On a snowy mountain, a scream cuts across the air over the rush of a speeding ship.
Someone falls away, and someone stays behind, hand outstretched, never grasping, never reaching in time.
And it's someone’s scream of no that he hears for--what he thinks is--the last time, before he hits the ground.
From there--someone dragging him away, his voice growing hoarse over the days from the screaming, something hollowing out in his chest and stomach, the damnable cold seeping into his bones--
--you were my brother, I loved you--
Anakin wakes up, breathes out, his heart hammering in his chest. Beside him, Padmé sleeps, unaware of the nightmare. The vision, thinks Anakin.
But of what, he’s not sure.
(He finds out two weeks or so later, nearly a year to the day of Obi-wan Kenobi’s death. Or--not-death, as it would seem.)
Mustafar is hot--an understatement, even inside the ship he's sweating more than he should--and the second Padmé's ship touches down on the landing platform, Anakin's already shrugging on his robes, patting Artoo's domed head.
"Stay with the ship," he says. "And with Padmé."
"I still say this is a bad idea," says Padmé, leaning on the doorway as Anakin stands. "You saw the security footage."
The damnable security footage, yes. Anakin can't ever forget that. Even if he clawed his own eyes out, he’d never be able to forget it, it’s burned into his head, the afterimages dancing behind his eyelids.
“Noted,” he says, stepping closer to her. Underneath her shirt, her belly is swelling, and Anakin’s left hand traces a line down to her navel. “But I have to. Maybe I can break through to him.”
Padmé lets out a breath, meets him halfway and pulls him in close, resting her head against his chest. “Be careful,” she says. “Come back, all right? I love you.”
“I love you too,” says Anakin, honestly. “It’ll work out, you’ll see.”
“What if it doesn’t?” says Padmé. “Ani, Obi-wan might not be there anymore.”
“He’s still there,” says Anakin. “He has to be.”
“I still say you’d be better off with me as backup,” says Ahsoka from the hall, arms crossed. “You saw what happened at the Temple.”
“Yeah, that’s why I’m putting you in charge of keeping an eye on Artoo and Padmé,” says Anakin. “If anything--anything--happens to me, I want you to get them out and to--I don’t know, somewhere safe.”
“Do you know anywhere that’s safe?” Ahsoka asks.
“Somewhere no one will think to find either of you,” says Anakin. He sucks in a deep breath, then looks back at Padmé.
“I love you,” he says.
Padmé smiles, looking exhausted and brittle, a hand resting protectively over her stomach. “I know,” she says.
Somewhere on Coruscant, right now, a Jedi and a Sith are baiting each other in a last lethal dance. Somewhere on Coruscant, good is making a last stand against evil, a lone warrior of the light trying to keep the darkness at bay. Somewhere on Coruscant, the last, most important battle of the war is being waged between good and evil, light and dark, Jedi and Sith.
But somewhere on Mustafar, Anakin Skywalker steps out onto cracked, hard rock, sees a hooded, black-clad figure striding calmly towards him.
Sees his best friend, instead of a Sith, instead of the masked man who tried to kill him on Grievous’ ship, instead of a Jedi killer.
“Master,” he says, his heart hammering fast in his chest. “Obi-wan--it’s just me.” And Padmé and Ahsoka, in the ship behind him, but they’re not going to come out of it, he hopes. “I didn’t come here to fight, I just--please don’t make me do this.”
Obi-wan says nothing, not even an admonishment, or a taunt of some kind. Anakin would’ve wanted to hear a taunt or a plea, some confirmation either of his hopes or Padmé’s suspicions. This silence--deeply uncharacteristic of Obi-wan, as with every other aspect of this entire situation--feels horribly, horribly wrong, twists Anakin’s stomach into knots with the wrongness of it.
Instead, Obi-wan just ignites his lightsaber, the red glare of it looking wrong in his hand.
Anakin clenches his teeth, and ignites his own.
(This is what it feels like to be Padmé Amidala, right now:
You tap blunted fingernails along the counter, a steady rhythm that ordinarily reminds you of home, of the lullabies your mother once sang to you and your sister when you were but small children, clinging to the backs of her knees. Now, though, it drives your thoughts beyond that and to your own child.
And to their father.
Their brave, reckless, foolishly loyal father, who’s going to save his friend no matter the cost. You cannot bear it, you know that--deep in your already ruined and cracked heart, you know the heartbreak of it would break you even more.
And today has been about nothing but breaking you, and him, and Ahsoka. The Republic you have all fought for is gone, rotted from the inside out, and you never saw. You should’ve. You should’ve. You were responsible for this, you think, you helped Palpatine along on his way to power and now--look what you have wrought. Look what this war has brought you, look what your child will be born into.
You settle your hand over your stomach, and feel a kick. Your baby will know freedom, you promise yourself that. Your baby will know what it feels like to live free of fear. You will fight and bleed and sweat and die for that promise, you know that in your bones, deep in your broken heart.
“I can’t stay here,” says Ahsoka beside you, standing up. She is much older now than you have ever seen her, tired and war-weary at sixteen, nearing seventeen. Your already broken heart breaks a little more for her, for your friend, for what the war has done to her, to the people you love. “I have to keep Anakin from getting himself killed. Because he will.”
You know he will. You know he would rather die than strike a blow against someone he loves. You know, too, that whatever is left of Obi-wan Kenobi will not be as inclined to mercy as your husband. The footage that Ahsoka brought you is proof enough of that.
You say, “Your wings need patching up.”
You say, “Anakin’s left tools all over the place, there’s some in my quarters you can use. I’ll help you find them.”
You say, “Be careful.”
She says, “I will, Padmé, promise.”
You do not tell her that you have seen enough promises broken today, that you have lost your faith in the very word.
But you have not entirely lost your faith yet. You cannot. You will cling to whatever is left of it, fight for it with bloody fingers and blasters, with words on paper and holopads, with the right whispers in the right ears.
Your heart is broken.
You’ll mend it yourself.)
Anakin hadn’t been lying, when he said he could never kill Obi-wan like he was being asked to, no matter what Obi-wan’s become.
It makes things a lot harder in their second duel than they should be, because Obi-wan clearly does not have that same hesitation that keeps Anakin from striking a death blow, and there’s something much more ruthless about how he fights that wasn’t there before, which throws Anakin off something fierce.
For example--the raised blood-red lightsaber, held just above Obi-wan’s head, about to strike down and split Anakin’s open.
Anakin pulls his ‘saber to his hand and ignites it just in time to block Obi-wan’s red lightsaber from crashing down on him. Sparks flash from the lightsabers meeting, illuminating the sickly yellow of Obi-wan’s eyes.
“You know me,” says Anakin, desperate and hopeful. “You know me.”
And for the first time since their fight began, Obi-wan says, with a snarl, “No, I don’t.”
Here’s a secret:
They had a running tally once--how many times Anakin’s saved Obi-wan’s ass to the opposite scenario. They were always neck and neck, even when Obi-wan discounted Cato Nemoidia.
Anakin always figured he’d win.
Then Obi-wan slipped through his fingers and fell screaming into an icy abyss, and the game they had, the little tally didn’t matter anymore, because Anakin had failed him, had let him fall.
Here’s another secret:
If it means saving Obi-wan now, dragging him out of the darkness, Anakin would gladly concede the game to him.
Somewhere beyond them, something explodes. Anakin ducks the lightsaber coming at his head, and he and Obi-wan break off the fight for a moment to duck behind the pillars as molten rock shoots through the windows.
He glances back over his shoulder at Obi-wan on the other side of the pillar, a light joke waiting on the tip of his tongue. It dies right there, when he meets Obi-wan’s yellow-eyed gaze.
Ahsoka’s not having the best of days right now.
Then again, it hasn’t been the best of days since even before she got to Mustafar. It is very, very hard to dodge molten rocks coming at you at about sixty to seventy miles per hour, but Ahsoka’s managing it well enough.
It’s amazing the things someone can do when the alternative is dying horribly.
She’s been trying to discreetly feel out Anakin’s Force presence for some time now, to figure out a general idea of where he is on this incredibly hostile planet. So far she’s had no luck--it’s a bit hard to keep her attention on that task while in the air and dodging lava explosions and flying rocks.
And, she thinks with dismay as the burning remnants of somebody’s arm shoots past her, body parts.
At least this time nobody’s trying to shoot her down. At least this time she actually has some finer control over the wing-pack, even if it’s still a little wobbly from Obi-wan ripping one wing off. At least this time she has more experience with it now, as opposed to when she first stole it from the temple, thinking only of escaping and clearing her name.
She lands on a patch of solid ground, the wings folding back into their case. She closes her eyes and opens herself to the Force, and suddenly she’s--well, she’s still Ahsoka Tano, but she’s much more than that, she’s the ground beneath her feet, the gears in her wing-pack, the lava swelling and receding all around her like a living thing.
And just beyond--
There’s her ma--her former master, to the east.
She opens her eyes again, backs up, and takes off, wings extending and carrying her up, up, up, with a little Force-push to help them along.
This is--a particularly disadvantageous position to be in, Anakin knows that. Obi-wan has the higher ground on him, and he knows it as well, is already starting to turn away from him.
Anakin jumps, pushing himself upward and over with a brief pull on the Force--
--a flash of red light--
Anakin Skywalker tumbles down the hill with a choked cry, mechanical hand catching on something just in time to keep him from sliding into the lava. It would be a mercy to put him out of his misery.
The apprentice turns away, clipping his lightsaber to his belt.
“Obi-wan,” says Skywalker, sounding horribly, truly devastated, on the edge of passing out from the pain of having had three limbs lopped off, and the name--the damned name--echoes in the apprentice’s head, “I am so, so sorry--”
(A hand, reaching out.
Take my hand--)
“--I couldn’t save you,” says Skywalker, voice beginning to weaken, and the apprentice’s steps halt. “I should’ve--you were my brother, I loved you, and I should’ve--should’ve looked…”
A few more moments, and the lava will rise, and set fire to what’s left of Anakin Skywalker. A few more moments--
(“You still owe me for that time on Cato Nemoidia, you know, so consider this as an opportunity. To, you know, even the score a little.”
A laugh, and a smile, something warm blooming in his chest. “That still doesn’t count--”)
“I’m sorry,” says Skywalker, impossibly sad and resigned.
The apprentice (Obi-wan, his name is--) turns back.
Anakin wakes up to Ahsoka worriedly slapping his cheek.
“Ahsoka?” he slurs, then coughs. His limbs feel like they’ve been set on fire--wait.
“Anakin,” says Ahsoka, worriedly. She’s kneeling down next to him, and it takes Anakin a moment to register that he is propped up against a rock, somewhere on the shore. Ahsoka, he thinks, Ahsoka must have dragged him up here. “Anakin, are you all right? No, wait, don’t answer that, of course you aren’t. I’m getting you to a medcenter stat, I swear--”
“I’m fine,” says Anakin, somewhat lamely, his voice a little rough. “Did you drag me up here all by yourself? Where’s--shit, where’s Obi-wan?”
Ahsoka’s forehead wrinkles.
She says, “What are you talking about? I just found you here, Obi-wan was gone when I got here.”
“But that’s--that’s not possible,” says Anakin. “I was there, on the bank--and what are you doing out here? You should be on the ship!”
“I had a bad feeling,” says Ahsoka. “I’m going to get us back to the ship, all right? Hold on--oh, sorry.”
“Yeah, well, at least I’m not as heavy,” says Anakin, but the joke comes out strained, half-hearted. Ahsoka didn’t carry him up here. He couldn’t have carried himself up here, not while unconscious from the pain.
Which means that Obi-wan saved him.
“He’s still in there,” he tells Ahsoka, with a desperate sort of conviction. “I know it. I just know it.”
“How do you know that?” she asks. “He did just take off most of your limbs.”
“He saved me,” says Anakin, with a bone-deep certainty, and he holds on tight to Ahsoka as she lifts him up, her wings springing outwards. “I’m sure of it.”
“Right,” says Ahsoka, skeptical. “Hold on as tight as you can, Skyguy, this is going to be a rough flight.”