Xanatos was a perfect apprentice. His Jedi Master,Qui-Gon Jinn, couldn't have been more pleased with him.
Xanatos possessed the natural intellect of the people of Telos, his home planet. He learned quickly, never forgot what he was taught, and never made the same mistakes twice. His ability to rationalize and reason through problems made him a top negotiator, helping Qui-Gon settle more than one dispute between arguing factions with very favorable results.
But it was his ability to utilize the Force that impressed Qui-Gon most of all. Xanatos could surrender himself to it completely and absorb its potency without fail. He was attuned to the slightest tremor, always aware of what it was telling him and always willing to act upon its guidance.
It had been only a few short days ago that, with unwavering conviction, Qui-Gon Jinn had stood before the Jedi Council with his star apprentice at his side and declared before all present that Xanatos was ready to become a knight.
How quickly things had changed.
Qui-Gon's once gallant apprentice knelt on the floor beside Crion, his biological father, whom he had seen his master cut down in battle right before his eyes. To rule with Crion, Xanatos had led a hired army into civil war against his own people, resulting in thousands of casualties. His descent into deceit, treachery and lawlessness now meant nothing.
Xanatos remained motionless, but Qui-Gon could sense his apprentice purposely severing all connection with the light side of the Force. Xanatos' hatred for his Jedi master blazed forth as he once again drew his strength from the Force's dark side, letting it consume him. Qui-Gon knew he had to reach him and find a way to end Xanatos' destructive downward spiral.
"Padawan! Listen to me!" Qui-Gon pleaded, wiping away the sweat streaming down his forehead and into his already burning eyes. Physical pains and emotions swirled around him like a whirlwind, threatening to suffocate him if he didn't get them under control.
Xanatos refused to acknowledge him.
"Xanatos!" Qui-Gon tried again, hoping beyond hope that he could get
through to him.
Turning to the window of the governor's quarters, he pointed outside where the sounds of death and destruction resonated in the night air.
"There is a battle raging, in the square right outside the gates," the Jedi Master stated. "Your people are dying needlessly." He gestured at the still, recumbent form of Crion on the floor. "Your father is near death. There will be no planetary take-overs. No expanding contracts." Qui-Gon saw Xanatos' red rimmed eyes brimming with unshed tears, but the Jedi felt no grief in him, only a black, burning rage. "Xanatos! This war is over nothing!"
"Nothing?!" Xanatos hissed, snapping his head around to finally face his master. "So this is 'nothing' to you." Xanatos sneered contemptuously and rose fluidly to his feet. He turned from Qui-Gon to look around the devastated governor's quarters.
A small fire had broken out during Qui-Gon's struggle with Crion. The heavy draperies were burning slowly, blackening nearby furnishings. Crushed glassware lay scattered on the floor, chairs were overturned, and the fine carpets were torn. Laser blasts dotted the walls and the control room computers leaving them in a molten mass of sizzling, sparking metal.
The echo of battle coming through the open window intensified. Qui-Gon spared a quick glance outside. He turned back to Xanatos, pleadingly, knowing without a doubt his apprentice could hear the agonized screams of his people as well as he could. Why was there no trace of concern in him? Why did he continue to make his people suffer for a lost and misguided cause instigated by Crion's greed? Qui-Gon was about to bring this to his padawan's attention when Xanatos spoke.
"I suppose you are right again, Master," Xanatos murmured, with a hint of sarcasm.
Spying a gleam of metal just beyond the burning draperies, he walked slowly towards the object. A strangled cry caught in his throat as he realized what it was he had found. Xanatos closed his eyes momentarily, fighting back tears, and then he curtly addressed Qui-Gon. "I have nothing left, thanks to you." He drew a series of short breaths, staring down at the tiny metal object on the floor in front of him. It began to glow as it absorbed the fire's heat.
Qui-Gon swallowed down the lump forming in his throat. He could see his apprentice's heart shriveling with hatred as he continued absorbing the dark side of the Force. A feeling of desperation washed over the Jedi Master. I'm losing him, he thought. He took a tentative step forward, his mind racing.
"That's not true, Padawan," Qui-Gon told him softly. "You still have everything of value you ever possessed. You still have your wisdom, your reason, your strength and all your unique abilities. And you still have the power of the Force. Don't abuse it. Don't crawl into its shadow. Embrace its truths; embrace its life before it's too late."
"Value?" Xanatos asked in astonishment. "Power? You know nothing of real power." He suddenly pointed to Crion. "He knew. He HAD power! The kind of power I want! And he would have given it all to me! He was placing entire systems in the palm of my hand. I would have had power beyond anything you have ever known. Far beyond all your vague notions and concepts. This was reality and it could have been mine because I was his son."
Qui-Gon bowed his head. Crion had only significantly come back into his son's life a few weeks ago. How could Xanatos feel so strongly about a man he hardly knew? Qui-Gon had been more of a father to Xanatos than Crion ever had. Qui-Gon had cared for him, taught him, guided him, and most of all loved him as his own son. Why, all of a sudden, did all his nurturing mean nothing? How could Xanatos have become so influenced by Crion's wealth that he readily cast aside all righteousness for it?
There were rumors, accusations and suspicions concerning Xanatos which consistently plagued the Jedi Master. Maybe it was all true. Maybe Xanatos was not who Qui-Gon always believed him to be. The seeds of corruption may have been germinating in him for a long time now.
Qui-Gon gazed forlornly at his apprentice. How could he have been so blind? Why did he not sense these things sooner? The truth was, he had; he had only been denying what he had known in his heart, and concealed in the suppressed recesses of his mind.
"Have you nothing to say for yourself, Master?" Xanatos said, his deep voice piercing through Qui-Gon's thought-filled haze.
"Why do you still call me 'Master'? I am no longer your master. You've made that more than clear," Qui-Gon said quietly.
"You repudiate me?" Xanatos snarled. "Now? At this, my 'most desperate hour'?" He turned away from Qui-Gon in apparent disgust.
Qui-Gon's pulse pounded heavily in his head. He had been considerably bruised and battered during the fighting and his limbs felt heavy with fatigue. He was feeling a little light-headed as well and tried to tap into the Force's healing power, but it evaded him. Qui-Gon rebuked himself for being too undisciplined and too distracted. A most desperate hour indeed.
"I...would never denounce you, Xanatos. You are still my padawan whether you choose to acknowledge that fact or not," Qui-Gon reassured him, relaying his concern through the Force. "I am still your master," he added, his voice gritty with emotion.
He felt Xanatos' hostility wane, albeit slightly, at his words. Encouraged, he stepped forward, over to where his padawan stood staring transfixed by the tiny metal object in the fire. "Trust me," Qui-Gon breathed. "Let me help you through this. We'll leave this planet behind and it will only be a memory. The time we have spent here will just serve to remind you of the destruction caused by unmitigated power." He placed a cautious hand on the young man's shoulder. "Come back to Coruscant with me. We'll work this out. Together we'll find a way to heal your people, Padawan. But for now, only you can set things right."
Slowly, Xanatos peered over his shoulder and into his master's dark blue eyes. He began nodding.
"Just a memory?" he asked in a quiet voice.
Qui-Gon nodded, his heartbeat quickening. He smiled warmly. Maybe his padawan was not entirely lost after all. Maybe he had gotten through to him in time. Maybe everything was going to be all right.
"I can tell you've learned a lot from this sordid affair," Qui-Gon informed him. "That is the only good that comes from such experiences."
"Yes," Xanatos agreed in a vaguely derisive tone. "I have learned a lot today. About you. About the Jedi. The power of the Force...."
Suddenly Crion's body convulsed spastically and went limpas the last breath slipped from his mangled body. Both Jedi turned as one towards the sound.
Xanatos stared long and hard at the still form of his father. Twisting away from Qui-Gon's grasp, he stooped to pluck the tiny metal object from the midst of the fire and pressed it hard against the soft flesh of his cheek. It seared his skin but Xanatos seemed oblivious to any pain.
Shocked, Qui-Gon spun him around and saw the raw, angry-looking broken circle branded deeply on Xanatos' face. As Xanatos held up the metal object for his master's inspection, Qui-Gon realized that it was the ring that had been cut from Crion's hand in their battle. Foul tasting bile rose in the Jedi Master's throat.
"This will be my memory, Qui-Gon!" Xanatos seethed, gesturing at the blistering welt just below his right eye. "Every time I see my reflection, it will serve to remind me of all that has transpired here between a father and a son. And a master and a slave." He flung the ring angrily aside.
Qui-Gon's heart sank. "Xanatos," he whispered raggedly. "Find the strength to forgive me for what I was forced to do here. Your father left me no other alternative. It was all I could do to stay alive. I acted in the best interest of Telos and her people. Too many have died at his hand."
Xanatos crossed the room to put as much distance between himself and Qui-Gon as possible. As if experiencing a newfound sense of freedom, he pulled off his Jedi cloak and threw it forcibly to the floor.
Qui-Gon took a deep breath. "If I could have spared you from seeing your father struck down before your eyes, believe me, I would have."
"And that would have made it all right?" Xanatos asked with an incredulous expression. "Sparing me my eyewitness account of my father's murder? And at the hands of a man I once trusted." He shook his head slowly. "No. I'll never be able to forgive you. You betrayed me. You lied to me and cheated me. I hate you more than anyone I have ever hated before."
Qui-Gon took a faltering step backward, stung by his padawan's words and the consuming darkness he now felt emanating from Xanatos' lifeforce. The Jedi Master placed his hand over his heart as though he felt a real physical pain there. It felt empty and cold inside him. He closed his eyes and tried to pull the Force around him to feel its comforting presence in the hollow darkness of the room. Qui-Gon focused on drawing strength and peace from it. He knew he had to keep his emotions at bay so he could think clearly and act precisely.
The first thought that entered his mind was that he had failed on the grandest scale a Jedi Master could. His apprentice had openly surrendered himself to the dark side. There was nothing else Qui-Gon could do for him at this point.
It was time to focus his energy into stopping further bloodshed.
Qui-Gon looked up at Xanatos and then just as quickly looked away, realizing he could not bear the way his former padawan was staring at him. He took a deep steadying breath.
"Regardless...of how you feel about me, I am sorry for what has happened here," Qui-Gon stated. "I will leave you if that is what you wish." Qui-Gon pulled his cloak tighter around himself and moved to step around Xanatos, but then stopped short, hearing the familiar ripping hiss of a lightsaber being activated.
"Leave? I don't think so," Xanatos growled, angling the tip of his lightsaber directly in front of Qui-Gon's eyes. "Someone needs to answer for this." He gestured absently around the governor's quarters. "And it's not going to be me."
Qui-Gon gaped incredulously as Xanatos edged around him, blocking his path. "Has it truly come to this?" the Jedi Master questioned. He leaned towards Xanatos slightly. "Do you realize exactly what you are doing by drawing your lightsaber against me?"
Xanatos merely shrugged. "Maybe I'm delirious with grief."
Qui-Gon straightened to his full imposing height and placed his hands on his hips. His face became void of expression. Any compassion, any feelings he had had for Xanatos abruptly left him.
"There is no grief in you!" Qui-Gon hissed back. "Your heart is so blackened by greed, you only mourn the loss of your father's blood money. You don't mourn for him, or Telos, or the countless people made to suffer under his dictatorship!"
"You fool," Xanatos' deep voice rumbled. "You were always jealous of my father. You always tried to make me forget about him. Forget who I really was. Now, I will tell everyone that you ruthlessly killed him so you could have all his wealth for yourself. I will tell them I had to kill you to stop you."
Qui-Gon reached for his lightsaber and took it from his utility belt, but did not activate it. "Don't make me do this," he whispered, tightening his grip around the hilt to keep his hand from shaking. "If you attack me, I will defend myself."
Undeterred, Xanatos suddenly snarled and lunged forward, but Qui-Gon was able to dodge out of his way. Xanatos' lightsaber came crashing down on the floor in an explosion of sparks, adding fuel to the already expanding fire.
Qui-Gon glared menacingly at his apprentice. Slowly, he turned away from him.
Xanatos stared after him, his chest heaving with rage. Qui-Gon was almost to the door.
"Qui-Gon!" Xanatos screamed. He hurled himself forward, grasping his lightsaber in both hands and swung the weapon with all his strength at the back of Qui-Gon's head.
Through the Force, Qui-Gon sensed Xanatos' attack and ducked, spinning on his knees, and then rising to his feet all in the blink of an eye. He hit Xanatos with a force push, throwing him to the floor beside the burning draperies.
"Enough!" Qui-Gon commanded.
But as he struggled to his feet, Xanatos whipped his lightsaber at Qui-Gon's legs.
The Jedi Master jumped, narrowly avoiding having his legs severed at the knees. Furious, Qui-Gon powerfully back-handed his apprentice, once more relegating him to the floor.
"I said enough," Qui-Gon repeated, breathing deeply, trying to calm
himself. The older Jedi stood staring down at Xanatos who lay on
the floor, slowly caressing his bruised cheekbone. Intense shame
washed over Qui-Gon as he regained control of his emotions.
"I'm sorry," he whispered hoarsely. "The stealth of the dark side can catch anyone unaware. Even me from time to time. I'm not perfect, Xanatos, I never claimed to be. Perfection only comes when one is able to recognize and reject the darkness before it can influence you. I leave you with that to ponder." Qui-Gon turned away.
"You bastard," Xanatos grumbled. He climbed shakily to his feet, then went to the open window and glanced out into the night. Slowly, he lowered his lightsaber. "You preachy, self-righteous bastard. How dare you."
Qui-Gon peered over his shoulder. "I'm finished with you, Xanatos. I'm leaving you to your choices." He returned his lightsaber to his utility belt.
Xanatos remained by the window, breathing slowly, filling his lungs with the clean night air. A calm seem to descend over him and he slowly turned to face Qui-Gon. Tears suddenly welled in his blue-black eyes. "I've really done it this time, haven't I? I suppose I have lost everything now," he murmured. "Even you."
Qui-Gon watched him warily.
Xanatos turned back to the window with a dejected expression. "I...I am a disgrace, isn't that what you're thinking? You're right, Master. I am not worthy to be a Jedi," he said, quietly. "And I am not worthy of being your apprentice."
Qui-Gon's heart melted at his padawan's broken words. He stepped towards him, eager to forgive him everything, at the same time stretching out with the Force expecting to find remorse or shame in his apprentice.
The all-consuming hate that he encountered instead filled him with dread.
Qui-Gon stopped, almost too late, as Xanatos' lightsaber suddenly flew up from his side. The Jedi Master jumped back, but not before the scalding tip caught him across the chest. Qui-Gon staggered backwards, devastated and stunned. He prodded his sizzling wound gingerly with his fingertips as if trying to convince himself it was real.
Triumphantly, Xanatos sneered and lunged at Qui-Gon again, forcing the Jedi back even further. "You are pathetically gullible," he muttered.
Nodding in agreement, Qui-Gon retrieved and activated his lightsaber, resigned to do battle. Concentrating, he began slowly circling Xanatos, clearing his mind and drawing the Force to him. "You are simply cruel."
Xanatos wiped angrily at his eyes. "I have every right to be!" He drew his saber back over his head and brought it down with a sizzling crash against Qui-Gon's lightsaber, his intention clear. This would be a fight to the death.
Qui-Gon was surprised by the strength behind Xanatos' blow. Their sabers were already locked together, rasping and hissing in protest. Qui-Gon gathered his strength and shoved Xanatos away from him.
But Xanatos jumped right back into the fray, not giving Qui-Gon any time to recover. He grinned as the Jedi Master was forced to take a retreating step backwards as he parried Xanatos' attacks.
"Yes," Xanatos panted. "You knew I was good. But you had no idea just how good, did you, 'Master'?"
Qui-Gon had to admit, his former padawan's skill and strength were commendable. But what Xanatos failed to realize was that until now, Qui-Gon had been holding back due to his reluctance to fight.
"That kind of bravado will be your undoing, 'Padawan'," Qui-Gon quipped back. The Jedi's saber came down and tapped Xanatos' left arm. Xanatos reared back with a curse, clutching at his arm with his free hand.
Xanatos' anger flared. He swung his saber one-handed at Qui-Gon's unguarded right side. Qui-Gon twisted to avoid the blow from the saber, drawing his own saber back from his other side in a split second. Again, their lightsabers locked together. Using the leverage of the locked sabers, Xanatos pushed off of them and jump kicked Qui-Gon in the ribs. The Jedi landed heavily against the wall, the back of his head smacking sharply against the masonry.
Qui-Gon propped himself up on his elbows, then quickly scrambled back to his feet and leapt out of the way as Xanatos came at him in pursuit from across the room.
Qui-Gon turned and faced his opponent, determined not to let Xanatos catch him unguarded again. Anger and frustration began surfacing inside him and he resolutely pushed it away. Now was not the time to lose his control of the Force. Like it or not, he knew he was in a life or death struggle. He ordered himself to remain calm and focused.
Qui-Gon watched Xanatos closely. Depending on the way he shifted his weight, he could tell where Xanatos' next attack would come from. It was a subtle mistake, one that only a Jedi Master would notice from untold practice sessions. Now it worked to Qui-Gon's advantage.
Qui-Gon blocked each strike of his former padawan's lightsaber with relative ease, even though Xanatos was advancing and slashing at him with an inhuman speed. It soon became clear to Qui-Gon that Xanatos was tiring. The younger Jedi should know he needed to pace himself and control his temper to better focus his attack, but Qui-Gon resolutely stifled the urge to offer his padawan such sage instruction and began to gain the upper hand.
The Jedi Master had to smile to himself, thinking how odd this scenario was. The man Xanatos was fighting was the one who had taught him everything he knew about handling a lightsaber. Xanatos would soon realize he had to devise different strategies; ones unfamiliar to the seasoned Jedi.
As if the padawan had read his master's thoughts, Xanatos suddenly broke off his attack and danced quickly backward, narrowly avoiding Qui-Gon's countering strike.
The two opponents stood regarding each other for a moment. The lightsabers hummed impatiently in their hands.
Qui-Gon straightened and put his hand to his chest. His wound was open and bleeding, soaking his tunic with a dark red stain. He licked his lips and took a deep breath, watching Xanatos from across the room.
"Have...have you had enough of this foolishness?" the Jedi Master breathed, slightly winded from the rush of adrenaline he was experiencing. His lungs burned from the smoky air in the room.
Xanatos merely wiped his arm across his sweating brow. His black hair glistened and his fair skin was flushed with exertion. He stood regarding his opponent in quiet contemplation for a few moments, then suddenly spoke up.
"Is avenging my father's murder foolishness to you? If you believe that then I will prevail, Master. After all, righteousness and justice are on my side and I won't stop until I see you dead!" He sprang forward, hopped up and propelled himself over Qui-Gon, landing squarely on his feet directly behind the Jedi Master. Xanatos brought his lightsaber down in a powerful sweeping arc over Qui-Gon's head, intent on delivering a final fatal blow.
But Qui-Gon simultaneously turned and parried, caught Xanatos' lightsaber with his and shoved it away. "You avenge only your greed," the Jedi Master declared. "I shall avenge your people. You are weak, Padawan. In mind, in body, and in spirit."
Xanatos stood glaring back at him, his shoulders heaving with unbridled fury, his smug expression twisting into one of rage. With a strangled, inhuman shriek, Xanatos lunged forward again, but this time, instead of parrying with his lightsaber, Qui-Gon leaned back, shifting all his weight behind him. He drove his fist into the young man's jaw, hoping to knock him unconscious. His knuckles cracked and split with the impact.
Xanatos' eyes momentarily went blank, then he staggered back, blood filling his torn mouth. He grabbed his head as if to stop its spinning, then shook it a few times to clear it, wincing and crying out with intense pain. Slowly, he looked up at Qui-Gon and backed away further.
For the first time, Qui-Gon saw real fear register in his padawan's eyes, but instead of it deterring Xanatos, fear empowered him. Soon, Xanatos continued his attack, adding a series of complicated maneuvers which relied more on stealth than strength. It was evident the young Jedi had switched strategies, clearly coming to the conclusion that Qui-Gon could not be overpowered.
Qui-Gon encircled Xanatos' saber with his own, tangling the two blades. The sabers buzzed and hissed loudly. Xanatos stepped forward, jerking his lightsaber away from the Jedi's and tried to stab the tip into Qui-Gon's torso.
Qui-Gon slipped just beyond his opponent's reach and slapped Xanatos' lightsaber down with an overhead strike. Now it was Qui-Gon who attacked. He made several rapid jabs at Xanatos, forcing him to circle back and away from him. Xanatos continued to brandish his saber one-handed, blocking the Jedi's blows as he cradled his jaw in pain.
The two warriors circled and pursued each other in turn around the room, jumping over and on burning furniture, leaping off the walls, twisting out of corners and sprinting across the spacious flooring, all the while slashing furiously at each other in desperate attempts to gain an advantage.
In time, Xanatos sustained two more injuries from Qui-Gon's attacks. His thigh was badly bruised from a hard fall and the skin on his right hand was burned and blistering. The Jedi Master could sense his padawan's pain. It was becoming debilitating.
The pace of their duel had slowed considerably and Xanatos appeared to be too busy thinking--or scheming, devising some way to maneuver around Qui-Gon's defenses, to use the Force to control his suffering. Qui-Gon hadn't let Xanatos score another hit on him since sustaining the wound on his chest, which still seeped blood through the cauterized edges causing the Jedi Master considerable discomfort each time he moved his arms.
Qui-Gon felt the sinister tremors in the Force around him, and was reminded again of his immense failure. His heart became heavy with burdensome emotions, but he knew there was no time now to consider just what had gone wrong. Xanatos was focusing himself. He would attack with new ferocity soon.
"What is the matter, Qui-Gon?" Xanatos asked suddenly, taunting Qui-Gon into distraction, his speech slurred and thick. "Do I sense in you...self doubt? Are you thinking what a pathetic master you are?" He dragged the sleeve of his tunic across his mouth to wipe away a persistent trickle of blood seeping through his broken teeth, then smiled, catching the flicker of unease in Qui-Gon's eyes. "Do you want me to tell you just how pathetic you are, my friend?" Xanatos crossed his lightsaber with Qui-Gon's, roughly pushing against it.
Qui-Gon pushed back, holding Xanatos away from him. Their sabers once more locked together.
Qui-Gon was close enough to look into Xanatos' eyes now. He swallowed dryly. His apprentice glared back at him, his dark eyes reflecting the cold vacancy of a predator. Qui-Gon almost didn't recognise his padawan anymore. There wasn't any trace of the youthful vitality and spirit that Qui-Gon had known. Yet these were the same eyes that had once looked up to him with child-like trust and affection. That was the same handsome face of the dedicated pupil Qui-Gon had taught. The same young man he had cherished like a son. The Jedi Master's heart ached again with the realization of what he had to do in order to stop the new evil that had been spawned due to his own inadequacy as a master.
Xanatos knitted his brow. "Ah, well, perhaps you know now...just how badly you failed with me. I can see it in your eyes." He backed up, unlocking his saber from Qui-Gon's and swung it sharply to the left, but Qui-Gon blocked it and advanced on him, driving him slowly back. Xanatos cursed. Qui-Gon felt him stretch out with the Force and center on his tumultuous emotions. Xanatos grinned crookedly, triumphantly. He had sensed there was definitely turmoil in the Jedi Master's mind.
"It was your choice, Xanatos, not mine," Qui-Gon told him, struggling to sound blasé.
Xanatos tried to negotiate around Qui-Gon and reverse their positions. Xanatos must have felt he was being cornered again.
"Are you asking yourself how you could be so dense?" Xanatos continued, his words slithering breathily through his clenched jaw, all the while biding his time with a series of short thrusts and parries. "You thought you knew me, but you didn't know me at all. Your pride kept you from accepting how depraved I really was. Oh, yes, from the beginning. It wasn't that I was so good at keeping things from you. It was just that you were so blinded by your foolish pride. All those countless fights with the other students, the vandalism, the absences. There were the nights I snuck out of the Temple. The robberies. The women. The 'accidental' and 'unavoidable' deaths."
Xanatos nodded as Qui-Gon's face betrayed his shock. He had realized he could hurt Qui-Gon more with words than he could with his lightsaber at this point. Qui-Gon tried not to listen, but Xanatos was telling the truth. How could he deny hearing the truth? He took several deep breaths, feeling as though his former apprentice was flaying him with the words, punishing him into delirium.
"So you see, Master Jinn," Xanatos continued mercilessly, "you never really had an apprentice at all. Don't grieve for me now. Don't be ashamed of me. Be ashamed of yourself."
Qui-Gon lowered his lightsaber and regarded his lost padawan with a mixture of feelings. Xanatos must have seen his former master's soft eyes shimmer with excess moisture and knew for a split second, Qui-Gon wasn't thinking about offense or defense anymore. It was the kind of distraction he needed. Xanatos suddenly pulled energy from the dark side of the Force, letting it feed off his hatred and anger, and letting it fill him. He smiled triumphantly and raised his lightsaber.
Numbed, Qui-Gon saw, more than felt, the red blade descending. He spun around to his left and swatted it powerfully away. "Thank you, Xanatos," the Jedi began and inclined his head in a gesture of appreciation. "Your revelations have enlightened me. I can assure you, I too have learned a great deal this night and I will never make the same mistakes again."
Xanatos swore in frustration and attacked again with new zeal, but the instant of distraction was gone. Qui-Gon blocked and thrust and parried away all Xanatos' advances. Nearing exhaustion, Xanatos found himself retreating more where Qui-Gon only seemed to be getting stronger.
The Jedi Master followed Xanatos back to the window. He half knew what his former apprentice had in mind by leading him there. Xanatos would use the extra striking space the open window provided. It would be a tight maneuver, but Qui-Gon was certain Xanatos would opt for the unexpected. But Qui-Gon refused to be placed in such a vulnerable position. Instead of circling to the right, which was what he believed Xanatos was hoping he'd do, he veered left at the last second, almost impaling himself on Xanatos' saber tip as the Jedi apprentice hauled it back behind him to strike Qui-Gon's unprotected side.
Caught completely by surprise, Xanatos whirled around to face Qui-Gon, but the Jedi Master was ready for him. He was near enough to strike Xanatos' blade close to the hilt with enough force to disarm him. The red lightsaber flew out of Xanatos' hand and across the room.
Qui-Gon stood towering over his apprentice, poised and ready to bring this chapter of his life to an end. He dragged his wrist across his eyes to wipe the sweat away. He took several deep breaths.
Xanatos stared into the Jedi's eyes, a mixture of emotions playing across his battered and bruised face. Apprehension flickered through his unwavering hostility, followed closely by shame, and finally a knowing calm. Then Xanatos nodded, his eyes never leaving Qui-Gon's face.
"Well, go on then," he said in a single exhaled breath, bowing his head. "Kill me and be done with it."
Qui-Gon was stunned by Xanatos' gesture. He sighed heavily and closed his eyes, his throat clenching and unclenching with agonizing emotions.
"Are you so eager to die, Xanatos?" he whispered, his voice strained. Qui-Gon opened his eyes and looked sadly at his former padawan. His padawan. Was there no hope left for him? Was this the only way? His heart twisting painfully inside him, Qui-Gon stepped back from Xanatos and lowered his lightsaber.
Xanatos raised his head warily. He was clearly exhausted and what little fight he had left in him appeared to be waning. "Not so eager; but then why delay the inevitable?"
Qui-Gon resolutely shook his head. "I cannot....I will not." It had never been his intention to kill him.
Cursing under his breath, Xanatos crashed dramatically to his knees in front of the Jedi Master. "Just do it!" he snarled. "I deserve to die, don't I? Trust me, Qui-Gon, you will never be given this opportunity again and if you don't kill me now, I will make you regret such clemency every minute of every hour until the quite foreseeable day you fall at MY hand. And don't think I'll give killing you a second thought." He chuckled deeply as Qui-Gon continued to hesitate. "You're pitiful! Temperamentally weak and as usual, entirely lacking conviction!"
The Jedi Master only lowered his eyes and deactivated his lightsaber. "I can't," he announced again. No matter how hard he tried, he could not replace the image of his pupil, fellow-Jedi, and close friend with the greed-driven, hateful murderer kneeling before him.
Shaking his head slowly, Xanatos leaned back on his haunches and rested his hands on his thighs. He tried to smile, but could only manage a lop-sided leer through the swollen corners of his mouth.
"Very well. Just what do you intend to do with me, if not kill me?"
Qui-Gon fixed his eyes on Xanatos and straightened slightly.
"Just because I did not exact capital punishment upon you does not mean I am just letting you go. You will be brought to justice. You will return to Coruscant with me and come before the Council and the Senate for your crimes," the Jedi duly informed him.
Xanatos' countenance darkened; all traces of mirth evaporating in the blink of an eye. "I'm not going anywhere with you," he growled. "Kill me...if you want to stop me."
Qui-Gon merely shrugged, seemingly unperturbed by Xanatos' persistent goading. "I can always change my mind," he said quietly. "Perhaps I will decide to kill you after all, if there is no other way." He watched as Xanatos rose stiffly to his feet. Too late, he noticed Xanatos' was looking past him, his eyes searching out the location of his lightsaber across the room.
Qui-Gon immediately turned to call the saber to his hand and was forced to duck to keep from being struck in the face by the flying hilt. Xanatos stretched forward and snatched his weapon from the air. Whirling around to face his apprentice, Qui-Gon activated his lightsaber and wearily staggered back a step, feeling frustrated and bristling at the prospect of having to resume dueling. "I am not letting you leave with that lightsaber. You know you are not allowed to keep it outside the Order."
Activating his lightsaber to keep the Jedi Master at bay, Xanatos edged towards the window. "And what makes you think I care one wit about the rules of the Order now?" Xanatos rumbled. "This lightsaber is mine, and I intend to keep it," he added defiantly.
Qui-Gon lowered his lightsaber. Apparently, Xanatos didn't want to fight again anymore than he did. "No, Xanatos. It was never yours....It belonged to a Jedi."
Sneering in contempt, Xanatos merely shook his head. "You should have killed me when you had the chance. Now your window of opportunity has closed forever." Using the Force, Xanatos gestured at a nearby footstool and sent it crashing through the dark glass of the large recessed window, significantly expanding the jagged hole. "Whereas my window's maw of opportunity gapes enticingly before me." He hopped up on the window's ledge. "Farewell, Qui-Gon. For now." He paused to trace the red, self-inflicted wound on his face, then quickly ducked out the opening.
Transfixed by despair, Qui-Gon watched Xanatos disappear into the black shadows of the courtyard below. His exhaustion was complete. He felt spent and defeated and for the moment, could not summon the will to pursue his rogue padawan. What was the point? Even if he recaptured him, Qui-Gon knew he was still incapable of dispensing the kind of justice Xanatos deserved. After all, wasn't his own failure just as punishable?
The Jedi Master stood frozen, quietly contemplating the answers to such questions. Finally, he bowed his head and took a deep cleansing breath, but wound up coughing and sputtering in the smoke-filled air. He blinked several times to clear his hazy vision and realized the fire was quickly enveloping the governor's quarters. He needed to leave.
Taking one last look around, Qui-Gon spied Crion's abandoned corpse, virtually indistinguishable in the fiery shambles of his once opulent offices, his rich furnishings nothing more than kindling now. Crion's valuable ring, which Xanatos had used to forever mar his features now lay misshapen and discolored on a smoldering carpet. Qui-Gon thought it was a fitting symbol of all that had transpired here these past few weeks.
Seeking peace, he called upon the Force but found it silent, unable to make its presence known with his mind so full of furor. So be it. Qui-Gon realized peace of mind would elude him as long as his heart continued to sob and rave with every punishable pound of his pulse.
He knew he would meet Xanatos again and be given another chance to amend the mistakes he had made. It seemed destined in time. And time was his only ally now.
Slowly, almost reluctantly, the Jedi Master turned and carefully made
his way to the door.