Author's note: Well, here we are again, the rambling before the fic. :D Except… *SNIFF* this is the last rambling you'll hear from me in this fic. AS this is the last chapter. The final closing curtain of Kite. Luckily, (or unluckily, for those of you who did not enjoy this) I'm too obsessed with this storyline to let it end here. So thus, you will see at the end, a slightly corny, but valid trailer for K2, or WALK ON~~~ as the sequel shall be henceforth known. I hope you have enjoyed my little (okay, 18 chapters later, not so little) pet fic. This has been 3-4 years in the making, almost one year in the posting and you all have been such wonderful faithful readers. A few acknowledgements to those who have taken their time to review the last chapter-
Sarah:You're very welcome…oh…oh no…don't die… ;) Hope you like this update. ^_^ thanks for your support!!
Seung Mina6::D thank you for the review! Uh-huh, Qui's all safe again…well…for now. :D I hope you like the conclusion!
Athena Leigh:(blushes) thank yoooooou. Well, again, I really hope you enjoy the conclusion. OOOh, you like Tahl's master's name? :D hehehe! Do you get it?!!! :D Azul, spanish for blue…and she's blue, herself, I mean-her skin. *giggles* I thought I was being so clever… Of course, it wasn't so clever that when I was in Spanish class brainstorming this bit out the many failing grades I received…^_^
Lay'ren:Yay, can't wait for it to be up on your site. Again, thanks for the support, 18 chapters later, and being patient while I got this all set. Lol, compliment indeed, I didn't torture cute little Qui-Gons before I met you. Well, only a little. :D
Um…let the final chapter commence!
Qui-Gon's eyes flickered. His mind stirred, though his body remained still. He was certain it would hurt him to move, and he wasn't quiet ready for hurt this early in the morning. So the boy let his eyes remain fixed on the ceiling, while his conscious wandered. The sun had not yet risen, although he could see from the lightening of the little room that the stars and night were fading and dying under the breaking day. He breathed in slowly.
He couldn't quite decide if he was hungry or not. But he felt better at the moment. The mattress felt soft and warm beneath him, and it didn't poke into his hurting back like the ground in the forest. Qui-Gon pressed his cheek against his pillow. It was nice to be cared for. He didn't have to worry so much. It felt like he belonged to someone. Dooku's oversized robe was still wrapped around his shoulders, and the boy could smell smoke mingled with the clean soap scent he always associated with his master. He forced his thoughts away from the night.
As light began to creep across the ceiling, he eased his body up. It seemed such a pity to destroy the little bubble of warmth and well-being. However, as Qui-Gon shifted, he felt only a slight twinge of soreness in his shoulders. The proper sleep had done him well. For the first time in weeks, he could see a day coming when he could feel normal again...on the outside at least.
"It's a wonder what a mattress can do..." he thought idly, stretching.
Beside him, he heard a soft chirping noise. Qui-Gon turned to see Li-Bird flapping out of her basket and lighting on the edge of his bed. He smiled at the fragile bird and cupped his hand under her, lifting the creature gently into his lap.
She sat perfectly in the padawan's palm a moment, preening her crimson feathers as he stared down at her. She moved with quick, perfect little movements, using her beak to nip every feather into its appointed place. He smiled happily at her, marveling at her delicate beauty. However, once Li-Bird had finished her grooming, she stretched her wings and darted out of Qui-Gon's hands and into mischief.
He stumbled out of bed, attempting to catch the bird before she hurt herself, but Li-Bird seemed only to find it a grand game as she haphazardly flipped here and there. Qui-Gon froze, hoping that she would land and he could snatch her up. She landed, but her choice of location could not have been worse. Her light body perched on the shoulder of Qui-Gon's sleeping master.
Qui-Gon scarcely breathed. He had not even realized that Dooku was in the room. The Jedi Master was utterly silent, deeply asleep. Soft pink colors of morning flooded in from the window, painting his pale face with an unnatural warmth. His dark lashes flickered as he dreamed. His hands were clasped into fists by his side.
Li-Bird hopped over the master's shoulder down to his chest. Her brilliant red tail feathers flicked Dooku's cheek as she passed.
Qui-Gon saw his face twitch.
Slowly the boy tip-toed across the room, holding out a hand toward Li-Bird. But at the last moment, she took flight, a scarlet blur zipping toward the window, toward the sunlight and trees. Qui-Gon saw it too late. The bird smashed full force into the glass and fell with a little thump.
He cried out and then turned it into a squeak, scurrying over to his fallen pet. She was crouched in a daze under the window sill, her perfect feathers rumpled, her bright little eyes unfocused. The boy scooped her light frame up brokenly, crooning softly to the creature. "Oh, Li-Bird, no..."
However, it took a bit more to kill off Li-Bird than a knock on the head. She was, after all, a species from Childor, and living in the Eli Mwet made her almost indestructible by design. Qui-Gon took a deep breath as she steadied herself in his hand. "You really aren't an indoor creature, are you?"
As if to answer she began to struggle out of his grip. He gently pinned her wings against her small body and slide his arms into the sleeves of the robe draped around him. "You would hate Coruscant. I suppose it's time you go free."
His eyes strayed out the window, to the predawn glow of the outdoors. Soon he would be leaving this place forever. He intended to never come back, not until time itself had wheeled out into nothing but particles of dust. However, it was a beautiful planet. With any other circumstance, he would have enjoyed his stay.
Across the room, Dooku snuffled into his pillow and rolled over. He turned and watched him sleep a moment. The master showed no sign of waking. Tucking his braid behind his ear, Qui-Gon glanced down at Li-Bird, a little smile on his face. "So...what would you say to one last adventure?"
With another quick glance at his master, the boy crossed the room and carefully opened the door. It hardly creaked as his sure hands swung it open and carefully shut it behind him. He stared back at it for a long moment, but there was no sound from the inside. No one had heard him. A small grin widened on his face. He had his time, the solitary moments he needed.
Softly humming a song he only half knew the words to, he set off with Li-Bird on his shoulder. Qui-Gon at first regretted his lack of boots, as his bare feet were cut by the sharp gravel, but soon he reached the cobblestones and began to more fully enjoy the walk. His master's oversized cloak fended off the breeze and took the chill out of morning air. He did not mean to wander far, simply get some air, have a moment. It was such a beautiful morning. He felt better than he had in days, although he was sure that if he was discovered out like this, Willow, Dooku and Ro would in turns lecture him on how he needed to rest in order to heal.
As he wandered through the village, he could see life beginning to stir where there had been none before. The Philomel were starting to emerge after the Muh-Hadden occupation, and pick up the pieces of their village. Spring, again, was coming.
An elderly female who had been sweeping up broken glass off her porch, watched him curiously as he passed. He nodded to her, attempting to be friendly, but her stare made him uncomfortable. Qui-Gon realized how odd he must look to her; a sickly thin half-grown human in bare feet and an oversized robe, with a singing little crimson bird on his shoulder and a broken lightsaber hanging from his belt. Qui-Gon felt like a child, in an imaginative game of pretend Jedi. His pace quickened, and he fixed his eyes on the stone road beneath him.
His eyes drifted up and the image of the main gate in front of him put a stop to his self conscious pondering. He felt something within his blood freeze.
This had been where the thickest of the fighting had been. As the boy looked around, the very warmth of the sun seemed to drain away, leaving cold death. Rubble was strewn about here, blackened holes scarred structure around him and debris covered the street. As Qui-Gon stepped closer, he could make out corpses littering the ground like limp white drapes among the destruction. The breeze that had felt so playful earlier swung a broken piece of gate on its hinge. The sound of it's agonized creaking sounded haunting among the death littering the ground here.
Bile rose in his throat, and his mouth tasted bitter with repulse. This was exactly what he had come here to prevent. His emotions swirled, and for a moment the boy was unsure if he were about to cry, be sick, or simply drop to the ground and break; to shatter to a thousand flawed pieces.
As it was, however, he did none of those things. Instead the boy ran.
Through the shattered gates, past the bruised stone walls, out, away, as if pursued by a demon that clung to him as close as his own shadow, Qui-Gon fled. Stone under his feet turned to dirt and grass, buildings whizzing by him became trees. Finally his body refused to go any further; breaking under him. He gave up, letting his body crumble to the ground.
Li-Bird fluttered off his shoulder and onto the grass beside him, peering up with her bright intelligent eyes, wondering perhaps what they were doing out here, why Qui-Gon was acting so oddly. She had grown accustomed to being outside with this boy, and riding on his shoulder, and it startled her when he moved jerkily, or ran. She screamed at him, her raw cry of uncertainty, begging for his attention and usual meticulous care. The noise echoed in the boy's ears. He glanced up at her.
His tears had marked the dust under him. He wished now he had just stayed in bed. The young Jedi tried to slow his breathing, control the quiet sobs that racked his body. He wanted more than anything to just go home.
Li-Bird's peeping became incessant. Qui-Gon looked up, holding out one trembling finger to stroke her downy little head. She tilted her head under his fingers, chirping contentedly. A ghost of a smile flickered on his face. "Weird little bird." He pulled himself to his feet, intending to walk back. Qui-Gon paused.
Before him was a path, long and dusty, with trees on both sides that narrowed as the path deepened further into the forest. It looked cheerful and sunny in the morning glory, warm and inviting and not terrible to traverse at all. But Qui-Gon knew better. For if one were to travel down that path, long and far down it for a few miles they would find themselves in a large clearing, a field full of laughing wild flowers and sun and life. And then across the field they would see a gray stone building, blank and expressionless. It would be empty now, its narrow halls and passages deserted of all save the stench of death. And of course, the memories. Indeed, Qui-Gon had been down this road before.
Qui-Gon stared at the path again. Then, slowly, simply, he began down it, Li-Bird flapping in his wake. His bare feet brushed the warm, dusty ground. He had no intention of really going anywhere, the prison was deserted anyway, but he felt the force leading him to follow this road. So he followed.
The morning grew and blossomed around him. He knew he had to be back soon, or Dooku would be unhappy, but he felt as if something needed to be done here...something called him.
A snap in the brush around him made him twist around painfully. No foe presented itself, but his nerves were still shaken. He continued to walk, trying to ignore the uncanny feeling that something was stalking him. He reached for his saber, and found the mutilated hilt. Qui-Gon almost rolled his eyes at himself. Excellent work. A broken saber. Helpful.
When he heard the noise again, he whirled. He reached out with his senses and found...nothing. The boy stopped. The force had shown nothing around him, no inquisitive or hungry forest creature, no foe or anyone intending harm. No life form at all. In fact, the forest felt too empty. Too still. All he knew was what he had heard and the instinctive feeling of being something's prey.
The thicket crackled as something stirred again. Qui-Gon stepped forward, hoping, praying that he was right. "Shadow!" he yelled, louder this time, feeling his voice crack pitifully. His own heartbeat sounded incredibly loud to him.
A voice finally answered from the underbrush beside the path. It was weaker, more insubstantial then he had ever heard it before, but he knew it. "Man-Child. Shadow did not mean to follow."
"Oh-it is you-Shadow, you were wonderful...back in the village, you...we couldn't have..." Qui-Gon's voice trailed off as he peered into the bush. "Shadow, are you alright? Why are you hiding in the weeds?" He took a step closer.
She hissed at him. "No, no-none of the little human's business. Shadow saw the Man-Child wandering off toward the cells, thought best to follow. Not a good path to take, I think...but, ah..." The creature broke off, with a sound like a wince. The growth of plants concealing her quivered.
Qui-Gon cocked his head to one side, not moving but struggling for a look inside the dense undergrowth. Something wasn't right here. He could hear her uneven breaths. "You're hurt..." he whispered, his voice soft and low. He chanced a step closer. "Please, come out."
"No!" She snarled, more intensely, and now he could hear the undercurrent of pain in her tone.
"I just want to help you..." Qui-Gon began, reaching a hand out toward her. "Come on?"
The brush shuddered again, and Shadow's face appeared, her dark eyes angrily glaring at the Jedi. "Shadow does not need-" The boy caught her hand and she flailed away, shrieking at him. "Shadow is-"
"Just let me help!"
Shadow stumbled out of the bushes, in her attempt to flee and fell hard. Although it was one of the most graceful landings he had witnessed, it cost her, and she cried out as she caught her balance. Qui-Gon could see a angry red burn across her shoulder and chest, the unmistakable mark of a blaster fired at close range. "Man-Child!" She screamed at him in rage, but made no effort to move, her bright eyes maddened with pain.
"Oh!" Qui-Gon dropped beside her, reaching out an hand. His fingers brushed her cold skin, and he drew back in surprise. The hurt on her face made her seem somehow more human, and he had forgotten for moment that she was Shadow, the strange icy creature of the darkness. He looked again.
She was shaking, one hand clasped over her shoulder, her body weight leaning on the other as she lay in the dust. Her eyes stared up at Qui-Gon in a mixture of agony and anger, pain turned to aggression as a wounded animal will bite. But she wasn't an animal... He saw a splotch on the path, a her dark blood spilt from the wound. And not all of her was shadow...
Qui-Gon put aside his uncertainly, and took hold of her good arm, hauling the creature to her feet. She moaned as she rose and then collapsed against the boy. Qui-Gon caught her cold, alien body somewhat awkwardly, and supported her weight against him. "You need bacta." He whispered, helping her along. "Please, trust me."
Shadow stared at him a long moment through her pain glazed eyes before finally nodding. Together they limped back toward the gate. The going was slow and painful for both of them, but finally they reached the edge of the village. The creature looked up at him. "No, Shadow cannot...cannot go in there, Man-Child." She shook her head. "You don't understand."
"I understand better than you think." He murmured, glancing up to see a shape approaching them. Alarm flared through him at that. He thought there was a rather good chance whoever was coming down that path wasn't friendly.
"Listen to me!" Shadow hissed. "Shadow will not go to your little..." she trailed off, apparently searching her limited knowledge of Basic to properly explain. "...to your people! You and I are different!" She protested, digging her feet into the ground.
Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow at her switching back and forth to first and third person. He squinted at the person approaching them.. It was Tahl. His heart leapt.
"Tahl! Will you help me with her?"
Tahl ran the last few feet between them. Her face was tight and anxious. "What happened? You shouldn't be out here like this! Willow and Dooku are really mad! The ship is set to depart soon!"
Qui-Gon motioned at Shadow. "She's injured, we can't leave! We've got to get her to Willow or Ro or someone...Tahl, help me!"
Shadow was squirming and wriggling desperately out of Qui-Gon's grasp as he spoke. She had nearly freed herself. Tahl stared at the creature. "Qui-Gon, just a thought, it seems like she doesn't really want medical attention..."
"But she needs...it..." He yelped as Shadow sunk her teeth into his hand and let go. Free at last, she promptly turned to flee and then tripped to the ground again. "See?"
"I can take care of myself." She gritted out, digging her fingers and toes into the ground stubbornly. "Shadow always has."
"Qui-Gon, leave her, we need to go..." Tahl offered him a hand. "If she say's she'll be fine, she'll be fine. Now come on, we're in enough trouble as it is."
Qui-Gon stared at Tahl a long moment. No, it could not end like this. He felt a desperate desire well up inside of him. He had to help the creature. It was only by grace that he hadn't become like her. Some part of the soul that had been spared inside of him, had been destroyed completely in Shadow. And yet, they had endured some of the same things, he felt a connection. If there was any way that he could save her...restore her...Qui-Gon ignored Tahl's hand and crouched next to the creature. "Shadow-come to Coruscant with us."
"What?!" Shadow and Tahl spoke in unison.
Qui-Gon nodded, going on. "Come on, you can recover, you can get a new life, you can find your family...make friends...you have nothing to lose, and everything to gain. The Jedi can help you. What do you say?"
Shadow stared at him, her eyes wide. "C-coruscant?"
He nodded again. "The capital of the republic. It's where I'm from."
She considered a long moment, her eyes not breaking Qui-Gon's gaze. "No, Man-child." She finally looked down, studying the grass and dirt below her. "No, this is my home." She motioned to the forest. "I am who I am, Shadow has accepted this. You cannot change it. I will never be like you. That choice passed Shadow long ago."
Qui-Gon was silent a moment, staring down at the ground. He felt lost. He couldn't understand her reason, nor could he help her. Perhaps Childor existed merely to remind him of his failings. Slowly he nodded. He ripped a piece of Dooku's robe into strips, praying his Master would understand. Then he began to bind her wound.
Shadow froze, letting him tie the bit of cloth in a makeshift bandage, and when he finished she nodded her head in thanks. He helped her to her feet.
"Well, the ship is leaving soon. I suppose this is goodbye. We couldn't have done it without you." he sighed, wishing there was more he could do. "Thank you." Qui-Gon swallowed.
Shadow shrugged. "Shadow swore revenge on the Muh-Hadden, now I have it. Thank you, Man-Child." She turned to Tahl. "And you as well." She smiled, showing her teeth.
They turned to walk away, but Qui-Gon hesitated, and walked back to her. Tahl paused, watching.
Qui-Gon reached into his pocket where Li-Bird had settled herself and drew the little bird out. She peeped at him, and he stroked her soft head gently, whispering to her as he walked back to Shadow. The boy chewed his lip a moment, and then held out the creature. "Her name is Li-Bird." His voice cracked.
Shadow stared at the bird and then at Qui-Gon.
He went on. "She's not really an indoor pet. I couldn't keep her on Coruscant, she'd be miserable in a hospital room." He sighed at the words, knowing how bleak his return to the Temple now seemed, with the prospect of weeks of captivity in the healers. "She'll look after you. Promise if I give you her you won't..." he swallowed. "...eat her or something."
Shadow nodded, taking the fledgling chick from Qui-Gon. Immediately the bird hopped onto her good shoulder, knowing the routine for another exploration or adventure.
"Oh...and..." Now came the moment of truth, the moment where he knew whether or not he had passed his own test, the moment where he knew whether or not he could accept things. His voice faltered further. "...m-my name is Qui-Gon." The young Jedi breathed in. "Qui-Gon Jinn."
At first Shadow seemed confused, bewildered by this sudden statement and she began to pass it off. But then, something clicked. She nodded slowly, hesitantly, and seemed to search for something deep in her memory. For that instant, she looked more human and less Shadow than he had ever seen her.
"Qui-Gon...Qui-Gon Jinn." She closed her eyes. "My name is Loria."
"Loria..." he whispered, bowing his head slightly. "Thank you."
He turned back to Tahl and started back into the village. They passed the path, the gate, the forest and Shadow faded out of sight. The two friends wearily made their way through the cobblestone streets to the ships where their masters were waiting.
"That was good of you, Qui-Gon." Tahl murmured as they went.
"Hm?" He looked up, but his face seemed darkened, heavy. She noticed how slow his movements were and took his hand in support.
"I mean, with Shadow."
"Oh...." he sighed, his eyes straying back toward the forest. "I just wish I could help her."
"You have." Tahl insisted, pausing beside him. "You've got to stop blaming yourself for everything that happened here."
"Alright." He sighed, and smiled wanly at her. "I'll let you know how that turns out."
"You do that." She grinned.
"I'm just..." he sighed out his frustration, and studied the ground, oblivious to the fact that they were both standing in the middle of the street having stopped. "...I'm just so tired."
She lead him back toward the houses they had been staying in, smiling. "You should be. Willow's going to kill you for going out in your condition. Anyway, Qui, guess what?" She paused under an alcove, turning to face him as they reached the doorway. Her smile grew.
He turned to her, perplexed. "What?"
Tahl leaned up to him, whispering in his ear. "We get to go home."
He broke into the boyish smile she knew so well and laughed softly. "Home." Sun and shadow chased each other on his face as the alcove half shaded them. Qui-Gon wrapped his arms around his friend impulsively, and she moved with him in the embrace. "You're right. We get to go home."
Life would patiently allow them the moment, but only this one. Every indescribable thing that they had experienced on this planet of beautiful death weighed and meshed together in that instant. A blur of scar and memory, blood and bond, danger and beauty swirled between them. Life would go on as it had. And their time here was at an end.
Qui-Gon pushed up on his tiptoes to kiss his friend gently on the forehead, brushing her hair aside softly as he did. Feather light and delicately unobtrusive, she felt his lips against her skin. Then they broke away.
Tahl looked up at Qui-Gon again. Now this chapter of his tale was over, but she could see in his eyes that the book on Childor could never truly be closed. He had come a long way since the broken corpse she had coaxed back to life in the forests of the Eli Mwet, but there was something in him still sick, still hurting. She remember the night before, his sure words about death ringing in her ears. The boy, the young promising child she knew, had indeed been killed, as Dooku had feared on Coruscant. But Qui-Gon was still alive, somewhere in the jaded eyes and stained spirit. And he would go on, in spite of the winds that threatened to catch him and pull him away. The kite, blowing out of control on the breeze.
He was smiling now, perhaps wondering why she had been staring at him for a full minute. Tahl grinned back. "I hear Azul inside. It's time to head for our separate ships." She paused. "Master told me this morning; you and Dooku get to ride with the healers."
He quirked his lips at her. "Lucky us. " He nodded to her, and opened the door. "Tahl. See you on Coruscant."
Tahl opened the door that had lead to Azul and her room, winking at him.
"See you on Coruscant."
Did I waste it?
Not so much I couldn't taste it.
Life should be fragrant,
Rooftop to the basement...
~*~Okay, roll the credits! By the way, if anyone was looking for more Kitey fun, in a little bit Sarah will be posting a chapter of her journal type fic Making () chronicling the events of Kite through Qui-Gon's eyes. I've read a little bit she sent me and it rocks! I'm not sure exactly when it will be out, but her fic Making is one of the best if not the best young Qui-Gon fic in business, and I'm thrilled to be a little part of it!~*~
Now, on with the trailer…
[The sun rises on Coruscant, bloody and spectacular..]
[Tahl chasing after her friend down the halls of the temple.. She catches his hand, he breaks her grip...tears are running down her face]
"Why would I lie to you?!"
It's not the easy thing...
[Qui-Gon huddled against a concrete wall, looking up as he is soaked by rain]
...the only baggage...
[two sabers, gold and green, spin and flash, dueling]
"Your point of view nearly had me killed!"
[a blonde man laughing]
..that you can bring...
"I don't want to hurt you."
"By all means, go ahead and try."
Love, it's not the easy thing...
"I suppose now I should tell you everything I should have told you the moment we left Childor."
The only baggage you can bring...
"...and perhaps you need to tell me some things as well."
"What do you mean, 'he left'?!"
...is all that you can't... leave...behind...
[a shot of Qui-Gon's eyes, wide and full of incredulous tears. He takes a step back.]
Walk On, coming to a fanfiction board near you Spring 2004