Okay, okay! Last final and end chapter! runs around Thanks to you awesome people for sticking with me, I hope you had as much fun reading it as I had writing it. :) Just a quick note for some people…
The Dancing Cavalier--Oh, hehe, yes, Dook can be pretty cruel when he wants to be. Thanks for reading!
ally127--Oh, I'm glad you liked it! Thanks for reading!
And to the conclusion…
"And I think that you're overstepping your bounds." Dooku was suddenly deadly serious. "Do not presume to tell me how to live my life, Qui-Gon Jinn." Then, with sudden venom. "...especially not you."
Abruptly, the turbo lift in front of them hissed open to reveal a startled-looking Knight, who stared at Qui-Gon first, and then Dooku, before brushing past them. Dooku rolled his eyes and stepped inside.
"Me?" Qui-Gon swallowed. Dooku's words had made him feel oddly numb. Not angry, not offended at the sudden attack, but simply empty. As if the little woven cord of denial, acceptance, whatever he had been clinging to had just snapped away, leaving him dangling into space. "What do you mean by that?" He asked, his tone calm but his voice itself shaking. And there it was. He knew exactly what Dooku had meant. He didn't really know why he was bothering to ask.
Dooku met his eyes regretfully, shaking his head slightly before hitting the close button on the lift. The lift's doors started to slide shut.
So it's goodbye again.
"What do you mean by that!" Qui-Gon yelled suddenly, surprising himself with the intensity of his own emotion. No. Dooku wasn't doing this to him. He wasn't eighteen anymore. He didn't have to take this. He hadn't come through all of the trials and pain of the last few months to be emotionally blackmailed by the likes of Dooku, because the former Master was having a bad day.
He shoved his hand through the thin crack the closing doors hadn't yet swallowed up. Immediately, the automatic stop feature swished the doors back open, revealing yet again, Dooku.
"You ought to be careful, Qui-Gon." From inside the lift, Dooku raised an elegant eyebrow at him, making him feel, as always, thoroughly patronized. "Excessive shouting leads to the dark side. Or..." His tone was painfully dry. "...so I'm told."
Qui-Gon said nothing. He simply stared at him.
"Oh, come on." Dooku finally gestured into the lift, with a little sigh. "I didn't mean anything by it. I'm only implying that...well..." He seemed to consider, and then settle on a half-truth, in the same fashion that Qui-Gon had hedged about the Council rumors. "You would have to be hopelessly naive to think that I am the only subject of gossip in this Temple."
"Gossip?" Qui-Gon said, meeting Dooku's eyes with steel. "You mean about Xanatos? About what happened on Telos?"
Dooku nodded, for the first time quiet.
For a moment there was silence between them. Then Dooku exhaled, slowly, shakily. Qui-Gon didn't need to actually speak it. He knew. The look in his eyes said it all.
"So it's true?" Dooku breathed. His eyes not leaving Qui-Gon's, he absently depressed the lift's button for the next floor. "Xanatos…I hadn't really believed…I...had hoped they were only whispers...I thought..."
All the tension between them sucked in and then broke apart, storm clouds scattering after their squall is spent. For an instant, Qui-Gon had the wild desire to cry. To simply fall to pieces here in the lift, and tell Dooku everything: everything Xanatos had screamed at him, and done, and all the trembling little fears that had been chewing him up inside ever since. Some vestige of his apprenticeship had left a safe feeling associated with Dooku; for all his faults, he was all that Qui-Gon had.
But Dooku really wasn't that safe. Not anymore. And the moment passed.
"I know how you feel." Dooku was saying quietly, looking him directly in the eyes for perhaps the first time. "You remember Synian?"
"It isn't the same." Qui-Gon said shortly, turning away. He didn't want to hear about Dooku's perfect, first, dead Padawan now. He didn't really want to be told that anyone had ever felt exactly like he did at that moment, either. "It isn't the same at all. Synian died as a Jedi, he loved you, and it was a tragedy...Xanatos...he...Master, he…"
"But when it comes down to the matter," Dooku spoke over him, not angrily, or with his usual interrupting tone, but firmly, as a Master. "We both lost a Padawan."
Qui-Gon was silent for a long moment. The silence stretched out between them, mounting. Finally it deflated with a soft sigh. "...he's still alive though, Master."
"Xanatos." Qui-Gon stepped out of the lift as it whooshed to a halt. He whirled through the scene in his mind for the thousandth time since he had left Telos. Since he had left Xan. "He's still alive, he's still out there, somewhere." He turned on Dooku, his expression heartbroken. "I couldn't do it. I needed to kill him, I should have killed him, maybe even a little part of me wanted to...but I couldn't." He rubbed his eyes wearily. "Please tell me, Master, did I act wrongly?"
"Wrongly? I do not think so, child. You acted out of your heart, despite the consequences. That has always been your way." Dooku murmured, after a few moments are thought. "There is no shortage of death in the name of justice in our Order these days, Qui-Gon. Sometimes a little grace can go a very long way."
"You think Xanatos will come back from the dark?"
"Not necessarily. But I think you'll be a stronger light for all of it."
Qui-Gon nodded. It was odd. He wanted to believe Dooku. Maybe he was right. He didn't know. But somewhere through his Master's words, he could see a little bit of daylight, real or imagined.
"Do you know what I think?" Dooku asked, smiling a little.
"What?" Qui-Gon looked up uncertainly.
"I think you ought to take another Padawan."
Qui-Gon laughed shortly, holding the door for Dooku. "No. I haven't enough of me left whole to attempt another round with one."
"That's what I said too. You'll change your mind. You do make a fine Master, Qui-Gon, despite what you may presently think."
"Thank you, Master." Qui-Gon felt an odd rush of affection for Dooku, and smiled at him. It was a strange thing, these days, for him to smile, and he appreciated Dooku's ability to draw it out of him. "In a sort of odd way, so do you. I really have missed you, you know."
"A person can't hear that enough times," Dooku smirked.
The dining hall around them was mostly empty, but a few Padawan's looked up as they passed. Apparently, word about Dooku's free-for-all lesson had spread quickly. Dooku ignored them, and headed toward the food bar. The droids usually set up a beverage area in between meal times for Jedi who were on the move.
Dooku poured himself a cup and sighed loftily. "So what about Shaak Ti? She seemed to have some of your infernal form IV tendencies: unnecessary spins…acrobats…the like."
"She already has a Master..." Qui-Gon murmured as he leaned around Dooku to get some tea for himself.
"Alright, well, you liked Kenobi. The ultimate living force charity project, no?"
"Master, I'm not taking another Padawan." Qui-Gon shook his head gently, stirring in sweetener. "And, about Obi-Wan…that's awful of you to say. He wasn't so bad."
"You're quick to defend him, I'll note. You were before, too." Dooku raised his cup to his lips to hide a smile. "I'm right."
"No, you're mean."
"I foresee a bond, Qui-Gon…"
Qui-Gon snorted. "You've always been a terrible fortune teller."
Dooku's eyebrows arched dramatically and he set his cup carefully down. "Do not make light of that which you cannot comprehend, child."
Qui-Gon, however, didn't rise to his Master's comment. His attention was on the softly chirping comlink on his belt. Frowning, he put his cup down as well and plucked the device off. He studied the flashing code screen absently. "Oh…"
"What is it?"
"Nothing, really." Qui-Gon smiled, pocketing the still-beeping comlink. "It's just that I'm supposed to be in audience with the Council right now. I only now remembered."
"Ah," Dooku said, uncertainly. He tilted his head a bit as he regarded his friend. "You ought to go, then."
"I suppose." Qui-Gon nodded to him. "They usually appreciate that."
There was an awkward silence.
"If you hear any more wonderful rumors about me, do drop a line." Dooku said, looking wearily amused. "It would be nice for me to hear at least what I've been doing."
"Likewise, Master." Qui-Gon smiled, and clapped him briefly on the shoulder. He realized that he was as tall as Dooku now. It was strange that he had never noticed before. "The Council seems to be under the impression that I follow in your footsteps."
"What an awful thing to think of someone!" Dooku started toward the door. "Well, go prove them wrong."
Qui-Gon lingered. He realized that he didn't know when he would see Dooku again. After being Knighted, he only saw his old Master rarely. Dooku would materialize back into his life every few years, utterly demolish all Qui-Gon's predispositions about life, and then fade back into the darkness between the stars as suddenly as he had come. He was almost starting to get used to it. "Will I see you again anytime soon?"
Dooku made a small gesture that might have been a shrug. "You'll know where to find me."
Qui-Gon nodded, and followed Dooku through the doorway. So that was it.
"Oh, and Qui-Gon?" Dooku paused, suddenly, turning back to look at his former Padawan for a moment. His eyes were strangely soft.
He glanced back. "Yes?"
"It'll be alright, child."
…and, for you JA fans out there, it was…sort of. :) Thanks for reading!