Characters: Dooku, Jocasta Nu
Author's Notes: This is my first time writing Jo, so let me know how you like her. She came out a lot differently than I intended, not very shippy, but I think I like how it worked. This is also my youngest Dooku yet, so… chews nails A lot of firsts in this fic for me. : ) In addition, may I draw your attention briefly to Master Thame C. You may remember him from such Star Wars novels as Dark Rendezvous, and Legacy of the Jedi…Dooku's 'official' back-story-less, history-lovin,'not-Yoda Master. He's fun.
"You're going to get awfully sun burnt."
The light, chiding words echoed around the mossy ruin, bouncing with the sunlight against cracks in the ancient stone. The boulders half-hidden by jungle weeds patterned to form the skeleton of a small building, perhaps what had once been a watchtower, standing isolated in the jungle clearing. Thin cords marked off a particular section of the ruin for excavation, and fresh dirt evidenced the recent dig.
Atop one of the rocks, a young Jedi lay sprawled like a lanky jungle cat. The words were clearly for him, but the boy opened his amber-brown eyes only long enough to give his friend a weary look, and then fluttered them back closed
Jocasta hated it when he ignored her like that.
Frustrated, she set down her trowel, abandoning her careful excavation in favor of lecture. He had been stretched out in the yellow patch of sunshine for nearly an hour now, although whether he was napping, looking for company, or antagonizing her was debatable. And he was going to get so scorched. It was all right for her, she had made a specialty out of dusting off artifacts in the direct sun. In addition, she had a kerchief tied around her honey blonde hair, and was wearing a protecting lotion. Her friend had just followed her out in his bare skin; bare skin that was almost an entire shade paler than hers. Which was certainly saying something.
"Dooku, I mean it." She dabbed at her forehead with the loose bottom corner of her sleeveless tunic. "You're hardly going to look the part of a Jedi Knight with your face as bright red as a berry."
Dooku scoffed, and rolled over onto his stomach. Usually the threat of not looking like a Jedi Knight would be highly significant for him, but the young man had just finished the long Trials, and therefore, couldn't be bothered.
Jocasta sighed and went back to her digging.
It was good to see Dooku finally relaxing, at the least, even if it had to be at the expense of her research. Her friend had always had a slight tendency toward melancholy, but ever since he returned from his Trials, Knighted, he had been downright closed. He was so different now, so much harder and brighter. Now he hardly ever seemed to talk anymore. Now he shied away from her playful touches as if they burned him.
Jocasta wasn't sure what had happened to break him so. When asked about how his Trial was, he would merely twist, and mutter, "Cruel."
But here on this lost jungle world, in the bright sun, she could see through him. Here he was burned down to nothing but simply Dooku, the same as he had ever been. She was fervently glad Yoda had let him come to the dig with her, if only for just a few days. Soon enough, she would be stationed somewhere in the field, gathering data for the archives, and Dooku would be just another distant star to her, off on any one planet out of thousands, saving the day.
Their time here kept feeling like goodbye.
"Jo," Dooku called her out from her thoughts, having flopped forward on his rock, eying her seriously. The childhood nickname fell from his lips like a caress, contrasting with the rest of his statement. "I'm desperately bored."
She snorted, and selected a brush from her kit, dusting off something that might have been a bit of buried pottery. "History isn't all lightsabers and Sith lore, Dooku. I would have thought that might have been something of a first day lesson for you, with Master Thame." She teased gently.
Dooku's face darkened at the mention of his old Master, and he flicked a bit of moss expertly at her. "I know it isn't. That's why I'm a Jedi Knight, not a historian."
She laughed lightly, picking the moss out of a strand of her hair. "Oh, stars and planets, are you a Knight, now? Really? I hadn't any idea." She threw it back at him. "You've only mentioned it on five separate instances since we've been here."
"It wasn't five. You're exaggerating."
"If you're so fatally bored, you could help me excavate."
"I'd rather die."
She went back to her digging, and he went back to his staring. "So, Jocasta?"
Jocasta glanced up again, impatiently. The Masters all declared him worthy of great things, called him mature, developed, and skilled beyond his age, wisest of his generation, and a powerful rising star in the Order. But if anyone asked her, she would tell them that Dooku truly, at the core was just like a little child, too smart for his own good, and needing constant attention. "What now?"
"Would you read a rock for me, please?"
Laughter bubbled out, despite her best effort. "What?"
"Don't laugh at me. Read me one of your rocks." Dooku had propped himself up, and was studying her with that intent, bemused look she knew so well. "Won't you?"
"All right..." she hesitated, thinking dismally of how far along she would be if he weren't here lounging and moss-flicking. "How about this one?" She hefted a chip of one of the boulders for him to see. "It's from the late Sith Temple Period. I believe it was a part of the outer jungle temple reinforcements, toward the end of the era. It was destroyed by fire of some kind, see the carbon scarring on this one?" She held up another.
"Yes, well, that's about it. It might have been destroyed by counter-forces, but I think it's just as likely that the Sith destroyed it on their own, fighting among themselves." She handed it up, solemnly. "Treachery is the way of the Sith."
Dooku frowned, taking the rock to study it. "That's not a very captivating story..."
She sighed, giving up, and going back to her digging. "Well, it's the truth. I can't do much else with it."
"Hm." He stared at the rock for a very long while, before dropping it back beside her. Then he canted his head at her, deliberately casual, with the light air of one dropping a bomb. "So, I suppose you should know. I'm thinking of taking a Padawan."
She glanced up, thinking perhaps that she had missed a beat in the conversation. "What did you say?"
"I'm going to take a Padawan. Perhaps."
Slowly, and with a good effort at calmly, Jocasta set down her tool. "I think," she considered, "that this heat is getting to you. Come on, we can go inside and get some water."
He waved a hand at her, as if her words were only a mildly irritating fly. "It is not. I've been thinking about it for some time."
"What, this entire time you've been up there throwing moss at me!" She snorted, lifting her chin to give him an even stare. "You know, I do think that this takes precedence as one of your worst ideas ever, to date."
"I thought my worst idea ever to date was...accidentally...locking Thame in his darling little book closet."
"No, the altercation with Master Thame was tremendously clever. Delinquent, immature, and cruel, also, but a brilliant piece of force work all the same. I still haven't any idea how you managed to bend up the lock mechanism so thoroughly without attracting his attention." She mused.
"I maintain innocence in that incident; I don't know how it happened." Dooku was trying very hard to keep back his smile, and looking almost painfully boyish.
"Oh, I don't doubt that it was some sort of force-experiment. But your intentions were unworthy. Anyway, returning to the subject at hand, my point is that I've come to expect ridiculous things from you. But this, this is certainly uncharacteristically stupid."
Dooku frowned a bit, suddenly serious and irritated. "It isn't. I have every right to take a Padawan, I'm a Jedi Knight."
"So I keep hearing." She rolled her eyes a bit. "But for what now, a week? Don't you think this is a little soon, even for you?"
Dooku had sat upright, staring her down, face flushed with argument. "Well, I've found one that I rather like, and I don't want another Master to take him in the interim!"
"This isn't a clothing sale, Dooku!" Jocasta exclaimed. She was starting to get very anxious now, as Dooku didn't seem to be conceding anything. It was certainly enough like him to propose and argue preposterous things, but usually he backed down after he had taken his fun from playing the devil's advocate. She was starting to fear he was truly serious about this. Her voice dropped a notch. "It isn't a matter of picking one you like before all the good ones are taken."
"I know that, Jocasta," he gritted out, tightly. "But this particular child is...different."
"Different. Oh, splendid." She leaned back on her heels to regard him stonily. "You don't know anything about taking care of a Padawan. Stars, Dooku, you don't even like children!"
"I don't? An interesting conclusion. And where ever did you read that?"
Jocasta snorted. "You told me yourself the last time we were walking in the gardens. The initiates were tearing around playing some game, and you said quite plainly, 'I cannot stand children.'"
Dooku paused, and she saw his eyes flicker a bit with memory. She might have been sitting inside his head for how clearly she could read his expression. That does sound like something I might say...
He apparently couldn't find a suitable retort, so accordingly, Dooku narrowed his eyes and took the offensive. "And, may I ask what you know about taking Padawans? Did you read a well-constructed essay about it in your lovely archives? Dig up a rock with all the wisdom of the universe etched on it?"
"Don't get sardonic with me, Dooku!"
"Or else you'll what?" His eyes were dancing with bright intensity, and she knew he was laughing at her, inside. "...beat me in a lightsaber duel? Hm? Teach me a lesson?"
"Now you're just being cruel," she turned away from him, hiding the hurt, "and it's unbecoming."
"Unbecoming, I see. I'm of the opinion that your insufferable, nagging criticism is unbecoming, just as well."
There was a particularly strained silence.
It was always going to be like this now, Jocasta thought bitterly, forcing her stinging eyes down to her kit. Always with the tension, and the arguments. The days when the two of them could just spend an afternoon lazy and amused in each other's company were fading into the past. It wasn't even about whether or not he would be a good Master. He always made these arguments into something she hadn't intended. These days, it seemed when she offered help, the only way to tell what was really worrying him was by noticing what offended him the most.
They were both growing up far too quickly, especially Dooku. Her little playmate had always burned too brightly, and now, she feared he would be consumed. She wanted to tell him to wait, to slow, that history was measured in tiny trickles as much as torrents of motion. She wanted to tell him to not be afraid to still be that child that he was, that his future could wait, even for just a little while longer. In purging himself of his childhood, however unpleasant Master Thame had been, however painful the sting of Lorian's betrayal, however haunting his memories from Serenno, he was only slicing off pieces of himself.
Well, Dooku had always been a bit of a masochist.
She picked up her tools, slowly. She would trust his cleverness to see him out of the Padawan Situation, and preserve their friendship. It was what she was trained to do, to preserve things. She wouldn't argue with him; let his insecurities burn the ties between them. The cloth tool kit bounced softly against her back as she slung it over one shoulder, and stood.
"Jo?" He was sitting up now, his curiously-shaped eyes wide with surprise and a projection of innocence. And, certainly enough, she could now see fresh pink splayed over his long nose and high cheeks. The sun burnt features displayed bafflement, and a trace of regret. "Where are you going?"
"Inside," she huffed, pushing her long, golden braid of hair over her shoulder.
Jocasta stared him down. He knew perfectly well why.
He frowned. "I was only playing before."
"Oh, don't even..." She stopped walking, which was probably what he had been hoping for, and settled her hands on her hips. "I don't want to hear it, Dooku. I have work to do."
Dooku swung his long legs down off the rock, with a morose sigh. "As pleases you."
"It does please me, and is less insulting, at the least."
"I wasn't trying to insult you," he reached up, obliviously, to scratch at the new burn covering his nose. Jocasta sighed; this was going to be a long afternoon.
"Of course not. Enjoy the rest of your sunburn." She turned, stiffly.
"Don't you even want to know the name of the initiate who I'm considering?"
Not very much, Jocasta thought, but turned all the same, and tried to seem interested in his wreck of a decision. She was his friend, after all. And there was something together hopeful, and strangely wanting in his eyes. She realized that she was probably the only one he had talked to about this; for Dooku, confidants were rare. Something softened inside her. "Who is it?"
"Qui-Gon Jinn," Dooku grinned as he said the name, as if it were the punch line of the entire conversation.
"Well then, the Force pity Qui-Gon Jinn!" Jocasta answered, with some amusement. "What are you going to do if he gives you as much trouble as you gave Master Thame?"
Dooku sobered, as if he had given the matter a great deal of thought. "I'm going to be a better Master than Thame."
She nodded slowly. "Oh, I don't doubt it."
"You really don't?" Dooku asked eagerly, looking rather startled and pleased.
She stared at him, shocked. Didn't he think she had any faith in him? "Of course. You've always been a good teacher. I only..." I'm only not ready to give you up to the stars. She swallowed, and tried a weak smile. "...I only can't believe we're both Knights, now. It's all happening…rather fast."
"Isn't it?" Dooku stilled, his mind giving a little shiver, and for a moment, she almost thought he had felt her clinging, her shameful worries about his future. But then he bounded off the rock, and offered her a hasty pat on the shoulder. "And Jo, I don't truly think you're an insufferable, nagging critic."
The warmth of the day had returned. Maybe they wouldn't get to preserve forever, but they did have an afternoon, at the least.
"Well, that's good to know." She murmured, dryly, pushing up on tip-toes to observe his toasted features. "Now, let's find you some bacta gel before you require skin grafts."
"Ah, perhaps a little nagging, but I like that about you." He commented, batting away her attempts to inspect the damaged goods.
"Stop trying to hit me, hold still, and let me look at your nose..."
"I'm not hitting, and you keep trying to touch me!"