His daughter stood on the balcony, in a white schooldress and cape. The wind caught in them and tugged, unfurling the fabric, cracking it, framing her small body and making her regal and grand. Unwittingly she presented a picture of great irony when compared to him, for his entire assemblage was black. Always was. And yet she was unquestionably his daughter. The curl to her lips, that said she knew exactly what you were thinking and held you in contempt for it, the proud tilt to her chin, the cunning gleam in her dark eyes--unquestionably, she was familiar with power, and ready to use it. Imperial citizens and military men trembled before her step, just as they did his.
He was proud of her.
She turned from the balcony edge, grinning in the wind. Behind her, Imperial Centre spread out in horizon-stretching patterns of starscrapers, steaming parts-factories, soaring, twisting tall mansions. An orange sunset had tinted the shiny durasteel--the glinting ships, taking off, landing, caught in levels of traffic--a yellow-grey.
'Father!' she gasped, for he had just returned home. He noticed the wonders the fierce wind had done to her complexion; how unusually alive she looked as she abandoned usual grace and raced to him at the door. Where had her composure gone? he wondered, as she skidded to a halt before him (knowing better than to expect gestures of warmth but, strangely, seeming to expect them anyway), eyes glowing, bouncing impatiently on her feet.
He studied the picture of her red face, her dark hair untangling from its buns, her white cape swelling before the orange sun. She was so clearly excited to see him he decided to be indulgent.
'Hello, Leia,' he said, and she straightened her child's-body, trying and failing to be calm. 'I see you have kept busy without me.'
Leia's face was wide, innocent. 'Hardly, Father. I was merely sampling the view from the sixty-second floor, hoping to catch sight of your shuttle.' Her voice was breathless; her lips twitched slightly, and he caught her secretive look of pleasure. 'I saw the Devastator in orbit, at any rate.'
He felt a stirring of pride, and reached out a gloved hand, resting it gently on her dark head. The sorrow was mostly gone now--her resemblance to her mother failed to hurt him as much as it had. Leia was, in truth, nothing like her mother had been.
A beep resounded from behind him, inside the castle. He lifted his hand and turned around.
'Ah, that would be Artoo, telling me to finish my homework,' she said quickly. 'It's not important.'
'You will not delay your work,' he said. 'Go and finish it.'
Leia's face darkened. 'It's only maths,' she said. 'And you just got home, I--'
'Finish your work first. I also have business to occupy me.'
Leia nodded, although he sensed disappointment coming from her in waves, and she had sullenly averted her gaze. 'I'll be done before you reach your rooms,' she said in a last attempt to sway him, as they entered the shaded indoors.
'I will check every one of your answers,' he replied, 'so you had better do a good job.'
Leia smiled. He watched her glide off to the lift (the study was on a lower floor), wondering why it was she so obviously enjoyed being with him, when with everyone else she was as cold and indifferent as a piece of Alderaanian ice. He never paused to consider that he, too, was the same way.
Maths was not a difficult subject for the daughter of Darth Vader--not when she had been receiving lessons in mechanical engineering since the age of six. She finished her work quickly, as promised, and was soon standing at the door to her father's quarters. Her appearance had tamed since her excursion outdoors--Father appreciated cleanliness and order, and probably had frowned at her frivolity, wasting time on the balcony. To tell truth Leia had hoped he would join her, as he did at times, and let her be; let her be Leia, without worries for her hair and clothes. Of course with Father, Leia never felt nearly as confined as when with others, so perhaps it was silly to complain.
As it was, she waited impatiently for him outside his door, holding her completed homework, her white schooldress exchanged for a grey frock, her hair, with the help of droids, laced up atop her head. There was a coolness to the air around Father's quarters, that Leia was used to and considered a whole part of the entity that was Father, and as his door hissed open and slid into the wall, her anxiety (she had been worried he might not let her in) settled into something more comfortable. She walked forward in measured, delicate steps.
Father's quarters were expansive and mostly empty: there were black crates stacked in a corner, a desk, a holo-receiver, and a strange, large globe that functioned both as a hyperbaric and meditation chamber, that Leia was never allowed to go inside. Father sat at his desk, awesomely black, his polished dark helmet gleaming in the gloom. Light rose dimly from hollows in the durasteel-panelled walls, but it barely reached Father at his desk.
Father looked up from a glowing datapad. 'You have finished?'
'Yes,' she said, and proffered her homework.
Father examined it. 'Sit,' he said after a moment, gesturing at the one chair before his desk. It was intended solely for her.
Leia sat, watching him warily. Despite having checked her work, she feared she may have made a silly error, or something, which would make Father displeased indeed. She edged forward in her seat, too disciplined to bite her lip, pressing her toes down in her shoes instead.
'Your school is sadly lacking in challenge,' Father said, scanning a point low down on the homework. 'Does the teacher realise you learned this four years ago?'
'Yes,' Leia said, and since she did not like her school very much, added, 'He doesn't care. He says I should learn the same as the rest of the students.'
Leia felt Father draw down his eyebrows. She had grown good at sensing her father's expressions, despite his face being hidden by a mask. Whispers of other children spoke of how gruesome that very mask was--no one dared insult Father to Leia's face--but she was rather fond of it, actually. No one else had a father with a shiny black breathmask that terrified people into submission before he ever said a word.
'Perhaps he requires parental intervention,' said Father, in his particularly dangerous voice, and Leia shivered with grisly anticipation. If there was any mistake in the homework Father hadn't caught it, for he handed it back to her now.
'I think he does,' Leia agreed, but then felt the slightest pang of remorse. 'But Father, do be careful. The other students seem to like him.'
Father studied her with consideration, then looked down at his glowing datapad. He pushed it away with one black gloved hand.
'So, tell me, Leia,' he said, looking up at her, and leaning back in his chair. 'Have you been well occupied?'
Relieved that her homework was out of the way, secretly exhilarating that her father was going to listen to her, or at least was offering to listen to her, Leia straightened in her chair, slowly filling with all the brilliant things she had always wanted to say, that she saved always just for her father and the few days of the year he was actually home. Unbeknownst to her, her face abandoned its usual pallor, and her eyes took on a sharper gleam. Her father noticed the change. He always had.
'It's been an eventful month,' she said. 'As you know, Senator Haifell came by and spoke with me. He offered me a position in the Junior Political League. But to tell the truth, I don't trust him at all. He has this strange sense about him, he's so shifty . . .' Leia frowned, and creases appeared at her eyes. 'It's as if he's trying to form a rift between you and me, and I didn't like it. So I declined.'
'A wise decision,' said Father, although he had known her decision for some time. 'Haifell is suspected to be in league with the Rebellion.'
'At least he's not Alderaanian,' Leia scorned.
'There is more to the Rebellion than Alderaan,' said Father.
'Maybe,' Leia said doubtfully, caught for a moment in her hate of Alderaan and its senator. 'At any rate, he won't be coming here again.'
Father looked at her for a moment, then said: 'Did you repair the engine on your speeder?'
Leia was transported by sudden excitement. 'Yes,' she said. 'It's much improved now. I can even get it up to treble the legal speed.' She hesitated for a moment, assessing her father. 'I could show you, if you like.'
Father was far more interested in her speeder than her political observations; Leia could feel it, in the Force.
'I would,' he said.
She beamed. 'I'll go and change clothes, then.'
At age fourteen, Leia was already an accomplished pilot. Not as good as her father, of course: she didn't have nearly the Force talent he did. In fact, Leia thought her Force abilities so stunted it was as if she were completely insensitive. Father, to her never-ceasing wonder, didn't care.
By the time she reached the hangar of their castle, wearing soft shapeless trousers and a mechanic's shirt so big it dragged down to her knees, Father was already working on his Lambda-class, fixing a broken repulsorlift. She grinned to herself. It was easy to forget how comfortable things were between them in the hangar, unlike at the dinner table (absolutely uncomfortable: Father couldn't eat and ended up staring at either Leia or his empty plate), or his quarters (the place was like a warehouse, and awfully intimidating). Even on the wind-swept balconies, formalities were followed, and she was Lady Naberrie to Lord Vader. But here . . .
It was difficult to describe the gloriousness of what Leia was feeling. But after months of boredom in her lonely big house, of irritation at her stupid schoolmates; of being courted by politically misinformed Senators and having to endure their deplorable sermonising--of waiting impatiently for her father to return--coming down like this to the garage was sheer, unadultered bliss. Leia felt happier than she had in months; since the last time Father had been home, in fact.
Father looked at her from under his Lambda-class. 'Just how do you intend to show me your finally-respectable new speed?'
'I'll fly, of course,' Leia said coolly, taking a pair of night-goggles from a rack, and slipping them over her braided head. 'Over the grounds.'
Father breathed--the sound was somehow louder in the hangar; it echoed terribly.
'Very well,' he said at last. 'But if you leave . . .'
'I am neither stupid or foolhardy, Father,' Leia said. 'You know I would never leave the grounds on such an expensive prototype.' She secured the goggles over her eyes, walking to the speeder: a model currently under design by her father himself, to be used by Imperial scouts. Her legs swung easily over the seat.
Father came out from under the Lambda-class, his cape curling under his feet. He lifted his hand, and the hangar door began to raise into the roof. The city outside was covered in blue night, the stars themselves invisible in the huge glow of Imperial Centre. The entire planet, after all, was one big city.
Leia started her engine, tightening her hands in anticipation over the speeder handles. The seat shook with the vibration of the engine. She settled her feet in the shaking bike pedals (which controlled thrust), turned around with her vision blurred and jumpy and saluted her father. Then she pushed down on the pedals and shot into the sky.
Vader followed his daughter to the edge of the hangar and stood there, his cape fluttering in the wind. That she was flying in the dark was no impediment to his watching her, for his mask automatically adjusted for night, and to him everything was as in focus as in day. He felt oddly satisfied. All the obligations, responsibilities, duties he had to fulfil had faded away, leaving him perched on the edge of an open hangar thirty-seven stories above ground, watching his daughter fly (spin crazily toward the ground at what he had to admit was probably a dangerous speed). A small bit of himself felt free, unusually careless. He was not happy--he was never happy, that was unachievable--but he did feel content. As Leia nose-dived on full throttle towards the rocky crags that were the castle garden, thrill hammered in his chest. Oh yes, Leia was his daughter. No other being in the galaxy would be half-witted enough to try a move like that. And at such speed!
She was a strong girl. She would make the Empire strong. He had plans for her, such plans, most of which he cherished privately, or rather, kept hidden from everyone else. She was very attuned to the Force, although Obi-Wan had attempted to make it seem not so by placing a Force sponge on her at birth. Vader had discovered the sponge only through careful probes, but had done nothing to remove it. It was to his advantage that Leia was not marked as sensitive, enlisted into the Emperor's ranks. He had far grander plans for her, that involved absolute secrecy.
Leia came out of her dive and swooped upward, a tiny dot in his eyes. Soon the roar of her speeder drowned even his breathing and he was backing up to let her land.
'Well?' she demanded breathlessly, as she pulled off the night-goggles and shook her windblown head.
'Impressive,' he said, watching her dismount. 'But I believe that was only double, not treble, legal speed.'
Leia wrinkled her nose as if to argue, then changed her mind. 'But didn't you see my dive? I almost hit the rocks, but then I pulled out.'
'I did see it,' he said, 'and I think your control has improved exponentially. In fact, I think you are ready to leave speeders behind and begin piloting your own ship.'
Leia's eyes widened. 'Sincerely?'
'Yes,' said Vader, coming over to Leia, and examining her speeder. He moved the throttle back and forth. It moved differently on a TIE, but Leia would barely feel the difference. 'It is not dissimilar from this. I think you may find the transition less exciting than it sounds.'
Leia stuck out her tongue. 'You would say so. Ships can leave the planet, and go into hyperspace, and they have their own cockpit, and you can take passengers, and they have shields, and you can do all sorts of special moves because you're in space and--'
'You would not have a ship that could go into hyperspace,' Vader said. 'Or realspace, for that matter.'
Leia's mouth, open to recite yet even more of the wonders of space travel, snapped shut. 'Why not?'
'Because it is too dangerous,' Vader said. 'Do you not remember your last assassin? If you were to take a ship into space you would become only more vulnerable to their attacks.'
'I hate the Rebels,' Leia said, narrowing her eyes. 'I think they're the stupidest human beings alive.'
'Not all Rebels are human,' Vader said. 'And do not underestimate them. They have been very clever, to escape capture for so long.'
'I don't underestimate them,' Leia said. 'But I think their morals are sadly lacking. To attack me! They may be terrorists, but they are either very desperate or very depraved indeed, to attack a child.'
'Had they wanted to kill you, they would have been more persistent,' Vader said. 'I believe they were sending me a message.'
Leia frowned. 'What do you mean?'
Vader let go of the throttle, but did not meet Leia's gaze. It was unwise to tell her more than she needed to know--then again, she had to understand her own vulnerability. He turned, stared at his looming Lambda-class, and listened to the sound of his own breathing. 'They were issuing a warning,' he said after a time. 'You are my weakness, and they have shown they are prepared to exploit it.'
Leia's face had gone very white. 'I see.'
Vader channelled the Force, directing it at the hangar door. Slowly, with a sibilant hiss, it came down.
'Come, Leia,' he said, turning away. 'We should go inside.'
Leia put a lock on her speeder, then, spirits inexplicably rising at prospect of something--the thought of her own ship, most likely--raced past him through the open door.
At dinner, Leia choked on her stew.
'But Father,' she said, loudly, for there were only the two of them at the table, and that was very long, and they both sat at the ends. She had changed into a dinner dress. 'I hate Grand Moff Tarkin. I don't want to work on his stupid ship.'
'He asked for you personally,' said her father. 'However, I have already declined. I do not approve of his latest project. There are no reasons for you to be involved.'
'What is this ship anyway?' Leia said, taking a slice of bread from a basket. All the food was on her side of the table, monitored by a server-droid. 'And why would he need me on a military operation?'
'You have been known for putting a softer face to the Empire,' Father said. 'The Grand Moff thought your presence might make his operation more agreeable, in general, as it will be more of a political tool than any other of his ships. However, as the operation is secret and still under construction, I failed to see how you could help at all.'
'Motivate the workers?' Leia suggested, then laughed. 'This all seems so silly. I'm still going to school, and yet I get visited by senators and Grand Moffs who want my help with their secret operations.'
Father shifted in his chair. 'Age is inconsequential. You proved invaluable to subduing the rebels on Rishtakar when you came with me last on the Devastator.'
'Maybe,' Leia said modestly. 'All I did was convince the governor to build some new schools for the children.'
'And that is why the Empire needs you,' Father said. 'Many of the governors are corrupt, or have forgotten the Imperial code. They must change. You are already on the way to changing them.'
'I think that would be you, Father, not me,' said Leia, dipping her spoon into her stew. 'I may have helped that particular planet, but I'm not the one in space every day.'
'No,' Father agreed. 'But perhaps one day you will be.'
'Are you suggesting I run for the Senate?' Leia said. 'Because if you are, I assure you, I'm not going to.'
Father tilted his mask curiously. 'Why?'
'Because the senators have very little real power, that's why,' Leia said, tilting her spoon so that stew ran out of it, then turning it back, watching it slowly fill. 'If I want to be of any real help to the people I'm better off elsewhere. Besides, Imperial Centre isn't the place I'm thinking needs change. I've no interest in its people or economy; whatever happens, this planet will always survive.'
'Do not overlook Imperial Centre because it is prosperous,' Father said. 'Simply because it is home to many of the wealthy does not change the fact that its slums are some of the most unhealthy in the galaxy. Only recently, several hundred citizens died of plague.'
'That's true,' said Leia carelessly. 'But Father, there's thousands of systems, thousands of people to be changed. We can't change them all.'
'Never assume anything,' said Father. 'Do not compare today's galaxy to the Old Republic--that government was corrupt. The Empire has more ability to bring peace and order than the Republic ever had. We must have faith in that ability, if we are to use it well.'
Leia ran her spoon along the bottom edge of her bowl, making a scraping sound. It was still full of stew, but she was hardly hungry.
'Perhaps, Father,' she said. 'But I'm afraid so much of the Empire itself is corrupt that bringing any order will be difficult work, indeed.'
Leia changed into a white nightshift, and readied her things for the next day. Father came by as she had just finished tucking herself into bed. He breathed noisily and frightened Fwerp, her pet chimaree (black and sleek, with pale beady eyes), into a trembling bundle behind her neck.
'Hello, Father,' she said, picking Fwerp up and stroking him softly. His trembling abated until she only felt his vibrations of fear through her stomach.
Father looked at Fwerp, huddled pathetically on her chest. 'He does not remember me.'
'He was only a baby then,' Leia said, looking at Fwerp with adoration. 'You can hardly blame him. Most human babies don't remember people they've met.'
Father stretched out his hand. Leia was vaguely aware of a soothing, simple energy brushing her by, and settling onto Fwerp. His fright was gone at once.
'Hey!' Leia said in astonishment, looking at Fwerp, who was dead asleep. 'That's not fair, I didn't get to tell him good night!'
'He will wake when I am gone,' Father said. 'Which will be very shortly. Good night, Leia.'
'Good night, Father,' Leia said fondly. 'I'm glad you're home.'
Father looked around her room--it had grown far more organised since he'd been home last, with the pink walls finally a practical white, the lace curtains forever banished, and her desk nearly as spartan as his own. Leia sensed his approval, although he only breathed.
'I will be in my study,' he said, and then backed out the door, turning off the light. The door hissed shut behind him.
Leia sighed into the darkness. That was Father's way?he never directly said when something pleased him, unless it had to do with her speeder or his TIE. Still, she she was glad he was home. It had been dull with him gone.
Fwerp breathed steadily on her chest, his little form rising and falling with her own. Leia smiled, and brought him back to her pillow.
All in all, she thought, it hadn't been the worst of days.