Title: "Loss"

Author: Aeshna

Category: angst

Rating: PG

Spoilers: AOTC

Summary: in the aftermath of Geonosis, Obi-Wan discovers that not all battles are decided on the field.

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

Notes: this is one of BostonAnn's bunnies -- she pounces on me in IRC every once in a while and inflicts them on me. I think she may have wanted smut, but the characters were determined that this should be gen, and I'm not about to argue with them....
Thanks, as always, to Dee for the beta!

There was an emptiness that followed battle, a void as seemingly deep and dark as the vacuum of space itself. Staring blankly from a viewport aboard the hospital ship Kalinisha Toral, Obi-Wan Kenobi could feel that cold empty place inside him, a chill shadow of the adrenaline that had surged and sung in his veins mere hours before. The fight was over, the dance done, and yet life and death were still squabbling over the spoils as the injured were brought aboard for treatment.

Sighing, Obi-Wan closed his eyes, shutting out the 'port and the dusty red planet beyond. He found it hard to concern himself with the welfare of the injured clones -- he knew for a fact that there were plenty more where they had come from -- but the Jedi casualties were another matter. They were so few to begin with, they couldn't afford the sort of slaughter that had happened today, years of dedication and training wasted in the time it took for blood to pool on the arena's sands. And at the end of it all, the knowledge that they had been betrayed by one of their own....

Somewhere in the heart of the ship, surgeons were working to save his padawan, to salvage what they could of Anakin's ruined arm. The severed limb could not be re-attached -- lightsabre wounds cauterised too cleanly for that -- but there were other options to explore, prostheses of greater or lesser complexity. Obi-Wan found the thought unpalatable but knew that his apprentice would no doubt think his new arm fascinating.

Anakin always had loved machines.

A sharp barb of pain drove itself through Obi-Wan's leg as he stepped away from the viewport, reminding him that his own injuries were far from insignificant. The 'sabre-scores to both arm and leg had been cleaned and the seared flesh sliced away to let the bacta packs do their work on living tissue. Ideally, the wounds would be treated in an immersion tank, but there were others whose needs were greater this day. Instead, the knight made do with military-issue dressings, a sling, and a cybernetic splint that clung to his leg like a metallic crawler-web, supporting the ravaged muscle and hissing softly with each movement. Each quiet sound, each touch of pain, served as a reminder of personal defeat, of a death averted only by Yoda's timely intervention.

And, above all else, a reminder that, while the battle had ultimately been won, the price had been too high and the war had barely begun. The Force twisted in angry patterns at the edge of Obi-Wan's perceptions, the flashes of possible futures revealing nothing but blood and bone and char. It hurt, it hurt, and they had scarcely scratched the surface.

The Kalinisha's corridors and treatment rooms were packed with the wounded and the dying. Most of the faces Obi-Wan passed were Human, identical features reflecting a myriad shades of agony and concern. The Jedi stood out as islands of diversity in the sea of clones, size and shade and species setting them apart just as thoroughly as their other gifts. The Force reflected the pain and the fear of the injured, revealing the subtle truth that, for all their size and skills, the clones were little more than speed-grown children who wore their adult forms like a mask, their raw emotions a startling counterpoint to the gravely-centred padawans scattered amongst them. Too many of those young Jedi were alone now, their mentors amongst the day's casualties, but Obi-Wan did not doubt that most would find new masters before the limping return to Coruscant, new pairs forged from the bereaved remnants of those who had answered the call to Geonosis. The battle had been lost but the Order would survive --

A chill sense of foreboding ran down Obi-Wan's spine, a whisper of Force too close to truth. He thrust it away angrily, denying it without thought. The Order would survive, he was sure of it.

The Order had to survive.

There were rooms set aside near the surgical suites and bacta units, places where those with the most invested in the injured could await word of their condition. Obi-Wan had been discharged into one such windowless chamber when his own treatment had been completed, with no task other than to wait for Anakin's return to the conscious world. Now he returned to that sterile place, his senses leading him unerringly through the wounded masses. Padmé Amidala, the young senator who had somehow survived the day at Anakin's side, had been there when Obi-Wan had left in search of some measure of solitude and she still sat vigil on the barely-padded bench, her posture betraying the severity of her own wounds. The knight was grateful that someone had been there for his padawan... but there was something about the young woman's presence that made him uncomfortable. Anakin knew the rules regarding emotional attachments, knew the dangers and the penalties, but he was caught in the throes of youth and it was only Obi-Wan's faith in Senator Amidala's level-headedness that had stopped him from requesting reassignment. Now, however.... Now he suspected that Captain Tycho had been right. Maybe she had been the one he should have worried about all along.

"Senator," he murmured as he carefully lowered himself onto the bench opposite, covering his wince as his leg protested the movement. "Has there been any word?"

Amidala blinked, dragging herself from her private thoughts to focus on him. Her brown eyes were shadowed, exhausted, and, in the harsh blue-tinged light of the waiting room, she looked far older than her twenty-four years. "Obi-Wan," she acknowledged with a tired nod. "They're still working on him."

Which was to be expected -- even if a prosthetic limb could not be attached now, there would be work to do to prepare Anakin for one. Nerves would need to be isolated and coated, blood vessels diverted, the chances of success far greater if the initial work were done before the body had a chance to try healing itself. "I'm certain he will recover, Senator," the Jedi told her with a faint smile of reassurance. "The medics are skilled and what they cannot repair, the Temple can."

"His mother is dead," Amidala said flatly. "I doubt even the Jedi can repair that."

Obi-Wan stared at her, momentarily lost for words. "I am... sorry to hear that."

"He was having nightmares about her," she said softly, "so I took him to find her. But she was gone and he --" She broke off, and Obi-Wan could feel the Force shiver about her, carrying the taste of terrible things. "Take care of him. Promise me that you'll take care of him?"

"Of course, Senator," Obi-Wan told her, growing more disturbed by the moment. "He is my padawan."

Amidala nodded slowly, her eyes never leaving the knight's haggard face. "And he is my friend. And I fear for him."

"You should rest."

"I know." She turned her gaze towards the doors that led to the surgical suites. "I just don't want to --"

"I will let you know as soon as there is any word," Obi-Wan interrupted. "I swear, Senator. You will do neither Anakin nor Naboo any good if you do not give yourself time to heal."

Amidala snorted softly. "That's what the medics told me too. They've given me private quarters but I haven't quite made it there yet." She stood awkwardly, cursing under her breath as she straightened and looked down at the Jedi seated before her. "Take care of him, Obi-Wan. And don't neglect yourself. You and I are all that he has left now."

The knight watched her leave, her final words echoing uncomfortably in his mind. Anakin's interest in the senator had always been a childish, abstract thing, a crush never grown out of, but now it seemed as though she were returning the boy's regard... and that could only lead to disaster. Obi-Wan groaned and ran his hands back through his unkempt hair, feeling sand scratch roughly against his scalp as he did so. Anakin did not need this complication to his training, especially not now, when the one great emotional tie of his childhood had been so abruptly severed. The knight had never met Shmi Skywalker, but he knew that Anakin had never been able to leave his familial connections behind after he was taken into the Jedi, had never been able to connect to the Order as completely as a padawan should. There were reasons why the Jedi were taken young, why they were cut off from their former lives so completely. The Order was mother, father, home, life, and it demanded all of a Jedi's love and loyalty to serve to the fullest of their ability.

If only Anakin could focus his devotions, what a Jedi he might be....

Sighing, Obi-Wan looked around, taking in the narrow room and its other occupants for the first time. A pair of padawans, a Gotal and a Quarren, sat together on a bench by the far wall, speaking to one another in low, worried tones. Their conversation was ignored by the bloodstained and bandaged Duros who rested cross-legged on the floor nearby, the Force around her reflecting the depth of her meditation. A Twi'lek medic checked a datapoint set in the wall by the entrance, but it was the one other Human Jedi in the room who caught and held Obi-Wan's attention, the man's Force-signature carrying both a muted sense of despair and a familiarity that the knight couldn't quite place. His back was turned, hiding his features, but the long silver-white plait of hair spoke of age and experience. A master, surely... and yet something didn't quite seem right with that conclusion.

The other Jedi shifted uncomfortably, no doubt aware of Obi-Wan's regard, and glanced towards him with an expression of pure exhaustion painted across a clean-shaven brown face no older than Obi-Wan's own. Blue eyes blinked at him, then narrowed as the pale brows drew together in a frown. "Kenobi?"

"Chun," Obi-Wan responded cautiously. No wonder the other knight had seemed familiar -- he and Bruck had grown up together, only to grow apart after being taken as padawans. There had been little love lost between them as children, he recalled, although rivalry had turned to an unspoken neutrality after they had each received their braids. "Why are you here?"

"Because some idiot managed to get himself into trouble with several hundred thousand hostiles," Bruck replied sharply, but there was more fatigue than heat to his tone and it was impossible to miss the edge of fear and sorrow in his voice. "And because my padawan is in there --" he nodded towards the surgical suites, "and I don't know if she's going to be coming out again."

"I am sorry," Obi-Wan said softly, sympathetically. "My own padawan is undergoing treatment also."

Bruck stood and walked slowly across to the other Jedi, dropping heavily into the seat where Senator Amidala had been just minutes earlier. "Ah yes, Anakin Skywalker, the infamous 'Chosen One'." He shook his head sadly. "Do you have any idea of how hard the other padawans try to live up to his reputation? And I bet he barely even breaks a sweat...." Bruck looked towards the doors again, his expression strained as he murmured, "Oh Force, don't let her die."

Obi-Wan watched the other man's face, seeing there the same misery and gut-wrenching pain that pulsated, barely shielded, in the Force around him as the emotionless Jedi façade of popular myth vanished before Bruck's fears. "What is her name?" he asked gently.

"Talsa Jeh'drin," Bruck replied, never taking his eyes from the door. A Bothan name -- Obi-Wan recalled glimpses of a tawny-furred youngster in the arena, green blade whirling as she deflected shots back towards the battle droids. "We've been together almost four years now. We wouldn't have been here at all but the last mission finished early and we got back to the Temple just as...."

Bruck trailed off and Obi-Wan carefully reached across to lay a hand on his arm, a silent gesture of support. "One of the bastards caught her from behind and she went down," the white-haired knight continued after a few moments. "I had to leave her to join the battle."

"She would not have forgiven you if you had not," Obi-Wan said uneasily, remembering the fight he had had with Anakin about going back for the senator. Maybe, if he had let Anakin go after Amidala, his own padawan wouldn't be in there having the remains of his arm dissected. Dooku had escaped anyway, what difference would it really have made in the end?

"Oh, and I know it." Bruck's tone was fond despite the fear that hovered around him. "Such a fierce little thing, my Talsa. That's why I chose her."

At least you got to choose. The thought was unbidden, unspoken, but Obi-Wan immediately chastised himself for it. He cared for Anakin, wanted only the best for the boy, wished for nothing more than to see him finally achieve his potential. But it was hard not to wonder if things would have been different if they had started differently, if Anakin had been an Initiate, if the choice had truly been his and not that of a dying man.

Even now there were moments when Obi-Wan found himself fearing what Anakin's potential might actually be.

They sat in silence for long minutes, each lost in their own fears and concerns for their padawans. The sense of foreboding that Obi-Wan had earlier thrust aside was beginning to nag at his consciousness again, carrying vague promises of death and destruction, of fear and pain. The future was in motion, twisting, changing, too fast and too frightening to control or contain. There were things that rested just beyond Obi-Wan's inner vision, dark and deep and almost palpable, and if he could just reach them, just see them for what they were, for just a moment, then he --

Something pulsed in the Force, a too-familiar momentary brilliance that faded to nothing almost before it could be acknowledged. Bruck stiffened and gasped, a tiny sound lost in the flash flood of emotion -- pain, loss, shock, grief, pain -- that burst through his fear-slackened shields in the second before he slammed them back into place, shutting himself in with the hurt. Obi-Wan could only watch as the other knight closed his eyes and turned away, knowing from bitter experience what it was to have a training bond severed by death, the wrenching agony that the splintered tie sent through the soul.

Another Jedi gone, another knight left bereaved. Geonosis had not yet extracted its full price, it seemed.

"I am sorry, Bruck," Obi-Wan whispered, feeling his own throat grow suddenly tight. "She did not deserve --"

"No, she didn't," came the tight reply. "She had so much life in her, so much life ahead of her. I've never been a pre-cog but I know she was meant for great things, for more than this. There were so many things we still had to do...."

Obi-Wan listened as Bruck gave voice to his grief, the words spilling out from under the years of training, a reminder -- good or bad -- that the Jedi were not really so different to the species that had spawned them. Released to the Force or to another, the sorrow was better freed than held within, its power dulled by the mere act of sharing with one who might just understand. And Obi-Wan knew that he could never offer this succour to Anakin and mourned for that fact. The master-padawan bond was something he knew to his marrow... but the bond between mother and child was a mystery that the Temple made no attempt to teach. The Jedi could offer Anakin no comfort, but Senator Amidala....

Senator Amidala might offer it all too effectively. And that might almost be as dangerous as leaving Anakin to suffer alone.

The future was in motion, twisting, changing, too fast and too frightening to control or contain. But there were glimpses now, flickering flashes of things that Obi-Wan knew to be too close to truth. Anakin's emotional anchor was gone, irretrievable, irreplaceable, and his master could almost taste the battles to come. He had always known that the boy was dangerous, but he had taken him on regardless.

Not for the first time, Obi-Wan wondered if a little white lie to a dying man would have been such a sin.

Perhaps Bruck was right, perhaps Talsa had been meant for great things... but there was no doubt that Anakin was meant for greater, a prospect that filled Obi-Wan with nothing but dread. Perhaps it would have been better for everyone if Talsa had survived the day and it had been Anakin who --

Obi-Wan caught himself before he could finish the thought... but knew that for all that Geonosis had been won, the first skirmish in the more subtle war for Anakin's soul had already been lost.