“We have to stop meeting like this,” a voice said.
Maul knew this voice. It often sounded amused, like the world was a vast farce—a good disguise on the voice’s part. Now… now it sounded something that Maul would have described as concerned, if he had known how to recognize that emotion when directed toward him.
He opened his eyes as slits.
Kenobi was sitting toward the front of…was it a cave, or merely a hole in the cliffside the Jedi had dragged them to? The bright light reflecting of the snow and ice outside shone on him. Picture perfect Jedi, bathed in the Light—under other circumstances, Maul would have found that both amusing and irritating.
Maul sat up, not bothering to disguise that he was cold, tired, and in pain. The Dark Side sustained, but did not heal—or warm up the one wielding it when said wielder could not wrestle their emotions into control over the Force.
The cloak that covered him was Kenobi’s, of course. Maul put it on properly, throwing up the hood, and sat back down. He did not do well with cold, and Kenobi had left him only his damp shirt and underpants on. The rest, and Kenobi’s outer layers as well, were strung out to dry on various bits of rocks inside the cavern proper, around a feeble fire. Where Kenobi had found the branches was anyone’s guess.
Yes, Kenobi and Maul really did have to stop meeting like this. Maul thought the Jedi enjoyed the part that came after the fights and before they parted ways a bit too much.
Kenobi took the few steps needed to get close to the fire, sat down.
“Was the whole ‘throwing ourselves in a freezing river’ quite necessary this time, my dear?”
Maul glanced at Kenobi. The human also enjoyed talking far more than him.
“Yes, yes,” Kenobi said, one arm crossed across his chest, the other at his chin, “I know, believable circumstances, we had another spectacular fight that ended in another draw, the masquerade continues, and none of my men get caught in the crossfire.” He sighed. “You’ll forgive me for worrying about my continued survival—and yours as well.”
“Dooku took another apprentice,” Maul said. If he was to let him continue without interruption, Kenobi would talk and talk and coax Maul into responding far more than he planned. The human wasn’t called the Negociator for nothing.
Kenobi immediately paid attention: it was in the straightening of his spine, the intensity of his eyes. Without a fight, without the glare of ‘saber against ‘saber, Maul rarely saw that intensity, and knew what to do with it even less.
The first time he had seen it like this, without the clear delimitations of who they were, Jedi versus Sith, was when Maul had tracked Kenobi down a few years after Naboo.
Kenobi, if involuntarily, had freed him from his bounds with his Master with one stroke of lightsaber that should have killed him. His Master had replaced him soon after. It had hurt to realize Maul had been nothing then, nothing to his master and nothing to the galaxy; his title of Sith Lord had meant nothing. He turned the hurt in anger and rage, Dark Side and the discipline ingrained in his bones from infancy sustaining him.
Freedom had been terrifying, the true final test of his resolve to the Dark Side. That terror, he turned in anger and rage too. Avoiding the machinations of his Master alone had taken most of his time and thoughts. Setting a loosely-connected web of smugglers and mercenaries and assassins and beings interested in working for him had taken care of the rest. He had no interest in conquering and victories in the name of the Dark Side—he had seen first hand how power changed hands, and how easy it was to slit a throat in the night and change a balance with one act. Respect through discipline and fairness and fear, he knew and knew how to put into place.
Only after that had he tracked Kenobi.
Kenobi’s emotions, that first time after Naboo, had been an intoxicating maelstrom. Maul would have loved to see the expression the old Jedi that had been at Naboo too had made when he was told Maul was still there, then—but he had no eyes and ears in the Temple, and the old Jedi rarely left the place anymore.
Maul wanted Kenobi to be his adversary, the only one he’d fight, the only one who pushed him to higher and higher levels of lightsaber combat, to a level of perfection he could only touch in those infinitesimal instants where death had reached through the Force, a constant, more than an enemy, more than an adversary, where the fights became games of tooka and mouse and catch me if you can, when they fought body to body in addition to ‘saber to ‘saber.
It had been satisfying fights, satisfying years, baiting the Jedi with intelligence on the going-ons in the Outer-Rim dolled out in just big enough drops to be interesting, growing his web, fighting.
Then his web had been hired by the Separatists, before the war was openly declared and then time and time again, until they were too deep to stand back in the dubious neutrality where they had started. When exactly the first conversation after a fight had turned into a true exchange of information on the Separatist plots, Maul couldn’t recall. Giving the Republic and the Jedi good information was not his goal, had never been—it had always been a mean to an end. Maul, once again, had been trapped into his Master’s plans; he hadn’t been summoned to show before his Master, or received an unwelcome visit yet, but it was only a matter of time.
Maul wanted his chaos and his freedom and his fights with Kenobi, and his Master was already taking those away.
“Another like Ventress?” Kenobi asked, dragging Maul’s attention back to the present.
“No.” Maul’s throat was curiously dry. “He’s not there by choice, and he’s my brother.”
Kenobi’s expression changed. “You… never said you had family.”
“I didn’t know,” Maul said, teeth barred. “One more Sith into the galaxy—what will you do, Kenobi? What will your precious Council decide?” Maul wanted his brother to himself—for himself to teach and direct in the use of the Dark Side if so was his brother’s will.
“I don’t know,” Kenobi echoed, staring back at him.
Maul snarled at him, hating him for that answer that wasn’t one. He stood up, snatched his still wet clothes with the Force, threw Kenobi’s cloak back at him.
The look on Kenobi’s face, Maul didn’t know what to make of it. He turned around. His boots made squelching noises.
“What do you want?” Kenobi asked to his back. The silence that answered him stretched. Finally, he sighed. “I can help you, if you’ll have me. At least let me give you a lift back to our staging grounds.”
“With all your troops at the ready.”
“Would you prefer the droids, my dear?”
“I worry about the accuracy of their aim far less than your men’s.”
Kenobi stood up, gathering his own clothes, brushing his shoulder to Maul’s. Any closer, and their faces could have touched—Maul could have kissed the human. They had done so and more a few times, the fight for dominance and balance untampered by nakedness.
“That might almost be a compliment. I’ll pass it on to Commander Cody.”
“Sentiment will choke you, Jedi.” Maul was more realistic about his own end. The end of his freedom as his Master’s trap sprung closed would only be the beginning.