Genre: humor, mushfic, characterstudy
Characters: Qui-Gon, Dooku, a dash of Tahl, Yoda
Summary: The Council's infinite cruelty gives Dooku the most brutal of punishments. Quality time with the Padawan and plantlife.
Disclaimer: All belongs to Lucas. No money for Charms. : (
The Jedi Council couldn't tell wisdom from the business end of their lightsabers.
The thought occurred to Master Dooku as he was sulking toward the gardens, sipping his muja juice and being generally misanthropic.
He was admittedly grumpy, in a bad temper overall, and perhaps it was justified, because he was being punished. He never much took that gracefully, as a Padawan, or as a fully fledged Master. While the Jedi emphasis on humility was all lovely and good, Dooku didn't feel much up to cowering in contrition after everything that had happened of late. What was more, the Council had acted between him and his Padawan, and Dooku felt strongly that they had crossed a line there.
And if it wasn't for them, and for their punishment, he might be doing something constructive this afternoon.
As he entered the expansive room, a soft wave of humid air fanned across his face, stirring through his dark hair. The gardens were in full bloom this time of season, bright and hot in the living force, thrumming with life. The feeling embraced him like a lover, washing over his tired frustrations with singing energy. But Dooku moved passed it all, the vibrant green of the ornamental trees, the popping color of the flower beds. He was following a thin trail of a connection through the force, drawing toward a familiar energy, as curling and lively as the plant life around him.
It had been quite the situation, he thought as he went. He and Qui-Gon seldom fought on missions, he was fond of the boy, and generally they got on very well. But like all long-term relationships, they had their little rough points, their particular irritants. For instance, he despised Qui-Gon's habit of sidetracking missions by taking up pathetic creatures, hopeless causes.
And in turn, Qui-Gon seemed to rather resent having his living force charities deemed hopeless and pathetic.
In this case, it had resulted in a galactic incident.
The Council's official opinion was that it was a communication problem.
Dooku barely resisted rolling his eyes at the very thought. Communication, indeed! He and Qui-Gon could have worked this out on their own. Certainly this time the argument had escalated a bit...but eventually it always broke down into Qui-Gon finally apologizing, and Dooku admitting that he would have never really dismissed him...
But this time it was different. This time, Master Yoda, out of any number of factors ranging from dottiness to sheer boredom at the lack of Council political drama lately, had taken matters into his own claws. And Yoda had a particular manner of suggesting ideas that made Dooku feel very strongly that wild things like months without being assigned missions off Coruscant might occur if said suggestion was not heeded.
So Yoda had 'suggested' that he and Qui-Gon spend some quality time together, outside of training, to strengthen their bond and work out their differences.
It ought to be said, Dooku thought, that he wasn't sure how doing something inane would make him feel closer in any way to Qui-Gon, or why they needed to spend more time with the other, considering they shared quarters. In fact, Dooku supposed these 'differences' could be more easily settled with a long, Qui-Gon-free period of time. But he had bowed to Yoda's manic will, all the same. Spend a day doing something trivial with Qui-Gon. He could do that.
But Yoda hadn't been finished, the malevolent little troll. Let Qui-Gon pick the activity! For the stars... So here he was, meeting Qui-Gon in the lower gardens, for a day of the force-only-knew... Qui-Gon hadn't told him what the big plan was, only mentioned the time and meeting place. Well, Qui-Gon wasn't that creative, at least not as cruelly so as Yoda. And it was only an afternoon.
He rounded the last corner, coming upon the place in the garden where Qui-Gon was...oh.
Dooku stopped short, barely resisting uttering a cry of horror at the scene before him.
Qui-Gon was sitting in a expansive patch of soil, surrounded by a host of garden equipment, plants and bags of what might have been fertilizer. The boy's shirt was off, and he was muddy, and there was a horrible little bird sitting atop his head like a ridiculous, bobbing hat.
Dooku wasn't sure where the random bird had come from. He wasn't sure he wanted to know. Dooku certainly didn't remember authorizing another pet. But it was hard to focus, his mind was reeling with the more pressing problem at hand. He hadn't thought Qui-Gon's request to meet him in the garden meant something like this! Desperately, he considered attempting to merely creep away unnoticed and claim he was too ill to come to the little meeting. He was fairly certain Qui-Gon hadn't seen him yet...
"Master!" Qui-Gon's voice. Charmed. Excited. Almost gleeful.
"Good morning, Padawan," Dooku answered, awkwardly spinning to face him, trying to counter the guilty momentum of his backwards-slink. Maybe this was all a horrible misunderstanding. He would be reasonable and fair about this. Maybe Qui-Gon had...somehow...tripped over the garden implements, or the bird had flown at him, and the distinctly horticultural pose the boy was striking was merely a circumstantial thing.
Maybe Qui-Gon wasn't about to suggest they spend their day together playing in the dirt.
Oh, there was no hope.
"What's, ah, all of this?" It was a well-constructed sentence, Dooku thought, distantly. Non-accusatory. Mild, even. No anger, or incident-inducing words.
"All of what, Master?" Qui-Gon smiled. He just looked so genuinely happy, happy like Dooku hadn't seem him act in ages, and the Master felt almost bad, because he honestly couldn't understand why. He certainly hoped the bird wasn't the reason, because he was never for a thousand planets keeping the thing.
"This," Dooku tried, motioning at the garden supplies. His eyes twitched and narrowed on the bird. "...that."
"Ah, Saka." For a moment, Dooku thought his apprentice was swearing, but then he motioned to the bird. "She's Tahl's. I thought you might like to see her."
"Tahl Wildstar?" Dooku asked, glancing around, uncomprehending. He didn't know why Qui-Gon would think he'd want to see that dreadful girl that he ran around with, it wasn't as if he didn't have enough of her hanging around their quarters every second of every hour, of every day.
"Not Tahl..." Qui-Gon seemed as confused as he was, as he reached up, offering the bird a finger. "...Saka...I thought you'd like to see Saka. Tahl isn't here."
All right, that made more sense, he supposed, at least in Qui-Gon's strange little world. A bird wasn't much better than Padawan Wildstar, really, but quieter, at the least. Dooku frowned, watching the boy and his bird interact. He really sometimes wondered what it would be like to live in Qui-Gon's head for a day. The glimpses he saw through their bond were queer enough. "Oh."
"She's very clever," Qui-Gon said, with the air of one revealing a informational gem. He stroked the thing's tiny head. "Tahl found her on one of the balconies. She must have been someone's pet, escaped..." he paused, turning his gaze to Dooku. "Isn't she beautiful?"
Distantly, Dooku thought the thing was pretty, although it might have been more so in a painting, or a holopic, rather than on his apprentice's head. Its plumage displayed a dazzling collage of iridescent purples and blues, and it beamed simple energy through the Living Force. "Very nice, Qui-Gon." He forced a thin smile.
"You can have a look, here..." Qui-Gon cheerfully nudged the bird off his head. "Go see Master Dooku, Saka!"
"Ah," Dooku watched the bird flap in protest with a vague feeling of unease. "No, I don't really..."
But the thing had already taken flight, obediently aimed at Dooku's shoulder, touched by Qui-Gon's gentle force suggestion. And the creature might have made it too, except that at the last moment, Dooku ducked down, shielding his juice. It altered its path, managing an admirable landing...squarely atop his head.
Dooku glared out from between tail feathers.
Qui-Gon stared, then clapped a hand over his mouth, wisely stifling any laughter that may have bubbled out of him at the sight. "Oh..." He had to stop, choking into his hand. "...Master...I'm sorry..."
Dooku sighed out through his nose.
"So...sorry..." Qui-Gon was still stammering, voice-cracking, and trying not to laugh in the most irritating manner. "I...just hold still, I'll come get her."
"Unnecessary." Dooku said sharply, and with one quick motion, swooped the bird off of his head. It squawked once, losing a single downy feather, before he secured its wings to its body with a practiced pinch.
Qui-Gon winced, looking at the bird in concern. "Oh, Master, please be–"
Nonchalantly, Dooku tossed the bird into the air behind him.
The thing flapped wildly, startled by its sudden flight, before fluttering off into a bush with a soft, twiggy crunch. Qui-Gon stared after the creature in shock.
"Adorable." Dooku dead-panned. "Thank you for that, Qui-Gon."
Qui-Gon was still watching the bushes, blue eyes wide. The little bird seemed none the worse for its impromptu journey, and had regained its balance, dropping to the garden soil and scurrying away.
Dooku brushed himself off. He felt the strong desire to wash his hands. Force only knew what sort of pestilence the thing was carrying, especially if the disreputable Tahl girl had found it lurking on a balcony.
Generally, Dooku found that he was very tolerant of Qui-Gon's little menagerie; the boy's penchant for adopting wayward creatures was amusing and kept Qui-Gon happy. However, more often than not, and especially recently, Qui-Gon's pets had taken quite a liking to Dooku. Perhaps it was his natural strength in the living force, perhaps it was some quirk of biology. Dooku supposed, however, that it was mainly the way he tasted to them.
That being: absolutely delicious.
So, after the jumping spider fiasco of last month, Dooku had imposed somewhat of a wide scale ban, despite tears and drama from Qui-Gon. Things had been tense concerning, since. Shuddering, he turned to regard the garden equipment. "So, what am I participating in, here, again?"
Qui-Gon whirled back, and it was a credit to the boy how quickly he recovered his poise. One thing you could say about Qui-Gon, Dooku thought wryly, he was unflappable.
"I thought maybe we could do some planting."
Dooku imagined that he misheard. "Some...what?"
Cheerfulness regained, Qui-Gon motioned around them. "Planting. I noticed this little area was rather bare, and so I've got flower seeds, and some plants, and everything we need to fix it up."
Dooku snorted. "The Council gave us community service?" He hummed the word out with disgust. "I cannot believe their nerve. Yoda told me that you were going to pick some sort of bonding-"
"Oh, no, I did pick a bonding exercise." Qui-Gon interrupted, blinking. "This is it."
There was a horribly awkward silence.
Finally, Dooku managed. "Oh."
"Would you like me to show you how to plant them?" Qui-Gon asked rather gently, nodding to the flowers.
Dooku snorted. "Please. Qui-Gon, I know how to plant flowers."
"Really?" Qui-Gon looked interested. "I didn't know you knew anything about horticulture..."
"Yes, well..." Dooku waved a hand to silence him. "It isn't that terribly complicated. Let's get this done with."
Qui-Gon nodded reluctantly, handing him a packet of seeds and returning to the soil bed. "All right. That packet is of candyweed...lots of colors, just plant them where ever you like."
"As you say, child." Now. How exactly was he to go about this? Dooku looked between the gayly painted seed packet, and his sweaty Padawan, down kneeling on the muddy ground and steadily troweling. Abruptly, the Master up-ended his packet, spilling the seeds into a little pile on the dirt. He kicked some of Qui-Gon's mulch pile on top of the seeds with the toe of one boot, and then dumped his cup of juice over the whole mess. Just as good as water.
Dooku smiled, rather satisfied with himself. "Qui-Gon."
The boy looked up, wiping a smear of mud off his cheek.
"Finished." Dooku motioned to his sticky hump of seed and mulch, the pleased smile still in place, expecting praise for his indulgence.
"Already?" Qui-Gon stared at the bed, a look of dawning horror on his face. "Oh..."He looked up at Dooku for a pause, as if he were perhaps hoping the Jedi was joking.
When Dooku didn't laugh, Qui-Gon paled. "Oooh. Master...that's...no...you..." he moved over, uncovering the haphazardly piled seeds and picking away the mulch. "You have to give them space, you can't just..."
"Space?" Dooku repeated faintly, his hope of leaving early coming crashing down around him.
Qui-Gon's eyes softened fractionally at the look of utter incomprehension Dooku was giving him. "...maybe you don't understand. Plants need room to grow, they're living things, just like you and me..."
Dooku snorted. "Not just like you and I."
"Yes, alive: exactly like us."
"But...the force connects us all..."
"I mean, it isn't as if they're living, breathing things..."
"...No, they do breathe, they absorb carbon dioxide through..."
"Qui-Gon. I don't care. It isn't the same thing!"
"Master..." Qui-Gon sounded pained.
"I'm merely saying." Dooku blew escaped hair from his ponytail out of his face. "But then, certainly, have it your way. If they're all so bloody keen and 'alive,' then I don't see any objection to piling them up like that. They'll sort it out."
Qui-Gon paused in the middle of rescuing his seeds, shocked. "You really don't know anything about this at all, do you? They're only little, they're like babies..."
"They're like seeds!" Dooku cut him off, raising his voice. Qui-Gon was being utterly ridiculous. This whole thing was useless to the furthest degree. "They're like capsules of energy that grow flowers that mindless droids plant, Qui-Gon! It isn't high art! This whole idea is inane!"
Qui-Gon went very white, and he turned away, his face tight and closed, his hurt flaring up in the force. Another student might have stopped at that, smoldered, or diminished. Another student would have let the Master have the last word, and taken the seeming injustice simply because.
But Qui-Gon had always had that little streak...
And so, very softly, almost under his breath, the boy murmured. "...just because you can't possibly understand something doesn't mean it loses its value..."
Dooku visibly stiffened. His voice changed from exasperated to deadly silken."You care to repeat that, Learner?"
Qui-Gon whirled, hot emotion in the face of Dooku's ice-cold anger. "If you don't want to be here, then just leave! The Council made me come just as much as you, and if you're just going to sit there and make comments, go!" His voice broke. "I don't want you here!"
Qui-Gon dropped his eyes to the dark soil, but didn't recant. .
Inevitably, Dooku found his voice."As pleases you." The words might have been acid for their tone. Then, abruptly, he pivoted and stalked away, boots soundless over the giving soil.
He was half-way to the path before he formed thought that wasn't righteous fuming anger. The boy had been already such a burdensome pain of late, and then he had the audacity to pick another fight! Never mind the issue of respect which Qui-Gon clearly had no problem dancing around, that is, if Dooku were insulting his precious insentient plants!
But when he turned around to glare back, Qui-Gon wasn't looking disrespectful at all. In fact, he looked fairly miserably. He was staring down at his seeds, fingers curling and uncurling themselves into the dirt, his grey blue eyes distant.
Dooku stopped. His mental ranting whirled out at a tailspin, and burned into nothing.
Because he knew what it felt like to be misunderstood.
To be told what one treasured was useless, silly, and archaic.
He wouldn't do it to Qui-Gon.
Without thinking, he crossed the space between them. Sighing, he knelt in the soft soil beside the boy.
Qui-Gon didn't look up, still squeezing handfuls of dirt, distractedly.
"Qui-Gon..." Dooku started softly, but trailed off, with another sigh.
The boy stiffened, but said nothing.
Qui-Gon looked up, all vulnerability and surprise. "Are you...sure?" The boy looked so meek, Dooku's residual anger couldn't do much but fade.
"Of course I'm sure." Dooku settled uncomfortably into the dirt, kneeling in an unconscious reflection of his student. "I...I would like to learn."
Qui-Gon took a shaky breath. "It isn't hard. Really. It just...you only need to be gentle." Hesitantly, almost shyly, he reached around Dooku, cupping up the spilled seeds. "We can do these first. They're the easiest."
"Just take them out one at a time," He rolled one pale pink seed out onto Dooku's white palm, and then another into his own dirt-streaked one. "...and make a little hole for it. About this size." He stuck a pinky finger half-way down into the loam, making a small crater.
Dooku copied him silently, matching the size of the hole and depth almost exactly.
"Do you see? It can't be too deep, because they only have a little energy to reach the light. If the hole is too big, they won't make it."
He was speaking very softly, very tenderly about these little things. Dooku supposed the intimacy made them different. He had always been able to hear the song of the Living force, and manipulate the tune, but Qui-Gon... Qui-Gon understood the words.
For the better, or for the worse.
"..and just drop them in, and cover it. And you do that for each one."
Dooku looked hopelessly at the quantity of seeds they still had left to plant. "...for...all of them?"
"For all of them." Qui-Gon paled a little bit, as if he were afraid Dooku were going to start criticizing again.
"And they're...really going to sprout?" Dooku couldn't help asking.
"Listen." Qui-Gon smiled at the Master, and on impulse, reached over to take his hand. Dooku froze up, but Qui-Gon merely moved the hand over to the freshly planted seed, so it was flat to the ground, trapped by his own palm.
He could feel Qui-Gon's force energy seeping through his hand down into the soil, reaching, seeking something...and then there it was. Curled up in the dark womb of the dirt was a tiny gem of a life, glowing with energy, curious and bright. It had simple personality, and Dooku could sense its eagerness to grow, anxious desire to reach the surface and breathe in sunlight. It was so delicate. It was so perfect.
"Do you see?" Qui-Gon breathed next to him, smiling, his hand still over Dooku's.
Dooku nodded, with wonderment. Perhaps now he understood how Qui-Gon could spend the whole day in the gardens watching a leaf unfurl. He cleared his throat softly, and tried to speak, but the words stuck, and he sat there shaking his head for a mute moment. Finally, he managed. "It's...such an anxious little thing..."
Qui-Gon laughed. "You ought to see trees when they drop their leaves. Downright melodramatic."
Dooku, strangely enough, felt like laughing along. Maybe it was the thrum of the living force humming between them. Maybe it was the oddness of it all, Qui-Gon introducing him to the little flower personalities. Maybe it was at himself, because Yoda had been right about all of this, and he did feel better.
"But I suppose seeds are a little boring for you," Qui-Gon let go of the Master's hand, and Dooku could tell he was trying to be accommodating. The eagerness was oddly appealing, and Dooku sent him a little bloom of affection through the force for his trouble. No, the seeds were curious little things, and he could have listened to the sound of their energy all day. But Qui-Gon went on. "Perhaps you'd like to plant the roses, instead?"
Dooku paused, turning to give the ragged little plants over to the side a skeptical look. Those were roses?
Qui-Gon looked inordinately pleased. "I know how you like them. Roses, I mean. So, I found you some. Aren't they nice?"
"Oh..." Dooku tried to make the sound pleasant. He couldn't imagine for the life of him how Qui-Gon could have come to know that he had any inclination toward roses. He might have picked one once in Qui-Gon's presence, and maybe he had a tea cup, or two painted to depict them. It was such an obscure reference that it made Dooku wonder how much of his thoughts routinely drained into Qui-Gon's head via their bond. That opened up whole new paranoid possibilities...
"They are lovely..." he said, distractedly, as Qui-Gon was looking mildly uneasy at his lack of opinion. "Thank you, child."
And, something was chewing on him. Dooku glanced down to find the little bird from earlier, ever greedy for punishment, picking at his tunic. The Master tried to slap the creature away, but it was insistent, trying to hop up onto his shoulder. For some reason...possibly Qui-Gon's force suggestion, it seemed to think that on Dooku was the best place for it to be.
Qui-Gon unpacked the roses quietly, while Dooku struggled with the animal.
Finally, he managed to cast it off into the bushes again, and turned to Qui-Gon. "So, roses?"
"Roses," Qui-Gon smiled, watching the bird hop discretely back toward Dooku. "A little bit harder. We've got to actually dig." He handed him a shovel, and they stood.
It was satisfyingly mindless work, digging the little holes to place the roses in. As the pair worked, they talked, and the time passed pleasantly. Dooku found that he didn't mind in the least, in fact, he might have been even enjoying himself. Very surely, slowly, and as he always did, Qui-Gon was easing him out of his mood.
And the bird kept flapping up at him.
"I think she likes you, Master." Presently, Qui-Gon paused, leaning on his spade and watching Dooku finally give in, and scoot up the bird.
"Mm, I don't like her." Dooku said, although he was smiling. Finally content, the creature had fluffed up in the cup of his hand, a puffball of blue. "Lovely, stupid creature."
"Tahl would probably let you keep her, if you would like." Qui-Gon was trying very hard to sound casual, but Dooku could sense the excited glee that usually emanated from the boy when he thought a new creature might be added to the colorful menagerie their quarters housed.
Dooku gave him a soft laugh. "I don't need a pet, child. I've got you."
Qui-Gon's dirty cheeks tinged rose, as if he had been paid a great compliment. "Yes, you have."
Dooku didn't answer, trying very hard to discontinue with the absurd smiling that the boy's words kept drawing out. Perhaps most recently he had forgotten that Qui-Gon was above all things, a gift.
And that the little insistent sproutings of life, the triviality of flowers could still hold the most profound lessons of them all. Well, he had the moment. For today, he resolved to listen.
And, Dooku mused, once again disengaging the bird, to never breathe a word of it to Yoda.