Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction based on the Star Wars movies and various pieces of the EU. No undue claim nor any material profit is expected or intended.
Dodging a slung projectile when Anakin sent it winging across their quarters on his way through the door was not exactly challenging, but dealing with the action might be. Dooku ducked, stopped the flight of the errant circuitry with a pull on the Force, and sat up to arch his eyebrows sternly. "What was that display of temper about?"
"It's not temper," Anakin muttered, kicking at the floor with his feet. "Just...irritated." His datapad landed on the table with a clatter as Anakin divested himself of his remaining belongings.
"That would usually come under the heading of temper," Dooku pointed out. "Also, while I, the datapad, and whatever you threw at me remain undamaged, that wouldn't be the case for every possible target. Releasing your irritation into the Force would be more appropriate." He examined the thing he'd retrieved, didn't recognize it, and set it on the table. "That technique is still new to you, or I'd have you use it to calm yourself before answering this question, but meanwhile -- why are you irritated?"
"Nothing," Anakin growled. "I'm fine. They're all just stupid anyway."
"Padawan," Dooku said, "I somehow doubt that, although it is possible that 'they' are not behaving wisely either. Come sit down." He made his own words less sharp than he was inclined to, turning the command into an invitation. This time. "And please, explain a bit more clearly."
Anakin sat. And burst out, "I just went to class like you told me to! I wasn't doing anything wrong. I don't want to know all that stupid stuff anyway." He leaned back against the arm of the couch, his arms crossed obstinately. "They didn't have to laugh at me."
"Ah," Dooku said, and sighed. "No, they did not. And should not."
"It's not like turning flips on a high-wire is going to help anybody on Tatooine. Don't know why they expect me to do it." He sighed. "Can't I just train with you? I don't want to go to those stupid classes!"
"Thank you for the mark of confidence, but I'm afraid," Dooku said firmly, "that there are often tasks we must complete, and do well and calmly... despite the poor behavior of others. I can focus some of your instruction time apart from classes on the topics you need to catch up on, but you will still have to attend several of them and learn the material." He wasn't pleased with himself, either, for failing to realize that gymnastics would be a problem. It had always been so generally considered fun. But of course Anakin was starting from the beginning there too. He'd done most of his cavorting on Tatooine in vehicles.
Anakin blew out a breath and leaned his head back. "But I don't want to! They just laugh at me! No one wants to talk to me! I tried, but they won't." Another huff. "I don't know what I'm doing wrong!"
Dooku sighed. "Wrong? No." Well, at the moment he was being petulant, but Dooku thought it very probable that he'd approached his classmates in much the same way he'd approached new meetings on Naboo. "You're new, and different, among a group that has been taught together for over half their lives and had every reason to think that there wouldn't be anyone new coming in at this age. You know things they don't and don't know many of the things they do; you haven't been taught the same expectations they have. Jedi are trained to appreciate and seek to understand the unfamiliar, but we're no more naturally immune to being unsettled by it than anyone else. And they are not by any means fully trained." He paused. "And to make sure this is quite clear, no, they are not behaving appropriately by Jedi standards or by... well, basic manners. But that doesn't remove your obligation to do so."
"So they can just not like me because I'm new, but I have to be nice to them anyway? That stinks." Anakin shifted around on the couch, still looking grumpy. "Back home, everyone moves around so much you have to make new friends. You could get sold any time and have to go somewhere new. This is just...weird."
And what Anakin had described sounded utterly appalling, though the response seemed healthy enough. "...Yes, I suppose it is," Dooku said. "I think they'll grow used to you soon enough, though." He hesitated, then winced. "Although it is possible that some of them, especially those a little older than you, will resent you for being a Padawan already."
"Already? But Master Yoda kept saying I was too old!"
"Ah. I should probably have explained that somewhat more thoroughly. Generally speaking, the Jedi now won't begin training a child who's older than five standard years -- they say four, but in areas where there wasn't a testing opportunity for some time it's often pushed by some months. I was nearly four when my parents gave me to the Jedi, and one of the oldest children in the Creche entry-group. At that stage the term is most technically 'Initiate' -- though 'apprentice' and 'padawan' are also correct, and Master Yoda in particular will use them."
"I know you said everyone started earlier. I just -- how can I be too old and too young at the same time? It's not fair!"
Dooku shook his head. "You are not too young to be a Padawan apprenticed to a specific Master. You are relatively young. It's permitted to begin as young as eight, and nine or ten is not uncommon -- but neither is waiting until eleven or twelve. At thirteen, those who have not been chosen by Knights or Masters... are considered to have passed through the period when their apprenticeship may begin, and are usually sent to one of the Corps -- Exploration, Medical, or Agricultural -- for alternative training. Many stay there; others leave when they're able to begin a different career." Dooku's mouth quirked. "It is not, as I understand it, a particularly dreadful fate by any objective measure. Many people join the Corps who were never trained as Jedi at all. Some Jedi spend time in them after they have become Knights. But -- and this is why I'm telling you about it -- when a child who wants to be a Jedi is approaching the age of thirteen, and unchosen... the question looms very large indeed." He swallowed. "I lost a friend that way." Someone he had thought was a friend, at least.
"...So the ones who're almost thirteen and can do everything I can't think they should be your padawan instead of me?" Too heavy of a sigh for a ten-year-old. "I just...wanted to be friends." His voice was very small.
"They are probably hoping very intensely to be someone's padawan. And they may well feel you were unfairly given special treatment." It wasn't a pleasant truth. Dooku tried to imagine his own reaction, had Anakin arrived at the Temple in his youth. He wasn't sure he'd have done any better. He probably wouldn't have laughed; he might have been drawn to the boy's open friendliness -- but he would have found the demonstrativeness strange; he would probably have found the raw power (more than his) threatening, and been jealous; he might have taken refuge in feeling superior in what he knew how to do. He would have thought of it as special treatment, as much as some others had regarded Yoda's attention to him in that light. At that age he would not yet have understood just how difficult Anakin's life had been before, or the new difficulties he was meeting.
...All told, Dooku was just as glad to have been grown, even grown old, when he met Anakin.
"I have the uneasy feeling I might have failed to behave much better in their place," he said aloud, realizing that he'd fallen silent in his musings and Anakin was sitting drooped and unhappy. "Which shames me. And which also might have deprived me of your friendship, which would have been a considerable loss."
"Yeah, well, they don't seem to think so." Anakin sighed. "I can learn to do stupid flips if that's what it takes." He slumped again and muttered, "Bet none of them can podrace."
"Probably not. And yes, you will learn the flips, and the control and habits of the body that they're meant to help develop. You may even enjoy them eventually. And I do think that at least some of your classmates will eventually find they like you." Dooku paused, studying him. "Speaking of control and habits of the body -- you should sit up. A habit of upright and relaxed posture is... foundational, and will make the motions you need to learn come more readily."
Anakin cast him a dubious look, but he wriggled to the edge of the couch and sat up very straight and proper, enough to please his mother at her most strict. "Is this right?"
Dooku surveyed him carefully. "Good." Better than he'd expected, actually. "Let me--" He laid a hand on Anakin's back, along the spine, examining it and exerting a very small, precise amount of pressure to show the bones and muscles where they should ideally rest. "It may not seem that way until you get used to it, but it's actually more restful than slumping."
Anakin made a face. "Doesn't seem like it, but I'll remember." His brow was slightly furrowed, carefully committing the strange position to memory.
"Motion and stillness," Dooku murmured, "are of the same substance. Both focus in your center of mass, and both are inclined to proceed until disrupted. The more you can relax, and the less incidental strain you put on yourself that is not part of your exertion, the more you will be able to do without injury when you do exert yourself."
"Yes, Master." The phrase was starting to become automatic, if it wasn't there quite yet. "You explain it a lot better than Knight Phra'on does."
"I'm glad to have helped." Dooku smiled. "I might do less well placed in front of the gymnastics class, though. Group teaching is not my strong suit."
"You seem like a really good teacher to me," Anakin said loyally. "Could you...maybe show me some of the gymnastics stuff, without everyone around? I want to do better next time."
"I would be glad to." Dooku nodded at the most open area of the floor. "We can stretch out now and and then go find an open practice room."
"Okay!" Anakin bounded off the couch. The next time he saw those echutas, he'd show them he wasn't stupid.
Dooku gripped the back of the couch and casually rolled over it, dropping to the open space behind, and they began. Or rather, they began meditating, which did not strike Anakin as a stretch, but he was (rather to his surprise) feeling a little better by the time they started moving.
The meditation had another benefit, too, one Anakin never would have predicted. With the Force singing so loudly in him -- enough that he wondered how he'd ever not heard it, or not realized what it was -- his muscles seemed to stretch farther than before, his limbs bend just a little more, his muscles hold him just a little longer. It made the stretches so much easier he was almost laughing by the end of them. "So that's why Knight Phra'on kept telling me to open myself to the Force. I knew it helped me podrace, but I didn't think it could make my body different like that."
Dooku smiled openly and warmly at that. "Yes, exactly. Our living bodies are part of the Living Force, and opening ourselves to its flow through them greatly increases what we can do." A short laugh. "It will also sustain us through much greater efforts or deprivations than we could survive otherwise, although since it is grounded in nature it will eventually also require us to employ such natural methods of recovery as rest, food, and water. Usually," he added after a moment's thought. "There are records suggesting beings who have progressed to the point of being sustained solely by the Force. But it's somewhat unclear whether this is intended to mean that they stopped eating, drinking, et cetera, or if it's actually supposed to be making the point that such actions part of the Force, of the way life works. That's something to remember, that's easy for even many Jedi to forget. Our abilities through the Force are natural, because the Force is part of the nature of things."
Anakin nodded thoughtfully. "Some of the spacers told stories about Jedi tricks. Watto too, but he mostly laughed about them. People called it witchcraft, sometimes, said it wasn't right. But I never believed them. And then when I found Master Qui-Gon and figured out he was a Jedi, I knew they were wrong, because he could never be anything bad."
"Qui-Gon, I think, is a better person by nature than many of us ever aspire to be by self-discipline. Not perfect, but very good -- and in general, very willing to listen to the guidance of the Force, even when it goes against his preconceptions." Dooku looked across at the opposite wall for a moment, then back at Anakin. "It's possible for Jedi abilities to be misused. Sometimes by Jedi, but also... well, there's a reason we are reluctant to train anyone in the techniques who seems likely to abandon the disciplines."
Dooku swallowed and drew a slightly unsteady breath, reaching for calm -- and finding it, this time. "The techniques are less effective without discipline, but they don't just disappear. Sometimes the sources of such stories are cases like that. Sometimes they're a matter of Jedi... succumbing to temptation, even if temporarily. Or making mistakes. And sometimes, depending on the other activities of the people who were telling the stories, they come of being legitimately thwarted. I don't know much about Watto's clientele, but I imagine it's safe to surmise that some of them were not friendly with Republic legal concerns."
Anakin laughed. "If that's a fancy way of saying they were thieves and crooks, you got that right." He grinned. "I learned how to fix lots of things where you shouldn't ask just how they got broken. Or blasted."
"You'll probably find that's still useful when we start going on missions again," Dooku said. "In most missions, the ideal outcome involves not being shot at, much less hit. However, if the ideal outcome were expected, we probably wouldn't be involved at all."
Anakin grinned. "Sounds like fun!" Missions sounded like fun, frankly. Getting out of the Temple and just being with Master Dooku sounded like an awfully nice prospect.
"Being shot at?" Dooku shook his head. "Jedi are not to crave adventure and excitement." He beckoned Anakin toward the door and added somewhat conspiratorially, "But to be fair, sometimes it's fun anyway."
Anakin laughed and trotted after him. This was much nicer than being laughed at by a bunch of kids. And with Master Dooku's help, he'd show them all what he could do.
He couldn't wait.
Anakin's next gymnastics class wasn't as nice as working with Master Dooku, but it was certainly nicer than before. He still wasn't quite at the level of most of the other students, but he had improved dramatically -- after a very short amount of time -- and he could tell they were startled. Better still, he could understand more of what Knight Phra'on's instructions were supposed to accomplish, and he could feel that he was going to be able to do everything.
Catching up on several years of history classes and millennia of actual history still looked pretty daunting, though.
It was several days later, when Anakin was starting to wonder if he was ever going to manage to do anything else right, and Dooku was repeating something about the Living Force that he must have said at least once a day since Anakin was apprenticed to him, that he broke out in the middle of the lecture with, "I'm not stupid!"
Dooku stopped mid-sentence and regarded him sternly. "I don't recall suggesting that you were," he said. "Explain this outburst, Padawan."
"You've told me that a dozen times! I know I'm behind, but I don't forget everything by the next day."
Dooku looked at him. "There are truths that bear repeating, Learner. If you would attune yourself more to the Living Force, perhaps you would not respond with rudeness to imagined insults."
Anakin's face went hot, and his hands balled into fists. "I'm not imagining it!"
"I do not think you are stupid," Dooku said rather sharply.
"You act like it! You're just as bad as everyone else! I thought you were supposed to believe in me!"
"Yes. And I am supposed to teach you, which I am doing. I don't see how I've given you any other impression."
"Of course not. Because you're the perfect Master and I'm the stupid charity case padawan you wish you never even took!" Anakin's fists were clenched tightly, but after a moment, he turned and just fled the room.
"What in the name of the stars?" Dooku asked of no one in particular. He was beginning to agree with the Council's assessment that Anakin had a great deal of anger in him, though not with the idea that working to overcome it wasn't worth the risk. The boy's natural state seemed to be cheerful, and Dooku had been trying to reinforce the advantages of this state (and calm) in the Force. The anger usually seemed to have some reason to emerge, and Dooku was considering a discussion sometime with Qui-Gon or Yoda of how to handle the flares of temper without encouraging the dangerous habit of hiding it and nursing it cold.
He was more inclined to the latter himself, whether that was by nature or because growing up among Jedi did not encourage letting it show, and the flares seemed strange to him, but he ... well, what he'd done with Komari hadn't been right, and Anakin was a different person altogether, and he could cope with it if Yoda picked at the training decision when he came to him with concerns. Or smacked him in the shins, which was possible. Dooku rather thought Yoda's temper might naturally be more like Anakin's.
But he was at a loss what had set it off this time! Anakin's words weren't particularly helping, as Dooku was fairly sure he'd never claimed or otherwise indicated anything of the kind.
He had decided to go after his wayward apprentice -- he wasn't sure cooling off elsewhere was likely, especially if Anakin ran into someone else -- and was about halfway there when he realized Anakin had encountered Obi-Wan.
Dooku hesitated for a handful of heartbeats, then withdrew. Obi-Wan was sensible, and Anakin seemed to like him. Perhaps Obi-Wan would better be able to calm the boy down. And perhaps he could seek help for himself in understanding.