Master Dooku's radical beliefs have done more than made him an outcast among his peers, and his Padawan does his best to learn from him.
by dilly r
The more a man is certain he is right, the more likely it is that he is wrong.
Master Dooku had repeated those words many times in the four years Qui-Gon had been his apprentice. Qui-Gon wasn't entirely sure he agreed. However, it was one of his Master's more popular opinions, and sometimes the words would enter Qui-Gon's mind when he was absolutely sure of something. Most recently, it had come in handy in the mornings, when Qui-Gon awoke drenched in sweat to the clanging of the hall bell -- the memory of the dream still flickering in his mind.
It was the sixth time he'd had the dream. The first time had been a month ago, but it had become more and more frequent in the past week.
Qui-Gon sat with his arms propping him up for a long time, trying to slow his breaths to a normal frequency. He was idle too long, because he was still sitting when there was a knock at the door that connected his room to his Master's. He scrambled to his feet as the door slid open. Master Dooku raised an eyebrow at Qui-Gon.
"You're slow getting out of bed this morning. You did get there on time, did you not?"
"Yes, Master," Qui-Gon said quickly. "Of course."
Dooku swept into the room, easily glancing about, making sure everything was in place. "You're perspiring rather abnormally." He stopped in front of Qui-Gon and looked down at him. "Is there a reason for it?"
"I... didn't sleep well," Qui-Gon said.
"Dreams again." Master Dooku folded his hands behind his back. "After your chores and the midday meal, you will have an extra session of meditation instead of lightsaber practice."
Qui-Gon fought to keep the disappointment from his face. "Yes, Master," he said, through his teeth.
"Good. And be sure to shower well this morning." Master Dooku leaned closer to him, half smiling. "You smell horrible."
Qui-Gon bowed his head. "Yes, Master."
He did not look up again until Master Dooku had left his room. Then, Qui-Gon went to the Padawan's bath and hurried through his shower.
He left the bath to find Tahl waiting outside for him. She smiled when she saw him, but he could only manage a weak smile in return.
"Is it Tholme or Master Dooku giving you a hard time?"
Qui-Gon snorted. "Neither, really. Well. Master Dooku a little. He seems to be of the opinion that meditation is the most important part of my training."
Tahl laughed. "Walk with me to the dining hall?"
"Sure," Qui-Gon answered. They walked side-by-side, always at least half a foot apart. That was a rule Master Dooku had introduced as soon as Qui-Gon and Tahl had become friends.
"You know," Tahl said, breaking a short silence. "Sometimes a Master will make us focus on what we're less interested in learning so that we will maintain a balance."
Qui-Gon rolled his eyes. "Master's pet."
"It's true!" She laughed. "You're just bitter because my Master is sure I have lightsaber training every blasted day. I'd happily trade."
"Were that we were allowed," Qui-Gon said.
"So, what did you do to deserve extra meditation this time?"
Qui-Gon sighed and crossed his arms. "I've been having dreams." He paused. "That's not entirely accurate. I've been having a dream. Recurring."
Tahl nodded, her gold and green eyes sparkling with curiosity. When they were together, she had a tendency not to look where she was going. Always at Qui-Gon.
"Well, it's not about anything interesting. Don't look at me that way."
She smiled, and she didn't look away. "Mind if I ask what it is about?"
Qui-Gon stopped, touching Tahl's arm so that she would stop with him. "You can't tell anyone," he said in a low voice. They were close to the dining hall, and there were other Padawans passing them now and then, but there was much more privacy in the hall.
"You know I wouldn't." She frowned, but the curiosity wasn't gone from her eyes.
"It's about Master Dooku," Qui-Gon said. "I'm watching him, but I'm powerless. Master Dooku is on his knees. Everything is pitch black around him, and I can only see him because two bright lights are emanating from under his chin. I think they might be lightsabers, because he's looking up at something, and the lights move -- they make a sound like a lightsaber -- and his head falls to the ground behind him." Qui-Gon wet his lips. "And I know it's my fault. I know, for a fact, that it's somehow my fault that he's dead."
Tahl's delicate eyebrows were pushed together, creating a deep furrow. "You think it's a vision of the future?"
"I don't know," Qui-Gon said honestly. "The first time I was certain that it was. But it's a common fear for a Padawan, isn't it? To cause his Master's death. It could simply be anxiety. I know that if I tell Master Dooku, that is what he'll say, and he'll think that I'm..." Qui-Gon let his voice trail off. Master Dooku would likely think any number of things about Qui-Gon for such a confession. That he was weak. That he was not ready for a mission, should one come up. That he was foolish. But...
"But what if it is a vision?" Tahl said, putting a voice to Qui-Gon's thoughts.
Tholme and his group of friends passed them noisily. Tholme eyed Qui-Gon and Tahl, but said nothing.
"It's getting late. We should eat," Qui-Gon said. "I have hours of meditation to get to."
Tahl smiled thinly. "Of course. But do think about telling him, Qui-Gon."
Qui-Gon nodded, and they went into the dining hall together, half a foot apart.
Intellectually, Qui-Gon knew that meditation was a useful activity, perhaps even necessary to Jedi life. But, after three hours of sitting in near silence doing nothing but visualizing and running other mental exercises, Qui-Gon didn't have the patience to be intellectual.
Even Master Dooku had only stayed for an hour of it. After that, Qui-Gon was left alone with nothing but the idle chatter of a water sculpture in the corner of the mediation chamber. When he finally did return, Qui-Gon's irritation was radiating off of him.
Master Dooku sat on the meditation stool across from Qui-Gon's, watching him with something like amusement in his eyes. "You've had more than three hours to meditate, and your mind is still unfocused. Put yourself in my position, and tell me what you would do."
Qui-Gon was silent for a moment, weighing his options. "Do you mean that?"
Master Dooku raised his eyebrows, and lifted his hand palm up -- a welcoming gesture.
"I wouldn't use meditation as a punishment, Master. Were I in your position."
Master Dooku was expressionless, and then, he smiled. "Well, perhaps you will be wiser when you are a Jedi and experienced enough to take on an apprentice." He paused. "Do you honestly think this a punishment?"
"What else is it?" Qui-Gon asked. "You've told me before that a proper Jedi has no dreams, so whenever I dream, I am here for hours. How am I to control that?"
"Did you consider that I might be trying to teach you a way?"
"Yes, of course, Master. But you don't understand." Qui-Gon flinched at the whininess in his own voice. "I think it's more than a dream. I think it may be a vision."
Master Dooku arched an eyebrow. "Do you?"
"I know that you don't think much of dreams, but you do think much of prophecy. Perhaps, if I were a better Padawan, the prophecy would have come in meditation, but it is no less prophetic."
"Do not be so quick to judge, Apprentice," Master Dooku said sharply. "In a dream, the subconscious is given free reign. That is why dream prophecy has not been widely accepted for decades."
"But you're not widely accepted either. It doesn't make you wrong."
Master Dooku's lip twitched, and he looked directly at Qui-Gon in a way that made Qui-Gon suspect his Master could see into him. "Do not use emotional reasoning with me, Qui-Gon. You should know better."
"Yes, but..." Qui-Gon was so flustered that it was difficult to get the words out. "B-but, I see you die in the dream. I see it over and over again. And I did it, but I don't know how. But I know it's my fault. And I know that it gets to a point that I can't stop it, but maybe I could stop it now, if I only knew more."
Master Dooku sat with his back very straight, glaring down the bridge of his nose at Qui-Gon. The water's chatter seemed much louder.
Finally, Master Dooku rose in one, fluid motion, and he headed for the door. "You will remain here until the evening bell, then you will come to my quarters."
The door slammed shut; Qui-Gon grimaced. He knew well enough that this meant he would go without dinner.
Qui-Gon washed his mouth out five times before going to his own quarters. Morning would be a long time in coming.
The next few days of Qui-Gon's lightsaber practice were canceled. He ate breakfast before the other Padawans, and went to the meditation chamber where he spent the rest of the day in meditation. The sound of water was becoming a tool for him. If he focused on that, sometimes the rest of consciousness would slip away.
Most importantly, at night, he didn't dream.
It was a week before he ate dinner again. As soon as he sat down with his meal, Tahl was next to him. "Where have you /been/, Qui-Gon?" She was leaning in. Too close. Qui-Gon shifted to the far edge of his seat.
"I've had to take on extra training."
Tahl stared at him. "I haven't seen you at breakfast, or lunch, or dinner, or supper. Usually, a pack of howlrunners couldn't keep you away from the dining hall, during and in between meals. I don't see you at group practices. I don't see you at lectures. I don't see you in study hall. You can't tell me you've been spending that entire time training."
"It's the truth." Qui-Gon arched an eyebrow, keeping his eyes on his plate. "What?"
"You don't even seem bothered by it!" she said. He didn't respond. "/Qui-Gon/." She put her hand on his forearm.
"You're worried about me because I don't seem upset?" Qui-Gon asked.
"Well. In short? /Yes/. Dooku's given you some pretty insane punishments before, but--"
"Master," Qui-Gon corrected. "Master Dooku."
"It's not a punishment, Tahl. I'm horrible with meditation. I can't believe Master Dooku allowed it for this long."
"If you say so, Qui-Gon." Tahl withdrew her hand to her lap. "I'm only concerned. I miss you."
Finally, he looked at her. "This isn't forever," Qui-Gon said. "I'm improving."
"Qui-Gon," Master Dooku's voice startled them both. How long had he been standing across from them? His expression was stormy. His dark, black eyebrows were low over his eyes. "Are you finished with your meal?"
Qui-Gon had only had a few mouthfuls, but he stood. "Yes, Master."
"Good. Once you've cleaned up after yourself, you will return to the meditation chamber until I retrieve you."
Qui-Gon nodded. He waited for Master Dooku to leave, but he stood still, arms crossed. Qui-Gon picked up the remnants of his meal and took it to the disposal. When he left the dining hall, Master Dooku was sitting across from Tahl, talking to her.
Qui-Gon did not know how late it was. It felt late. His bones ached from sitting in the same position for so long, and his stomach ached from lack of food and rest. However, the hunger's edge kept him from being too tired. Relief cascaded over him when he finally heard the door open behind him, and saw Master Dooku sit across from him.
"When you are a Jedi, you will not be disturbed out of your meditation so easily," Master Dooku said.
"I'm tired," Qui-Gon said. Master Dooku arched an eyebrow. "But that's not an excuse," he quickly added.
Master Dooku drew a slow breath and sat straighter. "You are close with Tahl."
"She is my friend."
Master Dooku watched him for a moment, as if studying him. Then, he nodded. "Good."
Qui-Gon frowned. What had Master Dooku expected?
"Tomorrow, you will have a regular schedule again." Master Dooku paused. "Come here, Qui-Gon."
Qui-Gon stood, his head bowed, and stepped forward so that he was close enough to Master Dooku so that their knees were nearly touching.
"There are times, Qui-Gon, when I'm not entirely sure you are understanding my lessons. I am not as heavy-handed as some of the other Masters. I think that a lesson works best if taught subtly. I think of myself as more of a guide than a teacher." Master Dooku put his hand under Qui-Gon chin and forced it up, so that Qui-Gon was facing him. "You are special, Qui-Gon. Do you realize that?"
"I'm not sure I understand," Qui-Gon said. "Am I not to be humble?"
Master Dooku's lips parted and he released a rare laugh. Perhaps more of a chuckle. "Answering a question with a question. Good job. Undo my sash."
Qui-Gon was still. His knees hurt on the hard floor of the meditation chamber.
"Did you hear me?"
"Yes," Qui-Gon muttered. "Master." He forced his hands up to his Master's waist, forced his fingers to do what he'd been told.
Master Dooku brushed his thumb against Qui-Gon's bottom lip, as though he were being gentle. "Do you remember the other recurring dream, Qui-Gon?"
Qui-Gon felt the blood leave his face.
"You underestimate the bond between a Master and his Padawan." Master Dooku's smile had the vaguest hint of sadness. "Often, you would awake from a dream about me, but I wasn't dying in those, was I?"
Qui-Gon was shaking.
"/Answer me/." Master Dooku's voice echoed off the bare walls. He was gripping Qui-Gon's chin with bruising force.
"No." Qui-Gon's voice broke. He felt ridiculous.
Master Dooku let his hand fall from Qui-Gon's chin to his shoulder. "No. What was it about, then?"
"It was... sexual," Qui-Gon managed.
"This is why dreams are sometimes confused with prophecy," Master Dooku said slowly. "If you believe in them, you will cause them to come true."
Qui-Gon swallowed. "I understand."
Master Dooku leaned close. He put his hand up in Qui-Gon's hair. "You do understand that this is not a punishment. You'd only have to ask to stop."
"I understand," Qui-Gon repeated. Master Dooku's eyes were intense. Qui-Gon could tell that his response had pleased him.
"I trust that you remember what to do."
Qui-Gon glanced away from Master Dooku. "Here?"
"The door is locked." Master Dooku had leaned back, and he was gently pulling Qui-Gon's head closer.
Qui-Gon swallowed again, and he licked his lips. He pulled Master Dooku's trousers down just enough. He could tell that Master Dooku was impatient, so he put his mouth where Master Dooku wanted.
Through all of it, Master Dooku was silent. He let Qui-Gon know if he was doing the right things by tensing and un-tensing his hand, still in Qui-Gon's hair. He was subtle, even then.
The first time it had happened -- a year or so at most -- Master Dooku had explained that it was an ancient tradition. Qui-Gon had later read everything he could find about Jedi traditions and ways, but he couldn't find anything about it.
He'd had a sense of guilt about looking. It was for his Master to teach him those things, not texts. If the texts said nothing, then they were incomplete.
Master Dooku would go for long stretches of time between one time and the next. Qui-Gon always almost forgot about it, only to remember it with a sense of impending dread just before. A look in Master Dooku's eyes or the tone of his voice -- that's what gave him away -- and Qui-Gon's stomach would twist up, and he'd feel is mind falling into that familiar set. He wouldn't know how to describe it if he tried, that feeling. It felt something like the soupy fog above a marsh.
That morning felt like the first time he'd taken lightsaber practice. He was a step behind everyone else, and he was usually one of the best in group practice. Tholme seemed to be enjoying it in the way Tholme enjoyed things: with a smirk. During one-on-one, he was paired with Tholme, naturally, as they were about the same age and the same level of expertise.
The third time Tholme caught him with the low-intensity beam of his lightsaber, he chuckled as Qui-Gon cringed. "You're a bit off your game, Qui-Gon. If your wise Master keeps sticking you in meditation, you'll be run through as soon as you set foot outside of the Temple."
"What do you mean by that?" Qui-Gon sneered, trying to will the uncomfortable burning on his side subside. It was the second time Tholme had hit him there, and the lightsabers still hurt, no matter how low the power was.
Tholme arched an eyebrow. "It would seem all your meditation has failed to make you wiser. Just like Master Dooku to deprive you of the one thing you're good at: brute force."
Qui-Gon glared at his sparring partner, feeling heat rising in his face. He gripped his lightsaber. "Let's go again then."
"Padawans," Yoda called. Qui-Gon froze. Yoda may have been talking to everyone in the room, but it felt as though his eyes were fixed on Qui-Gon and Tholme. "Enough for today, that is."
Tholme said something, but Qui-Gon didn't listen. He was already on his way to the showers.
He hurried to clean himself before too many of the others came, then he went to the dining hall by himself and sat at one of the long tables by himself. He tried to hurry through his meal, but Tahl found him. She sat across from him silently for a long moment. A moment so long, in fact, that Qui-Gon thought she might not say anything at all. The idea of silence made him feel sick.
"Qui-Gon," she said finally, and he breathed again.
He looked up from his meal. "Yeah?"
"Hi," he echoed.
"I saw you at lightsaber practice. Dooku's letting you go again?"
Another silence between them, filled by the clatter and chatter of the other Padawans as they ate.
"I saw Tholme giving you a hard time. Are you all right?"
Qui-Gon felt his face heat up again in anger and embarrassment. "I'm fine."
"He seemed to get you pretty bad," she said. "Are you sure you shouldn't see the--"
"I'm /fine/," Qui-Gon repeated, louder this time. She looked a little startled by his reaction. "I've got to go," he muttered, and he picked up his bowl and walked quickly toward the wash basin to rinse it out before he left.
Of course, of /course/, he ran straight into Tholme, spilling the remains of his meal on the both of them. Tholme stood very still, sneering down at the mess on his tunic, then up at Qui-Gon.
"I see you're a lot more focused since you started that extra meditation, Qui-Gon," Tholme hissed.
"I'm not in the mood for this," Qui-Gon said under his breath, and he moved to go around Tholme.
"Probably weren't even doing the meditation. You were probably spending private time with your Master."
Tholme snorted and went on. "My Master warned me about him. All of the Masters warn their Padawans about Dooku. I wouldn't put that past him. His beliefs are dangerous. Some say he'll bring the Sith back into the galaxy."
Qui-Gon's fist was stinging before he realized that he'd punched Tholme's jaw. Tholme was only dazed for a moment before he hit back. Qui-Gon stumbled, and he heard his bowl shatter on the ground. He moved to hit Tholme again, but Tholme got him again first. He tasted blood.
"STOP," Tahl screamed. Qui-Gon felt himself being flung backwards and, in a moment, both he and Tholme were laying on the floor with Tahl standing over them. Qui-Gon hadn't realized she could use a Force push yet -- particularly in two different directions.
The dining hall seemed caught in time until, finally, little Jocasta jumped up and ran out. Knowing her, she'd be off to get one of the Masters to take care of the situation.
Master Dooku would not be pleased.
Qui-Gon had a black eye and a split lip; Tholme had escaped with only a bruised jaw, but they both sat with their heads bowed in shame when Yoda sat them next to each other and talked to them. Neither of them told Yoda what the argument had been about.
Qui-Gon knew from experience that fights between Padawans were less rare than Yoda let on. With Yoda lecturing them and stamping his cane on the floor, he felt as if he was the only person in the Temple to have ever lost his temper, regardless of what he consciously knew.
"Go back to your quarters, you must. Speak to your Masters about this, you shall. It is for them to decide what punishment you shall face."
Yoda's expression made it clear that they were dismissed. Qui-Gon stood slowly. He heard the rustle of robes as Tholme did the same next to him.
"Thank you, Master Yoda," Tholme said.
Qui-Gon tried to repeat Tholme's words, but they refused to come to his lips. He looked at Tholme. Tholme looked back and nodded before leaving. Whatever animosity Qui-Gon had felt toward Tholme had vanished.
Still, Qui-Gon tarried a moment before leaving for his quarters as well. Though he was not currently angry at Tholme, he wasn't in the mood to speak to him in the hallway. He wasn't in the mood to speak to anyone, really, but Tahl was outside, waiting. He tried to walk past her, but she caught up with him.
"Qui-Gon, how much longer is this going to go on before you tell me what's wrong?"
He kept walking, didn't say anything. She grabbed his forearm with surprising strength and stopped. He didn't have the energy to free himself.
"What, Tahl? What do you want me to say?"
"I want you to let me be your friend. I want to help you with whatever is going on with you." She leaned toward him and lowered her voice. "Master Dooku scared me yesterday, Qui-Gon. He really scared me. The way he was talking to me... something didn't seem right."
Qui-Gon wanted to wrench himself free. He wanted to shout at her. He wanted to tell her that whatever she was thinking, it wasn't true.
Instead, he stood frozen in place, staring dumbly at her.
"You would tell me if something's wrong, wouldn't you, Qui-Gon?"
He tried to swallow, but his mouth was dry. "No," he answered honestly.
She blinked at him. Then, she let go of his arm.
"Tell someone, okay?" Her voice was choked. Qui-Gon couldn't tell if it was from sadness or anger.
She left him there, standing alone in the expansive hall.
Qui-Gon told Master Dooku what had happened with his eyes focused on the floor, speaking quickly and quietly. Master Dooku loomed over him, but Qui-Gon could only see his feet and the shadow he cast on the hard stone floor.
"I expect," Master Dooku said when Qui-Gon had finished, "that Yoda informed you that I am to deal out your punishment."
"Yes, Master," Qui-Gon said.
"What do you think of that?"
Qui-Gon finally looked up at Master Dooku. "What?"
Master Dooku crossed his arms over his chest and looked down at Qui-Gon critically. "What do you think of your situation, and what do you think of Yoda's mandate?"
"I, um..." Qui-Gon shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
"Are you waiting for me to tell you what you should think?"
Qui-Gon found himself mute. Master Dooku arched an eyebrow at him.
"Do you have an opinion, then, on what your punishment should be?"
Qui-Gon shook his head.
"Don't you?" Master Dooku asked.
"It's not my decision."
Master Dooku chuckled. It was not a friendly sound. "Why isn't it, Qui-Gon?"
Qui-Gon frowned. "I don't know."
"Then why are you mindlessly accepting it?"
"I don't know," he repeated.
"My young Padawan." Master Dooku extended his arm and rested his hand heavily on Qui-Gon's shoulder. "If there is one thing that I hope you will learn from me, it is that mindless acceptance is never right. Regardless of what the Council would have you believe, their word is not law. They are not the only ones who have a valid opinion on what it is to be a Jedi. You must learn to define right and wrong for yourself. What do you think your punishment for fighting should be?"
Qui-Gon sucked on his sore lip thoughtfully. "I think it was good that we fought. He and I have not been friends, but... I feel that something has been resolved that could not be fixed through words."
Master Dooku smiled and squeezed Qui-Gon's shoulder affectionately. "Next time, tell me what you think to begin with. Better yet, tell Yoda."
In the years Qui-Gon had been Master Dooku's Padawan, he had never seen Master Dooku so happy with him. He smiled back at his Master. "Small steps, Master. I will start with you and work my way up to Yoda."
"Good." Master Dooku released Qui-Gon's shoulder, and narrowed his eyes at him thoughtfully. "What is it that you fought with Tholme about?"
Qui-Gon's happiness quickly melted into shame. He stuttered wordlessly, looking back down to the floor. Master Dooku put his hand under Qui-Gon's chin and guided his face up again. He didn't have to ask again. His eyes were penetrating.
"He... was saying things about you."
"Was he?" Master Dooku seemed amused, but Qui-Gon wasn't sure. "That made you angry?"
"I guess so. I don't like it that... that some people here don't think they have to take you seriously, Master."
Master Dooku moved his hand from Qui-Gon's chin to the back of Qui-Gon's neck and pulled him closer. "I appreciate that you defended me, Qui-Gon, but it was not necessary. What people think of me is hardly my primary concern."
Qui-Gon hated being this close to Master Dooku, but he tried to hide it from his expression. Master Dooku looked down at him thoughtfully.
"Undo my sash, my young Padawan."
Qui-Gon's stomach twisted. He stared up at Master Dooku -- not at his dangerous eyes, but at the place between his nose and his mouth. He saw Master Dooku wet his lips.
"I don't want to," Qui-Gon said.
Master Dooku's lip twitched. Then, he smiled strangely and withdrew from Qui-Gon. "I think you're finally learning, Qui-Gon."
Qui-Gon couldn't speak as he watched Master Dooku leave his quarters.
"Do meditate before bed," Master Dooku said, as he walked out the door. "I wouldn't want your eventful day to disturb your sleep."
The door closed, and Qui-Gon allowed himself to relax. He wasn't sure whether he should feel victorious or defeated.
In the end, he felt nothing at all.