Sins of the Father:  Chapter 10
by indie

Padmé can hear the raised voices before she opens the door to the ODP office.  Lorian automatically steps in front of her, preceding her into the room.  Talesan Fry is standing at Korsa Dae's desk, arms folded over his chest, glaring at a middle aged man in a crisply pressed Imperial uniform.
"I most certainly will not give you blanket security access to all Senate data repositories," the Imperial officer says.
"The Emperor instructed me – " Taly starts.
"The Emperor did not relay the request to me," the officer counters, cutting across Taly.
"Perhaps I can be of assistance," Padmé offers, stepping around Lorian. 
The Imperial officer's eyes go wide and he immediately snaps to attention and bows.  "Milady," he says.
"You must be Lieutenant Piett," Padmé says. 
"Yes, milady," Piett confirms.
Taly shakes his head derisively at Piett's formality.
"The Emperor has made it clear," Padmé says, "that Taly should be given the necessary access to continue his investigation."
"Of course, milady," Piett replies with a crisp bow.  He immediately pulls a comlink from his pocket and relays the necessary requests.  "It will be done in minutes."
"Thank you, Lieutenant," Padmé replies.
Padmé walks into the conference room and removes the heavy cloak she has become accustomed to wearing.  Despite having been on Coruscant for weeks, Padmé still finds herself uncomfortably chilled most of the time.  Bail's aides, Maxim and Hennah are already at work. 
Taly and Lieutenant Piett continue their brusque negotiation as Mehht and Lorian linger in the outer office, oblivious to the hostilities.  Padmé is convinced that it was Mehht's loyalty to her deceased fiancé that upset her last night rather than anything Lorian did.  Padmé still has very mixed emotions about Mehht's involvement with Lorian, but she has no specific arguments as to why Mehht shouldn't become involved with him.
"Milady," Piett says from the door.
"Yes, Lieutenant?" Padmé asks.
"Talesan Fry's security clearance has been pushed through," Piett explains.  "But despite the Emperor's orders, this is a highly unusual request.  I would prefer to leave an Imperial escort to monitor the situation.  Is that acceptable?"
"Yes," Padmé replies.  She doubts Taly will appreciate the babysitter, but Piett does have a point.  And Padmé still isn't convinced that Anakin is the only one that knows the full truth of Taly, Mara and Obi-Wan.  "Will you be leaving an officer?"
"No, milady," Piett replies.  "Unless you have an objection, I will stay myself."
"That is perfectly acceptable, Lieutenant," Padmé replies.  She likes Piett though she isn't certain why.  He's overly formal, but he seems competent.  He also lacks the slimy, bottom-feeder vibe she has come to associate with most Imperial officers.
As Piett leaves, Mehht enters the conference room.  Padmé takes one look at her face and says, "Let me guess, more clandestine meetings?"
Mehht frowns and Padmé heads off her reply with an apology.  "I didn't mean to belittle what you're doing," she says.  Padmé truly doesn't mean to take out her frustrations on Mehht.  Without a doubt, Mehht is taking up a cause that needs to be championed.  But Padmé can't shake her pre-occupation with the mysterious fund re-allocation, Korsa Dae, Orn Free Taa and how it all ties together.
"I need – " Mehht says, pointing to the outer office.
"An escort," Padmé finishes.  "I know.  Take Lorian.  I'll call Typho."
Captain Typho, it appears, is not available.  "Did he say where he was going?" Padmé asks Threepio over the comlink.
"I'm afraid not, Mistress Padmé," Threepio replies tersely.  "You know how humans are.  They rarely consult me in their plans."
"Thank you, Threepio," Padmé says, lowering the comlink.
Anakin looks up from the computer terminal where he is examining fighter schematics.  Padmé enters the small office off the Imperial War Room, leaving both Korto and the young Imperial officer who accompanied her outside.
"Where the hell is Lorian?" Anakin demands.
"Escorting Mehht," Padmé replies.
With a flick of his hand, Anakin closes the office door, denying Korto his ringside seat. 
"Lorian has explicit orders not to leave your side," Anakin says darkly, rising to stand, arms folded across his chest.
"I sent him with Mehht," Padmé replies, sitting down on his desk.
Anakin watches as she takes a seat on a folder full of top secret intelligence reports, his expression a mixture of pleasure and annoyance.  Anakin forces his attention away from the folder - and Padmé's backside.  "Lorian works for me, not you," he says.
Padmé sighs.  "Assign me another goon," she says.  "Mehht is completely mired in rooting out these slavers and she needs someone to look after her."
"Send Typho with her," Anakin counters.  "Lorian is the most proficient guard I have.  I used to have him tail Leia until her skills surpassed his.  I don't want him wasting his time babysitting your little moisture farmer."
"I doubt he thinks he's wasting his time," Padmé says enigmatically.
Anakin's brow furrows.  "Lorian's opinion is of no concern to me.  I issued an order.  I expect it to be carried out," he says with finality. 
Padmé rolls her eyes at Anakin's high-handed pronouncement, wishing for one minute he could acknowledge that the beings surrounding him are real people with real lives.  "Lorian and Mehht are … something," she finally finishes lamely, realizing she isn't certain how to categorize their attachment.
Anakin's confusion is evident.  "What are you talking about?" he demands.
Padmé gestures with her hand.  "Lorian and Mehht are … involved," she elaborates.  "Dating maybe, I'm not sure."
The look on Anakin's face is priceless.  Padmé knows he would rather be run through with his own lightsaber than spend another second discussing the love lives of Mehht Whitesun and Lorian Massineau.
"I told Lorian last night that if he broke her heart that I'd have him killed," Padmé offers only to prolong Anakin's torture.
"As Empress you're well within your rights to order whatever executions you deem necessary," Anakin replies smugly.
Padmé frowns.  No doubt Anakin speaks the truth about ordering executions.  The news does not please her, which is exactly what he intended when he said it.
Padmé shifts on her perch and looks around the office.  It's as spare as every other room he occupies with the exception of the Fijisi wood ballroom.  The floor is black, the same as the Imperial War Room on the other side of the door.  The walls are the same dull gray as his personal quarters.  There's no window and the only furniture is a black desk and chair.  It bothers her to think of him spending his time here.  She wonders what exactly he's doing.  She glanced at the schematics when she came in and they don't look like Imperial designs. 
She sighs.  "Why can't you accompany me?" she asks.  "Surely you could look at these schematics as easily on a datapad as you can on this terminal."
Padmé seems as startled by the request she just made as Anakin.  Trying to mask her own surprise, she fixes Anakin with an expectant look.  Padmé isn't certain what possessed her to make the request.  She definitely loathes the idea of being assigned another one of Anakin's assassins, but it's more than that.  She realizes that she does enjoy their tête-à-tête and she occasionally enjoys looking at him – when the desire to punch him in the face isn't overwhelming.
"I'm afraid I can't," he says and there seems to be true regret in his tone.  "I'm leaving this evening for Csilla."
Padmé can't prevent the frown that tugs at her lips.  "How long will you be gone?" she asks before she can stop herself.
A smile curves his lips and he cocks an eyebrow.  "Will you miss me?" he asks smugly.
"No," she replies in deadpan.  "I'm just wondering how long I have to complete my takeover of the Empire.  These things require precise timing."
He steps closer, leaning in toward her.  "Trust me," he says conspiratorially.  "You don't want my job."
Padmé wants to make a cheeky reply, she really does.  But he's so close.  And his playful manner has suddenly turned serious.
He's right there.  She can clearly see the scar along his right eye.  The vibrant, twinkling blue of his irises is exactly the same color as Luke's.  She doesn't know why it is that she always forgets just how sinfully handsome he is.
He leans in and her hand automatically reaches out, cupping his cheek and drawing him near.  Their lips meet on a sigh and he steps in closer, causing her to crane her head back as he stoops over her seated form.   His kisses are gentle, nipping at her lips as one of his hands comes up to cup her cheek, his thumb playing along the delicate curve of her jaw.
Some part of her knows she should fear this intimacy.  It was only days earlier that he turned her own hunger against her, using it to wound and belittle.  But this isn't like the night of the Hapan dinner.  The air isn't permeated with volatile emotions.  And for better or for worse, she does not fear him.
"Ani," she breathes.  He takes the opportunity to deepen the kiss, his tongue tangling wetly with her own.  Her hand moves along his jaw, down to the exposed flesh of his neck.  She can feel the muscles flex as his kisses become more insistent.  She's mesmerized by the taste and scent of him, by how hotly his flesh seems to burn under her fingertips.
He pulls her closer, gathering her up in his arms and she goes willingly.  Her body and soul ache for this, for the feel of her husband's body wrapped around her own.  The hard, muscled planes of his are the perfect complement to the soft curves of her own. 
He whispers her name and he sounds so needy, so lost that she pulls him closer.  She soothes him with soft, comforting murmurs as her fingers thread through his short locks.  She presses soft, chaste kisses across his cheekbone to the scar that Asajj Ventress gave him so long ago.  It's the other scars she truly wishes to soothe, the scars undetectable to the eye, that have driven him to this life of aggression and domination.
The door chimes, but does not open.
Padmé stops, her arms still wrapped around his neck, her lips pressed to his temple.  Her breath comes in ragged bursts, like she's just run a long distance.  His body still trembles under her touch, his breathing as labored as her own.
"My Lord," Korto's voice says through the speaker mounted near the door.  "There is an incident in Fobosi District which requires your attention."
"I informed you I was not to be disturbed," Anakin bites out in reply.
"Yes, My Lord," Korto says, "but I'm afraid this incident involves your daughter."
Padmé and Anakin exit the shuttle in the seedy little port.  They go only a few steps before Padmé can hear two male voices raised in anger.  One of the voices belongs to Typho who is standing at the base of a nearby freighter's gangplank, blaster drawn and aimed up into the ship’s hold.  The ship is a YT series Corellian freighter that looks like it's seen better days.  Padmé wonders if it can even make orbit.
"I don't give a damn," the other man says, apparently the freighter's as-yet-unseen captain.  "Someone is going to compensate me for my time."
"Compensate you?" Typho roars.  "You're holding the Imperial princess hostage.  You'll be lucky to escape with your life."
Padmé reaches the bottom of the freighter's gangplank, Anakin at her side.  His hand is pressed protectively against her lower back.  Typho glances at them.  At a nod from Anakin, he holsters the blaster.
Looking up the gangplank, Padmé can see both the captain and Leia.  The captain is a tall, handsome human male with dark, unkempt hair and a cocky smirk.  He appears to be in his late twenties.  He's standing at the top of the gangplank, blaster in hand.  Leia is sitting on the floor at his feet, knees drawn up to her chest, expression sullen.  There's a thick metal cuff around her neck and she is clearly unhappy but otherwise seems unharmed.
As Anakin steps into full view, the captain's cocky smirk is quickly replaced by a sober expression.  He looks down at Leia nervously. 
"You really are a princess?" he asks nervously.
"I really am a princess," she replies dryly.
The captain laughs mirthlessly and his eyes dart around the interior of the ship.  Padmé has the distinct impression he's checking exits in case he needs to make a quick get away.  "There's been a big misunderstanding here," he says.
"Obviously," Anakin says darkly.  He extends a hand and both the captain's blaster and a small remote that had been clipped to his belt float neatly into Anakin's grasp.  Anakin looks pointedly at the remote and then the collar around Leia's neck.  The collar is a crude mechanism, the likes of which Padmé has had the misfortune of seeing in the past.  Such devices are packed with explosives that can be detonated by remote.
Realizing he can't run for it, the captain straightens his spine and meets Anakin's gaze.  "It's a dud," he says. 
Leia gives him a look of sheer outrage, springing to her feet.
The captain shrugs unrepentantly.  "How else was I supposed to keep you from tearing my ship apart, Jedi brat?" he asks.
Leia opens her mouth, but before she can reply, Padmé says sharply, "Leia!"
Very reluctantly, Leia stalks down the gangplank, clawing at the collar around her neck.  When she reaches the bottom, Anakin releases the closure and tosses the useless collar away.  He grabs Leia's chin and swivels her head from side to side, inspecting her neck in the light.  Satisfied that she hasn't been damaged, he ushers her behind him.
"Captain …" Anakin says.
"Solo," Typho supplies.  "Han Solo.  Smuggler.  I tracked him from Aargau."
Padmé swivels around, looking at Leia.  "What were you doing in Aargau?" she demands.
"Trying to hitch a ride into the Deep Core," Solo replies.  "I found her after we'd already left orbit.  I ended up having to abandon my run and come all the way back to Coruscant to ditch the little stowaway."
"Aargau is not far from Coruscant," Anakin replies coldly.
"Tell it to my customers," Solo counters.  "Hyperspace lanes into the Deep Core are extremely temperamental.  Not just any pilot can navigate them.  Now I'm behind schedule and this whole shipment might be a complete loss."
"And what exactly would the shipment be, Captain Solo?" Anakin asks darkly.
"Phrikite ore – " Solo says.
"Spice," Leia offers at the same time, smiling nastily at Captain Solo.
Solo gives Leia a withering glare and crosses his arms over his chest, cocking one hip out as he looks down at Anakin.  Padmé has to give him credit.  Few people, especially smugglers accused of kidnapping the Imperial princess, would be brave enough or stupid enough to stand their ground with the Emperor.  She takes note of the second-class Corellian bloodstripes that decorate his pants.  Obviously Captain Solo is not lacking in bravery.  It remains to be seen if he is also possessed of a sense of self-preservation.
Growing tired of the situation, Anakin waves his hand in Solo's direction.  "Compensate Captain Solo and send him on his way," he says to Typho.
Typho looks outraged, but Solo smiles smugly.
"After you relieve him of any illegal cargo," Anakin amends.
Now it's Typho's turn to look smug while Captain Solo huffs indignantly.
"Do you have a problem with the terms of our arrangement?" Anakin asks Captain Solo darkly.
Obviously with great effort, Captain Solo shakes his head.  "No.  No problem."
"Good," Anakin replies.  "See to it our paths do not cross again."
"Won't be a problem," Captain Solo bites out.
The three turn back to the transport shuttle, Leia stalking ahead of her parents.  They reach the shuttle and Leia throws herself down into one of the seats.  "He treated me like a slave," Leia seethes at her father, "and all you did was take his spice."
Anakin narrows his gaze at his daughter.  "You have yet to explain what you were doing stowing away on a vessel bound for the Deep Core."
"I would have taken Luke's ship," Leia replies flippantly, "but you impounded it."
Anakin is not pleased with Leia's demeanor and says, "Well, yes, now you and Luke can enjoy your punishment together.  Neither of you are allowed offworld."
"What?" Leia demands, springing to her feet.  "You can't ground me," she sputters.  "I'm not a child."
"Really?" Anakin says smoothly.  "You're definitely acting like one."
Leia stares at her father in outrage and something washes over her, something dark.  The consuming fire of rage seems to submerge, replaced by an icy cold fury.  She looks from her father to her mother, taking careful note of how closely they sit, of how Anakin's thigh presses against Padmé's.
In perfect silence, she turns back to her seat and carefully sits down, staring out the window.
Padmé paces back and forth on the veranda, trying to ignore the sense of impending doom.  Leia hasn't spoken a word since the shuttle ride to the Imperial Palace.  Anakin escorted Leia to her suite and informed her in no uncertain terms that she was not to leave the Imperial Palace for any reason.  
Anakin then accompanied Padmé to her own apartment where he remains, watching his wife pace the veranda.
"You never explained why you're going to Csilla," Padmé says, stopping and turning to face him.  "Something to do with the Chiss?"
Anakin nods, seeming as deeply troubled as Padmé.  "I have to finalize the negotiations that were cut short by the Hapan visit," he says.  "It can't wait."
Padmé looks at him and Anakin runs a hand through his hair in frustration.  “Perhaps I should take Leia with me,” he says.
“That would only reward bad behavior,” Padmé says.
Anakin nods again, but clearly does not relish the idea of traveling to the Csilla tonight.  What neither he nor Padmé wants to mention is the fact that if Leia decides to leave, it’s doubtful there is anything anyone save Anakin can do to stop her.
Anakin crosses the few paces that separate them, coming to a stop directly in front of Padmé.  She stares blindly at one of the many colorful, potted plants that decorate the veranda.  Gently, Anakin reaches out and grasps the Japor snippet between his thumb and forefinger, rubbing it lightly.
“I have to go,” he says.  “If I don’t leave within the hour, we won’t make it to Csilla in time for the summit.  You know how the Chiss are about timetables and propriety.”
Padmé nods without looking at him.
“I’ll be back as soon as I can,” he says softly, pressing a kiss to her cheek. 
And then he is gone.
Padmé rubs her cold hands together and turns back to the apartment.  She halts at the sight of a short, wiry, middle-aged human male with receding black hair.  Typho steps forward, introducing the man as Astor, Padmé’s new guard. Typho explains there are two more guards stationed in the hallway.
Searching the penthouse, Padmé eventually finds Mehht in the kitchen looking forlorn.  “Where’s Lorian?” she asks.
“He didn’t tell you?” Mehht asks and from her derisive tone, Padmé knows that the he refers to Anakin.
“No,” Padmé replies.
“Lorian was reassigned,” Mehht says.  “He’s supposed to keep an eye on Leia.”
Padmé nods.  “Anakin mentioned that Lorian was Leia’s guard in the past.”
Mehht doesn’t reply and it is clear that she’s unhappy with the situation.  Padmé bites back the desire to apologize.  Lorian is an Imperial guard.  Watching Leia is his duty.  And it is quite evident that someone needs to be watching Leia.
“I’ll see you in the morning,” Padmé says, leaving Mehht to brood alone.
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