"We'll take him together. You go in slowly on the—"

"No, I'm taking him now!" snarled Anakin.

"Anakin, no!" Obi-Wan shouted, but already Anakin was racing forward, lightsaber raised. Dooku's arm came up swiftly, and blue lightning crackled from his palm. A cry of pain tore from Anakin's mouth and he dropped his lightsaber. He was thrown forcefully back against the wall, then lay still.

Every instinct screaming as he went against it, Obi-Wan ignored Anakin as though he wasn't there and stepped warily toward Dooku.

"As you can see, my Jedi powers are far beyond yours," commented Dooku easily. Obi-Wan shook his head slightly.

"I don't think so," he said simply.

The Count made the first move. Before Obi-Wan had time to gather his thoughts, Dooku sprang forward and attacked, bringing his lightsaber crashing down. Obi-Wan barely had time to parry before the Sith struck again.

"Master Kenobi, you disappoint me," Dooku said patronizingly. "Master Yoda holds you in such high esteem."

Obi-Wan didn't answer, preferring to keep his eyes on the clashing lightsabers. There was no chance for him to go on the offensive—it was all he could do to defend himself. But as he fought, his eyes wandered helplessly to where Anakin lay, struggling weakly to his feet.

That did it. Obi-Wan let go of his concentration, just for an instant, making the fatal mistake, and as he did so, the red blade made a long gash in his left arm. Before his lightsaber hit the ground, Dooku had struck again, and a crimson streak appeared on his leg, tearing easily through the cloth. Obi-Wan fell to the floor with a groan, clutching his wounded leg.

Now that there was no need for it, no words escaped Dooku's mouth. Instead, he simply raised the lightsaber high. Obi-Wan's breath came in short, hard pants as he waited helplessly for the killing stroke.

"NO!"

A flash of brown, and Anakin ran forward, weaponless. He had no time to create a plan, no way he could have saved Obi-Wan in a rational manner.

So he ran forward, faster than he had ever run in his life. The lightsaber was coming down, and just barely in time Anakin managed to get between it and his Master. Nothing mattered now, only Obi-Wan, and it was this thought that made him grab the blade of Dooku's lightsaber with his bare hands.

His screams filled the cave as the bar of energy slipped quickly through his fingers. He couldn't hold it, it couldn't be done, but it had to

and he was falling down, down, and a horrible, searing pain was tearing at his hands, and he couldn't think, couldn't breathe, but Obi-Wan would die because he had let go.

"Such…devotion…" came words from above him, slow and mocking and distant. Anakin felt a warm body lying beneath him and held it close. Any attack that came from above would have to go through him first.

And then he lost consciousness.


"How long will it be?" asked a low voice that Anakin recognized but couldn't place. He tried to open his eyes to see, but it was as though they were clamped shut.

"Any minute now," answered a mechanical voice. "His injuries were not life-threatening."

"Thank you." A soft whirring noise, and then Anakin heard a heavy sigh and the sound of someone sinking into a chair. He wanted to speak, to let them know that he was awake, but he couldn't open his mouth, and all that came out of it was a groan.

"Anakin? How do you feel?" The voice, the first one, was urgent this time, worried. With a superhuman effort, Anakin forced his eyes open and saw a blurry Obi-Wan bending over him. A vague smile passed over his face.

"Master…" he whispered. "You're ok…"

But Obi-Wan didn't look happy. At Anakin's words, he pressed his lips tightly together. "How do you feel?" he repeated. Anakin frowned as he tried to answer the question.

"I feel fine…" Then, as his senses heightened: "My arms hurt—my hands."

Obi-Wan nodded sadly, and he took a deep breath. "Anakin," he began hesitantly, "do you remember what happened in the cave? I need you to tell me."

Anakin bit his lip. It hurt to think, but he tried his best, even though he wanted to sleep so badly. "You were going to die," he managed finally, "and I ran in front of him—and I grabbed his lightsaber, just for a second…" His lips parted as he remembered, and he sat suddenly bolt upright on the bed. He looked down at his hands, which had begun to burn incredibly. They were bandaged, the fingers pressed so tightly together that they looked just like stubs. But he couldn't even feel his fingers, much less move them…

"Let me see," he demanded, his voice suddenly thick.

"Anakin, just rest now," Obi-Wan said in a soothing voice. Anakin could sense him layering his words with the Force, but though his exhaustion tripled, he didn't lay back down.

"Let me see!" he repeated fiercely. Obi-Wan looked as though he would protest, then bit his lip and nodded.

"Yes," he said, almost to himself as he looked away. "You need to see it."

Gently, for he knew Anakin's pain, Obi-Wan carefully began to unwrap the bandage that was tightened around Anakin's right hand. Anakin waited with a childlike impatience, wondering what in the Force could be so horrible. After all, it wasn't as though his hand was—

Gone.

At the end of his arm there were no longer five fingers, but a rounded, blackened stub that might once have been something resembling a hand. Anakin tentatively raised it, feeling the sting and knowing that it was his, even though it looked so alien.

Against his will, he felt his eyes well up with despairing tears.

"The other one?" he managed in a choked voice. Obi-Wan shook his head, and when he opened his eyes a tear ran down his cheek.

"I'm so sorry, Anakin," he whispered. Anakin didn't respond, only looked down at his ruined limbs with a hopeless horror. "They're planning to install prosthetics tomorrow, when you've had more time to heal…"

Anakin felt himself trembling, suddenly cold, numb. Obi-Wan stopped mid-sentence, sat down on the bed beside him, and pulled his broken Padawan close to him.

"It'll be ok, Anakin," he breathed in his ear, as though comforting a child. "It'll be ok."

Tears soaked the shoulder of Obi-Wan's tunic as he held Anakin in his arms, and he only held Anakin the tighter for it. Prosthetics could undo most of the damage, but it was a still-advancing science, and there was no doubt that until much later, there would be many things that Anakin would no longer be able to do—like fight with a lightsaber.

When the tears had finally stopped, Anakin simply stayed where he was, his head resting on his Master's shoulder, Obi-Wan rocking him gently back and forth.

"It's all over, isn't it?" he murmured quietly, unable to put his fate into words. Obi-Wan couldn't lie to him, even now.

"It might be," he said reluctantly. "But it will be all right, I promise you. Just go to sleep…just rest now."

Dazedly, Anakin allowed himself to be gently laid back down, his head resting on the pillow. With a careful tenderness, Obi-Wan rewrapped the bandage around Anakin's former hand and replaced it at his side.

"Go to sleep," he urged softly, again layering his words with the Force, and Anakin had no will to resist. With reddened, bleary eyes he looked up at Obi-Wan, standing by his bed.

"You're—ok, right?" he whispered through his weariness. Obi-Wan nodded.

"What you did gave Master Yoda enough time to get in and distract the Count. You saved me, Anakin."

Anakin's eyes were barely open now. Exhausted, he took enough breath for one last sentence.

"Then it…doesn't matter."

Unable to keep awake any longer under the combined pressure of Obi-Wan's Force-influence and his own fatigue, Anakin's eyes fluttered closed, and he fell into the deepest sleep.

Obi-Wan sank backward into his chair, staring in astonishment at the boy's face. In slumber, Anakin looked older and younger at the same time, saddened and relieved, a paradox of emotions. He had lost his hands, possibly his lifestyle, and yet something had given him the power to say that none of it mattered.

What kind of devotion must Anakin have toward his Master to be able to make that sacrifice?

It was crazy, Obi-Wan thought. He wasn't worth it, no one was. Anakin should have let him die.

But as he stood to leave the infirmary, shaking his head in amazement at Anakin's loyalty, a tiny voice whispered knowingly in the back of his head. And Obi-Wan knew for a fact that, had their positions been reversed, he would have done exactly the same for his Padawan, and Anakin would have been the one comforting him with all his heart. It was a love so powerful that nothing else could stand beside it, and it was one Obi-Wan could understand.

He was showing his love, and that's how he hurt his hands.