Author's note: Sorry for the delay on this chapter. I'm in the middle of moving to a new house, so writing is going to come slowly for the next couple of weeks.
Qui-Gon waited inside the house, lightsaber in hand but not activated. As he waited, he stretched out his senses to check on Anakin. The boy had cloaked himself well but his two wards were easy enough to track. The youngling, especially, was a bright spot in the Force. They were making good time, though they were wisely taking a circuitous route. If they didn't run into trouble, and indeed Qui-Gon sensed nothing on their path, they would soon be safely on the ship.
Danger, meanwhile, had finally come to him. The door opened and a man strolled in casually. Decades disappeared in a flash, jarring Qui-Gon for the briefest moment out of the present. He didn't see the mature man standing before him but the boy he had once trained.
Dry laughter was the only response. Xanatos tucked a stray black hair behind his ear as he leaned against the door frame.
"What are you doing here?" Qui-Gon asked. He kept his voice completely flat and redoubled his mental shields.
"Don't be paranoid. I wasn't looking for you. Although it certainly is a welcome bonus. Perhaps you can point me to the occupants of this house."
Qui-Gon flicked his lightsaber to life and slid into a ready stance.
"No?" Xanatos sighed. A lightsaber appeared out of the folds of his cloak and activated in a flare of crimson. "We can do this the hard way then."
"Don't be foolish," Qui-Gon warned. "You are woefully out of practice. A new lightsaber doesn't make you a Jedi once more."
Xanatos gave Qui-Gon a feral grin, disturbingly reminiscent of the Zabrak warrior on Naboo. "Who said I want to be a Jedi? I may have been in hiding but I have not been idle. I have been amassing power. The past few decades have been quite profitable. Wealth, connections- I have far more than I ever would have in the Temple."
"You have already lost if you think wealth or connections will help you here."
"Well now, that just depends on the types of connections I've made, doesn't it?"
Before Qui-Gon had time to parse out what was meant by that, Xanatos started his attack. It was immediately evident that he hadn't been merely boasting. Still, no matter what training Xanatos had received, Qui-Gon was more skilled. He had two extra decades of practice on his side. However, he also had all those extra years slowing him down. Qui-Gon had to brace himself in order to avoid giving ground. He was met blow for blow by a fierce tenacity that was hard to match.
"So you've finally taken another apprentice. It certainly took you long enough," Xanatos quipped between strikes. "And taken after nearly a decade from his mother, I hear. I'm sure he'll do just as well with you as I did."
Where he'd heard that, Qui-Gon didn't know and he wasn't going to rise to the bait. He couldn't let anything Xanatos said distract him. Furniture and other cherished personal items were destroyed in droves. They had likely been dragged along move after move in a desperate attempt to cling to a lost life. Such sentiment didn't mean a thing to Xanatos. He hacked through anything in his way and hurled everything else at Qui-Gon to unbalance him.
For the second time, Qui-Gon thought back to Naboo. What did it mean? Was Xanatos the second Sith? Or was that one of the connections he'd made while underground? He would have to figure that out later. Unlike Naboo, he was fighting on his own. If he was going to win this, he needed to keep his mind rooted in the here and now. Every whisper of the Living Force found eager ears. Duck. Feint. Parry. His body was an extension of the Light. Aging joints and reflexes no longer mattered. Even though the close quarters were actually working to his advantage by restraining Xanatos, when the Force nudged him outside, he didn't question it.
As soon as the combatants stepped out the door, the wind shifted. The fight came to an abrupt halt as thick, noxious smoke from the wrecked speeder engulfed them. With his presence carefully masked and his lightsaber deactivated, Qui-Gon was entirely invisible. Now was his chance to gather his strength.
"Hiding from me, my former Master?" Xanatos drawled.
Qui-Gon allowed himself a small smile. It was also a chance to gather a bit of intel, it would seem. He could sense Xanatos pacing just out of reach of the smoke. He was a caged animal, full of pent up energy waiting to burst out. Silence and patience. He would strike soon, yes, but before that he would also let some of his secrets slip.
"You were always so sure you were right. Right to stand with the Jedi. Right to drag children from their parents and make them live the same empty life as you. Never considering that there are better paths than the one you tread." Qui-Gon remained quiet. Xanatos was working himself into a fury, releasing decades of frustration over his own apprenticeship. The truth would not be long in coming. "There is a greater destiny in the Force awaiting all of the gifted children, though you have tried to rob them of it, as you did me. But not all are as blind as you Jedi. Change is coming and we will meet it."
At that, a shift in the wind swept away the last of the smoke. Qui-Gon was revealed, standing directly before Xanatos. His lightsaber was ablaze and ready the second his cover was taken away. The fight did not resume immediately, though. The two men circled each other at a distance, each waiting for the right moment to strike. Their path took them closer to the cliff's edge, near which the home was perched.
Now was the time to speak. A few choice words was all it would take. "You fault the Jedi for taking children from their parents, and yet, you would do the same."
"Not the same. Better. They would be allowed everything that life has to offer. Everything the Force can offer." A cloud passed overhead, casting the two of them in shadow. Xanatos planted his feet and readied himself to strike again. "While the Jedi have stagnated for centuries, the galaxy has transformed. Even you must feel the pull, the tide of change. Unlike the Jedi, I won't just stand still and drown in it. The Sith are that change. Today I will make sure that I'm at the front of that change."
Red and green met with a shriek. Even though he'd been given a chance to renew his energy, Qui-Gon found it difficult to hold off Xanatos' attack. Xanatos was driven by the singular power of the Dark Side. Raw hatred for the Light, longing only for destruction.
If Qui-Gon was defeated, he would be only the first to fall. He could give no ground.
The closer Anakin got to the shuttle, the more distinct the feeling of wrongness was. Off. Bad. It was a persistent buzzing at the front of his mind. Anakin looked back toward the house. He could see the vibrant blur of sabers clashing. He had to go back. He needed to do something to help even hampered as he was by a training saber and a child's body. No matter what it took, he would not lose Qui-Gon again.
"Wait on the ship," he said.
"You're leaving?" Ari-Ahn asked. She clutched a fussing Obi-Wan tightly to herself. Loving mother and beloved son. Family. It was everything Anakin had always wanted and had almost had. The sight of it gave him pause, but he would not be dissuaded.
"You'll be safe there. Qui-Gon isn't safe. I have to go help him," Anakin insisted. He started to rush off but when he looked back over his shoulder, he saw that Ari-Ahn hadn't moved. He skidded to a halt. "You'll be safe."
Whether he was assuring himself or them, he couldn't say. It didn't matter. This was his second chance and he wasn't going to let it go to waste.