The sky was dark.
They were standing on a ridge, overlooking formations of clone troops; ranks upon ranks of white in neat lines, extending so far that they became nothing but uniform specks. There was no paint in yellow or blue or red or gray marking their armor, marking their individualism, telling stories only they knew; in their rows, they all looked the same.
Obi-Wan’s robe stirred around his legs, as he looked over the army. “All turned out,” he said, all of his own colors washed out -- desaturated -- in the dismal, iron gray daylight.
They were all turned out; thousands. Tens of.
Something wasn't right about this.
The sky was dark. Behind the troops, it boiled black, an approaching storm. Some distant, detached part of Maul’s mind wondered why they weren’t moving for cover; some less distant part only knew that this didn’t feel right.
“Something’s happening,” he said, almost more to himself than the man he was standing with, unease creeping through his bones, the entirety of a skeleton that he should only rightfully have half of. He narrowed his eyes at the distant lines, little spots of white, stark against the encroaching darkness. “Something’s wrong.”
“How could it be? We’re all here,” Obi-Wan answered, gesturing to what seemed to be the entire Grand Army, waiting in formation.
Maul didn’t know how to answer that; how to describe what was wrong. Could only watch as the storm rolled over the troops, towards them on the ridge, the neat white lines disappearing into darkness in a strangely silent cascade.
A cold wind ran ahead of it; hit his skin and ran up his spine and then it burrowed its way into his skull like an icy drill, instantly familiar, and
There was light, dazzling, bright enough to make him flinch away, head spinning for a moment before reality started filtering back in, albeit slowly. When he did manage to pry his eyes open again, squinting against the dance of light and shadow above his head, he realized he was looking at trees and sunlight, high overhead.
His hearts hammered hard enough that it made breathing hard, and he felt for a moment the phantom sensation of fight-or-flight tension in legs he no longer had, and the far less phantom sensation of the same across his shoulders and down his arms and through his chest.
A leaf, dark violet, drifted down to lay against the angled window for a moment. Beyond it, others; reds and oranges, some still green, some brown, more violet. And the sun, sparkling between them.
Alderaan. He was on Alderaan.
The leaf stirred and blew away, and Maul huffed out a hard breath before turning to curl up on his side, dizzy, head in his hands, to wait for the trembling to stop.
The realization crept in that he was in someone's home -- as a guest -- at the same time as he realized he had never been in that position before and therefore had no idea what to do.
Once the nightmare tension faded enough, Maul dozed perhaps half an hour more, keeping just enough of a grip on consciousness to keep his orientation; to keep his grasp on where and when he was. After a bit less than a week where he was unconscious for most of it -- be it due to damage or sedation -- he didn't remember the steps which had led to him and Obi-Wan being guests of Bail and Breha Organa, but he remembered enough to know that they were.
And cared enough to realize how poorly equipped he was for it, as well.
His understanding of home was purely academic. He knew the definition of the word and he knew what it was supposed to represent to those cultures who held such concepts, but beyond that, it was out of his grasp. He did not consider his cell to be a home, despite dwelling there for a decade. He had been with Obi-Wan in a number of places that were rented, and some of those would fall into the definition of a home were they not transient; even when he got comfortable with them, though, he never forgot the impermanence.
This was not strictly a home in terms of it being a full-time dwelling, but it was in terms of it hosting generations of the same family. It was a vacation property -- a summer house, Bail had called it -- but it had a long history. Even still hampered by the slow-healing psychic wounds left on him from Zigoola, Maul could sense that much.
Any which way, it was not the same thing as renting a room or a flat or a free-standing dwelling; unlike those times, he would have to interact outside of just Obi-Wan. Without a mission (aside to heal, anyway), that seemed-- daunting.
He sat for a few moments on the edge of the bed after getting one of his two remaining clean shirts on, rubbing at his eyes. He remembered pieces of the day before, but most of it was lost to the post sedation fog; this was the clearest his head had been since he had faced off with that temple, and there was already a low-level headache grinding behind his eyes, to go with the dull ache through his right hand and wrist, wrapped in bacta dressings and bandages.
Still, he was a guest. Maul supposed that meant he should be-- doing something, even if he was not yet sure what.
Muffled, the Force around him seemed calm enough for the moment, but he was still out of sorts enough that he nearly leapt out of his remaining skin when he finally managed to make himself leave that room, only to come half a step from running into Obi-Wan in the slightly narrow hallway.
“I was just about to see if you were ready to wake up,” Obi-Wan said, after his own hard huff of air, one hand over his heart and the other bracing against Maul’s shoulder. He still looked gaunt, but his color had improved quite a bit; without the camouflage of dirt, blood or otherwise, it was easier to see how much weight he had lost, but also how well he was starting to recover. “I would have woken you, but you were sleeping so soundly that I didn’t have heart to.”
“It’s fine.” Fine enough, anyway, considering how little Maul knew of what was going on. He reached up and gave Obi-Wan’s forearm a rub, ignoring the mild throb in his hand that went with it. “I’m--”
He wasn’t sure how to actually finish that statement, so it was a good thing Obi-Wan knew. “A little lost?” he asked, with a half-rueful grin, before drawing Maul in, wrapping around him. “I suppose that means it’s a good thing you have me to fill in the gaps.”
“I suppose it is,” Maul agreed, settling his chin on Obi-Wan’s shoulder and forgetting that he didn’t have to keep his head canted a fraction due to a currently missing horn until Obi-Wan was leaning his head over, tucking them even more closely together, holding onto him more tightly.
Maul was rather unprepared for how intensely he felt that. Not the contact, but the ragged relief of it, strong enough that he ducked his chin for a moment to bury his nose in Obi-Wan’s tunic, breathing him in before settling again. He remembered falling asleep against Obi-Wan the night before, listening to his heartbeat and that voice through the unique vantage of having an ear pressed into a shoulder, but he had been barely awake before he had even been in bed and had drifted off fairly quickly thereafter.
“Well,” Obi-Wan said, sliding one hand up Maul’s back to cradle the back of his neck, rubbing at it with his thumb, “we’re in the First Range on Alderaan, on the Palama River, in Bail’s family’s summer house. We’re under orders to rest and recover for fifteen days -- starting today -- with the caveat that at the end of fifteen, we might be cleared to get back to Coruscant or we might just have to stay and rest awhile longer. If I didn’t know any better, I would think that Bail and Vokara Che had collaborated on this, given how smoothly they managed to talk the Council into allowing us to recover here. I wish you’d seen it, it was rather like watching a play unfolding. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Master Yoda so disgruntled and yet so trapped.”
Maul didn’t even pretend to struggle with a (frankly spiteful) smirk. He was also sure Obi-Wan knew he was smirking, despite not being able to see it, because the Jedi chuckled quietly.
He didn’t let his own mind stray far enough to contemplate that it had been Yoda who he had contacted to get them rescued; he wasn’t remotely ready to think in that direction right now.
“Queen Breha is taking respite for the next six days, due to Bail’s condition. He’s under the same orders we are, but I think he’s not--” There was a pause there, then Obi-Wan continued more quietly, “I think he’s having a rougher time of things than he had expected to, just given how he had been acting last night. He’s still asleep, though.”
Even for all of his struggles at handling interpersonal interaction, that didn’t actually surprise Maul very much. Nor, by this point, did his own worry for the man. He gave a bit of a nod, just to show he was paying attention.
Obi-Wan seemed in no great hurry to move; seemed content enough to give his report with them just holding one another in a hallway. “He spent most of the trip back in the bacta tank. There’s no serious damage left from the lightning strike, thank everything, but he might have hearing loss when he gets older in that one ear. I don’t know if you remember what Captain Korbel said to you before we disembarked--”
“‘Two concussions inside of two months is pushing it even for a zabrak’s durability,’” Maul quoted back; he did remember most of that part, even though he had been so groggy that he’d had to fight just to keep his eyes halfway open; that part, and also most of when he recounted everything relevant that he could about the events at the temple and his confrontation with his former master.
He was oddly relieved that he had done that while still fairly well drugged.
“That they had to perform field surgery on my hand before they could stick it in a bacta sleeve, as well,” he added, flexing that hand a little bit against Obi-Wan’s back, shaking the thought off.
Obi-Wan squeezed on him there. “Right. And with the right exercises, you should get back essentially perfect function in it, but don’t be surprised if it still aches occasionally. And to keep it dressed for the next few days on the off-chance that there’s any incremental improvement.”
Not the best news, but not the worst. On particularly cold missions, Maul could feel the ache in the shoulder he had violently dislocated when he’d nearly been pulled limb from limb in Cog Hive Seven, too; it wasn’t severe, but it was noticeable. He just gave another nod, slotting all of the information away into his mind. “Anything else?”
“Not really. Rest and relaxation. There’s medication for your head that Master Che prescribed.” Obi-Wan gave a squeeze to the back of his neck, then let him go. “Are you hungry? There’s food. And tea, of course.”
And meeting Bail’s wife when Maul was actually fully awake to do so. He vaguely remembered the introduction the day before, and he remembered even in that state his own curiosity, but the prospect of socializing--
“Here, come on,” Obi-Wan said, giving him a gentle nudge towards where the hallway ended in what Maul thought to be the living area.
It took a few moments for him to unstick his feet and actually take that nudge, but he finally managed to do so.
He wasn’t sure what he was expecting. The house was not palatial; it was large enough, but not overly so, and seemed quite rustic. There were portraits on the walls, not holos; paintings, too, some clearly amateur and some more professional. The living area had a large bank of windows facing up the mountainside, into trees turning colorful and gray rock; Maul could just barely see a faint shimmer in the air of the shield some hundred meters up the slope which was either a security measure or a barrier against falling rocks. Or perhaps both.
The kitchen and foyer took up most of the front, overlooking the river; that was where Queen Breha was, sitting at a table with a comm and several datapads laying on the surface of it.
He didn’t quite realize he’d balked in the doorway, until Obi-Wan was sliding around him and heading for the counter with a reasonably cheerful, “Well, I found one of them, anyway.”
Maul was generally not given to caring all that much about rank, nobility or status, so his own hesitation to even take a step further into the Queen’s presence made no sense; before Theed, he had always been apart from all of it, even at Orsis. Had always been something separate, perhaps even something thought to be superior, but always apart and alone. After Theed, there was no sense of superiority left, but he still often felt outside of everything; the only bridge between himself and the galaxy being Obi-Wan.
It reminded him of being small on Mustafar. Of always trying to jump up high enough to see more out the small window, to see a world he was no part of, and at the same time, longing desperately to be on the other side of the transparent divide that kept him there; outside, he would have one more barrier between himself and the droid and his Master.
He had not even been sure how old he was there, only that he was very small and there was no way to protect himself from what was behind him, in the doorway, but maybe there would be if he could just get to the other side of the window.
“--here, sit down,” Obi-Wan was saying, and Maul blinked hard, head swimming for a moment and the headache that had been lower level spiking sharp enough to make him wince.
He barely managed to bite back the apology, at least until he was sitting in one of the kitchen chairs with Alderaan’s monarch eying him with what looked to be concern and Obi-Wan looking more openly worried. Feeling exposed and wrestling with the urge to bolt back to the bedroom he’d woken up in, he fell to rubbing at his brow one-handedly. “I’m sorry,” he just said, not looking at either of them again.
“I’m not sure what you’re apologizing for,” Queen Breha said; her voice was on the quieter side, with a quality to it that Maul would have been hardpressed to describe. Not unkind, anyway. “Especially given you’re on medical leave,” she added.
Maul wasn't even entirely sure himself; he already knew what Obi-Wan’s answer to that would be, and he didn't have it in him to explain it to Queen Breha, either. That left him stuck without words and the swiftly growing sense that he had frankly been better off under sedation and that they should have just left him there until things were settled.
“It’s been a rough time for everyone,” Obi-Wan said, stepping in to presumably rescue Maul from the deep well of his own awkwardness. “Tea will help, though, it always does.”
“A man after my own heart,” Queen Breha answered, warm-toned. “There should be plenty stocked; if not, it’s nothing to have more delivered with the shipment due in this evening.”
“Shipment?” Maul asked, not terribly thrilled with how hard it was just to get that one word out, though he at least managed to look up again.
“Food, mostly.” Queen Breha leaned back in her seat, crossing her arms loosely. “Clothing. Other odds and ends. If there’s anything you’d like sent, the window for requesting it’s open for another two hours.”
Maul just shook his head; there was nothing he really needed, he thought, except somewhere to sleep and perhaps a laundry unit to keep what few articles of clothing he had left with him clean. And a ‘fresher, of course; the thought of a shower, a proper water shower, sounded undeniably good right now. “No, thank you.”
That thought provided a convenient escape -- without going back to bed -- and before Obi-Wan had even finished making the tea, Maul excused himself to go and get cleaned up. Maybe the time alone would provide him enough space to get his mind back together, and perhaps go forward with some idea of a direction.
He could feel his sense of the Force returning more fully, could feel it clarifying; hopefully, he would soon be as back to rights as he could be.
Had he known that Obi-Wan would find him in short order, passed out on the shower floor, he probably would have just stayed in the kitchen.
Everything was dark, until it wasn’t.
It pierced, the light, the shards of it; brought pain and some strange sideways wonder with it, and then it would fade again and he would be floating in darkness, cool, cold, colder. Reach and swim for the surface, and the light came back again. One moment like the edges of a broken mirror and just as sharp. Another like bands of sunlight, dust motes, more warm, soothing.
Sometimes it moved. Sometimes he did, or thought he did.
Snatches of conversation, but he didn’t know what they were saying; words had no meaning, were only sounds. Something was very bright, close by, its edges green, pale green, like the ocean at Orsis in mid-morning; he flinched away from how bright it was, but not bodily. It felt like a battlefield, one half-grown over, new growth swallowing the scars of the land; felt concerned, sad, kind.
Too much. All of it, too much. He could trace the veins of leaves, find which were still alive, which were dead; could feel the bright sparks of life everywhere, insects or animals or people or trees or--
It was so much, it hurt because it was so much, more than he had been built to take, more than--
Bright light, edged green. New, but not; for a moment he was in two times, one here, one not-here-yet, and felt the backwards echo of affection and loyalty that was his-but-not-yet-his, and then the feeling faded, though the light remained.
He tried to block his eyes as if it were a physical thing he could shield himself from, but his hands refused to move; he tried to turn his head away, but couldn’t feel the muscles of his neck.
Another light. Eddied. A river, warm and cool.
They shifted around, until the brightness, overwhelming, started to fade away again. He settled back into his skin, what he had of it, slowly and not particularly comfortably. The pain in his head faded, though; left in the after, he shivered, cold, hot, both. His long-empty stomach roiled.
“A little slower this time, I think,” Obi-Wan said, voice warm and rueful.
Maul leaned his face into the palm against his cheek for a moment before forcing his eyes open. To his surprise, he was well into shade; there was no light shining on him.
Waking up in different places was not actually unfamiliar to him and had never been; here, at least, there was no threat that he could sense. Though, admittedly, his sense of the Force had faded again, to a raw but muffled background hum. He could taste (smell?) whatever medication he’d been given in the back of his nasal passages, the back of his throat, a vague impression of it. He looked up at the beams and boards above, then gave up orienting himself for the time being, closing his eyes again.
“That was unexpected,” he said; the last thing he remembered was standing under the cascade of hot water, and the headache that had been more mild upon waking peaked, all light and distortion.
“Not overly much,” Obi-Wan answered, shifting a little closer, and then he had both hands on Maul’s face, thumbs rubbing soothing pressure along his forehead, against the ridge of his brow. “Well, I admit I didn’t expect to find you on the floor, but between that temple and your former master and then calling for help, you’ll be awhile healing.”
Maul just hummed back an agreement; it seemed too much effort, right now, to be disgruntled about it. His stomach was settling and the headache was mostly gone, though it also meant that so was much of his ability to think clearly.
A trade-off. He had been faced with worse.
“Do you want some tea? And you should eat something, too,” Obi-Wan said, pulling Maul back out of what was rapidly becoming a doze.
“All right,” he answered, making a more serious effort to push past the lassitude and sit up. It was some minor work, but then Obi-Wan got arms around him and levered him up and while he was a little dizzy, Maul was at least able to open his eyes again.
Wherever they were overlooked the river, from a lower vantage than the kitchen. Not by much. A porch of some sort. Strong stone columns supported it, and there was thin, sere netting to keep insects out, but allow a breeze in.
“Bail’s river,” he said, and was surprised to feel a resonant ache in his throat, only now really seeing it, comprehending it.
“Can you believe that I’d never been here before?” Queen Breha asked, walking down the enclosed, broad, half-spiral steps with a couple of mugs of tea in her hands and a blanket over her arm. “We kept making plans to come here, but just-- never did. Still, I’ve heard about it so often that I feel like I’ve been here a hundred times.”
This time, her presence didn’t seem so jarring and nerve-wracking. Maul couldn’t quite sense her in the Force now, except as a presence, but he could remember the echo of some other him, who felt warmly towards her and loyal towards her, even if he no longer felt it as his own now. Or wouldn't yet?
His head twinged warning at him and he stayed in the present.
“I’m being a terrible guest,” he said, wanting to acknowledge that, leaning a little bit against Obi-Wan and taking a slow, steadying breath.
Queen Breha paused a moment, eying him with a smile tugging on her mouth. “I’ve hosted terrible guests before. You’ll have to work pretty hard to top some of them. I suppose if you’re set on it, I could get together a list, but I’m not sure you have enough time to see it through.”
Obi-Wan chuckled at that; Maul, too, gave a little huff.
“Anyway, Bail wants you here, and I want you here. That makes you more like family than a guest, so be at home and don’t worry so much,” she finished, setting the tea on the small, wood-and-glass table, then laying the blanket over the back of the couch.
Maul had no urge to argue with that; while he wasn't sure at all how to be at home, he could likely muddle through. “Thank you,” he just said.
Obi-Wan reached out and got one of the cups, handing it off to Maul, then got his own. “I’ll redress your hand here in a bit. It doesn't look like you hit your head yet again, though.”
“It doesn't feel like it, either.” The tea tasted exquisite, and Maul drew his head back just to eye the mug, squinting at it.
When he looked up, Queen Breha was watching him with a grin. “If you think that’s good, wait until breakfast is finished cooking.”
And, she was right.
But Maul didn’t need his Force senses working properly to see the way her gaze got distant and tired and sad as they sat and shared breakfast, lingering over the hot cereal not unlike that which he’d heated for him, Bail and Obi-Wan on the Starfarer.
He was still trying to figure out what to do about it, or even if there was anything he could do about it, when he fell asleep.
He was in and out after that.
Maul stayed on the porch -- or was it a deck? -- through the afternoon, curled up on that couch, and didn’t bother fighting to stay awake.
It wasn’t entirely unlike the shattered drift he had spent weeks in after his Master’s attack on him, after the Council had a go at him right after, after he ripped himself open with teeth and nails and desperation, at least in the sense of being unanchored, in the sense of having no control over where the currents took him. But at the same time, it was wholly different, too; he was not despairing, here. Was not hoping to never wake. The pain, when he felt it, was similar; the feeling of being broken and then ground to dust, or set ablaze until he was grit and ash to dissipate on the wind.
The rest was different, though.
Whenever he did drift back up, he didn’t find the gray walls of a cell or the pastels of the Halls of Healing. Instead, there was the color of Bail’s river as it changed through the day; now reflecting dark emerald. Now brown. Now blue. The shadows sliding longer as the sun moved, and in the space between when his eyes closed and when he was back under the surface, he could feel the breeze, could smell the leaves, sweet and dusky; could hear the trees stir, rustle, settle.
Sometimes Obi-Wan was there. Sometimes Queen Breha. He usually managed a reassurance whether it was asked for or not, distantly spoken words, but he didn’t know if it was because he wanted them to be at ease, or if he was worried in some subconscious part of himself that he would be dragged back to the world in pain or fear or worse, some old and worn-in part that still expected punishment. Perhaps it was both.
It didn’t happen, though. They moved around him, but didn’t ask that he do anything. It was both a relief and incongruous, something he did not quite understand the fit of, but was grateful for. At some point he had ended up under the blanket the queen had brought, and at some point Obi-Wan had redressed his right hand, but otherwise, they let him drift.
Now, Bail was there.
It was enough to more properly pull Maul back to the waking world; that and the medication was wearing off now. Enough to feel some of the mess of pain and confusion and some deeper despair radiating off of the man, rather than just his existence as a living thing.
“Nothing fits anymore,” Bail said, elbows on his knees in a chair beside the couch, looking out over his river in the lower, early evening light.
Maul wasn’t sure if that was addressed to him, or if Bail was only saying it for himself; either way, he didn’t have an answer for it. There were likely some kind of platitudes for situations like these, but even if Maul knew them, he would have little use for them.
But he managed to push himself up, anyway, and then had to close his eyes for a few moments to let the dizziness fade. His head twinged again, but not urgently this time.
“My wife said you kept asking where I was.” That time, at least, the words were directed and even amidst the suffering Bail was dealing with, there was a flash of his humor. “One would think we went through some horrible, life-altering experience together or something.”
“Or something,” Maul agreed, wedging himself between the arm and back of the couch so he wouldn’t have to think too hard about staying upright, the corner of his mouth creeping up. He didn’t remember asking after Bail, but he was not surprised that he did.
He did not think of the man as a friend. Did not think of anyone as a friend in adulthood; the last person he had called that, he had killed her himself, had watched the life fade out of her and had laid her very gently upon the ground. It took him years to face that and she haunted him even now, in a way.
Instead, Bail was Bail, and worth laying down his life for. Maul was relieved that he felt no less certain of that on Alderaan than he had come to on Zigoola; that it was a fact, immutable, solid and real.
“Feel up to a walk?” Bail asked, after a moment, looking over; he didn’t appear to be recovering as well as Obi-Wan was, maybe because he had been more gravely wounded. He still looked gaunt, with his eyes still shadowed, his cheekbones blade-sharp.
Maul thought, though, that Bail’s slower recovery was probably more because he had not yet dealt with the older wounds that planet had opened. Which was half of the reason why he answered, “Certainly,” and got to his feet, this time slowly and with some better understanding of where his limits were.
“I walked for days on Zigoola and then slept for two and a half days in bacta. I don’t know which feels worse right now, walking or just being still.”
There were paths worn into the black, rich dirt of the forest floor, scattered with leaves, and neither of them were likely steady enough for hiking, but they walked nonetheless. At least the trail Bail picked wasn’t demanding; did not have too steep a slope, though it inevitably led down towards the river.
“I feel-- I don’t know. Different.” Bail paused, resting a hand on a tree trunk to catch his breath. “Do you?”
“Different from?” Maul asked, seeking clarification.
Bail looked down through the trees to his river, mouth in a line. Not frustration; at least, not at Maul. Perhaps more aimed inwardly. “I don’t know. Before? I don’t know.”
It was a surprisingly hard question to answer. Maul had barely found space to be conscious, let alone sort out how he felt about any of it. But he knew Bail Organa well enough, he thought, to hear the request for some kind of help. He had spent hours listening to Bail talk on Zigoola; some of it that Bail might not have even remembered saying, either because he was half or more asleep or because the physical trauma he was suffering would make the memory almost impossible to hold onto.
It was enough to have gotten some measure of what he was made of, anyway.
“I don’t really know, either,” was the only honest answer. “I suppose that’s what we’re here to figure out, though.”
“Yeah.” Bail pushed off the tree and started down the path again. “I don’t fit here like I did when I was a kid. Everything’s the wrong size or distance. I used to walk down this path and it was like I was going to another world entirely, and now it seems kind of short. I can’t tell if it’s Zigoola, or-- just me.”
Maul kept pace with him, watching carefully where he put his feet down. It wasn’t anything like climbing a ravine, but it presented its own challenges. “Both?”
“Probably.” Bail paused again and then frowned. “Kriff. Are you okay?”
Nothing had changed over the course of those four steps, so Maul was a little confused by the question. “I’m fine,” he answered, brow wavering a little.
Bail didn’t look entirely convinced, but he didn’t argue about it, just started walking again. “I’ve just been going on and on, I didn’t think to ask.”
Bail was like Obi-Wan in some ways; they both had the bizarre tendency to take it as some sort of personal failing if they didn’t put everyone else before themselves, no matter how badly they had been hurt. Maul could only think of two people, perhaps three -- one of them now the man walking with him -- who he would do that for himself.
Which might have been why Bail had asked. “I don’t have to ignore a holocron this time, but I still like listening,” Maul said, with a shrug. “Besides, if I was asking for you over the afternoon, that would imply I wanted to talk to you, wouldn’t it?”
It made Bail grin a little, even if shadowed. “Good point.”
Still, they fell quiet again. The path ended at the river, as expected; rocks lined the shore, those that had come tumbling down the slope as the mountains eroded under the influences of rain and snow and time. Maul didn’t know how long it took them to weather away, but he could feel the age of them.
“This is where I used to sit to fish, when I wasn’t out on the boat,” Bail said, standing there looking at the large, flat rock that jutted a little ways out. Not much, but enough that it was easy to see why it had made for a good platform for fishing. He stared at it, then carefully picked his way out onto it.
After a moment, Maul followed; it was high enough above the current water level to sit with legs over the side, and so, that’s what they did. He leaned over to look down into the clear flow of it, but dizziness forced him to sit back upright again quickly.
Instead, he took in the opposite slope; the dark evergreens between the bright colored leaves of early autumn. It felt a little strange that this was a real place; that he had heard about it from Bail, had it described as if it was some kind of tale, only to find out that it existed. Bail had not exaggerated about the beauty of it, either.
“You should fish while you’re here,” he said, closing his eyes when the sensory input started getting overwhelming again; he thought he had a little time, at least, before he was in any danger of passing out again. “Perhaps catch us dinner,” he added after a moment, half-grinning.
Bail huffed back at that, his smile in his voice. “Be careful what you wish for. If I cook, you’ll be spoiled, you’ll never be content with a mealpack again.”
“Your wife has already started the process.” Maul quirked his brow, a facial shrug. “You might as well help it along.”
Bail didn’t answer that right then, but Maul could feel the shadows around the man, eating at him anew. The guilt and the confusion and the sense of drowning. Empathy and telepathy were both native Force talents to Maul, but he had never developed them beyond what was needed to read and coerce, and after what had happened ten years before, what happened recently, he didn’t really ever want to have mental contact with another living being again. Shielding Obi-Wan on Zigoola had been hard enough, but--
“I was so relieved to be alive that I thought-- I guess I thought I would know what to say,” Bail said, voice small. “How to fix things, how to set them right. But now I’m here and nothing-- I don’t know what to do.”
“Patience and communication,” Maul answered, rubbing at his forehead, trying to keep his mind away from where it wanted to go. This empathy was not too bad; passive sensing, rather than actively reaching for it. “I seem to remember someone giving me that advice. And it was sound.”
There was a beat, then, “I don’t even know if I’m that person anymore.”
Bail's was a plaintive tone. Maul wished he had more of his head together; wished he knew what to say, to reassure. How to explain that he could feel it, at least right now, so intensely that it was as if he could run fingertips over the raised edges. Scars or stories.
“You saved us, you know,” he said, trying to reel himself back in yet again. “Everything there was terrible for us, except for you.”
He couldn’t open his eyes to look; couldn’t lean over to peer into the water, the river, but Maul could feel it flow by, could feel the way it parted for rocks or eddied around them. Warm currents which came from valleys upriver where they grew tea; cold ones from mountain springs. The fish turned into it, seeking insects which fell, floating in the dying light of day. There was a purity here, some clean and kind thing, both in the place and in the man who loved it.
“Your river remembers you,” Maul said, and then was gone again.
It stayed mostly dark, this time.
Waking was worse. Even with a medicated fog to act as barrier between himself and too much again, he felt oversensitized to everything. Maul had never particularly devoted himself to the more spiritual aspects of the Force; had never had a desire to be a seer or to connect with it on such a wide level as some could, let alone be so immersed in it. He had been content to be a contained conduit for it, with his feet on the ground.
The fact that he had blown so far past himself, into the whole of it, to get them off of Zigoola was like igniting a fuel line; what was before a steady feed had become an explosion, and all that was left was to outlast the heat and blast and then find the pieces and repair it after.
“A little better,” Obi-Wan said, when he must have given some indication that he was awake again, “but your landings could still use some work.”
Maul’s mental map of this property was being built in disconnected pieces, but he was at least able to recognize the living area once he got his eyes open; someone had lit a fire in the fireplace and he had the same blanket from earlier wrapped around him.
He felt like he’d been shivering for awhile and only just stopped; went to apologize and then managed to bite it back when he could see Obi-Wan all but brace for it. “I misjudged the timing, I think.”
“That’ll improve.” Obi-Wan leaned forward and kissed him, light and sweet, then sat back up again. “Back to bed with you, though, after some dinner.”
It was not the overbearing that Obi-Wan could occasionally be; more firm suggestion than imperative. Even if it was overbearing, Maul doubted he had the energy to kick about it. Despite the queasiness, something smelled good beyond the wood fire, and really, bed didn’t sound like a bad idea.
He didn’t remember if he nodded, but he must have dozed some between, a bit more comfortably. It was Queen Breha who brought him back, running nails light back and forth against his shoulder until he was properly awake, then handing off a bowl of soup once he was upright.
“The porridge was an Antilles recipe, but this is a B and B special,” she said, standing back, her husband at her shoulder. “Guaranteed to fend off cold nights and sinus infections.”
“It works, too. We used to make a big pot of it the first day of winter,” Bail added, a little smile on his mouth that did not quite make it to his eyes. “It’s a little early, but as comfort food goes, you can’t beat it.”
They stood close together, but not touching; stood like they wanted to lean into one another and were too wounded and unsure to do so. Unbidden, Maul wondered if he and Obi-Wan ever did the same. Looked the same.
“Thank you,” he said, letting the heat of the bowl soak into his hands while he waited for his stomach to settle. Obi-Wan echoed him from the other end of the couch; sitting there with his legs folded under him, he cut a rather endearing picture.
The rest of the time was spent quietly. The soup was good, as expected; spicy but not painfully so. Mostly vegetable with some meat thrown in, and a lot of flavor. Maul had never really thought too hard about food, but he could see why people did; could also see a little bit how Bail might have had a point about him getting spoiled.
It was with those drifting thoughts and pieces of thoughts that he got up and got ready for bed, and didn’t startle when Obi-Wan decided to pick him up and carry him there.
That night, at least, he didn’t dream.
Thank @shadowmaat for this chapter; my best fiend all but literally held my hand through it.
"You have so much hair."
Of all of the ways to be greeted upon waking, that was one which Obi-Wan had never anticipated. He cracked his eyes open, shifting his head on the pillow to look down at the red and black head on his shoulder and decided to just-- go with it. "Don't tell me this is the first time you've noticed it."
"No, but it's everywhere," Maul answered, stroking his fingertips against the opposite shoulder from the one he was laying on, peering across the short span of Obi-Wan's chest and apparently finding the hair growing there to be worth commenting on. In the morning shadows, the sun not yet high enough to shine into the window, the lines of his face seemed softer. "I don't think I ever realized how much of it that you have."
"Well, I'm not a wookiee," Obi-Wan said, grousing good-humor, closing his eyes again and sliding his hand up Maul's forearm to rub at his wrist, absently, working in the hollows between bones with his thumb. "But how else am I supposed to keep warm when you're not around, hm?"
Maul scoffed back at him. "Is that why you grew the beard?"
"Not really." Obi-Wan tried and failed to chew down a grin. "But it doesn't hurt anything. Why? Don't tell me you're not used to that after all these years."
"I am. It is bristly, though."
That got Obi-Wan to open his eyes again, tilting his head a bit further on the pillow to take in Maul's expression, which was for the moment a mix between drowsiness and thoughtfulness. "You don't like it?"
It was always a gamble, if a harmless one, asking if Maul liked something; it was usually easier to get him to name a dislike, but even that was dicey. Given the way his brow knit at the question, one would think he had been asked the meaning of the universe. But after a few seconds thought, he said, "It's bristly, but not unpleasant. Except when one of your hairs gets up my nose when we're kissing, I don't care for that."
He was probably confused by Obi-Wan's reaction, but Obi-Wan was laughing too hard to explain why he thought that statement was wonderful.
Whatever medication cocktail it was that Vokara Che had prescribed to be filled by the royal family's apothecary seemed to loosen Maul's tongue in a way that even being drunk that once had not; it also seemed to remove some of the filters between his mind and mouth. The result was entertaining. Sweet. Sometimes heart-aching. Sometimes funny. And fascinating, too; for all the years talking, for as good as Obi-Wan's relative understanding of how Maul's mind worked was, he rarely knew what Maul was thinking. And even after so many years, even with Obi-Wan knowing how to read the slightest twitch of a brow or the tension level of his shoulders, Maul was still an expert at guarding himself from giving too much away.
Having him being borderline chatty was odd, but not unwelcome. Even if Obi-Wan was waiting for the other boot to drop.
He had already been tracking Maul down when Bail had commed, having had the good sense to take his private comm with him, and told him that Maul had blacked out and almost went for a head-first swim in the river. Obi-Wan had backtracked for two minutes, grabbed the blanket off the deck couch, then followed Bail's directions so he could go retrieve Maul and bring him back to the house.
If Obi-Wan was waiting for the other boot to drop with Maul, it had already dropped for Bail; the man was hurting so much that it was almost painful just being near him.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked him to go walking with me," Bail had said, clinging to Maul in a not dissimilar position from their last night on Zigoola, playing backrest and holding on tighter than necessary.
Before Zigoola, Obi-Wan might have snapped at Bail over the situation, giving in to his own overbearing protectiveness, completely ignoring the fact that Maul had clearly walked here on his own and of his own accord, and making sure the both of them knew not to take risks like that.
Instead, he just shook his head. "Bail, he wouldn't have gone if he hadn't wanted to," he said, gently, looking at the man who had, only a few weeks ago, been the embodiment of cast-iron stubbornness and who now looked so desperately wounded and lost. He didn't think it prudent to tell Bail just how worried everyone was about him right now; Bail was already beating himself up terribly, he didn't need any more fuel for it. "He'll be all right. And he's far better off here than he would have been on Coruscant, so thank you for that."
It seemed the reassurance worked; Bail still looked (and felt) guilty and anxious, but after a moment more, he nodded and then loosened his grip on Maul, helping Obi-Wan shift the currently overloaded zabrak until Obi-Wan had him instead, practically in his lap. "What's in that?" Bail asked, when Obi-Wan shot Maul with the next dose of the medication that seemed to be doing a decent enough job combating the mindsickness.
"Some manner of painkiller. Though, knowing Vokara Che, there's probably some kind of anti-anxiety component to it, as well," Obi-Wan said, sticking the hypo back in his belt pouch and then grabbing the blanket to wrap Maul up again, using the arm he didn't currently have wrapped around him. "Maybe a mild sedative, too. There aren't many ways to block a Force user from accessing it; chemical impairment is one of the only ways to do it, so that's its primary purpose. At least until he's able to access it without it overwhelming him."
"That's why you said what you did on the Starfarer?" Bail asked; when Obi-Wan gave him a curious look, he clarified, "When you said that keeping him locked up anywhere that wasn't the Temple would require cruelty that a non-Force user wouldn't understand."
Obi-Wan was sort of surprised that Bail remembered that so perfectly, but then again, it was long since clear that it took a fairly extraordinary man to do the job that Bail did and still maintain his sanity and soul. "Basically. In the Temple, it's just a matter of having him surrounded by enough Force-trained people to take him down if necessary -- not counting the security measures in his cybernetics -- but in a regular prison, he would probably have spent most of his time in a drugged stupor."
Bail made a sour face at the mention of the security measures, but nodded back anyway.
"Do you want to walk back with me, or stay here?" Obi-Wan asked, making sure to keep his voice light. Unlike on Zigoola, he had full access to his own power, so even in his current physical condition, hauling Maul back up to the house was no concern. He didn't really want to leave Bail behind, though, not in the man's current mental condition.
"I don't know." Bail tucked his arms around his own ribs, shoulders hunching inwards. "I don't-- I thought--" he tried, then stopped and shook his head.
Obi-Wan watched him, just taking in his expression and posture before asking, "That it would be easier?"
Bail nodded back, face a perfect reflection of his emotions. "She's mad at me."
Obi-Wan had been keeping his own shields incredibly low since landing here, mostly for the sake of keeping a watch on Maul, who had no real shields right now to speak of considering what he had done on Zigoola and was thus easy to feel even at a bit of distance.
It also meant that he had something of a constant read on the Organas, too.
He chose his words carefully, given Bail's genuinely fragile state. "I imagine that you two have plenty to talk about, but I spent most of the day in her company and she seems more relieved to have you home than angry with you about the reasons why."
"I never told her about the Friends of the Republic." Bail palmed down his face and the ragged beard he had not shaped into his usual goatee, looking across the river. "I could have died there and she wouldn't have ever known what happened to me."
Bail's voice had cracked on that last part, and Obi-Wan felt his own heart ache sharply in empathy. "But you didn't; you're here. It's not-- Bail, it isn't wrong to be shaken up after what we lived through."
The thought occurred that there had once been a time when Obi-Wan himself would have forged forward without bothering to take a moment to recover; when he would have done exactly what it seemed Bail was trying to do. To decide that surviving it had been enough and that there was no excuse to dwell on it after. Sometimes even now he did default to that mindset, though never quite so far as he had once done.
He owed a lot to Maul. Even when they were lessons that Maul had never intended to teach him. But it became impossible to just ignore the aftereffects of injury, physical or mental, when in love with someone who was still paying the price for trauma a decade or more old. Who had to deal with the awful tolls exacted and then still get back up and keep going. Obi-Wan had only gotten days of what Maul had been living with for years, on Zigoola; the loss of time and the loss of orientation, the distrust of reality. The distrust of oneself.
He wasn't ever going to forget what that felt like, so he might as well learn from it and take those lessons forward.
"I should know that." Bail's shoulders slumped; he radiated a deep, aching weariness. "I'll be okay. I just need to get it together."
"No," Obi-Wan answered, and when he got back a surprised look, he shook his head. "You need to rest and eat properly and take the vitamins your doctor sent along. Getting it together will come when it comes, but right now, trying to force it will only make things worse."
Bail didn't look like he quite believed that, but he nodded; Obi-Wan could only hope that if it was repeated enough times, then it might sink into Bail's head enough to make a difference. He rubbed over his face again, then crawled to his feet slowly. "I'll walk back with you."
Leaning on the Force to get himself and Maul up, Obi-Wan had kept pace with Bail the whole way back.
"You should teach him meditation," Maul said, after having dozed for twenty minutes or so, once he had gotten done discussing the amount of hair that Obi-Wan had, and once he had gotten re-medicated. "I would, but I don't think I'm--" he lifted a hand and gestured at his head.
Obi-Wan smiled; given he had just been thinking about his talk with Bail the prior evening, it seemed they were both in the mind of worrying over him. "That sounds like a good idea."
Maul hummed back, then tucked his arm back in against Obi-Wan's side. He didn't appear to be in any hurry to get moving, and honestly, Obi-Wan was rather grateful for that. Beyond the fact that it really was a pleasure just to hold him, all of his mumbled, barely-awake reassurances the day before had bothered Obi-Wan quite a bit.
A few things had; things which Zigoola had dragged out of their shallow graves despite the mutual effort to bury them.
Obi-Wan had plenty of time to think the day before; Bail had slept well into the afternoon, and an offhanded comment from Queen Breha suggested that it was only after a very restless, nightmare-filled night. Obi-Wan had spent most of that time trying to sort out how he felt about things, but he'd largely failed to do so; his own thoughts were jumbled unless he was focusing his efforts on tea or light conversation with a busy monarch, or caretaking. Those three things were a very welcome reprieve.
Even now, there was some temptation to start kicking dirt back over the hurts of years ago; to take pleasure in their survival and run away from the costs. To give into the same compulsion Bail had, to avoid looking at the still-bleeding wounds. It was good to be alive and away; good to be on Alderaan, too, where the Living Force was so strong and gentle at the same time that even Obi-Wan, who tended more strongly towards the Unifying Force, could feel the healing it offered, both to him and somewhat through Maul, even if it kept tripping Maul's metaphorical circuit breakers.
But that damned Sith world had demanded so much from them that it would be foolish to ignore any chance to heal they could take.
Even if the healing meant more pain before it became less.
"You're brooding," Maul said, a drowsy rumble.
Obi-Wan huffed, but he was smiling again. "A little." He let his fingertips trace the lightning bolt pattern across the back of one of Maul's shoulders. "We have some things to talk about, but I think we should probably wait until you're a little less medicated."
"You'll be waiting awhile, then." Maul dragged in a deep breath then let it out slow. "I feel like the inside of my skull has been scorched."
"I can imagine." And occasionally, Obi-Wan could outright feel the echo of it. "I doubt Master Che would have allowed you anywhere near consciousness for another week, if we'd gone back to Coruscant."
"Probably not." Maul didn't sound like he minded that. Whether it was for having trust that the healer would look after his best interests or because he was just so used to being intervened on, Obi-Wan didn't know. Even if it had been years since that was a semi-regular occurrence.
One of Maul's finest traits was how quickly he could learn new things. It was often also one of his most tragic ones.
Looking back, Obi-Wan was starting to grasp how much effort went into unlearning lessons which had been taught with pain, intentionally or not. On both their parts. With that in mind, he was able to see patterns he had been blinded to, unwittingly; the ways they had both changed their behavior to avoid suffering, even to the point of trying to ignore that it had happened in the first place.
One of the moments that it came home to roost was the day before; hauling Maul out of the shower and drying him off and getting him dressed again. It was incredibly rare when Obi-Wan got a look at where flesh and metal met; where bone gave way to framework and nerves to circuitry, usually hidden by a brace and clothing. And before now, he had always let his gaze slide away; at the time he told himself it was respect, but while that was partial truth, it wasn't the entire one.
The rest of it was not wanting to see what his own hand had wrought.
He didn't let himself flinch away this time. Instead, he took it all in; the scarring, knotted in red and black, clean lines giving way to a twisted ones, and the gleam of dark blue-gray alloy. He remembered, in that moment, his old resentment that Vokara Che had pressed so hard for such quality; the cybernetics were articulated well beyond the standard set most people could afford, right down to ankles and toes, joints cushioned by hydraulics, and all of it weighted and balanced to match the flesh and blood and bone Maul had once stood on. Absent synthskin, which was too disorienting for Force users to bear most of the time except in quite small amounts, they were as good as they could be, given what they were.
He remembered being so angry that he would have denied Maul that. And he remembered what those legs had looked like, when Maul desperately dragged himself into that corner by his hands, the adaptive technology having not yet learned how to respond to a thoughtless, instinctive action.
In the moment, against his side, Maul went stiff and pulled in a short, sharpish breath. "You're hurting."
Obi-Wan winced internally; even with Maul quite medicated, they were so close and his shields were so low that he should have probably realized that Maul would feel that. He took his own breath, carefully putting a few more mental walls between them. "Old pain, darling. Shhh. I'm all right, I just-- have a lot to think about," he said, softly, going back to petting, trying to stroke away the sudden tension.
He didn't need to sense it to know Maul was trying to sift through words and figure out how to respond to that, filtered or not. "I don't like it," was the eventual answer, a little clipped. "Don't-- don't--" he tried, then lifted his hand and gave a small flap of frustration with it, huffing out; despite everything, Obi-Wan found that inexplicably adorable.
There was no point to prompting; Maul would figure out what he wanted to say, given enough time, or he wouldn't. In the meantime, Obi-Wan gave him a squeeze, just reassurance, before going back to petting again.
"I don't want to be--" Maul tried again. He took another breath, and Obi-Wan could practically hear him chewing up real estate in his mind to figure out a way to explain what he was thinking. "Don't turn me into-- into the blade you then turn on yourself. That's not what I'm here for."
Force. That couldn't have been easy to say, given the way Maul shuddered once the words were in the air.
Even having not spoken them, they caught in Obi-Wan's throat, too.
There was so much to untangle in that statement that he knew he wasn't prepared to do so entirely right now, but he caught the thought behind it; caught the meaning. He dragged the blanket up higher and tucked them both in a bit more, breathing it off; rubbed the back of Maul's now blanket-clad shoulder just to keep in touch while he worked it over.
He could not pretend that he didn't have guilt -- complicated, messy guilt -- to sort through. And Obi-Wan knew that was going to hurt sometimes.
The hard thing to figure out was what to do with the hurt when it happened. The shame. Especially the shame; that had been simmering in his heart for a decade now. Where was the line, between accepting the pain for what it was, and tormenting oneself with it unnecessarily?
He was surprised that he didn't actually know the answer to that question.
"You're never that," he finally said, blowing some air out of his lungs. "What goes on in my mind is not your fault," he added, because that was important; the last thing Obi-Wan wanted was Maul thinking he was somehow responsible for it just because he was often enough the subject of it. "There are things that I do need to sort for myself, though; things that I've said and done. I don't intend to self-flagellate, but-- I should look at them."
Maul quite clearly didn't care for that answer; his mouth was in a straight, thin line and Obi-Wan could feel his jaw knotting.
We have a lot of work to do, Obi-Wan thought, ruefully. For the moment, he felt very out of his depth; an initiate, stumbling through on the most basic of footwork, trying to make sense of things when they turned out to be far more complex than he had originally guessed.
"I'll tell you what," was what he said, carefully, "I'll try my hardest to stay away from those thoughts for at least the rest of today. And when I do look at them, I'll try my hardest to keep them in perspective."
He didn't know if he understood what perspective was, in this case. But ignoring everything they had said to one another on Zigoola would be an awful way to diminish how important the words had been for both of them.
"What do you want in turn?" Maul asked, tone both curious and wary.
Obi-Wan's eyebrow went up as he looked down again, stuffing down to urge to snort. "What makes you think I want something back?"
Maul didn't even dignify that with a verbal response; his own brow went up in turn, the edge of one side of his mask marking his silent because I know you.
"Oh. Well." Even with all of the thoughts churning in the back of his mind, Obi-Wan didn't have to reach far for some faux-offended huffiness. "Since I'm apparently an irredeemable reprobate, I suppose what I want in return for my extraordinary effort is..." He pretended to think on it, drawing it out, then finished, "An on-demand zabrak blanket for the rest of the day."
"You're placating me."
This time, he did snort. "I'm not. I think you're vastly underestimating how much I'm enjoying this."
It seemed Maul didn't want to test that; he had to have been able to feel Obi-Wan's contentment just as much as he had that brief spike of pain, though Obi-Wan could -- really should -- allow for the fact that contentment was a far less sharp, more subtle thing, and something which Maul had considerably less experience with.
"What if I'm sleeping?" he asked, after a moment.
Obi-Wan took in his expression; thought about a lesson taught with pain, not even intentionally but because he himself had been angry and careless, and all of the small ways he could now look back and see it play out across the years.
It wasn't the time to look at that one, not if he wanted to keep his word, but he knew to tread carefully with his answers. "Then you'll be doing exactly what you're supposed to be doing," he said, which happened to be the truth. "If you haven't noticed, darling, I have little issue arranging you about my person whether you're awake or not."
Maul was thinking about it; Obi-Wan wondered, a little, if he was even aware of the low-level tension that bled away at that answer. "What if my neck gets stiff?" he asked, then, with a seriousness that could only be deadpan humor.
"I'll rub it. Or I'll just turn you into a mattress until it's not stiff, then make you into a blanket again."
"What if I'm--" Maul cut himself with a yawn, the deep kind, wide enough to show his canines, before finishing, "restless and feel like moving?"
"We'll traverse that hyperspace lane when we get to it." Whatever other things there were to think about, Obi-Wan's face hurt a little for the broadness of his grin. "I'm open to negotiation."
Maul scoffed at him, but he was clearly ready to drift back off. "Of course you are."
Obi-Wan made an affirmative noise back; he wouldn't mind dozing for another hour or so himself, really, between the warm bed and the lingering exhaustion he was here to recover from. So, rather than keep up the banter, he just let it be quiet there, petting away with his free hand.
He hoped that his I love you would prove to long outlive his I hurt you.
Obi-Wan couldn't imagine how awkward it had to feel, for Queen Breha, to play host to two people who had accompanied her husband into a deadly situation and quite nearly ended up dying with him there, but if she was struggling with it, she was doing so silently. She had been gracious and kind even upon their first landing in Aldera; he could see the fear light up in her dark eyes at the sight of her husband, so diminished despite his two-day sleep in bacta, but she remained composed.
He had dealt with nobility and royalty before; had often found they could be all of the worst stereotypes or none of them. But he had figured -- rightly, it turned out -- that any woman who loved and married Bail Organa was likely to be as extraordinary as he was.
She had hugged Padmé and thanked her quietly for saving them. Had hugged Bail tight, too, even though she had to stand on her tiptoes and he had to lean down, given their height difference. No one commented on how hard Bail had been trembling there, though he managed to wrap some self-possession back around himself by the time he let go.
She had introduced herself and greeted them; squeezed Obi-Wan's upper arm, then herded the three of them to the palace infirmary so deftly that Obi-Wan hadn't even realized they were being herded like children until they were already there.
"I feel like a crecheling," he'd said, once he'd noticed that.
"She was a school teacher," Bail had commented aside, before his doctor led him off, and that came as precisely no surprise.
There had to be a number of things that Queen Breha had accomplished in the time between when she got their first transmission and when they arrived, and there likely were many more in the couple of hours after, but then they were on-board the royal shuttle and then they were at the summer house and it was odd, to not be the one coordinating things, but Obi-Wan hadn't been quite capable of doing much more than taking directions to the 'fresher and the bedroom by then.
She had been kind the day before, too, if still busy.
"Delegating is hard at the best of times," she'd told him apologetically, as she worked at the kitchen table, "but it's a hell of a lot worse during a war."
If he hadn't liked her before that -- and he did -- that would have won Obi-Wan over, right there.
He drifted in and out of a light, comfortable sleep for an hour and a half more, shifting only enough to keep from getting stiff and never enough to jostle Maul awake, but when he woke up for the last time, it was with a keen awareness of both his hunger and his need to hit the ‘fresher. It was with a fair amount of reluctance that he extricated himself from both bed and zabrak, murmuring a reassurance or two before slipping away.
Like the day before, the queen was already awake and the smell of tea and toast permeated the kitchen; the floorboards were cool under Obi-Wan’s bare feet, and between the scents and the still awe-inspiringly beautiful view out the bank of windows, he couldn't help but feel a sweet, aching joy not unrelated to longing.
“The kettle should still be warm,” Queen Breha said, setting aside the single datapad she had this time, next to her comm.
“Thank you,” Obi-Wan answered, though he didn’t move right away, still just watching the river slide by through the breaks in the colorful trees. He could see why Bail asked to come here to recover, whatever the man felt about his fit. “Your world is beautiful.”
"Thanks, I made it myself," she said; when Obi-Wan turned in surprise, she was half-smirking, a bit of wicked humor on her otherwise tired face.
"Well, you did a wonderful job, Majesty." Obi-Wan grinned back, half-bowing. "I especially like the foliage."
That was apparently enough to break the game; Queen Breha laughed, and it sounded like the kind of laugh she needed to have. Then, in a move that reminded him strongly of Bail, she rubbed at her face and stood, chuckling and shaking her head as she moved to the counter. "All given, I think you're good to drop the titles, unless you want to spend the rest of your convalescence being called Master Kenobi. I answer just as well to Breha, or Bre," she said, getting into the cupboard to take down a mug, a pretty mismatched thing glazed in blues and greens and browns.
"I can't say I've ever been given the right to address royalty as such. Nobility, but not royalty. It might take me a bit of time to remember." That wasn't to say he hadn't taken the right before, admittedly. When he went to get the kettle, she waved him back. "You're welcome to call me Obi-Wan, though," he added, getting out of her way.
"Obi-Wan. Mid-rim provincial," Breha said, as she poured him a mug and added the tea ball to it to steep, then shifted around him further down the counter to the fresh sliced bread underneath of a towel. "Do you remember your life before becoming a Jedi?"
"No, not really." Obi-Wan watched, just taking her in. "I'm told I still have an accent, despite growing up on Coruscant, but I'm certain that everyone's just hearing things."
He was pleased that he got her to chuckle again. She did look tired; with a silvery knit shawl around her shoulders, her diminutive size seemed more noticeable, but even then there was something about how she carried herself that spoke of strength and confidence that went well beyond a throne. "Mm, maybe," she said, tilting her head and raising her eyebrows at him after putting the bread in the toaster, leaning on the counter and crossing her arms. "For the sake of diplomacy, I'll hold my tongue."
Obi-Wan grinned back at that. "Bail said you were a school teacher?"
"I was. I suppose I always will be, at heart." Breha uncrossed one arm to gesture, with a wistful quirk of the lips. "Wrangling a legislature isn't much different from leading a classroom, except in terms of maturity levels. On the whole, the children do a better job every single time."
"They often do." Such was the truth; while it had taken Obi-Wan some growing up of his own to realize it, there was something almost soothing about interacting with them now. Something he felt even more keenly since war had been declared.
Breha nodded, recrossing her arms after a glance at the tea, likely checking on how it was steeping. Then she looked back at him again; Obi-Wan was used to getting scrutiny, so it didn't bother him, but he did wonder what she was searching for when she asked, "How long have you and Maul been together?"
"A little over five years." There had been no point to hiding it from her, so they hadn't. And really, the more he thought over it, the more-- relieved Obi-Wan felt that there were at least a few people who knew about it. "You're only the third person to know," he added, dropping his head with a little bit of a rueful half-grin. "Your husband figured it out despite our efforts to keep it to ourselves. I suppose, looking back, I can see how."
"Bail's always been sharp. Still, being on a small craft together forces a kind of honesty."
There was no coolness or anger in her voice, but Obi-Wan was still quite aware of them stepping into more dangerous territory. If not literally, then emotionally. He nodded back, crossing his own arms loosely. "It does. According to him, though, he supposedly had us figured out from his balcony before we ever boarded the Starfarer. Something about my, ah-- mad husband look."
Even though it was dangerous territory, Breha barked a laugh at that. "What, were you planning on making Maul sleep on the couch?"
Force, it was easy to see how Bail had fallen in love with her on first meeting; Obi-Wan watched, oddly delighted despite the fraught topic with the way she laughed. "Never. But I was quite unhappy with him going around me to win Bail to his side in the five minutes I left them alone."
"It seems to have been for the better, though. At least, given what I've been able to put together." She turned and busied herself with the food and tea, hands moving with deft surety. "Bail's told me pieces, but I'd like the full story sooner than later."
It wasn't exactly a request, though Obi-Wan wouldn't have called it a demand, either. But there was a firmness to it. He watched as she made breakfast for him, unease prickling a little bit on his skin now; there was so much that had happened on Zigoola, and so much of it intimate and personal, that the idea of telling the tale was-- unpleasant, to say the least.
But then, he knew things about this woman that she had not told him; knew more about her than he could pretend was incidental. About her private struggles and her equally private suffering. That realization left him feeling doubly uncomfortable; that he held this knowledge, having gained it from her ailing husband, through no permission of hers.
She turned and set the plate and the tea on the table, then came back and took him by his arm, lightly; her voice softened a little and the look she gave him was both sad and kind. "Come on, Obi-Wan. Have a seat, have some breakfast. Then I'd like to hear your part of the story."
And so, he told it.
Breha didn't interrupt the tale, but to ask for clarification here or there. Obi-Wan had to backtrack repeatedly to explain things, as well; the existence and history of the Sith, for example. Some of his and Maul's past, though he didn't let himself get carried away on the more deeply painful aspects of it. He mostly kept it to the events themselves, but he was honest when it came time to talk about the heart-rending conversations that took place, and he was honest in what he knew of the woman who was listening to him.
She didn't break into it, didn't get angry, but he could see the way her mouth tightened at some parts. And he could see the misery at what her husband had suffered there, in the set of her jaw and the look in her eyes. For all of the discomfort in speaking about it, Breha was graceful in her handling of it; more graceful than Obi-Wan could have likely been himself.
When there were pauses in the story, she got up and got him tea; she also set food down for him, which despite the topic, he found himself working at. Fruits, some of which he recognized, and also more of the fresh bread, which needed nothing at all added to taste incredibly good. "I'll gain twice the weight I started with," he managed to joke, at one point.
"I'll settle for half that," she had answered, with a dry grin.
Obi-Wan felt exhausted, though, by the time he was done telling the story. When he finished, Breha thanked him, no hint of ire in her tone, though she seemed quite thoughtful.
It was around then that Maul decided to rejoin the waking world; despite him looking groggy, Obi-Wan could still see the momentary hesitation in the doorway to the kitchen, though he didn't seem quite as unsettled by the queen as he had done initially the day before.
Breha didn't give him much chance to linger before she was herding him to the table, too; the way Maul turned his head to watch her like he would watch some predator doing something completely unexpected had Obi-Wan rubbing over his beard in an attempt to hide his grin. He likely ended up failing, given the look of mild irritation he got when Maul was sitting across from him.
"The bread is especially good," he said, pushing the tray across, giving up on hiding his smile and -- just because he could -- notching it up to what he hoped was charming proportions.
It probably wasn't fair to play with Maul when he wasn't at his sharpest, but when Maul snatched the chunk of bread and tore a piece off, never once breaking eye contact or even blinking as he chewed on it with equally proportionate intensity, Obi-Wan realized he was being played with right back and started laughing again, hard enough to make his sides hurt.
The sly, ducked-head grin he got back was never going to be anything less than rewarding, right to the end of his days.
Bail had shaved.
It was clear the man was trying to re-order himself by starting with his appearance; he was dressed more neatly, if casually, and had combed his hair and shaped his goatee and otherwise made an effort to look more together than he had to be. But combined with his shadowed eyes and still far-too-thin frame and the faint tremor in his hands, it looked more like a quiet desperation than a true step on the road to recovery.
Obi-Wan had gone and showered, still feeling tired, and when he came back, Breha had been grilling Maul in the kitchen. He might have intervened -- not out of the desire to be overbearing, but if Maul had seemed to be foundering any -- but she was steering that conversation so skillfully and so gently that he didn't see the need to. Mostly, what he overheard was her seeking clarification on the parts of the story that Obi-Wan hadn't been able to give her, due to unconsciousness or mental distress, and when it took Maul a particularly long time to answer, she just patiently waited it out.
It probably wasn't the most comfortable conversation, but Obi-Wan wasn't reading any serious, notable distress from Maul, either. So, he retreated to the back windows, the ones looking up the slope into the trees, and sat admiring the scenery.
It was not the easiest thing in the galaxy, learning how to loosen his grip without letting go, but he refused to step backwards on his own progress.
He was aware of Bail's presence well before he turned to look at the man, standing quietly behind him; he tightened his own shields again just to give Bail some measure of emotional privacy, though Obi-Wan quite reserved the right to observe in more mundane ways.
"How much have you told her?" Bail asked, looking off into the trees himself, expression unreadable.
"Everything I was able to." It wouldn't do to lie to the man. Obi-Wan regarded him; watched him cross his arms, hands tucked into his armpits. "Bail-- I don't think she's angry with you. Just very worried."
"She should be." Bail knotted his jaw, tucking his arms tighter. "I kept things from her, I outright lied to her, right on the heels of her finding out about her cousin..." He trailed off and for a moment, it looked like his composure was about to shatter, before he steeled himself again as far as he was able to. But his voice was still plaintive as he asked, "How do I even fix that?"
It didn't seem like the kind of thing he expected an answer to. And, really, Obi-Wan was still trying to work out how to deal with his own past errors, either the ones made in ignorance or the ones made in anger.
It was hellish to watch Bail struggle, though. For all of Obi-Wan's initial mistrust of the man, Zigoola had torn him down to what had to be his base elements, and in a state where someone's worst nature would have a chance to come out, Bail had instead stood on the foundation of willful courage and generosity and kindness, no matter how badly he was hurting himself. And now, safe and back with the wife he loved, in a place he loved, on a world which seemingly loved him back, he deserved a chance to rest and wasn't able to allow himself it.
Obi-Wan had said he would try to avoid the things that hurt, but he thought there was something he could-- do. Offer.
"He was beautiful, you know," he said, turning his own gaze back up the mountain, watching the leaves falling, watching the high, white clouds above them skate across the blue sky. "It took me-- years, to see it. First I was vengeful, then angry, then I was grieving, and it took me a long time to really see that first and last lightsaber battle of ours."
He could feel Bail's attention focus on him; could also feel some edge of confusion even through his more carefully shielded perception. But Obi-Wan didn't look over, and even the view in front of him faded, to himself but not himself.
His own eyes, but looking through them older.
He huffed, not quite a laugh. "Oh, don't get me wrong. Maul was cocky and vicious and he was trying to kill us, and succeeded in killing my Master. He almost killed me. But--" He took a breath. "But I know him, now. I look back and I can see him. I see so many of the things I love about him now, even if then they were still raw and twisted by the sadist who raised and trained him. But that fire and determination. That courage. He was all of twenty-two, perhaps twenty-three, and yet he went and he threw himself against the two of us with everything he had. A renowned swordsman and an almost-knighted padawan, and he not only matched us both at once, but even when we had an opening, he closed it near instantly. We were all grim determination, but Maul-- Maul was reveling in it."
He felt, more than saw, Bail sink down on the window-sill bench seat. But even then, Obi-Wan lost himself in a memory he had replayed a thousand times, from a thousand frames of mind, and tried to figure out how to explain how he was able to live with it.
Even if he had discovered recently that he had not yet fully done so, and might never.
He paused a moment, feeling something in his throat quiver, then closed his eyes. "He won, frankly. He could have pried me off of the side of that pit with the Force easily, but he didn't. I know he was gloating, but I think some part of him must have been almost regretful that the battle had ended, too. His whole life to that point had been spent being brutally trained, abused, manipulated, twisted and tested, and there, finally, he could imagine that there was a purpose to it."
There was no good, clean way to talk about this. No way to look back on it with more wisdom and not see all of the shades of gray he had been blind to in those moments. Nor was there any going back with new wisdom to change it.
He palmed over his face, keeping the heartache firmly behind his walls.
"There were more technically proficient swordsmen even then, though frankly quite few. And today, I'm probably better than he is, just for the long period he didn't have access to a blade, a sparring partner or heart enough to practice even with what he did have access to. But I've never seen a more beautiful swordsman, not before and not since; I've never seen anyone who could have matched him in grace or artistry."
The past tense was easily the most painful part.
"And with one swing, I took that from him. And I can never give it back." Obi-Wan gave up wrestling with his tears, but he made no effort to draw attention to them. "I-- I want to be able to tell you that-- that there's an absolution to be found there. That all of the things we have-- fought for since make up for that, but they don't. There's no measuring that. There's no-- no moment where I will be able to look at him, when he's sleeping next to me, or when he's sparring me with a grim look in his eyes, and forget that I was the one who cut him down. That I went and spent months looking at him broken in two, and it never once crossed my mind to understand how he had ended up in Theed in the first place, or to offer a kind thought, let alone speak one. That it took him being so badly hurt that he was ready to die to get away from it before I was willing to even start considering those things."
It said a great many things about Bail Organa that Obi-Wan could feel him shift closer, not quite touching, but close enough to offer support. He didn’t continue speaking right away, though, wanting to order his own thoughts some; wanting to get this right. It deserved that thought, even though it hurt; he had a feeling that Maul would forgive him thinking of it, though, if it somehow helped Bail out of the dark, miserable place that the man was in right now.
"There's no-- fixing that," he said, finally. "I can't ever take back my swing, or my callousness; I can't ever take back my anger or indifference. But I can-- I can change my actions, based on it. I can do better by him and myself. It won't ever change the past, but it's the only way to-- to scratch goodness out of the ashes. I'm going to spend the rest of my life trying to do right by him -- by both of us, by everyone I love -- and that's all I can do, Bail. I think-- I think probably that's all you can do, too."
There was a long moment of quiet, then Bail said, voice thick and choked but-- present, awake, "You're about as subtle as a hammer, Obi-Wan."
Obi-Wan laughed back at that, startled by it, pleased by it, as he turned back to sit facing the kitchen; he leaned over until his shoulder was pressed to Bail's, rubbing the tears off his face. "Yes, well. It's my turn to bill you for the marriage counselling."
"No, I think this technically makes us even." Bail was still radiating a lot of hurt, but Obi-Wan thought that his sense of humor making an appearance was probably a good sign. "What's a little therapy between friends, anyway?"
"I don't know. But you still owe me a couple of bottles of wine, I'm not writing those off."
Bail reached up and rubbed at his own eyes, but he chuckled raggedly as he did. "Yeah, I remember. You'll get your kickback."
"How very shady a term." Obi-Wan sniffed; even as raw as he felt, though, the humor felt-- good. Kind, even.
"Your own fault, making friends with politicians. What would the Council say?"
"Hopefully nothing, if they know what's good for them." Obi-Wan grinned a little bit when Bail turned his head to eyeball him in surprise; some of the shadows seemed to have finally left his eyes, though Obi-Wan knew full well that this was going to be a longer process than one conversation, no matter how vulnerable and cathartic a conversation it was. "Besides, it's just the one politician."
"That's how it starts. Then the next thing you know, you're elected to the Senate and sitting up all hours of the night working on budget resolutions." Bail scoffed, then tucked his arms back around himself, though this time it seemed a little less like he was trying to physically hold himself together.
Obi-Wan only had to half-fake his shudder, but Force, the banter was soothing. "Don't, you'll give me horrible nightmares."
"About what?" Maul asked, having made it out of the kitchen in apparently as good a shape as he went into it, now with the addition of what had to be one of Bail's long-sleeve shirts open over his own; he had the cuffs rolled halfway up his forearms, and was likely quite unaware how endearing he looked in the oversized button-down.
He glanced between them, though there was considerably more worry in his eyes when his gaze landed on Bail.
"Bail was threatening me with a political career," Obi-Wan answered, making it as much reassurance as he could, tipping his head over to indicate the man. "Thank everything you're here to rescue me," he added, with an appropriate amount of melodrama, though he probably failed some for the fact that he was just admiring Maul, standing there.
"It wasn't a threat. You're the one hanging out with such shady people," Bail said back, pressing his shoulder over against Obi-Wan's harder briefly, a nudge, before rising to his feet and heading for the kitchen.
Obi-Wan gasped, holding his hand over his heart and staring after the man, aghast. "And you're the one who insisted on bringing us home with you!"
"All a ploy, I know." When Maul went to give Bail his shirt back, Bail stopped him; reached up to straighten the collar of it and glanced at Obi-Wan with a knowing look. A look which all but screamed, you're so obvious, one eyebrow up and a hint of a smirk.
Obi-Wan thought that was probably fair enough.
"Keep it," Bail said, with a dry half-grin, looking back at Maul. "I have five more just like it, and it's cute on you."
Then he headed into the kitchen, leaving Maul to look after him in squinty-eyed bemusement, and Obi-Wan burying his face in his hands to hide the fact he was actually blushing.
The shirt had apparently been Breha's idea; Maul's jacket had been stained and torn too badly to save on Zigoola, and the medication keeping him grounded threw his thermoregulation off a mild amount -- something Obi-Wan had figured out quickly -- and thus the queen of Alderaan had volunteered one of her husband's heavier shirts.
Obi-Wan figured he would thank her later, but for now, it let them take a walk together outside. The sun was warm, when it made it through the trees, but the breeze was a little stiff, a reminder of the winter around the corner.
Rain was forecast for overnight, but they had some time before the clouds rolled in, and really, it seemed a good idea to give Bail and Breha a chance to be alone together, too.
Now, they wandered the paths worn into the property as if they were exploring new country; old game trails, or the ones worn by the feet of those who came here to stay.
It really was peaceful here; when Obi-Wan let his own shields drop low enough, he could feel how intensely alive this world was, and just how ancient it was, too. The age was written into the gray stone which they occasionally had to scale down or climb around; into the old growth trees that towered up and up, raining down leaves every time the breeze stirred harder. Higher up the slope, the evergreens became more prevalent, but down low, everything was the brilliant colors of a world slowly bedding down to sleep.
It was idyllic, to walk hand-in-hand through it. Out there, in the galaxy, there was so much strife and grief, and even here they had their own burdens to carry, but Alderaan offered shelter for a time and Obi-Wan was so very grateful for it.
"I asked her if she was angry," Maul said, at some length; mostly they had been walking in silence, lost in their own thoughts, though keeping in touch where their fingers were laced together when they weren't climbing around or over rocks. His voice was a little distant, but not in an unhappy way. "Not about Zigoola. About their son."
Obi-Wan pulled a shorter breath into his nose from surprise, feeling a jolt on both Bail's and Breha's behalf at having that brought up here. "That's-- quite a thing to talk about. What did she say?"
"She said that she had been, but that it was-- irrational." Maul frowned a bit, though it seemed to be more thoughtful than anything like anger. "That it hurt, and so she-- she wanted someone to be angry with. She also said she was very careful never to allow him to know she was because she knew it was irrational. And she said that she let it go because-- because his intention had never been to-- to hurt her. That his intentions had been good and honest and hopeful, even if it had gone badly."
There were more ways to read that -- not only the conversation, but how Breha had answered -- than Obi-Wan could even see right now, but he could see that Maul was already working it over. And he had a feeling he was going to be doing so himself, now, too.
He huffed out, something aching in his chest both warm and sore, and then smiled when Maul glanced over with a brow up. "You," he said, pulling their hands up to kiss the back of Maul's, "are definitely not a hammer, darling."
"Do you plan on explaining that?" Maul asked back, confused, though his expression had softened.
"Later, maybe." After he'd had some time to think about things. And after he had figured out a way to bring up Theed without either of them coming away feeling too hurt to hash it out between them. "For now, I just want to find a nice place to rest awhile, preferably in the sun, so I can take advantage of my favorite on-demand blanket."
Maul snorted back at him, but he was quite clearly trying to chew down a grin and not exactly succeeding. "What are you going to do when all of my horns are done growing back in?"
"Continue trying to think of a way around them, of course." Obi-Wan swung their hands like children do, just to do it, shrugging in an exaggerated manner. "Now that I know what a lovely blanket you make, I'm not going to give up figuring out how to keep you that way."
Maul just shook his head, but he was smiling.
I think I will leave the Order for this, Obi-Wan thought, taking in Maul's profile for another moment before looking back out into the light and shadow and color of Alderaan's forest, seeking out a spot they could lay down and rest awhile and cuddle and just-- exist, in some state of peace, even with the knowledge of all of the things they had yet to work on. After the war is over.
As always, seeking a chance for them to lose themselves into the flow of life; through, and not around.