SPINDLE OF FATE

by Cascadia

See Chapter One for notes, disclaimer, etc.

Reviewer replies are located at the end of the chapter.

OO OO OO

CHAPTER SEVEN

From a softly hushed fall of water, gentle mist drifted through the air, refreshing as it lit upon Qui-Gon's skin, evaporating almost at touch. The sound was soothing and hypnotic to his ears. He glanced up to the pellucid liquid in the midst of surrounding lush vegetation, droplets coruscating like ice crystals under gentle light.

Yet Qui-Gon remained disturbingly silent. His face was drawn taut, revealing the tenseness that he fought to conceal. As he sat on a stone bench in the Room of a Thousand Fountains, he rubbed his sweaty palms lightly against his thighs, listening to Master Yoda, who hobbled back and forth before him, pausing periodically to blink at him with those wisdom-filled large eyes, then resume his restless pacing.

He had told Yoda of the bizarreness of his last meditation. What had it meant? Was it anything to worry about? The elder master had then launched into an essay on esoteric mystic encounters that had been experienced by Jedi in past ages. Most, bordering on the preternatural, he had never heard.

Almost of their own accord, Qui-Gon's gaze strayed to a tall thiony tree in the distance, almost lost behind a thick banushta bush. Under that striped-barked tree, Obi-Wan had often spent hours, deep in meditation or serious thought.

For a frantic heartbeat, he thought he saw the sunkissed fire of Obi-Wan's hair, head bowed in humble submission, hands resting in meditation. A mild ache bloomed in Qui-Gon's chest. Forcing himself to look away, Qui-Gon stared into a multi-tiered pool, but even there the tree gazed up at him, a spectral reflection that tore at his heart.

". . . an appointment with healers, I advise. No," Yoda shook his head, long ears pricking up slightly, "I order! Go at once, you will."

Qui-Gon opened his mouth to protest.

"Defy me, you will not, Qui-Gon. Serious, this matter could be." Yoda's lips twisted obstinately, eyes grew sharp.

A smile spread across Qui-Gon's face, to think that the little master had often accused him of being the most stubborn Jedi at the Temple - a fact that he himself concurred with, to some extent. Yet he had not felt his confident-self recently. Perhaps he should see a healer. He had not been completely opposed to the idea, but something with the idea that he could be ill trampled his desire to consent to their tests.

Yoda blinked slowly at him. "Healer Maolin, I suggest."

Qui-Gon only nodded.

Those big eyes widened in mild surprise. "Make an appointment immediately, I will, for you to see her."

"Yes, Master." Qui-Gon exhaled slowly, then stood.

Yoda took a step closer, craning his neck back to peer up at Qui-Gon. "So easy to convince, are you? So willing?"

Qui-Gon tilted his head to one side, quietly answered, "I feel I have no choice."

He would not mention his shaken faith in the aftermath of Obi-Wan's disappearance. No one knew, save his former master Dooku. And then there was Mace. The mission report Qui-Gon had filed had only made vague references to the reasoning behind his actions, not out of dishonesty, but because he had not sifted through it all himself. It remained a great mystery that the Force could not have intended. At least, he did not believe so.

Yoda scowled. "No choice, have you? Think that next time you want to defy the Council, will you?"

Qui-Gon beamed, humor lines etching from his eyes. "Healer Maolin, it is," he politely accepted with a gracious bow.

O

"It must be a mistake."

Healer Maolin managed a sympathetic smile. "I'm sorry, Qui-Gon. The tests are very accurate."

Qui-Gon stared at the healer's face. Her pale golden hair looked almost white and was pulled back, flaxen soft, into small braids that wound delicately around her head. Her oval sable eyes gazed back, unblinking, from where she sat behind a deep burgundy desk in her personal office in the healers ward. Qui-Gon sat in a round-backed vinyl chair facing her, his large frame cramped between the armrests.

"I have some materials," she continued, "on Phexinaghia that I'll give you to read. They'll help you learn more about it and what you can do . . . and what you cannot." Her clinical tone could not veil the compassion she felt. She picked up a datapad from her desk and handed it to Qui-Gon.

As he took the pad, Qui-Gon's hand shook. This could not be real. He could not be ill.

His eyes glanced down at the datapad's screen, not really noticing what it said, then he looked at Maolin again. He could see the concern reflecting in her eyes. This felt like a dream, a nightmare. He was supposed to be finding Obi-Wan. Not facing . . . something like this.

"Thank you, Maolin," he heard himself say.

She leaned forward and clasped her hands together. "I know this must be hard for you, Qui-Gon." She spoke gently. "It'll probably take awhile before you come to terms with it and accept it. But you won't be alone through this. I will be there with you through all the changes . . ."

O

The apartment seethed with virtual emptiness. No, it still possessed furniture, appliances, personal affects, and a mishmash of items from various hobbies, collections, and planets, but beneath the hollow reminders of life stood a barren space now inhabited by vacant shadows and shifting air. Where once a gentle smile or warm laugh had brightened the landscape of yesterday, where even the sweet salty tears of one radiant soul had given more joy than a lifetime of fullness before, now all was swallowed by wintry bleakness.

Carefully, Qui-Gon placed the silver cylinder on a shelf over the couch, then stepped back to admire it, frozen in silence, basking in inexpressible thoughts of his missing apprentice. He smiled in spite of himself, the way the sunlight wrapped itself around Obi-Wan's lightsabre. Always the light sought his padawan. His gaze shifted to the object next to it - the river rock he had given the padawan years ago.

Qui-Gon turned away with a sigh, paused when his doorbell chimed melodically. Glancing back at the weapon and stone displayed so achingly out in the open, he felt just a little violated for anyone else to see them, finally concluding to leave it thusly before going to answer the door.

"Qui-Gon." Mace stood there, facial expression dark, movements nervous.

Qui-Gon inclined his head. "Hello, Mace. What brings you here?"

Mace cleared his throat. "I . . . uh . . . I thought you might need to talk." The deep brown eyes hesitantly met Qui-Gon's.

"She told you," Qui-Gon accused mildly, sounding more weary than upset.

Mace shifted his weight and folded his hands in front of him. He nodded. "Yes. She said . . ." he glanced away, down the hall, then looked back, "she said you'd need to talk . . . uh . . ." He cleared his throat again.

Somberness curved Qui-Gon's lips. "It's all right, Mace. You can come in."

Turning, he led the way into the common room where Mace paused at the shelf, noting the placement of the lost padawan's weapon and rock.

They both found a seat, and Qui-Gon asked absently, "Would you like a glass of chilled tangwater? Or brewed tea?"

Shaking his head, Mace took in the heap of datapads strewn across the sofa table, then let his gaze travel over his friend's appearance. Careworn face, wisps of hair loose and straying before tired bleary eyes.

"I'm fine, Mace," Qui-Gon warned.

The Councilor crossed his arms. "Qui-Gon, you're exhausted. Have you looked at yourself lately?"

"I don't need to. Obi-Wan needs me."

"But you can't find him like this. You need rest."

The last sentence hung in the air between them, reverberating like an echo. You need rest.

Shaken, Qui-Gon looked out the windows to the sun. The incandescent crimson disk blazed in the sky, bleeding red light into the room. It flushed his face, painted filaments of hair silvery crimson.

"I'll find him, Mace." Qui-Gon regarded the display of datapads and picked one up. "There's so much to look through."

"No one's ever heard of Veschith," the bald-headed Councilor interrupted flatly. "If he's mentioned in the records, he would have already turned up in a data search. We've run it through a hundred times, Qui. When are you going to -"

"I'll find him, Mace." Qui-Gon's tone remained hopeful, though stubborn. He pushed a few buttons on the pad, skimming over readouts.

Mace sighed impatiently. He's delusional, he thought, but did not dare say. "Moalin said you need rest. It's apparent that you're not taking care of yourself."

"I'll rest when I can." Obstinate. But expected.

Mace frowned. "Qui-Gon . . . Phexinaghia is very serious. Without rest, it'll only get worse - sooner."

"Don't you think I know that?" Qui-Gon's voice became gruff, eyes intense with fire, meeting Mace's gaze. "Don't you think I now know that it's interfered with my focus at least as far back as before Obi-Wan's disappearance? That that is what caused me to think I was doing the right thing when I left my padawan there? That I abandoned him, thinking I was doing the will of the Force when I was really just doing what I thought the Force wanted? It was all in my mind." He paused to draw a breath, quietly added, "I left him there . . . . And now I have to find him before I go completely Force-blind and then . . . Please understand that." He looked back at the datapad, eyes awash with barely restrained tears. "Please, Mace."

A frustrated hand rubbed Mace's brow. He shook his head, muttering incoherently, then scooped up a datapad to begin looking for clues . . . that may not be there.

O

"The januaberries are poor this year," Qui-Gon softly remarked. "Even the tea is." His porcelain cup clinked against the stone table, and he stared past the mahogany-complexioned man to the soft glitter of moonlight on the Opaisul Sea.

Mace scrutinized the weariness so evident on his friend's face. "When was the last time you had a good sleep, a really good sleep?"

"Would you like another cup, Mace?" Qui-Gon asked, seemingly oblivious to the question. His midnight blue eyes shifted and met the other's. "Or I could order you something else. Soimi-latte? Or maybe you'd like to try their tangwater?"

"Qui!" Mace shook his head in frustration. "Would you take a look at yourself? You're exhausted! You. need. rest!"

"I'm doing fine, Mace. I -" Qui-Gon leaned forward, elbows resting on stone, burying his face in large palms. His fingers trembled visibly as they rubbed his temples.

Mace pressed a worried hand to the taller man's shoulder, while he spoke gently. "Let's go back to your room." His hand was quickly shrugged off.

And Qui-Gon scowled at him, pale moonlight softening the look. "I'm going to read the newest reports that I got from Virloah," he stated firmly. "If there's nothing there, then I can go on to Balovio."

"Again?"

Hurt briefly fluttered in the depths of Qui-Gon's eyes.

Mace sighed, holding his tongue until a waitress passed them by. "Look, I'm sorry, Qui. But how many times have you been there?"

"New names come up, Mace," Qui-Gon explained, his voice calm and steady. "Just because I haven't found it yet, doesn't mean I won't now."

"And then? And then?" Mace's voice rose in pitch. "And then when it doesn't you'll go through the whole routine all over again and again and again. The same places, the same names. And Obi-Wan will still be gone." He paused for breath, softly added, "A year is a long time."

Qui-Gon raised his porcelain cup to his lips, sipping lightly, eyes sealed against the subdued night.

Mace inhaled the mildly sweet fragrance of surrounding pletimones that inhabited the myriad pots scattered throughout the elegant courtyard. "I'm sorry, Qui." His compassion reflected deep in his dark eyes. "I'm . . . just worried about you. You'll only get worse without plenty of rest."

Setting the cup back down, Qui-Gon gazed at it, long calloused fingers stroking the delicate object. When he looked up, there was a vulnerable glimmer of moonlight in his eyes. "I'm getting worse no matter what, Mace. I know I'm . . . dying. I'll go home . . . when I'm ready."

Mace inclined his head, disappointed yet showing his respect for the decision. "I must return to the Temple in the morning. I wish you would accompany me, but I see your stubbornness will not let you." He stood gracefully and slid his chair under the table. "May the Force be with you, Qui-Gon." He winced slightly at the verbal slip, and then offered an apologetic smile before marching away.

Qui-Gon returned to watching the peaceful sea. It was so huge. Dark waves stretched to where it lapped the bottom of the sky. The convergence was barely visible at night, and in the midst the tiny sail of a ship floated nearly lost to a less discerning eye.

The Jedi master entwined his fingers in contemplation. Despite what anyone said, despite what bleak storms lashed today, tomorrow stood steadfast on a bright shore of hope in his mind. There was an old saying that he clung to. He studied the tiny sail on the horizon. 'Anything can be found . . . if you look hard enough.'

O

"I came back to the Temple about four months ago," Qui-Gon said, ". . . after I collapsed at a spaceport on Turidou IV." He felt ashamed to admit this - this failure that was completely out of his hands, that he was helpless to fight against. It had claimed him without so much as a warning, without a chance to correct and make right.

A gentle hand touching his own startled him from his gloomy reverie, and he focused upon the pale face of the person he had come to love through years of shared hardship and fealty as a son. The pale blue eyes of Obi-Wan conveyed all of that love intensified as only his bright soul could.

"I'm sorry," Qui-Gon started, feeling utterly undeserving of any consideration. He dropped his sight down to his hands, strong still but aging, dying.

"Sorry?" Obi-Wan parroted with kindliness. "Sorry for what, Master? For enduring?" His voice snagged on a near-sob.

Qui-Gon made an abrupt headshake. "No! For not finding you. For leaving you out there in some devil's hands -"

"Leaving me?" Obi-Wan squinted against the blurry image marred by sprouting tears. "You didn't leave me. I was lost. . . . It's no surprise that no one could find me. I know you did all you could -"

"But it was not enough," the Jedi master inserted, his own eyes watering. "I was not enough."

"You are everything you need to be. Everything I need you to be." Obi-Wan sniffed as his throat filled. He had to wait several seconds before he could speak again.

Qui-Gon could do no more than listen and blink back teary drops.

"I'm the one who should be sorry," Obi-Wan managed to say and spoke again when Qui-Gon shook his head emphatically. "I'm sorry I was not here for you as you faced this alone."

Gazing away, Qui-Gon regarded the brilliant golden radiance that broke through the windows and poured in rivers across the floor to the edge of his feet. Morning had plod past the night and now beckoned the start of another day.

"We've talked all night," Qui-Gon stated flatly, his body suddenly feeling its weariness. He heaved a tired sigh and his shoulders loosened from their tenseness.

"I'm sorry . . . again," Obi-Wan said. His tone brooked no debate over who should feel sorrier, so Qui-Gon wisely left it alone. "I've kept you awake all night and . . ."

"And I 'need my rest', as everyone keeps reminding me." Qui-Gon rolled his eyes and threw a sharp glance at Obi-Wan when the young man faintly snickered. But Qui-Gon could not keep the humor from limning his own face and snorted a laugh in return. Seriousness returned to them both, a mix of sorrow and weariness upon them, and Qui-Gon placed a hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder to squeeze tenderly. "I'm just glad you're here . . . safe."

Unable to voice any words, Obi-Wan offered a bittersweet smile, and then abruptly hugged the Jedi master.

O

EPILOGUE

"How long?" I finally gathered the courage to ask the healer one day. My master would not tell me had I asked; that I knew for certain. He had always kept that distance between us, between the gruff outer appearance and the fragile inner self that lived in constant pain and fear of being hurt again. I do not blame him. He had once told me that age and living makes a man wiser . . . but I've learned that with wisdom comes much sorrow.

He never talked about his illness, even as he slipped away before my eyes. That silence seemed to keep him happy even as he stumbled through every moment, so I never mentioned it. But I was with him. Never did he brave another day without me there to make him comfortable and be for him whatever he needed.

I remember a warm autumn night when the leaves of the Temple gardens drifted in melancholy slow circles to the grass beneath. The trees were just beginning to sere into crisp reds and yellows and the moons perched in their limbs like huge silver balls, glimmers of a beauty untouched by mortal decay.

As we had sat there in the night, he said he had lived a life full and regretted not his fate, that the stars seemed brighter now and the vibrancy of grass greener than ever had he seen. He said that things only waxed more beautiful to the aged eye and the more aware you were of what was truly important. I watched him as his eyes glowed under that silver flow of moonlight, and I knew that he had reached a sense of peace and that his spirit remained undefeated.

He once told me that as the Force drained from him his other senses strengthened and seemed to make up for the debilitating loss of the Force. Perhaps it was this quickening that kept him going and refusing to give in each day as his body weakened in other ways. Even as the dizzy spells continued and worsened he would often laugh and brush off his own frailty. I laughed with him until I closed the door behind me at night and drenched my pillow in endless tears.

I know that he wanted to be there for me through all of my own nightmares and moments when fear and memory came blazing and wrapping me in their phantom arms of iron, but there was only room for one of us to be in need and it was not me.

In his last days, his disorientation increased and he often spent hours sitting on our balcony in a state of lifelessness. He would stare into the distance, unmoving as the sun beat across the sky and plunged the world into darkness. It was all I could do to keep him fed and clean.

I do not regret my life. Nor do I regret one heartbeat of time spent in my master's presence. He was my mentor . . . my father, and for those that will see he possessed a most compassionate spirit that never will one such as I attain.

He passed away one year after my return. We burned his body the next day, and immediately I took up with Master Yoda as his pupil. I hope that I will one day find my place in all of this, my path in destiny's scheme. I did not understand it then and I cannot say that I do now, why some of us are marked to face unkindly circumstances where hopeless endurance is our only shield. I know that the Force plays some part in the uncertain unwinding of the threads of life, like some unfathomable spindle of fate, and it hurts. But I am not bitter. My master played his part to the end. Now I must play mine.

finis

OO OO OO

Thank you everyone for reading along! It's been fun! :)

Banshee Fay: I did not mean that I will not write again, just that my interest is no longer in writing fanfiction. I'm sorry for the confusion. :) Thank you for the nice compliments! And for reading! :)

Athena Leigh: What's going on with Qui-Gon will of course be answered here, being that it's the last chapter! Thank you for the nice words! :) I'm glad you've enjoyed!

Fudge: I'm glad you found the characterizations as having some depth. I sometimes wonder if I do very well making the characters more than flat. I love your in depth reviews. Thank you for reading! :) I hope you enjoyed!

Sheila: It's hard for me to believe it's over too! :) But I'm glad. This uncompleted tale has been hanging over me for a year and now to finally get it posted, I feel like a great weight has been lifted. Thank you so much for reading along! :) Hope you enjoyed!

Clover Brandybuck: Yes, it's done now! :) Thanks for everything. You all make it hard to stop writing fanfic but I feel I must. I really don't have the obsession with it like when I first started. I love your fun reviews! Qui-Gon's mystery will be revealed here. Thank you so much! :)

CYNICAL21: That bad feeling is not for nothing, CYN! Thank you so much for reading along, and yes I will get around to catching up on your stories (they're the kind of stories that you just can't forget and so I have to finish them.)! I've almost caught up on 'Songs'. I hope you enjoy the ending. :)