Chapter 5

Anakin and Qui-Gon made a brief stop at Anakin's quarters for a shower and a change of clothes. Then Qui-Gon led them to the refectory. They took a small table off to the side, claiming a bit of quiet among the bustle. Qui-Gon raised his eyebrows at Anakin as the boy began working through a massive plate of food. "So what did you think of Ilum?"

"It was cold," Anakin said. "But the crystals... sing."

"Mmm. That they do. I felt like my blood was singing for days afterwards."

Anakin broke into a grin. "I liked the caves. Even, um. Even after she showed up."

"Master Dooku said you acquitted yourself very well," Qui-Gon observed. Then he smiled. "And as you've no doubt seen, he doesn't compliment unless you've done very well indeed!"

Anakin blinked as a previously solid-looking fruit turned out to have a juice pocket that squirted him. He licked up most of it and applied a napkin. "I think he's trying to do a little bit more of it," he said quietly, and perhaps a little sheepishly, remembering when he'd run off about it. "Because I still don't really know what I'm supposed to be doing sometimes."

"You've learned a great deal in a very short time, Ani. You should be proud. Most padawans have years of training before they're ever bonded to a master."

"I know." Anakin paused, frowning suddenly. "Some of the other kids don't like it. Master Dooku said they worry about whether they'll get chosen and he lost a friend that way once, but I didn't ask him more about it then...."

After a moment's hesitation, Qui-Gon said quietly, "His name was Lorian Nod. I met him once, when I was still a padawan. I...think his story is Dooku's to tell, but he was expelled from the Order when he was...too eager to attract a master's attention."

"...How'd you meet him when you were a Padawan, then? Can you tell me that part?"

"I suppose so. He'd become a space pirate-- what?"

Anakin was scowling outright, an expression rare among Jedi other than very small children and sometimes Master Yoda. "Pirates took my mom prisoner and sold her."

"...Ah. I assumed she'd been born on Tatooine."

"No." Anakin shook his head, then touched his mouth briefly. "She still sounds kind of like where she lived before, but she never talked about it very much."

"I see. It was...probably easier for her that way."

"I guess so." Anakin looked down at his plate, appetite suddenly diminished, but went on eating anyway. His body was still hungry, even if he was unhappy. "I hope she's okay."

"I'm sure she is. She struck me as a very resourceful and resilient woman."

"She is. Just...." She was a slave, and Tatooine was dangerous even if you weren't. Anakin realized with a jolt that she used to worry about him like this.

He wondered if she still did. Being a Jedi was dangerous too, as the bandages on his hands reminded him, but... it didn't feel the same. Then again, it never had felt the same when it was a danger he'd chosen.

One day, he'd go back and free her. Maybe he couldn't free all the slaves, like Master Dooku said -- although he was still going to try to figure out a way -- but he could free her. Determinedly, he kept eating and asked Qui-Gon, "So how did you meet Lorian Nod if he was a pirate?"

"He captured us, actually. He'd arranged a betrayal on the part of someone on the ship we were escorting. He was defeated and imprisoned in the end, though." Qui-Gon's mouth quirked. "Actually, he finished his sentence and proceeded to get into trouble again, which Obi-Wan and I had to deal with."

Anakin blinked. "So what happened to him then? Um, should I be expecting to run across him sometime?"

"I certainly hope not. He was sentenced again -- I suppose it might be too much to hope that he's learned his lesson, but perhaps he'll behave himself."

"Oh, good. Um, do you think Master Dooku would mind if I asked about him? I don't want to make him mad."

Qui-Gon hesitated. "I don't think he'd be angry with you, but it would probably be an uncomfortable subject. He told me about their original falling-out, but very... briefly. Then again, sometimes he is more quiet about things than is good for him."

"...He talks to me a lot. Mostly about lightsabers," Anakin admitted with a quick grin, "but I like him a whole lot."

Qui-Gon broke into a grin of his own. "He is always willing to talk about lightsabers, and I think he's delighted to have such a willing listener. I'm glad to hear you like him."

"Of course I do! He knows everything, especially about lightsabers. And he'll always talk to me and not act like I'm stupid. Well, not anymore, but he didn't know he was doing it then."

"I am glad you got that cleared up. It seemed to have both of you rather upset."

"...Master Dooku was upset? He doesn't get upset."

Qui-Gon cocked his head. "You weren't comforting him, when you hugged him in the Infirmary?"

"...Well, of course he'd be upset over that."

"Mm. He doesn't show it easily or willingly, as a rule. But he was certainly troubled when we started the practice duel you caught us in eventually. And quite genuinely baffled as to what had distressed you. I was a bit taken aback when he said he was going to wait and let you talk to Obi-Wan, but it seems to have been a good decision."

"...Obi-Wan's nice. He didn't like me at first, but he likes me a lot more now. And...he's, um... he's still a lot older than me, but..."

"Easier to talk to sometimes?" Qui-Gon smiled. "I suppose so." His eyes glinted. "A lot older than you, hm? --Actually I suppose he does have a few more years on you than Dooku has on me."

Anakin laughed. "That must've been so weird! I can't imagine having Obi-Wan as my master!"

Qui-Gon grinned. "I'm sure he'd have managed, but I think he's just as glad to wait a while." He glanced from his own emptied plate to Anakin's. "Shall we put together Master Dooku's tray?"

"Oh. Yeah, good idea." Anakin took one last bite to clean off his plate. He hadn't gotten out of the habit, even though food was not in short supply at the Temple as it had been on Tatooine. As they went to pick up a new tray, he asked anxiously, "Is there anything special I should do for Master Dooku? To make it easier on him, I mean."

Qui-Gon smiled down at him. "A kind thought. I think you're doing very well, as it is. You were very tactful in the infirmary; I know he doesn't want to neglect his responsibilities to you, or even let you feel as though he might, but he does bear some responsibility toward -- or at least for -- Komari as well, and probably feels more of the weight of it than he should. And you were probably right about it being a good idea in practical terms for him to stay in case he was needed to keep control of her." A snort. "And definitely right about bringing him food if he did. Not that the Healers would let him starve, but while he'll warn you dutifully about the importance of maintaining your body regularly when you have the opportunity, he is occasionally a little too focused."

"...He took me when pretty much everyone else -- except you -- wanted to send me back to Tatooine," Anakin said quietly. "I just want to help him too." He swallowed and concentrated on selecting all of his master's favorite foods to fill up the tray. Not that he'd had a lot of time to watch Master Dooku eat, but he had some ideas after a few months. And some of them didn't look familiar, but still just looked right.

"...You have," Qui-Gon said quietly. "I could tell from the way he told the stories that he is very proud of you, though he was also very frightened for you."

"I didn't mean to worry him! I tried to do it myself. I thought it was a test at first. No one really tells you a lot about what you'll see in the caves."

Qui-Gon's mouth twitched. "As far as I can tell, you reacted quite appropriately. Master Dooku is perturbed by the fact that after his own trips into the cave and four previous padawans, he didn't realize it was more than the usual test at first."

"...I was really glad to see him when he showed up," Anakin admitted. "I pushed her away, but I think I just made her mad."

"I've no doubt she was angry about it, but you prevented her from seriously harming you long enough for him to arrive -- which is the important part."

"...I still got hurt. Master Dooku was really worried. He was -- you know when he gets so pale you can see his pulse?" Anakin put a cover on the tray to keep the food warm, then declared decisively, "I'm going to make my lightsaber, and I'm going to study really hard. And next time I'll do better."

"You protected yourself from an adult who had nearly completed her training, was better armed than you, and was no doubt willing to fight dirty," Qui-Gon said, then smiled. "But I've no doubt you will continue to improve."

"I'm going to be the best Jedi ever," Anakin pronounced firmly.

"Perhaps you will!" Qui-Gon chuckled as they carried the tray off. "The Jedi ideal," he added thoughtfully, "is not to concern oneself overmuch with competition. But I don't think it's something that can be wholly eliminated for most people."

"Master Dooku said...it's bad to -- to want to be better than other people. But that it's good to try to be the best you can be."

Qui-Gon politely refrained from commenting on Master Dooku's own competitive streak regarding lightsabers. To be fair, of course, Dooku always wanted his (Jedi) opponents to be better, too. Qui-Gon had half expected him to start instructing the Sith they'd fought, sheerly from force of habit. "Master Dooku is certainly right about that."

Anakin remained thoughtfully silent until they got back to the infirmary. Komari was still lying silently in bed, Master Caudle standing over her and consulting the scanners. Dooku was prowling around the perimeter, looking vaguely like a caged beast. He looked up when the door swished open, scowling, but he consciously eased his expression when he saw who it was. "Ah, thank you, Padawan. Qui-Gon. I hope you had a pleasant lunch."

"It was good," Anakin said, looking around for a place to put the tray. Caudle pointed, without looking up, to a small table. "We brought yours, too."

Dooku didn't feel the least bit hungry. "Thank you."

"How's it going in here?"

"Komari is...mostly fine, physically. A few fractures, either from when Anakin threw her or when I knocked her out. A drug dependence they can wean her off of in a holding cell."

"It won't be a comfortable process," Caudle put in, "but she will be healthier for it afterward. Master Dooku, I think I can spare your attention long enough for you to eat."

He didn't want to eat. Actually, he didn't want to do anything. But fuel for his body was important. He seated himself reluctantly by the tray. He smiled reluctantly when he lifted the cover and saw the foods Anakin had selected. "I have no idea how you managed to learn all my favorites already. Did Qui-Gon help you?"

"I did not," Qui-Gon said. "I was prepared to, but it seemed entirely unnecessary." His mouth quirked. "I think he must have divined it through the Force -- I'm fairly sure this is the first time they've served Kavirran greens this year. They only just came into season."

"They looked good. I thought you'd like them," Anakin explained earnestly.

"I like them very much." This would probably be more convincing if he ate them. Dooku picked up one of the bushier sprigs and put it into his mouth, blinking a little as the juice pods popped between his teeth and spilled their sweet-sharp flavor across the green warmth of the leaves. Kavir plants were sturdy things and took more effort to chew than it looked like they should, but the taste and vitamin content made them more than worth it. "Thank you. ...Did you try them?"

"Just a little. They take too long to chew! But I liked them. We didn't get to eat a lot of greens on Tatooine. Mostly fungus."

"These are fairly sturdy," Dooku admitted. He glanced thoughtfully at them, thinking of the conditions where they grew. "I don't think they'd do well on Tatooine, but they would probably try."

"Gardens didn't do real well on Tatooine. You had to be pretty rich to have one. You could grow fungus on a vaporator, though, or find them in caves sometimes."

"I understand an abrupt climate change many millennia ago wiped out most of the native flora," Dooku said. "Even the desert-adapted plants haven't had as much time to get a foothold as some places."

A quick grin from Anakin. "Before my time, Master, sorry. Shouldn't you be eating?"

"I am eating." Slowly. He probably shouldn't let the soup congeal, so he poked a spoon into it. A skin had formed, but steam broke through and dissolved it rapidly. His mouth quirked. "It was before my time as well, but then I was officially trained by a historian and less officially by an eight-hundred-year-old Master, so I suppose I picked up some interest in the subject."

Anakin shrugged, taking a seat beside Dooku and kicking his feet as they dangled over the edge. "I don't really see the point of history. It already happened, didn't it? Why should we care?"

"Often things that happened in the past affect our present and future." Dooku glanced up at Komari with some pain. "And with a longer reach than we might think. The Sith were long believed to be a part of the past that we need not revisit much."

Anakin grimaced. "I guess so."

Dooku sighed. "At least we recognized them when they turned up again." Except that there was still another one sneaking around. Probably. Komari might have gone Dark and taken up waving around red lightsabers, but he didn't think she had been trained as a Sith.

"Well," Qui-Gon amended, his mouth twitching up, "some of us did. If he hadn't turned up on Naboo, I don't think the Council would believe us yet."

"I knew you listened to me occasionally."

"More than occasionally. I just don't let on about it often."

"I'll keep that in mind." Dooku mopped up the rest of his soup with the soggy end of its bread-spoon.

"Is there anything else I can do to help, Master?" Anakin asked quietly.

Dooku looked at him, mildly startled, and then managed a quiet smile. "You've been very helpful already, Anakin. Thank you."

"...Are you going to stay here with Komari all night?"

Dooku hesitated, glancing up at the Healer. "Only if necessary for security," he said.

"It shouldn't be," Caudle said. "At any rate, I think by the end of the day we'll be able to move her."

Into a holding cell. Dooku sighed. "Then I'll leave once she's secured. You don't have to stay here until then, Padawan." A quick look at Qui-Gon. "I'm sure Qui-Gon will keep you company, if you like. Or I believe Obi-Wan is still on planet."

"I don't mind staying with you."

"You have assignments to do. And there won't be anything interesting going on here."

"I could bring them, if they won't be in the way." You seem like somebody ought to keep you company too.

"...You may if you wish."

"Okay. I'll do that."

"Thank you for your dedication," Dooku murmured, putting an arm around Anakin's shoulder. The boy probably needed the reassurance after today.

Anakin leaned into him a little. He was still going to do better next time, but he was pretty sure his performance wasn't what had Dooku rattled, mainly. It was kind of weird to think about, though.

"I'll get this tray back," Qui-Gon spoke up after a moment, his mouth twitching up at the two of them. "Anything else you'd like me to send down?"

"I guess I should get my assignments--"

"You stay there," Qui-Gon said, still smiling faintly. "I'll be in and out."

"Okay," Anakin agreed, resting his head against Dooku comfortably.

Dooku hesitated over whether to respond -- there was no good reason Qui-Gon should have to fetch and carry for Anakin to do his schoolwork -- but on the other hand, there was also no good reason the two of them shouldn't be permitted to make that arrangement themselves. And it was kind of them, if unnecessary.

*****

The evening was strange and quiet, even after Komari had been moved and Caudle had sternly shooed Dooku and Anakin away. Komari was secure -- it would be arrogant to claim the holding cell was impossible to escape, but it would certainly be difficult. The Temple included facilities, built long ago, for containing Sith prisoners.

Even though she wasn't physically in their quarters with them, Komari was very much present through the rest of the evening. Dooku tried to act normally, quizzing Anakin about the finer points of lightsaber construction in preparation for using his crystal soon. But his mind kept drifting to the holding cell, and to his past. Surely there was something he could have done that would have kept this from happening....

And when he finally bid Anakin good night and sought his own bed, Komari haunted his dreams.

Until, that is, he was startled awake by a surge of terror and pain from the bond. He was in Anakin's room with his lightsaber drawn before he was even fully awake.

It was probably just as well, then, that they had built up as much trust in their short time together as they had. Anakin jolted awake on Dooku's arrival, sitting bolt upright in bed, and it might perhaps have been understandable if he'd been further alarmed to find someone standing over him with a lightsaber. Especially after the caves.

Instead he blinked a few times and then slumped backward. "Oh. We're here."

Dreaming, too, then. Dooku switched off the blade. "Yes."

Anakin sniffed a little, wiping his nose with the edge of his sleeve. "I didn't mean to wake you up, Master. Everything's f-fine."

The light was dim, but Dooku could still see him shaking.

It seemed intrusive, but after a moment he followed the impulse to sit down on the edge of Anakin's bed and put a hand on his shoulder. Evidently this didn't seem unduly intrusive to Anakin, as in the process of reaching for Anakin's near shoulder Dooku found himself with the opposite shoulder and a Padawan tucked against his chest. Well, that worked too. "What were you dreaming?" he asked quietly.

"My mom," Anakin said in a very small voice. "I know Master Yoda said I'm not supposed to miss her."

"Master Yoda is going on a hundred times your age. The number of people he has cared about and has seen for the last time probably exceeds the number I've ever met. And what I sensed from you sounded somewhat more acute than missing her."

"...I left her," Anakin said miserably, his voice muffled as he buried his face in Dooku's chest. "She doesn't have anyone left to help her, and...it's dangerous there. What if Watto sells her? He lost a lot of money betting on Sebulba. I -- what if he already did? I could feel her... hurting."

Dooku shifted slightly. "Actually," he said slowly, "I haven't checked comm messages since we got back, but I hope she has been freed by now."

He could feel Anakin stiffen. "Master Qui-Gon tried to free her too, but Watto wouldn't do it."

"As I understand it, Qui-Gon's options were somewhat limited at the time. I contacted my family's Steward on Serenno and suggested she intervene."

Anakin blinked at him. "You did what?"

It was hard to see in the dim light, but Anakin thought Dooku looked slightly embarrassed. "The family I was born to had...some measure of wealth and influence, both on Serenno and beyond. I've tried to abdicate it any number of times, but I actually still have a title there, and will until I die, apparently. Until then, my...niece, I believe, is running things as a steward. I contacted her when we were still on Naboo, actually, and mentioned your mother's situation. Buying and freeing one slave would hardly be difficult for her, and she could provide your mother with employment for as long as she wishes."

Anakin blinked several more times. "Oh. ...What's Serenno like?"

"I don't remember it. I was only four when I came to the Temple." Dooku paused, his head tilted. Then he said slowly, "There were roses. And the scent of the sea."

"...That sounds nice." Anakin relaxed a little. Those sounded like good memories... he'd liked the smell of the sea on Naboo, and he'd met rosebushes -- they were strange pretty things without being pushovers. And if she didn't like it, she wouldn't have to stay, right? Maybe she could even find the rest of her own family....

"Yes." Dooku summoned a smile. "I'm sure the Steward would have carried out my request by now and your mother is exploring Serenno as we speak. So don't worry that your dream was some sort of foretelling." He ran a hand across spiky hair, brushing the padawan braid lightly. "Sometimes even Jedi just have bad dreams, especially after facing the Dark Side."

"I dreamed her still on Tatooine," Anakin said. "So I hope she's not there anymore. And that there weren't any more pirates."

Dooku's smile became a tiny bit more natural. "From my admittedly brief dealings with the Steward, I think the pirates would be in trouble."

Anakin managed a tired giggle. "So in other words, there's a strong family resemblance?"

Dooku smiled a little. "Perhaps. At any rate she believes in being prepared."

"...Thank you for asking her. I know you didn't have to."

"...I-- You're welcome." Dooku sighed a little. "It was something I could do. There are too many times the... side effects of a mission aren't something we have the opportunity to address." From the look Anakin gave him, that was too much and not enough. "Some years ago -- when I was still training Komari -- a mission I was leading turned a captive over to the local government. I do not say 'criminal,' because by this point I strongly suspect he wasn't the one best suited to the term even at the time. The governor was corrupt, and sold him. To someone rather more discreet than Watto, and harder to find." Although there were a few reports that made him suspect Fett was on the loose again.

"...Oh. So Tatooine's not the only place..." Anakin swallowed and leaned against Dooku again. "Can't Jedi keep things like that from happening?" Or why not?

Dooku looked into the dark. "We can reduce them. Usually. That mission was a disaster all around: we took heavy losses, killed more of our opponents than we would have liked, and won in the end -- which I count as part of the disaster, because from what I eventually learned, I think we were on the wrong side." He probably wasn't helping with the nightmares. Dooku heaved a sigh. "But we have done much good at other times and places. Even so... not everything. We can -- very often -- enforce, or remedy, or punish, or persuade, and we can work to prevent. But so long as imperfect people are free to make our own choices, some of us will at times make the wrong ones."

Anakin clenched a fist around Dooku's night tunic. "...Then why can't someone else just make the decisions? Who won't make the wrong choices?"

"Aside from the difficulty in finding such a person? Because that would essentially involve enslaving everyone else."

Anakin frowned. "I guess...."

Dooku glanced down at him. "Would you think it right, if you were never to be expected to act on your own judgment?"

"No," still frowning, "but you tell me when I'm doing things wrong."

"Because I'm supposed to be teaching you, so that when your training is complete and you're entirely responsible for your own decisions, you will have a strong basis for making them. Oh, you'll still be answerable to the Council -- we're all answerable to someone -- but they will generally not be the ones on the spot. What you do when you are will have to stand or fall, with its consequences to you and the others and the Force, whatever they think of it afterward."

Anakin parsed his way through that -- his master was rather fond of giving long answers to any question -- and finally asked, "But if you say we're all answerable to someone, how is that different than someone telling us what's the right choice?"

Dooku blinked. "They may well have an opinion on the subject. But you will have to make the decision yourself, and face the consequences." His mouth quirked. "Even to follow someone else's suggestion is a decision."

Anakin frowned. "I don't see the difference, Master."

Dooku sighed and brushed a hand over Anakin's hair gently. "Was there a difference to you in your mother telling you to do something and Watto or your other owners telling you what to do?"

"Yes, but... I was thinking for it to be so it was good for people...."

"...Even the most evil among us rarely think that they are evil. They think that they're doing what is best, even if their opinion of what is best is warped or twisted with darkness. And there's always the question of how to define 'best'. Watto was most likely doing what he considered 'best' for him, even if it wasn't best for you and your mother. As Jedi we will often see situations where what is best for many people is not always good for certain individuals."

"There ought to be something that works out best for everybody."

"We always seek that solution, but it is not always the case. It would be best, for example, from your point of view for all the slaves on Tatooine to be freed. From their owners' point of view, they might lose their livelihood. It is rare to find a situation where everyone will be happy with the solution." A faint smile. "They say compromise is the art of finding a way to make everyone equally unhappy with the outcome."

"Shouldn't be depending on owning people for their livelihood," Anakin grumbled.

"I agree with you entirely, but this is one reason finding someone to tell everyone what to do would be a practical problem even if it were not a moral one. It would be very likely for the position to go to someone who was interested in holding power over others, and skilled at acquiring it."

Anakin considered this for a while, chewing at his lower lip thoughtfully. "I still think it would be the best way to handle things, but I guess it would be hard to actually do."

Dooku shook his head. "Individual responsibility and freedom are important. There will always be people and circumstances that constrain our actions, in addition to our own interests and principles -- but it's not healthy to spend our entire lives being parented, or right to force it on others."

"But you know what's right!"

Dooku chuckled. "I look forward to reminding you of this conversation when you are a teenager and rebelling against every word I say."

Anakin yawned. "I like having somebody I can ask stuff...."

Or, apparently, fall asleep on.

Dooku smiled and gently moved Anakin to lie back down against his pillow. Then he pulled the blanket back up securely -- Anakin was always chilled, even in the climate-controlled Temple. But he found himself just sitting there on the edge of the bed, his hand warm on Anakin's shoulder.

His newest padawan was sleeping peacefully in front of him. His last...was somewhere in the Temple, anything but peaceful. And he...

...He didn't want to leave Anakin's side just yet.