Sins of the Father:  Chapter 9
by indie


***

 
“Where have you been?” Mehht demands, racing across the room to meet Padmé at the door to her penthouse.
 
“Taking care of family business,” Padmé replies.  Hastily, she tacks on, “And securing a slicer to work on Korsa Dae’s computer terminal.”
 
Mehht grins from ear to ear.  “We found him,” she says smugly.  She grabs Padmé’s arm, positively giddy.  “Karrde,” she squeaks.  “We found him.”
 
Padmé smiles at Mehht, patting her on the arm.  She shoots a glance at Lorian who is standing at attention near the far wall trying – and failing miserably – to remain stoic in the face of Mehht’s enthusiasm.  “I take it you made progress,” Padmé prompts.
 
“Yes,” Mehht says with a great deal of satisfaction.  “We got a list of slavers and a few addresses of high ranking Senators who are engaging in trafficking.”
 
Handing her cloak to Sullee, Padmé frowns.  “I’m not sure this falls under the ODP purview,” she says seriously.
 
Mehht arches an eyebrow.  “Are you going to let that stop us?” she asks.
 
Padmé thinks about it for a moment.  “No,” she admits. 
 
Luke gently touches her shoulder and Padmé turns to face him.  “It’s late,” he says.  “I’m going to head back to the palace.”
 
Frowning, Padmé brings her hand up and presses two fingers gently to his cut lip and bruised jaw.  “Are you okay?” she asks quietly.
 
“I’m fine,” he assures her.  He leans forward and quickly pecks her on the cheek.  “Sleep well,” he says.
 
Padmé watches him leave and turns back to Mehht.  Mehht is so excited and Padmé wants to humor her, but she is also tired.  “Do you mind if we discuss the specifics in the morning?” she asks.  “I must have walked ten kilometers today.  I’m exhausted.”
 
“Ten kilometers?” Mehht repeats, frowning.  “What did you do today?”
 
Padmé laughs mirthlessly.  “I’ll tell you in the morning,” she says.
 
***
 
Two days later, Padmé frowns at Bail across the ODP conference room table.  “I still don’t understand why Karrde would be so helpful,” she says skeptically.
 
Bails nods in agreement.  "I'm not certain either," he says.  "Karrde may have no love for the Empire or corrupt Senators, but as far as I know, he's not affiliated with the Rebellion."
 
Padmé takes her mug and stands, turning her back to Bail as she makes her way to the credenza along the far wall.  She takes her time pouring more caf.  This is the third time that Bail has mentioned the Rebellion since she returned to Coruscant.  It discomfits Padmé greatly.  Despite her private war with her husband, she has no desire to engage in actual, literal treason or subversion.
 
"Apologies," Bail says.  "I don't mean to make you uncomfortable."
 
Padmé turns to face him.  She takes a drink of her caf and looks at him over the rim of the mug.  She lowers the cup, wrapping her hands around it to warm them.  "Yes you do," she says softly.
 
He scoffs, rising to stand.  One wall of the conference room is made of transparisteel and he looks through it out into the ODP's outer office, making sure they're alone.  They are.  Lorian, despite explicit instruction from Lord Vader to the contrary, left Padmé's side in order to escort Mehht to The Works.  Padmé almost felt sorry for Lorian.  He certainly didn't want to disobey his direct orders, but when Mehht made it quite clear she would go with or without him, he relented.
 
Bail finally turns his head to look at Padmé and a wry grin twists his lips.  "Perhaps I do intend to make you uncomfortable," he admits wearily.  He sighs, sinking back into his chair.  "I don't mean to cause you trouble," he says.  "It's just that you were always one of my staunchest allies and you are the one person in a position to exert real influence over the Emperor."
 
"I'm not sure how much influence I have," she replies honestly.  She hasn't spoken to Anakin since their verbal skirmish in his private quarters two days ago.  "And truth be told, I need to save it to lobby for concessions that have nothing to do with the state of the Empire."
 
"Leia?" Bail asks.
 
Padmé nods, returning to the conference room table and sinking into the chair opposite Bail.  "Is it that obvious?" she asks.
 
He meets her gaze unflinchingly. "Many people worry about the future of the Imperial princess," he says.
 
Padmé sighs and sets her caf on the table.  "I don't know what to do," she says.  "It's my fault.  I'm her mother.  It wasn’t as noticeable on Tatooine. She’s always been restless.  But here … In different surroundings she seems like a different person.  I should have done something long ago."
 
"Would it have helped?" he asks seriously.
 
"I don't know," Padmé admits.  "I know I raised her better than this – to be a better person."
 
"She does have two parents," he says pointedly.
 
"She does.  But it's not that simple," Padmé says, exasperated, but not unkind.  "It's so easy to blame Anakin for all of this, but the truth is that Leia is in some ways more dangerous than him.  Anakin doesn't flinch from doing whatever he thinks he needs to do to justify his ends.  He's misguided, egomaniacal, self-indulgent …  But he doesn't take enjoyment in the atrocities he perpetrates."
 
Padmé thinks back to the conversation in Anakin's private quarters two nights ago.  It wasn't exactly friendly, but it was at least honest and open – more of a real conversation than she's had with him in the last sixteen years.  She supposes her feelings on the matter should just confirm her fears – her marriage is dysfunctional to perhaps an unsalvageable extreme.
 
Bail seems disinclined to accept Padmé's assessment of Anakin, but he doesn't argue.  "And Leia?" he prompts.
 
Padmé shrugs.  "I don't know," she says, thinking back to the look of cruel satisfaction on Leia's face when Anakin reprimanded Luke.  "She's still so young I have to believe there is hope."
 
"Leia is quite adept at politics," Bail says.  He holds Padmé's gaze and she can almost hear his thoughts in her own mind.  As was Palpatine.
 
"I know," she says quietly. 
 
The office's outer door hisses open and both Padmé and Bail glance toward the transparisteel wall.   A man walks into Padmé's line of sight.  He appears to be near her age.  He is tall and thinly built, his red hair graying at the temples, eye color obscured behind a pair of antiquated thick wire-rim spectacles.  He steps into the conference room and bows deferentially.  “Empress Skywalker,” he says quietly.
 
“Talesan Fry,” she responds kindly, rising to her feet.
 
Padmé met Taly during the Clone Wars, but never knew him well.  He owned a very prosperous security company and developed a revolutionary code breaker which he offered to the highest bidder.  An old friendship with Obi-Wan was the reason he made his first offer to the Republic.  He eventually paid dearly for his sentimentality.  He was betrayed by one of his closest confidants, the code breaker was destroyed and the Separtists ruined his corporate headquarters on Genian.  Taly was astonishingly bright and driven and Padmé fully expected him to recreate his former success, but in the twenty years since the skirmish at Genian, she hasn’t heard his name.
 
“I didn’t realize you worked for the Empire,” Padmé says, offering him a chair.
 
He declines with a shake of his head, preferring to stand.  “I don’t,” he clarifies.  “I am doing this as a personal favor to the Emperor.  These days I prefer to keep a low profile.”
 
Padmé nods and does not press him further.  Who is she to question someone who wishes to live a life of obscurity?
 
Taly shifts uncomfortably, obviously ill at ease with small talk.  “The Emperor said you had a computer terminal you wished me to inspect,” he says.
 
“Yes,” Padmé replies.  “Right this way.”  She leads him to Korsa Dae’s terminal.
 
***
 
“Byss?” Padmé says, her brow furrowing with a frown.   “I don’t even know where that is.”
 
“Name doesn’t mean anything to me either,” Taly says.  “I had to cross-reference the coordinates with the Imperial star charts to get a system name.  It definitely looks like funds were diverted there, not just from ODP but from other Imperial agencies as well.  I can’t say for certain without examining more of the upstream systems, but right now, this looks much bigger than one greedy departmental administrator.”
 
“Can you locate the upstream systems?” Bail asks, leaning over the back of Taly’s chair, staring at the lines of machine code Taly is obviously reading.  Realizing the futility of his efforts, he rises to his full height, crossing his arms over his chest.
 
Taly shrugs.  “Theoretically yes,” he replies.  “Provided they don’t know we’re on to them, I should be able to glean more information.  If they haven’t been meticulous about clearing their logs, I might be able to find more end terminals.  That would give us a better idea of who is involved.”
 
“Financial institutions,” Padmé says.  She can’t read the machine code either, but she knows this definitely involves money.  A lot of it.
 
“Yeah,” Taly says.  “And if I’m not mistaken, one of these upstream systems looks like it’s tied to the Senate.”
 
“What do you need to continue?” Bail asks.
 
Taly swivels in his chair, looking up at the much larger man.  He pushes his spectacles up on his nose.  “I’ll make a list,” he replies, undaunted.
 
***
 
Padmé is watching Bail as he sifts through Taly's list of supplies and requests.  The outer door to the ODP office hisses open and Padmé turns, expecting to see Lorian and Mehht.  Instead, she looks directly into Anakin's blue eyes.  Her posture immediately stiffens and she reflexively takes a step backward, away from Bail.
 
Anakin takes note of her movement and his lips curl into a rueful smile.  She takes that to mean he's still nursing the wounds she delivered to his ego.  If that prevents him from accusing Bail of becoming her newest lover, she considers it time well spent.
 
Having noticed the newcomer, Bail turns to face him.  "My Lord," he says with a small bow.
 
"Senator," Anakin replies with a tight frown.
 
Padmé steps away from Bail and crosses the room to stand in front of Anakin.  "Is there something wrong?" she asks quietly.
 
"My sixteen-year-old daughter is still offworld," he says flatly.
 
Padmé watches him for a moment, then another.  "Is that out of the ordinary?" she asks carefully.  She is probably even less thrilled than Anakin that Leia is running wild around the galaxy, but it's hardly news.  Much to their parents' chagrin, both twins tend to do what they want when they want without consulting anyone for permission.  The twins will be seventeen this year.  Padmé fears that it is far too late to try and rein them in.
 
"Not in my experience," he says.  "Is it in yours?"
 
She shakes her head and is at least marginally reassured that it's not only her failure as a mother that's at issue.  Apparently Anakin, with all the resources of the Empire, has no better luck keeping track of Leia than she does.  At least on Tatooine Leia usually only made it as far as the backseat of Chiski Roan's speeder before Typho tracked her down.   Padmé thinks it should be easier to keep tabs on her daughter.  Unlike Anakin and Luke, Leia seems to have little interest or proficiency in piloting.  However, the deficiency has never hindered Leia.  She is quite adept at finding adequate transportation to wherever it is she wants to travel.
 
Padmé frowns at Anakin.  "Did you come here to talk about Leia?" she asks.
 
"No," he says, shaking his head.  "Lorian contacted me.  He has been detained and didn't want to leave you without an escort."
 
"Oh," Padmé says, shocked that Anakin would be bothered to take care of such a mundane task.  "Isn't Luke available?" she asks.
 
"I don't know," Anakin replies, lips pursed tightly together.  "That boy has succeeded in testing every ounce of patience I have over the last two days so I decided to spare myself the headache of asking."
 
Padmé doesn't know how a well-adjusted father should relate to his teenage son.  She does know that she finds the idea of Anakin and Luke engaged in a war of mutual annoyance and aggravation to be far more palatable than the idea of them trading physical blows.
 
"Well, we're," she points over her shoulder at Bail, "still going over a few things."
 
"I can wait," Anakin says, taking a seat in one of the chairs that line the wall.
 
Padmé stares at him in bewilderment.  "Um, okay," she finally says lamely and returns to speak with Bail.
 
Bail turns from where he's watching Taly, pretending not to notice the exchange between the Emperor and Empress.   He looks pointedly at Anakin.
 
"He's waiting," Padmé offers.
 
Bail looks at her in disbelief.
 
"Don't ask," she says.  "I don't have an explanation."
 
Bail and Padmé retreat to the conference room.  Solely on principle, Padmé tries not to hurry.  But the idea of Anakin waiting in the next room makes her sufficiently nervous that she finds herself finishing things earlier than normal.
 
Grabbing her cloak, she bids Bail good night and heads for the door.  Anakin is standing at attention, waiting.  He ushers her through the door and toward the turbolift that will lead to the rooftop landing platforms.
 
The ride to the roof is in silence and Anakin solicitously helps her into the transport shuttle.  He takes a seat opposite hers inside the shuttle, leaning forward, elbows braced against his knees.  There's a nervous energy about him that Padmé finds very discomfiting.
 
"Taly will need certain security clearances to continue his investigation," Padmé says.
 
Anakin nods.  "Lieutenant Piett currently has oversight of the Imperial Security Office.  He can arrange whatever access Taly deems necessary."
 
Padmé frowns at Anakin.  "You trust Taly that much?" she asks skeptically.
 
"I trust him to do his job," Anakin replies evasively.
 
Padmé leans back in the seat, studying Anakin closely.  She well remembers how adept Talesan Fry is at playing politics.  As a child he refused to name Passel Argente, Magistrate of the Corporate Alliance, as the party ultimately responsible for many deaths, including those of his own parents.  Later, Taly blackmailed Argente for the money to start his own security company.
 
"What does Taly have on you?" Padmé asks, eyes narrowed at her husband.
 
Anakin meets her gaze.  "Absolutely nothing," he says firmly.
 
"You're hiding something," Padmé counters.
 
"Not hiding," he amends.  He drags a hand restlessly through his short hair.  "I just have to figure out how to phrase it."
 
Padmé's insides go cold at the thought.  Anakin's confessions are never good.  "Tell me," she says tightly.
 
"You never mentioned that you are investigating Talon Karrde," he says.
 
"I'm not investigating Talon Karrde," Padmé replies truthfully, knowing that Lorian must have relayed the information.  "Mehht is working with him on her slave trade inquiries.  Why do you care?  You informed me in no uncertain terms that you didn't want to be consulted on my activities."
 
"Taly's daughter works for Karrde," Anakin replies.  "She handles security, infiltration, the bare bones of information brokering.  Despite my attempts to prevent it, Luke has formed a friendship with the young woman."
 
Padmé stares at her husband.  "What aren’t you telling me?" she asks.  "Why does it matter that Taly's daughter works for Karrde or that Luke is her friend?"
 
Anakin leans back in his seat, his booted foot tapping the floor in agitation.  He stares out the window, unwilling to meet her gaze.
 
The feeling of dread in the pit of Padmé's stomach grows.  "Anakin."
 
He looks at her, holding her gaze.  "Taly and his wife, Sekka, were unable to have children.  They adopted Mara with my help."
 
"What exactly do you mean by your help?" Padmé asks.  She cannot imagine Anakin doing Taly a favor out of the goodness of his little black heart.
 
"I mean after I killed her mother, I took Mara to Taly and Sekka," Anakin replies bluntly.
 
Padmé physically recoils from the information.
 
"It was less than a year after Palpatine issued Order 66, during the Jedi purges," Anakin explains matter-of-factly.  "I didn't know about Mara when I went after Siri.  Not that I think it would have mattered.  Siri never would have gone into hiding, even to protect her child.  I didn't find her daughter, Mara, until later."  He shifts in his seat, dragging his hand through his hair again.  "I didn't tell Palpatine.  If he had known he would have demanded Mara be killed."
 
Padmé watches her husband, specifically his uneasy body language.  She knows he murdered the younglings at the Jedi Temple.  He has never voiced any hesitation about that action, much less remorse.  Yet she can clearly tell he is conflicted about Mara.  She's not certain why.  Siri – Padmé assumes – must have been the Jedi, Siri Tachi.  Padmé did not know the woman well.  She met her on the same mission where she briefly met Taly Fry.  Padmé knows Anakin knew her better and Obi-Wan in particular had an intense, if not necessarily close, relationship with her.  Though, again, if Anakin so blithely murdered so many of his former brethren, Padmé doubts it is loyalty to Siri Tachi that weighs heavily on his conscience.
 
Then the reason occurs to Padmé.  "Mara is Luke and Leia's age," she says insightfully.
 
Anakin nods sharply.  "She's younger by several months," he says.  "But yes."
 
Anakin killed the younglings at the Temple.  But he did it before his own children were born and he certainly never murdered a child so close in age to his own children.  "You couldn't kill her despite knowing that's what Palpatine would have wanted," Padmé says.
 
Anakin nods.  Padmé can't decide what she feels for him in this moment, pity, compassion, forgiveness, even anger.  He killed Siri Tachi, but he could not kill her infant daughter.  She is rather disgusted with herself for taking consolation in the fact that Anakin does have limits – even if they are far beyond what most people would find just. 
 
The shuttle lands at 500 Republica and Padmé exits with Anakin close behind.  He escorts her to her penthouse and follows her inside, uninvited.  Typho nods to her in greeting, but does not approach.  Padmé walks through the apartment and out onto the darkened veranda.
 
She steps to the railing, looking out at the city.  Anakin hangs back several paces.  "There's more, isn't there?" she asks.
 
"Yes."
 
She turns to face him expectantly.
 
"Mara is Obi-Wan's daughter."
 
The information hits Padmé like a physical blow, but she does not react outwardly.  "Does Obi-Wan know?" she asks.
 
Anakin shakes his head.  "I do not believe so.  I don't think anyone knows," he says.  "Except me.  And now, you."
 
"How can you be certain?" she asks.
 
He shrugs.  "I can feel it in the Force," he says.  "Mara is powerful, but untrained.  I can feel that she is Obi-Wan's the same way that I can feel Luke and Leia are mine – even when I questioned your fidelity, I never questioned that."
 
Padmé has no idea what he expects her to do with his confession.  The facts don't seem to signal any impending doom. 
 
Anakin seems to read her thoughts and says enigmatically, "I wanted you to know."
 
Padmé has the feeling that this is a test.  Maybe for her, maybe for himself.  He has admitted his role in a heinous murder, his obfuscation of a young woman's true parentage.  He wants to know how she will react, but more than that – she thinks – he wants to see if he can confide in her, if he can allow someone to know the whole truth of his actions.  He wants to test her reaction, but also his own capacity for disclosure.
 
"Do you think Mara suspects?" Padmé asks.  "Do you think she would attack Luke to get back at you?"
 
Anakin shakes his head.  "I have no reason to believe that Mara perceives herself as anything beyond Talesan and Sekka Fry's daughter," he says.
 
Padmé turns back to the view.  Silence weighs heavy for several long moments.
 
"Good evening, Padmé," Anakin says.
 
"Good night," Padmé replies.
 
***
 
Padmé is still awake, sipping more H'Kak bean tea in the deep shadows of the veranda as she contemplates her conversation with Anakin.  She's not certain this strange new twist to their relationship is an improvement over the veiled hostilities.  She has no desire to be his confessor and she most certainly will not offer him absolution.
 
She takes another sip.  Wasn't it just a couple of weeks ago that she pitied the fact that Anakin's only confidant was Korto.  Can she be Anakin's friend?  She doesn't know.  She isn't certain if she and Anakin ever were truly friends.  Their relationship was intense, filled with passion and love – and then, of course, betrayal, deceit and anger -  but friendship?
 
She knows it would be better for Luke and Leia if she and Anakin were able to make civility the norm rather than the exception.  It would be intensely selfish to knowingly sabotage that prospect just to protect herself. 
 
There is a noise and Padmé turns, watching as Mehht, clad in her worn cloak walks onto the veranda.  Padmé rises to her feet and Mehht startles, her hand reflexively covering her heart.
 
"I didn't know anyone was out here," Mehht says breathlessly.
 
Padmé can't see Mehht's face, but she can tell from her tone that something is wrong.  She crosses the veranda to stand by her friend.
 
At first, Padmé thinks Mehht has been wounded when she notices the small bruise on her neck.  Mehht meets her gaze wordlessly, offering no explanation.  Padmé brushes the hood of the cloak back and realizes it's not a bruise, but rather a love bite on Mehht's neck.
 
Padmé looks at her friend.  "Are you okay?" she asks carefully.  She will murder Lorian with her bare hands if he harmed Mehht.
 
"I’m fine," Mehht says rather unconvincingly.  She is pale and her eyes are too shiny.  "I think I may have made a huge mistake," she says in a shaky whisper.
 
Padmé takes Mehht hand and starts to pull her toward the door.  "Come on," she says.
 
"No," Mehht counters, pulling back.  "Lorian is in there."
 
"I don't care," Padmé replies firmly.  "This is your home now.  He won't dictate where you can go."
 
Mehht's bottom lip quivers and Padmé's demeanor softens.  She pulls Mehht into a hug.
 
When Mehht finally pulls away, her voice sounds stronger.  "I'm fine," she says with a sad smile.  "I'm just … confused."
 
"Come on," Padmé says again, more gently this time.  "Let's go inside."
 
Mehht nods and Padmé wraps an arm around her, ushering her inside the penthouse.  Lorian is leaning casually against one of the walls, talking to Typho about something.  Padmé gives him the evil eye and he automatically comes to attention, his brow furrowed in obvious concern.  He starts to take a step toward Mehht, but Padmé's glare holds him at bay. 
 
Padmé escorts Mehht to the younger woman's bedroom, more confused than ever.  Something physical obviously happened between Mehht and Lorian.  Padmé assumed that Lorian must have treated Mehht poorly, hence her reaction.  But judging from the worry Lorian displayed only moments earlier, Padmé thinks she must have misread the situation.
 
The two women sit on the bed and Padmé waits several long moments for Mehht to speak.
 
"Cor would be so angry with me," Mehht whispers.
 
It takes Padmé several moments to realize that Cor is Corisen Ryeun, Mehht's deceased fiancé.
 
"Oh, honey," Padmé says gently.  "Cor would have wanted you to be happy."  Padmé actually isn't at all certain of that.  She didn't know Corisen well, but the few times they met, he struck her as a dim-witted, lazy little whelp who probably would have been angry.  But he's dead and has been for four long years.  His wants are no longer relevant.
 
Mehht looks at Padmé hopefully, her cheeks wet with tears.  "Do you think so?" she asks.
 
Padmé nods vigorously.  "Of course," she says firmly.
 
Mehht sighs, obviously comforted by Padmé's words.  She nervously picks at the threadbare material of her cloak.  "Lorian is just so …"  She sighs again.  "He's so different from Cor."
 
Truer words have never been spoken.  Corisen Ryeun was a short, stocky nineteen-year-old boy with light brown hair and a severe overbite.  He was uneducated, ignorant and ill-mannered.  But he was also loyal to a fault and he worshiped Mehht.  Lorian is undeniably more complex.  He's older, better looking, smarter, driven, cultured and infinitely colder and harder to read than Corisen. 
 
"Never judge who you will love by who you have loved," Padmé says.  She pointedly ignores any implications the platitude may hold for her own relationships.
 
Mehht gives her a watery smile.  "I know you don't like Lorian," Mehht says.
 
"I like Lorian just fine," Padmé replies automatically.
 
Mehht gives her a wry, disbelieving smile.  "I know he can be difficult," she says.  "But you should see him when we're alone.  He's very different."
 
Padmé can't help thinking of Anakin.  "I'm certain he is," she replies truthfully.
 
***
 
Padmé and Mehht spend another hour discussing Lorian's finer qualities.  Padmé isn't convinced, but she also doesn't feel right trying to dissuade Mehht.  Mehht has been lonely for a very long time and Padmé does not wish to deny her comfort and companionship, despite any misgivings she may have about Lorian.  After all, who is she to criticize others' relationships?
 
She finally leaves Mehht's room and finds Lorian lurking just outside the door.  His expression is guarded.
 
Padmé waits for Mehht's door to close and then leans in close to Lorian.  "Break her heart and no one will ever find your body," Padmé says darkly.
 
Perversely, Lorian smiles.  "Yes ma'am," he replies.
  
***
 
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