A/N: Obviously this is an AU. The main part, though not the prologue, will take place during the ANH time period. Basic idea is – what if Leia had been taken as the Emperor's hand?
I've been posting this on TF.N boards and it's almost finished. Please let me know what you think!
Darth Vader knew when he was being mocked. And he didn't like it.
No one else would have dared such an affront against the Dark Lord, but as it was he could only remain silent. And watch. As he was mocked.
The clockwork sound of his breath didn't alter, but he could feel the machinery within his lungs working beyond their normal capacity, trying to compensate for his growing rage. In another lifetime, he would have tried to calm himself, but now he fed the rage and channeled it to his ever-growing dark power.
The girl's lithe figure moved gracefully as she parried and lunged against her artificial opponents. He wondered if she knew she was being tested and how she would react when she discovered she had been deceived.
He quickly allowed the thought to wither. Thoughts for others bordered on concern, and concern only distanced him from his power.
He was being mocked, he reminded himself, and suffused himself with the darkness of that thought alone.
"What do you think, Lord Vader?"
Vader turned towards his tormentor and gazed down at the pale, wizened man. His master would not live forever, he knew, but the time had not yet come to end his miserable life and take his own place as the ultimate leader of the Empire. And now this girl—this child, he thought derisively—was being flouted before him as his replacement.
His master would not live to take on another apprentice, he vowed to himself. Either the old man would die or the girl.
Vader almost convulsed at the sudden influx of power this thought brought him, but managed to remain as outwardly impassive as ever.
"Well, my apprentice, surely you must have an opinion," the old man pressed him.
"She is well-trained," Vader heard himself say, acknowledging the truth of the words even as he said them.
"Yes...yes...well-trained." The old man put a bony finger under his chin and leaned against the armrest of his throne.
They watched together in silence as the girl leapt through a window to escape, allowing herself to freefall for a few moments before casually discharging a rappelling wire from her belt. She grabbed the wire as it was about to go taut and propelled herself back up a few feet, before slowly lowering herself back down—almost completely negating the shock of the break in her fall.
The probe droid continued to keep up with her as she rappelled down three stories. Surely, she must sense it, Vader thought, before managing to catch himself again.
She was meant to be his replacement, he reminded himself. She was being shown to him only to mock him.
When she reached her desired floor, she unfastened another tool from her belt and set about cutting the latch—and the security beam—on the window. As she quickly slithered into the room, the image abruptly shifted and they found themselves viewing her from within the room. She dropped silently to the floor and, looking up, began to regain her bearings.
This time Vader nearly did gasp, in spite of his breathing apparatus.
He was not being mocked, he realized suddenly; he was being tested.
There could be no other explanation. The similarity was too striking, too uncanny, to be a coincidence. And with his master, he had learned, there were rarely coincidences.
He found himself staring at the girl's intent face as she moved along the corridors. Where had the old man found her? She looked so much like...like her.
He was being tested. It had to be. His master wanted to know how he would react to...her after all these years. After all these years, he was still being tested. After all these years, she was still a challenge.
He forced himself to tear his eyes away from the utterly familiar face for a few moments, to focus on something...anything...else. And, now that the rage had subsided, he found he could focus on something...something he had missed. A realization suddenly dawned on him.
"She is using the light side," he declared.
His master chuckled and shook his head from side to side. "You have not been concentrating, Lord Vader."
Vader allowed himself the luxury of resentment at the old man's condescending tone. But acknowledged his words and probed further into the girl's power.
The old man was right; it was not the light side. Nor, however, was it the dark side, at least not in the way he had always defined it.
"She balances between the two," he finally said, in awe. "Neither fully dark, nor fully light."
This time his master's smile was genuine. "Yes! She is my newest creation, Lord Vader."
"Who is she?" Vader couldn't help but ask.
His master turned toward him, as if appraising him anew, and was silent for a long time.
"Her name is Leia Darkstar," he answered finally, "I call her the Emperor's Hand."