Things had gotten a little too weird in the mid-west, and I decided it was time for me to return to slightly more normal environs. Not that New York City was altogether the most banal, mundane place on earth, but during my college years there, I had learned to tolerate a certain amount of strangeness within the context of the Big Apple. Before I left for NYC the first time, a friend of mine with "family" connections had fraternally taken me aside and taught me the quickest and easiest ways to defend myself from an attacker, and, if need be, kill. Geoff said it didn't matter what size you were, but that you just had to not fear harming the attacker. Failing that, he added, if I had any problems with anybody, I should just call him, and he'd fix it. After six months of disuse, I found my street-smarts still present (if somewhat rusty) and as I briskly walked down Lexington Avenue, I was reminded that I fit in a lot better in this city than most places in the mid-west, excepting, of course, the renaissance faire. I sighed dejectedly. One too many faire related heartbreaks had probably pushed me over the edge and into Gotham, but you'd never get me to admit it aloud.
I pulled the heavy cloak around me to ward off the chill. At first I had been uncomfortable wearing the cloak the man at the Sugar Shack had dropped at my table, but after the move, I really didn't have enough money to buy a fall jacket. I decided that walking the streets of Manhattan looking like a ren faire refugee was preferable to wandering around shivering and hunched over. Besides, it still sorta smelled like him.
It was getting dark, and though I normally am savvy enough not to walk by myself through the park after sundown, the only dance class-for-singers I could find available was hosted by the 92nd Street Y, on the east side, and I had promised De I would meet her at The Dubliner on 79th street on the west side. I found it a tremendous waste to get on the subway, go downtown, get on the cross-town shuttle, and then take a third subway uptown, so I opted instead for the quick jaunt through the park. It was only a mile, I reminded myself, and besides, I was a pretty tough dame.
I stepped through the gates of the park and steeled myself for the walk to come. In the daytime, the magic of Central Park is in its ability to filter out the noise and craziness of the city. You could walk not fifty feet into it and not hear a bit of traffic. It had been devised a century before to give city folk a taste of what the country would be like; every huge tree, small shrub, boulder and pond had been put there by the hands of man to imitate nature. In the daytime, it was truly a marvel and a respite from the often overbearing borough of Manhattan. At night, however, the same hulking boulders and towering trees that filtered out the noise of the city seemed to filter out the safety-in-numbers feeling of it as well. Since New York is full of lights, stars don't shine particularly bright, and within the confines of the park, whatever is left of them is swallowed up by the trees. The carefully planted gardens and shrubbery gave refuge to all manner of miscreant.
I halted in my tracks when a disheveled man lurched out in front of me, holding a paper bag concealing some bottle of alcohol.
"Spare change lady?" he asked, but I ignored him. I had no change anyhow. I had made the mistake my first few months here of making excuses. That got me followed and threatened for fifteen blocks. I kept on walking, only just a bit faster.
"Bitch!" he called.
It was getting darker quickly and as I got further into the park I could feel the trees start to close in around me.
I reminded myself again that I was a tough dame when I thought I felt a presence behind me. Damn! Why today? I quickened my pace and did all those tricks I acquired subconsciously in the years before. Be aware, use your peripheral vision, don't be afraid to make a scene, stand up straight… he was still there, following me. I could almost feel his breath. I hated that I was vulnerable simply by nature of being female. I wished I could legally carry a concealed weapon in this city. He was still there.
Goddammit, women don't do this sort of thing, I thought helplessly to myself. We don't stalk people, we rarely mug, and even more rarely rape. We're not the problem here. They should have a curfew on men.
I started looking around for a cop, but they must have all been in the South Bronx, hunting immigrants, I noted with dismay. There wasn't one to be seen in my peripheral vision, or in front of my face. Fine, I guess I would have to handle this my way. I walked faster.
As I was channeling my frustration and anger at the inequity of my gender, I felt a hand on my shoulder. All right, that was it.
"GODDAMMIT, GET OFFA ME YOU FUCKIN' PERVERT OR I'LL RIP OFF YOUR FUCKIN FACE!!" I screamed as I spun and kicked wildly at the masher's shins. I landed one on the nerve running down the thigh, and true to Geoff's word, my attacker fell to the ground.
"GODDAMN CRIMINAL ASSHOLE!" I screamed, just as I was about to slam my boot-heel into his nose, hopefully sending a sliver of his skull into his brain and killing him. But then I opened my eyes and got a good look at him.
He stared at me from puzzled red and yellow eyes, his billowy black trousers dusty from my footprints, his boots somewhat scuffed, his horns gleaming in the moonlight, throwing odd shadows on his red and black tattoos. A shiver ran through me as I clutched at the cloak I was wearing - the one that he had left those weeks ago - but I couldn't tell if I was shivering from cold, fear, or attraction.
The Dark Man slowly arose, and I took a tentative step back. Noting my trepidation, he held his hands palm out in the universal gesture of peace (or at least, proving he didn't have his weapon in his hands). I took a deep breath and helped him up. As if he needed my help.
There had been so much I'd wanted to know about this man, he had been in my dreams for so many nights, and yet he had never said a word to me. And now, here he was standing in front of me, and all I could do was stare. I figured if he hadn't already lit that sword of his and decapitated me, he probably hadn't had it in mind to kill me. Bravely, I spoke.
"Who are you?" I stammered. His voice floated out, low and sonorous.
"Darth Maul, Dark Lord of the Sith," he answered, boring a hole in my soul again with his eyes.
"Are you going to hurt me?" I pressed on.
"Not unless you are a Jedi," he replied, a frightening glint in his eye. I wasn't sure what in the hell he meant, but after a short deliberation, I decided that as sucky as my life had gotten, I still would rather not be dead.
"Not the last time I checked," I answered, my usual sarcasm re-emerging. Guess my shivering wasn't from fear then. He smiled predatorily, and I felt my heart go pitter-pat again. I was drawn to him - I didn't want to leave - but I was suddenly treated to the image of De sitting pissed off at The Dubliner, drinking scotch and plotting my demise.
In the time between when I started walking through the park, and now, what with the kicking of the Dark Man, and then exchanging meaningful looks, it had gotten extremely dark, however. I managed to tear my eyes away from him long enough to speak.
"Well, since you're not planning on killing me, am I glad you showed up! Sorry about the kicking, though. I would greatly appreciate a male escort through the park. It's not safe for a defenseless woman to walk through the park alone," I said, batting my eyelashes most unconvincingly I'm sure. He gave me a derisive look.
"Well, blow me, horny boy!" I shot at him. He gave me that smile again, and advanced toward me. Instinctively, I backed up and he placed his gloved hand on the small of my back.
In the dark, it turned out, I didn't know the park as well as I did in the daylight. Well, crap. It was nice having this man with me as protection, but I feared I was leading him around in circles. When I finally did realize where we were, I knew I was lost. We were in the Rambles; the part of the park designed to mimic rambling trails that led to nowhere in particular. Great. Now I knew we'd never get out.
"Are you afraid," Maul asked, his voice really near my ear. I mean extremely near. Like I could feel his breath against my earlobe (the location of my on/off switch, should anyone need to know). If I was afraid before, at this particular instant, fear was not my primary emotion.
"No," I replied, drawing his cloak around me, and advancing almost imperceptibly, "I'm not afraid." But I wasn't convinced. I had been drawn to him at the Sugar Shack, but had known when to back off. Now with him here, speaking to me… well, I couldn't say for certain if I was afraid or turned on.
I continued looking in his eyes and walked a few steps up. He followed close behind, and I found we stood in a stone-floored clearing conveniently lit by flood-lights. He drew nearer me still, making me back into a waist-high stone wall. He touched the hood of the cloak I wore and caressed my cheek with his gloved hand. My eyes closed and my head tilted back as his face came nearer to mine.
"Damn you!" came a shout from behind me, and I jumped to see what asshole had ruined the most intensely erotic moment I'd had since the faire.
He climbed over the wall in back of me, a distinctly parapet-like structure. Of course! Belvedere Castle, the backdrop of many a fine production of Shakespeare in the Park! I knew where we were! On the side we were standing on was an observatory - the highest point in the park - and on the side this interloper had climbed up from was a stone face and a steep drop. He must have been on the ground about 40 feet below and climbed up the stone walls. And then the shock set in.
It was Ben! The bastard who wouldn't break character at the faire, who had never called or written (well, I hadn't given him my phone number, or my real name for that matter, but that's no excuse) who had muttered something ridiculous about Sith when he fled the parking lot…
Sith! Oh my god! I jumped back when I realized that this Darth Maul was the Sith that Ben had referred to when he ran out on me those months ago. I couldn't believe I was so stupid to not make that connection before. A tough dame, maybe, but a bright dame - no.
And there were the two men of my sadly deplete love life, their weapons deployed, their focus on each other. One Sith, one Jedi, at least I could assume, given that it looked like Maul was trying to kill Ben. For his part, it looked like Ben was trying to kill Maul as well.
Sith and Jedi must be mortal enemies, I mused, as they brought their fight to the wall behind me. Their sabers clashed wildly, Ben's a quiet blue, and Maul's red. At least Maul was fighting fair, with only one of the halves ignited. I stood back and watched as Ben laid into Maul, cornering him next to the parapet. Maul did a standing backflip and even achieved height, landing on the roof of the building. Ben quickly followed, simply leaping up instead of doing aerial gymnastics, and they continued fighting. It looked like Ben's leap up, despite being less impressive than Maul's, had left him a little winded. Maul was definitely getting the better of him. I wasn't sure how I felt about this - these two men fighting over me. But were they? Ben and Maul circled each other, sparks flying from their sabers, looking like they were straight out of a mediaeval treatise on combat. Or a nature program on wolves, I thought with a shudder.
Suddenly, Maul ignited the other end of his weapon, making it a deadly quarter-staff. He swung it at Ben's feet, and as he leapt up to avoid having his legs incinerated, Maul threw out his hand and Ben wobbled off balance, falling toward the rocks below.
"Ben!" I screamed as I rushed toward the edge of the crenellation. A prickle down the back of my neck caused me to turn toward Maul. He hopped down from the roof onto the walls, crouched down and touched my face. Now I was scared. But instead of wasting his energy on me, he lightly jumped off the wall to the ground where Ben had landed rather softly.
I squinted to watch them continue fighting down there, trying to think of a short cut that didn't involve flight or magic powers. Knowing there wasn't one I could find in the dark, I started running down the outer slope of the area - the one with no pathways for pedestrians. From my vantage point scrambling down the rocks, I knew that Ben was no match for Maul.
And then I heard them - the sirens. Now of course, in Manhattan, sirens are nothing to worry about. But in this part of the park, I knew you couldn't hear sirens unless they were inside the park. Evidently, the cops were finished minority-baiting for the evening, and had been tipped off to some mighty odd violent behavior at the Castle.
I started stumbling a little faster down the slope, my feet slipping on the rocks and vegetation underneath them. Normally I'm worried that I'll twist my ankle or step on a rusty nail when I'm around here, and tread carefully, but as much as I didn't want either of these boys killing the other, I certainly didn't want to see them in a New York City jail after the cops got to them.
"BEN! MAUL! STOP RIGHT NOW!!!" I screamed as I neared the turtle pond.
"Please, the police are coming and I'm sure it's for you!" They kept going, ignoring my pleas. Only then did I notice the small crowd of people sitting on the lawn in the background, watching these men fight with only minimal attention. Great. Maybe when the cops did come, they'd be distracted writing tickets for open beer cans and pot-smoking and I could spirit the men away to someplace safe from the authorities. But would any place be safe from these boys?
"DON'T MAKE ME SEPARATE YOU TWO!"
The sirens grew louder, and the combatants didn't seem to hear me at all. I would have to do something drastic, that much I knew. But what could possible get the attention of these poor creatures so obviously in the throes of testosterone poisoning?
Ah, that was the answer. Certainly these boys had red blood flowing through their veins, Jedi or Sith notwithstanding. I steeled myself and tried to gather the courage it would take me to do what I had to do. The sirens stopped, and I heard a door slam. It was my last chance. I walked into the middle of the stage, trying to find the rhythm of their violent dance. They didn't see me at all, but holding my breath, I jumped between them. Before either of their weapons could crash down on my skull, I tossed my cloak and shirt off, and quickly removed my bra, exposing my bare breasts to these mortal enemies.
"I SAID KNOCK IT OFF!!!" I commanded, sounding a lot like my mom.
Ben's weapon had switched off and clattered to the ground, and his jaw dropped in amazement. Maul had quietly deactivated his and thoughtfully regarded my nudity. I hoped both of them were getting a thrill, since it was obvious the more lucid members of the audience were.
As long as I held their attention, I decided to warn them.
"The police are here, and they'll arrest us all - You two for some disturbing the peace, and me for public nudity if we don't get out of here quick!"
"It's totally legal to show your tits in New York," offered one drunken audience member helpfully.
"Be that as it may," I continued, giving the peanut gallery the stink-eye and then turning to the boys, "we need to avoid jail time. Do what you have to do. Co-operate if you must, and make sure you keep me out of jail too."
The crowd dispersed as the Men in Blue shone their high powered flashlights our way. The boys straightened up, and Ben quickly put his cloak around my naked torso.
The cop flashed his badge, "Officer Chernoff of the NYPD. Can I see some identification?" he queried boredly as he got out a small notebook. Ben stepped forward and subtly waved his hand in front of the officer's face.
"You don't need to see any identification," Ben said calmly.
"I don't need to see any identification," Chernoff repeated, his eyes glazing over.
While Ben was doing this, Maul was in the corner of the stage, talking to Officer Chernoff's partner. I didn't hear much of what was going on, but I saw the metallic gleam of the handcuffs and lurched away from Ben. Quickly, Maul activated his weapon, and bisected the officer. The handcuffs fell to the stage with a clang, followed by the top half of the officer. I padded over to Maul and began berating him.
"You can't just go around bisecting people in public - in New York fer chrissake!" Maul was un-apologetic. He deactivated his weapon and smiled ferally at me.
"Not this time," I hissed, "you bad boys may be fun for a few hours, but ultimately I'm the one who gets dumped."
Snapping out of his evident hypnosis, Chernoff wheeled around and regarded the scene before him with horror.
"All right, that's it, you're all coming in for questioning," Officer Chernoff demanded. Ben stepped directly in front of him.
"We're all innocent bystanders," he said slowly, "and it's a shame about the Gundark loose in the park, mauling officers. We are free to leave."
I looked down at the ground and scooted over to where Ben had dropped his weapon when I had flashed him. Smiling, I picked up the metal cylinder with my foot, tucking it in my waistband for the time being.
Chernoff got all glassy-eyed again, and astonishingly, repeated Ben.
"You're just innocent bystanders. It's a shame there's a Gundark loose in the park, mauling officers. Why don't you leave?"
And with that, the good officer took his leave of us. I turned around to see Maul dragging the body into the corner. Two examples of problem solving had been demonstrated, and Ben had been able to come to an agreeable arrangement by using his brain, not his brute strength. Not that Maul didn't have his charm, but if I had gone with him the first time we met, one of us would have ended up dead by now, and I was relatively certain it wouldn't have been him.
Ben noticed me gazing wistfully at Maul and pulled me aside.
"How do you know that Sith?" he asked, not unkindly. He had the most beautiful hazel eyes.
"I met him in a bar once. He left his cloak," I said, not wanting to explain that it was a strip club, and I had been drunk enough not to remember much else.
"And you are not his apprentice?" God he was cute when he was imploring.
I snorted, and out of the corner of my eye, saw Maul walking toward us.
"Right. I can't get through ballet class without arabesque-ing someone in the head. No, I'm no apprentice." I did, however, have a few tricks up my sleeve. I broke eye-contact with the adorable Ben to face the destructive one.
"Give me your weapon," I said to Maul, carefully. He had been about to ignite it, but I wasn't about to let anyone get attacked again. Maul hesitated, and then saw that I was holding Ben's saber.
"Give it!" I commanded, holding the cylinder in the middle, since I couldn't remember which side would erupt when I pressed the button. I had no idea how much force that damn weapon exerted, and was damn near knocked over by the kickback when I activated it. Momentarily, I got my bearings and held it aloft imperiously. Nevertheless, both men ducked and flinched as I waved it around. Hell, I thought I was pretty good for a beginner.
"New rule," I started, "no fighting around me. If you want to kill each other, fine. Do it somewhere else. I'm not going to be the one to clean up your gory entrails," or mend my broken heart again, I thought, "so as long as you're within 10 miles of me, you lay off the violence."
Maul hesitated, and fixed his stare on me again. I stared right back at him, trying to match his intensity and fire. I'm sure it wasn't working, but then, I wasn't wearing a shirt, so I at least had that advantage. He advanced on me in a few short steps, and held one hand out, throwing Ben to the ground.
"I could kill you now. I could even give you my lightsaber and still be rid of you." He took my chin in his hand and I struggled to keep the saber in my own hand steady, "but you are the only of your pathetic species to look me in the eye."
He dropped his saber at my feet and stepped back. Suddenly the saber I was holding flew straight to Ben's hand. He quickly deactivated it and threw it next to Maul's. Both stared dejectedly at me. I knelt to the rock where I had dropped my clothing. After putting my bra and shirt back on, I gently lifted up the voluminous cloak, dusted it off and handed it back as ceremoniously as I could to Maul. He took it from me politely, and quickly threw it on.
I wandered slowly back to Ben, and gave him the cloak he had lent me to cover up with. Our eyes met and he leaned in close…
"I'm sorry, I have to go. I have an appointment to keep." The image of De sharpening her eating dagger propelled me toward the closest path. Maul trailed after me.
"You need an escort for safe passage," he insisted, his weapon flying to his hand. I gave him a look and he pointedly hooked it to the belt underneath his recently repatriated cloak.
"Perhaps a chaperone for your escort," Ben chimed in, already at my other side. I shook my head.
You could hear the music of Nine Inch Nails blasting out of the entrance of The Dubliner.
Head like a hole,
Black as your soul,
I'd rather die,
Than give you control…
Oh, great. De had been kept waiting for awhile. This was her "angry" music. My retinue and I hesitated at the threshold of the dive bar. Maul listened intently to the music and smiled in appreciation of the lyric:
Bow down before the one you serve,
You're going to get what you deserve.
Maul tapped his foot to the beat of the song, until Ben gave him a look. Taking a deep breath and grabbing Ben's hand for steadiness, I entered the bar. True to form, De sat at a table in the back of the place, an empty wine glass sitting beside the full tumbler of scotch in front of her.
"About time," she said, obviously holding back, "don't I recognize you?" she turned to Maul.
Ben led me to a seat in the corner. We sat facing each other, and he lifted his hand toward my face.
"I'm a nice fellow… responsible, respectful, and I like you - a lot."
I pushed his hand onto the table and grinned.
"Stop it. If you gave me half a minute, I could tell you I feel the same way - without the hand waving hypnosis thing."
He took my hands in his and placed a gentle kiss on each one and I turned to jelly.
Maul situated himself awkwardly next to De.
"You buying the next round?" she asked him pointedly. She took his failure to answer as a "no".
"Cheap ass! Fine, I'll buy this round, but you have to drink what I buy."
She got up and Maul grinned at me. For his own protection, I thought it might be wise to sit at the same table.
She returned with a tray of shot glasses and a bottle of tequila. Lining up the glasses neatly, she explained the rules to Maul.
"First, you have to drain each glass, then you put it upside-down on the table to prove that you've drunk it."
"And what is the point of this exercise?" asked Maul, contemplating the five small receptacles in front of him.
"Last one standing wins." De said, without elaborating.
Maul was not a man accustomed to losing, I noted, and he began the drinking confidently. It was only after his last shot that he gasped and made a tremendously amusing face that indicated he had never had the pleasure of doing tequila shooters before.
De finished her last moments after he did and grinned. With a minimal amount of argument from Maul about the fairness of this match, she turned over the glasses and began re-pouring.
This was turning out to be a very amusing evening.
I took Ben's hand and led him to the juke-box. Dropping in a few quarters, I punched in the numbers of my favorite song. It wasn't normally used as a slow dance, but I figured Ben didn't know any better, and I placed my hands on his shoulders. He knew enough to put his own hands at the small of my back.
"Are you going to take me home tonight,
Oh, down beside that red fire-light,
Are you gonna let it all hang out,
Fat-bottomed girls, you make the rockin' world go round…"
The voice of Freddie Mercury had never been sweeter, I thought, as I rested my head on Ben's shoulder and we swayed to no beat in particular.
Just as Ben was about to lean in for a kiss, I heard a muffled thump. De looked at us sheepishly, four more shot glasses overturned on Maul's side of the table. Maul, however, was on the floor, in fetal position.
Maul did eventually recover from that evening of debauchery, although he spent the better part of two days flat on his back on our living room floor. For her part, De had a relatively brief hangover, marred only by mild alcohol poisoning. Only the bathroom porcelain is any worse for wear. There was a brief moment of awkwardness when Ben learned that "Ophelia" was merely an alias, but instead of getting self-righteous, he revealed that his actual name was "Obi-Wan". Whatever. "Ben" is a helluva lot easier to cry out in the throes of passion, so I assume he's gotten used to it. And the boys have both been very good about not killing each other around me.
DISCLAIMER: This story is a work of fiction written in appreciation of Star Wars; to promote the franchise and to keep it alive. All characters and settings are copyright to Lucasfilm, Ltd. The rest is copyright to the author.