"I warned you."
"He warned you."
"I know." Dooku's tone was aggrieved. "But I didn't take 'he's a good pilot' and a joke as meaning he was going to steal a ship and lead the attack against the entire Trade Federation fleet!"
Dooku's voice rose sharply by the end, causing Queen Amidala -- still dressed as the handmaiden Padmé from when she led the assault on the palace -- to look up at him. She was exuberant (for Naboo, at least), although fortunately she'd confined her hugs to Anakin and left the rest of the Jedi alone.
Dooku eyed his new padawan, who was by now describing the space battle with great animation. When the three Jedi had emerged from the palace bowels where they had fought and dispatched the Sith, Dooku had hardly been expecting to see his padawan carried on the shoulders of a throng of cheering pilots heading toward the Queen. (Nor, from her expression, had she.) He had certainly not expected to hear that his quick instruction to Anakin to stay out of the way had led him into the middle of the space battle.
And nothing could have prepared him for hearing his nine-year-old padawan had destroyed the entire fleet!
"Cheer up," Qui-Gon said under his breath. "It's hair-raising, certainly, but clearly the Force was with him. And we did want the result." A thoughtful pause. "And it might fall under our mandate to defend the Queen. Or at least be wedged under it."
"Or else I've drafted yet another padawan into defiance of the Council," Dooku suggested dryly, seeming to brighten a bit.
"Oh, good, it did cheer you up."
"You two have a very odd idea of fun," Obi-Wan observed from beside them. The younger man appeared more shaken by the battle than the elder two. Perhaps because he'd not faced the Dark Side as many times as they had, perhaps because his lightsaber had actually dealt the fatal blow. But he too seemed to be taking strength and peace from the celebration around them.
Dooku smiled wryly. "Truth to tell, arguing with the Council is often more frustrating than fun, but when the subject is important..."
"Speaking of which, we should notify the Council of what's happened here," Qui-Gon said. "I wonder if the Sith's body can be retrieved from that shaft. We may be able to learn something from it."
Obi-Wan looked slightly green at that. Dooku added gently to him, "You did very well. Sometimes there are other priorities than precision strikes."
"For just a moment," Obi-Wan said slowly, his eyes very far away, "I was positive I saw the Sith strike Master Qui-Gon. Then I blinked and it went away."
Dooku paled, very slightly, himself. "That would be unsettling."
"I'm fine," Qui-Gon said firmly, setting a reassuring hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder. "You don't get rid of me that easily! Although I am very glad the two of you were there. I wouldn't have wanted to face that thing alone." His voice rose slightly with a measurable increase in cheer. "Ah, here's the hero of the hour!"
Anakin burst towards them, grinning widely. "Did you hear? That was wizard! I was up in space, and I didn't really know what I was doing, but then the ship started working right, and I blew the whole thing up!" Anakin had reached them by this point, but his exuberance carried him right to his new Master's side. He hugged Dooku happily, his whole being radiating cheer and accomplishment.
Dooku didn't start, but he froze very briefly in sheer astonishment. He was of course familiar with the concept, but Jedi did not, by and large, hug all that much. Yoda had done it before. With previous Padawans, they'd perhaps held on to each other a bit more than was strictly necessary for support or warmth in various situations. But this was different.
--On the other hand, "I didn't really know what I was doing" didn't sound like the boy was exactly getting a swelled head, and it was an accomplishment; they were all alive, and trying to put aside the embrace would be no more dignified and possibly a good deal more problematic in future than returning it. He wrapped an arm around Anakin's shoulders.
...Also, it felt very nice.
"You did very well, I hear. I'll want a full report of what happened later, once you've calmed down a bit."
Anakin grinned up at him. "Yes, Master. All you want."
Dooku squeezed, just a little, rather experimentally. It turned warm quickly. "It's been quite a day for Padawans. Obi-Wan struck the final blow against the Sith."
"Only because he couldn't guard against all three of us," Obi-Wan demurred. "The battle was yours, really. Any of us could have struck the final blow."
"Perhaps, but you are nevertheless the one who did." Dooku's mouth quirked. "Which I freely admit was a relief." He looked down at Anakin. "I was too pressed to think of the space battle much, though I think if I'd known you were in it...!"
Anakin grinned. "I didn't mean to be, but you just told me to stay in the cockpit and I did!"
Dooku only half suppressed the smile. "I hope you are not planning to interpret all my instructions quite so creatively."
"I wasn't really trying to," Anakin repeated, letting go of Dooku to shrug a little, still grinning. "The ship got on auto-pilot or something, and by the time Artoo figured out how to put it back on manual, I was already with the fleet. I figured if I was there, I might as well help out."
"Indeed you did." Dooku found to his surprise that he missed the hug, so he set a hand on Anakin's shoulder for a moment. Autopilot did make some sense of the situation. He didn't care for the practice, but there were a number of groups that used it for formation flight.
"Yeah. I crashed inside one of the big ships, and I blew it up from the inside!" Anakin bounced a little on his toes. "Padmé -- I mean Queen Amidala said she's going to have to give me a medal or something!"
"That would seem very likely, yes."
"Wow," Anakin breathed.
"Jedi," Dooku murmured to him, "must be on our guard not to be motivated by gifts or recognition." He let that sink in for a moment. "That said, recognition is undeniably often pleasant when it happens. Be gracious. Try not to become injured if she hugs you again while wearing one of her more architectural garments."
"I still can't believe Padmé's really the queen. She looks a lot nicer just dressed normal, though."
"I agree. I don't think Naboo royal costuming is exactly designed to set off the human form. I don't mean it fails to do so; I mean I doubt that's the intent." He smiled wryly. "I could be wrong, however, so I don't recommend mentioning it."
"Perhaps I should leave you two to deal with the Queen," Qui-Gon said in amusement, "while I go make our report to the Council. They'll be eager to know what's happened."
Dooku's mouth curved. "I would like to hear their reactions to that report," he murmured.
A half-bow. "Then I'll be sure to record it. But someone must remain with the Naboo. It's only polite. Your padawan is the hero of the hour, so I'm afraid it falls to you."
"A recording would be much appreciated. And I suppose they will complain about my haring off when they see me."
"They'll always have something to complain about with you, my Master." Qui-Gon bowed again and took Obi-Wan off to make the report.
Dooku looked down at Anakin. "I am glad you're safe, Padawan," he said quietly.
"I wasn't trying to get in trouble, Master, honest. It all just kind of...happened."
"I know." He did. Although he also had to add, "However, I also know that you are powerful enough in the Force, even untrained, that it's more than possible your desire to help, to be involved, and to fly had a considerable influence on events. Today... you flew with the Force, and it was good. It also illustrates the need to learn how to recognize and control your desires and the influence you can exert through them. When to do that, and when to let go, and when they are not the same thing. Because for all of us there are days when some of the things we want will not be in such close harmony with what we need to do." A small smile. "But today? Today, for you, was both. Remember it. I think that experience will be of far more value to you in years to come than any medal."
Anakin nodded, trying to look appropriately somber and thoughtful. "I'll try to remember, Master. It's...it all sounds like an awful lot. I know how to fly and fix things, but...what if I can't do all the other stuff?"
"I think you will find that you can," Dooku said firmly. "If it will reassure you, I will point out that a skilled pilot and mechanic would have little trouble finding a career elsewhere, should you ever choose to seek one. But I have no doubt that you will be a very capable Jedi."
"I dreamed I was a Jedi once. It seems a lot harder in person."
A soft sigh. "Yes. I imagine it does." Dooku closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them to look down into bright blue ones. "The world... does not always run as it should, and though we are here to help it do so, we can't always fix everything. That will always be a hard thing. It should be, though we must live with it all the same. And yet... the training, the discipline, the study of oneself and the Force... is all toward the aim of reaching regularly the harmony of self and Force, purpose and action that you were living today." He stopped and let out the rest of his breath, drawing another long one before he added, "Although I will also admit that I feel as if finding out what you'd been up to turned more of my hair white."
Anakin looked at him worriedly for a second, then relaxed and grinned, craning his neck to look up at his new master. "It still looks the same to me. Maybe I should try again and see if it really works."
Dooku snorted quietly and smiled back. "Oh, don't worry. I'm sure it will go before too much longer."
"I don't know, you don't seem that old."
"Thank you," Dooku said, glancing up as a handmaiden (a real one, not Padmé) and a pilot approached. "I'll try to keep that up. --And I believe someone is looking for you."
"Oh!" Anakin beamed and bounced a little, starting to rush over to them to burst out his story one more time. But he forced himself to stop and look back at Dooku, trying very hard to look like Obi-Wan did. "May I be excused, Master?"
Dooku smiled again, and let the approval thread across their bond. It was too early to take this sort of behavior for granted, given Anakin's distinctly non-Jedi background. "You may. --I think I may go and account for my behavior to the Council. I'll find you afterward."
Anakin blinked and looked started, cocking his head a little to the side. But then he shook his head briskly and grinned. "All right. Thanks!' And he darted off with the pilot, hands flying and eyes alight.
Dooku hesitated briefly, then opened himself up a little more to the scintillating joy just against his mind. Which was probably why he was still smiling when he walked into the room where Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan were giving their report.
Qui-Gon looked up as he entered, lifted an eyebrow at the smile, and said smoothly, "And I believe those are all the insights I can offer, Masters. But Master Dooku has just arrived with more, perhaps."
Dooku took the vacated place at the comm pickup and bowed. "Masters."
"Done well, I hear your new apprentice has." Yoda leaned forward against his stick.
"He acquitted himself quite well. The Force was with him."
"Very busy you both have been, on a mission not assigned to you!"
"We needed to be here," Dooku said quietly.
"Hrmph!" Yoda said decisively. "And yet Obi-Wan, it was, who struck the final blow against the Sith. Not the work of a padawan, that is."
Dooku smiled. More. "I'm inclined to agree," he said. "Is this a subject on which Qui-Gon has previously offered his insights?"
"I was waiting to present my petition in person, as is traditional," Qui-Gon pointed out dryly. "Not to mention present it without its subject standing right next to me. But since you've brought it up, my Masters, I would like to petition for my padawan learner, Obi-Wan Kenobi, to be Knighted based on his extraordinary performance against the Sith warrior."
Obi-Wan made a noise strikingly similar to someone who had just been punched in the stomach.
"Maybe you were right to plan on waiting," Dooku murmured. "It looks as if the subject of your petition might offer the only objection to it."
"I'm not going to object!" Obi-Wan protested. "I'm ready. I just... wasn't expecting..." He swallowed and bowed to Qui-Gon. "Thank you, Master."
Qui-Gon smiled. "It's warranted. Master Dooku is correct that you could have taken the Trials before now. You're still learning, but so are we all."
Yoda looked around the Council circle, then nodded decisively. "Need discussion, this does not. Confer on you the rank of Jedi Knight, the Council does. Congratulations, Knight Kenobi."
Obi-Wan bowed, trying not to stammer, and then sank with some relief to his knees as Qui-Gon, smiling, ignited his lightsaber to cut the braid.
Dooku was smiling almost as broadly as Qui-Gon while Obi-Wan recited his new oath and was invited to rise as a Knight of the Republic. He did so a little shakily, touching the place where his braid had been lightly. Yoda smiled at him, then returned to business. "More about this Sith we must learn. Always two there are, no more, no less."
"But which was killed?" Mace added, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "The Master or the Apprentice? That is what we must learn, and find the second."
"We plan to inquire about retrieving the body of this one from the shaft it fell into, if possible." Dooku grimaced slightly. "I'm not altogether sure what was at the bottom. If it's in recognizable condition, I somehow doubt they want it fouling their systems."
"Good. We may learn something from the body. But we must devote all our resources to learning the identity of the second Sith. We will speak with you more when you have returned from Naboo."
They barely had time to bow before the transmission ended.
"All?" Dooku asked the air where Mace's hologram had been. "Serious as the situation is, I hope he doesn't mean that literally."
"I doubt it," Qui-Gon said. "He said as much about discovering the identity of this Sith. But that was before they believed me that it was a Sith." He looked over at his former apprentice and grinned. "Now that we're through being dignified, there's something else I have to do." And he hugged Obi-Wan tightly.
Even with the warning, it took Obi-Wan a little time to respond, too. He wasn't much more accustomed to hugging than Dooku; Qui-Gon, with not only a strong connection to the Living Force but a much more flexible level of reserve, had always been rather more inclined to it.
Dooku didn't think Obi-Wan was minding it any more than he had, though.
"Congratulations, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon said when he finally released his old apprentice. "You've deserved this for quite some time, but I just couldn't bring myself to let you go."
"I wasn't in that much of a hurry myself," Obi-Wan admitted.
"I was wondering how long he was going to make you wait," Dooku murmured. He bowed slightly. "Congratulations, Knight Kenobi."
"Thank you, Master Dooku." Obi-Wan returned the bow, a little deeper. His hand twitched minutely as he straightened.
Dooku's mouth quirked. "And yes, you'll probably spend the next several days wanting to feel behind your ear."
Obi-Wan smiled. "At least it's not an isolated feeling. Thank you."
"Mmm. You should know, incidentally, that a certain former padawan of mine complained to no end about my 'Trialing him after the fact'. You seem not to mind."
Qui-Gon covered his eyes. "I should have known you'd bring that up."
"Of course you should! Mind, I'll still maintain it was justified..."
"Well, as I said, I should've recommended Obi-Wan long ago. But I could hardly ignore a padawan helping to defeat a Sith." He smiled fondly at Obi-Wan. "It wasn't just that I wanted to get rid of you."
Obi-Wan's mouth twitched a bit. "As you say, Master," he said, "if you'd just wanted to get rid of me you could have done it sooner."
"You say that like that's the reason I did it," Dooku muttered.
Obi-Wan turned toward him, alarmed. "But I didn't--"
"Not you," Dooku said hastily. "I meant him."
"I didn't mean anything by it, Master," Qui-Gon said. "It was time for you to be a Master officially."
It took Dooku several seconds to find his voice again. "I beg your pardon!"
"What? It was! You'd more than earned it by then. I know it was difficult being taken seriously as just a Knight sometimes."
"That is not why I knighted you!"
"I'm not saying I wasn't ready. Just -- I know you were eager."
Dooku only looked at him for a long moment. At last he said, "I admit that patience was not one of my strengths at that point." Whether it was now might still be a matter for debate. "But I was not trying to... rush you through the steps. I truly deemed you to have earned it." A very tiny curl of one corner of his mouth, that was not really a smile. "I also felt, at the time, that I could no longer justify calling myself your master. It seemed you had reached or surpassed me in too many ways."
"I certainly didn't feel as if I had. But...thank you."
"I felt I was ready to teach an eleven-year-old when I was first Knighted myself," Dooku said, "but I'm afraid it didn't occur to me at the time that I might feel somewhat less prepared to teach an adult ten years later."
"How could you feel prepared so early?" Obi-Wan spoke up, interrupting the tension that had suddenly built between the two Masters. "I don't feel ready to teach someone for, oh, five years at least! I couldn't imagine picking someone up next month."
"Or even earlier," Qui-Gon murmured with a smile.
"Well, I don't think I would have been prepared to walk into the Council chamber and demand a Padawan with an unusual background whose suitability for the Order was in dispute," Dooku said, "but I had been watching Qui-Gon for months at that point, and very much wanted to train him. I had also spent those months nearly convinced that someone else would snap him up before I was even permitted to ask." A faint smile of his own. "Perhaps some of my... readiness was overconfidence. But I never could manage to regret it if so."
"You always seemed to know exactly what you were doing," Qui-Gon assured him. "I tried to imitate that when I took my own padawans. I don't think I was as good at it as you were."
Dooku huffed out a soft laugh. "You mentioned that I was concerned about being taken seriously. I think I was most worried about that with you."
Qui-Gon laughed out loud. "As if that were ever a problem!"
"Of course not. You were everything a Jedi Master was supposed to be. I was terribly intimidated by you." Qui-Gon grinned and clapped Obi-Wan on the shoulder. "I think he's fishing for compliments. Perhaps we should go back and join the party, since you have something else to celebrate."
Obi-Wan grinned back. "Which I expect to be asked about, because around here, someone will wonder why I changed my hair."
"It's not a very great change, to someone not familiar with the Jedi." Qui-Gon rubbed a hand over the place the braid had hung ruefully. "But I confess it's a very great change to me."
"He may have a point about it being noticed here," Dooku murmured after a moment's silence. "Let's go find out."
As it happens, it didn't take very long, but the first person to comment was not from Naboo. They were tackled almost as soon as they rejoined the crowd by a nine-year-old whirlwind who hugged Dooku again, then narrowed his eyes at Obi-Wan. "Hey, no fair! He said I had to wear a silly braid if I want to be a padawan. How come you got to cut yours off?"
Obi-Wan was too busy laughing at the description, so Qui-Gon answered for him, "Obi-Wan has been Knighted, before the Council, and is a padawan no longer. I'm afraid that no matter how great your accomplishments you aren't qualified to be Knighted on a day's training, so you will have to wear the 'silly braid' for a few years more."
"Oh!" Anakin beamed and let go of Dooku to jump over and hug Obi-Wan. "That's great! I don't have to call you Knight Kenobi now, do I?"
"Whoa!" First it was Qui-Gon, now a much smaller but very exuberant person with momentum. Obi-Wan caught him and hugged back. "No, thank you, you can still call me Obi-Wan."
"Good. 'Knight Kenobi' sounds all stuffy anyway." Anakin grinned at him. "This is a pretty good day, huh?"
"Yes," Obi-Wan said quietly. "It is a good day."
"A very good one." Testing, again, Dooku laid his hands on Anakin's shoulders. The boy was very nearly vibrating with excitement. "Perhaps we should pay our regards to the Queen."
Anakin bounced under his hands at that. Dooku could feel the energy running currents through him, and wondered how long the Living Force would support him and when it would demand its due in rest. He blinked away a sudden flickering image of Anakin curled up asleep under an extra cloak, and sent him onward with a tiny nudge, following with longer strides.
The Queen received them graciously, thanking them for their aid and offering them Naboo's hospitality for as long as they wished it. They agreed to stay for as long as a celebration the following day. Dooku already felt himself chafing to leave this place and get on with actually training his new padawan, but the boy was the hero of the hour and it would hardly be gracious to leave.
The make-shift celebration seemed set to last until dawn, but Anakin's exuberance couldn't last that long. Dooku lost sight of him when conversing with the governor. When he tracked him down again, he found the boy curled up on a bench in the corner, heedless to the celebration all around him. Dooku found himself smiling, just a little. He took his cloak off and wrapped it around the boy, who was shivering in the night air. Then he picked his new padawan up and bore him off to bed.
He wondered as he did so just what new challenges this small life would bring to his. But he had the feeling, as Anakin turned his head against Dooku's chest and muttered sleepily, that they would all be worth it.