The Fine Art of Acting

"You're coming with me, Chancellor."

Some acting he enjoyed. Some was…less than satisfactory. At the moment, Darth Sidious was experiencing the latter. Only his iron will born of decades of patience kept him from breaking his "unconscious" state and snarling at the careless bounty hunter, Cad Bane. Feared killer and currently disguised as a Neimoidian – which was a curious choice – the Duros was none too gentle as he tugged the leader of the free galaxy by the boots across the small platform.

The things I do to rule the galaxy, Sidious mused as he slid forward another meter and listened to the mass panic surrounding him. Chaos reigned, and no one paid attention to the strangely heroic Neimoidian saving the poor guard. Another yank and Sidious suppressed a grimace. Idiot, my leg does not bend that way.

Bane dropped his legs abruptly and reached down, hooking his arms around the Chancellor's torso and hoisting him over his shoulder. Sidious let himself dangle limply, though every fiber of his being tensed, ready for action at the slightest sign of danger. The close proximity of the bounty hunter was nauseating, and the armor reeked of cheap barroom alcohol and smoke. I've gotten soft, he realized with faint bemusement, trying to remember the last time he had attended such a questionable type of establishment.

"Move it, move it!" he heard Bane's slimy diminutive cohort demand. What did Dooku call him? Evanco? Evel? Eval? Yes. Arrogant little tool, this one. He was slightly unprepared when Bane tossed him into the back seat, feeling his breath leave him in a soft gasp as he impacted with the speeder. The animal instinct bubbled up, his fingers flexing, but he kept his eyes closed and head rolled back.

He felt the seat shake as Bane climbed in next to him and called back in a mocking sing-song, "So long, Jedi!" Sidious wanted to snicker. Lucky for the plucky little Duros, the Jedi had their code. Unlimited, they would have wiped bounty hunters from the galaxy centuries ago. Ah, but they were too weak to do what was needed. That was why he was here, unceremoniously scooted about like so much cargo.

He became aware of an un-Jedi-like surge of anger as the speeder roared to life beneath him and carried them from the platform. Anakin Skywalker. The tarnished young Jedi was already furious, smarting from the tentacled creature's electric assault and embarrassed for being so easily deceived. Tonight would be a good one, Sidious knew. To see the boy when Dooku… He bit the inside of his cheek so he would not smile at the thought, and the tangy taste of blood sobered him.

The excitement of the two bounty hunters was tangible. They had just pulled off the greatest of heists. They had kidnapped the Republic's Supreme Chancellor! No other bounty hunter had ever come so far, or would again! Eval was laughing wildly in the driver's seat as he weaved in and out of the Naboo capital's traffic lines, heading for the safety of the countryside.

Beside him, Sidious sensed that Bane was watching him, but he did not open his eyes yet. He had no wish to engage the bounty hunter in conversation. The sooner this part of his play was over, the better.

"He's so small," Bane finally muttered.

"What?"

"He's smaller than he always looks on the holocams. He's just a stupid little human," Bane sounded disappointed, let down, as if insulted that he had even been hired for the job.

"Of course he is," Eval giggled from the front seat. "He's the Senate's little puppet, and worth a lot to us. Don't damage him, Bane."

"You could probably damage him by breathing on him," Bane grumbled, and Sidious sensed that he was leaning in for a closer look. Even the scum of the galaxy knew power when they saw it. Bane was clearly fascinated, and the frustrated Duros had no idea why. Sidious refrained from twitching a single muscle.

"If only I could do some damage," Eval retorted. "It's because of beings like him that I was forced to wallow in the squalor of prison. You were only there for a short time, Bane. Ah, but I suffered."

"I'm sure you did," Bane muttered. "What, did someone cut your lunch hour short once?"

"Joke all you like," the Phindian growled, "but I have debts to pay. Too bad Dooku said he was to be unharmed. I know a lot of ways to make my point without being too permanent, if you know what I mean."

Sidious sensed the disgust rolling off of Bane, and chuckled silently at the self-righteous nature of it. They are all scum, and yet one wants to be better than the next. Poor fools. He had never cared much for the crime-riddled world of these lowly individuals, leaving such contact to his trusted underlings like Sate Pestage and Sarcev Quest. Even Dooku occasionally, just to show the upstart his rightful place.

Bane was speaking again, "He's so old and weak. How does someone like him manage to stay in power?"

"Told you. Puppet," Eval grunted. "His pockets are probably lined by half the Senate."

"Pockets, hmm," Bane mused. "Suppose he's got any of that on him?"

"You think the Chancellor carries credits on him?" Eval sounded incredulous. "He's got bodyguards for that, probably. Pampered aristocracy…so much better than the likes of us…"

Bane was ignoring him, and Sidious now felt hands patting him down, feeling for credit chips. Enterprising nose-less little… Loathing the contact, he had to struggle to remain motionless when Bane discovered the small sneak blaster tucked in his voluminous right sleeve. "Eh heh," Bane chuckled as he pulled it free and threw it over the edge of the speeder. "Now, that's a surprise we're better off without, wouldn't you say, Chancellor?"

Sidious stiffened a bit when the cold hand patted his shoulder in a familiar way. I ought to slaughter you like an animal, Bane. You've no right to be in my presence, let alone accost me – he froze the thought when Bane's hand stilled.

"Eval, I think he might be coming around," the bounty hunter called up. "How close are we to the rendezvous point?"

Eval took a moment to reply as he checked the coordinates. "Not far now. Do you think we should restrain him?"

Bane scoffed. "Like this old bag of bones could go far? We'll tie him once we get into the base. He can carry his own weight in there. I'm done with that. I'll try to get him up." The Duros took his shoulders and began shaking him roughly. The Sith Lord forced himself to respond slowly, sluggishly, as a real unconscious individual might. Bane, the impatient wretch, decided to slap him, and Sidious felt his neck creak in protest.

You are fortunate to be useful to me, the Chancellor growled mentally. Otherwise I would be tempted to arrange a little incident for you in prison. Perhaps I still will if you don't stop manhandling me. He offered a half-groan when Bane slapped him again. His eyes fluttered open, blurry after such a long time spent in self-imposed darkness.

Bane's sharp teeth sneered down at him. "Welcome to Naboo, Chancellor. We've put an impromptu tour together. I hope you don't mind."

Sidious had a whole host of things to say which might have blackened the ears of his grinning host, but instead he blearily blinked and croaked out, "…water…?"

Bane laughed, a harsh and mirthless sound. "Eh, I knew we forgot something."

Eval released another high-pitched giggle from the front seat. "No refreshments today, Chancellor. But we promise you'll have entertainment. What am I saying? You are the entertainment."

Sidious groaned and let his head roll back on the seat, but he sharply assessed the situation with hooded eyes. They were getting very close to their destination, and if he were not mistaken, the Force-bright presence of Obi-Wan Kenobi was looming ever closer. Dooku had been right about that one, and he remembered his surprise on hearing of such uncharacteristic deceit on the part of the Jedi. He sighed. Too much to hope that that infernal thorn in his side might truly be dead.

Silence would serve him best now, and Sidious leveled a sullen glare on the blue-skinned alien across the seat. Bane cocked his head. "Now, now, Chancellor, no need for that. We'll be out of your hair soon enough, and you'll meet your host."

Aren't you in for a surprise, hunter, Sidious gazed at Bane steadily.

"He's dying to meet you," Eval sniggered, twisting in his seat and nearly ignoring the path. "Or is it the other way around?"

Sidious let the blood drain from his face as the speeder narrowly missed a large tree while Eval was distracted. Bane noticed his pale complexion and patted his shoulder again. "Likely just a ransom. Just don't try anything stupid, Chancellor, and we'll all get along."

If your idiocy does not kill us all first.

The Sith Lord let his head sink down on the side of the speeder, and his eyes slid shut as if completely exhausted. Bane let him alone for a few minutes while Eval guided the speeder to a quick stop in front of the small structure. Sidious felt Bane stiffen in his seat as the bounty hunter carefully observed their surroundings. Eval also noticed his discomfort.

"This is the rendezvous point," he assured the Duros as he leapt from the driver's seat. "Dooku said he would meet us here."

Sidious underestimated Bane's apprehension, and he was surprised at the way the bounty hunter lunged at him and seized him by his lapels. He was left dangling in front of him, scrutinized by the cold red stare. Sidious stared back, masking his disgust with a look of aristocratic resentment. Bane's face clearly stated, I don't like this, and Sidious had to admire his intuition. Just wait…

Eval was not so gifted and enthusiastically whined, "What did I tell you, Bane? My plan worked to perfection."

Sidious watched the loathing crawl across the blue face and steeled himself. Certainly enough, Bane's anger came down on him, and he found himself once again flying through the air, landing in a dusty heap on the ground below. He landed heavily on his arms, because it would make no sense for a Chancellor and sheltered noble to easily recover from that brutal push. He coughed softly.

"It wasn't your plan," Bane grated. "It was my execution of your plan." He pulled his blaster and pointed it down at Sidious, who let his anger finally show. "Come on, get up!"

As Sidious pushed to his feet, Eval pointed at Bane in hot anger. "How dare you disrespect Moralo Eval!"

Unimpressed, Bane snapped, "Pipe down! Where's Dooku? I thought you said he'd meet us here!" He was getting twitchy, his blaster waving nearly at Eval, who tensed and lowered his head.

"That was the plan," he hedged.

Bumbling cretins, Sidious took several slow steps forward at Bane's prodding, but he heard the growing whine of a second speeder's engine, and all three turned to face the new arrival. Sidious admired the new face. It was a perfect disguise if not for the hideous stench of the Light Side rolling off the scarred and tattooed body. But outwardly, no trace remained of the mild-mannered Jedi master.

"Hardeen, you're not supposed to be here yet," Bane snarled, and poked the Chancellor with the tip of his blaster, eager to move him forward. Sidious narrowed his eyes and ignored him.

"I don't want to be double crossed and left behind again," Kenobi rumbled, and the voice was magnificently covered. The "bounty hunter" crossed in front of them, passing very close to the Chancellor and subtly gauging his condition. Sidious nodded gently. We all seem to have masks these days, do we not? I wonder how Skywalker took to yours, how he'll take to mine. Soon.

Bane offered a wordless growl. "I think we've all been double crossed," he waved the blaster. "Dooku's a no-show."

"What do you mean?" Eval demanded. "And what do we do with the Chancellor now?!"

Bane scowled at him. "We'll ransom him ourselves. If Dooku won't pay us, somebody else will!"

Sidious kept his gaze trained on Kenobi, waiting for the unavoidable moment of Jedi bravado. He saw the rough face tighten with determination. Here it came… Kenobi nudged him aside and lowered his blaster straight into Bane's face. "I'm afraid the Chancellor's coming with me."

Bane's expression projected disbelief and hot anger, and suddenly Eval was between them, gripping Kenobi's arm and yanking it down. His action gave Bane time, and the Duros launched two quick strikes into the Jedi's face, throwing him back several meters. Sidious stepped back, feeling strangely impartial as to the outcome. With any luck, the two might kill each other and save him the trouble.

It was not for lack of trying. Bane's blaster was rapidly firing, and Kenobi was dodging and rolling through the dust evading each shot by millimeters. Sidious watched Bane's expression change from anger to self-preservation (he was truly a bounty hunter), and the alien launched himself into the air on his boot thrusters, still firing down on the hapless Jedi.

In a move that struck Sidious as unfamiliar to the calm Jedi master he knew, Kenobi leapt up after Bane, catching his boots and twisting him violently in a sharp circle. Bane was sent flying and slammed into his startled companion, and Sidious was even forced to sidestep the flailing body. Eval and Bane went down in a tangled mess of limbs and dust. Kenobi hurried to their side and leveled his blaster at the outstretched Duros.

The Phindian had lost all fight – the coward that he was – and he stood at Bane's side, unresisting. Then Sidious heard the arrival of a third speeder, this one carrying Anakin Skywalker, Mace Windu, and a clone trooper. Two lightsabers were instantly ignited and trained on the hunched alien. Eval cried out and backed away, arms raised high. "Please, do not kill Moralo Eval!"

Please do, Sidious rolled his eyes, making sure no one could see him. But he was safely in the background for now.

Windu rumbled to Anakin, "Take him and Bane into custody, and make sure the Chancellor is safely returned to the palace." Skywalker nodded and twisted Eval's arms behind his back, using more pressure than strictly necessary. Sidious smiled as he saw it.

And now the young Jedi turned to him fully for the first time as he handed Eval to the clone trooper, and Sidious spied the tears of anger and joy that threatened at the corners of his eyes. "Are you all right, sir?" Skywalker asked as the Chancellor drew closer.

Wiping the pleasure from his face and adopting a serious, wide-eyed look of gratefulness, Chancellor Palpatine laid a gentle hand on the boy's shoulder. "Thanks to you, Anakin, I am quite well."

The Jedi flushed at the praise. "Well, really, it was Obi-Wan who did most of the work here."

Palpatine was surprised. "Obi-Wan? Master Kenobi?" He glanced back at the two older Jedi, who were conferring closely together. "Really? How interesting… That is good news. I see I have much to catch up on."

Skywalker looked at him, something indescribably upset in his blue eyes. "As do I, Chancellor. Perhaps we can discover the truth of all this together."

"I would be honored, my friend," Palpatine said simply, and Sidious shivered with delight at the new crack in the Force that he perceived between Master and Apprentice, a crevice he would soon split asunder, never to be re-forged.

First off, much thanks to Vialco for sparking my imagination by suggesting that I write Palpatine's PoV during the Clone Wars episode Crisis on Naboo.

As far as I can tell, there is not even an option for Palpatine as a character in the Clone Wars section of FanFiction dot net. And since the Clone Wars sections appears to be run entirely by Ahsoka-x-insert-SW-character-here, I decided to keep this here.

Strong apologies to those of you waiting for an update on Night for Opera. I've managed to get about half of the next chapter done, and I'm still plugging away when I have the time. It's a madhouse! A madhouse, I say!

Reviews are much beloved! :)