Simple Steps

Mirror and Image

Where There's Nothing

They were together in their isolation.

They were in the same Temple, the same apartment, for the first night they even shared the same room. But neither of them really, truly, understood how much they actually shared, because they were too alone to notice.

The younger lay in his new bed, staring up at nothing. The boy had been tossing and turning fitfully for several hours; he was exhausted but couldn't manage to stop the racing of his thoughts. He didn't know the words for it in Basic, but his Huttese didn't have the right adjectives for how he felt.

The core of it, the point of it, was that he had been ripped from the very fabric of his universe. For all his nine short years, everything he knew revolved around the hot sands of Tatooine and his mother. Life was about the droids and the races and sneaking out with his friends and getting scolded by his mother after. It was about being yelled at when he lost a race but always racing again and his mother's concern and her smiles and hugs and words of encouragement even when she worried over him. It was about making her smile in any way he could and apologizing when he made her angry; about stealing water for her to drink or trading parts in other shops to work on his protocol droid so she wouldn't do so much work.

The world he was in now was foreign, alien, like nothing he had ever expected. He didn't regret it - not in the slightest. The promise of going out and seeing new worlds, the adventure and the excitement, adrenaline that could surpass what he got from the pod races. But now that he was on a foreign world, he had yet to experience the adventure.

As soon as he arrived at the Temple, everything was different. There was a schedule, tighter and more meticulous than anything Watto had ever made him do. There were classes and make-up work and lessons and mealtimes that had so much food and water was everywhere - they thought it was as plentiful as sand it seemed, and they used it for the oddest things - like washing hands. There were parts of it that he loved, the learning certainly, the luxury of having a sleep-couch and not a pallet; but equally so there were parts that he could not stand.

First and foremost were the people. Nobody seemed to know what to make of him, neither adults nor the other younglings. The teachers all seemed to think he was supposed to be a natural - after all, if he came to them so old then surely he must be a genius and catch up on everything so quickly - and they were always disappointed when he said or did something that they thought were stupid, their lips pressing into thin lines or eyes lidded in disapproval. Surely a boy that was the Chosen One would have more: more ability, more talent, more adaptability, more something.

The kids were just as bad. He was New and Different, he didn't come from a creche which meant he didn't belong anywhere, which meant he didn't Fit In, which meant no one would give him the time of day. That might have been bad enough, a creature ignored by his peers, except he couldn't be anonymous. Everyone knew who he was, and they all glared at him in jealousy as soon as a teacher would call his name or if he answered a question (miraculously) right. They were jealous of him, though why he couldn't even begin to comprehend. And so they snubbed him.

It had never happened to him before. He didn't know what he was supposed to do.

His mother wasn't there to help him.

He pressed his hands to his eyes and rolled over, trying again to fall asleep. He would be doing so much better at adjusting to this new life if he only had his mother. She made everything better. She taped his cuts and combed his hair and whispered encouragement whenever he needed it.

But she had been left behind.

His world had been left behind, for she was his world.

He had many nights, this being on of them, where he wondered if the promise of adventure was worth what he'd sacrificed. As it was, he didn't even know how to go about getting her back. The Jedi seemed to have all kinds of money, surely it wouldn't even be a drop in the bucket to pay for his mother's freedom, but every time he asked everyone started radiating disapproval, and he couldn't figure out why, because no one would explain it to him.

It made him angry when people didn't listen to him. It made him lonely. It made him feel insignificant.

It made him feel isolated.

The other boy in the apartment, he was technically a man but he had yet to feel like one. He did not turn fitfully in his bed; he sat perfectly still, but his mind would not let him sleep. Meditation did nothing, he could not silence his thoughts enough to even slow his breathing.

Life was busy since returning from Naboo. There seemed to be hundreds of things that needed to be done: placement tests and physicals and immunizations for his new charge, Family Service papers to be filled out that were overly complicated because of the fact that the mother was a slave and didn't have the rights (nor even the presence being on the far-flung planet of Tatooine) to sign what was necessary, classes on how to be a new Knight, classes on how to handle a new Padawan, meetings with the Council... it felt like there was no time to himself to deal with it all.

"It" being the utter destruction of the world as he knew it.

His Master was dead.

He had dealt with death before, the death of his Master's former Padawan, the death of his rival, a list that was surprisingly long despite his young age. He'd learned how to work past it, but it was always with his Master, guiding him through the meditations, placing an enormous hand on his shoulder and squeezing when he was overwrought. His master had been there for all the milestones of his teen years, helped him through everything, taught him everything, showed him everything.

And now he was dead.

The first night back had been almost unbearable. The nameplate on the apartments hadn't been changed, and when he stepped in he realized that he would, technically, be sleeping in his Master's room now. It was everything he could to do keep himself together, and even then he and his new charge could only sit on the couch and, in emotional exhaustion, fall asleep there.

He had no idea what to do with his Master's loss. There was so much anger and sadness and despair and despondency; self-loathing at how close he had come to the Dark Side when he faced Maul, fear that he would do it again. He knew these emotions were dangerous, he knew that they needed to be cast off but they wouldn't let go, no matter how much he meditated. The surrealism of being back at the Temple did not help. Everything was the same, and yet so utterly different. There was the diner his master always brought him to, the people they talked to and joked with, only now there was no tall figure next to him, no deep laugh or sharp eyes. Over there were the lightsaber training rooms, only now instead of being instructed he was expected to do the instructing - the Great Sith Slayer surely had a trick or two to teach the wide-eyed youngling. Here were the classes he took as an Initiate, but he was no longer a student, indeed, he was a Master of a Padawan, and he hadn't the faintest clue on what to do.

His master should have been there to help him through the transition.

But he was dead.

In point of fact, no one seemed to want to help him. No, he corrected himself, his friends, Bant and Garen, wanted to help him, but they were still Padawans themselves, having no idea what to offer him. The Council made it very clear that they would not help him, and that he was on his own. Other Knights seemed to think he had it all under control, patting him on the back and saying what a great job he did with the Sith and that his Master would be proud.

He kept his mouth firmly closed when that happened; if he didn't he was sure his wails would be heard from the other side of Coruscant.

He was mourning. He was grieving. Yet he knew that these were frivolous feelings, born of attachment to his master - another failure he had procured in a seemingly endless list - and should be released to the Force.

If only it were that easy.

He sighed and took another deep breath, trying in vain to center himself.

On top of all of this, he had a new charge, a boy to take care of and train in the ways of the Force. He had no idea what to do and it felt like every decision he had to make in terms of the boy was yet another life-charting course, and with his compass dead he had no idea if he was heading to the center of the galaxy or off into a black hole. He could not even use his own experience as a guidepost, because he had been a typical crèche-raised youngling. He did not know the trials of slavery or how the boy saw things that to him were ingrained. The boy asked the strangest questions and he was often hard pressed to give an answer - the one that initially sprang to mind was one for those who knew the culture of the Temple, and he was left floundering to explain principals that were so obvious to him but completely foreign to his new charge.

Again, he needed a compass.

Again, he was reminded that his compass was dead. He had to become his own compass.

He had no idea how to do that.

It made him feel upset. It made him feel lost.

It made him feel isolated.

For those first three months, both boys felt completely alone in the galaxy. Neither even considered that the other person sharing the apartment might have a clue what they were experiencing. It never occurred to either of them that they were, in fact, together in their isolation.

And because they shared in it, they were not alone.

Author's Notes: Ooookay, what to say. We've been puttering around Star Wars fanfiction for a while, and we've seen, er, one or two fics that try to change the events of Mustafar and take a sharp right turn at some point before or during that fight. While we love these fic and eat them up rather voraciously, we've found that you can't just "fix" the Ani-Obi relationship that quickly. Things have been breaking for a while, and by then it's too far gone to be fixed. The changes, we realized, needed to start a lot earlier; and not in massive story-altering events, but in small nudges that strengthen their bond to a point where Palpatine may influence it, but he can't break it like he succeeded in doing.

That realization came to the birth of this fic. Having said that, we're not completely sure how this is going to work. For now we want to keep it as a series of drabbles, peeks into their lives as we do small things to develop and then strengthen their bond. I imagine this will take place in three arcs. The first series being the first three years of Anakin's apprenticeship, before he's ready to go out on missions when he's just training in the Temple. The second arc would in theory take place right after the second movie, during the Clone Wars. The third, if we're egotistical enough to even try it, would be during the third movie itself.

Hopefully it works.