Obi-Wan Kenobi stood on the roof of the junk shop, watching the suns set. His padawan braid tickled his neck as a breeze kicked up and he was too weary to reach up and tuck it down. He heard the snap-hum of a saber igniting behind him and sighed.
“Fight me!” The Sith snarled when he turned to face him.
“Not today, Maul,” Obi-Wan said. “But if you’re hungry, I have some of Shmi’s kubbis.” He picked one of the fried meat pastries off the plate beside him and held it out.
Maul sneered, an expression enhanced by the jagged black markings on his face. He still held his lightsaber at the ready, so Obi-Wan leaned against the ledge and waited. He bit into another of the kubbis himself, playing up how good it tasted. There was actual meat in these ones, which was a nice bonus.
After a minute or two of watching, Maul disengaged his saber and reached out. Obi-Wan felt the offered food snatched from his hand to fly over to Maul’s. He didn’t react other than to lower his hand to his lap. Maul glared at him a while longer before taking his first bite.
Obi-Wan had been on Tatooine for close to four months now and had been a slave for almost as long, thanks to the ill-advised machinations of his Master. In that time he’d had more than a few encounters with the strangely-colored zabrak, who called himself Maul and claimed to be on a mission to kill him. He and Obi-Wan had fought to a standstill numerous times, but it was hard to live among slaves and not learn to recognize certain signs. Obi-Wan was willing to bet his lightsaber that Maul was a slave, himself, even if he claimed the title of Sith Apprentice and boasted of his accomplishments.
Talking him down took more patience than Obi-Wan usually had, but most of his anger was tied up with his own Master and there was just something… compelling about his Dark Side counterpart. Conversation wasn’t exactly his strong point, but even his silences could be revealing. Obi-Wan’s best guess was that Maul was somewhere around his age, maybe younger, and while he was clearly educated, it had been a very focused program with a lot of knowledge gaps around the edges. He was also perpetually hungry, a fact Obi-Wan had exploited as often as possible.
Maul finished the palm-sized pastry in three bites and stalked closer. Obi-Wan shifted over, leaving room between himself and the plate of kubbis. The Sith, still clutching his saberstaff in one hand, grabbed another kubbi and leaned against the ledge beside him.
“I could kill your Master,” he said, taking a bite. “Then you’d be free to fight me.”
“And which Master would that be?” Obi-Wan couldn’t keep the bitterness from his voice.
Red-fringed yellow eyes regarded him. He gazed back, feeling his grief diminish. They were both of them trapped by circumstances. Circumstances created by their Masters. He’d defend Qui-Gon to his dying day, but sometimes in his darkest moments he wondered if his Master was the one who didn’t measure up rather than him.
He didn’t need to know Maul’s Master to know he was the worst sort. Watching the way Maul tensed at unexpected movements, his parroting of cliche lines, and the multitude of scars visible on the rare occasions he removed his upper tunic spoke volumes. Becoming a Sith was supposed to be a choice, but why would anyone choose this?
It was getting dark, so it was harder to see, but there was something off about his appearance. Maul had lowered his hood when he sat and Obi-Wan now realized he was missing two horns. He was being overly-careful not to favor his left side and there was a puffiness around his eye and lower lip. He carried a strong odor of burning.
“You’re hurt! What happened?”
It was, of course, the wrong question. Maul bared his teeth at him and turned away, eating in silence.
It had been three weeks since they’d last met. Obi-Wan knew Maul had a ship because he’d boasted about it, and the intervals between their encounters would have given him time to travel elsewhere and come back, but he’d never figured why he was important enough for Maul’s unknown Master to keep sending him back. Killing a forgotten Jedi Padawan wouldn’t accomplish much, but turning him didn’t seem to be on the agenda, either. He’d begun to suspect the Master didn’t know what his Apprentice was doing and now wondered if he’d finally found out.
“You don’t have to stay with him if he’s hurting you,” he said, knowing he was treading a dangerous line.
“I failed him.”
The words were so quiet that at first Obi-Wan thought he’d imagined them.
“I’d say he failed you first,” he said, aware of the irony of his statement. Where was Qui-Gon? Where was anyone from the Order? Now there was a Sith Apprentice seated beside him. Possibly an ex-Apprentice at this point; injured and hurting, but here.
Silence continued to stretch, so he decided to change the subject.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “And please don’t kill Watto. It would make things very awkward for Shmi.”
Anakin’s mother had taken him in when Qui-Gon had proposed the “trade.” She’d shown him more kindness than he’d seen in… Well, since his days in the creche at least. In addition to being kind she was also knowledgeable, and had been doing her best to teach him what he needed to know to survive as a slave. Even if it was only temporary.
If he really wanted to- and there were times he was tempted- he could simply walk away from Watto’s. The explosive tracker implanted in his leg would be easy enough to disable, but if he ran Shmi would be punished for it. He could always take her with him, but he was barely able to help himself right now, let alone her.
“Her cooking is adequate.”
Obi-Wan barely stifled a smile. Coming from Maul, that was high praise.
“I’ll be sure to tell her you said so.”
The last three kubbis were gone, inhaled while Obi-Wan had been lost in brooding. It was a good thing he’d snatched some food earlier as that had been meant to be his dinner. He watched Maul lick his fingers and thought about his future.
“What do I do if he doesn’t come back for me?” He didn’t realize he’d asked the question out loud until Maul looked at him. He shrugged, cheeks heating at his own lack of faith. “I mean, I’m sure he will. Or… or the Order will send someone. Maybe they’re busy.”
“If you were my Apprentice I wouldn’t leave you behind.”
It was tempting to laugh, but there was an intensity to the words that told him it wouldn’t be a good idea. Plus, if he was interpreting the situation correctly, Maul hadn’t left him behind even though he was supposed to.
“Thank you.” Without thinking about it he reached out to pat his shoulder and found his hand caught in a painful grip.
Before he could apologize his hand was pulled closer for inspection. He watched Maul scrutinize his calluses and trace the lines of his palm with his thumb. Dark red and black skin against sunburned white. It seemed strangely intimate, and with the gentlest of shifts he managed to lace their fingers together. Maul frowned, but didn’t resist, so he allowed their joined hands to drop between them.
“I have a ship.”
It was an offer. An invitation. He and Maul had crossed paths at least half a dozen times in the past four months while he’d heard not a word from anyone in his former life.
“What about Shmi?” He asked, knowing as he said it that it wasn’t a rejection.
Maul wrinkled his nose. “Only if she brings food.”
The universe held its breath.
Obi-Wan smiled, squeezing his hand. “Deal.”