Sins of the Father:  Chapter 7
by indie



Despite Padmé's worry that she was trapped in some interminable hell, the formal dinner did finally draw to a close.  At his father's order, Luke escorted Padmé back to her apartment.  Luke was undoubtedly curious about the scene into which he stumbled, but he thankfully did not ask any questions.  Far above Coruscant, the Star Home welcomed the Queen Mother and her children home – and with any luck, they are already on their way back to Hapes Cluster.

Padmé's night was short and mostly sleepless, providing plenty of opportunity for her to pore over every event.  The evening was both a success and a failure.  She's not particularly surprised.  Duality is definitely a theme when dealing with Anakin.

She knows that she did reach him on some level.  Though, that moment of openness was more than sufficient to trigger his defensive anger and chauvinistic comments.  He hadn't wanted to admit that he was attracted to her, not just physically, but emotionally.  He wanted even less to admit that she reminded him of his homeworld.  And so he went on the attack, putting her firmly in her place. 

In retrospect, she realizes she could have handled certain aspects with more grace.  The dress, in particular, wrought as much havoc as progress.  She meant to remind him of a time when he loved her beyond measure.  She succeeded in reminding him he wanted to see what was under the dress.  She also reminded him of a time when he felt powerless and trapped.  She sympathizes.  Those are not comfortable emotions – she should know.

Padmé greets the sunrise with a frown, but forces herself out of bed.  She goes about her morning ablutions, all the while dissecting last night.  She realizes now the grave error she made in assuming that Lord Vader would react in the same manner as Anakin.  As much as she knows they are the same man, she also now knows beyond a doubt that they are fundamentally different.  Lord Vader is much more controlled than Anakin, much clearer in his intentions.  Anakin was always guided by his instincts and emotions.  Lord Vader is far more calculating and mercenary.

He is not her Anakin, but he's also not quite a stranger.  It's some horrible mixture that confuses and wounds her heart.  But she also can't stop the hope that Anakin – her Anakin – is in there somewhere.  Padmé blushes as she thinks about the kiss they shared.  She is embarrassed by how desperately she wanted him – and by how much he must have known that.  He is no longer a young man choosing a path to a life without attachment.  During their courtship she was the more experienced partner – though not by much.  Now, the tables have most definitely been turned.  He is the most powerful man in the galaxy, physically in his prime.  She knows he has not lived a chaste life in her absence.

Now dressed, Padmé pushes the thoughts away.  She doesn't want to think about Anakin and his conquests.  She walks through the apartment, making her way to the veranda.  She stands in the doorway watching Lorian and Mehht argue.  Padmé marvels at how diabolical it is that evil doesn't visibly tarnish a person's physical body.  Assassin or not, Lorian is a handsome man.  Taller than Anakin, but more slightly built, he has blond hair and eyes a brown so deep that they often appear black.  Lorian is older than Mehht, probably in his early thirties and he has enough self-possession to stand his ground with her.

“Good morning,” Padmé says with a smile that does not reach her eyes.

Mehht huffs in Lorian’s direction and then turns her back on him to face Padmé.  “Morning,” she replies.

“So,” Padmé says, “do you mind telling me what exactly it was I was arguing about last night with Korto and Orn Free Taa.”

“Did it matter?” Mehht asks wryly.

“Not particularly,” Padmé admits, “but I am curious.  For someone who claims to feel useless here, you’re doing a very good job of getting into trouble.”

Mehht snorts derisively.  “Trouble,” she says.  “I’d like to show them some real trouble.  How dare they call Tatooine uncivilized.”

"Mehht," Padmé prompts.

"Okay," Mehht relents.  "Her name is Eja Volt and she's a … "  Mehht searches for the word.  "Courtesan."  Mehht blushes and pointedly avoids looking at Lorian. 

Obviously having no problem discussing prostitutes in mixed company, a small smirk curls his lips.

Padmé ignores the subtext between Lorian and Mehht.  She doesn't want to know.  Shaking her head in confusion, Padmé asks, “How did you find her?”

“You were busy with those … Hapans,” Mehht says, her disdain evident.  “So I … poked around.”

“You poked around the Imperial palace during a state dinner?” Padmé asks, more to emphasize the point than for clarification.  She is not shocked that Mehht had her own agenda for the evening.

Mehht nods, trying not to look sheepish.

Padmé looks past Mehht to Lorian.  “Were you watching her?” she demands.  Padmé has made it perfectly clear to Lorian that she expects him to protect Mehht with the same dedication he extends to the Empress. 

“Always,” he says blandly. 

Padmé narrows her gaze.  She’d bet money that Lorian is the younger son of some snooty aristocratic family from a Core world.  Handsome, educated, over-indulged, eloquent – when he speaks - and not in line to inherit a damn thing.  Spoiled brat.  At least he claims to have been doing his job.

“And you found Eja Volt hiding behind a potted plant?” Padmé asks.

Mehht won’t meet her gaze.  “Not exactly,” she says.

Padmé gives Mehht what Luke and Leia term the look.  It’s been known to stop fully trained Jedi dead in their tracks and give a Sith Lord serious pause.

“They were going to hurt her,” Mehht says vehemently.  “I found her in Korto’s office.  They used a pair of binders to tie her to a chair.  I had to get her out of there before they came back for her.  Orn Free Taa claims she owes him money, but he’s been exploiting her for years.  She’s been a prisoner.”

“And where is she now?” Padmé asks.

“On her way home to Farrfin,” Mehht says.  “I arranged for her to catch a ride on the medical transports headed for the Abhean refugee crisis.”

Padmé stares at Mehht blankly for a moment.  “You arranged all this last night?”

Mehht nods.

Padmé looks at her friend.  “I doubt you’ll take this as a complement,” she says, “but your talents are wasted on Tatooine.”

Mehht crosses her arms over her chest frowning – obviously not taking Padmé’s statement as a complement. 

Padmé sighs.  “Now we just have to hope that Orn Free Taa doesn’t find her again.”

“He won’t,” Lorian says.

Mehht and Padmé both turn to look at him.  “How can you be so sure?” Padmé asks.

“Because he’s dead,” Lorian says flatly, like he’s reading the weather forecast.

“Dead?” Padmé asks.  She doesn’t grieve for Orn Free Taa, but his death is a shock.  He was drunk last night, and reckless, but he certainly didn’t appear to be at death’s door.

Lorian nods.  “He was executed.”

Padmé stands in stunned silence.  “Anakin,” she says softly.

Lorian meets her gaze and gives her a small nod.  There is a seriousness, an intensity that is usually lacking in his demeanor.  His expression easily conveys his approval of Anakin’s actions.  “Slavery is strictly forbidden in the Empire,” Lorian says.  “Any sentient species – even Farghul like Eja Volt – are protected.  It was an egregious violation of Imperial mandate and for someone of Orn Free Taa's political stature, there was no way the Emperor could allow it to stand.”

“Mistress Padmé, Mistress Padmé,” Threepio says, hurrying across the veranda.

“Yes, Threepio,” Padmé says, glad for the distraction.

“Mistress Padmé, this was just delivered by Imperial courier.”  He hands Padmé a small white box about the size of a holocron.

Padmé studies the box for a moment, but does not open it.  “Thank you, Threepio,” she says.  “That will be all.”  She has learned over the years that subtlety does not work on the well-meaning protocol droid and right now, she does not want him to linger.

Padmé thinks the galaxy is undoubtedly a better place without Orn Free Taa, but she is not pleased that his blood is on Anakin’s hands.  She’s not shocked.  She had wondered last night how much of her confrontation with Taa Anakin had heard.  Obviously, he heard enough to know that Taa was demanding they return a woman he viewed as a possession. 

Slavery is the one human rights abuse that Anakin will not abide.  Having suffered the absolute indignity of being owned by another person – of having his mother owned by another person – Anakin has zero tolerance.  As always, his retribution is swift and brutal.

***

One look at Bail's face and Padmé knows that he's already heard about Taa's execution.  Padmé gives him a wry look.  "I suppose it's all over HoloNet," she says.

Bail nods grimly.  "Your confrontation isn't," he says.  "Not that there isn't talk."

Padmé shrugs out of her cloak and takes a seat at the ODP conference room table.  Bail was at the dinner last night.  She doesn't know if he actually heard any of her argument with Taa, but there were more than enough witnesses.  She wonders just how badly the real story has been twisted.  "Taa had a Farghul consort he was keeping prisoner," she says.  "Mehht liberated her.  Taa wasn't happy."

"I heard Taa insulted you and the Emperor choked him," Bail says flatly.

Padmé winces.  "That's the correct sequence of events," she says.  "But I'm not sure it was necessarily cause and effect."

Bail looks unconvinced, but he has never had much interest in gossip and he generally respects Padmé's privacy.  The rest of the day is spent enmeshed in the work that the former ODP office should have been doing, but obviously wasn't.  Padmé is grateful for the distraction and throws herself wholeheartedly into the cause.  As tedious as it is sorting through the paperwork, Padmé is fairly certain that the former ODP administrator – and companion of Orn Free Taa – Korsa Dae, was diverting Imperial funds.  Padmé just needs to figure out where and why.

Bail leaves shortly before lunch.  There's a vote on the Senate floor that he cannot miss.  Mehht is pacing around the room, itching to track down some information broker by the name of Karrde.  Apparently Eja Volt gave Mehht the names of other people in situations similar to hers and Mehht is determined to help them.  For reasons on which Padmé is not entirely clear, Mehht believes that Karrde is the key.

"Come on," Mehht cajoles.  "We can find him."

Padmé sighs.  She can think of at least a hundred tortures she would rather endure than bouncing from low-rent tapcaf to low-rent tapcaf in pursuit of a shadow.  Truth be told, it isn't so much the futility of the exercise that she dreads as it is potentially being recognized in public.  She hates to admit that.  It feels so petty.  People are in distress and need help, but she cannot bear the thought of opening herself up to public ridicule.  Last night's wounds are too fresh and she doesn't wish to give the HoloNet reporters fresh fodder for the gossip mill.

"I'll com Luke," Padmé says, more to Lorian than to Mehht.  "Surely if he comes to babysit me you can escort Mehht."

Mehht looks pleased, positively giddy at the idea of saving more unfortunate souls.  Lorian seems significantly less enthused. 

Padmé contacts Luke via comlink.  He sounds distracted and is far more terse than usual, but he agrees to come to the ODP offices as soon as possible.  It's more than an hour before he arrives, dressed in a flight suit, a bag thrown over his shoulder.

"I didn't know you were going somewhere," Padmé says.

"I'm not," Luke replies brusquely.  At Padmé's wounded expression, he relents.  "I'm sorry," he says.  "Just let me change.  I'll explain."

Apparently satisfied by Luke's arrival, Lorian has to hurry to keep up with Mehht as she charges out the door and toward the turbolift.  Padmé envies Mehht her enthusiasm. She clearly remembers feeling so driven to help.

Padmé sits at the conference room table, waiting on Luke.  She’s been through Korsa Dae’s computer terminal and found little of value.  It’s neat, too neat.  Padmé is certain there is something there.  She makes a mental note to ask Anakin about slicers.  Surely a talented slicer could find whatever it was Korsa Dae was hiding.

Luke steps out of the ‘fresher dressed in a simple white shirt and beige pants.  He wears a utility belt to which his lightsaber is clipped and carries the bag in his left hand.

Padmé doesn’t waste any time.  “Where were you heading?” she asks.

Luke sighs, running his empty hand through his hair.  “I need to speak with Father,” he says.  “You should be there.”

Padmé stands, her expression serious.  “Luke, is everything okay?”

He nods, but the nervous energy doesn’t dissipate.  “I’ve been trying to find the right time to … “  He trails off.  “There is no good time,” he says firmly.  “Are you free now?”

“Of course,” she replies, following him as he heads for the door.

***

With a wave of his hand, Luke sends away the porter that meets them at the Imperial palace’s grand entrance.  Luke is obviously more familiar with the sprawling complex than Padmé and does not need a guide.  The short trip to the palace was made in silence.  Luke’s features are set, his jaw muscles clenched tightly.  The last time she saw him in such turmoil, he asked her to return to Coruscant.

Given that Luke doesn’t ask anyone about his father’s whereabouts, Padmé assumes he must be able to locate him through the Force.  In short order, Luke and Padmé enter a cavernous room in the palace’s upper levels.  The room is all gleaming black surfaces and holoprojectors.  No doubt this is the room from which Lord Vader directs the Empire’s war machine.

Anakin looks up at their entrance.  He’s speaking with two of his generals.  There are three other military personnel in the room.  Leia leans against the far wall, a booted foot braced against the wall, arms crossed over her chest.  She gives Luke a smile that borders on cruel and makes a tsking noise.  “Little brother,” she says, shaking her head.

Luke ignores her, stopping in the center of the room.  He clasps his hands behind his back, head held high as he waits for his father to acknowledge him.

Padmé, too, ignores her daughter’s behavior despite how much it wounds her.  As small children, Luke and Leia were always rivals, though at some point Luke ceased his end of the rivalry.  Padmé doesn’t understand it.  She doesn’t know if it’s part and parcel of being a twin.  As the elder child and her father’s favorite, Leia has always been heir apparent.  But there’s no denying that Leia obviously feels threatened by Luke, Anakin’s only son.  Despite the fact that Luke has never shown any interest in following in his father’s footsteps.

Padmé wishes that the twins were closer, that Leia could appreciate her bond with her brother.  Whether Leia realizes it or not it’s a luxury that she can be so distant, so competitive.  Luke and Leia have two loving – if not united – parents to hold them together.  If anything ever happened to Padmé and Anakin, they would be all each other had in the galaxy.

Anakin finishes with his generals and sends them and the rest of the military personnel from the room with a gesture.  He looks at Luke, his features grim.

“You impounded my ship,” Luke says evenly.

“Yes,” Anakin replies, “and I made it clear that anyone helping you leave Coruscant without my express permission would pay dearly.”

Anakin crosses the room to where Padmé and Luke stand.  Leia pushes off the wall and comes closer, but still maintains a good deal of distance.  Anakin makes a slow circuit around his son.  Luke keeps his eyes straight ahead.  When he is once again directly in front of Luke, Anakin says, “You’re going to tell me where it is you’ve been disappearing.”

Luke swallows thickly.  “I didn’t realize I was grounded,” he says, his tone more flip than is probably prudent.

“You weren’t,” Anakin replies.  “Until you made it evident that you were hiding something.”

Anakin waits.

“You will tell me,” Anakin vows quietly.

Luke,” Padmé pleads softly.

Luke’s eyes focus on her and he sighs deeply.  He looks back to his father, his features resigned.  “Oovo IV,” he says.

Anakin’s features instantly harden.

Padmé’s brow creases.  “What is Oovo IV?” she asks.

“An asteroid in the Outer Rim,” Anakin answers before Luke has the chance.  He looks at Padmé, trying to determine if she is involved in this.  “It houses a detention center, Desolation Alley.  It’s where criminals are sent to be forgotten.”

Padmé steps closer to Luke, her expression beseeching.  “What were you doing there?” she asks in bewilderment. 

“Yes, my son,” Anakin says darkly.  “What were you doing there?”  His look gives the impression that he already has a very good idea of what Luke was doing there.

Luke takes a deep breath.  “I went there to speak with Master Kenobi.”

The name has barely cleared Luke’s lips before he’s sprawled backwards on the gleaming black floor, mouth bloody.  Padmé’s attention immediately snaps to Anakin.  He stands there, breathing hard, body shaking with rage, his right hand still extended from backhanding Luke as hard as he could.

Padmé starts to take the few steps to her son, but Luke holds up his hand, stopping her.  Slowly, he pushes himself to his feet.  He wipes the blood from his mouth with the back of his hand and regards his father with sadness – but not shock.

“Get out of my sight,” Anakin seethes.

Luke’s only response is to bow to his father.  He shoots Padmé one last look before he turns to leave.  There is something in his look, something that keeps her from going to him.  She understands that in this moment, he needs to be a man, not his mother’s son.  As much as it wounds her, she stands her ground.  She watches him go, her heart and mind in turmoil.

Padmé turns back to Anakin.  In light of what just happened, it’s difficult to focus, but she forces herself to bury the tumultuous emotions, if only for a moment.  This is – if not all, then at least a large portion of – why Luke asked her to return to Coruscant and why he asked her to accompany him this afternoon.  She knows he does not wish her to intervene with Anakin on his own behalf, but the same cannot be said for Obi-Wan.

“Obi-Wan is still alive?” she demands.

Anakin doesn’t bother responding, his only answer an ugly sneer.

“Anakin, he was your mentor, your friend –“

Your lover?” he accuses, his features a twisted mask of jealousy and rage.

She stops, looking at him.  “You know that isn’t true,” she says softly.  She hopes, she prays that some part of him does actually know it isn’t true.  She wonders what stories he’s told himself over the years.  She knows him.  She knows he’s twisted the events in his own mind, re-casting the truth so that he is the righteous man, not the villain.

Anakin doesn’t bother responding.  He paces around the room, hands clasped behind his back.  His vision lands on Leia.  “Out,” he snaps.

Leia wastes no time heading for the door.

When they are finally alone, Padmé says, “I thought Obi-Wan was dead.”

For a moment, she doesn’t think Anakin is going to reply, but he finally says, “Death would have been too good for him.  I wanted him to suffer.  Alone.  I wanted to take everything from him the way he took everything from me.”

Padmé shakes her head wondering if he truly has gone insane.  “What did he take from you, Anakin?” she asks softly.  “Obi-Wan loved you.”

Anakin spins to face her, his features contorted with rage.  “He took you!” he roars.

The words echo in the enormous space.  Anakin is almost shaking with fury, his jaw muscles clenched tightly, nostrils flared. 

Padmé doesn’t try to stop the tears that course down her cheeks.  Slowly, she steps closer, like Anakin is some barely domesticated beast that will lash out at any moment.  Deliberately, she raises her hand and presses it to his cheek.  He flinches, but does not pull away.

“I have always been yours, Anakin,” she says softly.  “Even when I hated myself for it.”

She turns to go, leaving him standing in the middle of his war room.

Alone.

***
 

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