Title: "Loose Ends"

Author: Aeshna (aeshna@kelmaith.demon.co.uk)

Rating: PG-13

Summary: Xanatos decides that it's time to stop running.

Disclaimer: not mine, alas, no matter *how* many toys I buy. Everything here belongs to George.

Notes: this grew out of an observation that certain aspects of TPM fandom had become rather predictable in their biases. So, now for something a little different.... g Thanks are due to MJ for setting this one in motion, even though she might not have realised it at the time, and to my friend Phil, who may never see this but whose rather scathing comments regarding lightsabre fighting techniques made a warped sort of sense.

Thanks to Clarence for the title and comments from the night shift, and to Dee and Fukurou for their swift and insightful betas. You guys are great. g

* * = italics

***

I realise now that we were doomed from the start, you and I. We were simply too alike. Too arrogant, too opinionated, too determined to be *right* at all costs -- it was only a matter of time before something snapped. Before one of *us* snapped. All things considered, it was a miracle that we lasted as long as we did.

In the end, though, something had to give and that something turned out to be me. Looking back, I can only wince at the bright burst of temper that finally took me over the edge. I was in a hopeless position, torn between the two men who meant most to me, my loyalties stretched to breaking. If you had shown me just a *moment's* kindness I would have followed you without question, but instead the old arrogance surfaced and found its echo in my own desperation, sealing our fate. What happened next was... ugly.

I cannot say that I am proud of how we parted. We were together a long time and not all of the memories are unpleasant. A clean break, of whatever variety, would have been better than the mutual feelings of betrayal and the imperfectly dissolved training bond that still ties us together, bringing each into the others orbit with frustrating frequency, no matter how much we would like to resist. Who is moth and who is flame, I wonder? And which of us will burn when finally we get too close?

That time is almost upon us. I can feel your presence nearby for all that you try to cloak yourself, but I am tired of the chase, my Master, and wish for this to end. This does not mean that I wish to die -- far from it! But I no longer want to spend my life looking over my shoulder for the ghosts of past mistakes. It is time to finish this.

***

Qui-Gon moved slowly forward, his shields raised, his tread careful. It had been three days since he had first felt the trace of Xanatos's presence on this world, the fleeting brush within his mind a pale shadow of the bond he now shared with his current apprentice but one that he could neither mistake nor ignore. It was seven years now since his former padawan had turned, seven years of knowing his own failure with the boy. Seven years....

Yoda had thought that pushing Obi-Wan into his life would help to heal the old scars but Qui-Gon knew better, knew that there was only one way to purge his shame. Xanatos had been his responsibility, his to raise into the light. His turning had not removed that duty from his master... but it had changed it into something far different, far harsher. Far more deadly. He would not rest until he had removed the darkness that had escaped his care.

The plascrete floor of the storage depot did little to muffle his footsteps as he tracked his prey. He and Obi-Wan had arrived on Kelchon as a politically neutral representatives of the Republic at a trade fair, not realising that OffWorld would have a presence there... albeit an unofficial one. He had sensed his former apprentice almost immediately but had hidden the fact from Obi-Wan -- the boy had no need to become involved in this. He was too young for executions. Instead he had made some discrete enquiries and given his padawan a free evening to explore the fair. With luck, this would be over before he had even realised that his master was gone.

That Xanatos had headed into the warehouses beneath the spires and halls of the trade complex was a relief -- there were only droids here, nothing sentient that might provide a hostage. And it was best that this were done out of sight of the other representatives, who might not understand the necessity of this action. There was still the possibility that his quarry had arranged an escape route through the labyrinthine passageways of the depositories, another 'back door' through which to slip. Little would surprise him where Xanatos was concerned.

Little but the sight that met his eyes as he turned a final corner -- Xanatos, seated on a box, apparently waiting for him. As Qui-Gon took a wary step forward, the younger man rose gracefully to his feet, allowing his dark cloak to slip from his shoulders to reveal the slender, blue-and-black clad form beneath. He inclined his head, a faint smile teasing at his lips.

"Hello, Master."

***

You are alone. I am grateful for that detail -- I have no argument with the boy and he would only have gotten in the way of what needs to be done here. Despite the opinion I know you have of me, I have no great love of harming innocents. Hence my choice of venue for this final meeting -- it would have been easy to choose a crowded hall but I am not seeking to evade you any more, nor to find witnesses. What happens here is between you and I alone, without distraction or evasion.

You look older than I recall -- more silver in the brown of your hair and that hair now grown longer than when we were together. Was the silver my doing, I wonder, or the work of your new padawan? You still stand as tall and proud as I remember though, intimidating through sheer physical presence, even without the lightsabre. I once thought you invincible, perfect, the living embodiment of all I wished to be... but when I came to know you and your moods, the fond fantasies of childhood evaporated into harsh reality. There are times when I almost pity the boy I was, so keen to be the perfect padawan for you, so eager to be the best. If only I had known....

Still, all that is past now. You always told me to live in the moment -- well, this moment is where I am now. No past, no future. No plans. Just us.

Let us see where this moment takes us.

***

They stood, observing one another in silence for a few moments, each cataloguing the changes wrought by time since their last meeting. Xanatos had filled out a little more, Qui-Gon noted, but otherwise there was little to distinguish him from the young Jedi who had come so *close* to his knighthood. The stance was cocky, confident, drawing attention to the black and silver of the weapon at his hip; the expression spoke of faint amusement. His blue eyes, however, contained a faint curiosity and a sense of tired determination that also hung in the Force around him, indicating his true mood.

So, that was to be the way of it. Good.

It wasn't the sort of place Qui-Gon would have expected Xanatos to choose to make his final stand -- it was too discrete, too quiet. His former apprentice had always had an eye for spectacle that had made the Jedi think that he would wish to go out in a blaze of glory, taking as many with him as he could. That he had picked this lonely, silent location was nothing to complain about, however -- it would make what was to come easier to clear with the local authorities. If he could dispatch his opponent quickly, he could have the remains shipped back to Coruscant for disposal before the night was over....

Xanatos smiled, one hand moving up to push his thick black hair behind a pale ear. "I was beginning to wonder if you would ever get here."

"I know my duty," Qui-Gon replied evenly, watching for any sudden attempts at attack or escape. "You have evaded yours for too long."

"Since when has dying been a duty?" A slender eyebrow rose in query. "But in a way you are right -- I have been avoiding this for a long time. I'm not running from you any more."

Qui-Gon met the rogue's eyes. "I am not here to take you as a prisoner."

"No, you're here to kill me. If you can...." Xanatos chuckled and turned his back on the Jedi for a moment, the invitation obvious. When Qui-Gon made no move, the younger man glanced back at him, looking amused. "You're here to drive that pretty green blade of yours through my guts, to hear me *beg* you for mercy as I die. Or will you try to make it quick? A final act of kindness that I don't deserve...." A sigh. "Either way, whatever's left goes back to the Temple in a bag so that they can satisfy themselves as to my fate. I can just see that nasty little troll poking at me with that stick of his...."

"You knew the penalty for turning rogue."

"Yes! Less than the penalty my conscience would have faced if I had stayed with you! Have you never acted on the dictates of your heart? You're very quick to spout that stuff about listening to your instincts but that doesn't appear to apply to everybody, does it?" Xanatos shook his head ruefully. "No wonder the boy isn't here -- wouldn't do to let him see just what a ruthless bastard you truly are, now would it? That's a lesson he needs to learn for himself."

Qui-Gon's eyes narrowed. "Leave Obi-Wan out of this. He is no concern of yours."

"No, he isn't. But I pity him. I know your training regime, remember? I know how you treat apprentices. Are you as cold to him as you were to me?" Xanatos's voice took on a hard edge. "And is he old enough to use as a fuck toy yet? You didn't waste much time with me."

"You wanted it as much as I did."

"I *wanted* to please you! Or have you still not realised that after all these years?"

Qui-Gon hesitated. The other man smiled. "Oh *yes*, Master. Harder, Master! Just like *that*, Master!" he intoned ironically. "Did you never *notice* that I wasn't really enjoying it?"

"Enough!" Qui-Gon snapped, realising that he was being distracted from his purpose. Drawing his lightsabre and moving into a combat stance, he sought his centre. "This ends now, Xanatos."

"As you wish." The red blade sprang to angry life in the same instant as the green. For a moment something that might almost be regret hung between them.... Then the fight was on.

***

This almost feels like old times in the training salles -- the bright dance weaving us together to the music of raw Force and heated ozone. That was all in play, though, however serious its purpose. This is in deadly earnest. We both know that this will only end when one falls to the other's blade. The knowledge lends a certain thrill to the proceedings.

The lightsabre is a curious weapon. The symbol of the Jedi, it finds practical use in any number of ways -- deflecting blaster bolts, cauterising wounds, cutting through walls or machinery... or flesh. As deadly as it is beautiful, it has served the Jedi well for millennia. In recent centuries, however, certain aspects of its purpose have been lost -- with the extinction of the Sith, battles that see 'sabre set against 'sabre are almost exclusively restricted to the training halls of the Temple, the forms and techniques ritualised and unchanging. Even rogues such as myself are Temple-trained, thinking like Jedi where our weapons are concerned.

I know that it makes my fighting style predictable, especially to the one who taught me. I have known this for years. And so, in solitude, I considered alternatives....

***

In the flat grey-on-grey of the warehouse the lightsabres were splinters of brilliance, ruby and emerald moving with unnatural speed, the crack of their connection echoing off the walls. Xanatos had lost none of his grace or flair, Qui-Gon noted, and none of his fierce determination to win. The younger man pressed the attack savagely, making his former master work to keep him at bay, but Qui-Gon was not overly concerned -- he had trained him in this technique and knew what would come next. He would block until Xanatos wore himself down and then finish him with a quick thrust to throat or chest. There was no point in drawing this out any longer than necessary.

The battle moved through the storerooms, the combatants dancing around one another as they sought an opening, a weakness, anything that might offer an advantage. Anything loose was thrown into the fray by Force, only to be swiftly flung away in the same manner, the currents of energy curling around them as they thrust and parried. The fight had a rhythm to it, an ebb and flow in the Force that gave it a spirit of its own, a passion tied to the promise of life and death. It was... exhilarating.

Xanatos fought in silence, his entire concentration on the placement and position of his weapon. Qui-Gon could almost admire his focus, as tight as it had ever been in his padawan days -- the younger man had not neglected his skills. Not that they would save him from this long-overdue retribution, but it gave Qui-Gon some gratification to see that his teachings had not been forgotten. Xanatos was skilled, a worthy opponent. It would make the kill all the more satisfying.

A slight over-reach, quickly corrected, the barest stumble in the rhythm of the deadly dance. Qui-Gon sensed the shift and pressed forward, attacking with ever-increasing strength and catching a flying lock of dark hair that fell to the floor with the scent of singed bone. Xanatos, forced into defence, moved back in an attempt to find space but the Jedi refused to let him recover, using his 'sabre to bludgeon the other towards the nearest wall. It wouldn't be long now. Sooner or later numbed arms would make a mistake, leaving a fatal opening that Qui-Gon would not fail to utilise. If he were lucky, he might disarm his opponent altogether, which would make the end that much quicker and cleaner....

Xanatos faltered a little, his expression and movements less confident than they had been. Qui-Gon allowed himself a surge of triumph, feeling the victory close at hand. Just a little more. Raising his weapon, he swung....

***

The look of surprise on your face as I deactivate my 'sabre is one that I will cherish in memory for years to come -- you didn't train me to do *that* did you, my Master? No more than you were trained to respond to it. The momentum of your strike carries you forward, your strength working against you as I duck and side-step and press my hilt hard against your breastbone. You try to twist away, to bring your own weapon to bear, but we both know that the fight is over even before my thumb finds the activation stud and crimson energy lances through your chest, piercing your heart and severing your spine with heated precision.

For a moment we hold position like that, the savage song of the 'sabres the only sound. Then your knees begin to buckle and I pull away, calling my blade back to its hilt as you fall, toppling like some great tree as gravity takes hold. The green 'sabre falls silent as it drops from your lax fingers, rolling to a halt by my booted feet.

I barely notice, caught in the sudden flash of blinding pain as the fragmented bond finally dissolves, unable to survive your death. Blinking my way back into the outside world, I feel a sense of freedom that I have not known since childhood, truly alone in my mind for the first time in years. Freedom... and a pang of sorrow for the boy who has been so involuntarily cut adrift from his mentor, no doubt screaming with the shock of sudden loss somewhere far above, in the crowded halls of the trade complex. He will recover, I have no doubt of that -- from what I recall of him, he is a gifted child and the Jedi will soon find another to train him. He will miss you... but his life is on a different path now.

As is mine. It is a strange feeling, this liberty, the adrenal thrill of victory tempered by an emptiness that you would not expect to find in me. Kneeling, I carefully roll you over. Ah, such a look of shock on your face. You never really thought that you could lose, did you, my Master? Never imagined that the student could move beyond the teacher to find his own way in the world. I had expected to find some twisted pleasure in this but instead I find that I can only mourn the happy times, the words of approval, the small triumphs of youth. I have already mourned one father -- now I find myself quietly weeping for another.

Carefully, I close your eyes and smooth the startled look from your features. There. You deserve at least some dignity in death. I pull your head into my lap and spend a few minutes stroking your hair as my own tickles against your face, letting my mind drift back to the good times. They may have been brief but they should be acknowledged before the final act.

"Sleep well, my Master."

I press a gentle kiss to your forehead... then I stand, pushing aside sentiment for brisk efficiency. There is work still to be done.

I cannot leave you here to be found by others -- your wound is too obviously the work of a 'sabre and I have no desire to have other hunters on my trail. My visit here is unofficial and I arranged alibis as soon as I discovered your presence, but there is no profit in tempting fate. The disposal chute is not far from where you fell; its presence is one of the reasons I chose this place for our confrontation. Wide enough for the most awkward of droid-carried waste it takes you easily, the warm darkness swallowing you as you fall towards the incinerators that help heat this place. I send the remaining evidence of our fight after you -- blood Force-lifted from the plascrete floors, the hair you singed from my head, the brown robe you abandoned early on. Your lightsabre I clip to my own belt, feeling it settle beside the more familiar weight easily. Is it trophy or token of remembrance? I'm not certain myself but it feels right to do this. I need to take something from this battle other than my life.

As I turn to go I pause, one hand going to the scar that mars my cheek. I placed this mark here when my father died at your hand, a broken circle to remind me of what you had done. I think I will add to it now, close this circle as I have just closed the greater one. I will miss you in my own way, Master, but I will not miss the constant knowledge that you are out there hunting for me. It is over, the circle complete, the future open, my life my own again.

I intend to make the most of it.