Sins of the Father:  Chapter 11
by indie

Mehht looks at Luke and Mara expectantly.  From her seat on the other side of the table, Padmé watches the exchange.  It's far more compelling than picking at her breakfast.
Reluctantly, Mara hands over the datapad, quiet as Mehht scrolls through the information.  Padmé watches Mara intently.  This is the first time she's seen Obi-Wan's daughter and she finds herself looking for echoes of him in Mara's features.  The resemblance is there in the way she squares her shoulders as she waits and the somber slant of her mouth.   But had Anakin not informed her of Mara's true parentage, Padmé never would have suspected.
"I'm not familiar with the last entry," Mehht says, glancing up at Mara.  "Did Karrde add it last night?"
Luke looks at Mara with the same puzzled expression Mehht wears.  Quite obviously to Padmé, Mara is in no hurry to explain the recent turn of events.  Padmé has the distinct impression that Mara was hoping Mehht wouldn’t notice the most recent entry. 
Mara takes a deep breath, her eyes not on Mehht, but on Padmé.  "No," Mara says, "Karrde didn't add it.  Leia did.  This morning."
A pit opens in Padmé's stomach.  Why would Leia be turning over information about specific instances of slaves being held in the Empire?  Why would Leia know anything about it?  Mara's demeanor does nothing to soothe Padmé's worry.  The young woman is quite obviously ill at ease.
"The information is incomplete," Mara says.  "If you want the rest of it, you'll have to speak directly with Leia."
"Fine," Mehht says, obviously irritated.  "Let's go talk to Leia."
Padmé rises to her feet.  "I'll go as well."
When they arrive at Leia's suite, Lorian is standing guard outside looking bored out of his mind.  He perks up considerably as he catches sight of Mehht.  Padmé herds Luke and Mara inside the suite, leaving Lorian and Mehht a few moments to themselves.
Leia's suite is far more opulent than either Anakin or Luke's quarters.  The large sitting room is upholstered in rich, jewel tone velvets and the floors are highly polished Oro wood planks.  It is a far cry from the tiny room she uses when at the Lars farmstead. 
Leia has her back to the door, standing in the open archway that leads out to a small terrace.  She glances over her shoulder and slowly turns to face Padmé, Luke and Mara.  She wears the same icy expression that Padmé saw in the shuttle last night.
"Good morning, Leia," Padmé says gently.
Leia looks at her mother, but does not respond.
Mehht is laughing softly as she and Lorian enter the sitting room, but the happy sound dies as she sees Leia.  Clearing her throat, Mehht wastes no time in saying, "The report you provided Mara was incomplete."
"Was it?" Leia asks, feigning surprise.  She tsks under her breath.  "I guess I'll just have to take you there myself."
"Leia," Padmé says, the warning tone evident in her voice.  "You know your father told you that you aren't to leave the palace."
Leia fixes her mother with a cruel, condescending stare.  "That won't be a problem," she says.  "Angel is right here in the palace."
The sinking feeling Padmé has experienced since last night while speaking on the veranda with Anakin sharpens.  This morning, she was certain that Leia was either trying to waste their time or fabricate excuses to get out of the palace.  But there is definitely more going on than that.  And the name Leia uttered does not sit well with Padmé.
Glancing around the room, Padmé sees that Lorian looks like he would welcome the opportunity to strangle Leia.  Mara looks equally unimpressed with Leia, but less openly hostile.  Padmé has the distinct impression that both Lorian and Mara have a very good idea who Angel is and what exactly Leia hopes to accomplish by taking them all to meet her.  Lorian catches Padmé's eyes and his gentle, almost pitying expression confirms Padmé's every fear. 
Nothing good will come of this.
Every nerve in Padmé's body feels like it's fraying as Leia directs the skycar driver deeper and deeper into the bowels of the Imperial Palace.  The palace is a monstrosity and Padmé gets lost here more often than not, but she can't shake the feeling that they're coming closer and closer to the section of the palace where Anakin's private quarters are located.
The skycar eventually stops and everyone except the driver exits.  There is a coded door and Padmé follows Leia, expecting her to palm it open.  Leia doesn't.  She swivels to face her mother and motions for Padmé to palm it herself.
With more than a little trepidation, Padmé presses her palm to the reader.  She is not shocked when the doors hiss open.  Leia takes a step back and motions for Padmé to enter.
Padmé swallows thickly, bracing herself.  But before she can move, Lorian gently grasps her arm.  She turns to face him and his expression is so kind that she's taken off guard.  "You don't have to do this," he says quietly.
"Oh, surely for the sake of Mehht's cause, we should," Leia says, her lips curved into a cruel smile.
Lorian shoots a murderous glare at Leia, but dutifully nods his head.  He steps back, releasing Padmé.
Her blood pounding in her ears, Padmé steps into the room.  It's a suite with a similar layout to both Luke and Leia's quarters.  A short hallway leads to a large sitting room complete with fireplace.  The room is lavishly decorated with rich tapestries and polished marble floors. 
Padmé clears her throat.  "Angel," she says softly.
"Yes," a soft, feminine voice replies.  The woman to whom the voice belongs turns the corner and steps into view.
Padmé hears Mehht's gasp and knows the hand on her shoulder belongs to Luke, but she can't move.  She's rooted to the spot.  She wondered what game Leia was playing and she admits that this is far worse than anything she expected.  Part of her anticipated walking into this room and finding one of Anakin's mistresses, his illegitimate child or perhaps both.  The sight before her steals her breath.
Padmé turns and looks at Leia.  The cruel, self-satisfied smile on her daughter's lips wounds Padmé to the depths of her soul.
"Can I help you?" Angel asks pleasantly.
"We're, um, oh dear," Mehht says.
Padmé shakes her head sharply and looks at Angel.  "How long have you been here?" she asks.
Angel's smile falters, her brow furrowing.  "In this room?" she asks with a smile.  "Only a few moments.  You watched me enter."
Clearly, Angel isn't that bright.  "No," Padmé says gently.  "In the palace.  How long have you been held here?"
"Held?" Angel asks, searching all of their faces in turn for some indication of what they want.  "I live here," she says with huge smile. 
"How long have you lived here?" Padmé asks.
"Forever," Angel replies with the same guileless smile.  "Since Senator Farr brought me here to Lord Vader from Kamino seven years ago."
Padmé stalks down the hallway, fighting the urge to break into a run.  Luke is right behind her, keeping pace.  The others remain in Angel's suite.
Padmé stops and grinds the heels of her palms into her eyes.  "We should leave," she says brusquely.  "That thing in there isn't being held against its will."
"I don't think it has much of a will," Luke says quietly.
It's not funny, but Padmé laughs.  No, Angel definitely does not have much of a will.  Angel doesn't have much of anything – except Padmé's voice and Padmé's body.  Or at least the body she had two decades ago.  Honestly, Padmé isn't certain what bothers her more, the fact that Angel is a living reminder of how she used to look or that Angel is completely vacant.  Actually, it's the latter.  Definitely the latter.
Padmé coughs and bites down on her fist, trying to stop herself from retching. 
Angel's existence offends and repulses every fiber of Padmé's being.  Someone went to the trouble of making a clone of her – without her knowledge or her permission.  They modified the clone – modified Padmé's very DNA – to make her … docile.  Padmé can think of no better word to describe Angel.  She's docile.  Perfectly accommodating and agreeable. 
Padmé thinks back to Anakin's quarters, to the fact that they were coded to accept her palm print.  Was the door coded to her or to Angel?  Her stomach roils again and this time, she can't prevent herself from vomiting.  The thought of Anakin with that thing, of him using it to -   She can't finish the thought.  She's dry heaving now.
Padmé stumbles to the wall and slides down it, crumpling to the floor, sobbing.  It is not because of Anakin that she cries, however.  It is because of Leia.  It's crushing, of course, to find out that Anakin has been keeping Angel, she supposes, like a kind of pet.  Angel could never be a true companion.  But what truly wounds Padmé is that Leia delivered this information maliciously.  Her daughter brought Padmé here because she knew that Angel's very existence would injure Padmé. 
"Mom?" Luke says gently, afraid to approach.
"I'm okay," Padmé says, wiping at her tears.  "I'm okay."
Padmé can hear Mehht raging before the doors to Angel's suite slide open. 
"You ungrateful, evil little brat!" Mehht yells.
Leia tries to remain aloof, but Padmé immediately notices her flushed color, the way her eyes dart around the room.  Perhaps Leia is having an attack of conscience after all.  But Padmé's not certain.  She's not certain of anything at all anymore.
"Mehht," Padmé says gently.
Mehht turns and seeing Padmé, immediately crosses the room and envelops her in a hug.  "Oh, honey," Mehht says softly, holding Padmé tightly.  Padmé returns the hug gratefully.
Across the room, Leia watches them with glassy eyes.  As she looks at Padmé, her chin quivers, making her appear far younger than her sixteen years.  "Mom?" she says quietly.
Mehht rounds on Leia, teeth bared.  "Stay away," she seethes.  "You've done enough damage for today."
Leia recoils as if she had been hit and her gaze immediately narrows at Mehht.
Padmé starts to reach out to Leia, but Mehht takes her hand, turning her and ushering her out to the waiting skycar.  As they retreat, Padmé glances over her shoulder at Angel who watches the events with huge, vacant eyes.  Padmé shudders, looking away.
Padmé sits on one of the couches in her penthouse living room, staring blankly at the wall.  Mehht is in the kitchen making H'Kak bean tea with Luke's help. 
"Apologies, milady," Mara says quietly.
Padmé looks up at the young woman and smiles gently.  Padmé hadn't heard her enter the room.  She has a feeling Mara is very good at sneaking around. 
"I should have warned you," Mara says.  "But I didn't feel that it was my place."
Padmé shakes her head.  "It wasn't your place, Mara.  It wasn't your fault."
Mara shifts her weight restlessly from foot to foot.  "I didn't think Leia would actually go through with it," she says.
Padmé shakes her head.  "I don't think Leia knew for certain if she would do it until it was done," she says wearily.  "And then it was too late.  She's bold.  Too bold for her own good more often than not."  She takes a deep breath and releases it.  "There is so much of Anakin in her."
Mara doesn't answer.  There isn't anything to answer.  Padmé already has the impression that the conversation has become far more personal than Mara would prefer.
"Mehht says you've been a great help to her," Padmé says, changing the subject.
Mara blushes and looks away.  "Thank you, ma'am," she replies.
Mara is rescued from having to continue the uneasy conversation by the arrival of Luke and Mehht.  Mehht sets the refreshment tray on a small table and pours Padmé a cup of tea.  Padmé also takes a slice of the bland haroun bread, nibbling on it to try and settle her still uneasy stomach.
Padmé does not feel up to venturing into the ODP offices and both Mehht and Luke seem reluctant to leave her side.  So they all remain in the penthouse all day working on various tasks.  Astor and the other new guards are far more unobtrusive than Lorian ever was.  Padmé isn't certain if that makes the separation harder or easier on Mehht.
A warm sense of pride wells up inside Padmé as she watches Mehht direct a staggeringly complex control center from Padmé's dining room table.  Bail drops by during the early evening along with several of Lieutenant Piett's security officers who have apparently been co-opted by Mehht to work on her projects.  Padmé wonders what Anakin would do if he realized his Imperial military officers were being conscripted by Padmé's little moisture farmer. 
Thoughts of Anakin conjure a torrent of volatile emotions and Padmé reflexively forces him from her mind.  With a smile, she excuses herself from the table and makes her way to her bedroom with the intention of lying down for a while. 
Padmé turns the corner and is shocked to almost run into her daughter.  "Leia," she says in surprise.
Leia flushes and her gaze immediately drops to the floor.  She is dressed all in black with a long zeyd-cloth cloak wrapped completely around her body so that only her small, pale face is visible.
Padmé's lips purse together tightly and she laces her fingers together to keep from reaching out to her child.  "Your father didn't want you to leave the palace," Padmé says softly.
Leia shrugs and doesn't meet her gaze.
"Come with me," Padmé says, walking into her bedroom.  She waits until Leia enters and then shuts the door.  Taking a seat on the end of her bed, Padmé pats the mattress next to her expectantly.  Dutifully, Leia takes a seat but still won't look at her mother.  She shifts her weight uncomfortably.
"It's my fault," Padmé says.
Leia immediately looks at her mother, her brow furrowed.
"I stayed away far too long," Padmé says.  "I let you and Luke both play me and your father against each other because I was too scared to face the life I left."
Leia listens in silence.
"You are too young to have all the responsibility, Leia," Padmé says.  "It isn't fair to you."
Leia takes a breath and opens her mouth to reply, but Padmé cuts across her.  "I'm sure you don't see it that way," Padmé says with a wry, humorless smile.  "I'm sure you enjoy the responsibility and I'm sure you're good at it.  But the truth is, you're still very young and despite how painfully bright you are, sometimes you can't see the whole situation."
Frowning, Leia looks insulted.
"I know why you took me to see Angel today," Padmé says plainly.
Leia flushes again, looking meek and guilty.
Reaching out, Padmé places a hand on Leia's leg.  "I know it can't be easy for you to deal with the way your life has changed since I returned to Coruscant.  I know that you aren't accustomed to having to face your father and I as a united front."  Padmé takes a deep breath.  "I know you took me to see Angel because you want to drive your father and I apart so things will go back to normal."
Leia opens her mouth, searching for words.  "I don't want you and dad to not be together," Leia says, obviously conflicted. 
Padmé smiles sadly at her daughter.  "Leia," she says.  "I know how close you are to your father.  I know how important it is that he depend on you."
Leia nods.
"But you have to know," Padmé continues, "that he won't be happy that you took me to see Angel."
Leia looks away and Padmé gets the distinct impression that this fact has occurred to Leia – but that it occurred to her after she the damage was already done.  Maybe this is the curse of the Skywalkers, to forever leap before they look.
Despite how wounded Padmé is, both by Leia and by Anakin, she still worries how the day's events will affect Leia and Anakin's relationship.  Luke found out the hard way how badly his father reacts to perceived betrayal.  Padmé prays that Anakin will be more lenient on Leia.   But she knows Anakin well.  She knows how like him it will be to blame other people for his own faults.  Regardless, Padmé will hate to see Leia blindsided by her father's reaction. 
Defiantly, Leia pushes herself off the bed, turning to face Padmé with an insolent expression.  "Daddy knows," Leia says firmly.  "He knows that I would never betray him.  He knows that I'm the one he can count on."
Padmé sighs.  Much like her father, Leia chooses to bury her fear behind denial.  Padmé decides that silence is the better part of valor.  Leia is not ready to hear the truth right now.  She's still young.  Padmé prays there is still time for her to mature, to learn from her mistakes – and the mistakes of her father.
Padmé rises and places a gentle hand on her daughter's shoulder.  "Leia, you need to return to the palace," she says.
Leia's expression is a volatile mixture of emotions that Padmé can't read.  She has the sensation that Leia wants to reach out to her, to tell her something, but that she can't.
"Leia?" Padmé says gently.
There is one teetering moment where Padmé thinks Leia will let her in, but it's gone in a blink.  Insolently, Leia pulls away and stalks from the room without a word.
Nap forgotten, Padmé returns to the dining room.   Bail and the Imperial officers are gone, leaving just Luke, Mara and Mehht.  Astor lurks in the shadows. 
Padmé picks up a datapad that Taly had couriered over for her.  She scans through his findings.  He discovered a half-dozen more systems involved in the money transfers.  Most of them are tied to Senate offices but the report does not name names.  Taly wants to be certain of the involved parties before he makes any accusations.  At the end of the report, Taly has included everything he pulled from the Imperial databases and starcharts on the planet Byss.
Mehht rises to stand, stretching.  "My back is killing me," she says.  "I'm going to go soak in the bathtub for a while."
Padmé nods, smiling at her friend before she turns back to the datapad.  Byss is apparently located in the Deep Core.  Padmé frowns, looking at the datapad.  Deep Core?  That's where Captain Solo said he was headed before discovering Leia.  Padmé's blood turns to ice water.  How is Leia wrapped up in this scheme of Korsa Dae and Orn Free Taa?
Padmé doesn't have time to finish the thought as Mehht's scream pierces the air. 
Padmé is already running into Mehht's bedroom before she becomes aware of her actions.  Despite Padmé's quick reaction time, Luke, Mara and Astor all arrive before her.
"Help me," Mehht pleads.
Padmé pushes Luke aside and is horrified by the sight in front of her.  Mehht is crouched on the bed, cradling Lorian's supine form.  His head is lolled to the side and his shirt is soaked with wet, crimson bloodstains.

End Chapter
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