Sins of the Father:  Chapter 2
Facing the Past
by indie



 "Are you sure she'll come?" Mehht asks, staring out Padmé's bedroom window at the vast array of lights that illuminate Coruscant's night sky.  "It is rather late." 

The trip from Tatooine was long and they’ve both spent the last week so tightly wound they could barely breathe.  The only thing either of them want is to sleep.  But that luxury won’t be available until some basic necessities are procured. 

"She will come," Padmé answers matter-of-factly, pulling the brush absently through her long tresses.  "No one would dare to say no to the Empress."  The words are uttered with more than a little bitter irony.  She hates that title and before today, she had never used it.

Mehht frowns and turns.  She heads for the door, bound for the living room to inspect the panoramic view.  Mehht has never been away from Tatooine.  The fact that she is here at all is somewhat of a miracle.  Natives of Tatooine are not known for their wanderlust – yet another way that Padmé's husband has always distanced himself from his peers. 

Mehht Whitesun is Beru’s niece, the only daughter of Beru’s older brother.  Mehht came to live at the Lars farmstead outside Anchorhead four seasons ago following her fiancé’s untimely death.  She is bright but plainspoken and loyal to a fault.

“Padmé,” Mehht says from the doorway, flanked by Threepio, “she’s arrived.”  Mehht frowns and then chews briefly on her bottom lip.  “Should I call you ‘my lady’?” she asks.

Padmé smiles gently.  They’ve shared their tiny room for four years, their pallets laid out neatly side by side.  They are closer, in some ways, than Padmé ever was to her sister, Sola. “That won't be necessary,” she says. 

***

“It will take a week for the entire order, but I can have several garments sent over by morning,” the woman says, addressing both Padmé and Mehht.  The woman’s name is Jahzia Soh.  She is Falleen, so it is difficult to judge her age, but her careful manner and successful business are great indicators that she’s been around long enough to know how to keep her head down.  She is one of the most sought after designers in the Empire, just as she was in the Republic before its demise. 

“I am very thankful for the special accommodation, Lady Soh,” Padmé answers.

“Please do not thank me, my lady.  It is my honor.”  For a moment, Jahzia’s impeccable façade cracks and Padmé knows that she is truly grateful to see her.  When Padmé was a Senator, Jahzia designed many of her gowns.  It has been years since they have spoken.

Padmé’s smoothes her hands over the threadbare material of her tunic.  "I will have payment transferred to your accounts tonight," she assures Lady Soh.

Jahzia bows as she takes her leave.

Padmé rubs the material of her tunic gently between her fingers.  She is dressed in attire suitable for a moisture farmer in the Outer Rim – which is what she is.  Mehht and Padmé share the same vocation.  Their outfits are similar, both made by hand from sturdy fibers the same dull beige as Tatooine’s Dune Sea. 

Padmé is not ashamed of her clothing.  On the contrary, she’s proud of it.  She created it with her own hands for her own simple purposes.  It has seen her through many seasons.  Like the calluses on her hands, the clothes are something she came by honestly, through hard work and sacrifice.  For year upon year she has helped with the farm knowing that her role means the difference between having enough food on the table and feeling the pains of hunger.

But her attire, no matter how hard won, is now inappropriate.  For as much as Padmé wishes she could remain a moisture farmer, she now has to rise to a station to which she never aspired.  She has to become the Empress.

***

“Oh, thank the maker.”  Threepio is almost bursting with joy at the fact that his battered plating has been replaced with a new bronze skin that gleams brightly in the morning light.  As is the custom on Naboo, Padmé has always treated Threepio – or any other sentient droid – as a person.  But from time to time, she does marvel at him.  He is so very human.  And fussy.  She has never seen any other droid so thoroughly obsessed with propriety and creature comforts. 

It is difficult to reconcile Threepio’s quirks with the man who was his maker. She supposes that all sentient life must share certain characteristics – whether droid or child.  You can lay down the foundation as meticulously as possible, but there is still so much of it beyond your control. 

Mehht is staring out the window, captivated by the pace of life on Coruscant.  She notices Padmé watching her and blushes, turning away from the view of the morning rush hour.  “Sorry,” she says.  “It’s just so different.  It’s hard to imagine you living here.”

Padmé thinks about it for a moment, looking at the same landscape that so captivates Mehht.  In the early morning light that streams through the breakfast room's windows, the towering buildings gleam like flame.  “It’s hard for me to imagine it too,” she admits.  “It was a long time ago.”  She reaches across the table and pours more caf into Mehht’s cup as well as her own.  It’s much stronger than the tea they drink at home, but it has been expertly brewed and she can’t resist having a little more.

Neither she nor Mehht slept well the previous night.  The apartment’s papered walls and plush carpets discomfortingly muffle sounds and disorient their senses of space and balance.   The beds which were merely functional years ago now seem lavish beyond reason, so soft both Padmé and Mehht found rest elusive.  Earlier in the morning, Padmé spent at least half an hour staring at her closet wondering how on earth she ever owned enough gowns and frivolous adornments to occupy the entire space.  It’s not exactly a line of reasoning she needs to be embracing at this juncture.  She knows she needs to shed her life in Tatooine if she has any hope of matching wits with what remains of the man she loved. 

They hear the male Twi’lek's heavy footfalls before he enters the room.  His skin is a deep crimson.  Lethan Twi’lek are rare, males moreso than females.  He would probably be famous even if he weren’t infamous.  “My lady,” he says, inclining his head deferentially as one corpulent lekku slips over his shoulder.

“Korto,” she replies.  Padmé knows there must be an army of servants that tend to the Emperor's needs.  Korto is in charge of them.  Her stomach nearly turns at the thought of how very dangerous a creature of his proclivities is in a position of such power.  Times are very tough in this brave new world her husband has created.  A position, any position, within the Emperor's private staff would be highly coveted.  From his perch, Korto can exploit hundreds if not thousands of individuals.

"I trust that your journey went well," he says, glancing at Mehht.

Padmé's gut reaction is to tell him that their journey was none of his concern, but she holds her tongue.  This is not the time for such honest conversation.  Her diplomatic skills may not have been valued in any official capacity for years, but she uses them often in the course of her marriage. 

"Very well," she says.  Her words are perfectly polite, but her tone is colder than the surface of a planetoid in the Hoth system. 

He knows well he has already overstayed his welcome.  He looks at the floor rather than meeting her gaze.  He may be repulsive, but he is not stupid.  He will not provoke her. "My lord bids me ensure your comfort in all things," he replies.

"We are quite comfortable," she informs him.

"My lord – "

"That will be all, Korto." Her tone leaves no room for argument and he merely bows again before leaving the room.  Threepio follows him, escorting him from her apartment.

Mehht looks at her with an expression somewhere between confusion and amusement.  Padmé knows why.  Mehht has never seen her like this, hiding behind her potent political armor.  It's happening already.  This is one of the reasons she stayed away so long. 

She cannot live in his world without becoming something cold and mechanical. 

Padmé smiles warmly at Mehht.  "I'm sorry," she says.  "I find Korto … unsettling."

Mehht smiles gently in return and some of her unease slips away.  "I understand," she says.

Padmé accepts her empathy, but in her heart, she knows that Mehht does not understand.  Mehht can't.  Padmé hardly understands it herself.  Korto is physically repulsive to be certain.  But Padmé has lived on the Hutt homeworld for more than a decade.  It isn't the Twi'lek's physical proportions that unsettle her.  It isn't even his abhorrent personality.  Point of fact, her problem with Korto has very little to do with Korto himself.  He's a deviant, a power hungry bottom-feeder, but if he were anyone else, she could look past him.

But Korto isn't anyone else.  He's the Emperor's right hand.  This vile, disgusting, amoral parasite is the closest thing the Emperor has to a friend.

It's that thought that wounds Padmé so deeply.

She should be beyond this emotion.  Her husband has committed so many atrocities in the name of peace that she should have given up.  Her faith should be depleted.  But it isn't. 

Anakin Skywalker was never a solitary creature.  That was his biggest failing as a Jedi.  He could never muster the indifference they required.  Of course, The Order wrapped their propaganda in grand themes, preferring to call their detachment by the more palatable name of compassion.  But she doubts now more than ever that it is even possible to embody compassion while shunning attachment.  The two are inseparable.  That core belief put the Order at odds with itself. 

Padmé tries to turn her thoughts away.  She has spent so much time – years – blaming the Jedi Order.  She remembers the first time Anakin told her about the prophecy, that the Jedi believed him to be the Chosen One.  Of course Anakin believed it as well, he has always viewed himself as more than human, more than a Jedi.  But for all of Anakin's arrogance, he couldn't even begin to approach the epic proportions the ego of the Jedi Order itself possessed.  They were so self-righteous, so self-important that they chose to believe that balance in the universe was somehow intertwined with their own longevity and glory.  They were blind to the fact that they themselves were quite possibly what had thrown the natural order of the Force out of alignment.

Shadows exist only in the presence of light and the brighter the light, the deeper and darker those shadows.  The Jedi Order existed for thousands of years, gaining ever more influence, territory and power.  They should have seen it coming.  They should have at least suspected that by balancing the force, Anakin would have to do something that wouldn't be in their own best interest.

The logic is so circular it makes Padmé's head ache – and heart.  Perhaps the Jedi did suspect that Anakin was somehow, at his core, at odds with them.  Perhaps that's why he distrusted them, why it was so easy for Chancellor Palpatine to insinuate himself in Anakin’s life, play on his fears and widen that rift. 

Padmé remembers her life as a younger woman, first as Queen, then as the Nubian Ambassador.  She had the utmost respect for The Jedi Order.  It hurts her to have these thoughts, these emotions toward them.  For the longest time she – like a large portion of the galaxy's inhabitants – lived in awe of the Jedi Knights, of the Jedi Temple, of all of its trappings.  Even after her involvement with Anakin provided a closer view, she never truly questioned.

It wasn't until Anakin's fall, until the death of her beloved Republic, and most importantly, the birth of her children, that she took a closer look. Luke and Leia undoubtedly inherited some measure of their father's power.  In her self-imposed exile on Tatooine, she became a student of Jedi lore and history. The closer she looked, the harsher her scrutiny. 

***

Mehht tsks under her breath, shaking her head as Padmé folds the note and tucks it into the cloak's inner pocket.  "Children need to have more respect," Mehht says.

Padmé smiles softly, stepping through the doors and into the Galaxies Opera House's opulent lobby.  Leia was supposed to meet them here, but sent a note explaining that she was unavoidably detained.  Padmé doesn't even want to know what that means coming from a sixteen year old girl with the figurative (and possibly literal) keys to the kingdom. 

She isn't surprised, on the contrary, she was surprised when Leia agreed to attend.  Padmé suspects it was because they took Leia off guard.  For whatever reason, Leia was unaware of her mother's arrival and was visibly shocked when she walked into the private arboretum earlier that afternoon to find Padmé and Mehht inspecting the grounds.  Padmé doesn't know what to make of Leia's ignorance.  It is unexpected.  She assumed that Leia would have been informed of her arrival well in advance by her father.  She wasn't. 

"Oh my," Mehht breathes, staring up at the grand chandelier.

Padmé glances at Mehht.  Despite Mehht's earlier pronouncement on the deportment of children, Mehht isn't much older than Leia.   Twenty.  Had Mehht's fiancé not died, Mehht would most certainly be considered a woman by Tatooine's standards.  She would have been the head of her household with several children under foot, a farm to manage and a household budget to watch. 

"I forget how grandiose things are here," Padmé explains, glancing around the lobby, trying to remember the first time she was here.  The night feels both foreign and familiar.  She has enjoyed dozens of performances here, but it was all so long ago.

Mehht accompanied Padmé to Coruscant ostensibly to act as a handmaiden, but Mehht's life experience is woefully inadequate to prepare her as an Imperial handmaiden.  Shortly after their arrival on Coruscant, Padmé contacted her former handmaiden, Dormé.  Dormé's daughter Kore and another young woman, Sullee attended both Padmé and Mehht. 

Both women spent the better part of the day in Padmé's apartment being plucked and primped, massaged and moisturized until they bore little resemblance to the Outer Rim moisture farmers who arrived three days previous. 

Lady Soh's gowns were delivered as promised and Padmé's is reminded exactly why Lady Soh is worth the staggering amount of credits she demands.  The gowns are stunning to be certain, but more than that, they capture Padmé’s mood.  These aren't the flirty, coquettish gowns she favored during her time on Naboo with Anakin, nor are they the more stately, matronly style she preferred as a married woman during the Clone Wars.  They most certainly don't resemble the formal ceremonial attire she donned as a Queen.  The gowns encompass a dazzling array of colors, fabrics and styles, yet they all suit her perfectly.  They neither flaunt nor hide.  They are beautiful without being ostentatious.  These are the gowns of a woman, classic and ageless with a simplicity that speaks not to others’ expectations, but to Padmé’s truth. 

The gown she has chosen to wear tonight is shimmersilk in an indigo so deep it appears black.  The intricate beading that decorates the neckline glitters under the chandeliers.  Her body is firm and lithe from years of demanding manual labor and while the gown does not expose much skin, it hugs the contours of her womanly form in a manner that is quite complementary.  The sleeves are long and the hem would touch the ground were she not wearing the delicate, black, heeled sandals that make her a full two inches taller than her natural height.  She decided against wearing a cloak despite the fact that she now finds the temperature of Coruscant uncomfortably cool.

Just like her threadbare tunic, the simply braided hairstyle that served Padmé so well for so long is no longer appropriate.  Her long tresses are pulled into an intricate knot at the nape of her neck.  Strands of thin, black, shimmering ribbon are woven through the knot, occasionally catching the light and glittering like jewels.

Padmé could not help but linger over her reflection in the mirror.  She doesn't recognize herself.  That scares her more than she cares to admit.

Mehht shifts uneasily and Padmé cannot help but smile.  Even in her much simpler gown of unadorned rose colored Lashaa silk, Mehht is obviously ill at ease.  She is not accustomed to this opulence and she accepts change with the begrudging wariness that is seemingly hard wired into most of Tatooine's inhabitants. 

As Padmé's eyes wander the lobby, she notices that little by little, the crowded room's conversation falls off and heads turn her direction.  A few moments later it is painfully obvious that the entire room is staring at her. 

She stands there, using every bit of influence she has over her autonomic nervous system to will her cheeks not to flame.  It has been so long since she was in the spotlight and even then, she was rarely inspected with such unbridled scrutiny and rabid curiosity.  She wonders what everyone is thinking as they stare at the Emperor's long absent wife.  She knows most of them suspected she was dead.

A man clears his throat loudly and Padmé turns her head to see him pushing his way through the crowd toward her.  He towers over most of them, his profile is unmistakable, even at a distance.  Like a group of chastised children, most of the onlookers turn away, parting before him.  He reaches for her hands and she extends them gratefully.  "Padmé."

"Bail," she says and try as she might, she can't prevent the slight crack in her voice.  She didn't expect this well of emotion.  She is so grateful for his rescue, but she is almost overwhelmed at the sense of longing she has from merely glancing at him.  He is such an immediate reminder of her forgotten life.

"I can't believe you're here," he says.  "I heard so many rumors."

"Padmé?"  Breha pulls her into an embrace before Padmé has a chance to respond.  The two women hug each other tightly and unbidden tears glisten in Padmé's eyes.  She knows better than to allow them to fall in such a public place. 

As they finally pull away, Padmé quickly blinks back the tears, smiling gratefully at her friends.  "I missed you both so much," she says softly.

"We feared the worst," Bail admits gravely.  Padmé takes in the deep creases in his brow, the streaks of silver in his hair.  He is still a strong man, physically and mentally, but she can see how the years have worn on him.

"I'm well," Padmé assures him and is more than a little shocked to realize she means it.

"How long have you been on Coruscant?" Breha presses.  "Why didn't you contact us the moment you arrived?"

"We arrived three nights ago," Padmé explains, introducing Mehht to Senator and Queen Organa.  She smiles wryly.  "I didn't want to make a production of my return," she says.  Her expression turns wry.  "Obviously I failed spectacularly in that."

Bail cynically raises an eyebrow.  "You're married to the Emperor," he says.  "There's no way that a reaction could have been avoided."

Bail gives her a glance that Padmé chooses to ignore.  Even after sixteen years, she still knows that look well – though this is the first time she's found herself on the receiving end.  It's a mixture of curiosity and suspicion.  As much as it hurts, Padmé accepts it as her due.  She is married to a dictator and rather than stand and fight him, she has been hiding in the Outer Rim for the last decade and a half.  Of course Bail questions her motives and her unexpected re-appearance. 

Bail undoubtedly wants to know the state of affairs between the Emperor and his Empress.  Padmé has no intention of having that conversation yet when she has no idea herself.   And she is in no hurry for Senator Organa to remind her of her long neglected duties to a Republic which no longer exists. 

She long ago ceased to be a Senator or public servant. 

Padmé knows that Bail wants to hear that truth even less than she wants to admit it. 

***

The restaurant, Te, specializes in Anderaanian cuisine and is unfamiliar to Padmé.  For all its lavish appointments, it's much like any other chic eatery.  Situated on the highest levels of one of Galactic City's skyscrapers, it provides a breathtaking view and plenty of atmosphere.  The lights are dim and the food exquisite.  The interior of the restaurant is designed to provide patrons with the maximum amount of privacy.  Te can afford to sacrifice occupancy limits in exchange for exorbitant prices.

Breha and Bail are incredibly kind to Mehht, going out of their way to include in her in the conversations both at the Opera House and at Te.   They chat amiably and it gives Padmé a chance to quietly reflect on how substantially things have changed in her absence.  She sips the spiced steamed wine slowly, savoring its decadent flavors.  She tries to block out everything save that one pleasure.  Bail often shoots her glances across the table and Padmé does her best to avoid meeting them. 

By now news of her return will be all over HoloNet.  Typho will not be pleased.  He bolstered her security before they departed for the Opera House and by tomorrow morning, she knows that there will be dozens of guards in her detail.  Though the dedicated professionals accommodate her privacy as much as possible, their goal is not her peace of mind, but rather her physical safety.  The two are often at odds. 

Padmé quietly excuses herself from the table and makes her way to the sumptuously decorated facilities.  She is ordered, rather than asked, to wait outside momentarily while the security officers make sure she is alone.  Once that is done, she is given a modicum of privacy in the women’s lounge.

This is difficult.

Years of living on Tatooine have stripped away her armor.  She has forgotten what it's like to live under a microscope, to have her every move scrutinized through security cameras and comlinks.  The invasion of privacy feels like a physical assault.  She doesn't know how she ever accepted this as a facet of normal life.

Tears prick her eyes and she tries to will them away.  She knew this was going to be taxing.  She knew she would have to sacrifice the ignorance in which she cocooned herself. 

She braces her hands against the cold stone vanity.  She stares at herself in the mirror.  Her hair is dark, the few strands of gray that were there a week ago are now artfully hidden behind chemical colors.  The tiny lines at the corners of her eyes and lips have almost been pampered into oblivion – but not quite.   Her face is thin verging on gaunt.  She has been unable to eat for weeks, her nerves wrung too thin with worry and apprehension. But the old saying holds true that you can never be too thin or too rich and she suspects few will find fault in the way her cheekbones press against her skin. 

She drops her gaze, staring down at her hands.  Her hands, at least, are the same as always.  Her nails are neatly trimmed, but short and not camouflaged with enamel.  Her fingers and knuckles are marred in many places by shiny, pale scars.  Her hands are her badge of honor, proof that she has worked for something in this life.  The scars on her heart, though infinitely more painful, are far less visible.

She starts to sigh, but stops, holding in the breath as the hairs at the back of her neck stand on end and something cold prickles up her spine. 

She looks into the mirror and meets his gaze.  He’s standing behind her, dressed in his black Jedi robes.  He’s older, harder.  His skin is pale, making the vertical scar across his right eye stand out in harsh relief.  There is nothing soft in him, not the barest hint of innocence.  His hair is clipped ruthlessly short and his face is clean shaven.  His eyes are still a piercing, vibrant blue and he is still handsome enough to make her knees go weak.

She becomes aware that she’s still holding her breath and forces herself to release it, irritated with how shaky it sounds.  She pushes back from the vanity, straightening her spine and holding her head as high as possible.  She makes a show of smoothing down the front of her gown, pretending to take her time.  Slowly, she turns, facing him across the space of several feet.

His eyes rake her over from head to foot and she’s perversely outraged and delighted by the way his lips curve into a wry smile of male appreciation.  He ventures closer.  His robes do not rustle and his booted feet make no noise on the expensive Wayland marble floor tiles.  She is struck again by how much the vibrant, dynamic man she married has become a creature of silence and shadow.

He catches the flow of her emotions in the Force and stops, staring down at her from mere inches away.  His head tilts to the side and he studies her, his expression hard.  She suspects that Lord Vader is not accustomed to sensing pity in his prey.  She cannot lie to herself and pretend she is anything other than a conquest to him at this point, a publicly pointed thorn in his pride.

“Anakin – “  Her voice echoes loudly in the tiled room.

He frowns at her and takes a step backward before apparently thinking better of retreating and stands his ground.  “I don’t use that name,” he says matter-of-factly.

She looks at him, shunning her politician’s training and not bothering to try and hide any of the exasperation and irritation she feels.  “I will not address you as my lord,” she informs him curtly.

His expression is unreadable for several moments and she’s truly afraid that the Emperor’s notorious temper might manifest itself physically.  But eventually his lips curve into a smile of genuine amusement.  For a moment he looks like her Anakin, baiting her to get a response and then teasing her mercilessly.  “I would expect not, Senator,” he says.  He's always had a way of saying that word that encompasses the thousand generations of contempt the Jedi Order held for politicians.

She purses her lips at him, a look of censure he knows well.  “Is there still a Senate?” she asks acidly.  “I thought perhaps you had disbanded it.”

He doesn’t take the bait, instead smiling at her with a cool, knowing expression.  “All in good time,” he says.

She rolls her eyes and sighs, stepping away from him to pace around the lounge.  She doesn’t like that smile. It’s not one of Anakin’s smiles.  That cruel twisting of flesh and muscle is purely a product of Lord Vader and she wants nothing to do with it.  For all his faults, Anakin always wore his heart on his sleeve.  He was always readable – despite his secretive nature - often unable to contain the sheer volume of his emotions.  But the cold, calculating man before her does not share those shortcomings.  He is guarded, elusive and undeniably dangerous.  She retreats nearly to the other end of the room before turning to face him.  “How exactly am I supposed to address you?” she demands.

He smiles again, that same bland, slightly condescending twisting of his lips that gives her no insight into what he feels.  “Address me however you like, wife,” he says.  “Your words will not change anything.”

She straightens her spine and meets his gaze.  They’ll see about that.  “I must return to the table,” she says.

His bow is slightly mocking.  “But of course.  Give my best to Queen and Senator Organa.”

***

By the time they leave the restaurant, Typho’s complement of security guards has been bolstered by a dozen Imperial soldiers dressed in crisp black uniforms.  Mehht is obviously confused, but Bail shoots Padmé a knowing glance. 

“You were in the lounge for quite some time,” he says pointedly.

“I ran into someone,” she replies blandly, her gaze shifting away from his.

He is quiet and rather than finding anger in his eyes, he seems sad.  Imperial soldiers approach and Bail doesn't flinch as they demand to see his documentation.  How many times has he been detained, she wonders.  How many fists have knocked on their door in the middle of the night?  Anakin was never one to be subtle and in her absence, Senator Bail Organa must have made a convenient target for his frustrations.

The doubt that has been with Padmé for weeks solidifies into a hard lump in her chest.  What if Luke was wrong?  What if there is nothing that can be done to save Anakin, to make him see reason and the catastrophe about to befall them all?

Padmé tries to regroup, to find her center, her faith.  Luke is wise beyond his years and since his early childhood, he has been her touchstone.  If anyone could see the good in Anakin, it's Luke.

She does not doubt Luke.  What she doubts is her own ability to reach Anakin.  She fears her presence may only provoke him, strengthening his resistance to their cause. 


Feedback to indie

On to next chapter

Back to previous chapter

Back to Story Index

Back to
Ouroboros main page
 
Back to indiefic.com main page