It had been an epic duel, more than simply a battle of life and death, a battle between light and dark, opposite sides of the Force colliding with the meeting of two ancient enemies. At present, it looked as though darkness might prevail. The Sith creature, its eyes glowing with maniacal rage bore down on his foe, willing him to plunge into the oblivion that waited at the bottom of the melting pit. The thrill of piercing the Jedi master's body, of sensing blinding agony, still surged through the horned creature and it felt alive. It brought its crimson blade down in swift strokes against the edge of the abyss showering hot sparks down on the young Jedi who hung precariously from the ledge below. Victory was at hand. There was rising anticipation in the Darkness as it lay waiting to close in and quench a bright flicker of light from the Force.
Obi-Wan's fatigued arms burned from finger tip to shoulder, crying out for him to release his grip. But the pain was mild compared to the growing ache in his soul. He had lost control, given into anger, given into grief, and now found himself clinging for his very life. There was no reason to look down and He didn't look down to contemplate the infinite depths of the melting pit. He had no intention of joining his lightsaber at the bottom, if there even was a bottom. To fall would be to fail, and then Qui-Gon's death would be a certainty … as well as the queen's.
As he hung suspended between the regrets of past actions and concern for the future, Qui-Gon's words were before him as always. Focus on the moment. It was a rather dismal moment, he reflected, still he focused. Through the Force, his enemy, his would be slayer, stood as a swarming mass of repulsive darkness above him. The light of his mentor, gentle and at peace, was present, but dimming. And at the Jedi master's side, was his lightsaber, lying where it had slid from his hand. Obi-Wan looked to his mentor and back to the creature with new determination, ignoring the malevolent sneer that raised the edge of its lips. The Force's promise of a weapon in his hands was a sweet taste in his mouth and he drew on that Force, launching his body up to somersault over the Sith. The saber made contact with his hand and ignited as his feet hit the ground, and the familiar emerald blade that had saved his life so many times before cut through the Sith Lord with a mist of blood, sending the two halves of the creature tumbling down into the depths.
Obi-Wan stood panting for a moment, looking into the emptiness as though trying to accept that the demon was now dead and gone. Thoughts of his fallen mentor drew him from his daze and he hurried to his master's side, falling on his knees. He pulled the wounded Jedi into his arms with care.
"Master," he whispered quietly. He pressed his hand to the side of the dying man's face and began to channel healing energy to his wounds, ignoring any protests from his own exhausted and fatigued body.
"Too late," the older man said weakly, recognizing his apprentice's futile attempt to save him.
"No," Obi-Wan breathed half in denial, half in desperation as he tried to harness even more of the precious healing Force. "No." But, he sensed the truth. The Jedi master's life force was fading quickly. The most he could do was ease his pain.
Qui-Gon steadied his gaze on the younger Jedi with great difficulty. There was much to say and their time together was fleeting.
"The boy … is the Chosen One…" He trailed off and fought to gain his focus again. "He will bring balance."
Obi-Wan nodded his head; oblivious to the tears that had begun to form in his eyes.
"He must be trained."
"I will train him Master. I promise," Obi-Wan said, willing to do anything to allow the man who had raised him to die in peace.
"No." Qui-Gon's breathing grew shallow with his waning strength. "Xanatos … must train him … will understand."
"Yes, Master," he said as a few tears escaped and began to slip down his cheeks.
A multitude of unspoken words were trapped behind the dying man's weak, pale lips. There was no time. He used the last of his strength to reach up and gently wipe the tears from his padawan's eyes.
Obi-Wan sensed his master's life force finally slip away as the worn and calloused hand lifelessly slid from his face. He pulled his mentor's body closer and pressed his head against his face, allowing himself to indulge in a precious few sobs. He knew he would have to pull himself together soon; he was a Jedi and his mission was still far from complete. But in this moment, he needed to grieve.
The city of Theed appeared as a dot, then a blur, and then finally came into focus as the transport neared its destination. From his viewport, the domed architecture of the palace sat in splendor, surrounded by the white foam of rushing waterfalls as they plummeted from the heights of the surrounding cliff sides. It was breathtaking to say the least, but Xanatos wasn't there to sightsee.
Qui-Gon Jinn, his master, was dead. It was still something he was trying to absorb. A part of him still expected to see the tall Jedi towering above the small crowd of those waiting to greet the transport. He quickly identified the Queen of Naboo, a mere girl, dressed in traditional, ornamented finery. Around her were other young girls, all amusingly dressed in bright, matching cloaks. There were many security officers, easily identified by their leather uniforms, standing at attention.
Xanatos' gaze was drawn to the lone figure standing away from the others in simple Jedi tunics, his robe wrapped tightly around his body as though he could draw comfort from it. The long braid trailing from behind his ear was a painful reminder that his padawan brother shouldn't be alone yet. Obi-Wan actually wasn't alone. The grubby little slave boy Xanatos had heard so much about was at his side, wide-eyed and uncertain of all the formalities.
The other, more important, occupants of the transport rose and began to file down the ramp. It seemed his master had often been at odds with the Council and it pleased Xanatos that so many had come to pay their respects. He watched as Obi-Wan greeted the Chancellor, bowing respectfully, and chuckled to himself as the small boy rushed to imitate. Obi-Wan was acting every bit as the proper Jedi should. He was the picture of serenity, yet Xanatos knew that inside, the young man was devastated, and well within his right to be.
Xanatos stood and straightened his own robe, pulling silken, ebony locks free so that they pooled around his shoulders. He slowly made his way down the ramp, giving the others time to disperse. Obi-Wan whispered something to one of the Queen's attendants and then stooped down to talk to the boy. The boy hesitantly followed the attendant, looking back a couple times while Obi-Wan urged him on with a reassuring nod and smile.
As Xanatos neared, he could finally see the shadows that clung beneath the young Jedi's eyes and the exhaustion that threatened to consume him. When was the last time he had slept? There were definite cracks in the otherwise perfect façade, especially if one knew where to look.
"Xanatos." Obi-Wan spoke in a whisper. "I wasn't expecting you to come." The older Jedi reached out and to gather the younger into a tight embrace before steadying him back on his feet. Both fell into step behind the procession heading towards the palace, walking side by side. Xanatos gradually slowed his pace so that they lagged behind.
"How are you holding up?" Xanatos turned his head towards Obi-Wan, but the younger Jedi didn't meet his gaze. He appeared to concentrate on the tips of his boots as he stepped along the pavement.
"I am managing." The response was clipped and controlled. That's exactly what Xanatos had expected. He stopped walking.
"Obi-Wan, it's me you're talking to. I really don't care to see how you've perfected your … Jedi calm."
Obi-Wan stopped, his back to Xanatos, and remained silent for a few moments before answering. "What would you like for me to say?"
"You're not going to make this easy on me, are you?" Xanatos sighed in frustration. "I just want you to be honest with me."
"I miss him, Xan." The older Jedi caught a brief glimpse of the lost child within as Obi-Wan turned and finally made eye contact. "For the past 12 years, his presence has always been there and now it's gone."
Xanatos put his arm around the younger Jedi, trying to convey support. "That's a start," he said in soothing tones.
"And, it's my fault."
Obi-Wan shrugged the arm off. "I should have kept up with him," he said looking down to the ground. He kicked a rock out of the way of his path, allowing Xanatos a brief glimpse of pent up frustration. "I let him die."
Xanatos grabbed Obi-Wan by the shoulders and jerked him towards him, surprising the younger Jedi. He leaned in so he could look directly into his eyes. "It's not your fault," he said, emphasizing each word. "A Sith Lord murdered our master." The fire burning in his eyes, kindled from a desire to protect and comfort, dared Obi-Wan to challenge.
Xanatos took several deep calming breaths and released his grip before smoothing the shoulders of Obi-Wan's robe. "I've asked the Council to not send me anywhere for a while. I don't want you to have to be alone."
Obi-Wan bowed his head, thankful. Yet as much as he wanted to escape to a place where the intent gazes of concern and pity didn't try his composure and resolve, there was still duty. There was Anakin.
"What is it?" Xanatos asked sensing the hidden question.
"It is about Anakin."
Obi-Wan nodded. "Qui-Gon asked for you to train him. It was his last request."
Xanatos froze, dumbfounded for certain. "Are you sure?" He swallowed audibly, reminding himself to breath. "In case you don't remember, Master and I have had a rather turbulent relationship over the years. You're the dutiful, perfect one. I'm the one that made him go gray before his time." He paused and when he spoke again, his voice was calmer and uncertain. "It's hard to believe he would ask me to train anyone."
"I was there; hanging on his every word and those were his last… his last words to me."
There was no mistaking the pain in Obi-Wan's voice as he struggled to speak. Xanatos found himself trying to smother his rising anger. It was not his place to judge Qui-Gon Jinn's final words. He hadn't been there and definitely didn't know the man's thoughts – not that anyone truly ever knew Qui-Gon Jinn's mind. But the words weren't a great follow-up to the Jedi master's actions over the past week.
Xanatos looked up into Obi-Wan's questioning eyes and realized he had been lost in his thoughts. "Sorry, talking to myself."
"Again?" Maybe you should get help for that."
"Brat!" Xanatos barked earning a chuckle. It was good to see a spark of humor there. As much as he wanted to encourage it, there was a serious topic at hand. He took a deep breath.
"The Council didn't agree with training the boy while on Coruscant … and neither did you, if I remember correctly."
"I sensed that he is dangerous, and still believe that to some degree. But knowing that the Sith are back and seeing what he is capable of … I am beginning to think the danger might be in leaving him untrained." There was a quiet confidence in the softly spoken words. "Master said that you would understand."
"That I would understand?"
"He tried to say something and all I could comprehend was, 'will understand.'"
What did that mean? Qui-Gon had been nearly obsessive in his assertions that they boy was the Chosen One and needed to be trained. So obsessive, that he had practically disowned his beloved apprentice in front of the entire Council.
"Why me, Master? What am I supposed to see?"
Xanatos reached out and probed the currents of the Force. A path was laid out before him, and the Force bid him follow, the ancient energies swirling with approval. The path seemed right, the choice straightforward, but shadows settled over it like storm clouds in the distance promising only uncertainty. The path itself didn't scare him – Force knew his life had already seen enough adversity – but the thought that the Force would have him lead a child down this path terrified him.
"We will see what the Council says," he finally said.
Obi-Wan nodded and dropped his head. "And if the Council doesn't agree …"
"Don't worry. I will honor our Master's last wish." Xanatos rested his hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder, relieved to see and actual smile grace the younger Jedi's lips. "Why don't you take me to meet Anakin."