Ann Jinn - Thanks! norah-hunt - Glad to see you are enjoying it. lanoger - Yup, one little change, throws everything else out of whack. Just Jill - Hiya! This is the first of a new mini series so there's plenty of new writing.

Thanks for the replies, everyone!


40th Year of Kaanto

There were few things in the universe that still managed to surprise Master Yoda. When those moments occurred, the little Jedi attributed it to the Force reminding him that he is not so wise that he could see everything coming.

The truth was, so little of the last decade had been like anything he had imagined. He had not thought he would take on another padawan, but he did. Perhaps it had been selfish, but at the time, he was a master who had lost a former student and there was a padawan, maimed physically and mentally, in desperate need of a master to keep him on the right path.

Yes, all good intentions aside, he had been selfish, but there was little point in dwelling on the past. After all, there had been benefits, as painful to come by as they were.

Still, he thought, surprise was a good thing though at the moment he worried what it would do to a couple of egos.

It had been a slow going journey up the steps to the gallery and looked forward to taking a rest in one of the tall seats. He had expected it to be sparsely filled in the middle of the afternoon, as not many Jedi were free to watch sparring sessions, but the murmur of voices and the swell in the Force told him it would not be so on this day.

"Ah, Master Yoda," Grayses Naminae said from her place in the very full gallery. "It seems there is but one seat left." She smiled and patted the seat next to her with a furry grey hand.

"Thank you," Yoda said with a nod and hobbled to the seat on the end of the row. Then with surprising spryness, he hopped up on the seat. From his new perch, he could look over the thick stone rail down onto the expansive exhibition floor.

"News spreads quickly," the Cathar master said as she stared down at the pools of white light that spilled over the floor below.

Nodding, Yoda said, "Indeed." He turned to look back at the audience of female masters and padawans and just shook his head. Quick indeed.

A hush fell in the gallery as movement appeared along the deeply shadowed edges of the floor below. The air, filtered and cooled, seemed to stir as if a harbinger of a great storm.

With a bold stride, Mace Windu entered the floor. The master, as always looked calm as he surveyed the area. His long, darkly patterned cloak shifted just above the mottled stone as he took up position in the center of the floor. A small smile cracked his still features as he looked up at the filled gallery.

"He is still young," Grayses said, as if aware of Yoda's thoughts.

"An arrogance," Yoda replied. "Strong it is becoming in the Order as a whole." He paused, hearing his own words. Yes, they were true, but painfully, he knew how closely they reflected one of his former student's beliefs.

Mace shifted the edge of his cloak back, revealing the lightsaber hilt at his hip as he stood there waiting awaiting his opponent.

And he stood there.

The gallery stirred.

Yoda just sat there silently shaking his head.

Soft laughter next to him drew a curious look. Grayses smiled and said, "It seems punctuality is not one of Xanatos' stronger points."

"Always late he is." As his padawan's aggressive, compassionless behavior as a youth had been subdued with proper retraining and meditation and an unfortunate dose of humility, other curious personality quirks surfaced in their place. Some were more annoying than others.

Mace's expression never changed, but he reached up and unclipped his lightsaber. His footsteps echoed over the stone as he walked a wide circle along the edge of the lit floor. He spoke in a grave tone, "So here we are."

"Yes," came a cool reply from the shadows.

Deep laughter. "Why don't you just forfeit now," Mace said. "It would save us both a lot of time."

Violet flashed to life as Mace twisted, cutting swiftly though the air with his weapon. Sparks flew as violet met blue. Mace bore down on his swift opponent, but Xanatos was gone as fast as he had appeared.

Voices moved through the crowd as padawan's strained to see where the dark haired Jedi went.

"All ready playing games?"

"I'm not playing," Xanatos said evenly from behind. He lashed out at his opponent's unprotected back but was blocked by the dark skinned Jedi by a sharp twist. Mace spun about on him, sending him retreating across he floor as blue and violet danced along the dimly lit edges of the room.

Suddenly surging forward, Xanatos stabbed at his opponent singeing one of Mace's billowing sleeves.

"Hey!" the taller man barked. He smiled. "Watch the threads."

Xanatos straightened and carefully looked the other man over. "Oh yes, we wouldn't want to ruin Master Sarta's fine work."

"Right." Mace deactivated his weapon and slipped the brown cloak off, pausing to examine the damaged sleeve and then suddenly lashed out, whipping the cloth across the space between them. The energies of the Force swirled wildly about, twisting the material in invisible hands and wrapping it around Xanatos' left arm. Without hesitation, Mace jerked the cloth back sending his opponent sprawling. "I have you now!" he said as he lunged forward.

Throwing himself forward, Xanatos used his left arm to block the attack. The gallery gasped as masters and padawans alike leapt to their feet. The protective ring around the emitter pressed again his arm, the violet blade so close that it burned through layers of cloth revealing metal underneath.

"These aren't practice sticks," Mace said but Xanatos never shifted, holding the weapon motionless.

Saying nothing, the long-haired Jedi kicked out sending Mace tumbling back across the floor. Free to move, he bound to his feet, quickly taking a defensive position, but paused. Free of attack, he pulled away the damaged cloth, revealing the sleek metal shape of an artificial arm.

"Are you mad?" Mace demanded sounding a little winded as he slowly found his own footing.

"No. I am just keenly aware of how far I can go," Xanatos replied as he checked the function of his fingers, still sheathed in rich brown leather. Brushed metal reflected the overhead lighting.

Yoda allowed a small smile. It seemed the newer prosthetic could hold up to the abuse. A lesser one had failed three years ago during an attack, causing the fingers to lock up. He feared the trauma would have set the young man back but he had managed to spring back rather quickly, searching for a better quality arm.

Appearing satisfied, Xanatos grinned and sprang into action with little warning, racing toward the bald master.

With lightning quick reflexes, Mace spun about, blade dancing through the air and rebounding off his opponent's. Determination lit his dark eyes as he surged forward. Blades locked together with a shower of sparks as the two men struggled for dominance.

"You won't win this time," Mace growled.

A wicked smile lit Xanatos' features. "You're just jealous of my hair."

"Your…what?"

Capitalizing on the moment, Xanatos set Mace on the defensive. With a fierceness not yet seen, he drove Mace across the floor with an unrelenting string of blows.

Mace struggled to counter every strike.

Each blow came more powerful than the last and Xanatos slammed his weapon down on his opponent, smashing through his defenses.

Mace feinted left, the quicker opponent took the bait and misstepped. With a motion of his hand, the Force flowing through him, he sent Xanatos flying backward.

With feline grace, Xanatos somersaulted over the floor, regaining control and landing cat footed a dozen paces away. His weapon held out parallel to the floor. "So what? You can't beat me the conventional way, so you have to resort to trickery?"

"You make the Force sound like a cheap trick?" Mace responded as he took up position again. "We use whatever is available to us, am I correct?"

Smiling, Xanatos chided, "Well, if you need it to win."

"Oh, I don't need it." Mace flew forward. Xanatos had no way of defending against the mad flurry of attack. The violet blade tore through Xanatos' right sleeve as he jumped out of the way.

"Careful," Xanatos hissed as he checked the large hole left in the cloth. "Are you trying to get me out of my clothes?"

"Excuse me? In your dreams." Mace laughed and looked up into the gallery and noted the majority female audience. "Or rather the gallery's dreams." Laughter echoed through the chamber.

Xanatos flashed a devilishly grin but it quickly turned stern as he rebuffed the other man's quick attack.

"Your arrogance," Mace growled as he drove his violet blade through Xanatos' defenses. Almost immediately a hiss was heard as the tips of Xanatos' hair were burned away from the heat of the blade.

"Going after my hair now?"

"Are we a bit sensitive?" Mace teased. "After that crack about hair—"

"Oh, come on, you've been jealous for years," Xanatos said as he checked the burned ends. "Are you trying to make me as bald as you?"

"It would save a lot time," Mace said with a laugh. "Unlike you, I don't have time to waste making sure my hair is pretty."

Xanatos leaned forward allowing his black hair in a topknot tied with a long ribbon to cascade over his shoulder. "You know, I hear there is this amazing hair growth formula—"

"Don't even start that with me, pretty boy."

Yoda rubbed his wrinkled forehead. The two of them were like children some times. He cleared his throat, earning a look from the two Jedi on the exhibition floor.

"Uh oh, now we're in trouble," Xanatos teased as he looked from the small green-skinned Jedi back to his opponent. "I still think you are jealous."

"Don't even—"

The words were cut off as Xanatos sprang forward. He dived through Mace's defenses, his left arm thrust forward like a shield, slamming into Mace's hand, knocking the free. He tried to bring his blade up, but Mace was quick to respond, the heel of his hand shooting forward. Twisting, he barely missed it connecting with his cheek.

"Desperate?" Xanatos asked.

Mace grinned and then grabbed a handful of black hair. Bright blue eyes widened in shock. "Not at all, pretty boy!"

"I don't like my hair pulled."

"A problem I don't have."

Xanatos grinned. "Want to dance?" Shifting slightly, he entwined a leg around Mace's and sent the taller man tumbling.

Mace, however, did not release his grip on Xanatos' hair, sending both of them to the floor.

Crying out, Xanatos crashed to the stone and grabbed at his hair, pulling it free of Mace's hold and the red ribbon that kept it tamed. He sprang forward, quickly regaining his footing just as Mace called his weapon to his hand as he leapt up.

Blades flared centimeters from their respective throats.

"Draw," Yoda announced.

Both Jedi broke their even stare and looked toward the little master who still comfortably sitting in the tall chair, and finally to the gallery who nodded in silent approval.

Carefully retreating, the two men deactivated their weapons. Xanatos took the moment to retie his hair pulled loose during the match.

Spying the mischievous glimmer in Mace's eyes, Yoda decided to intervene. "Like padawans you two act."

Both men looked at each other and grinned.

"A compliment it is not," Yoda said, trying to hide the fact that he enjoyed watching the two play when they should have put on a serious show for the audience.

"It was only a sparring match, Master," Xanatos said. "It is rare that a Jedi would meet another lightsaber wielder in true battle."

"Rare, but happens, it does," Yoda said pointing a clawed finger at the young man. "Friends become foes and teachers become enemies. Know this you do, my Padawan, better than most."