Authors note: This one I wrote a long time ago for some random challenge on , but I was playing with it tonight and thought I'd finally post it here. I'm feeling moody and weird and when I'm feeling moody and weird I write Dook introspective. LOL, as you can see by the mass of Dook angst I write, I'm often feeling this way. It's been a while since I've posted anything, so I hope you all like this. J

Lucas owns, I play.

Firefly

I arrived late.

By Naboo reckoning, it was a quarter past midnight. My feet found their own way, and I walked on, without much thought. I strolled down the walkways, past the smoldering pyre and down into the gardens. The gentle patter of the fountain's flow drew me closer. The night air greeted my weary face, the breeze embracing me as flesh never had nor could. The soft wind carried with it the fragrance of blossoms, of leaves, of life, and...of smoke. Pain wrenched inside me. It was this, the last acrid scent on the breeze that tolled my heartbreak with grim assurance. I was too late.

I had come here to say goodbye, but now as I looked around the deserted gardens, I knew I could never. My ship had been quick, but not so fleet as to catch mortality. I ought to have known. It seemed that fate saved this last cruel blow to grind to dust my former career as a Jedi Master. But then of course, fate never favored traitors.

I had missed my own padawan's funeral.

Light from the Theed Palace windows caught and scintillated on the tiny beads of dew clinging to the flora surrounding me. My mind, however, missed the beauty. Broken, I sank into a bench beside the fountain. Bitter anger surged through me. So this was it. After everything, after all of it, this was how it would end. When I left Coruscant I had promised myself I would not grieve. But I had not anticipated the anger. It should have been me. I ought to have been the dust on the wind.

He had always been the good one. Mind that of course he was not perfect, but he had something I never seemed to attain, though I was older, and ought to have been stronger than him. I wasn't sure what exactly the quality was; compassion, wisdom, purity, perhaps understanding, but it was good. He had flaws, but they seemed to compliment him, rather than corrupt. They built onto him. Every experience as I grew older grew stronger bitterness within me, and yet it seemed to be the reverse for him. He did not grow older, or more jaded, he grew. I never told him I admired him for that.

And now I never would. I felt cheated. And how had it happened this way? Who knew, that out of the two of us he would fall first? If anyone in this galaxy deserved death it was me. And yet I was here and he was gone. The irony made me want to shriek my rage to the apathetic midnight sky.

I leaned back against the cool stone of bench, closing my eyes while my head spun. All the peaceful moonlit gardens in the galaxy could not quell the torture in my flesh. I wasn't sure what now I was to do, and the feeling was new and bewildering to me. My allegiances had been so abruptly slashed of late and I could not quite place this new pain back into my plan which days ago had seemed so right. Naturally, Qui-Gon would chose the worst, most chaotic point in my life to die.

But there was little sense hiding in a garden all night. The air had a growing chill to it, and weariness was beginning to settle over my limbs. I opened my eyes, intending to follow the path up to the palace and pay my respects in whatever way the grieving Master would be expected to. They would undoubtedly be surprised to see me, the half dark, crazed ex-Jedi at this solemn remembrance of one so light. Apparently they hadn't counted on my coming enough to wait the funeral on me. I was merely the one who raised him, after all.

I froze. The lights from the indoors danced on the water across from me, and the trees rustled and whispered. It was in that instant I knew. He was here.

My eyes cast about desperately over the pool, the fountain, the leaves surrounding me. Stray moonlight spilled across the cobblestones and pooled near my feet. Suddenly it was not the moonlight shimmering across from me. I did not jump as I thought I would. But there he was. Watching me.

For a moment, we stared. I had the opportunity to observe him at length. He glittered faintly around the edges of his form, as if merely a picture of himself, his features painted over in shimmering blue. I didn't dare blink.

I thought I should say something to him. Something to break the haunting still. He did not float, as a ghost or apparition ought to, but seemed to lean almost casually against the stone and regard me in a nonchalant fashion, as if he did not quite realize the absurd impossibility of his current form. We stared at each other for a long moment. It was he who broke the silence first.

"You came."

"Of course!" The words were out of my mouth before my mind fully formed them. The logical part of my head was screaming that I had lost my senses, that there was no way the voice that had seemed so real could have really spoken to me just then. But I still found myself replying, hurt, surprised. "Of course I came."

He nodded at my words. His eyes were calm, and yet with mingled sadness. They often had been, of late, I remembered. "It's just that I didn't think that you would."

I chuckled bitterly, falling back into pattern with him faster than I thought I would. "If you've journeyed from the beyond to preach at me about my vast inadequacies as a paternal figure to you, save your incorporeal breath. I assure you, I get those speeches enough when I try to sleep. I've learned merely not to bother with it any more."

"Bother with your conscience?" he asked with raised eyebrows.

"Sleep." I corrected, with a sigh and nod. "And I suppose you before me now is the result of that." I motioned at him. "A lack of sleep."

He smiled another sad smile. "Whatever you say, Master. I am not here to speak of the past."

I shifted uncomfortably. "You're here to mock me, then?"

His expression was of deepest sincerity. "Never."

I felt irritation flare within me. At the same time, I knew it was foolishly ironic that I could be bothered by someone who wasn't even truly there. "So what then, my child?" I felt a strangled imitation of a laugh seize up in my throat at the thought that this had indeed been once my child. "The eternal embrace and unity of the force wax old to you?"

He sighed, and touched his mid section gingerly. "Master..." He shook his head. "I think you know why I've come."

I turned away violently, studying the dancing patterns of light in the fountain. One of the lights swimming there was my Padawan's. I stared up at the stars and ignored it, my fists balling at my sides. "Don't start. You really don't know anything at all, I'm afraid. Whatever talk you seem to think we need to have, I assure you, we do not."

"You're so sure about that?" Now he was standing beside me. I wanted to flinch.

"Listen to me. Perhaps there would be less conflict in our lives if you just understood this. Your role in my life ended a long time ago. As did mine in yours. Sentimentality aside, you and I are no longer connected. I don't want your advice." I knew I only half believed the words I was so vehemently declaring, but went on. "I am no longer the same man who trained you. And inside, that man who trained you was only half the man you thought him to be." I tried not to notice the quiet hurt on his ethereal features, nor the crack in my own voice. "You're wasting your eternity of peace."

Of course, he had a reply. He always did. His voice was smooth, intelligent, even in death, he could certainly argue. "If there is no more sentimentality in our relationship, then you will be able to excuse my speaking frankly to you." His eyebrows rose expressively. "And eternity is mine to waste, isn't it?"

My lips twitched, and a small part of me was amused. "You don't take much of a hint, do you?" I commented to him, turning back.

He smiled sadly and shook his head. "Have I ever?" My ex-apprentice stood, folding his hands into the immaterial sleeves of his robe. "Master, please listen to what I have to say. Don't you realize what all this means?" He motioned down at his middle, as if that gesture ought to explain everything away. Even his eloquence had some limits.

I closed my eyes, and hoped for the sake of my sanity that when I opened them he would be gone, as hallucinations did, I was told. He was still there. I shrugged wearily. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"My death?"

"Oh that." I winced. "What do you mean, 'what your death means?' Means one less sane Jedi in this Order, means I lost a padawan and friend.." I gave a harsh laugh. " It means that your Kenobi boy is going to have to grow up...oh, it means a great deal, I suppose..." I trailed off. "But that's not what you're on about, is it?"

"Do you even know how I was killed?" The words sent a icy wind through me, deflating whatever confidence I had regained. Bitter pride colored his tone. "Do you think that a Jedi you trained took a blaster bolt, or got into a messy accident, really?" I wished, desperately wished, that he would stop talking. I did not want to know. I did not need to know. But he continued with the same quiet sternness. "It was a Sith, Master. You knew that, didn't you?"

Shame burned a crimson swathe across my face and I recoiled. The only good thing I could find, on my journey here, about my padawan's death was that I would not have to explain this to him. That he could go on and rest forever without the knowledge of my imminent betrayal. But he knew. I should have known from the moment he appeared. All my deceit and cleverness had amounted to nothing. Indeed, he knew from the beginning.

"Dooku, don't do this."

I ignored the pain on his face. "I'll do as I see fit."

"The Jedi need you more than ever now that the new threat of the Sith has come to light. Put away your petty differences with the Council, put away your pride. You're still a Jedi. They need you, they need your wisdom. Don't turn them down."

I felt another forced choke of laughter seize my throat. "They need me? Laughable. Simply laughable. The Jedi would admit to needing no one. You speak of putting away pride...look at the Council itself, Padawan, the self righteous ring of idealists, each member's ego progressively taller than the very towers where they sit! The moment they put away their pride, I shall put away mine."

His eyes were patient. "You would chose vengeance over goodness? You would rather watch your people die and the galaxy be plunged into darkness and do nothing?"

I could almost feel my heart harden at his words. "I told you before, you know nothing. You know nothing of true power. This is about so much more than loyalties and pride." I paced the length of the stone walkway, wanting to distance myself from him in whatever way I could.. To stand near him drained me of what I had long been so sure of. "There is a battle coming, you know. Perhaps your chosen one will have something to do with it, but I am not high minded enough to speak of prophesy." If the barb caught, his face did not show it. I continued, glancing down at the cobblestones as I walked. " The Jedi have become corrupt. They riddle themselves with politics, become involved where they should not. The balance will shift and fall...in fact, is shifting, is falling even as we speak. All this you know. You ought to understand my reasons. You and I are of a different breed than the rest of them. We see what they don't. None of this you can deny."

I heard him sigh and took a step closer to him. "Allow their infection to be purged, it is the way of the force. And if there is indeed a war brewing, then I will be on the winning side."

"But you won't." I heard him whisper. "You have chosen the wrongly."

"Your words are empty, child." I chided him, as I had done so much when he was under my tutelage. "I taught you wrongly. You learned well of honor, and rightness, and justice, and truth, but in the end look where it got us both. I'm a traitor, and you're...well..." I chuckled harshly, brokenly. "You're dead."

He shrugged, as if this were but a minor inconvenience. "Our own failings don't make this right."

"I shall do what I must." I smirked. "And I do not regard my leaving as a failure."

"Master..." He began, stepping forward.

"Not anymore." I replied with a sigh.

"Dooku, then."

"Nor am I he."

He looked truly broken at that. I thought he might leave me to my sins. But instead he was suddenly in front of me, blocking the path. "It doesn't have to be this way."

I walked on. He wasn't really there. It made little difference. As I moved through the space between, I felt a chill seep over me, as if I had walked through a curtain of ice water. I kept going. I could not bear to turn and look back. He didn't understand, I thought. He just couldn't. He hadn't seen what I had, he was too naive, he had always been... My mind rambled through excuses, but in the end, I merely felt empty.

My eyes were drawn to the warm lights of the Theed palaces. Somewhere in the bright halls and lovely architecture there would be people mourning the loss of a beautiful life. Another pure energy wiped out. The pain seemed tangible. For a moment, I was tempted to go inside, to join in the sorrow of passing, and the celebration of a life. But I turned toward my ship instead.

These were good people, who had loved him, for whatever it was worth. Perhaps I was too broken to share in their pain. A monster cannot feel, neither can a fallen star change its fateful track.

I looked over my shoulder, one last stolen glance back toward the lonely garden. It lay still and silent under the stars. A chilly breeze caught in my cloak and pulled at me, but my gaze remained on the sleepy little pathway, my eyes straining into the darkness. The leaves fluttered and whispered. I held my breath and waited. Eternity stretched along a line in that moment. But I was alone.

He was gone. He was truly gone. My eyes stung, and I finally blinked, furiously wiping the moisture from my cheeks. I promised myself I would not grieve. The drops of fate had fallen. The garden was empty, save for the tiny flickering dance of fireflies.