Twin Sons Pt. 25
There are different types of bonds. Some are more needed than others.
I’m so sorry for the wait on this one. I am very happy to report that I have officially finished all of the work for my Masters Program! Anyway! I have several several things in this chapter that I am absolutely DELIGHTED by. We are going to get the race of space!JRR Tolkien as well as getting someone else that I don’t think anyone expected but absolutely needed to be brought up. Thanks for your patience~
“I hated you.”
The words were sudden, said without any precursor or any other explanation, and Eeth was left momentarily startled. A part of him thought that he should have expected them, even though it had been a few days since that conversation. Mace had told them, after all, that they needed to be reinforcing consent around Maul, that they needed to be actively working to make sure that Maul did not feel like their touch was owed… This was all that Mace had said he was allowed to say, and they had respected it, but there was another part of him that had twisted. And here, and now, that part was screaming.
Eeth let it go.
“May I ask why?” Eeth asked, even with the possible reasons he knew in his head, it was best to get it from Maul’s own mouth. He understood that this was what Maul was offering him. Maul stared at him for a long moment, his gaze sharp in a way that Eeth had not seen it in a long time…though that sharpness did not hold any hostility, merely…intent. Weight.
“It was not precisely you I hated,” Maul not-answered, his mouth pulling into a deep frown, his gaze still so heavy. “Hate is such a powerful weapon, such a violent tool that to aim it haphazardly is a waste.”
“I can see that,” Eeth agreed softly with a nod. “So, I must assume it was something about me that you hated, something I represented.” Eeth hummed, a bitter taste in the back of his mouth rising. Eeth could make a joke. Could perhaps even ask Maul if the thing he hated was his hair…but there was an undeniable linkage there to what Eeth felt that Maul actually hated. Eeth closed his eyes for a moment, bowing his head.
“It is not fair,” Eeth said finally, breaking the pause, the silence that Maul let rest, and opening his eyes to take in Maul’s momentary surprise. “It is not fair that I should be allowed to walk around without fear of use…and you should be aware of it since the first time you became aware of what you were.” Eeth stared at him for a moment, taking him in – this cousin species that Eeth had long…despaired of ever helping.
It was a hard thing to admit. A cruel thing that Eeth would only permit himself to acknowledge in the darker moments, the moments when he stared at a Zabrak that was often so surprised when someone asked permission to touch him… When he stared at a Zabrak who had fallen into his chest when Eeth had locked their horns… And Eeth would always breathe it out when it came…
But it always came back, and it burned all the deeper when it did.
And finally, quietly, “When was that?” Eeth asked softly. “When did your Master see fit to tell you about being a Dathomirian?”
“He didn’t tell me,” Maul frowned, “he showed me on a datapad.” Maul smirked, the look bitter, violent, “I thought they were in pain. It took further research of my own to realize that it was meant to be pleasure. And then no matter where I looked on those datapads that was the only thing I saw.”
For a moment Eeth felt the urge to vomit, biting it back…
But Eeth said nothing, only waited.
Maul’s smirk faded, drawing inward when Eeth said nothing and then finally, quietly, “When I realized that we were a subspecies…” he trailed off for a moment before giving a brief bitter laugh. “I always thought that was funny,” Maul breathed softly. “Subhuman, subspecies, subpar…” the words were sing-song and bitter, “to know that these Iridonians shared my label of Zabrak without sharing any of the burdens…without sharing any of the desire…” Maul stared at him. “I hated them. I hated them because they could walk through a tavern and not have hands automatically reaching to grab them. They could stand in an alley and not be approached like they were made for it. They could walk and not be eye-fucked by every single being that looked their way. At least until I could draw on fear…” Maul tilted his head. “I am sorry for it. I recognized that it was hardly your fault that we were exotic, but I could not…help it. I had been meaning to tell you for a while. I had been meaning to apologize…”
Eeth closed his eyes momentarily, fighting for the words, and finally, quietly, “no.” Eeth looked at Maul then for a moment, taking him in and finally shook his head, “no, I don’t want your apology.” Eeth took a breath, for a moment struggling with what to say, picking his words and breathing out the rush of hurt, of such utterly useless pity… The pity was useless, worse than useless it was an insult, and Eeth would not feel it towards the one before him. Eeth refused. “I won’t accept it,” he said finally, looking at him. “Do you still hate me? Do you still hate us?”
“No,” Maul said. “I do not…it is not your fault. It is hardly like you made us this way.” Maul was quiet for a moment, “And I cannot…I cannot hate you.” Maul laughed briefly, the sound bitter and choked, before looking up at him. “You broke me.” Maul frowned, staring at him for a moment, “you broke something in me, and I do not know what it is, but I cannot look at you and feel hate. I haven’t been able to do that since…since you locked horns with me, and I do not know why.”
Eeth was momentarily shocked, feeling something bubbling up within him, a concern, but there was… “What do you feel?”
“I do not know,” Maul said finally after a long moment, shrugging. “I feel like there is…” he made a vague gesture and Eeth felt something in his chest tighten. “I do not know how to explain it,” he said quietly. “Connection?”
“Family?” Eeth asked softly.
“Whatever that is,” Maul laughed, and it was bitter and rough and oh…
“Maul,” Eeth said briefly, and held a hand out, one open in offer, and after a very long moment, Maul finally took it. “Maul,” he repeated softly, “I…cannot…”
“You’re forbidden from having attachments, I know, I am not telling you this because I am asking for you to…” Maul said with a roll of his eyes, for a moment moving to let go of his hand, but Eeth squeezed, and Maul fell silent, and when Eeth held his other hand out in request, Maul finally gave him his other.
“I cannot share your culture with you,” Eeth said softly, meeting Maul’s eyes when he looked at him. “I do not know what my Dathomirian Cousins are like,” he said, and stressed that word so strongly, staring into Maul’s eyes, his gaze so heavy. “But I will share whatever you would like about my own. As for attachments,” Eeth gestured towards the lack of Guards, who had walked away after Maul first began speaking of being a subspecies, gestured towards the lack of cameras, and then looked directly at Maul, “who is there to know?”
Maul stared at him for the longest time, his eyes so confused, the look so quietly worried, “But I…” he breathed softly, “I do not know what it means…”
“I do not either,” Eeth said with a brief smile, “but we can figure it out together. Would you like to try and put a label on it? On what this is? Cousin, perhaps? Or…or…brother…”
“I forgot to tell you,” Maul said, and his voice sounded a little breathless, his expression so lost, his gaze sharp and distant all at once… “I chose an age. I…I’m eighteen…”
And Eeth felt the smile on his face pull into something warm and something soft, “Then perhaps brother is a bit of a stretch,” he grinned.
“How old are you?” Maul asked and Eeth laughed.
“One-hundred and nine.”
“What the fuck?”
Eeth laughed loud and he laughed long, startled at the suddenness of the exclamation, the plainness to it, Maul’s completely nonplussed expression sending him into further bursts of laughter whenever he looked back at him. Maul’s expression soon morphed into mild annoyance and Eeth finally bit it back, breathing it out a brief moment later. “One-hundred and nine,” he repeated with a smile. “Iridonian Zabraks are quite long lived.”
“I had heard…” Maul mumbled briefly and then he frowned. “You said easily half your age…”
“Well of course it’s easily, I’m a little over six-times your age.” And Eeth laughed at Maul’s completely nonplussed expression before sobering again, “I do not know how long a Dathomirian one lives,” Eeth said quietly. “From what I understand Wither was around fifty, but he was cut short so suddenly…”
“I have never seen an elder Dathomirian,” Maul said, voice so soft. “Outlive their usefulness perhaps.”
Eeth grimaced and squeezed the hands that he still held. “Listen,” Eeth said, “Perhaps it is a mistake to try and define it, to put a label on it. It is familial, it is attachment, it is there, and it is good.” Eeth tilted his head, “Perhaps that is enough.”
Maul took that in for a moment and then slowly nodded.
Eeth grinned, and then laughed, “Goodness,” he said, “I feel like I was underprepared for this,” he laughed. “I came in to talk to you about your lessons and…”
“I am sorry,” Maul said, his expression shuttering, once again going to pull his hands back.
“No!” Eeth squeezed them again, shaking them, “no, please. You must…” Eeth took a breath, “I understand, Maul, why you often feel as though you must somehow appease me, or anyone else you feel as though you have somehow inconvenienced, but it is not necessary. Not in this, not with me. I do not…I am not upset.”
Maul took that in for a moment and then slowly nodded. “I apologize for springing it on you regardless,” he said roughly, “I had been thinking and I decided to…” Maul looked up at him for a moment, “I have been told nothing for my entire life. And what I have been told has been mostly lies. I do not…I do not want to do this, I do not want to be this, and I decided…that to not tell you, to simply let it…to let it fester and never speak of it…”
“I understand,” Eeth said gently, “I do, I do not blame you… Maul it is alright.” Eeth took a breath. “Perhaps…” he frowned. “Well…” he huffed, “if I am going to flaunt a millennium of tradition and jump into attachment with a Sith of all things,” he grinned and Maul ducked his head, smirking, “I might as well go all the way. Do you know what a Force Bond is?”
“No,” Maul frowned. “What is it?”
“There are different types,” Eeth explained, “a Padawan Bond is one that we have with our Padawans, hence the name, and I must admit to being unsurprised that your Master never utilized one with you. It does allow for a resonance between the both of you, it is not a direct line…”
“It is not like a literal hole in my shields,” Maul hissed, and Eeth grimaced.
“Yes,” he agreed softly. “But there are different types. Force Sensitive Zabraks that are not Jedi do tend to share a familial link, and from what I understand it is instinctive.” He leaned closer then, grinning, “so we have a ready-made excuse if it is discovered.”
Maul nodded firmly, “that is good, I would not wish for you to get in trouble for this.”
Eeth’s smile faded a little, but he rallied, letting it slide to something softer. “It will allow for a certain resonance. Strong feelings, thoughts if you wish to share them, but it is not invasive. If the other person does not wish for you to be in their head, you will not be in their head. You are able to keep them out. If anything, it is sort of a…reminder, that the other person is there.”
“How do you know this?” Maul asked, frowning. “If you are not allowed…”
Eeth smiled at him, and quietly, softly, “You would not be the first I have this bond to.”
“I am not?” Maul asked, and Eeth grinned.
“No,” he smiled, “I looked into this because I had formed one quite suddenly, with another Zabrak. You have not met him yet, but his name is Agen Kolar.”
“Agen Kolar,” Maul repeated quietly.
“He actually very much wishes to meet you,” Eeth said, “and he has been very patient.”
“I…” Maul frowned, “I…would like to meet him, I think…if he is…if he has a bond and…”
“He will be very happy,” Eeth said, “but you do not have to do so immediately.
We will work up to it. But yes, you are not the first I have made a bond with, and I would be very happy to break the rules on purpose. Agen was a surprise,” he laughed, “a welcome one, but a surprise, nonetheless. With you I would like to make a choice. Would you like to make a bond with me?” Eeth smiled, “you do not have to choose now, but I do want you to know that it is on offer…”
There was a pause as Maul considered visibly, his brow furrowing.
“How…” Maul frowned, “how do we go about this?”
Eeth beamed at him, “First, you need to reach out to me,” he said, “as I said it tends to be instinctual, though…” he frowned as Maul’s expression tightened, “it is true that you have been taught to ignore…quite a lot of these instincts.”
Maul said nothing for a moment, “is there a possibility we get the wrong Bond?”
“No,” Eeth laughed, “there are spousal bonds of course, and they are a bit deeper than a specific familial one, but they are meantto be. You have to actively pursue that, and I do not think…” Maul made a face and Eeth cackled, “precisely. A Padawan bond is also very specific, and the Padawan is guided into it. But this…should snap in place as soon as it is on offer. If it does not immediately then that is not an issue, and we can try again later. If this is a decision that we make together to pursue, then we will find a way to get it to work.”
“How did you learn all of this?” Maul asked him, “I cannot imagine that Jedi allow spousal bonds…”
Eeth laughed aloud, “I learned it the same way I learned what the bond between Agen and I was, I asked, and was informed of it all by an elderly Zabrak woman that laughed at me. She laughed at me!” Eeth watched as Maul smirked, amusement visible in his face and grinned himself. “She told me what the bond was in my head and told me about the others that I was missing. I believe she pitied me. It was not a good feeling. And Maul…I do want you to understand something…I do not view you with pity. Not ever.”
Maul nodded once sharply and Eeth breathed out. Eeth watched as Maul clearly visibly thought for a moment, and then seemed to make a decision, and for just a moment Eeth felt a slow tendril of heat reach out towards him, and then just as suddenly…
It stopped, pulling back, and Maul’s expression, his hands…
“Maul,” Eeth said gently, “it’s alright,” he smiled, “if you don’t want to do this right now…that’s fine. It’s understandable even. This is a very big step. All that matters is you know that it is on offer. That won’t change.”
Maul took that in for a moment, frowning. “I do not know…why it is difficult. I believe that I want it, but I do not…but I cannot reach out for it.”
Eeth smiled at him gently. “You have been in isolation almost your entire life,” Eeth said softly, “you have been with us…goodness, it will be a year you have been with us tomorrow.”
And very quietly, Eeth could not believe how many things had changed. Not just because of young Skywalker, but because of the one before him, how many things had been challenged and they were forced to reevaluate in order to meet the needs that they had been given. The room that Maul had utilized to bind his Wodza was freezing months later, lacking the heat that Maul had brought to it, a yawning gulf in its place that would fade with time and careful healing of the room. The Training Room had similarly found itself missing that heat, though due to the constant exposure of other Masters it did not have as much, though the ones that cared for the beasts did mention that there was a spot the animals did not go, a strange chill… But that was healing as well.
It was strange how they were still working on promoting this. Strange how they had gotten used to returning these places back to the warmth of the Living Force. But it was nonetheless something that they were allowing and would continue to allow – at least until it proved dangerous. But it had not, and even the room in Eeth’s own did not feel malicious…just empty somehow, as though it missed the heat that had been there.
As it was, Eeth would have never offered this a year ago. It would not have been needed a year ago, but compassion dictated, and Eeth’s own sense of right dictated.
This was right.
It was good for Maul’s psychological and social wellbeing, he needed this, and Eeth could give it to him in a way the others could not. So, Eeth would.
“A year?” Maul asked, blinking and Eeth came back to the conversation with a smile.
“It went very quickly it seems,” Eeth laughed. “Much has happened…much has changed, but yes. It will be a year.” Eeth’s smile gentled, “How much of your life before this has been spent alone?”
Maul said nothing for a very long moment and then grinned, the look bitter and biting. “Most of it.”
Eeth tilted his head forward, open invitation, and Maul took it, pressing his horns to his. They rested there for a moment and it had not been until that moment that Eeth realized how very tense Maul was, until it slowly, gently, bled out of him.
The soft curl of heat that reached out towards him was startling, but Eeth nonetheless found himself reaching back.
For a moment, their Force presences brushed against each other, and then Eeth felt the moment when the two of them clicked, snapping in place as though they had always been there, as though the pieces had been just waiting for the moment when they were allowed to come together.
For just a moment…Eeth felt himself burn.
Maul’s emotions were sharp, violent, held in the way of weapons, buzzing in the back of his skull, a heat that Eeth did not ever utilize or brush against, so very different. The Force crackled beneath his every breath, ready to be stoked to life at a moment’s notice, rushing and powerful and overwhelming. There was so much of it and it was so deep, so raw, for a moment it seemed to open like a mouth ready to engulf him… And then the bond settled and Eeth felt the warmth slowly and steadily dissipate, slowly shrinking to the spot at the back of his skull that was ready for it.
Eeth brushed up against it thoughtfully, feeling it crackle in response, a brief rush of feelings rushing over him. Surprise, confusion, and growing steadily greater a slow sense of awe, and trickling through it an overwhelming sense of joy. Hello, the bond said, hello, I feel you, I know you, you are here. Eeth smiled, warm and bright and found himself laughing quietly, brushing back a soft feeling of Hello. I am happy you are here. And that bond burst briefly with amazement and warmth before settling, burning in the back of his mind, so different to the cool ripple that was Agen, the gentle breeze that Eeth barely even noticed anymore unless the other called out to him – which was often.
The Bond connecting him to Maul seemed as though it would not be something easily ignored, but there was every opportunity to get used to it. And then quietly, almost breathed out…
“I am tired of being alone.”
And Eeth reached out, wrapping his arms around the Zabrak he could feel had no problems with being held, pulling him closer and holding him, keeping their horns interlocked.
“No more,” Eeth agreed softly, “no more. You are not alone.”
Maul leaned against him, the weight of him solid and warm, wrapped in his arms. It was not a position he would have ever expected to be in, but he was so glad he was. For just a moment Eeth allowed himself to bask in the shock and the awe and the sheer glee that he felt at having made this step, at that heat in the back of his skull that was buzzing with a mixture of amazement and such utter…
It was relieved in the way of a wound having finally been dressed, in the way of a man that had finally found water after being stranded in a desert. For the first time Eeth truly recognized how lonely Maul had been and the realization buzzed in the back of his skull with the heat and the soft ache of knowing.
Eeth slowly breathed it out. It was alright. Eeth had him now.
Maul had been terrified when Eeth had made the initial offer.
Maul had already had a hole in his shields, a way for his Master to look in, a way for anyone to look in that was aware of its existence. To have someone in his head that Maul himself had put there? To let him in? For a moment it was utterly unthinkable, utterly reprehensible.
And then Maul had listened…the idea of something so…gentle…just a reminder.
To truly know that he was not alone. To not wake up in the middle of the night desperate and gasping and momentarily drowning in confusion… And then Eeth had called it instinctive, something that should connect automatically once it as on offer, something that a Zabrak had naturally, with…with their families…
Maul did not know what that was. Maul did not know if this…whatever this feeling was, this connection with Eeth counted. But he did know that it was something that he wanted. Maul wanted, and he tried to allow himself to reach…
But the fear was still there, and when Maul recognized it for what it was he hated. Because whenever that fear came, Maul was chained. And here and now, with Eeth, with his hands grasped in the other Zabrak’s hold… And Maul hadrecognized those hands as belonging to a fellow Zabrak, known it as instinctively as breathing.
Maul was so used to the hands that offered themselves to him being cold, so beneath Maul’s own natural heat… The hands that were in his were like his own, a gentle heat that he barely recognized. Eeth held his hands, and all of the things those hands had done flashed through his mind. Maul remembered the file, the gentleness of those fingers, the way he cared, the way Eeth had reached, the way he had let Maul into his space, the way Eeth had laughed and always…
Eeth had always been there.
From the very first time he had talked to the Jedi, showing him that they could be trusted to not poison the food they brought him, that Maul could trust them.
Maul hadn’t believed it then. Maul sometimes still didn’t believe it, kept waiting for the other shoe to drop… But here…here in this…was this not another gesture of trust?
Eeth would have Maul in his own head. This was not a hole, it was not a one-way connection, it was a reminder. An understanding that the other was there. And something within Maul had hungered so much… Eeth had tilted his head forward and Maul had locked his horns with his, feeling once again that burst of emotion that warmth, the…
The thing that had prevented Maul from hating Eeth. The thing that finally let Maul reach.
And Eeth responded, a cool tendril that slowly reached for him, and Maul grasped it… For a moment nothing happened, and Maul felt that brief flash of wariness, the fear that Eeth was lying…
(or worse, that Maul could not, that he would be unable to, that Maul was too twisted and broken and had none of the innate Zabrakian traits that Eeth had referred to, that he truly was Zabrak in name only and there was nothing for him to reach to, and Eeth would be unable to connect to him…)
And then it clicked, and for a moment Maul was drowning.
The cool calm, the utter stillness that surrounded him was suddenly broken by what felt like an expanse, like space itself had opened up underneath him and there was emptiness in every direction, but there was also connection. Billions of souls, billions of minds, so many things all at once and Maul felt himself shrink even as he reached, desperately wanting this thing that was so far away and somehow right there, this wide and expansive pool that Maul had never seen before…
And then the bond snapped in place, and all of that cool coalesced into a single point at the back of his mind, and the bond that was Eeth rippled like waves across a shore. Maul was momentarily disoriented, stripped of something that was as terrifying as it was tempting…like the sight of a venomous snake that was waiting to bite him, to hurt him, and yet he could not stop from trying to eat it.
But all of that was slowly brushed aside at the realization that Eeth was there. The bond…the bond had worked, Eeth was there. Maul felt the gentle drift of it, the cool tendril that brushed up against his own presence when he touched it, poking at it in his mind, and… Hello. I am happy you are here. It breathed and for a moment Maul felt something bubbling up inside of him, so warm and so different and so…
Maul could feel it.
Maul could feel that Eeth was happy.
And it was such a heady realization, even as Maul felt Eeth breathe it out, it had been there. Maul had felt it.
Maul felt something that had been aching and empty within him, something he had not even realized was there, slowly start to seal up. Maul had never felt like this before, he had never… Maul had never…but his thoughts were sent tumbling when Eeth spread his arms to him, and Maul found himself moving forward without even truly recognizing he was doing so, letting himself be engulfed and pressing himself close, pulling his head back just enough to interlock the horns on the side of his head with Eeth’s, making it more comfortable.
Maul did not know how long it took before he finally drifted into sleep, but later he would swear that it took him at least half an hour.
It barely took a minute.
Eeth came to realize that Maul had fallen asleep right at the moment he thought he ought to be getting up. The realization was momentarily startling, feeling the bond slowly settle into the gentle throes of sleep, and then Eeth found himself smiling. For a moment he contemplated the idea of simply sitting there, but anchorless as they were it would be a poor sleeping position and would ultimately lead to pain for the both of them. Not the way to introduce a proper Zabrak Clutter, which Eeth rather thought Maul would be a bit leery of anyway…once he woke up.
And this begged the question of why Maul had been so quick to fall asleep, even with the bond – which admittedly could be a bit exhausting once it had formed – for him to have fallen asleep in that manner suggested that he had already been close to exhausted. Eeth did not think that Maul was that comfortable with him, regardless of the bond. Something like that took time.
So…Maul was likely not sleeping well, and the reasons for why could be many, but for now, Eeth gave the briefest frown, and then used the Force to pull the blankets and mattress from Maul’s bed, carefully arranging it around the two of them, and gently, carefully, eased them back down into it.
After a moment where he adjusted Maul against him, he settled, content to meditate or sleep until Maul woke up, whichever came first.
Maul came to with something in his space that he was not used to feeling. It took him a moment to realize it was abeing, but once he did the rush of panic, anger, fear rushed through him, and then just as suddenly, a rush of calm, peace, you are safe…
What was that? What…what…?
Bond, there was a bond, connecting him to Eeth, Eeth to him, Eeth had felt his momentary burst of feelings, and similarly had sought to reassure… Maul blinked his eyes open, registering that he had remained with his horns locked in Eeth’s, but the two of them had otherwise curled around each other, and there was a…vibration…coming from Eeth’s chest.
“Easy, Maul,” Eeth said softly, that vibration running through his voice. “You’re safe, it’s just me. I’ll let you go now; you can get up.”
Maul took this in for a moment and then felt as Eeth uncurled his arms from around him, and Maul pulled back, almost having to force himself to unlock their horns, finding himself backing away. For a moment Maul didn’t understand, looking to the mattress, the pile of bedclothes, and then looking over to Eeth, and then with a frown, “I fell asleep?”
“You did,” Eeth confirmed.
And Maul did not know what to say to that, could not…
“Have you been sleeping okay?”
Maul grimaced tightly, looking away, and found his gaze drawn to the Guards that had returned and…the humiliation he felt was hot and bright and then softly, “It is alright that you fell asleep, Maul. Frankly, it’s a very natural reaction. You are after all a Zabrak…” and Maul turned to Eeth, who was looking up at him with his gaze so firm, “it is alright to fall into instinct every once in a while. It’s perfectly natural. You have not had the opportunity to experience a clutter,” Eeth added, “the fact that your body fell into the lure of it is absolutely understandable, particularly if you have not been sleeping.”
Maul…was not sure how to take that, was not sure… But he finally dipped his head in acknowledgement. He recognized the fact that Eeth was still prying, recognized, too, the way the still pools of the Guards never once grew obtrusive.
Eeth gave his own nod, and stood, frowning down at the blankets and the pillow that he had scattered, “I apologize for making a mess,” he said, “I will clean that up.”
Maul turned his attention to the Guards after sparing a quick glance at the time piece and finding he just didn’t know when he had fallen asleep. A brief flash of realization hit him that he had actively allowed time to slip by him, and the lack of fear was briefly heady. It felt a bit like taking a step forward. Either way, Maul turned to them and quietly, “How long…?”
“Two hours Lord Maul,” the one to his left said. “Eeth’s lesson is just about to end. No one else has come.”
And it was…relieving.
“Oh,” Eeth laughed, “well, that is good timing then,” he smiled, stripping the sheets, and putting them in the chute that would send them to the laundry to be cleaned. “I will simply call this lesson for today finished, Lord Maul,” he said with a brief dip of his head and Maul suddenly…
“Maul…Maul is fine,” he said roughly, because he had let this man into his head, unobtrusive as it was, it was nonetheless true. And Maul could feel it, could feel the way that it did not brush against anything or himself unless he connected with it, and even then, he could equally feel how Eeth kept his distance. Not out of…not of the desire to keep Maul away, but out of…perhaps…consideration for how he felt.
Eeth beamed at him, “Thank you, Maul,” he said with a bow of his head.
Maul returned it, and that was when Maul felt Plo coming towards them, the signature something he had begun to remember.
“Well,” Eeth smiled, “seems my lesson is up. Have a good lesson with Plo, I do believe he should be bringing you lunch.”
“Thank you,” Maul said.
“Thank you,” Eeth returned with a bow of his head, and approached the ray shield, which opened and allowed him out.
Maul heard Eeth exchange brief pleasantries with Plo, and found his attention briefly drawn to the plant. He had to water that today.
Maul thought of telling Plo, wondered if he would form a bond just as easy, and then dismissed it, something twisting inside of him at the thought.
Maul could not get rid of the thought of red blood on his hands, blood on the floor, blood covering the man who had held out a helmet to him, that called him something he still did not know… Maul could not get rid of the image of eyes that stared at him with something he could not name.
For a moment Maul was terrified that Eeth had seen, that he knew…but the bond did not stir. There was no brush of concern or horror. There was nothing.
Maul did not know how to react to the complete absence of reaction, for a moment so shocked… Though he wondered if it had to do with the way Maul naturally shielded those emotions. Maybe hiding them under his natural burn in turn hid them from Eeth… It seemed to work on the Jedi that were around him when he did not have that connection, and if this truly was as noninvasive as Eeth said… And then Plo was waiting to be admitted and Maul forced himself to incline his head in acknowledgement and agreement. The ray shield turned off and Plo stepped in.
“Lord Maul,” Plo said with a smile, holding out the tray containing his lunch. “I have brought you food.”
Maul inclined his head in thanks and the two of them sat, beginning the familiar ritual of Maul eating on his own in silence.
This did not last as long as he had expected.
“Lord Maul,” Plo started, and Maul made a confirming hum, taking bite of some type of white fish, flaky and rare. “The Council has been in talks recently about letting you out among the Jedi.”
Maul blinked, freezing mid-chew, looking up to meet those eyes behind those protective goggles, for a moment not entirely certain what he was hearing.
“You would be returned to your cell and escorted,” he said, “but we were talking about letting you eat among the general populace.”
Maul swallowed heavily, for a moment not sure what to say, how to respond… Was that something that he even wanted?
Maul wanted…he wanted out of this cell, that was certain, but to be surrounded by so many…
“It would be in the night cycle,” Plo said softly, “since you have a natural tendency for late nights, and while it is true that we have nocturnal Jedi like yourself, there are fewer of them. You would not have to worry about being surrounded on all sides. A few of the Council Members, myself included, would sit with you at first, but it would begin getting them used to your physical presence as well as your signature, and you to them.”
Maul took this in for a moment, his senses spreading wider than he usually allowed them to amongst the Jedi, brushing against the seemingly infinite number of cool pools, and similarly feeling the moment they brushed against his own. There was no hostility to the gesture, and Maul had a moment to realize that they truly had gotten used to him, though there were brief flashes of wariness, there was no... bite, no ice to these pools. Maul idly thought of those moments when he had allowed himself to burn truly, and knew that while they would have drowned him out, there was no doubt that he had…
Maul had been here a year. He had been out of the collar for a month, and he had done nothing. Now was another opportunity to prove he would continue to do nothing.
“You do not have to decide immediately if this is something that you wish to do, it is merely…something to think about.”
Maul took that in for a moment before finally giving a brief incline of his head. “I will think about it,” he agreed, and the rest of lunch was spent in the typical silence, and when Maul finished he sat back with his legs crossed, for a moment sipping at his water and then looking back up to Plo who smiled at him. But the more Maul had thought about it the more…
Maul was afraid. And the realization burned. What did he have to be afraid of? Maul was a Sith Lord afraid to be with a bunch of Jedi…the ones he had been taught to believe were his natural enemies…the ones…
Maul closed his eyes for a moment.
“Maul,” Plo said gently, “you may ask questions. Anything you like.”
“Are you sure…this is wise?”
“You must be among the Jedi at some point,” Plo said softly, “you cannot possibly wish to stay in this cell forever?”
And that burned more than the idea of going amongst the Jedi themselves, but he still felt… “What if I hurt someone?”
“It depends on the hurt, I suppose,” Plo frowned, “and whether it is accidental, on purpose, or, indeed, by reflex. We are aware that you may be put into a position where your instinctive reaction, the reaction that you fall into before any others is ‘fight.’ It is something that happens when you have long been taught that the only way to act to perceived threats is with violence.”
Maul took that in for a moment before giving a slow nod.
“Another point to mention is that the Jedi themselves are not defenseless…”
Maul wrinkled his nose slightly…
“But we have long emphasized restraint, and they are aware to a small degree of the sort of life you have lived. They are not going to begrudge it. There are some with their own triggers…”
Maul took that in for a moment and slowly inclined his head, before giving a rough sigh. “Well,” he frowned, “I suppose that makes sense. You would have to let me out among them anyway.”
“Oh?” Plo asked, amusement radiating. “You are correct of course, but so soon?”
Maul hummed, before reaching a hand out, calling a particular stack of flimsi towards him and catching it within his hand, before holding it out to Plo.
Plo blinked, and then beamed, taking the copy of Home is Behind and laughing aloud. “Wonderful, you are absolutely correct, we absolutely must take you out of this cell. You have some archives to go to.” And Maul was suddenly full of a brief burst of anticipation. All of that knowledge, all of those works… What would they contain? What would he be able to find? “And you must tell me what it is that you thought,” Plo continued softly, gently interrupting his train of thought and grounding him to the present conversation. “Did you find yourself enjoying it?”
Maul frowned slowly and finally gave a rough inclination of his head. “Yes,” he said finally, “I did.”
“I am pleased,” Plo smiled, “and this I believe actually would work as a good discussion topic.”
Maul sighed, “I see that we have resorted to forcing me to talk about this book then…”
Plo laughed aloud and smiled at him, “Well, if you would rather not…”
“No…” Maul said with a sigh, “I will discuss it with you. I…do have questions.”
“Please!” Plo smiled, “I will answer what I can.”
Maul hesitated for a moment, looking at the flimsi and then frowned. Learning about Sententious had led to his own interest in his works, and the possibility remained that this would be good to know as well. Ultimately Maul was curious. There were so many things that could be gained from knowing about an author he suspected, and so ultimately with a brief wave of a hand. “Who was the author? What was this JRR’s background?”
“Ah! And here we touch on one of the more interesting, and yet sad things about these books, for the writer…may actually be a part of an extinct race, or at least one that we cannot confirm are still living.”
Maul blinked, momentarily shocked. “What happened?”
“Several things,” Plo said with a frown. “You are familiar with the planet Aleen?”
“Mid Rim, Bright Jewel Sector, trade routes include the Celanon Spur and the Entrella Route, inhabited by the Aleena,” Maul recited easily, frowning. “There was a Jedi presence upon it at one point.”
“Yes,” Plo agreed with a nod, “though it has long been removed. But it was not the Aleena that wrote the book. It was one of the ones that live beneath the ground. The author was a Kindalo – a race of bioluminescent tree-like sentients. His name was shortened to what you see here,” he said, indicating the initials, “because apparently the names of the Kindalo are too long and too confusing for most organics to pronounce.”
Maul took that in for a long moment, “And…these Kindalo are extinct?”
“Thought to be,” Plo frowned. “There is a possibility that they still live, but due to a long history we are unable to find out. You see…long ago there was a civil war, one that broke out between the Aleena when they were still young and filled with the desire for conquest. They managed to conquer a few nearby planets, before eventually their focus turned inward. The fight between the Kindalo and the Aleena was terrible, so many were lost that they nearly destroyed each other, and a seal was placed that divided them from each other, for you see, the Kindalo lived beneath the ground, in a subterranean environment that was completely uninhabitable by the Aleena for the very atmosphere that exists beneath the surface is toxic to them, and similarly the surface is toxic to the Kindalo.”
Maul took this in, “then…” he said softly, “how was this book written? How did we get it?”
“Because of the man who met the author,” Plo smiled, “and struck up a very long and very firm friendship regardless of the difference in both species and breathable atmosphere.”
“Who was he?”
“A Cathar fleeing the remains of the Mandalorian war that swept his home planet, a man named Cleetis Stapo Lepi, though he was mostly known by Lepi. He wrote his own novels that are also vastly popular but…” Plo hesitated, looking at Maul with an expression he couldn’t quite decipher. “We…will probably hold off on introducing those for a while…”
Maul found himself raising a brow.
“Regardless,” Plo said softly, lacing his fingers together, “Lepi states that due to a mixture of tenacity, curiosity, and just a desire to keep running, he wound up stumbling into the subterranean world of Aleen, and there he found JRR, who similarly was dealing with the consequences of the war that had devastated him and his people. Tragically, JRR stated that the Light went out in all his friends…”
“Bioluminescence,” Maul stated suddenly, blinking. “They died.”
“Yes,” Plo said softly, “from what I have gleaned, and what notes have been taken by both Lepi and JRR himself, Light is considered sacred important to these people. Dark is something to fear because it marks the dead, and the places where the dying are kept.”
Maul felt things snap into place.
“It is amazing what context can give you, is it not?” Plo asked softly with a smile and Maul ducked his head. “I believe I actually should have given you that information before you were reading. It was careless of me, please forgive me.”
“It is fine,” Maul said softly. “It is hardly like it would be something you considered at first, the Dark and my own relationship to it.”
Plo smiled at him. “Regardless, Lepi theorized later that if it was not for the fact that they were dealing with the same devastation, the same loss…they might not have become friends and we would have never gained these novels. To make matters worse, JRR apparently suffered from extreme guilt due to the development of an illness that kept him from the front lines…”
“That killed all his friends…”
“Yes,” Plo inclined his head.
“These…” Maul hesitated, “races, the world that was created, the languages…were they all JRR’s invention?”
“Yes,” Plo smiled, “with a lot of talks from Lepi, who talked to him about the world outside of his own, he developed his own understanding of the galaxy, and while he likely never left the subterranean world that was his own, he was nonetheless able to piece together something of his own, blended of course with his own world.”
“Yes,” Plo said softly, “the devastation that was found there, the monster that he describes and everything that was within it were apparently based on nightmares and trauma that he himself experienced. Lepi talked a great deal about how beautiful it was in the beneath, and how the deeper you went the more it opened. It was a great deal more organic in the actual Aleem, but nonetheless…”
Maul was silent for a moment, taking all of this in. “Thank you for telling me about him,” he said finally. “I believe I understand better now…”
“Of course,” Plo smiled, “it is true that we can bring our own interpretations to an author’s work and we absolutely should, you yourself gave a very fascinating spin to one, but there are nonetheless points where understanding where they are coming from can allow you to make more of an…ah…informed interpretation.”
“Yes,” Maul said softly, “I had wondered about the consistent references of the Dark to…”
“Evil?” Plo asked softly, “Yes. It is a common interpretation to some sentients, particularly of the diurnal variety. But it is not something that is necessarily wholistically true,” Plo smiled at him, warmth in his gaze and Maul looked away. “Have you any other questions?”
Maul hesitated, “only one that I wished to ask Tiq.”
“Oh, of course,” Plo inclined his head. “We do not need to discuss that one.”
Maul inclined his head slowly, fitting all of this in with everything else he had learned, with the gentle ripple he could still feel in the back of his mind. He felt so…unbalanced. To realize that he actively wished to talk to Tiq about something, even after he had given him so much already and he knew… There was so much that Maul was unsure of. After the bond had formed, after the glimpse of something so…after falling asleep held against Eeth’s chest… Maul had never been held like that before. Eeth had called it following his instincts…
And what did Maul know about his instincts?
Nonetheless, Maul was doing his best to focus on the Kel Dor and what he was offering. Maul wanted to learn. And he had enjoyed the book, and these authors…if nothing else they were interesting. The history behind them, the wars and the death. Always death. Maul found his fingers twitching, fisting them on the edge of his hem.
“Are you alright?” Plo asked softly.
Maul blinked, looking up at him, “Forgive me,” he said with a brief bow of his head, “My thoughts were running away with me.”
Plo was quiet for a moment before smiling at him, the look distressingly gentle. “That is alright.” There was another silence between them and then finally, softly, “Maul…”
“What do you think of Wiseam?”
And Maul…was quiet. What did he think of this man that Maul was certain did not exist. To promise that he would swim out to him even without being able to swim, provided Fordo did not take him. Maul did not understand. People did not go so far for others… Though…
Maul remembered the promises made that people did help each other without any desire for something in return. Maul thought idly of the connection that he had glimpsed. Thought of a Bond offered from someone that technically should never have offered…
Maul remembered a small body standing between him and an upraised lightsaber. A lightsaber held by a man who had let him into his head and shown him the Wodza that lied within.
But there was still that doubt. Still that ringing in the back of his skull that questioned. There was always a limit, Maul had found. He wondered where this one lay. But…but Maul looked to Plo.
Maul did not understand and there was perhaps a part of him that was afraid.
Maul was tired of being afraid, and in the end, that brought him to his answer.“I do not understand him…” Maul said very softly. “But I suppose I see how he might exist…”
Plo smiled at him. “I will not deny that he is rare, the Galaxy needs more people like him. But I do wish to prove it to you. I recognize that this may be a battle I shall be in for a very long time, but it is one that I am willing and able to fight.” Maul stared at him for a long moment, something surprised burning within him, and then softly, with a smile, “And Maul,” he said gently. “I cannot overstate your ability to be like Wiseam. It is a matter of choices, continual ones, but choices all the same. I believe you can be capable of profound acts of self-sacrifice if you wish.”
Maul felt a sneer curl up his mouth, a twisted and mean thing, but ultimately teasing. “A Sith and self-sacrifice…are you perhaps addled?”
And Plo laughed. A loud and happy and utterly delighted sound, the smile he gave him gentle. “Perhaps,” he said, “or perhaps I give you more credit than you even give yourself.”
Maul gave the haughtiest sniff he could manage and Plo laughed. It was…it was nice…
But he did realize something, though…the thought of Eeth somehow being one-hundred and nine suddenly made all of these Masters and their ages much more nebulous. How old did a Kel Dor get anyway? Maul hadn’t learned anything about that…Maul had mostly learned how to…kill…them… But nonetheless, it was an obvious question.
“Do…you mind me asking how old you are?”
Plo beamed at him, looking first one way and then the other and leaning closer, Maul instinctively doing so as well.
“No, but I am afraid that I will not be telling you.”
Maul recoiled, huffing, “Well in that case I won’t tell you my own.”
“I’m afraid I heard from Eeth that you chose eighteen,” Plo said with an expression that had the slightest hint of contriteness…completely overshadowed with a delighted laugh that shook his shoulders.
“Absolutely appalling conduct,” Maul stated, crossing his arms over his chest. “I must submit a complaint.” Maul idly thought of sending Eeth the brief brush of betrayal he felt through the bond, but ultimately was afraid that it would cause too much concern. Maul hadn’t technically told Eeth that he wasn’t able to tell others. Either way as Plo laughed, and finally gave a quiet,
He decided it was probably best to not.
“I am proud of you,” Plo said softly, that smile gentling, his look so…soft. “You are making amazing steps Lord Maul, keep it up.”
Maul hesitated and then finally gave the smallest of nods. Maul wanted to do it. Maul wanted to keep getting these gentle acknowledgements, the soft praises without any hidden cruelty. Maul was so tired of cruelty.
“Now,” Plo said softly, “shall we return to the discussion?”
“Very well,” Maul sighed, and spent the rest of the time in talks of philosophy until their time was up, Plo collecting the book from him.
“I would inform Yoda that he must honor his promise to take you to the archives, but he will be accompanying Mace Windu for your theater lesson.”
“Oh?” Maul asked.
‘Yes,” Plo smiled, “You see, Yoda actually was blessed with the experience of meeting Wither Sententious in person. He is to be your guest speaker.”
And suddenly all thoughts of philosophy and the book were tossed right out the window. Plo seemed to know, laughing aloud, and the conversation switched to the plays that Maul had been reading, tying the philosophy that they had been filled with to what Plo had been talking about, waiting until the Mace and Yoda arrived. By the time Maul could hear the tapping of the gimmer stick as well as the slower pace of Mace Windu walking next to him…
Maul was ready.
Plo was smiling at him, knowing, and Maul was fleetingly disturbed by it. Maul was not used to those sort of looks being a good thing, of that sort of…understanding, looking at him and almost…
And definitely…definitely seeing through him. It had never been a good thing before and had always led to some sort of pain and some sort of punishment. Maul was not allowed to have these wants. Maul was not allowed to have these needs, or…or express them in a way that looked like he wanted.
Maul closed his eyes momentarily, looking away. Maul did not understand how so much could be different. Did not understand how he could have found himself in this place where they encouraged him wanting.
Maul had thought that was antithesis to the Jedi… But, similarly, Maul supposed that he was not a Jedi. He wondered…
And then he heard a familiar warm hum and turned his attention to the ray shield and the beings behind it, Yoda standing next to Mace Windu, the both of them aiming smiles towards him.
“You may let them in,” Maul said, the Guards immediately doing so. Plo smiled at them both, gave a short bow, and walked out of the cell, the ray shield closing behind him, carrying the book with him.
Yoda turned a suddenly mischievously warm look towards him, “Finished the book you did?” he asked.
“Yes,” Maul said and inclined his head. “I…liked it.”
“The archives I have promised,” Yoda grinned, “tomorrow we may go?” He looked to Mace, and to Plo who had remained for a moment longer, and Maul recalled them having stated he would have further guards.
“It would work for me,” Plo agreed with an inclination of his head.
“I also have no conflicting arrangements.”
“Then settled it is,” Yoda smiled, “to the archives we will take you. Much to see you have.”
And Maul was…excited. More than he had thought he would be. It was a chance for something new, a chance to take in the wealth of knowledge they had. But that was for later…for now…
“But for now,” Mace smiled. “I do believe we have a lecture to get through. Did you finish Hamlet to the act I specified?”
“…Yes,” Maul said after a brief pause.
“Maul?” Mace prompted, sensing the hesitation.
“I…may have read it twice.” Maul frowned, “and read the others.”
“What others?” Mace asked, but there was no…annoyance, anger, frustration, only…something brighter, something amused.
“..All of them?”
Yoda laughed, “That affect Brother Wither’s works can have.”
And Maul was somewhere between inclining his head and grinning, before he remembered with a flash of surprise…
That the use of Brother was a closed practice and only given to friends, and ones that needed to be close to them. Maul stared at Yoda with the knowledge, the question burning within him, and Yoda smiled at him, warm and gentle. “Knew him well I did. A good…a good friend he was. Much we talked about. Much we discussed…” Yoda took a breath, shaking his head, before frowning at Maul, his expression so… “A great loss the Galaxy suffered.”
“Maul,” Mace said softly, Yoda cocking an ear towards him and Maul’s attention turning to the other man. “You read Macbeth?”
“…Yes,” Maul responded softly. “I did.”
“Perhaps we should talk about that instead of Hamlet today,” Mace said softly. “What do you think?”
And Maul…was filled with an odd mix of both curiosity and apprehension, because to ask was to know, but it was also to admit that it had…not been something Maul enjoyed.
It had been something that Maul found disturbing and that was something he wasn’t entirely sure if he was willing to admit yet.
Either way, Maul found himself drawn to Yoda’s soft sound of thought. “A good play this is. Heavy, sad it also is. Written after nightmares, periods of long sadness it was.”
And this, Maul supposed made sense. Maul was no stranger to venting. He certainly was no stranger to wanting to find a way to purge the utter agony in his soul… Though his methods had never been so creative. Or…created anything at all.
Maul had only destroyed.
Maul closed his eyes for a moment.
Maul had never thought of the possibility of taking his pain and turning it into something different. Maul wondered idly if it had worked. Well…Maul had already tried so many other ways. Why not this? But that would be for him.
As it was…he gave a brief inclination of his head.
“Knowledge like this I am to give to you,” Yoda said softly, “Questions you have I will answer. Context I am happy to give.” Yoda’s smile widened.
“What is it I can answer?”
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