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Sand

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Cover by @taule on tumblr

 

Obi-Wan Kenobi’s new dwelling was small- a modest brown dome, the plaster covering the stones cracked and peeling. The house’s finest feature was the tower of rock looming above that shaded it during the worst of the afternoon heat. The spire was merely the first of many, growing thicker and taller as they blended into the mountains creating mazes of canyons and passages and dead ends. It was not an area to be traveled lightly. The canyon walls were pockmarked with cave dwellings. The Stone People lived there- away from their nomadic cousins on the Sands. Obi-Wan admired their dwellings, the terraces of caves with neat passages up and down. They grew bitter melons and maize in the few damp spots, keeping their bantha in the cool recesses at the base of the cliff-sides.

Just below Obi-Wan’s dwelling those white sands began- vanishing into the blurry horizon. At night it was possible to see the faint lights of Anchorhead or the occasional Tusken nomad camp. But in the brutal light of the twin suns nothing could be made out in the glare.

The heat was white, white sky, white sand, the horizon wavering and jumping in and out of focus made it impossible to see at a distance. But as soon as the suns began to set the world turned red and brown, like the stones of the arroyos behind Obi-Wan’s little dome. Purple shadows cut across the ground like knives, moving in precise patterns that suggested letters to Obi-Wan’s ravaged mind. But he could make no sense of them.

Obi-Wan chose this place because it was close enough to watch Luke but not so close that Owen Lars would take pot shots at him with the rifle he kept over the door. You stay away from us. Stay away from the boy. We will care for him. But you stay away! The property came with its own condensers, the vaporators built  just by the spire where the winds were best, but little else.

The last owner had left in a hurry - was eager to sell once Obi-Wan leaned on him a little. Did the off-worlder mind its proximity to the wastes? Between the sand people and the stone? No. He didn't mind. He would take it now. Condensers, sparse furniture and all. Unmarked credits would be fine.

Obi-Wan gave the place a cursory once over as he swept out the accumulated sand. There were two levels- the upper had two small rooms with windows. The lower level faced a circular courtyard, open to the sky but well below ground, keeping all the lower rooms cool. In better days there had been a fountain and a garden. The fountain’s base was parched and crumbled. And there was nothing but dessicated stalks and lizards in the garden now. The lower rooms were cool, but felt claustrophobic. So the Jedi climbed back up the circling stairs and chose one of the upper rooms as his own.

Once he had cleared out the sand and brought in his meager supplies he locked the door behind him and collapsed on the narrow bed. He was exhausted and heartbroken. His last days before exile had been relentless. Five days ago I was laughing with Anakin, preparing to leave for Atapau. That flight was the last time I slept. I think? When all the action stopped his body simply carried on until it just… couldn’t. He drank a cup of water with shaking hands and rolled himself in his cloak onto the dusty mattress. For a moment he simply lay there, staring at the wall. The wind breathed in and out around the stones. It was the only sound. Obi-Wan was trying to remember the last time he had been in a quiet place but fell asleep before he could recall.

On and off for five days he slept, waking barely enough to tend to basic needs before stumbling back into his bed. It was grief that shut his eyes- even more than exhaustion. Obi-Wan was no stranger to grief. All the Jedi who fought in the war were accustomed to grief. But this was so shattering, so total, that his mind simply stopped. Body and mind together refused to carry on. So he slept. And wept, and slept more. Anakin, Padme, the padawans, the babies in the creche. All my friends, my brothers and sisters. The clones. Cody…

 

On the sixth day Obi-Wan forced himself up. The two vaporators had been chugging along while he slept and the precious water was nearly overflowing the tanks. Obi-Wan switched them out, pumping the water into the cistern with an old hand pump. The repetitive motion gave him time to clear the sleep from his head. As the handle shifted up and down with little cricket chirps, Obi-Wan turned his weary brain to his current fix. How to fill his time? He needed to strip his ship down to parts- remove any identifying information. He didn’t even know how to begin doing that. He needed to go to Anchorhead for supplies. He needed tools-

“Kenobi.” The voice startled Obi-Wan badly enough that he pinched the base of his thumb in the pump. He turned slowly, his heart thudding. There was never any doubt who it was. Of course. Of course Maul would find him, even here.

“Darth Maul,” Obi-Wan said. He was acutely aware of his saber- resting on its stand inside, and his personal state- in his undershirt covered in a week’s worth of grime.

“You know I am not a Sith anymore,” Maul said. He was standing in the shade of one of the vaporators. His face was barely visible but there was no mistaking him. My mirror. Always. Obi-Wan thought, sucking on the cut on his hand.

“So you aren’t a Sith,” Obi Wan spat.  “That hasn’t seemed to improve you any.”

There was a flash of teeth in the dark of Maul’s hood. He was wearing a grey robe, torn down one side and worn at the hem. He took a step forward into the sun and Obi-Wan braced himself, digging deep to find whatever energy he could to fight, again.

Instead, Maul collapsed. He made no sound, simply toppled over with a thud- his presence in the Force winking out. A little cloud of white dust had puffed up, and now the particles trickled back down into the folds of Maul’s cloak. Obi-Wan nearly jumped out of his skin. He stood frozen staring at the unconscious Zabrak in consternation. Slowly he leaned down and touched Maul’s face, moving the hood to the side. Maul’s face was ashen under his tattoos, and his eyes were sunken in their sockets. His skin was burning with fever. A quick check showed a few wounds in various stages of healing, but nothing serious. The former Sith had simply stopped. Exactly as Obi-Wan had the week before. The Jedi sighed deeply. Well, here was something to fill his time anyway.

Maul woke up slowly, his aching head struggling to determine where he was. He lay on a couch in a cool adobe room with peeling paint. Blinding light outside the window, sky so pale it was almost white, reminded him. Tatooine. Kenobi!

With a snarl he shoved himself up, ignoring the agony in his limbs. Where- Oh. Kenobi was sprawled in a chair, head thrown back and snoring softly. On the table between them was a cup with water and a bowl of congealed… something, presumably food. Feeling his hearts slow Maul shifted himself into a sitting position. The blanket he was under slid to his waist and Maul realized he had been stripped and washed and his wounds tended. The durasteel bands where his cybernetic legs attached to his mid thighs had even been polished- the joints oiled. He let out a horrified whine. What had happened? He had found Kenobi, determined to exact revenge and... then what?

The Jedi had been stooped over a pump, his clothes disheveled and face red from tears. He looked old, pathetic. And Maul had hesitated. This wasn’t the Kenobi he wanted to strike down. Not this broken man in a dirty shirt with hair beginning to go white at the temples. So Maul had called out to him instead. And Kenobi had started and glared at him, knowing his voice, knowing him. That was the last thing Maul remembered.

Kenobi stirred in his chair, straightening with a groan. His hair was sticking up in every direction and there were dark rings under his eyes. When he saw Maul looking at him he froze then slowly raised his chin, his hand coming to rest on the saber at his belt. Maul’s eyes scoured the room in panic. His saber!

“It’s there,” Kenobi said. His voice was scratchy. Maul looked where the Jedi was pointing and saw his saber on a stand in a little alcove. It had been polished also. Maul felt dizzy, the unreality of the situation too difficult for his mind to catch up.

“What happened?” he asked, watching Kenobi warily. His body was poised for flight or ready to throw himself at Kenobi. He doubted he would make it in time.

“I thought you were going to try and kill me again. Instead you fell over,” the Jedi said. He raised his hand off his saber, and there was a flash of disgust in the Force.

“When?” Maul asked. The servos in his knees whirred as he shifted, leaning back.

“Two days ago.” Kenobi said. His Force presence was tired, and quiet. There was none of the usual fire Maul expected.

“Two days?” Maul considered this. But it didn’t make sense no matter how he tried. Their conversation was only the outward manifestation of what was really being communicated through the Force. Maul caught himself… reaching… for his enemy, looking for that blue flame he was used to.

“You didn’t kill me,” he said. Kenobi shrugged. He seemed to struggle for thought then suddenly laid his own saber on the table between them before leaning back.

“I am too tired. You and I have tried to kill each other on and off for twenty years. It’s enough.”

Maul thought about this. It fit into what he had been thinking in the shade of the vaporator. He felt Kenobi reading him and closed his eyes, letting it happen. They were thinking much the same thoughts.

“We are the only ones left,” Maul said. He hated how his voice cracked. Obi-Wan looked at him sharply but then sagged.

“Yes,” he sighed. “We are.”

They sat for a moment staring at each other. Their shared history was there in the room with them. Encounter after encounter, murder after murder… And somehow Maul couldn’t muster up the energy to care. If Kenobi’s fire was out- then so was Maul’s. He was sick of it all.

“I came here from the Siege of Mandalore,” he said quietly. Obi-Wan looked away, his face twisted in pain. Images of Satine Kryze rose up and Maul shuddered. Not that.

“Ahsoka Tano lives,” he said. Obi-Wan turned to him and smiled- a surge of relief washed through the Force. The smile took years off his face. Maul felt curiously pleased.

“This is… good news, you have brought me,” he said. He stared off in the middle distance.

“A fair trade for-” Maul glanced down and gestured vaguely at the bacta patch on his arm.

“Thank you,” Obi-Wan said.

“Why have you come to this place?” Maul asked. The Jedi suddenly looked guarded, closed off. There was a sudden impression of hands on sabers, thought Kenobi had not moved.

“You are not hiding,” Maul said. “You have a purpose.”

The silence from Kenobi was deafening. The Force thrummed and pulsed around them. Maul realized he knew this man, knew him so well that he didn't really need to guess. Obi-Wan Kenobi, a Jedi master, member of the Jedi Council, the greatest Jedi of his generation- would not simply retire into the wastes of Tatooine. The despair and pain in him was enormous. There was no denying the suffering etched in every line of Kenobi’s face. But that didn't matter. He would never leave Vader unanswered- unless…

“You are protecting something,” Maul said. “No…  some one .” He didn't realize he had spoken aloud until he saw the stricken look on Kenobi’s face. For a moment the old thrill returned, throwing Kenobi off balance, antagonizing him, feeling his pain- but then it was gone. Maul slumped back against the couch.

“I do not care,” he said. “I am not here for them- whoever they are.”

“Then why are you here?” Kenobi said, his teeth clenched. Maul looked at him without speaking. He rubbed his palms together,  trying to gather his thoughts.

“I thought I came to kill you,” he said. “But you are not the man I came to kill. And I… I am tired. Dathomir…” he shook his head. He couldn't even say it. Every man woman and child on Dathomir is dead. Every last remnant of my people has been destroyed. For me. For my folly. If Savage had lived-

The pain was so bad Maul had to physically push it away.

“I heard about Dathomir,” Kenobi said. Maul had no defense against the sympathy in that voice. “And I am sorry.” The sense of him flowed closer, touching against Maul, expressing their mutual pain. So many deaths...

Maul nodded glumly. His mind was fraying around the edges, he could feel it. There was no place for him in the galaxy, no purpose at all. He was just beginning to absorb the implications of that when Kenobi spoke again.

“I am here to watch over the son of Anakin Skywalker,” he said quietly. Maul looked up, surprised. There was no need for Kenobi to elaborate. Maul knew him too well, connected the dots almost instantly.

“The Emperor does not know,” Maul said. It wasn’t a question. “And you think his child will somehow right the wrongs of his father.”

“He must be protected. I owe Anakin that much. And someday he must be trained. So I am here.” Obi-Wan looked out the window at the desert and rubbed his forehead. “In this... uncivilized wasteland. Trying to decide how best to serve that purpose.”

The Force spoke. Or maybe it just nudged. A purpose?

“Let me stay,” Maul said. The words piled over each other. “Let me stand watch with you. If he is the chosen one- if he will defeat-” He clamped his mouth shut, veering his mind away from Sidious in superstitious dread. His hearts were pounding in his chest.   Is it heat sickness? Why would I ask Obi-Wan Kenobi? I cannot stay here with him! He braced for laughter, derision. Instead Obi-Wan’s old chair creaked as he  sagged backwards.

 

“I have no reason to trust you,” he said. “And every reason to kill you where you sit.” He stood and Maul did the same, instinct driving him into a defensive crouch, fists raised. Obi-Wan cocked an eyebrow, a gesture so familiar it made Maul gasp out a breath he didn’t know he had been holding. He glanced down. He was stark naked. Hastily he grabbed the blanket off the couch. It was a Jedi robe and Maul flung it down again in disgust.  Kenobi smiled, a bitter little twist of his mouth but his eyes gleamed. For a moment the Force seemed to flow through them both.

“But yes, you can stay.”