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Narglatch in Shaak's Clothing Chapter 13

61 BBY

"I don't think I should go, Master," Palpatine announces quietly when Dooku returns from the final mission briefing.

Dooku glances at his padawan, who is pacing back and forth across the sparsely decorated room. His agitation in the Force is clear to see and feel, almost tangible in its intensity. Palpatine's soft voice belies the turbulence boiling under the surface. The young man is more tense than he has ever been before a mission, and Dooku knows why. Naboo. He steps past his disgruntled learner and seats himself on the edge of the low bed.

"Jedi do not claim planets as our homes, Sheev, you know that. Naboo is just one of millions of planets to you. Your past has nothing to do with your present. The Temple is your home."

"I've figured that much out, Master," Palpatine says, his cutting sarcasm rising to the front. A defense mechanism, Dooku has learned, whenever events are not to his liking, to his control. The Jedi master sighs and ignores it.

"You know it, but I'm not convinced you believe it, Sheev." His next words he must choose with caution, because he understands his padawan only too well in this. Three years are not a long time, but in the wrong hands three years are a lifetime. "The planet where you were born, the people who bore you, none of that was your true destiny. You will be a Jedi Knight soon. You must let it go."

Palpatine stops his pacing and gazes steadily at his master. Dooku looks in the watery blue eyes and sees himself at that age, a bitter and proud twenty-year-old padawan standing in the gardens, declaring to Master Yoda with the all the wisdom of a naïve youngling: Every Jedi is a child his parents decided they could live without. His first lesson in betrayal, but certainly not his last. And with the way Palpatine looks at him now, Dooku imagines that he is reading his mind, seeing the hypocrisy in his master and judging him without mercy.

Finally, Palpatine offers a slight bow of his head. "Of course, Master, you are correct. I have let my personal feelings stand in the way of our mission. It won't happen again."

The journey to Naboo is completely uneventful. The upcoming election is the cause of the Jedi's presence; several threats of terror have been promised to the Governor of Theed's reelection campaign, and the Jedi have graciously agreed to investigate the rumors per the request of concerned members in the Senate, those who seek to court the up-and-coming Chommell Sector. Dooku and Palpatine are greeted by members of the king's personal staff, evidence of the favor the Governor shares with the planet's royalty.

The Governor, Ars Veruna, meets with them in the opulent Palace gardens which buzz with a wide variety of small avians and colorful insects. The Jedi and the Naboo dignitaries debrief the situation with the high members of the Naboo Royal Guard, and a decision is made. Dooku and his padawan will attend Veruna's next rally incognito, where they will attempt to comb the emotions of the crowd for clear dissidence. Any suspicious activity will be reported to the Royal Guard to be handled in a manner appropriate to Naboo sovereignty. Veruna stresses: the Jedi need not get personally involved.

Palpatine sighs beside Dooku, and the Jedi master knows his padawan dislikes playing the middleman once again. Let him plan in the background, and Palpatine is happy (or as happy as he gets). Let him fight, and Palpatine is content. But require him to follow the orders of another, and he chafes like a half-wild gualama chafes under the reins of its rider.

Veruna billets them in his personal suites, and Dooku suspects the man is glad of the Jedi's presence. He will not assume the Naboo is a coward, but he has legitimate reason to be concerned. This planet reeks with fear and something much, much darker. Something Dooku cannot identify, but his padawan feels it strongly. Palpatine's presence in the Force is muted, withdrawn, apprehensive.

The planet's darkness does not match its idyllic environment. The day of the rally dawns bright and beautiful, and Dooku forces his curiosity away to focus on the matter at hand. "Stay near the back," he instructs Palpatine, "and watch the entry points. Prevention is our best chance in this madness," and he indicates the pressing crowds. The Force swoops and tumbles with the jumble of countless beings' emotions. He doesn't like it.

Palpatine nods and pads silently away, drawing the Force over him like a shroud, a shadow. In a heartbeat, he becomes no different from the other Naboo who strain and stretch to catch of a glimpse of the politicians on the stage. It is a unique skill that few Jedi can master. Dooku watches him for a moment, noting how natural Palpatine looks in the traditional garb of a Naboo, how - and the Force flashes a vision across his eyes, fleeting and confusing, something that might have been – and he shakes his head. Useless sentiment.

The rally finishes strong, with cheering crowds and no threats in sight. As the people begin to disperse into the joining streets of Theed, on their way to the different shops and businesses, Palpatine rejoins his master. His shoulders are hunched against some invisible wind. Dooku can sense his discomfort radiating through the Force, and he reaches out an awkward hand. "Sheev – " he starts to say, and is cut off by a sharp bark of astonishment from behind.

"By the gods, is it actually you?"

Palpatine stares straight ahead, the Force becoming a still and deadly pool of intent, calming with a suddenness that is almost frightening. Dooku turns and finds himself face to face with a solid man of patrician bearing, someone that he imagines Palpatine will closely resemble in many, many years. In a moment, he knows. The Father.

Dooku bites back the automatic sneer. "May we help you, citizen?" he asks, taking Palpatine's shoulder under his hand and sending a clear message to the other man. Sheev does not answer to his father any longer, but he gets a clear message of his own; Palpatine's shoulder is unnaturally cold to the touch, and Dooku realizes that bringing him here was indeed a mistake.

The well-dressed noble does not bother to hide his disdain, ignoring Dooku's query. He has eyes only for the shorter, younger version of himself. "You've grown a bit," he smirks and turns to the older Jedi while still watching his son. "I'm surprised you people are still putting up with him. When I gave him to the Order, I expected he'd be drummed out in a matter of months."

Palpatine flinches, and hard, hot rage seeps through his shields into Dooku's hand, unlike anything the master has felt before. He tightens his grip and drops his voice into a lower register. "My padawan is my own business, sir. I would appreciate a civil discourse, or none at all." And I prefer the latter.

The older man's eyes slide to him, but Cosinga Palpatine seems unwilling to accommodate his harsh request. A cruel smile creeps onto his thin lips. "What can you possibly see in him, Master Jedi?"

"More than I am seeing right now," Dooku says, feeling a smile of his own, cold enough to chill the warm spring air. Cosinga recoils, pulling himself straighter like some wounded bird of prey. His eyes narrow with rage that is mirrored in the eyes of his firstborn son. Palpatine's hand strays toward his belt and the hidden blades, and Dooku shoves it down.

Cosinga laughs, recovering smoothly from Dooku's insult and seeking to divert the conversation. "Yes, still trying to keep him on a tight leash, I see. Well, good luck with that. I thought to do the same once, but I learned my lesson. You can't teach a wild animal."

Dooku dislikes this man, his supreme arrogance, his smug superiority when in reality no such thing exists. They are Jedi, head and shoulders above his blind and petty nobility on this inconsequential Mid-Rim planet. Truthfully, Cosinga isn't worth his time, and he scowls with all the power of his training. "Then you won't mind if we go on our way."

"It would be a welcome riddance, actually, just like the first time you people took him away," Cosinga says. He folds his hands into his long, elaborate sleeves and looks down his long nose at his offspring. "Not only him, but you as well, Master Jedi. The presence of the Jedi are not needed here on Naboo. We can manage our own affairs."

"Clearly not," Palpatine mutters, finding his voice at last. It trembles with dark emotion, not quite hate but close enough that Dooku senses danger. The young man holds himself like a warrior ready for battle, but Dooku can't imagine him tackling the older man here in a public courtyard. Or maybe he doesn't want to imagine it.

Cosinga's keen ears catch the sharp words, and he tilts his head down, the motion so reminiscent of his padawan that Dooku is disturbed. "Even after all your vaunted Jedi training, you'd like to hurt me right now," the nobleman drawls. "If he would only give you permission, you'd leap at the chance."

Palpatine's shoulders stiffen, and he takes several threatening steps forward. Dooku feels the Force darkening, shifting, and he thrusts out his arm and catches Palpatine by the shoulder. "Padawan! Enough!" For a moment, Palpatine does not seem to hear him, no longer in his sway – if he ever was – and Dooku is forced to bring his presence to bear on the fragile bond between them, tightening his fingers on the thin shoulder. Palpatine wrenches his hand away but stops at last, eyes fixed on his father.

"I don't need his permission," the young man grates out. "I don't need anyone's permission. Go on with your petty, insignificant life, then. It matters little to me or anyone else, old man. Your time is done."

Dooku keeps a sharp eye on his charge, but Palpatine appears to have himself in hand at last, his lanky frame straightening and his eyes losing the cold fire. He stills breathes heavily, and his hands tremble.

"We're all done here," Dooku adds. "You know there were threats made against the sitting governor's campaign, Cosinga Palpatine. As a vocal member of his opposition, I would be concerned where I might be seen, if I were you."

The Naboo clenches his fists and steps back. "I don't care for your implied threats. Tapalo and Veruna and their greedy Muun compatriots might have the voorpak wool pulled over the eyes of the commoners, but their days are numbered. Even with the support of the Order and the vapid Republic, we will prevail over them."

Dooku knows an empty bluff when he hears one. He raises both eyebrows and offers a nod. "We shall see. Padawan, please return to Governor Veruna and apprise him of our observations." His order is carefully tailored to give Palpatine a way out without conceding to his red-faced father. The younger Jedi backs away and disappears into the shifting crowds. When Dooku turns back to face Cosinga, he is surprised to find the man much, much closer, his thick cologne wafting over Dooku's nose.

"I'll be honest with you. I don't care for the Jedi Order, one way or another, but I do know a thing or two about that… that boy. He's unnatural, and you'll come to no good end for it," Cosinga growls. "Mark my words, Jedi."

The man is a fool, Dooku decides, and he resolves to forget him and his bitter warning entirely.

OOOOOOOOOO

The quote of young Dooku comes from Yoda: Dark Rendevous.

Family reunions are always so very awkward, aren't they? Some more than others. Poor Dooku for once, caught in the middle of something that he can't hope to control.

Well, what did ya'll think of this one? Palpatine's getting closer to his trials, and he's going to make a new friend soon, someone Dooku really isn't too sure about.