Title: Wartime Miracles Author: @CmdrMitthrawnuruodo Genre: Action/Romance/Angst Timeframe: 20+ years before TPM Rating: PG-13 Characters/Pairings: Master Dooku, Viscountess Elodore Vane, Qui-Gon Jinn, Dooku/Elodore Summary: A civil war has broken out on Valahari and masters Dooku and Jinn are sent by the Republic to put an end to the war. Nearly two years of conflict later, Jedi Master Dooku is tasked in escorting Viscount Vane's pregnant wife to safety before the forces of Viscount Paus arrive to lay siege to Vane's mountain retreat. But as Dooku carries out his task, he finds himself in a precarious situation that could cost the life of the woman that he had lost to a friend and the child that she carries. Author's Notes: When I read “Hero of the Confederacy”, I suspected that there was a lot more going on between Dooku and Elodore than the comic let on. I mean seriously, her husband is dead by what?... a few days and she immediately accepts Dooku's proposal? I know some of us fans like to think he's quite the charmer, but still... lol. So this is my interpretation of both the war mentioned by Harko in which he, Dooku and Jinn had fought in together and Dooku's relationship with Elodore Vane. I'll also be hinting at something else concerning another Vane. Also, this is in response to the “Military Thread's” 'artillery' challenge and is also my '115: Miracle' prompt for Holocron of Darth Tyrannus. Since this is 7k words, I felt it needed its own thread. As always reviews are greatly appreciated! -=-=-=-=-=-=- Wartime Miracles The aristocratic Jedi Master did not know what to do in the situation he found himself in and he did not like feeling such uncertainty and confusion. Looking back he wondered how it came to where he was now. For nearly two years now he and his former student, Qui-Gon Jinn, were fighting a civil war on the Outer Rim planet Valahari. It was a caste society that emphasized its culture around war and the nobility. It was similar to his own homeworld, Serenno, and in fact was not that far from that system either. The only difference is that the nobility of his homeworld put more emphasis on helping its people or testing the restraints of the Republic's yoke rather than waging war or building tools of war like the Valahari had done in the past, though the latter was now more their concern than waging it these days. Except at this moment, the people were more interested in waging it amongst themselves. Thus the Republic had sent him and Qui-Gon to put an end to the conflict and to make sure that Valahari remained peaceful and continued to produce its starship technology (though Dooku knew that the Republic was more interested in the starfighter engines than anything else). So they had contacted House Vane and promised an end would come to the bloody civil war and that it's patriarch would become the ruling head on Valahari. That promise had been made two years ago and he and Qui-Gon were still suffering the horrors of the conflict. But in that time, they had made some progress against the opposing forces that were being led by House Paus, that the two Jedi Masters were certain an end of the conflict would come soon, though perhaps not in the way they had hoped. However it was not soon enough for the newest addition of House Vane and which Master Dooku found himself completely baffled in what to do. “She's gone into labor, Master Jedi,” someone said to his right while he carried said “she” in his arms. The newly appointed Viscount Harko Vane had tasked him with escorting his newly wedded bride—of about a few months—away from the approaching threat that marched upon the Valahares mountains where the Vane estate resided. They had taken the mountain pass into the valley with the intent of finding safe passage through the valley fjord in the south and from there they would find sanctuary at a Valahar monastery—one of few neutral and holy places that both sides of the conflict seemed to respect—located on the western coast of the second largest continent on planet. Meanwhile Qui-Gon was to provide a distraction for any forces that might catch sight of the leaving caravan and through the old bond they shared, give any warning to his master of any danger that might have gotten through. At least that had been the plan. Neither he or Qui-Gon could have anticipated what the forces of House Paus had in mind until it was too late and there was nothing either of them could have done to prevent it. The morning that they had left the mountain estate had been a cold and bitter one with the first snow of winter lightly dusting the caps of the nearby peaks. The cloud ceiling had been low, giving grateful cover for the small caravan and escort as it completed in loading up on supplies, equipment and its precious passenger. Qui-Gon Jinn had gone ahead with a small platoon of Valahari housecarls, elite guards and soldiers of House Vane, to find and ambush any of Paus' forces coming up the mountain pass long enough for the caravan to slip past unnoticed and into the valley. Everything that morning had gone smoothly, they had reached the valley with little trouble and Qui-Gon had reported that Paus' men—those that he had found—had put up little resistance. Master Dooku had then grown confident that they would reach the fjord unhindered. He had been wrong. They had no warning except for a slight tingle of danger in his senses—and one that he almost neglected in paying attention to—before the first sign of that danger came raining down upon their position as they traveled through a white-birched, snow covered forest. A whistling sound shrieked through the air just seconds before the ground in front of the caravan erupted into a ball of fire, earth and the local flora as a white-birched tree became unlucky enough to be in the path of the ordinance. Splintered wood shattered all across the area as clops of mud, snow and foliage came raining back down upon the group, thudding loudly upon the roofs of the vehicles. Dooku had shouted into the commlink for the caravan to move quickly once he understood the danger they were in but it had been far too late to make any difference as the shells came down upon them faster and in larger numbers. The foremost vehicle, a troop carriage, erupted into flame and pieces as one mortar shell fell upon it. The noise of the falling shells and the ensuing explosions, although muffled slightly to those within the enclosed speeders, were incredibly loud. The sounds of blaster fire could be heard from somewhere outside, pelting into the armor of their speeder, and Dooku could see the other troop carriage unloading its men and returning fire from where ever the enemy force was ambushing them from. He had ordered for the driver of the Viscountess' speeder to make an escape and the man nodded grimly before warning them to secure themselves and gunning the accelerator. The speeder pushed past the ruined remains of the burning troop carriage and Dooku heard his charge gasp at the grisly sight of some of her own people immolating where they lay dead. He was half aware of his hand coming to rest on her shoulder to reassure her while he kept his focus on the falling munitions and the rapidly passing forest trees. He remembered refusing to allow his fear for her safety to rise up and dictate his decisions, but could not release the emotion into the Force like he should have. A warning in the Force was all he had to dive forward and grab the driver's steering wheel and jerk the speeder to the right just before the earth shot up where they would have been had they kept on course. Dirt and snow rained back down on top of the speeder as the vehicle, unfortunately, clipped a tree and careened out of control before smashing head first into a blown out hole from another mortar shell earlier. He had flown into the front compartment and only through his skill with the Force kept him from going through the windshield and breaking his neck. The Viscountess had screamed his name and he sensed her fear for his safety and he remembered feeling warmed that she worried for him even after she had made her vows to the Viscount. But he pushed the feeling aside as the sounds of mortar and blaster fire intensified outside. They had to escape the death trap the speeder had become and he was damned to allow himself to fail in protecting the one person that could force House Vane to surrender should Paus manage to capture her. “Come on!” he had shouted while blasting the speeder door off its hinges with a burst of the Force. The driver climbed out in a daze and Dooku helped Elodore out of the ruined vehicle and she clung to him. The fear he could feel from her hung beneath the surface and he knew it was not for her own safety but rather for what she was carrying, another reason why he was afraid for her. The mortar fire hadn't stopped and he doubted it would any time soon either, Paus' men were relentless. He had said not another word and took the Viscountess away from the wreck with the driver right behind them. Dooku gathered her in his arms and leapt out of the hole they had fallen in to and hurried for a thicker line of trees. The noise of the artillery bombardment and the firefight between the Vane housecarls and Paus men was overwhelming and he could feel the Viscountess flinch in his arms at every explosion. The earth rained down on all three of them as a shell landed not far behind them and he heard Elodore gasp in pain and for a second he thought she had gotten hurt. A quick check in the Force told him things were much worse for her. “She's gone into labor, Master Jedi,” and his thoughts were brought back to the present. “I know!” Dooku gritted his teeth and cursed their luck. He had no idea what he was going to do with a woman who had gone into labor far too soon. The child was not suppose to be born until a few weeks from now and he wished that he had not agreed with Harko to get Elodore out of the mountain retreat and to safety. But he knew why he had and he silently berated himself for his weakness. He had thought he had overcome it when the Viscountess had married Harko, but apparently he had not and now because of it, his lack of discipline would cost her and her child's life. “We need to find shelter and quickly!” “I know of some caves nearby,” shouted the driver over the din of battle. Dooku turned to face the man, Elodore still in his arms and her own arms around his neck. He felt her hand grip his shoulder as another contraction pained her. “They are not far.” “Show me,” the Jedi commanded and the Valahari hurried through the forest with a gesture of his hand for him to follow. He followed as quickly as he could while carrying a woman. Dooku hoped that they did not encounter any soldiers along the way for he knew he would not be able to fight while he held Elodore and he did not trust the driver's own skills to be adequate enough. But luck or the Force was with them this time as they ran in a haphazard way to avoid any more falling shells of death and destruction, for nothing came to greet them with malicious hostilities like he had feared would happen. The Jedi leapt over a fallen, rotting tree that was partially covered in snow; a small, furry creature scurried out from under it in protest before running off somewhere else in the forest for safety and cover. He paid the animal little attention as he followed the driver into a thicker part of the forest and he could see ahead the scenery rising up to morph into a rocky, jagged landscape where ancient glaciers that had carved out the land eons ago had left behind a hanging valley—a smaller tributary valley that had formed over the larger, main one—in which commonly were littered with caves and waterfalls. The mortar fire was behind them as their guide led them closer to the rock face, the forest gradually giving way to gravel and boulders as they neared. Dooku knew that a cave was not an ideal place for the Viscountess in her current state, but with no means of transportation to get her to a nearby village and enemy forces no doubt looking for her, it was the only option they had available to them. At least, he was certain, it would provide cover from the deadly rain of munitions and give him the means to defend her should they be discovered. The driver climbed over several boulders before finding a narrow game trail leading upward to a dark opening above. A pained gasp from his charge made the decision for the Jedi Master to forgo climbing the trail and he gave Elodore a concerned look and said, “Hold on.” He bent his knees as she tightened her grip around his neck and with a focused look, he overcame the distance from the valley floor to the cave with a great leap assisted by the Force. He landed on his feet softly and readjusting his grip on the woman, carried her over to the opening but did not quite enter yet. Dooku reached into the Force to ascertain if the hideout was devoid of animal life and adequate enough for their needs before he would enter. Finding nothing dangerous inside and sensing the cave to be deeper than its narrow opening suggested, he carefully stepped inside, ducking slightly to avoid the lip of the cave mouth due to his own height being taller than the entrance was. It was dark inside despite the mid-day sun shining upon the opening but he didn't need his eyes to see where he was going. The Force guided him deeper until he couldn't go any further and with a mental flick, he cleared the floor of gravel and debris and gently laid his charge down on the ground. Reaching into his utility belt for a glow-rod, he snapped it on and through the dim blue illumination he could see she was in great pain but was hiding it and her fear well behind an impassive mask of determination and pride. Gently Dooku placed a hand on her swollen abdomen and felt the child within moving, demanding to be freed of its natural confinement. “He is eager,” he commented both to reassure Elodore and himself that all would be well now even though they both knew that there was a very good chance it would not. He was no healer nor a midwife and had absolutely no experience in delivering a child to the world. He was afraid in failing her and the child. Elodore knew that fact as well but she did not allow her concern to show like he was inadvertently doing himself. A small smile graced the Jedi Master's face when she reached out to place a hand over the one covering her stomach and it was her turn to reassure him, “I have faith in you, Yan.” “I thank you for the vote of confidence, madame,” he replied and stood long enough to remove his cloak from his person and wrap her around with it. The cave was colder inside than it was outside where winter bitterly claimed the landscape and if the situation wasn't so serious and dire, he would have gone out to gather some wood to get a fire started to keep his charge warm. But a fire and it's light would simply attract Paus' men to their location and that was the last thing they needed to deal with while she gave birth to her son. “I am sorry I cannot make you more comfortable.” “I understand,” Elodore winced as another contraction wracked her body. Her grip on his hand tightened painfully and he endured it until her pain subsided for the moment. “Of all the places I thought I would have my son, a cave in the Valahar Valley was the last place I had in mind.” A small laugh escaped her and Dooku found her comment equally as amusing. He knew they both had expected the child to born in the monastery weeks from now, not in some cave while a battle raged on outside between the forces of Vane and Paus. “This will be a tale to tell him when he's older,” added the Jedi Master and it pleased him to see a smile grace her blue eyes. The feelings he had thought he had let go resurfaced, and regret stabbed at his chest painfully. He gently squeezed her hand and prepared himself to confess what he had wanted to say to her all those months ago before her marriage to Harko, but he never got the chance as the sound of gravel crunching and rock falling reached his ears. Immediately his emerald lightsaber was ignited and ready as he leapt to his feet to deal with the intruder. In the dim light of viridian and sapphire, the Jedi Master relaxed when he recognized the Valahari driver. “Apologies, Master Jedi. I did not mean to startle you or the Viscountess,” the man said as he approached closer. “I would have been here sooner, but alas these old bones can't quite make the jump like you, sir.” Dooku chuckled lightly, “I doubt you could even in your youth, sir.” “How is she?” the man asked, his dark eyes flicking to the Viscountess behind the Jedi. “In pain,” was her reply and after a minute she continued, “Antares, has the fighting stopped?” “For the most part, m'lady. The shelling at least has ceased for now.” “But no idea who has won the firefight?” Dooku asked and the driver, Antares, shook his head regretfully. “Blast it. If Paus' men won they will be looking for her and it won't take a genius to figure out we're hiding here.” “Perhaps if we were to contact Master Jinn?” suggested Antares. The Jedi shook his head vehemently and disengaged his weapon. He clipped the hilt back to his belt and turned to kneel beside the Viscountess once more. “No. They will be listening for any transmissions from this area. Though perhaps... my bond with Qui-Gon, although it is not as strong as it use to be, could be helpful in alerting him of our situation.” “Please try, Master Dooku,” Elodore pleaded. It did not go unnoticed to Dooku how she had switched to being formal with him while the driver was present and a part of him knew why she had done it and thus warmed him, but the other half was angry that they could not be friendlier in the presence of others. It was, after all, not proper for a married woman to fraternize with another man, much less a Jedi Master and no one knew how close of friends they had really become over the years. “Do or do not, there is no try,” he said flatly, more of a distraction for himself than to actually quote his old master's favorite idiom. “I will do what I can, but I cannot guarantee it will work. He may only perceive that I am distressed and nothing more or he could perceive the full extent of the danger we're in.” “It is better than nothing.” Dooku nodded and then shifted so he was a couple feet from her and sitting cross-legged on the ground. He closed his eyes and steadied his breathing, tuning out all sound and sensations he was detecting from his surroundings. It was difficult to focus while he was concerned for the Viscountess, her pained gasps and heavy breathing occasionally breaking through his focus. However, he forced himself to push aside those feelings for her until he managed to reach into the Force and grasp onto the faded tendril that was the link between himself and his former student. He felt Qui-Gon's familiar presence and sensed the man's concern over something and did his best to get his attention. When he felt he had it, he sent across the bond memories of the attack and of Elodore in labor, uncertain as to whether the younger Jedi would receive them or not. He expressed that they were in great danger and the urgency of his aide was needed and when he thought he had received a reply from his former student, pain exploded in the side of his head as something hard and solid smacked into his temple. His link with Qui-Gon was shattered as he lay dazed on the stone floor of the cave, he heard Elodore scream for whoever had attacked him to stop and he wondered where Antares was and why he wasn't helping. Dooku opened his eyes to stare darkly up at his assailant and he would have thrown the man back with the Force if he could have focused his power to do so, but the blow to his head had left him concussed enough to be unable to. The Jedi Master raised a hand as if he were going to make the attempt anyway, but in reality he did so out of instinct to stop the next blow from coming down on him to no avail. All he remembered was hearing Elodore calling to him and watching as a handful of stone came down upon his head, the perpetrator being none other than the man he and the Viscountess had trusted. Betrayed again, were his last thoughts as the darkness consumed him. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- Master Dooku awoke to a splitting headache of a magnitude equivalent to an exploding star. He did not know where he was or what had happened that left him feeling like he wanted to empty his stomach of its contents. But when he tried to sit up, he found he was restrained, his arms bound behind him and his ankles lashed together. There was a plus side to his predicament that he could tell. He was warm, bordering on uncomfortable and he knew why. He could hear the crackling of a fire in front of him and upon opening his bleary eyes, he could see a blurred image of twigs and wood burning. Someone then partially stepped into view and grabbed him around the shoulders, helping him sit up before they offered him a canteen of cold, but fresh water. He forced himself to focus his senses while he paced himself in drinking the cool liquid. His vision began to clear and he noted the person being generous to him was the traitorous driver. He wanted his anger to boil to the surface and give him the strength to strangle the man for his betrayal, but his training as a Jedi stilled his temper and cooled the fire burning in his chest. But if he hurt Elodore, there would be no one to stop him from killing a betrayer this time. Concerned for her, Dooku extended his senses until he felt her presence in the Force and could hear her labored breathing. How long had he been out and how far along was she in giving birth to her son? A pained cry from her told him that she was probably in the last throws of labor and there was nothing he could do while he was bound and at the mercy of Antares. “My apologies, Master Dooku, for the deception and the headache,” Antares said and Dooku noticed he threw a concerned glance in Elodore's direction. He found it puzzling that the man could be concerned for her after betraying her. “But I am doing what must be done to put an end to this ridiculous war.” “By handing her over to Paus?” Dooku croaked, his voice hoarse from disuse and pain. “He will use her and then kill her once he has what he wants.” “He has assured me that she will go free once the crown is his. Viscount Vane is all that stands in his way and if holding his wife and child hostage forces Vane to capitulate to his rule, then so be it.” A cry from said hostage drew his attention from the Jedi Master and Dooku took that moment to assess his own situation. With the Force he was able to determine that he was still slightly concussed but not to the degree where he had been incapacitated and resulted in his current predicament. His hands and ankles were bound by leather strips—no doubt coming from Antares parka—and he had been laying in front of a small fire that the traitor obviously made to stave off the bitter cold. His lightsaber was clipped to Antares belt and Dooku knew that if he could get his hands on it, everything would be back under his control again and this man would pay dearly for his stupidity. He turned his attention to the one other, and most important concern. Elodore was on the other side of the campfire, resting up against a wide stalagmite and still covered in his cloak. She was breathing heavily and doing her best to not cry out in pain from the labor and a quick assessment into the Force told him she would be giving birth soon. He needed to get free so he could help her but he doubted the traitor would allow it. Unless... a plan formulated as he listened to the Viscountess' pain worsen. “You are a fool,” Dooku hissed at the man, his dark eyes never leaving Elodore. “She and her child will die before you can bring them to Paus. This is no place for her to give birth without a midwife or a healer.” “Do you think I am not aware of that, Jedi?” argued the driver. Antares stood up and walked over to where Elodore was, leaving the Jedi Master alone. Dooku tried to sit as best he could with bound ankles and continued to watch the man and the woman he cared for, all the while he worked his hands to be free of the restraints. Using the Force to manipulate something so subtle as knots would require his focus and that he could not hide from Antares. The man would notice and incapacitate him again to prevent him from getting free. “I can help her,” he offered. It was a gamble and he wasn't sure if the man would agree to it and how much freedom he would be allowed to have in order to help her. Antares seemed to consider the offer and Dooku could sense the man was leaning against the idea, at least until Elodore pleaded to him. “Please, let him help,” she begged through gritted teeth. Dooku could sense her anger, coupled with the pain of labor, it was righteously hot. He was grateful that it was not directed at him. He has had the opportunity to witness Elodore's wrath and it was not a pleasant experience to be had from what he had seen. “Viscount Paus would be irate with you if I died here. He cannot force my husband to surrender if he has no bargaining chip.” Antares frowned and nodded subtly in reply. Failure was an anathema to the Valahari as it was to Dooku and the fact that Elodore had played on that proud virtue of her people, confirmed his belief that he had chosen poorly in letting her go. But that was a decision he could not reverse now unless something happened to Harko. He would not dishonor himself or her by stooping so low as to steal another man's wife. Bad enough he almost had when she had simply been his fiance. The driver must have come to a decision for he returned to the Jedi Master and Dooku brought his attention to the man, pausing in his attempt to free his hands. The man un-holstered the small firearm at his hip and a knife. Without a word he reached back to slice the leather that bound the Jedi's ankles and if he had not been so armed, Dooku would have stood abruptly and rammed his shoulder into the man. But he was armed and he had Elodore to be concerned about. It was enough to quell any thoughts of reckless heroics for the time being. “Get up,” ordered Antares with a gesture of the blaster. Dooku slowly and deliberately climbed to his feet. “You do anything stupid once I free your hands, I won't hesitate to shoot you in the back.” “I assure you that I will not,” Dooku replied coolly. At the first opportunity he had, he would deal with this man. Antares gestured for him to approach his laboring captive and forced him to his knees in front of her before reaching down to slice the last of the restraints. Dooku took the moment to rub circulation back into his hands while glaring coldly at the traitor. “I've never done this before so I may need help.” “Nice try, Master Dooku,” the driver replied as he stepped back and out of range of the Jedi Master. “But you're a Jedi, I'm certain you and your Force can manage without me.” Dooku scowled. He had been honest in what he had said. He had never helped a woman give birth before and thus he had no clue as to what he was doing. He disliked the uncertainty and confusion he was feeling but his determination to help Elodore through this gave him the resolve he needed to do something. Think, he chided himself, what would Healer Ioyna do? Thinking about the old Jedi Master that had been his healer for most of his life and what she would do in this situation helped him clear his mind of the wisps of fear and panic that wanted to creep up out of the cesspit that housed his own personal demons. He wasn't sure if Ioyna had ever done anything like this herself, it really was not a common occurrence for female Jedi to give birth, in fact he couldn't even name the last time a Jedi had brought a child into the world. But they would have trained for it, he reasoned, even if we are forbidden to have them. “Yan,” he heard Elodore call to him during a moment of painless clarity and he suspected she saw his uncertainty. She reached out to him with a hand and he did not hesitate to take it in to his larger one. He could see the same feelings he had for her in her eyes but for him instead, they apparently had not died with the vows she had made to Harko. He also saw in her eyes the trust and confidence she held for him. He wished he held the same confidence as she did. “Trust the Force.” He blinked and would have berated himself for not remembering such simple wisdom. The Jedi Master nodded his thanks and let go of the heavy breath he was holding. He also released the tension and fear into the Force, sending them away where they would no longer hinder him in the task at hand. He may not hold the knowledge to help Elodore bring her child into the world, but he did have the wisdom to listen to the Force and let it guide him in the difficult challenge. So he opened himself to the Living Force and found what he sought through the living creatures and the rock around him. He sensed the nervousness from Antares, the pain and fear from Elodore and the simple curiosity of the insects and some nocturnal creatures sleeping overhead. The very earth seemed to hold its breath in anticipation of what was happening within its inner sanctum and what was to come. Stretching out further, he could feel the falling of snow as the same storm that had dropped the early morning snow resumed its repainting of the landscape, and beyond that he felt the pain of the forest where fires burned at the trees and underbrush caused by the artillery bombardment. He could feel men dying or writhing in pain from injuries suffered in the conflict, anger and hatred directed at each other and sorrow and fear mixed with regret and desire to be with one's mother or sweetheart before he died. The Living Force was crying out in pain and misery and begged him to do something about it, to put an end to the conflict that had happened beyond the cave. But he could not and silently pleaded with the Force of his own situation. He withdrew from what he felt and focused on the here and now, the very moment that was far more important than the last thoughts of a soldier he did not know. He needed the Force's guidance in saving the life of two individuals so that an end to the conflict can come, one way or another. He knew and he could sense that the Force knew that Elodore Vane was far too important to lose and they both knew that it would end the suffering of the land and of it's people by allowing her to live. So the Force guided him in his task and through the cries of pain and his calm whispers of reassurance and guidance, sharing in her misery by absorbing her pain with the Force to help alleviate it, a miracle was born in the midst of all the violence that had transpired that morning and for the last two years since the Jedi had arrived on Valahari. The loud cries of a healthy baby boy echoed through the cave and upsetting the nocturnal creatures above them, setting them scattering out of their home in fright. Dooku smiled against his will as he held the newest addition to House Vane and stole a glance to the boy's exhausted mother. “A boy,” he confirmed and then severed the umbilical with the searing knife Antares had heated and then loaned him. He tied both ends off before slipping the weapon subtly into his shirt sleeve, willing himself to keep an impassive face as the hot metal seared against his forearm. “A healthy boy.” He stood to wipe away the bloodstains from the child and wrap him in his outer tunic, leaving the Jedi Master only his shirt for warmth. While he let the boy's mother gather her strength to take him, he observed the child. Blonde, wet tufts of hair clung to the child's scalp and the boy's eyes were a pale blue that left Dooku wondering what color they would become once the child grew older. He could see the eloquence of Elodore's face in the child, but the nose was neither her's or Harko's. And the Force was incredibly strong in him! Shaking the feeling he had, Dooku stepped over to Elodore's side and knelt beside her. She turned her exhausted gaze to him and her son and smiled happily at the sight. “So handsome,” she quietly commented and accepted the child into her own arms. “Just like his father.” She looked up at him just then and the Jedi Master looked away to stare at anything else but the woman and child beside him. Feelings shifted within him and he regretted more than ever in not saying what he wished to tell her all those months ago, on that one night he had the opportunity to do so. “Yan?” “I...” he began but could not find the courage to say what he wanted to say. So he opted to cheat himself and forced his emotions down to deal with later. His face was an impassive mask once more as he met her gaze again. “He will make Harko proud,” he offered quietly and tentatively reached out to push back a strand of sweat soaked hair from Elodore's face. “You have made him proud.” “How sweet,” Antares sarcastically commented from his place across from them. “I suspected there was something between you two when I had caught glimpses of you both together. Does the Viscount know? I wonder how far you two went?” His gaze shifted to the quiet infant in her arms, clearly conveying what exactly he was implying. Dooku glared at the man. He felt a stab of panic rising from Elodore and placed his hand on her arm, sending warmth and a calmness into her through the Force. It was time he dealt with this traitor and silence him. He turned to the Viscountess and gave her subtle nod and prod in the Force to be ready. She knew him well enough to know what he was thinking and was going to do. Elodore clutched her child closer to her as the Jedi Master slowly stood from beside her, the hilt of the knife slipping back into his hand unnoticed. “Nothing is between us,” he seethed coldly, “except you.” “What are you...ack!” The searing hot knife found its way from Dooku's hand and deep into Antares shoulder, forcing him to drop the blaster he held in the same hand. Before the traitor could do anything more than grab the hilt of his own knife, the lightsaber at his belt suddenly flew from his side and into the waiting hand of its owner. Viridian green bathed the warm glow reflecting off the cave walls from the campfire and giving the Jedi Master a sinister look as the man scowled darkly at the driver. “I am killing a traitor!” Dooku answered just before he leapt over the flames of the campfire and brought his weapon down upon the man that had betrayed them. Antares didn't have a chance to scream as his head fell from his shoulders and to roll up against the fire, catching aflame and burning. He wasted no time in sending the offending burning effigy out of the cave with a gesture of the Force and into the cold, bitter snow. The rest of his remains followed suit and thus finally giving him and Elodore the peace and safety they had sought in the cave. A minute passed and then another before the Jedi Master disengaged his weapon and returned it at its rightful place at his side. Dooku returned to Elodore to make sure she was alright and she gave him a reassuring nod that she was. The Jedi studied them both in contemplative silence, happy for Elodore but also saddened at the same time. He knew he had dreamed of something like this, a life where he wasn't a Jedi Knight but rather the son of a Count with a wife and child of his own. But they were only dreams he knew he could never have because of choices made for him long ago and now that he had that chance to choose for himself, that choice had been taken from him by his own cowardice and another man oblivious to his friend's desires. “What will you name him?” he asked of her in order to distract himself from his own bitter thoughts. “I do not know,” Elodore replied while watching her son sleep in her arms. “Harko and I haven't had the chance to discuss it.” “I see.” Some of his bitterness must have seeped into his voice for she looked up at him and reached up to stroke his cheek. “Why don't you name him?” Dooku blinked in surprise and then suspicion. He reached into the Force to ascertain her intent and only saw her concern and love for him. She must have known what he suspected and what he had wanted, it was the only reason he could think of as to why she would let him name her son. “Are you certain?” “Yes,” she nodded. “Name him.” He was quiet for a few minutes as he considered the possibilities. He knew some families would name their children after people they respected or wished to honor but who did he know that he respected or honored enough that he could name the boy after? He doubted Elodore or Harko would agree to their son being named Yoda. There was Thame, the name of his first master but looking at the boy he doubted it would suit him. It would be arrogant of him to name the child after himself and cause too many questions to be asked. After another minute of deliberation he finally decided on a name that would suit the child and please the boy's father without suspicion being raised. “Tofen,” he whispered reverently. “After my grandfather.” “Tofen,” she repeated and smiled softly at the boy. “It suits him.” “Yes,” Dooku nodded and reached over for the boy. The infant opened his eyes to look up at his mother before his attention was caught by the man who brought him into the world. The child reached up with its infantile hand and grasped the finger of the Jedi Master, gurgling in delight at what it caught. The Jedi felt something in the Force and he knew that this child would have an important future. “He is strong in the Force.” “He is?” Dooku sensed her concern and shook his head lightly in reply. “I will not take him. I... do not believe in that practice.” “But he will be tested and they will know.” “Then I will erase the results,” he offered with a deep conviction. “I will not see his life squandered by the Jedi when there is so much more for him and should he show his potential, I will teach him control if you will allow it.” Elodore leaned against him in gratitude and for moment the Jedi Master placed an arm around her shoulders to both comfort her and to reassure himself that he was not misplacing his feelings this time. “It's not over is it?” she asked of him after a moment of further silence and stroking her son's brow with her fingertips. Dooku shook his head lightly and gave a heavy sigh. “No, my dear. Not until Harko wins this war. Until then Paus will continue to try and use you and your newborn son to secure his support for the throne.” He leaned forward and dared to place a chaste kiss upon her brow before he started to move with the intent to clean up. She stopped him with a tender touch on his arm and Dooku paused to look back at her curiously. “Thank you.” The aristocratic Jedi Master nodded solemnly and then went about cleaning up and seeing to it that she and her son were comfortable before he settled himself into a meditation near the entrance of the cave. He would remain there except when she needed him for something even though there really was little he could do except offer her an ear or stoke the fire back to life. Dooku understood that he needed to keep his distance from this point on or he would find himself committed to something that was against the Jedi Way and the Code, no matter how much he wanted it. He had a duty to the galaxy and she had a duty to her husband regardless of how painful it might be for them both. They simply were not meant to be even though his heart desired it. We are alone, he thought as he heard—hours later—and then felt the arrival of his former student and the housecarls he had with him since dawn that day. I will always be alone.