking his head up against the invisible weight dragging against it.

But really, Obi-Wan knew he had much worse things to apologize for than that.

The sky slowly dimmed, darkened towards night, but they kept walking. Even though there were no signs of animal life on this world, the light leeching out of it made Obi-Wan feel worse still, as if new terrors were waiting in the lengthening shadows, theirs or the woodland they were still working through. Every time he thought he had reached the bottom of his dread and misery, he found Zigoola had a little more to give him.

"I think we need to stop for the night," Bail said; he had only spoken a few times in the past several hours and aside checking on Obi-Wan, the rest was to Maul.

Maul had taken the lead again; in the murky twilight, his eyes gave off a faint gold glow, eerie and oddly beautiful. When he actually tapped into Zigoola's power, that light flared bright as suns, but even when he wasn't, enough of it was coursing through him to keep that glow there. He stopped and turned back, looking between them.

"We have the night-sticks," Obi-Wan answered, trying to keep the pleading note out of his voice. For as wretched as he felt, stopping would only give more space for the voices to move in. "We can go a little longer."

"I don't think that's such a good idea." Bail still sounded rough, and the last look Obi-Wan had of him before the light was too low to see clearly showed a man who was suffering the physical tolls, even if he wasn't hearing voices.

"Just awhile. Every step closer is one closer to that temple."

Bail exchanged a look with Maul, who didn't weigh in his own opinion. Unlike Bail, absent the beating he had taken in the initial crash, the burn Obi-Wan had given him and the layers of dust, he still looked himself. Straight-backed and not hollowed out.

If Obi-Wan were giving into the voices, he would resent that; since he wasn't, he only felt relief for it. If anyone stood a chance of surviving here long enough for rescue, it would be Maul.

"Okay," Bail said, heavily; Obi-Wan winced internally for how exhausted the man sounded, but then he started walking again himself, falling in line behind the other two and trying to focus on the way the straps of his pack were biting into his shoulders, the sharp pain of every step on his sore feet. It seemed, in some small way, the more vivid kinds of pain helped keep him centered and focused.

It would figure that the only relief on this world would be in more suffering.

 

 

 

(Sometimes, Obi-Wan can see it coming before it happens and about half-again he can halt it before it does; can keep Maul with him in the moment, instead of losing him to whatever storm is happening in his head. There are signs, if not always universal; sometimes Maul gets restless and moves, a certain agitation to the motion that's distinctive. Other times, he goes incredibly still. Sometimes his gaze just goes unfocused and he's gone before anything can be done. Physically present, but mentally lost.

Early on, he'd fight even in that state, striking out blindly in self-defense. Early on, though, Obi-Wan didn't insinuate himself into Maul's space like he does later, after Iloh.

After Iloh, that changes.

Obi-Wan has long since lost count of the number of times he's stroked his thumbs against Maul's cheekbones, holding his wide-eyed gaze and talking quietly, sometimes reassurances and sometimes just whatever inanity crosses his mind, knowing it's not really the words but his voice that is the anchor to the present. Sometimes, he loses even then, and then he has to wait for Maul to come back.

"It always starts in my arms," Maul tells him, at some point when he's trying to make some kind of sense of it all, tone thoughtful. "They start feeling wrong."

Even knowing that doesn't stop it happening, but at least it's a little more warning.

Through it all, Maul never seeks out comfort, not before and not after. It takes Obi-Wan an embarrassingly long time to figure out why, when the answer had already been given to him years beforehand, by Vokara Che.

So, he gives it. He doesn't even really offer it; he just learns how to navigate, how to forge a path, when the person he's trying to forge it with is even more hopelessly lost than he is. He learns the art of when to touch, when to back off; when to talk and when not to. He knows that when it's bad enough, Maul will be out of sorts for sometimes hours after, withdrawn and worn and shaken and in some real danger of eating himself alive with self-recrimination.

Obi-Wan knows that last one because he's the one who caused it.

He doesn't even remember what set it off; just remembers that it was particularly bad, enough to leave them both sitting on the floor of one of their cheap but clean rentals, and Maul says, muffled some by Obi-Wan's shoulder and still a little rough-voiced, "You're good at this."

It's a compliment and not a joke, just a bit dazed-sounding; Obi-Wan answers good-naturedly, without thinking too much, "Well, all of the practice helps."

It's meant as a quip and certainly his intentions are good; he means to treat this as he would any other injury, like one might joke about having to wear a medical support boot on a leg for the umpteenth time because they had been too intent in their lightsaber drills. To normalize it. To make it something accepted.

He only really understands how careless he had been later, with his words, but he does know instantly how painfully they land because the back he was stroking becomes steel under his hand and he can feel the emotional recoil, the sudden shot of surprise and hurt, the quick withdraw after, bodily and mentally.

Maul apologizes, quietly, not making eye contact and there's no hint of backlash in his tone, just the terrible acceptance of someone taught that pain is a lesson, and Obi-Wan knows he only has the space of moments to mitigate; he knows because he can still feel the scars left on his own heart by careless words during vulnerable moments, and he knows how quickly those cuts can fester, turn poison.

"No," he says, keeping his voice steady by some effort and some larger portion of emphatic desperation. "No, no. This isn't something you ever need to apologize over. I spoke poorly; I-- I meant that as a joke, not criticism, I was just trying to lighten the atmosphere. I'm sorry, Maul."

It takes awhile, to overcome that stumble as far as they do. To Obi-Wan's relief, Maul first learns to warn him off when his words come too close to being cutting, no matter how unintentionally, and Obi-Wan learns better how to keep them from being so in the first place; later, even, Maul will just let him know when the quips are irritating, which Obi-Wan thinks is excellent progress.

But to Obi-Wan's sorrow and shame, Maul still apologizes when his mindstate is particularly bad, guileless and sincere, and all Obi-Wan can do is hope that mark he left fades with enough time and care.)

 

 

 

"Obi-Wan?"

Bail's voice pulled him back to reality; lit by the flickering flames of a low fire, he looked even worse than he had by daylight. One eye blackened and bruises all over his face; his mouth was swollen, lip split at one corner, and while some of those had been the crash, most of them had been Obi-Wan's fists.

The voices wouldn't quit.

"How long?" he asked, shivering as those voices swirled around his head like a frigid breeze, because he hadn't remembered there being a fire. He hadn't even really remembered stopping.

"Maybe an hour, hour and a half. No murderous attacking this time," Bail said, raising his good shoulder in a half-hearted shrug. "You kept apologizing."

In all of the soreness of his body, it was amazing how clearly he could feel the soreness of his own heart. Obi-Wan nodded, looking around for the current main source of his guilt, and didn't find him. "Where's Maul?"

"Off looking for water, food or a cleaner path." Bail lowered himself to the ground, pulling one of the blankets back around himself. He didn't seem too terribly pleased by that, but he also didn't seem like he had the energy to get angry about it, either. "Apparently, when he says he has better low light vision, that means he can actually see in the dark."

Obi-Wan noticed around then that he had another of the blankets around his shoulders and tugged it closer, shivering. "He has the Force; it would make up for it where vision itself wouldn't." Given that Maul had been locked in sensory deprivation suits in his life -- which were considered so cruel that only fully-consenting scientists had permission to be locked into one and even then for set periods of time, and other medical professionals had only limited access for very specific medical conditions -- it wasn't a surprise that he could navigate Zigoola in the dark.

Bail shook his head, pensively. "I don't think he's slept since we crashed. Or eaten anything. Or drank anything."

If Zigoola had given Obi-Wan anything, thus far, that wasn't emotional devastation, it was a genuine appreciation for how good a man Bail Organa really was. He could be sharp and sarcastic, he could be more stubborn than an old bantha, but he had also been kind to the both of them in ways that Obi-Wan couldn't have guessed he would be, when they were snapping at each other in Bail's apartment. He was honest and funny and behind his quick political mind was a large heart and deeply-held principles.

He had given them both friendship, even after Obi-Wan had treated him rather poorly, and even after finding out about Maul's bloody history, and still had it in him to worry about them now.

Obi-Wan was incredibly grateful for learning that, even if the price all of them were paying was too high. "The dark side sustains," he said, echoing himself. "He could probably last a very long time here, if he had to."

As to what that would eventually do to Maul's mind, Obi-Wan didn't want to know; leaving him alone with their bodies and nothing but the horrors left in his head by the monster who raised him didn't bear thinking about. But, in terms of the physical, he knew he didn't have to worry quite as hard for Maul's ability to manage, at least for the few days it would take to reach that damned temple.

"Sustains, but doesn't heal." After a moment, Bail nodded, scrubbing gingerly down his face with his right hand, smearing the dust there some. "But it's killing you."

Die, Jedi, whispered the voices, gleefully.

"Trying to, anyway." Obi-Wan resisted the urge to rub at his own eyes, more for the state of his hands than anything else. He couldn't begin to catalog the number of pains he was in, physically and psychically. "It's not personal, but it--" He paused, unsure of how to explain what it was doing. Not because he wanted to share it -- he emphatically didn't -- but because at least if Bail understood what was happening, he might be able to better manage it when Obi-Wan went under.

Or, at least, feel less guilty for it.

"When I give into the rage," he said, slowly, trying to think past the noise and pain, "it stops. The voices stop. Even the pain becomes-- muted, far away. But when I don't, it-- it keeps whispering to me to die. Incessantly. But even more, it's a-- it's a telepathic attack. Impersonal, it doesn't target any specific things, but whatever-- whatever negative feeling is strongest, it goes after it. And right now, mostly that's--" He drew in a deep breath and let it out with a shuddering sigh, eyes closed, not wanting to see the man when he continued, "--that's the guilt for the ways that I've-- I've hurt others. Some for failing to act. Some for acting wrong. Often those I care for most."

There was a long moment of quiet, and Obi-Wan didn't want to look to find out what expression he was getting back. Therefore, it came as something of a surprise when Bail said, with quiet sympathy, "I know how that goes."

That did get Obi-Wan to open his eyes. Bail was contemplating the fire, curled somewhat around himself; for being a very big man, he looked oddly small and vulnerable like that.

Bail went to say something, then his lips pursed -- which had to hurt -- and he shook his head. "Maybe trying to get it off of your chest would help."

"Would it help you, in whatever you're thinking about?" Obi-Wan asked back; he regretted it a moment later, not because he wouldn't have listened, but because it seemed unkind, even if he had kept his tone more gentle.

"Maybe," Bail said, apparently not taking it as such, with a sad little huff of a laugh. "It's, uh-- it's--" He winced. "--complicated."

Despite the voices, despite the more mundane physical misery, Obi-Wan felt his attention focus. "You don't have to," he answered, just to offer Bail a way to back out of this with dignity. He certainly was never particularly comfortable baring his soul; even with Maul, who was the least judgmental listener he had yet encountered, he rarely took advantage of it.

To his own mind, his burdens were his business.

Bail seemed, for a moment, to be about to do just that; he even half-nodded, but then something steeled in his features and he shook his head a moment later. "That last miscarriage was my fault," he said, like every word out was a war he had to fight past the guilt thick in his throat.

Obi-Wan sucked in a breath. "Bail..."

"I lined up every specialist between Coruscant and Alderaan. We were so--" Bail gestured with his good hand, sharply, heartache bowing his mouth. "--sad, resigned, after the last one. Breha was like a ghost for months. She bore the brunt of it, every time. And she never blamed me."

He massaged at his forehead, then, clearly struggling. Obi-Wan wished he knew how to throw a rope, before Bail drowned himself in this.

"I got all of the doctors lined up. I even had them run-- run statistics, on the chances with new and different treatments. The probabilities of success. And then I went and I asked her to try again." Bail shifted, tucking his arms tight around himself, steadfastly staring into the flames. His heartache was palpable, even at a distance, even without Obi-Wan reading his signature in the Force. "She didn't-- she didn't want to. So, I showed her all of the research I had done, the list of all of the specialists, the statistics--"

Obi-Wan watched as Bail fell quiet for long moments, lost in his grief, brow pinched and in the light of the fire his heartbreak was cast in lines of shadow. Obi-Wan knew how the story ended; he thought, even, that he could see the shape of how it had played out, even if Bail didn't add another word.

He had underestimated this man in more ways than one, initially.

"She agreed. I knew she was reluctant, but I was so-- so damned excited by this chance, and so she agreed," Bail finally said, mouth twitching, and then he untucked one arm just to rest his hand over his eyes, a slow and careful gesture. "I got to-- she was five months along. We were going to have a son. We buried him on her family's estate, outside Aldera. That was-- that was a year and a half ago. I could tell you down to the number of days and hours, when." A beat. "She didn't blame me this time, either. But I wish she would have."

Obi-Wan didn't know what he could say to that; he couldn't really quite grasp the measure of that particular loss. The closest he could come to it was seeing what Anakin had suffered on Geonosis; the helpless grief as the boy he had half raised was laying on the ground unconscious, missing his forearm, and with all of the shock and horror that same boy would feel when he woke. It wasn't the same, but it was the closest comparison that he had, and even in that, he harbored a great deal of his own guilt.

“I wish I knew what to say,” he answered, after the silence had already gone on too long, voice rough with both sympathy and empathy. He couldn't forgive Bail; it wasn't his place to. But, too, he wasn't sure how to encourage the man to forgive himself.

Such was much of his own problem, when it came to his own failures.

“Yeah, me too,” Bail said, with a humorless laugh, choked. His hand was still over his eyes, and even though they were both bruised terribly and the voices kept bouncing between Obi-Wan’s ears, he wanted to reach out and offer some sort of comfort.

“Did it help?” he asked, gently, instead.

Bail gave a tight, tortured smile from under his hand. “I don't know yet. I’ll let you know when I do.”

 

 

 

Despite the offer, they didn't say anything more to one another that night; at least, nothing that wasn't related to the practicality of their survival.

They left the trees not long after dawn; Bail had slept like the dead, after taking a few long swallows of the brandy he had brought, absent a period where he was restless. Obi-Wan could easily guess why he was. Obi-Wan himself had slept poorly, what little he had managed to at all, tormented mostly by his failures with Anakin, though there were other things there, as well.

The sight of the boy, with his short padawan cut and long braid, eyes closed, his face bloodless from shock. The smell of his cauterized skin, an awful smell of burn Obi-Wan knew far too well, now. The certain knowledge that he could have done something to prevent it.

The same boy, still tow-headed, round-faced, and his own voice in memory calling him another pathetic lifeform.

How many chances had he missed, to ease Anakin’s burdens? Could he have saved Shmi Skywalker, if he had listened to Anakin when he spoke of his nightmares?

It was these thoughts that he kept trying to ignore, and it was these thoughts which kept coming back to join the malevolent chatter that was always waiting for him. On the rare occasions he managed to clear his mind enough for more complex thought, he realized that the defenses of this world meant for him to either give into the very worst of his nature, or to become so desperate that he was ready to die to end it.

And that thought led down even darker holes in his mind.

The plains they were on were much like the last stretch; barren and dry and inhospitable, the only signs of life in the scrubby grass that managed to cling to this unforgiving dirt in random intervals. Geometric shapes spidering out from where the ground cracked for want of rain. Obi-Wan could all but feel his skin wanting to trace those same patterns; to split open in those same shapes until his blood ran free to turn the dust to mud and his bones to dust. He followed two sets of footprints in it, keeping his head down and focusing desperately on each step; focusing on the jarring pain that ran from his heels to his shins to his knees, as if he were fifty years older than he actually was.

He made it all of an hour, perhaps a little more, before the next visions took him, dragging him down on the current of frozen whispers, a cold so deep that it reached past his skin and skeleton and down into his soul.

Cerasi, dying in his arms.

Xanatos, falling backwards into that acid.

Tahl, growing ever weaker; the look on Qui-Gon's face.

Qui-Gon again, this time the shock and pain on his face as he was impaled.

Maul, and--

Obi-Wan came back to the world however long later, sobbing so wretchedly that he couldn't breathe past it, to the dust that was choking him and the undeserved comfort of Bail's good shoulder to hide his face in, starting to fully grasp what the words desperation, not calculation meant.

The fleeting brush of hearth-warm fingers past his temple only made him sob harder.

 

 

 

He wasn't sure how he started moving again, after that. How he made it to his feet again, how he took that first step; it was all disjointed fragments, skips and fits and starts. He was reeling with exhaustion and more dehydrated than ever; if Zigoola had been any hotter, he would likely have already collapsed.

He didn't speak; didn't want to remind either of them of his breakdown, embarrassed by his loss of control, embarrassed that he had so completely shattered, even only being here such a short time.

Even walking, Obi-Wan still lost time here or there entirely; came back to himself sitting on the ground, disoriented and with the recent images intruding on his reality. Sometimes Bail was there, rubbing up and down his upper arm with his good hand, or holding the back of his neck to steady him.

Sometimes, there was just the brush of familiar fingers against his hair.

How do you stand this? he wanted to ask Maul, but he already knew the answer. Maul endured it; he lived with it and then he painstakingly pulled himself together and kept going. The amount of strength that took had never been lost on Obi-Wan, but he was learning first hand how deep one had to reach to do it, when they couldn't entirely trust reality itself.

He let Bail bully him into drinking half a bottle of water, and it was likely only that which kept him going until they stopped again for the night, still on these hellish plains, where nightmares had only their own shadows to hide in and therefore crowded there thickly. There was nothing good about the coming of night; they didn't even have wood for a fire. Obi-Wan begged to keep going, but the other two overrode him.

Again, Maul vanished into the murky, dust-scoured darkness, a shadow faintly illuminated in the distant red glow of the nebula until he was gone entirely.

Again, Obi-Wan sat and shivered with a blanket around his shoulders and the worst of his failures crowding his mind and heart, with the ever-present voices hammering in his mind a steady litany.

Die, they said.

You deserve to, his own shame added.

"Did it help?" he asked Bail, barely curbing his plaintiveness, who was sitting so close to him that Obi-Wan could hear him breathing, a dry and painful sound that he could feel in his own chest. He didn't know if it was for warmth or out of worry, but he was grateful for the presence even at the same time he was worried about hurting the man again.

He asked because even in what little Obi-Wan had been truly present in the world during the day, Bail had been incredibly quiet. Not the quiet of a man stoically trooping through, though he had kept walking, but the quiet of a man turned deeply inwards, taking stock of himself. It couldn't have been pleasant, and yet in all of it, he somehow had found the grace to offer comfort to Obi-Wan.

It took minutes for Bail to finally answer, and when he did, it was achingly sad and quiet. "I don't know yet. I--" A beat. "I want to go home. I want to feel like I deserve to go home."

How incredibly difficult it had to be, to say that; to open himself up like that.

"You do deserve to," Obi-Wan answered, with a brief, bright flare of surety in his mind, in his chest; of that he was so incredibly sure that even the voices, self or other, could get no foothold. "Force, Bail. There's nothing you're capable of doing that you couldn't come back from."

Bail gave half a mournful laugh. Then he asked, "If you can say that about me, Obi-Wan, then why can't you say it about yourself?"

Such a deceptively simple question.

Such a terrible answer.

He sat, and he stared off into the red-stained darkness, and he answered as he felt the black hole ready to swallow him whole, "He tried to kill himself. And I would have let him."

 

 

 

(He is twenty-five.

He is thirty-five.

He is staring at the face of a nightmare in red and jagged black, knocking sparks off of the reactor pit's rim to rain down on him; he is staring at the face of the barely-grown zabrak that he's about to butcher.

He is the righteous embodiment of vengeance.

He is pleading frantically with himself.

"One day you'll love him; one day you'll know what he looks like when he smiles and what it takes to make him laugh, and you'll never regret loving him, but you'll always hate yourself for what you do to him this day."

It's all in vain; there is no undoing what is already done.

He is twenty-five and all that matters is his dying master, all of the things they will never get to repair between them, all of the things he will never get to know and understand. He spares no real thought to Maul as he's falling.

He is thirty-five and looking at that stunned expression on a face he knows every line of, looking into the same eyes that will later mellow to gold and glint in good-humored teasing, and he knows that this is another wound after a lifetime of them, but that this one steals something he would do anything to give back.

He is twenty-five.

He is vaguely sickened when his fallen, halved enemy turns out to be two or three years his junior. He is determined to give no quarter anyway, with the lingering scent of burned flesh in his nostrils.

He is thirty-five.

He understands that all burned flesh smells the same.

 

 

"How can you even stand to touch him?" he asks, sharp and angry, because he can still smell the blood that was all over that cell strongly enough that it sits on his tongue and he has spent the last half hour trying to find out what had happened from everyone from the Guard to the Council, and when he does find out just enough, something terrible burns inside of him.

The mere sight of his enemy, so deeply unconscious even his Force signature is near nonexistent, wrapped from hands to elbows in white bacta-infused bandages, jars him to his core.

Vokara Che stares at him in shock and dismay, but she doesn't take her hand away from where it rests light on Maul's forehead, the blue of her skin across the red and black of his almost disorienting; her thumb rubs against the diamond in the middle of it, gentle.

Not a healing touch -- none of the Jedi healers can use their power on Maul without finding themselves disturbed or disoriented -- but just... comfort.

"What kind of healer would I be if I couldn't, Obi-Wan?" she asks back, brow furrowed, voice much quieter.

He has no answer to this, except that she is offering comfort to someone who murdered his master -- a man she cared for, a man they all cared for -- and he knows that everything about how he feels is wrong, but he feels it anyway and he barely manages to compose himself enough to ask what happened at a reasonable volume.

And she tells him.

She tells him about the psychic attack. She tells him about how they didn't even know it was going on, until Maul finally made enough noise to alert the guards. She tells him that by then, it was too late; it was already over. That they don't know who did it, though they suspect.

Her mouth twists in grief, when she tells him the rest.

About the Council. That once alerted, they took advantage of the situation, Maul's shattered mental shields, to get whatever information they could.

The Sith Lord who had not raised his voice even to snap and snarl at Obi-Wan had been screaming by then.

The Sith Lord who had glared hot defiance at Obi-Wan for months now, refusing the crack under the constant pressure, had begged them to stop.

And she tells him that when it didn't stop, Maul tore his forearms open.

That it was desperation, not calculation.

Obi-Wan trembles as the full weight of this, the implications of it, hits him; he starts shaking and he doesn't stop, and his voice is sharp with something he refuses to identify as empathy mixed with sick rage when he asks, "Why didn't you let him go?"

She stares at him.

In days, he will come back and feel along the edges of his own open wounds. Four weeks from now, he will draw his fingers light down one of Maul's forearms and feel the faint scars left there, the first time he ever offers a kind touch. He will decide to come back again, and again, because something has to survive all of this misery. A year and some months from now, he will tighten his grip on Maul, sprawled draped across his lap, and feel red-hot rage at the Council for pushing against something already broken; for being as careless as he had once been.

In five years, Obi-Wan will get drunk and make Maul laugh and then kiss him, and he will never regret doing it.

But now, when he turns to leave, bile in his throat, shaking so hard that he almost can't walk, Vokara Che gives him an answer to every question he is asking, not just about why she is offering comfort, but why she didn't let Maul die, her voice quiet:

"No one's ever done this for him, before."

 

 

He is twenty-five.

He is thirty-five.

He is standing on the shattered foundations of his life.

He is crying and doesn't know how to stop.

Oh, darling. I'm sorry. I'm sorry.)

 

 

 

"Obi-Wan-- Obi-Wan, come on, it's okay, it's going to be okay."

It was Bail's voice, tight and scared, but the arms around him belonged to Maul.

He scrambled, not to escape but to hold on, and he sobbed in terrible grief, unable to even form words, and he wanted to say he understood now and he wanted to say he was sorry and he wanted to beg for his lightsaber because it hurt, it hurt, but all he could do was hold on and not let go and in all of that he still somehow managed to hear Maul's quiet voice say, "It's all right. I have you."

There was a hiss against the side of his neck, and a brief shot of panic as his mind went fuzzy and blurred, as the painkiller one of the other two shot him with went to war with the torture of Zigoola and his own worst nature, but then he finally lost his grip and, mercifully, went under deep enough to be out of reach of all of it.

The last thing he knew was warm fingers, brushing his tears away.

Chapter Text

By the time dawn broke, they had made it into the tree line.

Bail had long-since lost whatever slim coherence he had managed to gather together; his entire existence had become agonizing footsteps, one after another, and there were periods of lost time, where he had to have been walking and maybe even talking in his sleep. At some point, Maul had taken back his saber, but Bail wasn't sure when that happened; one moment he had it, and then in some disconnected moment, he didn't.

He wasn't sure how he had kept going.

He wasn't sure of anything, except that he had to keep moving, and maybe if he did it long enough, he could set something right.

Even if he wasn't sure what that was anymore.

 

 

 

In the aftermath, however many hours earlier, the sound of a Jedi shattering had finally stopped.

Obi-Wan had gone still, but his breathing was still hitched even then, the echoes of heartbreak catching on almost every inhalation. Bail wasn't sure how long they sat there; his mind had all but shut down, fell into a drift of exhausted horror and sorrow, an internal bruising to match the external marks he already had. He might have stayed there forever, steadily wasting away until the cold wind that sliced across these plains blew away the dust that he was becoming, if not for Maul speaking up.

"Can you walk?"

It was a surprisingly neutral question, even if the voice that asked it was cracked and dry. Bail didn't think he would have ever been able to ask it in such an even manner, given circumstances. He sat and thought about it for a few long moments, staring at the faintly red-cast shapes of an unconscious Jedi and the ex-Sith holding him, and he shivered in the night air as his body ached almost head to toe, nerves still rattled.

Then, digging deeper than he thought he could, he nodded and managed to answer, "Yeah."

The internal light in Maul's eyes flickered like coals when a wind blew across them; it was hypnotic, that flaring and dimming, so reminiscent of fire. He nodded back, then the light vanished as he turned his attention to Obi-Wan, getting the blanket arranged around him like a cloak and moving supplies around.

Bail had watched all day as Obi-Wan had fallen further and further into the grip of Zigoola; as the relentless torture of the world and his own perceived faults ground him down and tore him apart. He had watched, and sometimes he had taken the chance of another beating just to shelter Obi-Wan in his arms, cursing the fact that he couldn't shelter him from the real enemy, the one whispering in his head. And between those times, he had watched Maul fight whatever was working on him to reach out to offer a touch, even if it was clearly a single-handed war every time, and when Bail wasn't watching those two struggle, he was struggling himself.

The past few days had tested him in ways he had never been tested before. It was horrible. Humbling. More than once, Bail had wanted nothing more than to find some dark place and curl up and wait for death. He felt worn to the point of transparent; his ruined clothing hung off of him, filthy. The pain was endless, and even in what sleep he got, despair clawed at him internally.

Everything was-- far away. Coruscant. Alderaan. Any of dozens of worlds he had visited. All of those places seemed more like a dream he had managed to dredge up, something to keep him breathing, than a reality he had known only a couple weeks ago. He wasn’t quite sure how he had managed to maintain anything like sanity. In bad moments, he kept going because the other two needed him, if not in body, then maybe in spirit.

And in the very worst moments, what kept him going was how badly he wanted to go home and apologize to Breha.

Now, he crawled up to his feet, unable to stifle the noise that he instead ground between his teeth, and then stood more fully, the pack weighing on his good shoulder feeling far, far too heavy.

Maul ignited his saberstaff, and Bail about jumped out of his skin, expecting something terrible to happen; his heart gave a tired leap in anticipation of another loss of control by one of the Force users, but instead, Maul stepped over and offered it to him. "I turned down the strength of the blade, but don't let it touch you."

"What--?" Bail asked, dazed and confused, but in the new gold light, he could see it was only one half of the staff; the other was hanging on Maul's belt.

"So you can see."

After a moment, still feeling incredibly disoriented, Bail took the hilt in hand. It was a similar weight to Obi-Wan's, but it fit more comfortably in his palm; the smoother hilt felt a little better against his hand. It felt strange, yet oddly good to be holding it; the hum ran all the way up his forearm, soothing. He huffed a little unsteady laugh and waved the blade gently against the air, listening to it change pitch in motion, watching its warm light.

Stranded on a miserable, hellish world, but he was playing with a lightsaber.

He half expected to get told off about it, but Maul just quirked his brow, the barest hint of a smile on his mouth, before he turned back to Obi-Wan; he hesitated a moment, and Bail could all but see the influence of Zigoola trying to make the zabrak recoil, but then Maul caught hold of Obi-Wan and leveraged him across his shoulders and stood seemingly effortlessly.

It didn't seem to matter much who took the lead now that Bail had a light, so they ended up walking side-by-side, rather than single file. The novelty of having a lightsaber in hand wore off quickly when the pain of walking returned, though Bail was careful not to let the blade sink so low as to hit the ground.

He wasn't even sure why they were walking again, instead of waiting for dawn. But the only one of them who seemed to have his head together even slightly right now was Maul, and Bail figured he had to have some reason for pushing on when he had previously voted they stop.

"How are you doing this?" Bail asked, though honestly, it was as much to distract himself from the jarring hurt of every step as it was needing to know.

"Doing what?" Maul asked back; his voice had become little better than a rasp, for lack of water.

Bail wasn't sure what he meant himself, so he tried, "Keeping going? Not-- losing it completely?"

Maul didn't answer right away, his attention firmly fixed forward, though if there was any strain from carrying even a diminished Jedi on his back, it didn't show. A minute passed, then two, before he finally said, "The dark side is chaotic. Fear, anger, pain, sorrow. Passion. If you don't control it, it controls you." He shifted Obi-Wan just a little, carefully, to fit more comfortably across his shoulders. "Balancing the power of it with the control of it. It's been a long time. Jedi tend to-- avoid the strong emotions, and allow the Force to work through them otherwise. Sith are taught to harness the strong emotions and to exert control over the Force."

That was a little disjointed, but not so much Bail couldn't grasp it, and really, he was grateful for something to think about that wasn't steeped thick with guilt. "Is that how you made him sleep?" he asked, because he was pretty sure even one of the strong narcotics they had taken from that station wouldn't have been enough to put Obi-Wan under so deeply.

"Partially. Force suggestion. Drugs." Even in the light from a lightsaber, Bail could see the muscles in Maul's jaw knot briefly before he continued, "I'm shielding him as well as I can, too."

It took Bail a few seconds to catch that, then it mostly clicked. "I thought those only worked on the weak-willed." And Obi-Wan definitely wasn't that.

"He's exhausted and suffering," Maul just said, as if that explained it. Which-- Bail supposed that it did. There was only so much anyone could take before the need for relief became far more important than the resistance.

He tried not to think too hard about what Obi-Wan had told him before falling into the worst flashback he'd had yet, or the parallel between them.

Or, for that matter, where his own limits were.

It took him longer than it should have to figure out that that was why they were walking at night; Maul didn't know how long he was going to be able to protect Obi-Wan from the misery of the conscious world. Bail was strangely relieved he still had enough of a brain in his head to figure that out. “He had said that it's harder for him when I try to talk to him too much, early on. Is it the same for you?”

Maul shook his head. “No. The distraction doesn’t bother me.”

“Does it make it harder to shield both of you?”

“If it does, it’s a trade I’m willing to make.”

There was no small amount of temptation there to ask what the voices were saying to Maul. Bail knew what they were saying to Obi-Wan, but he had a feeling that both of the Force sensitives were hearing different things.

But in the end, he decided not to. He tried to cast his tired mind out for something to talk about that wasn’t heartbreaking, though honestly, it seemed the only thing his thoughts kept circling back to. Every step made it feel like his joints were lined in broken glass, but complaining about that wasn’t going to do them any good, either.

Finally, he quit trying quite so hard to find something uplifting and just started talking.

“Breha and I didn’t have a long engagement,” he said, and the thought of his wife made his breath catch briefly in the back of his throat. “I guess maybe because it was arranged in a hurry to make everyone happy. But we had a couple of months and we used to just-- go places, together.”

It was a fight not to close his eyes in order to picture it, but he couldn’t afford to take a tumble with a lightsaber in hand; even to his own ears, his voice was ragged and thready, but he kept talking anyway. “Alderaan’s so quiet, compared to Coruscant. Even for being nobility, we weren’t really bothered; we could go to restaurants, little cafes, open markets back then. We’d get on one of the riverboats and spend a day stopping at the little towns along the way.”

He knew that this was experience that in no way related to Maul's life. But a glance over told Bail he was being listened to, and if Maul found it objectionable, there was no evidence on his face; with that in mind, and maybe hoping at least the mental images were soothing, he kept going.

"We would play this game, kind of like-- a getting-to-know-you game. No rules or anything. There would be a lull in conversation, or we'd run out of things to talk about, and one of us would just turn to the other and say, 'Tell me something about you that I don't know.' Breha started that one. The first thing I told her was that I failed history in my second year and I had to spend all summer cutting my fishing short just to make up for it." Bail smiled and shook his head. "Funny, given how much I enjoy history now."

The little huff of amusement he got back was kind of satisfying; he smiled to himself for it.

"We'd spend hours doing that. Back then, it felt like we would never run out of things to tell one another. I learned that her favorite time of night was just before the last glow of daylight faded off of the horizon, and that the winter berries that grew up in the mountains made her favorite preserves. That the reason she has a ribbon plaited into her hair is because when she was little, her great-gran used to do that and those are some of the earliest memories that she has." The ground blurred a little; Bail was sort of surprised that he had enough moisture left in his body to produce tears.

He definitely didn't have the wherewithal left to get embarrassed by them, so he just wiped them off with a half-hearted wince for using his bad arm, and tried not to drown in that not unfamiliar mix of love and pain.

"Have you run out of things since?" Maul asked, after they had walked several more paces and Bail had managed to get himself back under some kind of control.

It was a tough question to answer. They had largely run out of pre-marriage things to tell one another, but then there were other things he could talk over with Breha, now related to their shared lives. Even now, they sometimes managed to get hours-long conversations going, though not like they had when they were younger and new. Often the talk was political, chewing over things they were both doing for their world and system, though it was the comfortable political talk of two people who shared one vision.

But there was a wall between them, in the shape of a small grave on the Antilles Estate now, built upon the bricks of the four prior miscarriages, where the children they would have had were not even of a size to bury.

This world didn't whisper to Bail, but the despair he felt here was as familiar as an old friend, an old enemy, both. That combination between helplessness and desperation. He had forged ahead on this mission, expecting danger and expecting to be in danger. He wasn't afraid of that; wasn't afraid of risking his life.

What he hadn't expected was to find his wounds opened. For the circumstances to add up such that they would be laid open to the air; to feel this rawness, largely unpatched by work or alcohol or near-endless elbow rubbing or any of the other ways he was accustomed to surviving it all.

He wasn't sure how to explain that, either. Were it nearly anyone else, Bail might not have even tried to, but Maul did remind him of Breha; the same wicked edge of humor he had seen when Maul was proven right over the communications delay was the same wicked edge of humor he had seen when Breha was listening to him grouse about being invited to a party by a rival senate committee. They both spoke softly, but with weight; they both expressed worry the same way, usually through touch or quiet, searching looks or pragmatic caretaking. Despite vastly different histories, they were of a common cloth; Bail had certainly been around enough people in his life to sense those things.

As tired as he was, it was that which had him working to dig words out of this exhaustion and pain and grief. "We eventually ran out of things that were before. Before us, before marriage," he said, carefully, the thoughts heavy and sludgy. "But then we had the now. And the someday. A lot of it was work, but-- a lot of it was just life, too. Where to go on holiday. Upcoming festivals. What to make for dinner, when we felt like cooking.”

"Was?" Maul observed. "Not is?"

Too clever by half again, too. The urge to dodge that was there; Bail had already told this story once, which was once more than he had ever really intended to. And he still didn't know if the telling had helped him any; if the damaged nerves he'd laid open had healed at all for being exposed. If it had done Obi-Wan any good, either.

On top of all of that, there was some odd, sideways desire to play the optimist for Maul's sake, too; every piece of his story that Bail had gotten so far was just-- awful. Maul didn't really need to be dealing with Bail's awful at the same time.

But the other option wasn't really any better, either.

One step. Another. Maybe if he kept taking them, he could right something; maybe if he kept taking them, he could go home and tell her how sorry he was. Maybe if he said the words enough times, they wouldn’t hurt so damned badly.

The ground blurred again, and this time, he didn’t even bother to swipe the tears away.

"I hurt her," Bail finally began. "I didn't ever mean to, but I did anyway."

 

 

 

The play of light and shadow across his vision was abstract, ominous and artful, and Bail lost it a few times to darkness before he got his eyes to focus enough to realize it was Zigoola’s heartless forest canopy above him.

The crush of despair at that realization might have been enough to finish him off, but then Obi-Wan was leaning into view.

The Jedi looked even worse than Bail felt -- and who knew how that was possible -- but he was at least again conscious and present. Though Bail thought that was probably nothing like a good thing, given where they were. Obi-Wan’s eyes were bloodshot red and his beard did nothing to hide how thin and hollow his face had become. Even if Bail couldn’t hear the malevolence of this world, it was entirely obvious that it was eating away at the both of them; that they had come here healthy and were dying swiftly.

“We can’t be far off now, I’m guessing. We’ll reach that temple tomorrow, I hope,” Obi-Wan said, voice cracked and hoarse and quiet; he planted his hand in the center of Bail’s chest, when Bail went to sit up. “Rest a little longer.”

Bail didn’t even put up a token fight; there was a rock digging into his back and his back itself was stiff and sore, but moving was going to certainly feel worse. “How long have we been here?” he asked, unable to even summon a wince for how painful it was to scrape words out of his dry throat.

Obi-Wan shook his head, looking lost. “I don’t know. A few hours.”

Bail gave half a nod back; through the lacy foliage, he couldn’t really tell what direction the light was coming from, couldn’t begin to estimate when in the day it was. After a couple more half-hearted moments trying to guess, he let his eyes close again, shuddering. His feet were numb, which was probably for the better. “Where’s Maul?”

“Blazing a trail,” Obi-Wan said, sounding bleak and disheartened. “Of course.”

Bail was starting to really grasp why Obi-Wan was so overbearing towards Maul now; why Obi-Wan was so protective. He didn’t know the story behind that prior suicide attempt, but that flashback had been terrifying for the state it left the Jedi in, as if he was ready to pay for that near loss of life by ending his own. It came a little too close to how Bail felt, watching Breha cast adrift; his own soul-sickness when her gaze looked through him, instead of at him, and knowing that it was his own actions which led her there.

She had come back, but even now, they weren’t the same.

Even starting to understand the reasons why, though, Bail had put enough faith in Maul to walk to the point of collapse. He wasn’t about to take that faith back now.

Maybe Maul’s trail-blazing that would cut down on the time they were walking. Bail wasn’t sure how long past dawn he had staggered himself along like a corpse that simply refused to drop. He wasn’t sure how he had gotten on the ground, except maybe his body just quit on him. But he knew they had made it quite some ways, given there was no sign of the open ground they had been on before.

A cold gust wound its way between the trees and he shivered again; despite wanting nothing more than to stay down, he still rolled over, biting hard enough on his already abused lip to taste blood, muffling the sound he made, before pushing up to sit on his knees.

Obi-Wan gave him a brief look of reproval, but then another, harder wind blew through and his brow furrowed as he looked in the direction it was blowing from.

The weather hadn’t varied any since they crashed; what occasional clouds skated by were thin and distant and then gone again. Bail was used to the ever present breeze, especially notable out on the plains where it caked them in dust and left them choking on it, but this was a little more heavy than that, especially given the tree cover. Overhead, the foliage rustled, dead and dry.

“I don’t like this,” Obi-Wan muttered, and he probably meant that to be to himself, but it made Bail’s skin crawl anyway.

“Is the temple doing this?” Bail asked, half-stumbling and half-crawling to put himself against the trunk of a tree, as if somehow that could offer him shelter.

Obi-Wan followed him, and the two of them huddled there, shoulders pressed together like a pair of runaway boys just realizing how far from home they’d gotten. “I don’t-- I don’t think so.”

As if it were listening, the sky answered.

One moment, the wind went eerily still, not so much as a stirring breeze, and then the world went dark, darker, until it felt almost like night. Bail had no pride left; he hunched in on himself, staring at the gaps in the canopy like the sky itself was a hunter and if he could only hold still enough, it might pass over them unnoticed.

Distantly, in the terrible stillness, there was a rumble of thunder.

Next to him, Obi-Wan shivered.

The light turned gray, turned green, and then the rain came.

It tore holes through the lacy canopy, and the sudden downpour startled both of them into a flinch, as it went from thick quiet to violence in the space of a heartbeat. Even back to the tree, there wasn’t much protection; they were soaked within seconds, the drumming painful in its intensity. Bail tried to protect any part of himself he could and still was nearly put to his knees again by the mix between the wind and the driving rain, stinging so hard it felt like pinpricks of fire.

He trembled, gone from cold to freezing, then some common sense must have been beaten into his head because he realized-- “Water!”

He dove for their packs half-blindly, feet unsteady in the new mud, and got out the bottles they had with them, sucking the water off of his lips as it ran down his face; it tasted metallic, but he wasn’t sure if that was from blood or something else. Still, even as it was beating him hard enough to make him feel like he would end up nothing but a walking bruise, it felt good in his raw and parched throat.

“Don’t drink it, you don’t know if it’s safe!” Obi-Wan yelled at him, just a barely visible shape huddled in shadow and downpour.

“If I drop dead, then you’ll know!” Bail snapped back, as he managed to fumble their water bottles open to catch the streams of rain falling off of the canopy overhead.

Overhead, the wind howled; all around them, the forest crackled and he could hear more distantly the rumble as trees or limbs or-- something was crashing down. Even as he swallowed as much water as he could and tried to hold the bottles steady to capture more, Bail thought of monsters; the heavy footsteps of something coming closer, something that would swallow them whole.

He was just fumbling the cap onto the second bottle when something did.

The world exploded into vivid blue-white, a split second of blinding light, a split second of something that transcended pain.

Then nothing.

 

 

 

The river of water floated under him; the river of stars above.

The punt was anchored, but sometimes he thought about pulling out his filleting knife, razor sharp; one slice of the rope would set the little boat free to slide down the current, taking him downstream, where trees arched in black silhouette against the deep blue background, the glitter of stars. He was not Viceroy or Senator or Prince; he was Bail, just Bail, and did not yet know the taste of a lover or of brandy or of sorrow.

Up into the treeline on the slope overlooking the river, the wide windows of the summer house were throwing warm yellow light between old hardwood frames; the shutters cast open, his sisters and parents inside. Upriver, the tea grew that they brewed in their kitchen; downriver, the unknown, an adventure. It didn't matter if it was mapped, if Bail had never studied the map. To him, it would be new.

He was safe here. Eight or nine or eleven or fourteen. The same fishing rod, too big or just right for his hands. This was his world; he felt it down to his very cells. Nothing could touch him here.

He closed his eyes, head resting against the cushion of the bench he had pulled out so that he could lay in the bottom of the boat and look at the night sky; his catch was keeping cool on the basket tied over the side, the cold water flowing out of the mountains feeding the river, and in the mornings, the world became fog until the sun burned it off.

He drifted.

Shivered.

He was wet; he blinked his eyes open. Maybe the boat sprung a leak. But when he checked, he was dry.

Someone was calling for him.

He wasn't ready to go back in yet. He wanted to stay on the water; watch the night sky turn and turn and turn above him. Out there, there were distant stars now dead, their ghostlight only now reaching him. In a billion, trillion years, maybe another boy will be laying in a boat on another river, looking at his ghostlight. Bail smiled at the thought, then frowned right after.

He was cold, wet. But dry.

Someone kept calling him. One moment, his mother's voice; the next, a man’s.

Something uneasy crawled down his spine. He reached for his filleting knife, pulled the sharp blade free of its sheath, ready to cut his boat free. He was Bail, just Bail; he had never taken a life that didn't belong to a fish or a manka cat or a deer. He only knew death as a boy knew death, not as a man did.

His mother’s voice, then not. It was frantic, sharp with fear, piercing. He was cold, wet.

Drowning.

One cut of the knife, he could be free; another adventure. A river; water or stars, ghostlight.

The voice again; he couldn’t leave whoever it was that sounded like that, not without reassuring them that it would be okay, he was just going to see where the water went. He opened his mouth to answer--

 

 

 

--and snapped back to himself coughing violently, choking, head buzzing, tasting metal. He couldn’t see, couldn’t hear right, couldn’t feel his arms. He had no orientation; didn’t know if he was laying down or sitting up, didn’t know if he was floating or grounded.

In all of it, he felt something incredibly warm touch his neck, a pinpoint of heat in the overwhelming cold. Another voice; lower, quieter. He had stopped coughing, but he still couldn’t get sounds to resolve into language.

His body was asleep. Prickling.

I’ll be back, let me just see where the river goes, he thought, in some detached corner of his mind.

There was something he had to do, first.

“-- come on, Bail, you have to breathe.” The first voice again, pleading.

I am breathing, he thought, irritation creeping in, but he sucked in a breath and almost started coughing again, lungs tight and suddenly he remembered: Obi-Wan, Maul. Zigoola. Something had happened, something bad had happened; did they crash? There were trees and dust--

He couldn’t put any of it together, but he kept breathing, one breath following another, following another, and the two voices were talking over his head. He kept forgetting who they were, but they sounded incredibly worried. He tried to speak up, tell them he was fine, he was just-- very, very tired and his body was numb, maybe floating, but--

 

 

 

--there was something warm against his back.

Bail was shivering uncontrollably when he managed to get his eyes open; for a moment, spots danced across his vision, but then it cleared up slowly and he found Obi-Wan staring at him, wide-eyed. It took Bail a moment to recognize the Jedi; his half-dried hair was hanging in his eyes, there was blood all over the side of his face, streaked, and he looked cored; looked like something had ripped him open, tore out everything, sewed him back up empty and hollow, except his eyes were bright with fear or relief or both.

When he finally made eye contact, Obi-Wan huffed out a few hard breaths, sitting back on his haunches. “I told you we should have turned back,” he said, voice thick.

Bail had to wrestle his mouth into working, still tasting metal or blood, but then he managed to snap back, “It’s a little too late to be having this argument, isn’t it?”

Or, he tried to snap it back; it was hard to sound suitably irritated when your teeth were chattering. And really, there wasn’t any heat to the words, but Bail didn’t want to fight this out again, either.

“He might have a point this time; no one expected you to become a lightning rod,” Maul pointed out, dryly, which was right about the same time that Bail realized he was leaning against the zabrak, who in turn was leaning against a tree. There was a fire burning not far away. The sky was nearly dark.

“I was hit by lightning?” Bail asked, after a few seconds where he tried to put everything together. He couldn’t remember it; the last thing he remembered with any clarity was the sky, green and black, and Obi-Wan at his shoulder.

He tried to flex his fingers, his toes; when he went to move and sit up, the pain rushed into the tingling numbness.

“--do that again,” Obi-Wan was saying; voice gone back to sharp, when the black faded away and Bail managed to catch his breath again. Something about that tone was frightening, especially paired with the way his head was spinning. “Be still,” the Jedi ordered, and if not for the tone of it, Bail might have objected.

Instead, shaken and half out of his mind in disorientation, he just did as he was told; lapsed into an uneasy doze made up of rivers and the broken, frozen earth his son was beneath and the colorful ribbons plaited into Breha’s hair, and the thread of warmth somewhere in the waking world keeping him on the ground.

 

 

 

“How bad?”

It was a whisper; partly because Obi-Wan was curled up in a ball, restlessly asleep, close by. Partly because breathing was a bit more of a chore than Bail wanted it to be. By the time he made it back to enough awareness to really start piecing things together properly, he didn’t know how much time had passed, but it had been enough for it to be full dark. The fire was still going. He wasn’t shivering quite as hard anymore; it had gone intermittent, instead.

Everything hurt; every muscle felt like it had been overused. One ear wasn’t working right; occasionally, it started ringing.

The part that worried him more than that, though, was the heaviness in his chest.

There was a long pause, and Bail almost added that he didn’t want it sugar-coated for him, but then Maul answered with his characteristic straightforwardness, “It’s hard to tell. No burns that we could find, but you weren’t breathing and it had stopped your heart. One of your ears was bleeding. Shock, hypothermia or some combination thereof. And you have fluid in your lungs. We don’t know if it hit you directly, but clearly, it came close enough.”

The cold thrill of fear wasn’t anything like pleasant, but Bail was still oddly grateful for the blunt assessment. Moreso for the way Maul tightened his grip when he shivered from it.

“Think this is it?” he asked, after a moment’s reflection.

“Not right now.” There was a rough note in Maul’s voice, but it wasn’t the same dry rasp as before. “Without help, a few days at the outside.”

Bail felt him turn his head, the brush of his jaw, and knew he was looking at Obi-Wan. What felt like a thousand fragments of thoughts ran through Bail’s mind; about how this planet was killing them. About how it didn’t probably matter that he got hit by lightning, because none of them were going to make it off of this rock alive. About how he wished he could have gone and just said he was sorry.

He shoved those thoughts aside, mindlessly leaning his head over to rest it against Maul’s jaw and neck, taking some continued comfort in the warmth. “You’re not going to let that happen, right?” he asked, taking one more leap of faith.

There was a long beat, then the answer, “No, I won’t.”

Even in all of this, it made Bail smile.

Maul huffed out a breath, just a quiet sound, as if he had settled something; much like back on the Starfarer, when Bail had tried to awkwardly explain the blind spots love could cause. As if he had figured out the answer to something.

Silence fell, minutes or hours, then Maul said, “They’re loud tonight. These voices.”

It wasn’t exactly a request, at least overtly, for help. But Bail heard the undertone of it anyway, and after a moment, he gathered together the tattered shreds of his strength and stood on the foundation of his will and started talking; not about heartbreak, this time, but about the rivers of Alderaan, and fishing. About the early days of his marriage, and how Breha felt sleeping against him. About his sisters and parents in the house up the hillside. About vineyards and tea, and a boy on another river who could maybe see ghostlight someday.

He talked, and occasionally listened -- pictured a sea, a Jedi with ankles in the surf; pictured a cabin in rimrock and grinned some at the mental image of Obi-Wan Kenobi being a clingy reprobate who stole a former Sith assassin for a space heater; pictured the art and elegance of lightsaber combat, and the odd peace of just practicing forms -- and by the time he fell asleep, he felt like it would be okay.

Like he had set something right.

Chapter Text

A few days had been a generous estimate.

Were they somewhere else, it wouldn't be; were they somewhere else, even as badly hurt as he was, Bail would have probably survived at least that long and maybe longer yet. Getting him up on his feet, getting his heart working harder, would help clear his lungs; at least, it would help keep him stable. But Zigoola -- that temple -- had been doing exactly what Maul had feared it would do when they started on this hike; it was paring both Bail and Obi-Wan down, stealing their strength and then stealing their reserves. Stopping wouldn't have changed that, either. Slowed it, at best, but they would be no closer to salvation.

Maul still had its strength to keep him on his feet, but his status was in check; the moment he had decided his course, whatever mechanical monstrosity was protecting this world had sensed it and responded in kind. What had been coaxing before, if often cruelly, became vicious; it heckled him and screamed at him and denounced him.

Traitor. Coward. Failure. Pathetic.  So many others. You are--

But paradoxically, it turned out that there must have been some Sith left in him; the meaner those voices became, the harder Maul's resolve. He could not say he found any pleasure in this test -- he most certainly didn't -- but there was some fierce pride in his defiance. In fighting back in whatever way he could, be it in walking or in trying to take care of Obi-Wan or in refusing to hurt either of the other two with him, even if that would grant him favor.

He was tired, though. Incredibly so. Not physically, but--

There was some respite in talking with Bail. The one static hiss was the worst, still; it was personal, and it knew him, or was able to read him. It threw knives in the dark so long as he didn't respond, but that didn't mean Maul couldn't feel the cuts. Listening to Bail go on about Breha and Alderaan and even the tragedy of the loss of their ability to have children together was a reprieve from that, something to focus on. The knives still scored, but not so deeply.

He might have found the same comfort from Obi-Wan -- and he realized as he was talking quietly with Bail, heads leaned together, that he was longing to hear that voice that he had found unexpected refuge in for years now -- but Obi-Wan was so despairing, so lost and heartsick, that he likely wouldn't have been able to offer that even if Maul had the ability to ask for it.

The only time he had seen Obi-Wan's eyes clear and sharp had been hours earlier; the same bolt of lightning that had gotten Bail had blown a tree apart, and after they had Bail breathing again, they'd dug a several centimeter splinter of wood out of the Jedi's scalp. It had bled a frightening amount, but it seemed the pain of it had at least centered Obi-Wan long enough for them to get Bail stable.

Not long after, Obi-Wan had come right out and asked Maul to hurt him, to help him focus.

It was only Bail’s condition that kept Maul from walking away right then and there, angry and shaken in a way even this planet, even that voice, had not managed to do to him.

Now, the sky was starting to pale, slow and creeping, and he knew that today, this had to end. He had found the end of the trees when he had scouted ahead the day before, blazing a trail as he had said he was going to. At the end of them was a ravine, deep and treacherous, but it was the last obstacle.

On the other side was the temple.

Being that close to it had been maddening; Maul could feel the energy coming off of it, crawling across his skin, electrical and strangely slimy at once. He wondered, a little, if the storm that had appeared out of seemingly nowhere had been another defense mechanism that he had tripped by crossing into proximity of the black monolith.

He had turned back fast and took off back along the trail he had made at a full run; had he not blazed it to begin with, for the sake of his weakening companions, he never would have made it back in time to help Obi-Wan pull Bail back from death.

And that didn’t bear thinking about.

Obi-Wan was in and out of reality after that. Quiet, but deeply despondent. He was dying more slowly, but even if he wasn't at the end of his strength, he didn't have much further to go.

In all of this, the fear remained; it evolved or shifted or splintered off into several directions, but it never abated. Even as Maul found himself and drew his line, even as he put his mechanical toes to it, it remained his companion. It was familiar. Unfamiliar. Made of too many things to name and some things for which he had no name.

He wasn’t unfamiliar with self-doubt, either, but it was particularly excessive here and now. The only alleviation to that was Bail’s assertion of faith. “You’re not going to let that happen, right?” It wasn’t a demanding question, it wasn’t a command; it was just Bail speaking aloud what Maul had mostly resolved in his mind: If any of them would face down the temple, it would be him. It would have to be him. It was oddly comforting, in all of this, to be given that faith.

He hadn’t realized how badly he had needed it, until he had it.

Fear, faith, determination, or a combination of all of those; whatever fragile thing it was, it beat against the inside of his ribs, his breastbone, as the sun crested the horizon and flooded the forest with its weak light.

 

 

 

(He doesn’t remember the first steps, but he knows he must have taken them. They would not have released him from the Halls of Healing if he couldn’t stand on these metal legs and make them work.

The fact that he can’t remember should bother him, but it doesn’t; he has ceased caring what they do to him. There’s nothing left to care about; this broken flesh is largely worthless. His equally broken mind is likewise. They have not bothered to poke at the pieces anymore, but it wouldn’t be hard; whatever rebuilding of his shields has happened has only done so because of training so deep that it is automatic, subconscious. It would be like punching holes through a layer of gauze.

It had taken everything he had left in himself to keep them out. He has nothing left to give. Nothing left to defend, even, not really.

“Come on,” Kenobi says, standing there, and Maul cannot understand what he wants. He remembers the visit hours or days ago, however long it was; he remembers Kenobi declaring that he would get up today, but this doesn’t seem like reality.

He just looks back at the Jedi, beleaguered. The longer he’s awake, the less real the world seems. The brief period of engagement before seems out of reach now; the product of adrenaline and surprise, an anomaly. Aberration. Half-dream. He doesn’t know what Kenobi wants; why he is here.

Maybe he’ll finish what he started. Maybe he thinks Maul will give him provocation. Maul can’t fathom any other reason for this visit, this insistence; Kenobi’s parting words the day before could be a trick or a threat or maybe this is a form of punishment.

After sitting there and failing to grasp it for however long, though, Maul forgets what he was supposed to be doing, thinking about, and goes to wrap back around himself and go back to sleep.

“Oh no, none of that,” Kenobi says, voice frustrated, disgusted, harsh; he comes forward, and--

There is nothing left to defend, but that isn’t the same thing as being defenseless. Nonetheless, he is both. He reacts on instinct, not logic or sense or even need, and like an animal he scrambles into a corner, off the edge of his pallet, dragging legs that refuse to answer him in his mindlessness, and then he stills and he waits. He is here. Not here. Pain is a lesson; he has not flinched since he was a child. There is nothing left to defend. Maybe this is provocation, maybe this will end,
maybe this
will
finally
end.

He stares at Kenobi, but doesn’t exactly see him; blinks and feels tears hot on his face, and he cannot remember the last time he shed them.  Pathetic a non-voice says, one he used to know, in his mind; not his, but his, but not. It’s truth, but he doesn’t know what anyone wants, he doesn’t have anything left to give.

He can’t breathe. Every breath catches on something sharp and heavy in his chest, shortens the span of his lungs to stretch; every breath is a slow drowning. Pain is a lesson, but what is there left to learn? What is he supposed to learn from this?

Everything after that is in-- cuts, flashes. Blue. The twi’lek healer. Kenobi; off-white. She gives him something; it spreads warm from his neck to his shoulders, diffuses through this worthless flesh, until he feels just-- adrift again. It takes the edges off of the knife in his chest, enough for him to finally get a deeper breath. Maybe he dozes; probably he dozes.

Distantly, he’s aware of Kenobi pulling him up; something has changed in the Jedi’s voice. It lilts, Maul notices, when Kenobi isn’t snapping; there is a rhythm to it. He feels the hands just above his elbows, keeping him upright, then arms around him, but he doesn’t care now, he doesn’t care anymore, and he’s grateful -- achingly, desperately grateful -- when he finally gets to go back to sleep.

This is the very last time they could be called enemies. Everything that comes after this, they make for themselves.

In all of the minutes and hours and years after this, Obi-Wan is never harsh with him again. Firm, sometimes; overbearing, sometimes. Insistent, frustrated, even occasionally demanding. But never harsh, not that kind of harsh, not laced with disgust. When he comes back the next day, he is insistent, persistent, but there is some note of patience there that hadn’t been before. When he moves, he moves slowly and deliberately; when he does reach to touch, a few times to tug, more usually to offer a steadying hand, there is no threat implied.

And he talks. Maul only catches some of it, at first, but he comes to know Obi-Wan’s voice so well that he sometimes feels that it must be written on him so deeply that it inhabits every cell.

One day, Maul will only need that voice and little else, to know that there is something in this universe worth living for.)

 

 

 

When he set out, put the other two at his back and faced the temple ahead, he did it with his staff across his back and his shells tied around his hand, where they had been now for days. The trail he had blazed the day before looked almost peaceful in the morning light, but he knew enough of the real thing these days to know the difference.

It was not a perfect understanding, but it was more than he used to have.

You are--

For once, Maul had an answer.

I am coming for you.

 

 

 

( “We can both go. I don’t see why we can’t both go.”

There is desperation in Obi-Wan’s tone, a note of anxiety drawn like a bowstring, quivering taut. He had awoken disoriented, kicking himself back to awareness with a ragged gasp, coughing in the after. Even the water seems mild poison to him, here; he drank some, but he gagged on it.

Standing here now, he is walking wounded; he doesn't look far from walking dead. His eyes are bright and manic, but surrounded in skin so bruised from exhaustion that they look almost unreal.

“Bail needs you here,” Maul says, bracing against the voices in his head, bracing for the fight that he is surely stepping into, and trying hard to stand on the tightrope that spans between his determination and his fear. “I’m also in better physical shape than you are.”

“And mental shape?” Obi-Wan challenges, voice sharpening further.

It’s a fair question, Maul even knows that, but he’s baring his teeth right back before he even realizes that he is. It’s warning, not anger, but it would not take much for it to tip to that. “I’m here. Coherent. Capable.” A beat. “Can you say the same?”

That, too, is a fair question, but it probably doesn’t feel like it.)

 

 

 

The ravine was deep, a scar carved out of the planet by some water long vanished, some river long dead. Maul stood on the precipice, across from the temple standing in glinting black, the faintest red seeming to gleam at its edges, apparently untouched by the dust which blew constantly.

A monument. Or another trap. It didn’t really matter which.

The scrape of voices across the surface of his mind made him wince; they were so much louder here, hurling abuse at him as he sought to finally silence them. The hiss had not come back yet, but it was going to; it was only a matter of time before it added to the chorus. He intended to get as far as he could before that happened.

Maul toed the edge once he found a stable spot and looked down. In some places, there was something not unlike a path; in others, it was sheer, eroded by time and wind and rain. He was going to have to free climb it; he had no rope, no picks, no way to anchor himself to the trees behind him that grew almost to the edge.

The last time he had been free climbing had been on that mission with Obi-Wan years before; the difficulties he had encountered without feet he could feel came back in clear and stark reminder now. One bad enough slip, and this could quickly become a moot point.

He rolled his shoulders and then stretched, warming up, focusing on the pull of muscle and tendon and bone while the voices out of that temple told him of all the ways he was going to fail. All of the ways he would never make it across this divide.

Once Maul was satisfied that he was ready enough for it, he went anyway.

 

 

 

(“I can manage,” Obi-Wan answers, his own teeth flashing white, surrounded by grime and blood stains, contrast to his matted beard. “I’m not helpless.”

“No, but neither am I.” Maul has never liked arguing with this man, not even back when those arguments were filled with hate and rage; since those days, he has avoided it wherever possible. They debate, they banter, but arguing is something they have both steered clear from whenever possible.

Maul has done it before, though, if very rarely; he has stood upon the ground he holds and refused to budge before. He can’t afford -- they can’t afford -- for him to budge this time, either. “Obi-Wan--”

“You can’t possibly expect me to let you go and face that-- that thing by yourself!” Obi-Wan snaps back, emphatic. “You can’t believe that I’ll let you go throw yourself into its teeth just so I last long enough to bury you!”

“It’s the only sensible course!” It’s rare when Maul raises his voice; nonetheless, he can’t seem to help doing so now. “If I don’t make it, then you’ll be intact to make a run on it yourself. The miserable thing is loud; it was loud even standing across a ravine from it. We’ve already been at each other’s throats, and standing in its shadow will make that even more likely to happen!”

“Do you even hear yourself?! You’re already making plans for if you don’t make it back!”

Duracrete wall, indeed. Maul flings his hand up in agitated frustration, ready to point out that a sensible battleplan makes that less likely, but then he stops and drops his head and takes a few breaths, trying to calm down enough to keep this a discussion rather than a real fight.

They are burning time and burning daylight and they are, none of them, getting stronger for the wait.

“Why are you asking me for this?” Obi-Wan asks, the undertone of a plea in his voice.)

 

 

 

His foot lost traction and sent loose soil and rock, made unstable by the recent rain, to skitter down the path gravity begged his body to follow. Maul dug his hands in harder and clung to the holds he had managed to get, gritting his teeth.

The temple dwarfed him in shadow; reminded him of his size.

The voices screamed.

YOU ARE--

Overlapping ten, twenty, a thousandfold. All definitions, many of them true.

In all of that, his own voice was a whisper: I am not letting you kill them.

He took a few slow, steadying breaths and then felt for another foothold; as ever when he had to climb, he tried to guess from how much resistance he encountered how stable it was. Without living flesh to feel it through, feel the Force through, he had only the strength of his arms, the surety of his hands, and the determination.

Down a step. The temple mocked him. His foot held and he got another handhold, feeling the beginnings of fatigue burning in his shoulders. That boded poorly; he had not tired once physically on this world. That he was starting to feel it now could mean nothing good.

YOU ARE--

“I am not letting you kill me, either,” he spat back aloud, around the grit and dust on his tongue.

One step at a time, he scaled the face of the ravine; when he had something of a path, he took it. When he didn’t, he lowered himself off the ledge and dug for it. Dug into the ledge.

Dug into himself.

Have you really become so docile? the one voice wondered, with mocking sympathy. Still just a hiss and not an actual recognizable voice, but Maul knew now.

He knew who it was.

The realization flooded from his shoulders on down, a wash of fear so strong that it almost paralyzed him. He pressed his brow to the soil, horn digging into it, eyes closed tight. Unbidden, he just thought back, You.

Yes, the voice only said, almost mildly. Me.

Somewhere in the black holes of lost memory, the hiss had once had a true voice. It had been a black shadow towering over him; a frozen touch. It had been harbinger of suffering; the architect of every misery he had survived. It had owned him, and for so many years, he had wanted nothing more than to please it, taking any scrap of approval or praise to hoard zealously against the long and barren stretches of callous indifference or casual cruelty.

It was all he had known.

“No,” he growled back, flat refusal. Not for the fact of it; for the intention behind it. Even just that single word made his whole upper body tense in anticipation of punishment, something so beaten into the fabric of him that he couldn’t control the reaction to it, but he forced himself to find his next foothold and lowered himself to it with trembling arms.

The hiss crackled, cackled, mad amusement. Ever mocking. Even without a real voice to lend nuance to it, Maul remembered how it cut.

Really, Maul. You were never strong enough to challenge me before; what makes you think you could now?

The answer to that was back in that forest. Maul refused to give it. He could feel the pressure now against his mental shields, and something in him was frantic to scramble back up to safety, real or not; to get away. His foot slipped and he slid down a meter before he managed to claw back some purchase, shaking his head violently before he was even stable as if he could protect himself that way. Last time, he had let the monster in, only for it to rip him apart.

This time, the monster was going to have to work for it.

He hung there, holding back the scream that ached in his throat.

YOU ARE--

--much softer, aren’t you? Do you think you’ll curry favor by allowing them to live?

It hurt; not the words, but the feeling of it, the weight he could barely stand even a brush of, the way it threw into relief mental scars ten years old. He could feel them, the edges of them, the moment when he had lost that last battle and the only thing he had left was to die for it, from it, to escape the agony.

Stop-- he

 

 

 

(begs, maybe aloud or maybe not, and they pay him no mind, they don’t listen; they are voices, overwhelming presence, and they are raking through the shattered pieces of him and he doesn’t even have the dubious mercy of unconsciousness to retreat to and the hurt is only dwarfed by the shame of it, the helplessness of it)

 

 

 

and the sky resolved blinding above him, bordered in dirt and rock.

He dragged in a hard, shaking breath, the jolt of pain temporarily silencing the voices all screaming in his mind, maybe even his own. He was on his back and everything he had left that could feel the impact of the ground did; when Maul was able to get enough air back into his stunned lungs, he could see the way he’d tumbled down the slope.

At least towards the bottom, it had leveled off; otherwise, this would be over and he would be shattered bone and meat on the floor of the ravine.

He groaned, head spinning; closed his eyes again for a moment and dragged in one breath after the next after the next, before rolling over as precursor to forcing himself up.

There was still such a long way to go. He would be lying to himself if he pretended some part of him didn’t want to just lay there until this was over; until this finally ended.

When the voices came flooding back in, he only just barely stopped himself from curling up to clutch his head and brace against it; the cold, oil-slick presence was almost tangible now, crawling across his skin and trying to burrow its way in and he kicked out one of those cybernetic legs like he could kick it off of himself.

YOU ARE--

He shivered. Forced his eyes open. Dirty and blood-strained, his shells were laying against the side of his wrist. Beyond those, the other face of the ravine, tall and imposing.

Above that, the temple.

He pushed up to hands and knees and panted at the ground. Blood dripped from where he’d lost another horn. Then, jerking his head to the side once in one more futile attempt to stop the onslaught, he got up to his knees and then his feet and made for the opposite wall.

I am--

 

 

 

(“What do you think I’m here for?” he asks, his own plea.

“Not to die for me!” Obi-Wan cries back, voice high and sharp, when all of his other arguments have been exhausted. “Not here, nor anywhere else!”

They are both the embodiment of desperation; the living manifestations of grief and fear and devotion. They are ten years of complicated, contradictory feelings; of endurance and patience and shame and hope. They are all of the things they have not said, all of the things they have, and they are also all of the things they have yet to.

They are a war. They are the definitions they have given each other, and the definitions they have claimed for their own, and the new ones they write together.

They are.

“I didn’t follow you to Christophsis to die for you,” Maul answers, no less sharply. “I didn’t follow you here to die for you, either!”)

 

 

 

If shadows could drip, then the shadows off of the temple were doing just that; the dark weight of it, pressing down and down and down made everything beneath of it feel colder, a steady trickle of ice. It was meant to paralyze, meant to freeze. Maul would think it was meant to discourage, but discouragement wasn’t anything like a strong enough word.

Every handhold climbing up the other side was harder than the last. His knuckles were scraped raw; his nails and fingertips were no better. The twine wrapped around his hand had long been glued there by blood and dirt, and even for as cold as he felt, the sweat was pouring off of him.

He wished the physical pain was strong enough to drown out the screaming echoing around his skull and the singular hiss that needed no volume to be heard over it.

YOU ARE--

What do you suppose you’ll find there? You and I both know that no rescue is coming.

Maybe not. But there would be a way to silence these voices. Maybe even a way to buy Obi-Wan and Bail more time.

Maul locked his teeth together and stretched for the next handhold, groping for it blindly, and then when he got it, he dragged himself that bit further.

You’re alone, aren’t you? Have you really fallen so far that you’ll allow them to use you like this?

 

 

 

(“Then why?!” Obi-Wan slashes out with his arm, encompassing the world. The war. The galaxy. All of it. “Force, why would you follow me anywhere?! I cut you down in a way I wouldn’t have even cut a beast down! I spent months staring you down every day because I was ordered to do it, and I resented you every moment of it!”

This is nothing Maul doesn’t already know, but he’s taken aback by how clear those memories are. Not all connected, nor all intact; he was so far back against the wall, then, that holding the line of his own mental integrity took everything he had. But he remembers the feeling of it; of being so ground down that the only place he had left to turn was inwards, until he no longer even had that.

He can feel the remnants of despair even now.

He tries to find words, but none come; tries to say he understands, because he does, but nothing comes out.

They have never talked about this. In all of these years. Not until now.

“I wanted you to suffer.” Obi-Wan’s voice cracks, the outpouring of guilt and grief so thick in every word that it hurts even just hearing it. “I wanted you to deserve it. I knew better, and I still wanted that, I clung to it because--”

“Because I hurt you.” The words are in the air before he has a chance to really even think about them. Somewhere in his mind, Maul realizes this is the first time he’s said this aloud; when he does realize it, he shivers.

Behind him, ashen and unconscious or asleep, is the good man whose words he echoes now.

“What choice did you ever have?” Obi-Wan asks back, half turning away, tears cutting tracks in the dirt on his face, complicated heartbreak made flesh.

They are in unknown water; the current which has existed all this time, but unexplored and untested, and this is its own manner of terrifying.

“I didn’t,” Maul finally says, not remotely prepared for how those two words make him feel. Even feeling the truth of them for the first time that he can remember, he is nothing like ready to deal with them. The next ones, at least, are easier. “But I hurt you anyway. Whatever the reasoning or choice, whatever the Code, you’re not-- not defective for being angry about it, Obi-Wan.”

“I forgave you a long time ago,” Obi-Wan says, after a long moment; the frantic edge falls off of his voice, but his heartache still colors every word, still bowstring taut. “It just took me far too long. And it-- it wasn’t even that I was angry. It was how I acted because of it.”)

 

 

 

I am not alone.

That one was rapidly becoming a mantra. For every solid handhold he got, three more crumbled away under his fingers, showering down loose dirt and pebbles, and progress was centimeter by agonizing centimeter. Halfway up the wall, he nearly lost all traction and plummeted. When he managed to get to a stable platform, he had to pause to catch his breath.

The physical toll, from the crash to the last scrabble against the face of the ravine, was immediate; he could feel the damage in its entirety, and while none of it was critical, it made moving much more difficult. Zigoola had abandoned him; the strength lent to him by this world, the temple above, had renounced him.

There was no going back, which only left forward.

The voices which had tried to define him before only screeched for him to die, now, a steady stabbing beat against his mind.

Except the one.

You’re only a tool to them, Maul. A blunt instrument that they have no issue using for their own ends. You can’t really believe they care what happens to you. They took you for everything you were worth and now you allow them to puppeteer your corpse.

He faltered, half from the hiss. Half from the difficulty of ascent. The sensation like frost; the branching creep of it on metal, on transparisteel. He came a hair’s breadth from letting go with one hand to paw at his head, just a mindless and desperate attempt to get it away.

 

 

 

(“I wanted you to suffer, and then I got angry when you did; I wanted you to hurt, and then I was angry at you for being hurt, and I knew better! I knew what you had been through, I knew how far they’d pushed you, I saw the aftermath, and I still thought you must have been-- been exaggerating or-- or playing for sympathy-- or--” Obi-Wan’s face screws up, tears cutting tracks in the mess of it as he fists his hair. “--and I didn’t even entirely let go of that until you were back in that corner and looking up at me and you weren’t even angry, you were just waiting for me to hurt you, and I never knew, I never knew what it felt like to be a monster until that moment!”

Obi-Wan’s voice is shattered, and every breath he’s taking is hitched, every breath filled with self-loathing. Maul is not unaffected by this; just the words make the moment real and immediate again in his mind, and he’s shaking as hard as Obi-Wan is.

Their last moment as enemies.

He does remember it. He can still feel it. Not just that moment, but all of the things which led to it; not just that final reckoning, but the weeks of exhausted despair and the months of constant onslaught and the years -- the years -- of pain before it.

But that isn’t the end.

“Then what did you do?” Maul asks, voice quivering momentarily before steadying; before hardening, not in anger, but in plain determination that if this story is going to be told, then all of it’s going to be told.

“What?” Obi-Wan asks back, confusion briefly breaking into his misery.

“That day. In that cell. Tell me what you did next.”)

 

 

 

I am--

DIE.

--still my pawn, you know. Do you think it’s an accident that you’re here?

The top edge of the ravine crumbled, crumbled more; the dirt rained on him, got in his eyes, stuck to the blood and showed no signs of holding. His arms burned and trembled and everything in him was narrowed down to the drag of air into his aching lungs and the last half meter between him and solid ground.

DIE.

You have a unique choice ahead of you. The hiss never stopped; sometimes Maul heard anger in it, especially when he managed to push on past it, but otherwise it was coldly relentless, a steady stab like a pick to the brain, beating against shields broken and reforged, beating against him broken and-- whatever he was. Whole, or not, or pieces.

Whatever he was now. Not Sith. Not Jedi. Whatever he was, built on the foundations of what he used to be.

DIE. TRAITOR. DIE.

Maul snarled aloud and stretched up again, and this time, the dirt and the rock held under his fingers.

He dragged himself up over the top, kicking and clawing, and then a meter further to lay there in the frozen shadow of the temple, panting and shaking.

It’s not too late to change your course. I would find a place for you. A purpose, a true purpose. You could have that again.

 

 

 

(Obi-Wan is taken aback; his brow furrows, even as the tears still fall. “--I called Vokara Che.” His mouth twists, quivers. “She was always so-- so careful with you, and you were struggling to breathe. She wasn’t-- very happy with me, but she didn’t say anything. She gave you some kind of anti-anxiety medication, and then we put you back to bed.”

“And then?” Maul presses. “What did you do then?”

“I went back to my quarters and fell apart.”

“And?”

Obi-Wan’s brow furrows deeper still; his eyes narrow, confusion writ bold across his face. “--I came back the next day.”

Words have never been so important as they are now.

Maul doesn’t think he’s quite capable of this, but he doesn’t let that stop him. There is no one else here who can say these things. No one else in the galaxy who knows them.

For all that he has never been good with words, he knows what he has to say; he knows what he has to say because even though they have never spoken of this, this is the truth.

“You remember,” he says, carefully, “your moments of anger. And-- your moments of weakness. Of giving into your worst nature. As do I. But I also remember that you came back. Not just that day, Obi-Wan, but every day you could, day after week after year.”

Obi-Wan’s mouth twists, painfully; the denials are clear in his expression. His compulsion to deflect or to minimize it. “That’s--”

Maul shakes his head, sharply. “No. No, listen to me, for once just listen. You remember staring me down across that cell, but I remember you--” he has to pause just to take a breath, to close his eyes, to sort his thoughts, to make sure he’s doing this right, throat so tight it aches “--I remember every night you lay next to me talking to me until I forgot how to be afraid of sleeping next to you. You remember these few mistakes you made -- these few mistakes where you were guided by anger at someone who hurt you, and I can name dozens of times where I came back to my senses from whatever dark place in my mind to find myself in your arms.”

It isn’t easy to say any of this; it can’t be easy to hear it, either, because Obi-Wan’s face is a mask of trails, tears washing it clean of blood; when Maul can make himself look, the Jedi is barely on his feet, arms braced around himself in some futile attempt to hold himself together.

But it needs to be said and it needs to be heard.

“For every unkind moment you could name, I can name a thousand more where you embodied the opposite; for every stumble you’ve made, I can name a thousand steps where you were not only forging forward, but making sure you didn’t leave me behind while you did it.” He shakes his head. “You didn’t have to hold your hand out to me, but you did. I didn’t have to choose to take it, but I did. I have had-- so few choices in my life, but I chose you.”)

 

 

 

The double-doors of the temple opened under his hand, and he nearly reeled into the wall when he managed to stagger his way through.

It wasn’t the first Sith temple that Maul had been in; he had walked the graveyards of Korriban, had been on Malachor; he had been much younger then, and those temples considered him theirs. There was malevolence, but it was a shared malevolence; there was testing, meant to weed out the weak, but he had more than enough rage in him to meet and exceed everything that had been thrown at him.

Maul was a very long way from that person, but for his endurance.

The voices didn’t stop. The hiss did, silent anticipation. Still present; Maul could feel the specter, could feel it so strongly that he nearly jerked a look to see if the shadow was over his shoulder. His own weak half-joke in the sky park seemed prophetic now; even in the midst of all of this, he huffed a breath out in something like a laugh at the grim irony of it.

The ceiling rose high, higher; rose grandly, and in the darkness of the temple, everything seemed cast in blood and shadows. Inside of it, a thousand voices echoed screams, nearly enough to put him to his knees. His hands were shaking so hard he almost dropped his staff when he pulled it from where it was strapped to his back.

Lining the walls were alcoves; books, crystals, a treasure trove of Sith history and Sith power. Even in this lifetime, even in the midst of this mad cacophony, something in him found it oddly beautiful.

Just not beautiful enough to regret what he was going to do to it.

As he had already known, there was no ship. No communications array. But somewhere in this nightmarish construct, he could find a way to shut up their tormentors.

Well, my old apprentice? What will it be: A life led around by the Jedi, remaining nothing but a broken tool that they have already stolen everything of worth from? the voice asked, damningly nonchalant, as if this were nothing at all. Or a return to glory? A purpose?

Maul ticked his head over to the side, then thumbed on his staff and answered:

I have a purpose. 

 

 


(“Why did you follow me?” Obi-Wan asks, voice reduced to a ragged whisper. “Beyond any claims of being wasted in the Temple.”

The answer is long in coming; maybe too long, but it’s not one which there are words for, or at least, if there are, then they are words that Maul doesn’t know. Protection, but not; to watch over Obi-Wan, but not as a bodyguard, even if he doesn’t deny the title when it’s given to him. It is something altogether more nebulous; it is something which belongs to a shoreline, to any number of borrowed or rented beds; it is something that belongs to drowsy half-asleep talking or sitting against a warehouse wall or Obi-Wan laying on him and complaining when he tries to get up. It is something found in mugs of tea and memorized comm codes and shared space and shared routines.

Something found in each other.

The voices overlap so many definitions, many of them even true, but really, only he can give himself this one.

He looks down at the three shells in his right hand; they are stained with his blood and crusted in dirt, there are a few chips missing from the edges of them that had not been before. They are a long way from Iloh, but--

Yet unbroken.

“I’d like to go back there with you someday,” he finally answers, holding them up to show them, dangling to lay against his forearm. “We both have to live long enough to do that.”)

 

 

 

The temple roared when the holocron met the singing yellow blade of his saberstaff; the rumbling through the structure took Maul right off of his metal feet, landing him hard against the black and red mosaic floor.

The voices were gone.

He sat stunned, not from landing on the ground, but from the silence; the absence of screaming. Everything still hurt, his head was on fire, but the voices had been silenced. Maul didn’t even quite have it left in him to find it a triumph, and he was not so naive as to find it a relief, but he still sat for a moment even in the quaking temple to mark it, breath coming in short huffs, in and out.

If only that had been enough to silence the monster.

You fool. You never make the right choices, even when they’re obvious. You didn’t in Theed, and now you repeat your mistakes.

Maul just scoffed back, if raggedly, and managed to gain his feet even as the temple rumbled ominously. “You’re not here, are you? You have to have some way of reaching all of the way out to this world.”

Which meant there might just be some way to reach back.

The hiss crackled and cackled, hateful in its dark humor. Maul followed the non-voice, even as it crawled like static across the surface of his mind, prickling and sharp and nauseating. Passed alcove after alcove of artifacts; passed by a ruined crystal, a dozen dark-side infused rocks. Passed by scrolls and maps, rare written history.

That’s it, the monster said, when he found the crystal. Do it, boy. You’ll have to come through me to get anywhere with it.

Every single time Maul thought he had reached the end of the terror this world could -- did -- bring, he found he wasn’t even close.

The temple rumbled louder; every survival instinct he had was howling in unison for him to get out, to run, not only from the structure rapidly going unstable and sure to come down, but from every implication of his former master’s statement. The monster wasn’t wrong; he hadn’t ever been strong enough to challenge his master, even when he had the full focus and the power of the Force behind him. Not that he had wanted to.

He wasn’t anything the same, now; wasn’t anywhere nearly as powerful.

That’s right. But by all means try, my old apprentice.

A chunk of the ceiling crashed down; the floor splintered.

 

 

 

(Something is settled; something has shifted.

There is no going back from this. Those words. Or these words.

Obi-Wan’s face is still a mask of tears and blood and heartache, but there is something in his eyes that calls back to his laughter and his persistence and his nerve; something that calls back to all of the moments they have stolen together over the years to forge what they stand on together now.

“I love you,” he says, the simplest truth of them. Then his mouth tightens and twists into something of a grim smile. “Go shut that thing up.”)

 

 

 

The crystal burned, cold fire, frostbite given form; even just laying hands on it was agony. His hand wanted to spasm open and drop it, the pain firing up his arm mercilessly. He nearly broke his own neck on a stumble, vaulting over debris; above and around him, the temple was disintegrating and caving in on itself. It was less skill than luck that nothing crashed down on him to turn this into his tomb.

There was no relief bursting out into the light, either; no relief in Zigoola’s pitiless pale gaze.

The static hiss had turned into a blanket of knives, stabbing away at him; words. Images. Even now, the monster didn’t reveal itself, but it kept up its sadistic crackling laughter as it hammered at him, and with it was a pervading sense of powerlessness; memory

(he is looking at himself, small; looking at himself bloodied; at himself starving)

of then, not only of being too weak to fight back, but being told that this was supposed to make him strong.

(and through it all, weaving, a sense of ownership; he is something to be forged, something to be broken and reforged; he is a weapon, a blade, a toy)

Maul hit his knees, automatic supplication, and curled over them and clutched at his head with his fists and screamed.

(and he is nothing)

There was no mercy; he sobbed and he begged, and he was

(pleading with them to stop)

right back in that cell again, ten years ago, having everything he had ever known torn away from him, having everything he was ripped into pieces, having nowhere to retreat to, even the sanctity of his mind made a lie and he had to make it stop, he had to--

--do something.

He cried against the ground, mindlessly, arms moving on instinct to brace around his own midsection, what was left of it; nearly gagged on blood and tears.

The onslaught let up for only a moment. One breath, two. He was here to do something, he was here to do something, he had a-- a purpose, he--

Only a moment. Long enough for his master to say, You’re mine, Maul. I probably should have ended your miserable life long before now, but I had hoped you might yet prove useful.

Only a moment, but it turned out that it was all Maul needed.

In one fist, that crystal; in the other, he gripped his shells so hard that they cut down to tendons and he gathered every last shred of himself together, every bit of willpower he had left to stab back.

I

am

not

YOURS.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Oh.


He was-- very small. Just a pinpoint of light, in the flow of the universe. One tiny speck of something alive, in a sea of life, and if he had lungs, he might have forgotten to breathe anyway.

He could see all of it; feel all of it. The passion, the peace. He couldn’t remember the last time he felt wonder. On the ragged edges of him, exhausted beyond any measure he knew, he wondered if this was what freedom was supposed to feel like.

Obi-Wan. He wished he could show Obi-Wan this. Tell him: All of this light, it’s drawn to you.

There was something he was supposed to do.

Even afloat, adrift, the realization of what made him recoil. Maybe bodily, maybe just mentally. A reminder that he was not yet finished; this had purpose, he had purpose.

They left behind some hint of themselves. The members of the Council who had rifled through his mind. Enough for him to know what they felt like. If he could find one, he could tell them where Zigoola was, give them the coordinates telepathically. Could make sure that they knew to send rescue.

Time had no meaning; it could have been minutes. Hours. Years. One lifetime or several.

When he finally did find one that was familiar, he nearly recoiled again, feeling the phantom pain of all of his old scars layering over all of his new wounds, the sense of being violated.

But in the end, he made a choice; what he loved meant more, ultimately, than what he feared.

 

 

 

 

(“I love you,” he says, the words unfamiliar, clumsy, on his tongue. But truth, nonetheless. He stands on those when he goes to face the temple, and knows -- all the way down to the very core of him knows -- for the first time that he’s not facing any of this alone.)

Chapter Text

(Facing Vokara Che is not the misery he expects it to be; she looks him in the eye when he comes to the Halls to ask if he can help with Maul and says only, “Don’t hurt him, Obi-Wan.”

“I won’t. I’m sorry for yesterday,” he answers, folding his hands into his robes; he has spent the night on this, a storm of heartache and anger at himself and the painful but cathartic release of his preconceptions, purging the poison of the last of his hostility.

When the night is over, he knows he has to right this wrong, not only for Maul’s sake, but for Anakin’s. For everyone’s, even his own.

She eyes him and he leaves himself as open as he can, letting her read his Force signature, letting her feel his desire to do better, to be better. To help. When she is satisfied, she finally nods. “See if you can get him up, but gently. I’ve already cleared a training room on that level for his use, so try to get him moving, but don’t force the issue.”

Obi-Wan nods, seriously; the thought has already occurred that at any point, Che could have ordered Maul driven to it, but now he sees the reasons why she hasn’t; can see them in the memory of Maul looking up at him, eyes flooded with tears, not angry or defiant, but only waiting to see in which way he was going to be hurt, which way he was going to be punished for trying to escape his suffering in oblivion.

As if there can be no other reason why anyone would ever reach for him.

The lance of pain Obi-Wan feels this time, enough to wince, is the clean pain of empathy.

He goes. It isn’t easy. He hesitates repeatedly on the way from the cafeteria to the Detention Center, unsure of how to approach. He worries he will do more damage on accident, by blundering, by being careless. He works over every memory he has of the former Sith in that cell, and without his rage, he sees no deception. Not even early on. No playing for sympathy, no attempts at manipulation.

He sees determination. Refusal to give. He sees the costs of it over time; the slow shut-down into silence, the way Maul turns his formidable focus into an invisible battle that he has no hope at all of winning, but fights anyway.

It’s the first time Obi-Wan realizes that there is a kind of courage in that.

He can show no less. So, he goes.

He accepts the way his presence provokes nothing but expectation of suffering at first. He is grateful that Anakin is in remedial classes because he has hours to give to this, and so, he gives them. He moves carefully, gaze open; when he does reach out, he’s slow and doesn’t take any offense when Maul stiffens away from him, expression bleak resignation. He is persistent, and eventually his persistence gets the zabrak up, and by the time three hours have passed and they have made a decent attempt at lunch and movement, Maul is thoroughly exhausted and Obi-Wan has no issue whatsoever letting him go back to his pallet to sleep again, even if he’s still sleeping too much.

Obi-Wan requisitions a blanket, brings it back and lays it over Maul, who is curled up self-protectively, and then heads out to collect his padawan.

He comes back the next day. And the next. And every day thereafter that he is in the Temple and can. He starts talking, sometimes reassurance and sometimes just inanity, and sometimes he even knows he is being listened to.

He doesn’t remember the exact day when Maul stops shying away from a hand brushing past his shoulder or an equally gentle brush across the back, but Obi-Wan remembers the first time he’s telling a story of his training and that low, soft voice he should know better and doesn’t answers him. He doesn’t remember what the Temple Guard did to provoke their shared look of exasperation -- something to do with a new guard, the tote Obi-Wan has been bringing lunch in for months needing checked for contraband -- but he remembers that they do share it, and that something about making eye contact like that, of understanding so comfortably, jars him and they don’t talk much for weeks after.

He remembers the fiery manifestation of his protectiveness. He remembers how he came back and held out his hand and the amount of courage it must have taken Maul to reach up and take it.

He remembers the first time he gets Maul to smile and the way it never, ever leaves his mind after. He remembers the first time he actually gets a laugh, even if it’s just a huff of air. He remembers how Maul becomes quite good at making him laugh, usually by dint of dry and witty irreverence, opportunistic and clever.

He doesn’t remember falling in love. The how of it, because he knows the why of it.

He doesn’t remember falling in love, but he did. Now, there is only living with it to the fullest, wherever they may end up being.

And, they will.)

 

 

 

The journey took them a full day and then most of a second.

Bail’s face swam into focus, crowned by Zigoola’s lacy foliage, and Obi-Wan heard himself ask what happened, though the question seemed distant to his own ears.

“You were screaming. And then you just-- passed out,” Bail said, complexion still that worrying shade that suggested he was working on severely diminished lung capacity. He also looked incredibly concerned, as he wrapped his hand around Obi-Wan’s and pulled him to sit upright. “What happened? Could you tell if it worked? Is help coming? Is Maul okay?”

Obi-Wan stared at him, but he didn't grasp the questions right away. Instead, he took in the silence, the utter quiet of his mind, unable to really fathom it.

As he sat, Bail’s hand still holding onto his, he realized that he could hear himself think again. There was still pain left, his head was still aching, his body was still very sore, but it was-- older pain. Not urgent. Not immediate and pressuring. Something, some terrible and unforgiving thing, had lifted.

Oh.

“He did it,” Obi-Wan said, not sure if he was speaking to himself or to Bail. He blinked a couple of times in the dappled daylight, shuddering once in something that could have been relief, or could have been anticipation of the voices returning.

Nothing answered him. Nothing screamed at him. Zigoola still felt-- tainted, but--

“I don’t know,” he said, after a moment more just getting used to the sensation of quiet. “I don’t know if he found help or--”

Or if Maul was all right.

Obi-Wan was blindingly certain he would know if Maul had died. They didn't have any metaphysical bond, not as some Force users sometimes managed to create, they weren't tied together in such a formal manner, but he knew that he would feel it if that familiar fire had left the universe. He knew it more certainly than he knew his own name.

For as tiny as they were, in the grand flow of life, Obi-Wan felt sure that the whole river of it would dim if Maul was gone.

“I think you should go find him,” Bail said, seriously, anxiety bowing his mouth, which Obi-Wan could feel the echoes of in his own chest.

“He would be furious with me if I left you here alone,” he answered, after a moment; he was surprised at how sure of that statement he was, too. “You’re still hurt, Bail.”

“Guess that means I better get up and moving, then,” Bail challenged back, some hint of the thistle-necked, hard-headed man who Obi-Wan had been arguing with a lifetime ago making an appearance.

Obi-Wan went to open his mouth and admonish him to settle down, but Bail was already struggling to get up, gasping shallowly, face ashen; instead, Obi-Wan shook his head and managed to get himself up properly, sliding under Bail’s good arm and supporting as much of his weight as necessary.

“This is madness,” he said, but when Bail didn’t go down again, Obi-Wan walked the man over to the nearest tree capable of comfortably holding him up. “All right. If you manage to stay on your feet long enough for me to get our supplies, we’ll try,” he added, shifting enough to let Bail use the tree as support.

Bail nodded grimly, gamely, and then wrapped his bad arm around the trunk of it with a gasp that made Obi-Wan feel like fainting. But when the Jedi went to go and try to ease him back down to the forest floor, he shook his head.

Force. Between Maul and Bail, Obi-Wan-- all right, he supposed that he deserved this for his own hard-headedness, but he still couldn’t help but feel a little affronted by the stubbornness. He just sighed and then moved to get the packs, not sure how he was going to keep a wounded, sick senator and himself moving on what was sure to be terrible terrain.

It wasn’t that he wasn’t worried and deeply so. But something had broken with that last conversation he and Maul had; something made of fear and guilt and shame. Without the voices screaming at him, without his worst nature coming back around to remind him of his errors, without the memories intruding on his reality, he had-- at least some amount of perspective.

Knowing that Maul wasn’t going out there to die doubtless had something to do with it.

They had things yet, to settle between them. And healing yet to do. But for the first time since crashing on this world -- and maybe even for the first time in the past ten years -- Obi-Wan could see a clear path to all of those things.

He got the straps across his aching shoulders once he had consolidated everything, wincing and panting some for the pull, then went and collected Bail and started the journey to bring them all back together.

 

 

 

At first, Bail couldn’t manage two steps on his own; his knees buckled on him with regularity, and between him and the weight of their supplies, Obi-Wan had to leave Bail leaning against the nearest tree far more often than he cared for. They were both dehydrated and starving -- and what a novelty it was, for Obi-Wan, to feel hunger as its own thing instead of instantly gagging at the mere thought of food -- but without the temple leeching more of their strength, they were at least not worsening swiftly and steadily.

It took them hours to make the hike that should have only taken them minutes, to the ravine. Halfway there, Obi-Wan stuck Bail in the bower of a tree and didn’t let the man up again until he ate something and drank a little water. They had a single bottle of water left and no sign of rain coming, but there was nothing to be done for it.

Bail had glared at him, but finally relented. Just to cover up his own satisfaction, Obi-Wan ate too, though the mealpacks they had taken from the Starfarer days ago didn’t taste very good. They did have moisture, though, which helped supplement the need for water.

“Dying by food poisoning would be a terrible way for this trip to end,” he said, infusing a little loftiness into the words specifically to poke at Bail. “I demand better service.”

“Write a letter to the company that made these,” Bail answered, doggedly finishing the batha stew he had been given, fingers trembling. “A strongly worded letter,” he amended a moment later.

How-- strange, and wonderful, it was to be able to smile. Obi-Wan didn’t feel well and worry was gnawing a hole under his breastbone, but to just be able to smile at something felt oddly new. As if he had never done so before. He marveled at it.

Had the days here really done so much damage?

So much had changed, on the other side of it; another pass through the fire, he supposed, tempering. He and Bail had reached a tentative friendship before they had crashed, and now Obi-Wan would have put his life into the man’s hands without a moment’s hesitation. More, he would have put Maul’s life into the man’s hands, and somehow, that realization was even more startling.

It was with these thoughts, some unfinished and some more formed, that they made their way to the edge of the forest.

The temple across was rubble.

Bail had been coughing for the last hour, sometimes so badly that Obi-Wan did have to lower them back to the ground and wait it out. It was a good thing, he thought; the man was able to breathe more deeply after, clearing his lungs some, but during it was bad and it had to hurt terribly, given the way it nearly reduced Bail to tears each time. Obi-Wan was relieved that he could give back some of the comfort Bail had been giving him while he had been falling apart, offering Bail someone to lean on, someone to rub at his back and reassure, but Obi-Wan wished he could heal the man and let him rest.

One of the milder painkillers was the best he could do, though, if they were to keep moving. Whenever he offered to let them stop, Bail would insist they pushed on.

Every once in awhile, the sheer weight of what they had all been through crashed back down on Obi-Wan; not crushing, but heavy and painful. Broken by bits of levity, broken by logical necessity, it was not quite-- despair-inducing, but Obi-Wan knew he was going to be facing up to these things for however much time it took, provided they lived long enough to. The silencing of the voices and the torment radiating out of the temple was done, but the memories he had largely tried his best to escape from had been brought back out in clear relief, vivid and present.

“I don’t see him,” Bail said, squinting across the divide in the late afternoon light, still holding onto Obi-Wan for support. He didn’t even try to hide the anxiety in his voice.

The ravine wasn’t going to be easy to navigate; there was no way to go down the way Maul clearly had, given their condition -- the wind had not yet erased the marks of his climbing; his boot prints remained here or there at the edge -- so they would have to come up with another way.

Obi-Wan looked left. Looked right. From there, he could see no easier way, but that didn’t mean there wouldn’t be one somewhere. Like Bail, he could see no sign of Maul himself, though if he squinted hard enough, he thought he could make out the rough path of ascent on the other side of the ravine; the darker dirt exposed where the ground was scarred.

“Let’s see if we can find a path,” he said, finally, and tightened his arm around Bail to pull him along.

 

 

 

They walked, paused, walked.

Obi-Wan talked most of the time. Partly to distract Bail from the pain of walking. Partly to sort his own thoughts.

Partly to confess.

He still didn’t desperately like it; still did not want to share his burdens or reveal his shames, but he had already largely done so before now, so at least by adding context, he could dig something good out of it. There had been no one outside of Maul who he could speak of these things to; who he could bring these parts of himself to without alarming them or making them uncomfortable or earning himself censure of every possible kind. And often, he had not wanted to put it on Maul’s shoulders, given how much he was dealing with on his own; had not wanted to burden him when he was struggling to figure out his way.

Given that often enough it was about Maul, there had been no one to turn to.

It did have a result or two, his talking, that he should have predicted given the man he was talking to -- the one who had wanted to know why Maul had never been given a trial, and who had questioned the ethics of their relationship -- but while Bail was more than a little furious and bristling at the Council’s actions ten years prior, he was reasonable enough when it was pointed out that Obi-Wan was already doing everything that honestly could be done.

It gave Obi-Wan a few ideas, though, which he didn’t bring up yet but was ticking over.

“I should send this healer of yours-- something. A gift basket. A trip to a day spa,” Bail managed, broken by his somewhat labored breaths. “No explanation, but something.”

Obi-Wan tried to imagine Vokara Che at a day spa and almost laughed. “I don’t know how she would react, but she has certainly done well by Maul and I both. Perhaps I’ll get her some of her favorite tea to go with it.” He shifted his grip on Bail’s wrist, just to avoid bruising from holding on too hard to one spot for too long, smiling a little bit. “She’s always been good with him, even back when I wasn’t. She’s the only person aside yourself who knows about our relationship, and she found out right before I met you over Zigoola that first time.”

Bail laughed at that until he dissolved into coughing again; after he had managed to get enough air back, trembling a bit where he was leaning against Obi-Wan, he still sounded amused. “I really did have you two pretty much pegged from my balcony. His insistence on going. Your mad-husband look. I can’t believe it took someone five years to figure it out there.”

“It’s not exactly common in the Order.” Obi-Wan leaned his head back against the tree he was using as a resting post. He felt no pique at that, but he did feel very warm about the keen politician he was holding up, and being called a mad husband had him chuckling. “And we were very, very careful until recently. I didn’t want to risk him not being able to leave with me whenever possible.”

Bail nodded at that, resting a few more moments before pushing himself upright. He managed a handful of steps on his own, which was definite improvement, though he didn’t complain when Obi-Wan got under his good arm again. “Now you two have more time, even with the war.”

They did; for years now, they had only been able to work on things in brief periods, and especially in the first two years or so after Iloh, they had to spend as much time reaffirming as they did moving forward. The more constant proximity had changed things, and for the better. A deeper intimacy, though--

It was only really here that Obi-Wan grasped how far they had yet to go, too; that he had often been so busy trying not to be a burden to Maul that he actually likely made that journey longer. And he realized how much of that had also been his own self-protectiveness and fear of loss. As if by seeing the sheer number of these uncertainties and fears and sad parts of him, Maul would deem him unworthy.

Force, he was a fool sometimes.

It wasn’t a self-hating thought; more, rueful acknowledgment that if they had not reached parity before now, had not fully equalized, it was largely his own fault. He had been trying so hard to protect Maul as he hadn’t done early on that he hadn’t given Maul much of a chance to do the same back. Had not even thought before now that it could go both ways, the desire to take care of one’s partner; had not thought about how disheartening it would be, to be on the other side of that. To be blocked from returning the support constantly. The intentions had been good, but the reality had been -- as with everything about them -- more complicated.

It was no wonder Maul had asked to go to Christophsis and into the war by citing something Obi-Wan could accept so that he could try to do what Obi-Wan wouldn’t.

“Patience and communication,” Bail said, to Obi-Wan’s meandering explanations and working of things out. He was clearly exhausted and getting steadily moreso, but he didn’t complain once about putting one foot in front of the other. He huffed, roughly, but there was a bit of a smile on his drawn face. “I told him that on the Starfarer when he was bristling over the firebeetles thing. Guess it’s your turn to hear it.”

“I guess so,” Obi-Wan had answered, voice a little cracked.

They found a way down the side of the ravine, but by then, it was nearly full dark and the switchbacks on the way down were narrow and dangerous. Despite anticipation and anxiety, Obi-Wan decided that they were going to stay up above; at least there, they had firewood.

“We’ll go the moment it’s light enough to see,” he said, half reassuring Bail, half reassuring himself. Bail was spent; he didn’t even argue, he just laid down where Obi-Wan had settled him and was asleep before the fire even was lit.

Obi-Wan sat awake longer, staring into the flames, his thoughts with Maul however far away.

 

 

 

“Did it help?” he asked, the next morning, the light still dim but both of them as ready as they could be under circumstances to get moving again.

He didn’t mean the sleep, but he didn’t have to clarify, either.

Bail chewed pensively on his badly abused bottom lip for a moment, vulnerability incarnate, and then gave a tentative nod. “I think so,” he said, voice shaky. “I think so.”

Obi-Wan nodded back and got their gear together so they could start decending.

He didn’t fail to hear it, when Bail said to himself with aching longing, “I think I get to go home now.”

 

 

 

The climb down was treacherous. The switchbacks they followed were often too narrow for them to go together, so more than once, Bail was on his own and Obi-Wan was a mess of nerves watching the man clinging to the ravine wall trying to keep enough oxygen in his body to not fall off and go down that slope uncontrolled. Despite his anxiety, Obi-Wan kept his voice level and gentle, coaxing and reassuring.

His own condition wasn’t very good; Zigoola had done a terrible number on him and he still felt pain in every single step, but without the voices torturing him, he could tune out of it far easier. Despite having no good access to the Force, unable to draw on it through the taint of this world, he was able to ignore the pain enough. He was desperately thirsty and still a little hungry, but--

He was alive. He wasn’t being openly attacked.

The climb up the other side was worse than treacherous. The only mercy in it was that thanks to the prevailing winds, the switchbacks were a little broader and they were in shadow. They had to stop again and again, and even their conversation tapered off because they couldn’t spare the energy for talking when there was breathing and climbing to do.

It was afternoon again when they made it to the top. Obi-Wan sat looking in the direction of the temple, Bail’s head on his leg while the poor man coughed and fought for air and then fell into an exhausted sleep for a short time, so wrung out that he likely couldn’t help it.

Obi-Wan just did his best to shelter him, then when it was time to get up, they went on.

This side of the ravine was really no kinder; there was dead grass, the shearing wind. But they kept pushing forward, dogged and determined that by night, they would all three be together to face whatever came next.

“I’m going to write such a review about the accommodations here,” Bail groused, voice raspy and thin, but disgruntled humor present.

“Zero stars,” Obi-Wan added, smiling despite all. “Terrible amenities. Abusive hosts. Extremely high prices.”

“Attempted murder.”

Obvious electrical problems.”

Bail almost put himself on the ground laughing, having to pause and try to brace himself, and ended up giggling into Obi-Wan’s shoulder when he wasn’t coughing. “Wow, that was terrible. I can’t believe you said that,” he finally managed, turning his head into his bad shoulder to wipe his eyes, though Obi-Wan doubted it did any good.

Once they were arranged and walking again, Obi-Wan patted his side, where his arm was supporting Bail. “Relax, Senator, I’m perfectly certain I’ll say something even more audacious before too long.”

Bail shook his head, grinning. “I’ll hold you to that, you know.”

“As well you should.”

There were long periods they didn’t say anything, though, just kept struggling along. But even as the sun was nearly touching the horizon, Obi-Wan could see the ruins ahead. The black rubble.

Bail must have been staggering along by nothing but force of will, at that point; his head was down and his steps rarely came down steady, though they kept coming down regardless. He was trembling constantly, and when Obi-Wan paused, it took him a few moments to pick his head up and probably to wake up enough to realize what it was that he was seeing.

“Set me down,” Bail said, not quite a demand -- he couldn’t demand if he wanted to, Obi-Wan was fairly sure, in this condition -- but an emphatic request. “Go find him.”

It wasn’t that far ahead. Obi-Wan looked around and then even though he wanted to -- wanted very much to -- go ahead and find Maul, he realized this was a poor place to leave Bail, without cover and with a steady wind blowing. After a moment, he rather gently overrode the man and nudged them into walking again. “You wanted to be here,” he said, teasing, “you don’t get to decide not to be now.”

“Never going to live that down, am I?” Bail asked back, after a beat or two, forcing himself back into motion.

Obi-Wan quirked his eyebrows. “I might be persuaded to let it go for a bottle of wine or two.”

“Blackmail? Maul’s right, you are a reprobate.”

That actually got Obi-Wan laughing, a warm laugh that went as deep as his aching, dry lungs would allow, mixed in with longing and sorrow and hope. “Absolutely.”

 

 

 

In the twilight, Maul blended in worryingly well with the rubble.

Obi-Wan had reclaimed his lightsaber, not to fight, but to illuminate his way. He finally did have to set Bail down, resting the man against a fairly large chunk of rock, leaving behind their supplies and then going to search.

The temple’s teeth had been pulled, but the debris still made Obi-Wan queasy. Even so, after the hell of before, it was nothing; unpleasant, but endurable. Worse was his own sense of fear that he would find Maul had been buried, partially or fully, because he knew he didn’t have the strength to dig him out.

He still felt absolutely certain he would know if Maul had died. That didn’t stop anxiety from clawing through his belly, but it kept a hold on what could have easily become panic, especially after the long journey here and how frayed he had been and was. It kept him capable of methodically searching, starting around what had looked to be the center of the temple.

Sometimes, he brushed close to something that caused warning pain to ricochet around his skull; once, when he did, he saw the shattered facets of what had been a very large crystal once, given that the chunk of it left was still fairly impressive. Artifacts, he guessed, imbued with dark side power, resonating with it even after destruction.

When he brushed past something else, he might have taken it for one of those, if not for the deep familiarity he had with that Force signature.

It reminded him far too much of what Maul had felt like ten years before: Burned down almost to nonexistence and what wasn’t ash was raw, deeply wounded. Obi-Wan kept searching, narrowing in on it, holding his fear at bay by reminding himself that Maul had come back once from such a bad state and that this time, he wouldn’t be left alone but for a kind healer who managed to never forget that he was a living being. This time, he had Obi-Wan, and Obi-Wan would be there until he managed to put himself back together.

Obi-Wan still felt his heart jolt when he finally found Maul.

In the blue light of Obi-Wan’s lightsaber, Maul looked like he was just another piece of debris, black and washed out grayish, dusty and still; laying on his side, he clearly hadn’t moved since he had fallen, given the drift of dust that had built up against his back.

His face, at least, was out of the prevailing wind. His nose had been bleeding, at some point; several of the patterns on his face were hidden beneath scrapes or dried blood or dirt.

“All right,” Obi-Wan whispered to himself, forcing down his panic, turning off his lightsaber to pull one of their remaining nightsticks out. The lower light made it harder to assess the damage, but it was enough; Obi-Wan found Maul’s pulse in his neck and was more relieved than words when he could pick out the steady tandem beat of both hearts, even if they were slow. No radial pulse, but the shattered fragments of a smaller crystal fell out of his left hand when Obi-Wan picked it up, glinting splinters on the ground.

The right was frozen shut, the twine wrapped around it dried black and stiff.

Given his position, it was unlikely he’d been thrown there. More likely that he’d collapsed. Any which way, Obi-Wan was going to need help to do much of anything for him and all of their supplies were back sitting with Bail.

“All right, darling,” Obi-Wan said, softly, before putting the nightstick between his teeth and gathering Maul into his arms, against his chest, in the hopes of carrying him back to Bail. He took several steadying breaths, closing his eyes and trying to breathe past the ache and the relief and the worry and--

Everything. All of it.

Maul wasn’t ever particularly heavy; his cybernetics were weighted to match flesh and blood and articulated the same, so despite the hardness of those metal legs, he wasn’t cumbersome to haul around and, indeed, Obi-Wan had discovered a deep enjoyment of doing so a couple years back and took any excuse he could to sweep Maul up.

He wished he had a better excuse now, but he grasped onto the rightness of how it felt, after all of Zigoola’s wrongness; after the days where this hateful, miserable world made physical contact between them something they could only manage by hard effort. By contrast, this was easy; by contrast, this was where all of their work had brought them.

He was shocked that Bail was still awake, given how rough the man had looked and felt by the end, but he was grateful; Bail sat up, the shadows of his face stark, coloring his worry in the pale green of his nightstick. “Is he--?”

“He’s alive. Breathing fine, both hearts beating fine. Hurt otherwise, though I’m not sure yet how badly,” Obi-Wan managed back, spitting his own nightstick to the side in order to answer. Or whether it’s physical or mostly mental, he thought right after, heart in his throat.

“Here, I can hold him,” Bail said, which was what Obi-Wan had been planning on asking anyway; he moved gingerly, handing Maul off, and-- was not at all surprised by the affection he felt at how Bail wrapped around Maul for a moment, huffing out a sharp breath that bordered a sob, clear relief. It mirrored how quickly Maul had been there holding Bail up after that lightning strike, keeping him upright enough to help him breathe and warm enough to combat shock and cold, guarding over him through the night.

As much to keep himself grounded and steady as anything else, Obi-Wan asked, “You know, I do believe you’re only the second friend he’s ever made for himself?” as he ignited his lightsaber and managed to wedge it between some rocks, close enough to give light and far enough to be safe, then turned and took Maul’s staff when Bail handed it off, apparently having been thinking ahead.

“Sounds like people are missing out,” Bail answered, while Obi-Wan decoupled the staff and lit both blades, staking them like he had his own.

“I think it’s half that, half a case of Maul being rather reserved about who he decides is good company.” Obi-Wan dragged over the backpack with the medical supplies in it, then sat crosslegged to see if there was anything he could do without enough water and not much left in the way of disinfectant. “I have to say, in this case, he has good judgement.”

Bail chuckled, though he still sounded worried. “There you go with the flattery. You’ll be sorry when I swoon.”

In the better light, Maul’s appearance was both worrying and reassuring; unlike Bail and Obi-Wan, he hadn’t gotten gaunt, hadn’t appeared to lose a frightening amount of weight in no time at all. He was missing another two horns, which meant he only had half of them left, and he had some cuts and bruises, but none which looked dangerous.

His hands were a disaster, though; black fingertips cracked, knuckles raw and nails ruined. His left hand, which had been holding the crystal, was scored with dried cuts, though Obi-Wan had to pull one sliver of crystal out that hadn’t dropped before, hissing in sympathy despite the fact that Maul didn’t stir and letting it bleed clean for a moment or two before giving it a quick dash of disinfectant.

His right hand was awful; glued closed around his shells from Iloh, and the sound the dried blood and mud made when Obi-Wan pried that hand open was nauseating.

Bail swore at that one, giving a reflexive squeeze on the unconscious zabrak. “Kriff, those are deep.”

Obi-Wan nodded, face twisted into a grimace as he carefully worked those shells out of where they had been buried, swallowing down hard at the well of fresh blood, the scent of it; this was going to take bacta to heal it, and he would not have been surprised if there ended up being nerve damage left anyway.

He still didn’t cut the twine; just managed to work it loose and he was incredibly careful, setting those shells aside; like the other hand, he let it bleed a bit, hoping to get rid of as much debris as possible.

After a moment, he finally said, “None of this is enough to knock him down, though.”

“What is?” Bail asked, like he wasn’t sure he wanted to know the answer.

Obi-Wan had his guesses, but he wasn’t entirely sure how to explain it to a non-Force user. He sprayed that hand down with the last of the disinfectant in order to hopefully keep it from festering, at the same time helping stem the blood flow, and then got out enough gauze to pack against it so he could hold pressure on until it wasn’t bleeding anymore, all the while trying to figure out how to word it.

“Force users can-- use it, use its energy. Jedi, we allow it to flow through us,” he started.

“Whereas the Sith control it. Maul told me that while we were walking.”

Obi-Wan smiled a little, not so much humor as just acknowledgment. “Right. But here, I can’t really use it, whereas he was able to tap into it incredibly easily.” A beat. “If this world turned on him, I suppose that it’s probable that he managed this--” Obi-Wan gestured to the ruins with his free hand. “--on his own. No access to the Force at large, which would only leave what he’s capable of himself.”

Bail still looked confused, enough to say, “I’m lost.”

“He burned himself out, basically, using his own energy since Zigoola’s probably abandoned him.” That was a simpler way of putting it. “At least, that’s my best guess. Though I’m sure the days without sleep finally caught up to him, too,” Obi-Wan added, not quite a joke. “I’m going to try to wake him up long enough to get some of that water into him and see how bad it is; try to keep him from thrashing about?”

There was a moment there where Bail eyed him and even in the midst of this, Obi-Wan had it in him to be amused that someone else was feeling overly protective over certain ex-Sith assassins. But then he nodded and resettled his arms a bit, wincing as he pulled his bad shoulder. “How will that get better?”

“Time and rest. Patience. As much peace and quiet as possible, too, if it can be had.” Obi-Wan set his jaw and took a slow, deep breath in; the last thing he wanted to do in this galaxy was cause Maul any kind of pain, but Maul had spent nearly two days laying up here motionless and Obi-Wan had no idea how bad his mental state was. He had no intentions of trying to push to read it and find out, but he knew even just a brush was likely to be ill-met.

Force, did it hurt, that light mental contact; not even pressing, only a skim, soft. Whatever had happened to Maul up here had been-- vicious, and Obi-Wan could feel the guilt creep back into his belly, twisting like a serpent, too familiar.

Still, even just that gentle touch had the intended effect; Maul snapped awake, eyes wide and panicked, scrambling to try to escape bodily despite the perceived threat being mental, though Bail’s arms did deter him and Obi-Wan’s, too, when he caught Maul’s shoulders and gave them a squeeze.

“Shh, it’s all right,” Obi-Wan was saying before he even realized he was, soothing away, “it’s all right, darling, I’m sorry.”

It took another few seconds for the disorientation to fade enough for eye contact, but at least when it did, Maul stopped fighting; he was holding himself rigid, but still otherwise, breath quick.

There was no glow in his eyes; no yellow light. Just the dark gold that Obi-Wan knew so well.

Maul went to try to say something, but he didn’t have a voice; a few more huffs and he apparently realized that his backrest was the Senator from Alderaan and pulled his head to the side, eying Bail at that awkward angle, who had managed not to get headbutted by some miracle. “Welcome back,” Bail said, loosening his grip a little bit, just above a whisper.

“Here,” Obi-Wan said, uncapping the water bottle and not bothering to argue when Maul wrapped one ruined hand around it -- the left, Obi-Wan doubted he’d be able to even use the right without treatment -- just steadied it with both of his own.

“I called for help,” was the first thing Maul managed to say, voice wrecked.

Obi-Wan nearly fell over at that revelation and Bail’s eyes went wide, but it was fairly clear even this short period of interaction and awareness -- important though it was -- was costing Maul quite a bit; his Force signature was incredibly raw and even just the echo of the headache Obi-Wan could feel that Maul had made him want to close his eyes.

Obi-Wan didn’t try to ask how, where from, how long; he would get those answers later, hopefully. “Keep drinking,” was what he said, eyes welling up from-- relief. Guilt. Hope. A thousand things, all mixed and jumbled. “I can’t have you dying of dehydration right after I stole you back from the Sith; portable heating units capable of scintillating conversation are expensive and I’d much rather spend credits on a vacation.”

“You mean Zigoola Hell Tours wasn’t good enough?” Bail asked, with a huff, emotional himself.

“I might have been able to deal with the murderous hosts and the deadly electrical issues, but they didn’t even have any tea.” Obi-Wan took that bottle back, mostly empty; swallowing around the lump in his throat, he capped it anyway and then dug the last dose of narcotic painkiller they had out of the pack. “Ah well. At least I did manage to steal my favorite space heating mattress back,” he said, ignoring the tears as they fell, looking back up at Maul.

Somehow, he got back a smile; just a little lopsided quirk of one. Barely there, but to Obi-Wan, it was everything.

“Reprobate,” Maul answered, decisive and warm despite the raggedness of his voice, closing his eyes again.

“Your reprobate, though.” Obi-Wan leaned in and pressed a long kiss to one dirty cheek, heart aching neither good nor bad, but deeply, and then sat back enough to put the hypo to Maul’s neck. Given he was already losing his tenuous grip on the waking world, it took less than a minute to put Maul back to sleep, though hopefully a far more comfortable one.

Obi-Wan sat back further, the guilt re-surging in his gut; Bail must have seen it written on his face because he said, “Obi-Wan…” And when Obi-Wan shifted his gaze, Bail gave him a half-smile. “Maybe try being proud of him, instead.”

It hit home.

The twisting stopped and Obi-Wan meant it with all that he had when he answered, “I am.”

 

 

 

They only had one more conversation on Zigoola, before rescue arrived in the forms of Padmé Amidala and a squad of clone trooper medics, on a fast ship dispatched by request of the Jedi Council.

“Vokara Che had wanted me to consider whether Maul could survive losing me,” Obi-Wan said, huddled with the other two under blankets in the predawn light; Maul still dead to the world, Bail half-awake and willing enough to talk. “I didn’t have any answer for her then, though I wracked my brain for all the days after asking myself that question.” A beat. “If something happens, will you take care of him?”

Bail didn’t even hesitate. “Yeah, absolutely.”

“Get him out of the Temple; you won’t have an easy time of it. Master Che would likely ally with you, but…” Obi-Wan trailed off, just thinking for a moment about what he was saying, and just how incredibly, unapologetically he meant it. “Throw your weight around, Senator. Use every shady political trick you need to, threaten whatever or whoever you must. But get him out.”

He didn’t know how Maul would cope; how he would handle the grief. But for the first time since having that put to him, Obi-Wan could see how Maul could survive it. “He needs more than me,” he finished, after a moment. “I’m glad he has you, now, too.”

There was a long beat of silence, and then Bail said, "Well, that cuts it.  You two are coming home with me.  No questions, no arguments, Master Kenobi."

And Obi-Wan found himself laughing in genuinely uncomplicated joy.

 

 

 

Three hours later, and help was on the ground.

Three and a half hours later, and they left that miserable rock behind.

Chapter Text

Alderaan


 

Maul's head was on his shoulder.

Outside, the wind occasionally stirred; it followed the river for the most part, but for the random thread of it getting lost in the time-worn mountains, winding uphill to rustle the leaves just turning in early autumn outside of the window. Some might have found the sound eerie; there was no light with which to paint the trees in silhouette, so the only evidence of their existence was the sound of the wind in them and the odd branch that fell to hit the roof.

Some might have found it eerie; Obi-Wan just found it soothing.

He was laying awake to hear it despite his body's clamoring for sleep; despite the blanket of exhaustion weighing down on both of them, far heavier than the warm sheets and quilt which covered their bodies. His thoughts were much like the river that could be seen from the windows out front; a flowing journey which sometimes eddied, looped back around the edge of a rock or the buttress of a bridge to check in with itself, then continued along quietly.

He thought that it could have been a year ago, in many ways; then, another property surrounded by trees, made of stone and wood and time and care. I could leave the Order for this, he had thought there, caught up in that simple life, where he spent a few hours a day mediating and the rest of his time just living; where mornings were slow to start and quite often involved convincing Maul to stay in bed, usually by laying on him.

A year older and wiser, and he was even more sure of that statement, enough so that he was going to strongly think about whether he should leave the Order when his duty as a general was finished. A lot had changed in that year; a war had been declared. Maul being paroled. Zigoola and Bail. The saberstaff. Many words, some of which they had said, some of which they still needed to.

Much had changed, but for the important part: They were still there, still together. And they would have some time to heal and rest.

"How long does it take for horns to grow back?" he had asked, an hour or two ago, lit in the warm light of a pair of old lamps, the kind of which didn't even have a remote control.

"A month or so," Maul had answered, brow a bit pinched as he looked up from where he was putting what was left of his salvageable clothing away in the dresser. "Why?"

Obi-Wan grinned. "Research purposes. I do have a book in the works, you know."

Unsurprisingly, Maul remained bemused. Equally unsurprisingly, he had precisely no idea what to do when Obi-Wan manhandled him into being a partial blanket, tucked against Obi-Wan's side. As he so often did when confronted with some new kind of physical contact, he held himself stiff for awhile, but then slowly settled into it and it was not terribly long before his head was in the hollow of Obi-Wan's shoulder, no horn at his right temple to preclude the position.

"I've wanted to do this for a long time," Obi-Wan had said, letting his free hand roam, fingertips following the patterns on Maul's skin; he did not even really have to look to trace the edges of them.

It seemed Maul found that a strange concept, because he asked, baffled, "Why?"

"Besides the fact that you're wonderfully warm and keep the blankets toasty?" Obi-Wan grinned at the ceiling at the huff of exasperation he got back. "I suppose because it feels good. Beyond the physical, I mean. Because I get to lay on you all of the time, but you've never really gotten to lay on me back. Because I do have a book to write and while I will most certainly add a disclaimer that one should not visit hellish Sith worlds so that their zabrak partner ends up losing enough horns to make it possible, at least I'll have some experience in turning a zabrak into a blanket to write credibly."

He was heartened by the chuckle Maul gave him, quiet as it was.

"Because it's much easier to do this," he continued, looking down and tracing the edge of Maul's mask with the fingertips of his free hand, "which I could probably spend hours doing, by the way. Because you're quite handsome from this angle." Maul scoffed at him, eyes closed. "Well, I don't expect you to think that, but I do. Force, Maul, you don't think I stole you just for your body heat and conversational skills, do you? Anyway, if those reasons aren't enough, I have several hundred more."

Maul hummed back some vague note of 'by all means', but Obi-Wan doubted he was going to be awake much longer to hear them. Whatever they had gained on Zigoola, it had extracted quite a price from all of them; even now, he could feel the raw edges of recent pain, both his own and Maul's.

Still, that wasn't going to stop Obi-Wan from talking.

So, he did.

He talked about how he and his creche-mates used to cuddle like this; how so many species in the galaxy apparently sought physical contact as a means of comfort and affection. He drifted off of the 'because', then looped back to it again, talking about Cerasi, about Satine, about Siri. He talked about the evolution of his understanding of love; of a marriage blessing he heard long ago but now understood.

He talked long after Maul was fast asleep, breathing gone slow and soft and even.

He turned off the lights with a flip of telekinetics and listened to the trees in the darkness.

"Because I almost lost you, all of those years ago, and I would have never even known what a tragedy that would have been," he said, after awhile, quietly.

"Because I'll never forget how hard and how worth it this has all been," he added, on the heels of it.

Outside, autumn and Alderaan turned; further, the galaxy was caught in a war. Somewhere, the Jedi Council was contemplating the next steps for the Order. Somewhere else, the Sith who had sent them to Zigoola had been thwarted, at least temporarily, on the endurance and courage of the apprentice he had broken and then discarded.

In this house, but not in this room, Bail and Breha Organa were resting; tomorrow, they would also have work to do, the kind that could not be found in bills or budgets or petitions.

In the great river of life, they were all very small; just tiny specks of light.  It moved and shifted and flowed, different currents, but all moving forward, all moving together.  It was grand to contemplate it, the size of it, and wonder at all that had happened, and all that could happen.

But for here, for now, for Obi-Wan, there was only the sound of the trees outside, and the warm weight of Maul against him, safe asleep in his arms.

"Because someday, I do want to go back to Iloh with you," he said, softly, thinking of the cleaned (if mildly chipped) shells that were laying on the nightstand like some protective talisman. "Because someday, I want us to live in a place like this, just us together and no Orders or wars to fight," he said, thinking of a year ago, thinking of the few weeks ahead.

He smiled, then.

"Because I remember every night I talked you to sleep, too," he finished, at a whisper.

And Obi-Wan closed his eyes and followed the river down.