He knew this place.
Every inch of it, so well he could see it (and had) just by closing his eyes.? Metal floorplates glinting dully, bright lights washing everything out in a fluorescent glow.? And more than just the sights.? The deep, pervasive thrum of machinery, the faint odor of cleanser, and the stronger odor of ozone from the clash of lightsabers.
He closed his eyes as red light from cycling forcefields played over his face, his hands clasped lightly behind his back.
. . . That wasn?t quite right.
For one thing, he wasn?t supposed to have hands right now.? Or, he was fairly certain, a face.? Or rather, he had a face, but it should be with the rest of his head and at rather a distance from the rest of his body.
Dooku opened his eyes and wondered how he?d managed to reach in death a place he?d never been able to bring himself to visit in life.
?It wasn?t easy.?
Dooku blinked and turned around to look at who else shared this space he?d thought was his own personal purgatory.? For a moment, he saw a boy?gangly, not quite grown into his features, not completely comfortable with a body that was growing too quickly for him to adjust properly, but with a bright smile and intelligence and good humor shining out of his eyes.? A boy who would practice lightsaber forms without even noticing the other man?still a boy really, but wanting to be a man?watching him intently, twisting at the padawan braid he was longing to cut off so he could begin training a padawan of his own.? But then his form blurred?or else Dooku?s eyes did?and there was a tall man who stood with a warrior?s grace and the same good humor in his eyes and smile.? The epitome of a Jedi Master.
. . . Who?d met his doom in this very room, fighting against an enemy Dooku had long warned was not as gone as they wanted to believe.? An enemy Dooku had later become.? He turned away and said harshly, ?I don?t know why you bothered, Qui-Gon.?
?Don?t you??? Qui-Gon?s voice was mild and unreproachful, but he sounded like a Master patiently leading a slower-than-average student to the right answer.
?I?m dead.? And the Council?s precious Chosen One has taken another step to taking my place.?? Betrayal is the way of the Sith.? He should have seen it coming.? He hadn?t wanted to.? ?Isn?t death supposed to be the end??
Qui-Gon?s voice was softly chiding now.? ?There is no death.? There is only the Force.?
?According to you, I renounced the Force long ago.?
?For the Dark Side, I know.? Very softly, ?But it has not renounced you.?
?That?s an absurd answer.? Have you forgotten what I did?? What I am?? I?m no Jedi.? I don?t belong here.? Or here.?? Dooku gestured at the room contemptuously.??Why have you brought me here?? I refused to blindly follow the Council to my death.?
?No, as I recall you followed another to your death, and one who was considerably more active in achieving it than the Council was in mine.?? Qui-Gon held up a hand.? ?But I?m not here to argue about that.? And I didn?t bring you here.? I . . . held you in the Force, yes, but the choice of settings was yours.?? A faint smile played on Qui-Gon?s lips, not reaching his eyes.? ?This place is very much a part of your thoughts.?
?And why shouldn?t it be??? Dooku paced across the room, to the place that pulled at him.? ?It was here.? Right here.?? He closed his eyes.? ?The beginning of my end.?
?Don?t you dare blame me for this.?? Qui-Gon?s voice was like a whipcrack, startling Dooku?s eyes open.? For a moment, his old student was a fiery teenager again, arguing as he had so many times before.? ?You made your choices, Dooku.? I won?t be responsible for them.?
?I didn?t mean??
?Yes, you did.? You?ve been blaming me, blaming the Council, blaming Komari?blaming everyone but yourself.? You joined the Sith, Master.? After you trained me to oppose everything they stand for.? After they killed me.? Why??
Even in the malleable world of the Force, Dooku?s form never wavered to look younger than he was, or taller, fitter, more handsome, any of the things people might do when given the opportunity to change their form at will.? He had always known exactly who he was.? But when he could finally bring his eyes back to meet Qui-Gon?s, Dooku looked very lost.? ?I . . . don?t know.?
Qui-Gon sighed.? ?I?d hoped to at least get an answer from all this.?
?Is that why you brought me here??
?I brought you here because . . . you were my master.? You raised me.? And I didn?t like the thought of you . . .?? Qui-Gon shrugged.? ?Alone.?
?Jedi are always alone.?
?Jedi can?t be alone.? We?re connected to everything,? Qui-Gon countered. Then he smiled.? ?And I thought you said you weren?t a Jedi.?
Dooku fell silent, watching the forcefields cycle as if they might hold some kind of answer.? Finally, very quietly, he replied, ?I don?t know what I am anymore, Qui-Gon.?
?I don?t believe that.? Not from you.?? Qui-Gon came over and laid a hand on Dooku?s shoulder.? His hand was very warm.? It felt real.? Alive.? Dooku closed his eyes again.? ?You know.? You always have.?
Dooku drew a shaky breath.? ?Qui-Gon, I . . . I haven?t been that person in a long time.? I?ve forgotten how to be.?
?Then maybe you need to remember.?? Qui-Gon squeezed Dooku?s shoulder gently, then let go and stepped back.? ?I can?t keep you here forever.? It?s up to you.?
?Qui-Gon, don?t leave.?? The words should have been painful, but they flew out before he could think better of it. ?
Qui-Gon smiled sadly.? ?I?m not going anywhere, Master.? There is only the Force.?
But his form grew indistinct and then faded away completely, leaving Dooku alone in the room of death.
Jedi can?t be alone.? We?re connected to everything.
. . . He didn?t feel very connected right now.? The true Force had left him long ago.? But it has not renounced-- No.? No!? It had, he knew it had!? He?d turned from that path when he?d embraced the Dark Side.? The Dark Side of the Force did not allow for interlopers.? Nothing that would interfere, as light always interfered with darkness.
Dooku stopped, blinked.? Light always interfered with darkness.? It was such a common thought, really, but one that had never occurred to him in quite this way.? The Dark Side was all powerful, that was what his new Master had taught him.
But all it takes is a candle to dispel the darkness.? Or . . . to lead you home. His old Master had taught him that.?
His first thought was that it couldn?t possibly be that easy. ?
His next was that this was probably going to be the hardest thing he?d ever done.
But he slowly knelt?in the very spot Qui-Gon had gasped out his last breath.? He called that his end.? It wouldn?t be any longer.? Dooku slowly, painfully let down the barriers of his mind and heart and welcomed the true Force back in.
It exploded like a sun all around him, bright and brilliant...burning.? He hissed in pain, feeling it scald him and leave his skin and mind red and raw.? He should have known.? He couldn?t come back, not after everything he?d done.? He?d die here, burned to nothing by the very Force he?d turned his back on.? Red hazed over his vision, red like his lightsaber, like the forcefields cycling endlessly in the room Qui-Gon had trapped him in.
How fitting that he would die in the very spot his first student had.? No, he was already dead.? What was beyond death?
There is no death.? There is only the Force.
Dooku struggled for breath.? The Dark Side loomed, but the true Force was there.? He could dispel the darkness with a single candle.? The Force hadn?t renounced him.? It still believed in him, and so did Qui-Gon.? He closed his eyes.? That was worth everything.? He would not fail here.? He couldn?t.?
Dooku forced himself deeper into the fire, welcoming the flames instead of trying to fight them.? You sought to control the Dark Side, but you surrendered into the true Force.? The red shaded into orange, then yellow, then the pure white light he remembered.? It bathed around him, life-giving instead of burning.? He could take a deep breath for the first time in a decade.
And a voice whispered, ?Welcome home.?
Original cover by Persephone_Kore. HTML formatting copyright 2006 TheForce.Net LLC.