Title: "Small Sacrifices"

Author: Aeshna (aeshna@kelmaith.demon.co.uk)

Rating: PG-13

Warnings: post-TPM (follows canon), character death

Summary: some promises are better off broken....

Disclaimer: not mine, alas, no matter *how* many toys I buy. Everything here belongs to George.

Notes: some ideas seem to be universally seen as a bad thing by the Jedi. This is a quick look at what might happen if the Council were a little less squeamish about certain things....

Thanks to Dee for her wondrous beta, which ensured that the finished fic is a lot more angsty than the first draft was. Also thanks to Clarence and Res for offering support and helpful suggestions along the way. It wouldn't be the same without you guys!

* * = italics

***

"Wish to speak with us, you do?"

"Yes, Master Yoda," Obi-Wan replied respectfully, his head bowed as he knelt in one of the anterooms of the Council chamber. The young knight looked haggard in the ruddy light of the sunset beyond the tall windows; his Force signature was threaded with a fatigue that escaped his shields with painful ease. "There is a matter that I must... I fear that I have made a terrible mistake."

The aged master narrowed his green eyes. "No shame there is, in acknowledging mistakes. Only in prolonging them." He leaned forward in his seat, inspecting the man before him. "Speak you should," he said kindly.

Obi-Wan raised his head, his gaze shifting from Yoda to Mace Windu. "Masters, I... I do not think that I can train Anakin. I have tried but he is too strong and there is an anger in him that I can neither contain nor release."

"You knew the boy was strong when you took him on," Windu pointed out.

"I know, Master, but I did not fully appreciate how strong he was. And he is growing stronger every day. I try to teach him but as he grows more aware of his power the less interested he seems in what I have to say." Obi-Wan closed his eyes as if in pain. "I have tried to find answers within the Force but all that my meditations will show me is...." He trailed off, the words apparently too hard to say.

"Is darkness," Yoda finished for him. "Seen it also, I have."

"Then you would consider assigning him to another master?" There was hope in the young knight's voice. "I know I promised Qui-Gon... but Anakin needs a more experienced hand than mine. He is only thirteen, he would adapt well to the change."

Yoda and Windu exchanged a glance, the elder Jedi's ears flicking back and down in a movement that spoke of regret. Obi-Wan looked from one to the other as the silence went on a moment too long. "Masters?" he tried, uncertain.

Windu steepled his fingers and sighed. "I only wish it were that simple, Obi-Wan."

"But --"

"Consider it we have," Yoda said. "When darkness we saw, alternatives we sought. Other paths. But no light, we found. Only darkness. Chosen One he may be, but no good of him will come."

"Master Yoda, he's just a little boy --"

"Obi-Wan," Windu interrupted. "When Qui-Gon first brought Anakin to the Temple, you yourself said that he was dangerous."

"I know, but..."

"But wished to carry out Qui-Gon's last request, you did." Yoda's ears drooped sadly at the thought of his former padawan. "A good Jedi, Qui-Gon was, but no foresight had he. Foresight, you have. Sensitive you are." Leaving his seat, he shuffled forward, placing a gnarled hand on one brown-clad shoulder in a gesture of compassion. "And, alas... right you were."

Obi-Wan made a small, choked sound, his gaze fixed on the tiled floor. "I have failed."

"No. Done, you have, as well as any could have asked. The Force wishes this one for the Dark. Accept that we must. Misguided, would further training be."

"But I promised...."

"Sorry, we are. But unacceptable the risk is."

"Then he is to be released from the Jedi?" Obi-Wan looked from one master to the other again, confused. "But where would he go? We cannot send him back to slavery on Tatooine. And the Sith --"

"Would snap him up in an instant," Windu said gravely. "We cannot send him away from the Temple. The potential danger would be unthinkable."

"Seen this too, we have," Yoda intoned.

Obi-Wan frowned. "Then what will happen to him? If he cannot be...." He trailed off, paling as horrified realisation dawned in his grey eyes. "Oh. Oh no. You can't...."

"Kinder, this way is. Painless, will it be."

The young knight stared at them, shocked disbelief spreading across his features as Yoda's words sank in. "He's a child! You can't seriously be proposing that we --"

"Obi-Wan." Windu leaned forward in his seat, his expression sympathetic. "If there were any other option we would take it. He is a child now but in a few years time he will be a man and a man of immense power... and one who is fated to turn no matter what any of us do."

"Master Yoda said that his future was only clouded," the knight protested, clearly distressed.

The wizened old Jedi shook his head with a sigh. "Cleared the clouds have. Only darkness lies beyond."

"But he...." Obi-Wan swallowed hard. "He's just a boy. He hasn't *done* anything yet! And I... I *care* about him. That is why I wanted him to go to another -- because I cannot give him the training he deserves. I can't just allow him to... to be...."

"We lose one life now or many later," Windu told him. "In some of the future paths Yoda has seen, the entire Jedi Order is destroyed, torn apart by Skywalker's madness. Even in the easier futures, the death toll is immense. I am sure that your own visions have been no easier."

"No," the young knight whispered, "they have not. But I cannot allow *this* to happen!" He looked up, his expression determined. "It's wrong. It's against everything we stand for."

"We stand for the preservation of the light. The manner of that preservation may not always be pleasant but it is always necessary, regardless of the cost." Windu leaned forward, his eyes searching Obi-Wan's face. "We face a great threat here. We can deal with it now or deal with it later. The only difference is in the number of casualties."

The knight shook his head. "But I *promised*.... There *has* to be another way."

"I only wish there were."

"Go," Yoda said kindly. "Meditate on this you should. Peace you must find before done this may be. Your own answers, must you seek."

"Yes, Masters." Obi-Wan stood shakily, his eyes downcast and his face set. He hesitated a moment, then bowed and made his way to the door, leaving as quickly as he could without running. The two Council members watched him go.

"Troubled he is," Yoda noted.

Windu raised an eyebrow. "Hardly surprising, given that we've just passed down a death sentence on his padawan. We have to handle this carefully -- we don't want to lose Kenobi as well. He's too valuable to let turn."

"Come to see our way, he shall," the elder Jedi said calmly. "Done, this will be -- must be -- but understand why, he should. If understand and accept he can, then lose him we will not." He nodded, as if in agreement with his own words. "Adaptable, Obi-Wan is. Young, too. Recover he shall, in time."

"How much time?" Windu looked sceptical. "He's a good knight -- we need more like him. It's a pity that we have to lose Skywalker's potential but --"

"Recovered from Skywalker, some potential may yet be," Yoda told him. "Thirteen, he is, and human male...."

Windu looked thoughtful. "That could be a worthwhile course to pursue. A routine medical should be easy enough to arrange.... I take it that we won't be telling Kenobi about this?"

Yoda looked towards the door that the young knight had fled through. "We shall not. Troubled enough already, he is. This also... he does not need. Better to let him think that ended this has."

"Agreed." Windu let his gaze shift to the ever-moving skies beyond the window, the jagged spires of the cityscape stretching to the darkening horizon. Yoda had described visions in which he had seen proud Coruscant fall, the skyline ablaze as millions died at Skywalker's hand. What they did now was not entered into lightly but the alternatives were too ugly to contemplate. Better to sacrifice the one to save the many.... "Qui-Gon should never have brought him here."

A snort. "Whatever Qui-Gon pleased, Qui-Gon did. Meant well, but think things through, he did not. Too old, the boy was, to be taken. Learned this from Xanatos he should have."

"Qui-Gon was never interested in learning from his mistakes." Windu sighed. "A shame that this lesson must fall to Obi-Wan instead."

"Fall to someone, it must. A final trial for Kenobi, this is."

"Let us hope that he is strong enough to survive it."

***

Obi-Wan made his way back to his quarters with a heavy heart. He had requested the meeting with Yoda and Windu in the hope that he would be separated from his padawan... but not like this, never like this. For all that Anakin's strength and potential frightened him, he still cared for the boy, still wanted to see him survive and grow even if he himself were not his teacher. What had been suggested was horrific, insane... and yet he could almost see the Council's argument. Visions of death had haunted him for too long for him to deny their significance.

Numbly, he realised that he had reached his destination, the apartment he had been assigned on his return from Naboo. The apartment he would lose for smaller quarters if he ceased to have an apprentice. Suddenly dizzy, he leaned against the door, resting his forehead on the smooth, cool surface, trying to think. Something like shock had set in as he left the Councillors but now it was receding and he could feel the impact of their words anew. It wasn't as though he were under any illusions about the methods the Order sometimes used -- there were times when taking prisoners simply wasn't feasible -- but to kill a child? One of their own? *His* own?

Fighting down the lump in his throat, Obi-Wan pushed back from the door. It wouldn't do to be seen in the corridors like this. He had to control his emotions, at least until he had the chance to sort through them in meditation. Only then he could begin seeking alternatives to the Council's proposal....

There was a clatter of footsteps behind him as he palmed the door open, a familiar bright presence in the Force. Throwing his shields up, Obi-Wan made himself smile as he turned to greet his padawan. "Good evening, Anakin. How was your day?"

"Hi, Master!" the thirteen year-old exclaimed cheerfully, wrapping his arms around the knight in a welcoming hug. "Classes were okay. Philosophy was as dull as ever -- does Master Hyth'yan *have* another tone of voice? -- but astronavigation was great. Xenobiology was pretty good too -- did you know that the Ratiithan lyseworm has seventeen different stages to its life cycle? Master Krel had one in a jar and it was even uglier than a womprat! And at lunch, Nasylen said that she'd...."

Obi-Wan let Anakin chatter on as he steered the boy into their rooms, trying, at least for a few moments, not to think about his possible fate. There were times, like this, when it was easy to forget that Anakin was anything other than a normal padawan, as gifted as any Jedi was but no more than that. Easy to forget that he was the Chosen One, fated to bring balance at any cost. The horrors of Obi-Wan's visions seemed to fade a little in the presence of the enthusiastic youngster, until he could almost dismiss them as groundless nightmares....

And then he would remember the childish fits of temper, when the Force would darken and curl around the boy like a storm, ready to be unleashed at Anakin's whim. The one time he had lashed out at his master, Obi-Wan had been able to turn the attack aside, dissipating the angry energy before it could do harm. Less fortunate had been his sparring partner in a group exercise, who had needed to have his arm set in three places after accidentally clipping the padawan with his training 'sabre. And as Anakin's command of the Force increased, there was always the fear that next time could be worse....

"Master?"

Obi-Wan blinked, looking down at Anakin, who had an expression of concern on his face. "I... I'm sorry, Padawan."

"Are you all right?"

"Of course, Anakin. I'm just a... little tired right now."

The boy frowned. "You don't sleep enough."

"You're right, I don't." Sighing, Obi-Wan let himself drop onto the rather aged couch that had come with the room, trying not to think of the sleepless nights that had plagued him of late. "Unlike some, who have trouble getting out of bed in the morning...." He reached out and ruffled Anakin's hair fondly as the boy settled beside him.

His padawan giggled and squirmed away. "I'm preserving my strength for the day, Master!"

"You're just making sure that *you* don't have to prepare breakfast."

"You're a much better cook than I am." Anakin grinned and leaned against his master's side, relaxing as Obi-Wan slid an arm around his shoulder. He snuggled closer. "I'd probably poison us both."

The knight felt a surge of almost painful affection for the boy at his side and had to fight down a sob. Was this what it felt like to be a parent? To know that this little life was under your protection, held there by utter trust and unquestioning love? He had never really known his family, had instead been raised by the Jedi so that his earliest memories were of the pale walls of the creche and his fellow initiates, not the warm arms of his mother. He didn't know how a parent should behave, had no idea if he were any substitute for his padawan's absent mother. He did his best but could never really know if it were enough.... And now it might not matter whether it were enough or not.

Obi-Wan sat up, pulling away from his padawan. He *had* to get some time for meditation -- for all that he usually enjoyed quiet time with Anakin, this was agony. "I think I should get an early night."

The boy blinked, then grinned brightly. "Good idea, Master. I can get myself to bed."

"After several hours in front of the vid screen, no doubt." Obi-Wan allowed a sliver of humour into his voice -- his apprentice could be so easy to read sometimes....

"It's educational," Anakin said cheerily.

"Of course it is, Padawan. *Especially* the sports channels." Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow and was rewarded with a blush. He smiled and tugged briefly on the short blond braid. "Just try not to abuse my absence *too* much, Anakin...."

"Master, would *I* do that...?"

***

Secluded in his room, with Anakin thoroughly distracted by whatever utterly unsuitable vid trash the boy had managed to find, Obi-Wan shed his clothes, settled down at the end of his bed and attempted to meditate. After several fruitless minutes he flopped back onto the covers in frustration, his calm centre elusive amidst the chaos of his thoughts. Now that the shock had lifted and reaction taken hold, he was left with a tangled mess of emotions that he would have to pick through to find any degree of peace.

Taking a deep breath, the young knight began to order his thoughts.

The thought of losing Anakin hurt, could not help but hurt given the nature of the training bond they shared. To think that the boy might die at the hands of the Jedi was appalling... and yet he could not deny the danger that seemed to hover around his padawan, darkening the futures despite all that anyone could do. It was against everything he had been raised to believe but was there really any other option? The Council seemed to think not and the threat had to be neutralised somehow....

*No,* he told himself fiercely. *There HAS to be another way! But what...?* Not finding any easy answers, he turned his thoughts inward again.

A part of him felt shame at his failure to carry out Qui-Gon's last request. His master had entrusted the boy's training to him, a final act of faith that he had *tried* to fulfil. His master had loved him, his master had *trusted* him... his master....

Obi-Wan blinked as realisation washed over him, the mist of grief-ridden sentiment suddenly lifting from his mind. His master had loved him in his way, yes, but he had also taken shameless advantage of his padawan's devotion time and again. Right up until he laid eyes on the little blond menace that was Anakin Skywalker... at which point Obi-Wan had become just so much excess baggage to be shed at the earliest opportunity. It still hurt to think about that scene in the Council Chamber, when he had been openly discarded in favour of Qui-Gon's new protege, still hurt to remember how he had been the one to have to apologise in an effort to heal the breach that had opened between them. Twelve years of blind adoration and at the end of it all, Qui-Gon's final thoughts had been for the boy, for his training.

He had never even said goodbye.

Looking back on those last words now, Obi-Wan found that the only emotion he could summon was anger. Anger that his loyalty had been for nothing, anger that Anakin had come between them even then... but mostly anger that Qui-Gon had put him in an utterly impossible position. What choice had he been given regarding Anakin's training? Qui-Gon had been his guiding light for half his life, there was no way that he could deny the man's dying wish, no matter what strain it put on his own position. At his age he should be going on solo missions, learning his independence and his place within the Order, not driving himself half mad trying to train his master's latest and last pet project. It wasn't Anakin's fault -- that much he couldn't blame on the boy -- but it was not the right way to begin a training relationship. That they had managed to bond at all was something of a miracle....

Anakin. He was here to concentrate on Anakin, not on bonds past. Ruthlessly pushing all thought of Qui-Gon aside he tried to empty his mind once again, seeking his centre.

This time, he found it.

And the visions were waiting for him.

Worlds in flames, their continents ablaze as vast ships pounded their surfaces with fire. Anakin's face, older yet still recognisable, splashed with blood and twisted with hate as he swung his lightsabre with obvious intent to kill. The sound of harsh breathing, as if through a respirator mask. The Temple a burned-out shell, abandoned by the Order in their flight. Queen Amidala screaming in pain, her belly swollen with advanced pregnancy. The Jedi hunted across the galaxy, slaughtered like animals. Darkness everywhere, staining the futures with blood.... And through it all, the terrifying knowledge that he would survive to see it come to pass, that he would weather the purges to live with the guilt of having released the architect of it all into the galaxy....

His eyes snapping open, Obi-Wan pulled himself back into the present, his heart racing. So much evil, so much destruction.... Desperately, he plunged himself back into the dark imagery, seeking other paths, alternative fates. And found nothing, as he had found nothing on every previous occasion he had tried this.

Dimly, Obi-Wan became aware of the tears coursing down his cheeks as he wept for Anakin and for himself. In truth, there was no decision to make -- the loss of the cheerful innocent would hurt but it would hurt more to release such a monster into the universe. Anakin was a child now, but he would grow. And change. And then the boy now happily watching vids on his master's viewscreen would be transformed into a creature of darkness with the blood of billions on his hands. To kill a child was a terrible thing, but could they honestly afford to let him live? Which would be the greater crime?

Whatever happened, Obi-Wan's conscience would be an inevitable casualty and this one death felt as though it would be as hard to bear as millions, familiarity making it more painful than the demise of strangers. And yet the sacrifice *had* to be made....

Sniffing, Obi-Wan wiped at his eyes, drying the tears as he set his mind to the task ahead. He was a Jedi. He was trained to make hard choices. And if this one was harder than most, it was because it had heavier repercussions than most, for the entire galaxy as well as for the Jedi Order. It would hurt but he would survive it, even if Anakin did not.

Decision made, he rolled himself in his covers and let himself be claimed by thankfully dreamless sleep.

***

The Healers' Wing had always made Obi-Wan feel slightly uncomfortable -- ever since his childhood he had hated being ill or injured, unable to tend to himself, and the sterile corridors and wards of this section of the Temple always reminded him of those feelings of helplessness, of dependence. He had always told himself that those impressions were misguided, foolish, that this place was dedicated to the light and to the preservation of life....

But not today. Today would see something else entirely.

Anakin walked at his side, complaining that this was his third day of tests and it was getting *boring*. Obi-Wan smiled sadly at his padawan's protests -- for all the boy's words, Anakin had accepted that the tests were necessary because of his abnormally high midichlorian count and had submitted himself to the Healers with remarkably good grace. He had been quite descriptive in his accounts of the procedures... all bar one, which he had seemed keen to gloss over. Obi-Wan had not pushed him on that, remembering it all too well himself. The words "here, kid, take this cup and go fantasise about your master," were still indelibly stuck in his mind.

On the previous days, Obi-Wan had sent Anakin to the Healers alone, needing the time to meditate and prepare for what must be done. Yoda and Mace Windu had visited him, talking him through what would happen and what to expect from a suddenly broken training bond... as if he hadn't experienced *that* already. They had discussed the moral implications of the act, how both action and inaction would carry their price, and at the end of it all were reconciled to the necessity of this pre-emptive execution. All that needed to be done now was the act itself.

"What's next, Master?" Anakin asked, trying unsuccessfully to keep his frustration out of his voice. "I don't think I've got anything *left* for them to sample or measure!"

Obi-Wan smiled weakly. "Just a few... vaccinations, Padawan. We don't want to you getting ill on a mission, now do we?"

The boy snorted. "Doesn't my being the 'Chosen One' protect me from bugs?"

"Better safe than sorry...."

A blue-robed Healer stepped out of a side corridor, beckoning them to follow her. Obi-Wan recognised her -- Yushana, one of the more senior Masters and the one assigned to carry out this most delicate of tasks. She led them to a small room containing a wheeled bunk and some monitoring equipment, the sterile surroundings making the young knight shiver as he realised that this was where it was to be done. It seemed so... impersonal.

"You must be Anakin," Yushana said as she settled the blond padawan on the bunk. "I just have a few jabs to give you and then we can send you on your way! I know how you boys hate to be kept down here...." She raised a silvered eyebrow at Obi-Wan, evidently remembering his protests at that age.

Anakin didn't answer, instead looking at her suspiciously. Obi-Wan could sense the sudden wash of uncertainty over the bond as the boy's Force-sense alerted him to peril at the hands of this stranger. Swallowing hard, the knight laid a calming hand on his apprentice's shoulder, preparing himself for the course he had decided on the previous night. "Master Yushana?"

"Yes, Knight Kenobi?" The Healer was preparing the hypospray, filling it with an innocuous-looking clear liquid.

"If I may, I would like to administer the vaccine myself."

Yushana looked at him, startled. "That really isn't necessary."

"I know." He had been told that he would be spared this, that he didn't even have to be there when this was done... but he had felt that he owed Anakin this much. "But I... it is my duty. There may come a time when I need to administer medication in the field and, well, any practice would be welcome."

"If you are sure." The Healer seemed rather reluctant to hand the injector over.

"I am," Obi-Wan told her firmly, taking the instrument as it was finally offered. He stared at the hypospray for a few seconds, strengthening his resolve and feeling the guilt gnaw at his conscience anew. It seemed too easy. Too callous. How could he send his apprentice into this alone...?

Yushana cleared her throat. "There is only one dose in the hypospray, Knight Kenobi," she said carefully.

Obi-Wan blinked and looked up at her, only then realising the direction his thoughts had been taking. Swallowing hard and dismissing the idea from his mind, he turned to his apprentice. "Roll up your sleeve, Padawan."

"Master?" Anakin looked decidedly unconvinced. "I don't want to. What's in there -- it's dangerous. I can feel it."

Pushing his mental shields up as far as they would go, Obi-Wan replied, "It's... vaccine for Bhegrrhyzan meningitis, which is an extremely virulent disease found in several systems. It's a live vaccine, so you can probably sense the disease organisms in there, although I assure you that they're weakened to the point that will do you no real harm."

"But Master, it feels --"

"Padawan, your sleeve...."

Anakin tensed, looking at the plastic and chrome of the hypospray with suspicion... but then he relaxed, looking up at his mentor with a determined smile as he pulled the cloth towards his shoulder as requested. "It still feels wrong. But I trust you, Master."

In that instant, Obi-Wan's nerve almost gave out, but he forced himself to be calm as he positioned himself beside his apprentice on the bunk. Pressing the delivery nozzle against the tanned skin, he murmured, "This will make you feel a little sleepy -- don't fight it, you'll just give yourself a headache."

His padawan's smile was sunny. "Okay, Master." Anakin didn't even twitch as Obi-Wan pressed the trigger stud and sent the drug into his bloodstream.

The dose delivered, the young knight threw the injector to one side, pulling his apprentice across his lap to cradle him in his arms. Anakin looked at his master as though the man had gone mad but then his eyes began to sag shut and his head lolled loosely against Obi-Wan's shoulder as the drug took effect. Yushana stepped forward to pat Obi-Wan's arm, her gaze sympathetic. Then she turned and left the room, leaving the pair to this most private of moments.

Obi-Wan held Anakin to him tightly, burying his face in the brush of golden hair as the boy's breathing grew slower and more ragged, his pulse fluttering indecisively. The Force swirled around them, confused and angry, currents of energy seeking release as the padawan's life force faded back into the void that had conceived him. Rocking the limp form in his arms, Obi-Wan let his tears flow freely, mourning the child he had come to love after such an uncertain start. It wasn't *fair*... but it had been necessary. And now it was far too late to go back.

Pain suddenly ripped through the knight's mind, the training bond dissolving as Anakin gave a soft sigh and relaxed into death. The wash of despair that crashed against him had a strangely familiar feel, carrying with it the memories of Naboo, when he had cradled his dead master as he now held his dead apprentice. There was a curious sense of completion to it.

Closing his eyes, Obi-Wan let the visions come to him again. For a few moments there was nothing, as though the possibilities were rearranging themselves... and then his inner eye cleared and showed him its fragile glimpses of the futures.

The darkness was not completely gone, but it had receded to mere possibility, rather than utter certainty. The Sith were still out there, a presence in the Force that complemented the Jedi as much as it opposed them, and there would be trouble there yet... but the light still stood a fighting chance.

"I'm so sorry, Anakin," Obi-Wan whispered into the boy's tear-damp hair as the body began to cool in his arms. "So, so sorry. But it had to be done. We have hope now. We have hope...."

Predictably, Anakin did not answer.