Anakin was trying really hard not to bounce from foot to foot as he waited in the Royal Hanger. Mrs. Hudson was by his side, his required guardian since it seemed people didn't like kids wandering around the hanger and asking about the mechanics of their ships and power-to-output ratios and how to squeeze out better numbers. But that was fine, since one of the transports coming into the busier and busier hanger would hold Obi-Wan.
Really, that's all he wanted.
Obi-Wan always kept calm and in control and Anakin felt anything but in that moment. He'd been waiting months for this, gotten into more detentions at school than he'd like for various distracted ponderings, to say nothing of the fright he put Mrs. Hudson, Kohse the administration of his school and the rumors flying around the planet after he recorded the attack on Padme and Obi-Wan in the airtaxi. After all of that, Anakin thought he deserved to be anxious. But if Obi-Wan never showed anxiety than Anakin wouldn't either.
...It was still hard to keep still.
At last, a mirrored Nubian ship arrived and Anakin just knew this was it. He ran forward to it, ignoring Mrs. Hudson's indignant yelp to get back to her side. The ship seemed to take forever to get through shut down operations before - at last - the ramp was lowered.
Padme was the first to exit, with Panaka and her security staff. She was quickly swarmed by reporters and Anakin was shuffled aside. He was okay with that. He didn't particularly like getting sidelined, but it was okay. Because he wanted Padme to see him as a man, a man she could marry, so it was probably for the best that she didn't see him while he was still a little kid. He still saw her, even from a distance, and to see her gracefully float with all those layers of fabric and furs, present a blank face to all reporters and answer questions calmly and clearly as Panaka cleared a way for her, reassured Anakin that she really was all right. He knew that Obi-Wan had saved her and he was ever so grateful for that, but a part of him had wondered, especially since he hadn't been able to track them after they landed. Seeing her fine just loosened something that had been around his heart ever since the trial had started.
The crowd followed Padme, but Anakin stayed behind, Mrs. Hudson once more at his shoulder with a firmer grip this time.
Not that it mattered. Anakin could sense Obi-Wan's approach and looked up just as his brother started down the ramp.
Frankly, there was no way Mrs. Hudson could have held him. He ran right up to his brother, another tightness in his heart loosening, as he jumped up to Obi-Wan's outspread arms.
His normally stoic brother actually laughed, swinging Anakin with the momentum of his jump into a circle before crushing him into a close hug. "Anakin," he smiled. "I've missed you too."
And the bond that Anakin had barely felt as more than the tiniest of threads with Obi-Wan so far away, finally bounced back to being full with feeling and senses.
Anakin was so full of things he wanted to say, the words clogged in his throat so he just snuggled into the tight hug.
"Well, it seems that the young hero is back," Mrs. Hudson greeted. "I must say, this little brother of yours can be quite a handful."
"Nothing troublesome, I hope?" Obi-Wan asked, pulling an arm away from Anakin long enough to grab his bag that had been dropped to the ramp.
"No, no," their landlord replied. "Nothing bad. Just a handful."
"Well, I don't know about either of you, but I'd just like to be home right about now."
"I've got a taxi waiting," Mrs. Hudson said kindly.
Obi-Wan smiled at her. "You can take it if you'd like, milady, but I would like to walk. Sitting in ships tends to cramp one's legs, after all."
Mrs. Hudson smiled back at them. "I expect you back by sunset," she said sternly. "I have a nice 'Welcome Home' feast going that young Anakin was quite helpful with."
Obi-Wan chuckled. "I'm sure."
Mrs. Hudson went on her way and Anakin hugged his brother tightly as he swore he would both after watching the airtaxi explode and after watching the courtroom collapse.
Obi-Wan looped his bag around his arm before supporting Anakin's weight again and started walking.
Anakin eventually loosened his grip a bit and looked up to his brother. Words were still clogged in his throat, but the first to burst through wasn't what he expected.
"You're growing a beard?"
Obi-Wan laughed, once again looking far more comfortable than the stoicism he lived by for the past year. "Yes, I think it will end up being necessary. It seems I might have made the news a few times during the trial."
Anakin did not blush. And he did not remember the recordings he'd made and showed to Kohse, Mrs. Hudson, Mayuntha and anyone else who could help him make sure Obi-Wan had been alright.
"On the transport home, I can't tell you how many times some came up and asked if I was the Jedi that now lived on Naboo. I believe a change of appearance will grant me a bit of privacy again."
Since Anakin was not blushing, he smiled. "I like it!" he proclaimed. "It's kinda like Mister Qui-Gon."
Instead of stiffening, and looking away or giving a broken grin, Obi-Wan seemed to consider, freeing a hand to run over his more-than-stubble-less-than-beard. "While not a bad idea, I think I'd prefer a bit fuller beard than that line around the jaw that my Master had, don't you think?"
Anakin narrowed his gaze, trying to picture it. "I dunno. Won't that be too hairy?"
And Obi-Wan laughed again. "Perhaps. We'll wait and see."
Anakin nodded. Now that words were working, he had a lot more to say.
"I need you to explain meditation to me again," Anakin complained. "I've been doing something wrong. Last week, after meditating, I kept hearing people's thoughts all through school! Horace is really mean with what he thinks and I landed in detention again when I reacted to him thinking cruel things about one of our classmates and just yesterday! Yesterday after I finished meditation I couldn't focus on anything because I could still see the Force kinda flowing around everyone and it kept distracting me. I was supposed to be in detention today for that, but the teachers understood that you were coming home today and I gotta stay after tomorrow because of that. That doesn't even get into-"
He was cut off by Obi-Wan bringing a finger to his lips. "Hush, Anakin. Before we get into details, don't worry too much. I think you've been working so hard on opening up to the Force that you haven't been looking at control. This is something I need to work on as well. We can brainstorm later. Now." Despite all the joy at being home Anakin knew Obi-Wan was feeling, his brother put on a stern voice and a blank face. "What's this about you getting into detention? Again?"
Anakin squirmed horribly.
Apparently Obi-Wan could still be firm even when he had loosened up a bit.
Dooku approached the apartment quietly. It was full evening when he had finally arrived on the planet and he had to firmly squash all temptation to go to where his first and best Padawan had finally fallen. For now, he had come to complete an objective that he'd been striving towards for weeks now, to no avail.
He would admit to some anxiety on his reception. He was, after all, unannounced and arriving right at the dinner hour, something many people found quite rude, but he didn't have as much time as he would have preferred. To say nothing of the fact that the Jedi had not treated these two well and he wanted to rectify that. The question was whether or not they'd take it as such.
Or perhaps, he admitted in the tiniest corner of his oft-betrayed heart, he wasn't here to right a wrong so much as to connect to something he had lost and wanted back, despite the risk.
At least he wasn't arriving empty handed. When he noticed that it was the dinner hour, he had stopped off at a bakery and gotten a sweetcake that Qui-Gon had often enjoyed, even when he wasn't supposed to. And there was what he had brought with him specifically, but that would come later.
He rang the chime and waited calmly, the picture of Jedi professionalism, despite the travel bag under his cloak and the still-warm and delicious-smelling cake he held in front of him.
The door was opened by a sandy-haired child with... a braid.
Kenobi had kept the tradition.
A Jedi through and through.
The child looked up and up to Dooku, before rudely pointing. "Hey! I saw you at the trial!"
"Anakin! Manners!" was the sharp reprimand before young Kenobi himself came into view, clearly in the process of cooking.
The child looked down sheepishly before grinning unrepentantly back at Kenobi. Still, the child turned and bowed more politely. "Welcome, Master Jedi," he said with just the slightest tinges of cheekiness in his voice.
By the Force, it was a mini-Qui-Gon.
It was work to stop from grinning nostalgically.
"Come on in," Kenobi bowed. "You'll pardon the mess, of course. We didn't know you were coming."
"I am afraid I didn't have the chance to call ahead," Dooku replied, coming in. "I am en route to my next mission and I thought I'd stop by."
"You'll at least stay long enough to join us for dinner?" Kenobi asked politely.
"No, I-" and to Dooku's horror, his stomach rumbled.
"Yep," the child grinned. "He's staying for dinner."
Young Skywalker efficiently took Dooku's cloak and bag, setting them in a nearby closet and taking the sweetcake and bringing it to the small kitchen before sitting him down in the small family room with a cup of tea. "We're almost ready," Anakin said. "Just give us a minute."
Dooku nodded, sipping the strong dark tea that, if he was not mistaken, was one of Qui-Gon's favorite blends. Normally, Dooku didn't like to be hustled about so, but he was the guest so he played the part. The family room was clearly where a lot of time was spent. In the corner were meditation mats, clearly set up for later use, as well as pillows and flimsy objects for beginning levitation exercises. (The boy was already doing levitation exercises? After only a year? How quickly was he catching up to his agemates at the Temple?) Bits of machinery were all about in various stages of tinkering, young Skywalker's no doubt. But what drew Dooku's eye the most was a small set of shelves on one of the walls. He stood with his tea and walked over. There was Qui-Gon's lightsaber, carefully mounted, and shining under a small light, encircled by the leaves of a plant. Next to the plant and lightsaber was a holo of his old Padawan, clearly taken when he wasn't looking, sitting serenely in a garden with a fuzzy pathetic life-form snuggling as close as it could.
The old master's eyes watered in spite of his will.
"Anakin! Not so high, you'll burn the-"
There was a loud crash in the kitchen.
Dooku went to the source of the sound to find Obi-Wan holding Anakin up off the ground and backing away from the steaming up-ended pot of what appeared to be some sort of stock-soup.
Not aware of his presence, Obi-Wan held Anakin close before letting out a breath. "I knew that I was hopeless in the kitchen when Qui-Gon started teaching me to cook, but I don't think I was quite that bad."
"But I wanted to help," Anakin shot back, his face flaming with embarrassment.
The picture was far too familiar of one from when he had started teaching Qui-Gon how to cook.
Reaching out with the Force, Dooku took the pot and pulled some of the stock back into it. "It's still salvageable," he said, stepping forward. "If you don't mind cleaning up and setting the table, I think I can save the soup."
Clearly, Obi-Wan wasn't expecting the revered saber-master Dooku to do something as mundane as cooking. Dooku ignored the shock and discomfort, rolled up his sleeves, and brought the pot to the sink to fill with some water and checked the fridge for some cooking wine to start a reduction.
Dooku turned. "Do you have some salt and gingobi leaves? It should help."
Anakin was the first to get his head on straight. "Uh, yeah. Gimme a sec." The child wiggled out of Obi-Wan's grip and headed for a small pantry.
The old master turned to his grandpadawan. He raised an eyebrow in a manner he hadn't since training Qui-Gon. "The mess?"
"Ah! Yes, er, I'll get right on that."
Dooku always did enjoy surprises up his sleeves.
Dinner had ended up being extremely pleasant. Obi-Wan hadn't expected Dooku to know how to cook. But looking back, Qui-Gon had to have learned somewhere and Jedi out in the field had to at least have the basics for foraging food and worst-case scenarios.
Obi-Wan also hadn't expected Dooku to regale them with stories of Qui-Gon's apprenticeship. Really, he had no idea his Master had been as hopeless as he had been when he had started his apprenticeship.
While the whole experience was surreal to the extreme, Obi-Wan couldn't quite deny that the Force seemed to swirl happily around them, primarily because Anakin's presence had grown so bright while he'd been on Coruscant. And if Anakin wasn't so shrouded in Darkness, perhaps it was for the best that he hadn't been brought to the Temple.
It was nice to laugh together and share stories.
Obi-Wan hadn't really realized how much he missed it. This was how dinners usually went with Qui-Gon. Yet due to his grief, the last year had been painfully empty of such relaxation and fun.
He couldn't quite help but wonder what had brought about the change.
It still approaches. Protect the child, else beware the child.
Obi-Wan filed that feeling away to meditate on later. The here and now needed his attention.
"Master Dooku," he started, after the latest round of chuckles died down. "What brings you to our humble abode?"
Dooku's face returned to seriousness in an instant, but there was a distinct twinkle in his eye that was far too reminiscent of Qui-Gon.
"I suppose now is as good a time as any." He stood and retrieved his bag from their small coat closet and Obi-Wan nudged Anakin. They two of them cleared the plates before joining Dooku in the family room.
Dooku was sitting, back straight in the armchair Obi-Wan usually claimed, so he sat with Anakin on the couch.
They sat for a moment, Dooku seeming to reach for calm before starting. "Since I have come to know of your circumstances, I have been trying to secure aide for you, should you ever need it."
Anakin just blinked, but Obi-Wan sat back as the implications of that one statement washed over him. "But... I never asked... The Council..." really, was forming sentences so difficult this evening?
Dooku looked aside, clearly wrestling with irritation and anger that slowly diluted into the Force. "At this point, after all the harm the Jedi have indirectly caused the two of you, I think either of you returning to the Temple might do more harm than good, but then, as far as I'm concerned, the rightful place for the two of you has been the Temple from the start." Dooku let out a long breath. "The past cannot be altered. But I can rectify some wrongs that have been done."
Obi-Wan tried to wrestle control of the situation. "Please, Master Dooku, you needn't go through the bother of-"
Anakin reached up and swatted him on the head.
But his little Padawan crossed his arms and scowled up at him. "He's offering help, Obi-Wan. Not charity. You told me to never be so proud as to not accept help."
Caught by his own words Obi-Wan could only stutter.
Dooku gave a dry chuckle. "Master and Padawan always learn from each other," he muttered. "For starters, whenever a Jedi takes on a new Padawan, there are certain classes and materials that are needed. Whether you consider this charity or not, you will need these, Obi-Wan."
What could Obi-Wan do, but bow to the fate before him?
"You'll thank him for this, Padawan mine. Maybe not now, but you will."
Beside him, Anakin nodded emphatic agreement with Qui-Gon.
Obi-Wan would have loved to know how he got outnumbered so fast.
Dooku continued, "These are only basics." He put two cubes down on the coffee table.
"Holocrons? Master Dooku, this is..."
"What every starting master needs," Dooku finished. He pointed to the green one. "Basics on Force techniques, meditation, levitation." He pointed to the blue. "Lightsaber forms. A holocron I made years ago. I have updated it and it will give you instructions on any form you need. Young Anakin likely won't stay in Shii-Cho forever."
"Wizard!" Anakin exclaimed, picking up the blue cube. "How do you use it?"
"Obi-Wan will explain later," Dooku replied, digging into his bag again. "I understand you're saving to get to Illum some day. But that will be years in the making. In the meantime..."
"Lightsabers! Oh this is so wizard!"
"Not lightsabers, Anakin," Obi-Wan said quietly, holding the cylinders in his hand. "Training sabers. These won't cause any harm beyond a slight burn, even at maximum settings." He flicked the switches on both. Orange and yellow, the traditional colors of training sabers. "We're going to have to find somewhere more private to practice. We don't want the general populace begging for lessons."
"Yeah, fine, whatever, I can't wait for tomorrow morning! A real lightsaber in my hands! Maybe now I can get some of the grips right!"
Dooku was smiling gently, eyes seeming lost in memory before he blinked, returned to his serious face, and pulled out one more item from his bag.
"That communicator is a direct line to me. Even if I am undercover, I will respond as soon as I am able." He locked eyes with Obi-Wan. "If you ever need assistance, I will come. A Jedi is always there for a fellow Jedi and as such, I will be there for you."
Obi-Wan nodded softly, unable to break eye contact.
Dooku stood. "Your friends, Padawans Eerin and Muln both insist you send word to them if you need any help and I am not immediately available. When you need the next holocron on Force techniques, Padawan Eerin insists you contact her immediately so that she can get it for you."
This was all so much. He had been floundering for a year with nothing and now Dooku wasn't just giving him something small but...
Anakin walked over and hugged Dooku. "Thanks, Grandpa."
Dooku looked down, somewhere between affronted and bemused. "Grandpa?"
Obi-Wan had no other recourse but to laugh.
Author's Note: And thus, we reach the end. Although this was originally planned as just the end of Obi-Wan's arc and then we'd time-jump to have Anakin's arc, which involved getting shot down by Padme and resolving his issues with the fact that he wants to be a Jedi but can't stand the Jedi who rejected him and Obi-Wan. Dooku was a huge question mark because while he's in a better place by being with Obi and Ani (in our opinion), he's still friends with Palpatine and such. We couldn't decide if Dooku would still turn or not, and if he did, how much influence would he truly have over Anakin, would Dooku be the one to try and turn Anakin instead of Palpatine... etc, etc. It was such a mess we've thrown our hands up in defeat and called it quits here.
This isn't to say we've finished exploring Dooku. We're finishing up a story now called Coalesced Matter that's a very interesting Dooku/Obi/Ani story. Our beta is already working on the first couple of chapters. We'll see.
It's been an interesting ride and we're glad everyone's enjoyed this story. The two of us look at this and feel there is an ethereal quality that's missing that was there in spades for Simple Steps. Meh. Stories are hit-or-miss for us. Some stories we've written, we've hit what we wanted. Others are a miss. This was a miss, but it still was a deent story.
Many thanks to all of you for sticking around. We're glad you've been enjoying. ^_^