Title: Break Free Author: Raissa Baiard Genre: AU, drama This is my entry for the Current Hits Challenge; my song is Ariana Grande's "Break Free". This is an AU featuring Mara Spoiler set in the timeline of my story "Under a Dark Sky" ------------------------------ The Imperial Palace was the center of the Galaxy, a symbol of the Empire. It projected an image of strength and grandeur, but the average citizen would never see behind the glittering facade to the political backstabbing and shady deal-making that happened inside. Even those who thought they were intimately acquainted with its inner workings seldom knew what was happening in the shadows. Mara Jade did. She'd grown up in the shadows of the palace, slipping through the labyrinth of hidden passageways like a shadow herself. She knew every inch of them, had used them to spy on the enemies of the Empire, to steal or plant evidence against them, even to kill them--whatever her master commanded. She'd been the Emperor's Hand, his trusted servant. But no more. Now she was more than just an extension of Palpatine's will, and she was here for reasons of her own. Mara held up a hand, warning the man creeping along behind her to stop. She placed her hand flat against the wall and inched it along until she found the hidden catch. A panel slid open with barely a whisper; only a heavy red velvet curtain separated the passage from the room outside. Luke put a hand on her shoulder, his eyes uncharacteristically serious. "Are you sure you're ready for this?" If he hadn't been her best friend, Mara would have punched him for suggesting she might want to back down now. "I'm always ready," she told him, her lips stretching into something between a smile and a snarl. "Besides it wouldn't matter if I wasn't. He knows we're here." She swept the curtain aside and strode into the Emperor's throne room. "Don't you?" A familiar rasping chuckle echoed through the seemingly empty chamber. "Oh, I know a great many things, Mara Jade." The throne, which had been facing the circular window at the far end of the room, slowly turned towards the intruders. Backlit by the red glow of the Coruscant, the Emperor's shrouded figure nearly disappeared into its solid form, but Mara could feel his malevolent presence like a cold miasma seeping across the throne room. How could she have never felt it before? "I knew that you could never truly abandon your place as my servant, and I knew that I would find you in the company of Lord Vader's wayward son." Palpatine leaned forward, steepling his long fingers. "Tell me, my failed apprentice, what lies did you tell her to get her to let you sever our bond? Did you tell her you loved her, that you would protect her?" Luke's hand tightened around his lightsaber hilt. "I didn't..." he began, but Mara waved him quiet, and took a step towards the dais. For seventeen years, this withered corpse of a man had been controlling her life, telling her what to do and what to think; now it was her turn to speak. "I broke it once I found out what a lying, drooling, scum-swallowing, superannuated, under-handed, festering, filth-sucking parasite you really are." She threw every insult she could think of at him. He deserved them all and more, for the years he'd kept her groveling at his feet, compelling her loyalty when she would have given it, and though she knew it was childish, it was satisfying to taunt him as if he was cantina gutter-scum, and gratifying to see how quickly his towering ego was piqued. Palpatine surged up off his throne in a wave of darkness, his yellow eyes flashing. "What I am is your master. I have given you everything you have, made you everything that you are. I should kill you where you stand for your insolence." He stretched out his hand, and Mara felt his will pressing down as if the whole palace had collapsed on her. "Bow to me, Emperor's Hand, and I may let you live. I may even let you serve me again, after a suitable punishment." "I. Will. Never. Bow. Again," Mara ground out through clenched teeth, resisting with every ounce of strength she had. She anchored herself in the Force as firmly as she could, but she felt her knees begin buckle....until she felt another Force bearing her up. From the corner of her eye, she could see that Luke had stepped forward to stand next to her. *Not because you're weak* came his voice, *but because we're stronger together.*. Slowly, Mara straightened. "You made me? You took everything from me-- my home, my family, my life! You trained me just enough to make me useful and then you leashed me to you so I'd be a good little hound." She raised her head and took another defiant step towards the dais as the Emperor stared down at her incredulously. "But I am stronger than you think--we are stronger than you think." "Bah!" he spat. Anger and hate burned in him like a conflagration now, "If you will not submit, then you are useless." Palpatine cackled, and a thin smile stretched his haggard face. "And you know what happens to useless servants. You should remember this part, Emperor's Hand. This is is the part where I crush those who are stupid enough to oppose me. This is is the part where you die." "No." She might die here tonight, but it didn't matter. She'd already won the greater battle. Mara ignited her lightsaber and smiled into the face of evil. "This is the part where I break free."