I saw him fall, the man I knew as apprentice, as friend, as brother, and as enemy. Not once, but twice—first to the seductive power of the dark side through his uncontrolled passions, Sidious's manipulations, my own failures, then toward a pit of lava on Mustafar that I condemned him to with a sweep of my lightsaber.
Falling. Darkness silhouetted against flame. It seems to light him with fire, licking across his skin, though it is only an illusion. He seems to fall forever.
Both times he struggled to reach out to me, the first time fumbling through fear and pride and ignored in my blindness.
Falling—he stretches out his hand as if to plead for my aid, but all I see is fire. Darkness and flame. His mouth moves, but I can't hear his words.
But as he fell on Mustafar I felt him fling all his remaining strength recklessly—always so reckless—into the Force, reaching out to me in a wordless cry for help with his mind even as his mouth cursed me, and, incredibly, felt his presence, his terror and desperation, his need, touch me through the fading remnants of our old bond. A bond I had thought was shattered and broken beyond repair.
I should have known he would find a way to do the impossible even as he sank into fire.
It hit me like his mechanical hand in a punch to the stomach, and I reacted before I even had time to think, dropping to my knees and flinging out a hand as I reached out to the Force to catch his falling body, even as searing, white-hot pain spiked through me from the connection he stubbornly clung to. I had thought I no longer cared about the man he had been, thought I was ready to walk away and leave him sinking into the hellhole around us.
I was wrong. Wrong about so many things. Wrong about him, for I couldn't let him go. With that one wordless plea for help, everything changed, and he was Anakin again, my friend, my partner, my brother, and I couldn't let him fall.
I caught him just in time, just as his body slid off the edge and began to sink into the lava itself, and the pain I felt from him nearly broke my fragile concentration entirely. Flames kindled to life in his tunic, along the wires in his mechanical arm, and he screamed in agony. As painstakingly as the first time I had ever reached out to the energy around me to levitate a stone, I let that power, that light, flow through me and wrap itself around him, lifting him away from the lava, cushioning his body above the deadly heat, dousing the devouring flames with its pressure. I still don't know where I found the strength after a duel like the one we'd just fought, or the focus, with my mind torn between recollections of the good times we had shared and new, raw memories of his darkness. I just couldn't let him fall. Not this time. Not when I could save him.
I felt him losing consciousness even as I struggled to pull him toward me. The Force alone—what anyone other than a Jedi would have described as pure luck—had kept him from being too badly hurt, for by some miracle his mechanical hand had slipped down into the lava first and he had desperately reached out to that same power to keep his head up out of the grasping magma, but the pain had proven too much even for him. I could feel him fading into the vague, floating fuzziness that heralded unconsciousness the same way we had once been able to tell what the other was thinking without having to say a word. The connection was weak, shaky, but . . . there.
How was it possible we could still have a bond at all after everything that had happened, that had passed between us—all he had done? All I had done? I had felt nothing from him as we fought, only rage and darkness.
He nearly slipped from my Force hold in my moment of abstraction, sending a cascade of ashes and gravel sliding into the lava below him, and I cursed myself as I tightened it again, catching him barely an inch from the roiling surface of the fiery stream. His helpless body flopped limply, insensible, in the grip of the Force. Seeing him like this—Anakin Skywalker, the "Hero With No Fear;" Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith—was nearly as frightening as looking into what should have been Anakin's eyes and seeing Vader. The lava popped and exploded beneath us, as if reaching out to him, trying to suck him back down into its depths, to claim him as its own and make Sidious's victory over the good man who had been Anakin Skywalker complete.
I wasn't going to let that happen. Not this time.
It seemed to take a millennia before he was close enough for me to reach out to him with more than just the Force, though it could only have been a few minutes at most. I slipped in the crumbling shale I knelt in as I settled him into my arms with the aid of the Force and sucked in my breath in my alarm as I began to slide. I caught myself just in time.
Stars, he was a mess, on fire with heat, burning in my arms—and it was I who had done this to him. I couldn't keep the pain from twisting like a lightsaber in my heart, no matter that Anakin had become my enemy.
I tried to be gentle as I eased him into my hold and stumbled to my feet, I truly did, but he was so badly burned, in so many places, that I had no choice but to hurt him with my touch. I staggered beneath his weight as I relaxed my grasp on the Force, and he moaned as my grip tightened on his raw skin, struggling fitfully against my restraining arms. I knew the pain was telling him I was his enemy even now as I tried to help him, but I didn't know what I could do. Reaching out to the Force and letting its soothing power flow into him, was a desperate, instinctive gesture, one I had no real hope would actually have an effect. I couldn't envision the light of the Force even reaching him through the darkness enshrouding his soul.
But somehow, miraculously, it worked. He sighed softly, the lines of pain and confusion on his face smoothed out, his tense body relaxed as he accepted my hold, accepted the pain, and he didn't fight as I settled his face against my shoulder, one hand resting on the scorched back of his head. The ends of his hair had been singed away, so the tousled cap of short dark curls, soft beneath my fingers, reminded me of when he first became a Knight and allowed his hair to grow out. Oh, Anakin—oh, Anakin, how could you do this? Why did you turn away from me, from the Jedi? How is it that I failed you so completely?
I was afraid to touch his shoulders or upper back, for the skin there nearly bubbled with heat, radiating it beneath my hands, but I knew I had to get him out of there, and quickly. How the Force am I going to carry him? Even docile and relaxed, Anakin was no longer a child or even a lanky teenager. Instead, he was taller than I, athletic, muscular, and certainly not lightweight.
I curled one hand around the nape of his neck, preparing to shift his overheated body so I could carry him cradled like a child in my arms with the aid of the Force. I was completely unprepared for his quiet whimper, his turning of his head into the hollow of my shoulder, his good hand, his real hand, clenching in the rough cloth of my tunic. His mechanical one dangled useless and sparking at his side, melted into a twisted hunk of misshaped slag by the searing heat.
I was even more unprepared for his soft moan of "Master," as he turned his face into my shoulder, or for the sound of his voice, hoarse, raw, deepened by the searing of his throat and lungs by the lava-heated air. It cracked and broke as he struggled to speak. "Help me, Master—please—"
And then he was completely unconscious in my arms, leaving me to steady him with the Force and to marvel at the possibility, the fragile, impossible hope that this was Anakin Skywalker, my friend and brother, in my arms, not Vader, my enemy.
Author's Note: Star Wars alternate universe in which the end of the Revenge of the Sith is slightly different—tell me what you think.