Threading the Stars

Five years after turning to the dark side, Darth Vader discovers the impossible: his father. Can he unravel this mystery, and more importantly, can it redeem him? Complicating matters is Padme, whom someone is impersonating in the most unexpected place. But his world inverts when he learns she's not an impostor, and neither are the two children at her side...

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In this AU, the events of the prequels happened as usual, with one exception: Padme didn't die.

Anyone familiar with the CGI Clone Wars series knows how awesome the "Overlords" episode was. It's from that story arc that this FanFic evolved, more or less.

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Chapter 1

The crowded transport was dimly lit, the air thick from hundreds of passengers recycling it for hours. Rows upon rows of alien faces blinked in awkward proximity to each other. Each time an engine sputtered or backfired, their expressions went from self-loathing to panic, then back again when nothing catastrophic occurred. It was almost disappointing. Soon they were back to fiddling with their luggage and avoiding eye contact.

At least, that was the strategy for those without portable Holonet devices. Such luxuries had become rare in the five years since Chancellor Palpatine declared himself Emperor. Economies throughout the galaxy were on the brink of collapse. Citizens once accustomed to comfortable lifestyles now found themselves facing bankruptcy, or at the very least, reduced to traveling in filthy transports like this one. If they could afford to travel at all, that is.

The same number of stars still burned from the Outer Rim to the Core, yet light had gone out of the galaxy.

Families stopped taking yearly vacations to Naboo's lake country or the mountains of Alderaan. Even children of royal lineage were going without such indulgences.

Which is what made three passengers stand out all the more. The trio wore loose cloaks with deep hoods, keeping their human noses tucked in shadow. But it wasn't their clothing that drew attention – it was their size. The tallest of the three was petite, most likely a small woman. And the two huddled at her sides were smaller still. Young children. One didn't have to be human to recognize that much.

The mother comforted them whenever the ship groaned or vibrated. They whispered into the folds of her hood, cupping tiny hands over their mouths. Occasionally she'd feed them snacks from her satchel bag, which they nibbled like anxious squirrels.

Curious stares were plenty, but that was due to boredom more than obsessive interest. Although there was one passenger who, whether he wanted to admit it or not, blurred the line between curiosity and obsession.

He hadn't been able to divert his eyes from them since they boarded at Naboo. He felt vaguely guilty. They were obviously doing everything in their power to deflect attention, yet here he was fixating on them. He tried numerous times to distract himself. With so many unique (and ugly) species milling about, there were plenty of other sources for passive entertainment. Yet try as he may, his gaze kept coming back to that human trio.

Perhaps it was because he too was human. Familiar figures evoked empathy, an implicit connection. It could be basic survival instincts. Both he and they were relatively vulnerable – him a lone traveler, them physically weak. It made sense he'd be drawn to them on a subconscious level.

No. That wasn't it. Who was he trying to fool?

Sighing, he lowered his aching head into his hands, massaging his scalp with eyes shut. Maybe this trip had been a mistake. A colossal mistake. But he'd come so far… farther than fate had ever intended. Farther than he could fathom at times. To give up now, after all the dreams, the pain, the madnessher death would be in vain. I have to stay the course.

Even if that course involved sitting across from three humans that made his brainstem tingle uncomfortably.

A sensation he'd experienced a handful of times since… the place.

What he wouldn't do to forget it. Or go back in time to prevent it from happening in the first place. How many years had it been? Ten? A hundred? Was the passage of time really what it seemed anymore?

Just as he was about to slip into a pool of surreal memories, a commotion broke out. An angry-looking alien with fangs and horns was snarling at the two children, one of whom had made him stumble when they bent over to retrieve a toy.

"Embryonic brat!" he snatched the toy, crushing it in his gnarled hands. "Trip me again and you'll be one less piece of luggage your mother has to look after!"

"I-I'm very sorry," the woman shrank from the aggressor.

"Was I talking to you?! This is between me and your unruly spawn!"

Terrified, she sank into her robes, trembling as he addressed the child again.

"Apologize, human scum!"

All eyes were on the hapless family as they cowered in fear.

"Are you deaf and mute? I said apologize!" he screamed in the poor child's face, horns brushing the edge of the boy's hood.

"This little one's not worth your trouble."

Grunting, the enraged alien whirled around to find a clear-eyed, middle-aged human staring him down with arms crossed.

"You the father?" he demanded.

"No. Just someone who thinks the last thing this ship needs is the stench of blood wafting around."

"Speak for yourself, I happen to love the smell of blood."

"You don't say?" the man raised an eyebrow. "Look, the boy is obviously too petrified to speak. Why not let this go? We're all miserable enough as it is."

Not a single spectator thought this would end well. Yet as they watched in mute, morbid fascination, the incredible happened. Suddenly the horned one seemed drained of his wrath. His eyes were vacant as he walked away without a word, looking disoriented but otherwise harmless.

Ignoring the murmurs around him, the human knelt down to the boy's level, smiling gently. "There now, he's gone. Everything will be all right."

He was expecting a sniffle or lingering tear, but instead the boy sprang forward in a tight, clinging hug. The man laughed in incredulous delight, looking at the woman with smiling eyes.

"Luke, that's enough!" she chastened out of embarrassment and protection.

"It's quite all right," the man chuckled.

"I'm sorry… I've been trying to get him to establish boundaries with strangers, but he gets easily attached." Especially to men who look so much like… she blinked, seeing her savior clearly for the first time. Those eyes

"Well, I'd be attached to anyone who redirected that horned fellow too," he patted the boy's back lightly before returning him to his seat.

"I don't know how to thank you! How did you…?"

"Send him packing? It's a little hard to explain. I have a… gift with negotiations."

Padmé studied him through the frame of her hood. The only people she ever knew to possess such "gifts" were all but extinct. Could this be a stray survivor of Order 66? Not impossible, but would he really be foolish enough to publicly display his abilities? Who was this man?

"We're in your debt. Care to join us?"

"Certainly," he scooted next to them on the bench. Luke huddled close to him in calm, complete trust.

"So you're headed to Imperial Center?" She still hated the sound of that name. In her heart, it would always be Coruscant.

"Indeed. Yourself as well?"

"Yes," she said with audible sadness.

"Pleasure or business?"

There was a loaded question. "Neither, exactly," she hedged.

"Forgive me, I shouldn't have asked," he quickly apologized. "We must all be careful in these dark times."

The understatement of the millennium, Padmé thought.

"Is this your children's first subspace voyage?"

"No, but it's probably the first one they'll remember."

"Ah, to be so young," he winked at Luke. "Can you guess how many trips I've been on?"

"Uh… ten!" the boy wagered.

"Guess again."


"Still too low."

Beneath his hood, Luke's eyes widened. "A hundred?!"

"Getting warmer."

Baffled, Luke didn't know what to guess next. He wasn't yet familiar with numbers beyond one hundred.

"I give up!"

"Including this trip, it's been 214 times," the man informed an awestruck Luke.

"Mom, did you hear that?!"

"That's a big number, all right," she nodded at her son. Now she really didn't know what to make of this man. "A very big number."

What an enigma their savior was, using Jedi mind tricks and logging more light years than most beings traversed in a lifetime. Not to mention charming with kids. Even Leia, sitting on Padmé's other side, was leaning over as if magnetically pulled to the stranger. Tucked under the man's arm, Luke seemed more content than he'd been in months… maybe even years.

She herself felt inexplicably safe in his presence – and not just because of his earlier bravery.

It was an awkward moment when both adults realized they were staring absently at each other.

"Ah, well, it won't be much longer before we land," the man cleared his throat, glancing at his wrist chrono.

"Have you been to Imperial Center before?" Padmé shifted her bags to prepare for disembarking.

He laughed rather loudly. "No, without a doubt, this is my first visit to the capitol world."

"Strange for someone so well-traveled."

At first he said nothing, pursing his lips while tightening his own luggage straps in place.

"Dear lady, one can travel far without traveling well."

There was unspeakable melancholy behind those words. Padmé's soul ached as he said them; in that instant, she knew this man had endured more sorrow and suffering than even she. Perhaps that was their unspoken connection. Two weary travelers whose physical baggage could never compare to the emotional.

"Well, I hope your visit is enjoyable. Or productive. Or whatever it is you hope to gain from it," she said sincerely.

"Thank you. I wish you the same," he returned with a wan smile.

They felt the atmospheric drag as the ship began its descent. Everyone shifted in restless anticipation, eager to be free of these claustrophobic confines. Padmé squeezed her children's hands reassuringly. When the bumpy landing was finally over, bodies clogged every exit, making for slow progress off the transport.

The stranger was still in their company as they shuffled along. Feeling she owed him one last comment, Padmé turned to him again.

"I wish I knew how to repay you for what you did back there."

"Not at all," he dismissed. "You owe me nothing. Although… could I ask one small thing?"

"Yes, of course."

"Your name?" he asked hesitantly, not wanting to alarm her. "It's unlikely we'll ever cross paths again, and I'd like to remember you."

Her name? She couldn't possibly tell him that, no matter how secure she felt alongside him! She'd have to use her alias, the one Obi-Wan advised her to use when traveling.

"Pedna," she replied, hoping he wouldn't detect her fraud.

If he could, he hid his disappointment well. "It was a pleasure meeting you, Pedna. Safe travels to you and your children."

"And to you…?" she looked inquisitively at him.

The crowd was moving more swiftly now, separating them inch by inch. Yet before he was swept away, he answered her.

"Ainar," he replied. "Ainar Skywalker."

By the time Padmé remembered how to use her tongue again, he'd vanished from her sight.

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"This little one's not worth your trouble." Echoing Obi-Wan's words in the Mos Eisley Cantina with Luke.

"Pedna" is sort of an anagram of Padmé, with an n instead of an m.

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