Summary: Pre TPM. As part of his training, Maul is allowed to mingle with Coruscant's political elite at a party held in Palpatine's honor and "meets" a woman who is interested in more than his political views.
Darth Sidious' eyes were drawn from his image in the mirror to the reflection of the shadow crossing behind him. He turned as the younger Sith Lord took a seat at the edge of the room with a heavy sigh.
"What was that for?" Sidious asked, returning his attention to the mirror, pulling slightly at the sleeves of his dark red senatorial robe and fussing with the ornate clasp at his throat.
When the other Sith failed to respond, the Dark Lord turned and faced him again, this time probing and analyzing his apprentice's present temperament by using the Force.
Darth Maul fixed his eyes on the ostentatious attire his master was wearing and frowned with disapproval. Sidious preened like a bird and his droid buzzed around him like blood-sucking insects, flattering him and busily adjusting small folds in his cloak. It made him appear pampered and pretentious.
"You're too restless at times, Lord Maul," Sidious continued, finally shooing the droids away. He walked over to his dressing table, picked through a box of jewelry, and slipped a ring onto his index finger. Then he stepped back and regarded the younger Sith thoughtfully. Sometimes it seemed Maul didn't know what to do with himself when he wasn't training or meditating. "You're bored, I can tell."
Maul looked away from his master and sighed again. "Not at all, Lord Sidious," he rumbled. "Merely biding my time." He shifted uneasily in the chair he was sitting on and then laced his hands together and rested them in his lap, attempting to convey a more contented mannerism. "I take it the 'good senator' is going out tonight," he added, dragging his gaze forward again.
Sidious smiled at the hint of derision he detected in the younger Sith's voice. "It just so happens there's a party being held this evening at the consulate in my honor. The past three bills I've introduced before the senate passed and my supporters wish to congratulate me. It's a somewhat formal affair, invitation only."
Maul grimaced with undisclosed distaste. "How can you stand it?" The very thought of ever having to subject himself to the constant company of such weak-minded, callow parasites as the senate's political lobby turned the young Sith's stomach.
"It's necessary, my friend," the Dark Lord mumbled, returning to the mirror for one final appraisal. "A means to an end."
Darth Maul rose to his feet. "I am aware of its necessity, my lord, and I respect you all the more for what you must endure on a day to day basis to achieve such an end." He paused and looked around the room distractedly. "I am feeling restless tonight," he conceded finally. "I need to meditate. If you'll excuse me, Master, I bid you good night."
Just as the younger Sith Lord bowed his head and turned to make a hasty retreat, Darth Sidious raised his hand and stopped him.
"Perhaps what you really need is a change of pace," the older Sith suggested cryptically. "A training exercise of a different sort. Something mental and calculating. What would you say to a little subterfuge of your own?"
Turning around on his heel, Maul fixed his eyes on Darth Sidious and furrowed his brow, not bothering to hide his intrigue.
The Dark Lord was pleased his apprentice took the bait he dangled before him. Maul was a curious creature who relished instruction and devoured any knowledge that would enhance his impressive repertoire of skills. Sidious walked over to him and slowly looked him up and down.
"Yes. I believe I have an outfit that would suit you," the older Sith went on. "You'll need something a little more urbane for this kind of infiltration."
"Infiltration?" Maul narrowed his bright yellow eyes and raised his chin.
The younger Sith's expression made Sidious' enthusiasm grow. "Imagine. A vast room full of prestigious beings from all over the galaxy. Politicians, kings, ambassadors, princesses, prime ministers, and diplomats. And you'll be in their very midst as one of their own."
The faintest hint of a smile played on Darth Maul's lips. "You can't be serious?"
Sidious nodded earnestly. "I am. There will come a time when you will need to know how to blend in with the general populace. There's no denying you have quite an impressive presence, Lord Maul. Whenever you enter a room, you immediately fill it with a sense of aggression and power, but do you know if you can sufficiently subdue that presence enough should a situation call for it? Be able to walk among others, even Jedi, unheeded and undetected as I am?" The Dark Lord paused, probing his apprentice's mind, then smiled. He knew him so well. "Attending this party would give you a perfectly benign scenario to practice and hone such skills."
Maul was definitely intrigued by the prospect of observing and interacting with beings in a tightly controlled environment. It would also allow him the rare chance to move freely about Coruscant society and enjoy a brief, but welcome respite from his usual isolated solitude.
"What would I have to do?" he asked quietly, his mind already piecing together different strategies for successfully fitting into the ranks of political prominence.
The Dark Lord summoned his droids with a wave of his hand and led his apprentice over to his wardrobe.
"I can't permit you to accompany me, but I can secure you an invitation. I'll have it made up under your real name and waiting at the door when you arrive," Sidious began, tugging Maul's slightly tattered cloak from his shoulders.
Maul frowned. "If I'm to remain inconspicuous, shouldn't I be allowed to wear my own clothes?"
Sidious clucked his tongue in reproval. "Lesson number one. Make yourself invisible. One of the obvious and easiest ways to fit in with proletarian beings is to dress like them. If you attend my party wearing this," he paused and gestured at the thick black layers of fabric the younger Sith donned, "you'll not only draw attention to yourself, but the wrong kind of attention. Parties are festive, colorful affairs. Everyone there will dress accordingly."
Maul pressed his lips tightly together and reluctantly began to strip, visions of chartreuse and vermilion further souring his expression.
"Then I trust you'll choose something more appropriate, but not anything that will make me so self-concious I'll be reluctant to engage anyone in a conversation."
Sidious chuckled deeply. "No, we wouldn't want that. Since you are an invited guest, it would seem peculiar if you don't mingle with your esteemed peers." The older Sith paused as a thought suddenly occurred to him. "Keep in mind you must appear that you are simply there to have a pleasant time like the rest of the guests in attendance. Above all, you must repress your aggression. Be polite and sociable. Be charming with the females. Be happy. You're presence is to be no more remarkable than anyone else's, that is the key, do you understand?"
As Sidious helped him out of the remainder of his clothes, Maul gnawed his lower lip. It occurred to him this training exercise might be more challenging than he first thought.
"Master, I'm not exactly....unremarkable," the young Sith Lord murmured, facing the full length mirror and indicating the glaring myriad of red and black tattoos covering his body.
Darth Sidious gazed back at him in the mirror and smiled slightly. "Don't be concerned about that, my friend. There will be numerous cultures represented tonight and it's all in the way you present yourself. If you come across as refined and congenial, you'll find your fierce visage will not influence them to regard you any other way. No one will notice anything you don't want them to."
Maul nodded. "I understand."
Satisfied, Sidious turned and focused his attention on the succession of garments the droids presented and systematically dismissed them until he was brought a dark gray robe made of luxurious Nubian silk.
"Ah, perfect," the older Sith announced and held the robe up for his apprentice's inspection and approval. "Opulent without being overbearing, elegant, but understated." He watched Maul take up the garment and try it on, with a critical eye. "Yes, definitely this one. It fits you well considering. That color also helps tone down your...natural flamboyancy." He stepped back and turned to search through the wardrobe. "There's a coat that goes with it, though you'll probably want to check it in at the door." He pulled the coat out and offered it to his apprentice. "It's leather so it's rather heavy."
Maul accepted the floor-length coat graciously and slid into it. The weight of it was comforting in a way and it's lining felt cool against his skin and the leather smelled good. The Sith held out his arms and then stroked the sleeves caressingly. He looked up at Sidious.
"Not at all. I find it to be quite agreeable," the younger Sith replied, rakishly turning up the collar.
"Very well, then," the Dark Lord announced, with a self-satisfied smirk. "It's getting late and I have to be on my way. Finish getting dressed. The droids are here if you need them. In fact, have them press that robe and polish your boots. I'll expect to see you at the consulate within the hour, Lord Maul. Don't be late."
"I won't, Master. I'll be there," Maul responded.
Sidious turned to leave, then gestured behind him at his apprentice's discarded utility belt. "One more thing. Leave the lightsaber here. There won't be any weaponry permitted inside the ballroom," the older Sith explained, then smiled wryly. "Except for the Jedi's, of course. They're always immuned to such regulations."
Maul looked up sharply and scowled. "Of course," he hissed through his teeth and soundly cursed the Jedi and their constantly unquestioned prerogatives.
Sidious laughed lightly. "Remember....keep that aggression under control. The place will be crawling with Jedi. You might even have to be civil to one." The idea made the older Sith laugh even more as he hurried out of the room to keep his appointment.
"Senator Palpatine, may I present to you the Sheikh Khameir Sarin of Iridonia."
Upon hearing his introduction, Darth Maul stepped forward and bowed slightly.
The senator beamed down at him with open benevolence. "Sheikh! How good it is to see you after all this time," Palpatine gushed enthusiastically, returning Maul's bow. "I'm so pleased you could join us tonight."
Maul moistened his lips with the tip of his tongue and raised his eyes to meet his master's. "The pleasure's mine, Senator," he murmured in a soft, silky voice.
"You're looking quite well, my friend," Palpatine continued cordially and offered his apprentice a look of approval. "We must get together later this evening and rehash old times."
The younger Sith Lord nodded. "I will look forward to it."
The senator gestured at the vast array of foods spread out on tables lining the great room. "Please, help yourself to our splendid culinary selection. I can assure you, our chefs this evening are among the galaxy's finest. Don't feel obligated to keep company with me. I know there are plenty here who are anxious to meet you."
Maul inclined his head graciously and took a step back, recognizing his master's subtle dismissal.
"Thank you, Senator. I shall. I simply wanted to congratulate you on your unparalleled success in the political arena."
Palpatine adopted a convincingly humble expression. "I am deeply honored by your recognition, Sheikh." With that, he turned his attentions on the next guest in the reception line.
Maul stepped aside and faced the sea of beings milling about the vast ballroom. He took a deep breath and started making his way into their midst.
At first, the Sith Lord tried to avoid making direct eye contact with anyone, but his curiosity soon got the better of him. His master hadn't been exaggerating. The room was wall to wall affluence from all over the galaxy. Most of the dignitaries Maul did not recognize, but occasionally he spotted a familiar politician's face among the crowd and studied them momentarily before moving on.
Maul carefully picked his way through the thickening masses, purposefully rubbing shoulders with some while going out of his way to avoid others. He soon discovered no one paid him any real mind and his confidence steadily increased. Occasionally, someone glanced up at the Sith as he passed and others would nod an acknowledging greeting, but nothing more. To them, he was only another dignitary.
Having spent a great deal of effort to make his presence invoke strong negative reactions from people, Maul found their sudden lack of interest somewhat disconcerting, though he could see the benefit of it. As he pondered this new phenomena, the young Sith realized how much he fed off the fear he sensed in his adversaries. Their intial shock and terror always incited him. Here, the prevailing atmosphere of goodwill practically lulled his aggression into a stupor.
What truly surprised the Sith was the women around him. Especially the humans. As soon as they noticed him, they immediately became intrigued. None of them reacted in fear or even distaste. Some actually smiled at him and eyed him rather seductively. Others boldly started towards him, but Maul moved on before they could reach him.
With a budding complacency, Maul slowed his pace to a meandering amble and even helped himself to a goblet of wine being served by a passing droid. He closed his eyes and inhaled the alcohol's heady aroma before tasting it. The wine was sweet, but dry and very strong. Deciding it wouldn't do to have his senses compromised, the Sith Lord allowed himself one more drink before placing the goblet back on the returning droid's empty tray.
As Maul looked around, he noticed the majority of beings had splintered off into small groups to converse. He drifted nonchalantly from one to another, listening in, hoping to fall upon a topic which interested him. The conversations were mostly political in nature, ranging from the chancellor's latest policies to the current state of the Republic. Others spoke of local concerns such as border disputes, elections, or trade agreements.
The Sith attached himself on the fringe of a group discussing the necessity of taxation. Maul soon discovered the main speaker was a man by the name of Sio Bibble, the governor of Naboo. The idea of taxing trade routes apparently had him deeply troubled.
"The Trade Federation has made it clear they won't stand for it," Bibble stated. "They've hinted serious repercussions which could only affect systems such as Naboo adversely. The chancellor needs to think this proposal through carefully before making any decisions on the matter." He paused and swigged the wine in his cup. "Senator Palpatine is working hard to bring our concerns to light. But he is only one man. He can only do so much."
Edging forward, Maul positioned himself beside Sio Bibble and offered him a reassuring gaze.
"The senator has many supporters, Governor, as the attendance here tonight attests," the Sith said quietly, but in an authoritative manner. "A show of consolidarity on our part will insure the Supreme Chancellor allows his concerns appropriate consideration."
Maul's eyes swept over the little gathering. Most nodded in wholehearted aggreement. Others looked skeptical. The sole woman in the group licked her painted lips and sighed softly as her gaze slipped languidly down the length of him and back up again. She shifted her weight to one leg and struck a provocative pose, her expression hinting an interest in Maul that ventured far beyond his political views. Maul deliberately turned away from her to hide his surfacing amusement. He was truly beginning to enjoy this new kind of attention.
"Yes, yes," the governor went on. "I daresay the senator has his share of supporters and influential ones at that. I can only hope our Supreme Chancellor does not cave into the special interests groups before his own trusted advisors."
Maul frowned deeply and furrowed his brow. "That is a concern. Chancellor Valorum has quite a reputation of doing just that. He can't seem to figure out what works best for the smaller systems that make up the very heart of the Republic. I might even go so far as to say he has grown out of touch with them."
"You are all over-reacting," the woman suddenly spoke up. "Taxation will help stabilize the trade routes, not cripple them. I believe the Supreme Chancellor will take its affect on the smaller systems into consideration. But you must also realize he has larger, more significant systems to consider as well. Therein lies the real challenge of this proposal. Making a policy that serves the best interests of both."
The Sith turned slightly and fixed his eyes on the woman's. She stared back at him unwaveringly.
Maul took the opportunity to study her more closely. Wearing a low-cut, extravagant septsilk robe, she was obviously wealthy and in possession of some significant influence. She was an elegant-looking woman, somewhat older than he and attractive in subtle, understated ways. She was a petite human female, toned, and slender, but not in an athletic kind of way. She seemed to be confident and strong-willed, someone not easily intimidated. Maul liked that.
"Well said," he conceded and bowed slightly.
The woman smiled at his concession. "Why thank you," she replied softly, her exoticly slanted eyes still locked on his. "It's nice to meet someone with an open mind for a change."
"But I don't believe we have met," the Sith Lord replied, in a deliberately sultry voice. He leaned towards her slightly as if to introduce himself, then said, "And just because I have an open mind, doesn't mean I agree with you."
The woman's mouth fell open in surprise and Maul turned around and sauntered slowly away, feeling her intrigue only intensify. He smiled to himself and headed for the buffet tables.
The young Sith Lord's advance to the tables came to an abrupt halt upon spying two Jedi, a master and padawan team, approach the table just ahead of him. The two men crowded into the only open space available in front of the exotic fruits and vegetables and began eagerly loading plates they held with food. It took every ounce of concentration and control Maul had just to keep from glaring at them.
His rationality told him to turn away and go to another table. His master's warnings echoed in his ears. Confronting a Jedi in any circumstance invited problems, but the Sith couldn't help viewing this situation as the ultimate test of his newfound abilities. He wanted the Jedi to notice and acknowledge him. He longed to sense their unease and give them a disturbing sensation they could only associate with him for some inexplicable reason. Maul was certain they wouldn't act on it anyway, and even if they did, they were of no threat to him. In the end, Maul's intrinsic aggression prevailed. He drew up directly behind the taller of the two Jedi and discreetly cleared his throat.
"Where I come from, it is considered bad manners for the employed help to partake of the esteemed guests' rightful benefits," Maul grumbled to no one in particular.
The two Jedi immediately turned to face him with open indignation and confusion. The taller and older of the two, clearly the Jedi Master, addressed Maul first.
"We are Jedi," he stated, in heavily accented Basic, as if it should have been obvious and explained everything.
Maul stared back at him, pretending to be equally indignant. "And you are invited guests of the senator?"
"Not exactly," the younger Jedi, the padawan, chimed in. "We are here as a security measure. Our council thought it would be wise to have Jedi here."
Taking a step forward, Maul raised his chin and scowled at the padawan reprovingly. "So the mere fact that you are not being paid for said services gives you the right to act as my equal?" He could sense their growing discomfort and relished it thoroughly.
The Jedi exchanged glances and then the Jedi Master placed his plate on the table and faced the Sith fully.
"Allow me to offer our sincerest apologies if we have somehow offended you in regards to the standards of your culture," the Jedi stated, sounding more impatient than sincere. He looked Maul over slowly, then furrowed his brow. His padawan soon joined in on his scrutiny of the Sith.
Maul felt the flow of the Force turn and the Jedi's unease quickly dissipated. They flanked him on either side and continued to stare him down in an intimidating manner.
"Forgive me, I couldn't help but notice your coat," the Jedi Master began smoothly.
The young Sith peered back at him genuinely puzzled. That was the last thing he expected the Jedi to inquire about. "What of it?"
The Jedi Padawan brazenly touched the coat's sleeve and frowned deeply. Maul jerked his arm away from him and glared daggers at him.
"That's taagcat pelt," the younger Jedi addressed his master, then faced Maul accusingly. "The grain of the leather is unmistakable."
The Sith glanced back at the Jedi Master. "What about it?" he pressed, trying to keep his tone civil.
The Jedi Master looked at him distastefully. "You realize that's an endangered species? Importing taagcat pelt to Coruscant is illegal," he gravely informed.
Maul caught the padawan smirking at his master out of the corner of his eye.
"I'm surprised it wasn't seized at customs," the younger Jedi added.
"Perhaps we should take him into custody," the Jedi Master advised.
The Sith rolled his eyes and swallowed down the first retort that came to his mind. He realized this was all just a demonstration of their authority and meant to put him in his place. Then there was the nagging thought in the back of his mind that Sidious would never forgive him if he caused a commotion here over something like this. Biting back his pride, Maul sighed heavily and offered the two Jedi a placating smile.
"I know nothing of illegal pelts," he assured them. "This garment was given to me by a friend."
The Jedi continued eyeing him suspiciously.
"And just who might that have been?" the Jedi Padawan questioned.
"Me, I'm afraid," came a familiar voice behind Maul's shoulder.
The Sith and the two Jedi turned as one to face the source of such enlightening information.
Senator Palpatine's eyes swept over the trio and settled on the Sith in the middle with a flicker of rebuke. Then he faced the Jedi Master and offered him a sincerely apologetic expression.
"My friend, the Sheikh, is telling the truth," Palpatine began innocently. "He didn't know. And I only recently found out myself. I can assure you, the beast wasn't declared endangered when I gave away the coat as a gift. I didn't see the need to trouble my friend with such disturbing news. As it is, he rarely travels to Coruscant. I suppose I underestimated the odds of him actually wearing the offending garment when he did come here." He laughed lightly and faced Maul. "Please forgive me, Khameir. I feel I have placed you in a rather awkward situation with these two fine gentlemen."
Maul took a deep breath and faced the Jedi Master. "Naturally, had I known, I would have not worn this particular garment this evening." He paused and turned his eyes accusingly on his master briefly, before refocusing on the elder Jedi. "I am rather fond of it, but I would never condone the use or exchange of such wares for profit. Blackmarket or otherwise. If that is what you are implying."
The Jedi Master frowned and shook his head. "No, of course you wouldn't. Especially considering it was a gift from the senator," he surmised. "Forgive our clearly unfounded suspicions, Sheikh. It is our duty after, all to ensure all laws of our esteemed Republic are followed." He bowed slightly and dropped his eyes respectfully.
Maul commanded himself to relax and return the Jedi's bow. "No harm done," he replied quietly.
Considering the matter resolved, the Jedi turned their attention back to the table. Palpatine stepped forward and threw his arm amiably over Maul's shoulder, hastily leading him away.
"Sheikh, you must try these meats over here," the senator announced enthusiastically. When he was comfortable he was out of the Jedi's earshot, he leaned towards his apprentice and whispered in his ear. "You see. The two fools didn't suspect a thing. They never do."
Maul nodded. "Fascinating, really. You would think they'd sense....something. Why are they unable to?"
Palpatine glanced back at the Jedi. "Our mere presence clouds their vision. Their senses fail them, but in their arrogance, they don't suspect anything amiss." He paused and faced his apprentice with a steely-eyed gaze. "Still, you play with fire, confronting them the way you did. Be more mindful of the authority they do have, as they just demonstrated. They wouldn't have backed down had I not come along. You must keep your aggression under better control. Now is not the time or place to release it. Remember, here you are a landlord, not a Sith Lord."
An amused gleam lit the younger Sith's eyes. "So I am. Sheikh Sarin? How inventive of you, my master."
The senator smiled thinly. He turned his attention on the assortment of meats arranged on platters covering the table before him. He speared a piece of blackened fare and popped it into his mouth.
"Mmm, excellent," he proclaimed. "The food is exceptional this evening. Here, try this." He speared another cube of the same meat and offered it to his apprentice. "The party is going rather well, I believe. Still, I better see to my other guests and make sure they are having as pleasant a time as I am. I'm in relatively good spirits at the moment and am feeling somewhat generous, so don't be afraid to indulge a little tonight, but behave yourself, Khameir. Don't make me have to rescue you again."
The younger Sith Lord nodded and Palpatine departed, disappearing into the midst of the crowded room.
Maul sniffed at the cube of meat he held, then placed it between his teeth and pulled it off the tiny cocktail skewer. He chewed it slowly, closing his eyes to savor it more thoroughly. It was good, tender and flavorful, but like the wine he had sampled earlier, it was a little too rich for his palette.
The Sith was hungry and the meats smelled delicious. Surely out of this array he could find something more to his liking, he thought. He leaned over the platters, letting the different meats' aromas guide him past anything spicy or overdone.
The distinct sensation of being watched suddenly prickled the Sith's awareness. Before he could straighten and turn around, a dulcet feminine voice murmured in his ear.
"If you are looking for something good, try these," she said. "I'm sure you'll enjoy them."
Recognizing the voice as belonging to the woman from Sio Bibble's discussion group, Maul turned his head in her direction, filling the scope of his vision with two creamy white mounds of bare flesh steadily rising and falling beneath her jeweled décolletage. Swallowing down the excessive salvia filling his mouth, Maul drew himself to his full height and dragged his gaze up to her face.
She straightened as well, smiled as he focused on her, and blinked slowly.
"To what, exactly, are you referring, Madame?" the young Sith questioned, refusing to believe she'd be that blatant.
The woman held up a small pastry on a cocktail napkin in her hand. "These canapés. They practically melt in the heat of your mouth."
Not blatant, but suggestive enough. Maul realized if he played this scenario out just right, he may be given the opportunity to indulge himself with something besides spicy, overcooked foods.
The Sith Lord grinned amiably at the woman, but resolutely shook his head. "No, thank you," he replied breathily. "I've no taste for rich food."
"Hmm, seems I've misjudged you again," she stated, setting the pastry aside. "Usually I'm a good judge of character. I thought you'd be the type to pamper your senses, not deprive them."
Maul raised his brow. She was definitely trying to entice him. Her provocative words and the fact she had sought him out among this crowd, hinted that the interest he'd detected in her earlier for him had been more than a passing appreciation.
Clasping his hands behind his back, the Sith crossed behind the woman to her other side, keeping his eyes fixed steadfastly on her. "Why do you attempt to judge me at all?"
She lowered her head modestly. "It's hard to say. Maybe because I've never met anyone like you before. I'd like to know more about you."
"But we have never actually met."
"Oh, right." The woman turned then and extended her hand towards Maul. "Would you like to meet me? Allow me to introduce myself."
"I'd rather not," the young Sith stated matter-of-factly, but accepted her hand in both of his. "Anonymity is vastly underrated and mystery often lends itself to intrigue." He was making her nervous as well as excited, he could feel it. Stroking her wrist in a hypnotically soothing rhythm, Maul locked his eyes on hers and drew her closer to him. "Why do you find me so intriguing?"
She shook her head feebly. "You don't believe in exactly mincing words, do you?" She paused, but the Sith did not reply. He continued staring into her eyes until she became so uncomfortable under his intense scrutiny, she finally had to look away. "There's just something about you I find myself incredibly attracted to," she offered in an agitated rush of words. "I realize it must seem odd to you, a woman like me, coming on to a complete stranger. It's just that when I see something I want, I go after it. I've always been a little too aggressive for my own good. It works well for me in politics, not so well with personal relationships. Most males don't find aggression very attractive in females." She glanced up finally and sighed. Her fair face flushed with heat and her breathing deepened. "Since I first saw you, heard you speak, watched you move, it made me want more and now I can't seem to think of anything else."
The Sith released her hand and turned away from her, sighing heavily. "Aggression intimidates weakness and weakness is not what you seek. You should not disparge such power if it gets you what you truly want, Madame," he informed her, assuming a clinically detached manner to mask his own stirring emotions. "However, there are others here more suitable for your companionship than I. A woman with your wealth and social standing shouldn't be reduced to playing word games with the likes of me."
"The likes of you?"
Maul shrugged slightly. "I am only a servant at heart. With a servant's intrinsic need to please whomever he serves. I only meant that perhaps someone like me is not worthy of a woman of your station. How can you know?"
She shook her head slowly, disagreeing with him. "Perhaps if I knew you a little better, I could come to that conclusion on my own. If you are a servant, I can only pray you would consider me worthy to be served by you." She paused then and gnawed her lower lip thoughtfully. "No. You are not a servant. You're too powerful. You make it sound as though your own wealth and social status mean nothing to you."
Maul turned to face her again, narrowing his eyes. "Apparently they mean nothing to you if you insist on pursuing me." He made a sweeping gesture of the room. "Out of this plethora of choices here tonight, you chose me. I want to know why."
"You want me to flatter you?"
"No. I want you to convince me. Convince me why I should pay any attention to you at all."
The woman placed her hands on her slim hips and frowned, dropping her eyes to the floor in front of her. "Haven't I been doing just that? Or are you that insecure? Do you want me to spell it all out for you?" She looked up suddenly and exhaled her breath through her teeth. "Just forget it. Forget we even had this conversation. This is demoralizing and too far beneath me to continue." She paused and stood regarding the Sith standing before her, letting her eyes sweep over him with undisclosed admiration. "It's not that I doubt the enjoyment I would derrive from such an investment of my time, but you are proving to be much too difficult to trouble myself with any longer. So, if you'll excuse me, whoever you are, I release you from feeling any obligation to pay attention to me." Having said that, she turned on her heel to make a hasty retreat.
Maul smiled slowly. "That disappoints me," he murmured, stopping her in her tracks. He walked over to the woman and then around her, brushing against her once or twice, feeling her react to the brief physical contact with an intensity that told him she was still very interested in this pursuit, despite her words. Stubbornly, she refused to look at him and kept her eyes lowered. The young Sith Lord drew up in front of her and lowered his head until his lips were practically touching her brow. "A woman of your intelligence should realize nothing worthwhile is easily attained."
Steadily, her eyes raised until they met his, and an amused smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. "You're very arrogant," she chided, but gazed back at him adoringly, her demeanor warmed to him once more.
Maul leaned away slightly, holding her gaze with his eyes. "But you are not offended by it," he stated knowingly. He found her own arrogance equally pleasing.
She shook her head. "No. It reassures me -- that I'm not wasting my time." Her expression softened as her body tensed in anticipation. "Are we of mutual consent, then?"
"Yes," the Sith breathed into her ear. "I will go with you."
The woman flashed a dazzling smile and gestured towards the doors of the great room. "My suite is not far. I'll call for my limo." She started off and glanced back at him over her shoulder once to make sure he was following her.
Maul looked around the room once, grabbed the canapé off the table, and strode after her, popping the pastry into his mouth and savoring it smugly.
The first rays of Coruscant's dawn warmed the young Sith Lord's back as he sat meditating in the common room of the great, remote castle he shared with his master. His body felt depleted of strength and his mind blackened and emptied of anything profound, but a general sense of well-being enveloped him and a deepening peace he had never experienced the likes of before seeped pleasantly into his psyche.
"You left the party early last night," Darth Sidious mumbled, blocking the sun's rays from Maul and casting a cold shadow over his body.
The younger Sith pried himself out of his sensual reverie and took a deep breath before replying.
"I found the atmosphere there too repressive and tedious for my tastes and merely went off in search of something more stimulating," Maul explained. He peered at his master through half-lidded eyes and stretched languidly before rising to his feet.
"Oh, you really can be excessively restless at times." Sidious stalked around him, frowning deeply. "I thought you were enjoying the novelty of such interaction. What of the woman I saw you talking to by the buffet?"
Maul shrugged. "I did not bother to learn her name."
Sidious folded his arms over his chest and regarded his apprentice with disdain. "You didn't kill anyone, did you?"
"No, Master," the younger Sith answered, slightly taken aback. "What would lead you to come to such a conclusion?"
The Dark Lord waved his hand towards him. "I can't sense the slightest bit of aggression in you this morning. You're sapped. Therefore, I can only assume--"
"I didn't kill anyone," Maul reiterated and pondered the satiated comatose-like state he had left the woman in earlier. Though she had claimed to see stars and flashes of light with every orgasm she had achieved, he didn't believe it was in a spiritual sense.
Darth Sidious eyed his apprentice suspiciously. "Maul? Is there something you're not telling me?"
The younger Sith Lord looked his master in the eye and cleared his throat. "I didn't mean to imply last night was without merit. I learned a great deal and found the experience enriching and informative."
"Hmm," the older Sith replied, with a critical air. "And what do you feel was the most satisfying occurrence of the evening?"
Closing his eyes, Maul took a moment to piece together his thoughts before answering. "I would have to say it was the sensation of trespassing upon places I did not belong. I found that most fulfilling of all."
Darth Sidious nodded. "Trespassing. Yes. I often feel that way too," he said with a thin knowing smile. "Though I must admit, perhaps not in the same manner as you experienced with the lady Sei Taria late last night to achieve the level of sex-induced passivity you're in now, my friend."
The young Sith's eyes shot open and fixed on the Dark Lord's.
Sidious smiled slyly. "My deduction was relatively easy to surmise, and your reaction just confirmed it. However, you do show good taste, Lord Maul. Sei Taria is Chancellor Valorum's administrative aide. Not only is she a handsome woman, she's quite influential and resourceful. Aggressive too. I admire that quality in her most of all."
Maul opened his mouth to speak, but Sidious raised his hand to silence him.
"I do understand. After all, indulgence is meant to fulfill."
"So I've learned, Master," the younger Sith readily agreed. "And
aggression can be released in more ways than one," he added under his breath
with a devious smile.