A/N- Okay, so this one shot was originally going to be a chapter length fic. However, the prospect of doing this plot as a chapter story was daunting and left me constantly putting it off. But, when I realized that I could do this as a standalone one-shot, I found myself revved to write for it. Here's a one-shot that's been years in the works (that is, in my head).
Disclaimer- I do not own Star Wars or any related characters. All of those belong to George Lucas.
The Father I Should Have Been
She was strong in the Force. He knew that. Being strong in the Force himself made him very sensitive to others who shared that with him. Of course, the child that the two stormtroopers were now herding onto the transport ship was not as strong as he, but she had the potential to be stronger than she currently was.
She stared up at his form and cowered…as she should. She was just a small thing, with the top of her head just reaching his hip. He hooked his thumbs into his mechanized suit's belt and stared at the child as she passed. He was sure that his continuous breathing, controlled by an apparatus hardwired into his burned away chest, scared her as much as his hulking black form and helmeted black mask. Or perhaps Palpatine had, in the two short years the Empire had been alive thus far, had spread the name of Darth Vader enough to scare even the younglings of the universe.
The stormtroopers stared at the child as if she might make a run for it. They paused at the lowered gangplank to the transport ship that would take her, and any family that may have been boarded onto the ship before her, to the concentration camp designated by Palpatine for experimental projects on live subjects. But Vader was not sure the child even had family. Her brown hair, although beautiful, was lank, as if it had not been washed in a couple of days. Her clothes fit well, but were torn at one knee and at one elbow. Her brown eyes were a little too wide for her oval face, making her look more like a doll than a person.
A third stormtrooper, positioned at the end of the gangplank, examined an electronic list he held in his hands. He was searching for the child's name. After a few moments, he nodded and the two stormtroopers flanking the child pushed the tiny girl into the ship. She stumbled a bit up the gangplank, quickly regained her footing, and shuffled herself the rest of the way into the ship.
"We're ready to depart now, Lord Vader," one of the flanking stormtroopers said, approaching him cautiously.
Vader did not answer right away, instead listening to his own rhythmic breathing. Finally, he turned.
"Very well. I shall ride on this transport," he said.
"With the cargo?" the stormtrooper asked, referring, of course, to the people he had just helped usher inside. "But, my lord, we have your shuttle prepared."
The youngling had intrigued Vader. She had such a strength with the Force that he felt…familiar with her. Yet, he knew he had no living relatives. He could not pinpoint the reason for this feeling. Investigating the child further was the only way to resolve this curiosity. He glowered down at the stormtrooper.
"Then fly it without my presence. I will be returning in it, after all. Unless you find that condition…unfavorable?"
The stormtrooper was quick to answer that this situation was acceptable. Vader boarded the transport carrying the prisoners heading for the camp.
The ship was packed with as many people as possible. And the looks he received from them were not welcoming. Not that he had expected any such thing. No one welcomed him anymore. He stepped far enough inside so that the gangplank could hiss shut behind him. His eyes scanned the crowd for the girl and did not find her. He had just cleared his mind, to search her out with the Force, when he was interrupted.
"Lord Vader!" called the commanding stormtrooper from across the room.
When Vader followed the voice, he saw the commander motioning towards himself. Vader, reluctantly, made his way toward him. As packed as the ship was, the crowd found the room to part for him. He reached the commander easily.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Lord Vader," he said, gesturing to a door to his right, "this is my office onboard this ship. I would be honored if you would use the room as your own for this flight."
Vader turned to scan the crowd behind him. He still found no sign of the child. Of course, he was still not searching with the Force. It was sure he would find her if he had ample time to concentrate. He turned back to the commander.
"How many children were boarded onto this vessel?" he asked.
The commander seemed shocked, but answered quickly nonetheless, "Um, only a handful, Lord Vader."
"How many were females?"
A warning tone, signaling five minutes before take-off, sounded throughout the ship. Vader reached his hand out for the door.
"I'm searching for a dark haired girl, the last person boarded onto this ship. Once we are in hyperspace, bring the youngling to me."
"Yes, Lord Vader," the commander said, holding his blaster in salute.
Minutes later, Vader had seated himself behind the humble desk inside the commander's office. He folded his arms across the desk's top and watched the door as if he expected it to dance for him. However, his mind was far away.
He felt a familiarity…a knowing with this child, and he could not place it. Perhaps she was a youngling who had somehow escaped the execution of the Jedi in the temple? But the clothing she wore was not the robes of a Jedi in training. And she could be no older than seven or eight…not yet experienced enough to be able to barter or steal a whole new outfit. He would interrogate the child and get the answers he sought.
The door to the room slid open, and the commander entered. In front of him he had the child Vader sought, who looked positively scared to death. The girl was pressed against the stormtrooper, trying without trying to dig her feet into the floor and stop from entering the room.
"Is this the child you seek, Lord Vader?"
The girl whimpered.
"Yes, commander. That is all. Leave us."
The stormtrooper nodded and exited the room, leaving the child and Vader alone. Vader stood and approached her.
"Tell me your name, youngling," he said, towering over her.
Instantly, the girl's mouth began to move, but no sound came out. She was not a Jedi in training escaped from the temple massacre after all, the Sith Lord concluded. By her age, all the younglings had learned to control their response to fear. This girl was clearly untrained in anything related to the Force.
"Your name," Vader said again, a bit more demanding.
"S-Sarela," she finally forced out.
Vader did not speak for a moment, drinking the information in. The name was in no way familiar to him.
"And your last name, child?"
"I…I don't know. I don't use one."
"You don't know your parents, Sarela?"
"N-no. I o-only know what my mother used to tell me of my f-father. I never m-met him. Please, what do you want with me?"
She spoke very quickly, backing away from Vader until her back was pressed up against the metal door. Vader took no more steps toward her. Instead, he sat down behind the desk once again.
"And what is it that your mother used to tell you of your father?" he asked, ignoring Sarela's question.
"She used to t-tell me that he was a powerful Jedi, sir. But…I-I'm not a Jedi!" she said, adding the last sentence quickly.
The word of Vader's massacre of the temple had spread quickly. However the people may have truly felt about it, Palpatine had played the Sith Apprentice as a hero. Most of the population, however, remained dubious to the proposed status of the Jedi as felons and usurpers. Even this youngling knew of the mass killing of Jedi…and feared it as her own fate.
If her mother had told her the truth, the familiarity would be explained. That simply meant that he had recognized the power of the Force passed genetically from one generation to another…and that he had known the girl's father.
"I am aware. However, you are strong with the Force…your father being a Jedi would explain this. Your mother…she never mentioned a name?"
Sarela shook her head quickly. Vader paused, studying the child.
She looked familiar to him as well. He could not place her. It was almost as if she had been seen in passing or in a long ago dream.
As he sat there, quietly—all except for his breathing—he watched as the girl seemed to make some decision about her current predicament. She straightened her form to extend herself to her full height, still coming not much higher than Vader's hip. She cleared her throat and took a deep breath.
"Where are we being taken? No one knows, and we deserve the right to know," she said, no waver in her voice any longer.
Behind his mask, Vader's eyes widened. This girl…she reminded him, physically, of Padme. He could see it now. Her dark hair and intelligent brown eyes so mimicked his beloved's. If he could control his own breath, it would have stopped in that instance.
"You…are a very brave child. Tell me…who…was your mother?" he asked.
Sarela's eyes widened, then she looked down. "Odala Krytal. I, um, don't use her name, since it is not my father's name. I don't know my father's name, as I have said. And you have not answered my question."
Her eyes raised only on her last statement. Brave, indeed. Any other challenging Darth Vader in this way would have been dead by now. But Vader felt no urge to kill this girl…not when she looked so like Padme.
"I don't know that name," Vader said, absent-mindedly.
"She's…dead now. I'm an orphan."
Looking like Padme, with a deceased mother like himself. He felt no malice in his heart towards her…could never feel it.
"A concentration camp, Sarela. You are being taken to a concentration camp."
By the girl's expression, she knew what that meant. Vader hesitated only a moment, knowing he might someday regret his next words.
"But nothing is going to happen to you. I'll make sure of that. You have no one?" he asked, standing.
"Well," Sarela said, shuffling her feet, "there is this young couple out there…who's been watching over me since we were all gathered together. But other than that, no."
Vader nodded. He knew his next course of action. He approached the door and signaled for the commander.
"Take this girl and have her show you to the young couple who has been watching over. Once she has, bring only the child back, but have the couple ready. Then, await my orders."
The stormtrooper nodded and departed with Sarela without question. The two returned in moments and Vader took the child back inside the room.
"I haven't gotten them in trouble, have I?" Sarela asked, looking stricken.
"No," Vader said, making sure the door was shut. "They are going to be your new parents on this planet we are going to."
The child's face lit up. "Really?"
Vader nodded. "Until then, I wish for you to remain here with me. I would like to hear more about your past."
Sarela complied gratefully. She told him everything she could remember, passing the time quickly. Her mother had been a Senator's Assistant before she had died. She recalled times when they had lived in a lower section of the senatorial apartments. She smiled as she related stories of that time to Vader. Finally, when she finished, she sighed.
"That's all I can remember."
Vader nodded, trying to find a question that would keep this tiny Padme talking to him. But she beat him to it.
"What about you? You seem so sad. Are you married?" she asked in the way a child does, unaware they have touched a raw nerve.
"I was…my wife, she's dead. She was a Senator."
"I'm sorry," Sarela said softly.
Vader waved his hand dismissively. "No matter."
A moment of silence. Then:
"Why are you helping me? I've heard of you before…and you don't seem like you would help me."
Vader chuckled. "You remind me of my wife…and of what I could have had. She was pregnant, my wife, when she died. You remind me of the father I should have been, Sarela."
She nodded as the warning tone that signaled five minutes until landing sounded. Vader stood and alerted the commander to bring the couple to the office. The couple looked as if they could have produced Sarela…a few years later. They really appeared quite too young to be parents to someone her age…but they seemed to adore her enough. She ran to them, wrapping her arms around the young woman's waist. The woman looked at Vader, worry pulling her face tight.
"What do you want with us, Lord Vader?" she asked slowly.
"You are under Imperial Orders to raise this child as your own. As soon as the others have been moved off of this transport, I will have two of my stormtroopers escort you to a nearby village and settle you. Do you understand?"
"Yes!" the woman gushed, breathless. "T-thank you!"
It took some time, but finally the transport was empty. Vader gathered two stormtroopers and gave his orders, adding that his instructions were not to be shared with any other. They had understood, knowing his wrath. Flanking on either side, they began to lead the family out of the transport. Once they had reached the bottom of the gangplank, a question Vader had not asked struck him.
"Sarela, one more question," he called.
The girl turned, smiling up at the Sith Lord…the most welcoming look he had seen in a long time.
"The senator your mother served…what was his name?"
"Her. Her name was Padme Amidala, sir."
Vader was sure his mechanically run heart had stopped for a moment. A flood of memories, tiny ones he had not known he had had, flew across his mind. He remembered the child, tagging along behind her mother as she had followed Padme in the corridors of the senate. In truth, he had seen her many times.
And he remembered, more than once, seeing the child's mother associating with one of the Jedi. But he had not known the Jedi's name.
"Your mother told you the truth…about your father," Vader said abruptly, turning and walking back up the gangplank.
Before he disappeared back inside the transport, he heard Sarela gasp for joy and the young woman—Sarela's new mother—ask, "What did he mean by that?"
But he did not hear Sarela's answer. However, her joy had made the Force flowing within her to glow. Vader turned to watch the new family depart…seeing a different, imagined scene instead.
Padme and Anakin—unharmed by the fires of Mustafar—each of them holding the small hand of a child.
End Notes: So, what did you think? I hope that this wasn't too pointless. I like to do rare moments of kindness with Vader. Please review!