Jaster Mereel came out of the dream roaring with rage. The alien woman who had shared his bed that night was long gone; just as well, else she might have ended with a knife across her throat.
It took him a moment to realize that he was awake, and alone. Finding himself in a battle-crouch, he laid aside the vibraknife and sat cross-legged on the floor, willing his heart into resuming a normal beat. Ever since he had fled Cloud City with the carbonite-encased body of Han Solo; the nightmare had been his companion. Darth Vader had changed their "deal" at the last minute, wanting not only Leia and Chewbacca as hostages to lure Skywalker to him, but the frozen Solo as well. Jaster suspected the bounty he'd been promised that if Solo didn't survive the carbon-freezing chamber, he wouldn't have materialized, and he would have been lucky to escape with his life.
Vader had apparently been annoyed enough at the loss of one of his prizes to send a recurring dream Jaster's way: a dream of unending darkness, suffocating danger and overwhelming anger. The Dark Lord of the Sith had power enough to make sure that Jaster Mereel (known to most as Boba Fett) suffered until the end of his life... or Vader's.
Sleeping chambers in Jabba the Hutt's Palace were sound-proofed; the screams and cries heard clearly within those chambers left no impressions on sensitive beings who roamed the corridors. There were, however, hidden cameras mounted in the walls of each room: Jabba, upon occasion, was quite the voyeur.
Boba Fett's first act on arrival, after he had presented Jabba with Captain Solo's cold body and seen it mounted on a throne room wall, was to find the cameras installed in his quarters and disassemble them. He carried the pieces back to Jabba's audience chamber, standing in front of the Hutt (but well away from the drop door leading to the Rancor), and dropped the pieces one by one, deliberately smashing each of them beyond repair.
Jabba's only response was to nod coldly and immediately return to his snacking. Fett strode out of the room, hearing Bib Fortuna, Jabba's right-hand man, assure his master the cameras would be replaced as soon as possible. Jabba's reply was something on the order of "don't bother;" knowing that Fett would only repeat his performance until the cameras were gone for good.
Thus, Jaster Mereel could sleep safely in his own quarters, in his own person. For the time being.
Ara Lars, only child of Owen and Beru Lars, was cursing the fool who had packed up her supplies three times over. In every language she could think of. With great feeling.
The idiot had thrown the supply cases into her speeder in such a haphazard way that when she'd gotten back to her late parent's moisture farm, she'd found some of the more fragile items crushed. If she'd been paying more attention to him, and less worrying about the current rash of kidnappings by the local slaver gang, she would have noticed how he'd been so careless.
Come to think of it, he seemed awfully nervous.
She had been at Tosche Station, looking for Luke, when the Stormtroopers had trashed the farm and killed her parents. It hadn't taken her long to realize that the troopers had been looking for the two Ã¢Â€Â˜droids the family recently acquired; the same ones that Luke was supposed to have taken into town to get their memories wiped. The dust around their home had been churned up, but she was able to find the boot marks that were Luke's. Jumping back into her speeder, she'd tried to follow his trail, finding the still-smoking mess of the Jawa land transport. She knew that Luke had always wanted to get into space; to fly and fight with the Rebellion, so she sped to Mos Eisley, only to find him already gone: Luke and the Ã¢Â€Â˜droids, along with Ben Kenobi.
News was slow in getting to Tatooine, but she heard of his exploits: the rescue of Princess Leia Organa, the destruction of the Death Star; the flight from the Empire's retribution. She had become the leader of a small group of rebels, who were currently engaged in guerilla warfare tactics against Jabba the Hutt and his minions. The moisture farm had become home to a dozen hard-edged men and women, experts in weaponry and hand-to-hand fighting. The original house had been expanded, with hidden rooms, which could be used as sanctuary from their enemies.
Ara was proud of what Luke had accomplished; that he was apparently training to be a Jedi knight (although that was still just a rumour) merely confirmed what she had always known: that he would never have been the farmer her father wanted him to be. She wondered what he would make of her contribution to the Rebellion. Though she respected his wish to get off-planet, Tatooine was her home. She felt that the Rebellion could be fought in more arenas than space, and against other enemies than Darth Vader.
And she had a little secret, did Ara. While she would never be Jedi, she was able to call on small powers of the Force. When she was younger, after calming a bad dream of Luke's, her father had fearfully called on Ben Kenobi, asking him to come test Ara. Ben had assured Owen that Ara had no true Jedi abilities, but had taken her aside just before he left and asked her to come see him... soon. Ara had snuck out during the night, making her way across the Dune Sea to Ben's home. What he told her astonished her: that while she would not be able to become Jedi, she had some of the smaller mind magics that went with the territory. Ben trained her to be able to calm fear, make herself "invisible", and extend those gifts to others. She could hide her thoughts from others, get them to pass her by if she didn't want to be noticed, and drive away people or things that wanted to harm her or her band of rebels.
She was about to find out how powerful her Gifts were.
The taste of dirty cloth filled Ara's mouth. Her head ached from the blow, delivered from behind with no warning, as she'd been trying to pry the last of her supply boxes from the speeder.
So the fool had a reason to be nervous, she thought groggily, probably hoping he wouldn't catch hell for working with the kidnappers.
She couldn't think clearly; not yet. But she could play possum while she tried to figure out just how much trouble she was in. If this was the bunch that had been capturing women to serve as slaves, she could be heading anywhere from Jabba's Palace to an interstellar harem. Either way, things looked lousy.
A sudden breeze brought a stench to her nose that reeked of Gamorrean. Two of the porcine creatures were hauling her body from the back of a stolen prison skiff. They roughly twisted her arms behind her back as she started to struggle, shoving her to the ground. Sand, and a harder substance beneath, scraped her face. One of them reached down and tore the rag that had been serving as her blindfold from her eyes, the harsh desert light effectively blinding her. They dragged her, kicking and cursing, to a large metal door. From the brief look she'd been able to get, she knew she was at Jabba's gate.
That knowledge only made her fight her captors harder, resulting in a blow to her temple.
Not enough to black her out, it just stunned her. The Gamorreans pulled her inside, the heavy door clanging shut behind them. Jabba's place had a new slave.
Boba Fett left the unfortunates ordered to guard the krayt dragon he'd captured to their duties. Jabba had put him on retainer as soon as he'd received Solo's body, and had set him several tasks to occupy his time. Fett privately thought that the Hutt was afraid of retaliation by the Alliance for taking Han, but was wise enough never to voice that opinion aloud. Seizing a krayt dragon, to fight against Jabba's pet rancor, had been the latest of such tasks, and Boba Fett was getting fed up with complying with Jabba's whims.
Heading for the throne room, he examined the scores in his armour from the dragon's claws. Nothing that couldn't be repaired. His right leg ached from the blow he'd taken from the beast's horns, when it had suddenly lowered it's head and charged him, but he forced himself to walk normally into the audience chamber. It wouldn't do for any to think him vulnerable.
Moments after Boba Fett announced his success to Jabba's delighted ears, the two Gamorrean guards who were acting as procurers for their master's gross passions hauled Ara into sight. And she was a sight: clothing torn and dirty, hair in disarray, and blood on one arm. Not hers; one of the pigs was stupid enough to let her get near his pike, and she'd taken a swipe at him with it before they both knocked her out again.
She was hanging limp in their grip, dazedly beginning to raise her head. Blinking, she looked up... and up... and up, her mind trying to comprehend how very large the Hutt was. She saw his grotesque tongue running over his lips, and tried not to gag on the bile rising in her throat. Her captors stood her upright, keeping a tight grip on her arms and presented her to their master.
Jabba the Hutt yawned hugely, his mind more on the coming battle between his rancor and the krayt dragon than on the filthy creature his guards were showing him. The thing stank, and he thought there might be more sand and dirt on it than on the desert floor.
He was contemplating putting it out of its misery, when he glanced at Boba Fett. Smiling cruelly, he told Fett that he could have the woman, if that's what the creature was, as part of his reward for bringing in the dragon. It was a calculated insult on Jabba's part, as he believed this... thing couldn't be of that much importance.
Jabba would never get a chance to find out how wrong he'd been.
Seething with hidden anger, Jaster Mereel grabbed the woman by one arm and began dragging her from the throne room. As she began to struggle, he put his free hand in her hair and jerked her head back towards Jabba's audience chamber.
"Look!" he snarled, pulling her head back. "Look! It's me... or him."
He could hear the slight intake of breath, and sensed she was beginning to realize exactly what her situation was. Once she relaxed a little in his hold, he let go her hair, and pulled her along the corridor, towards his quarters.
After the heat of the desert and the fight against the Gamorreans, Ara found the dark corridors soothing. Having avoided being given to Jabba, she wondered if the one she was with now was a worse fate. Ara had hear tales of Boba Fett for years; rumours abounded, including one that there was something completely alien under all that armour, instead of a human being. As he entered the code that would let them into his room, she noticed he was favouring his right leg. That might be a small advantage over him, but even if she was able to break free, she didn't know the palace well enough to find an escape route. Which meant she'd have to go back through the throne room, fight everyone else off, and steal a vehicle to help herself escape.
This day's just getting better and better, she thought sourly.
Jaster pushed the woman ahead of him, into his rooms. She stumbled against the table he ate at, straightening up with a semblance of dignity. As she turned to face him, he pulled a short robe from a floor chest. Tossing the robe at her, he turned her towards the bathing chamber, giving her a little shove. She looked over her shoulder at him, and he pointed past her, saying: "Go... wash."
She closed her eyes, swaying a bit, and nodded wearily. She was able to walk into the chamber by herself, and he heard the sounds of clothing dropping to the floor and a soft splash as she lowered herself into the soaking tub.
Ara took her time in the bath, assessing her situation.
My life depends on his good graces, she acknowledged. Until or unless I can learn more about this place, and make good an escape, I have to hope he won't turn me over to Jabba. The one brush I got of the Hutt's mind... I know I won't be able to affect it. If Boba Fett is human, I might be able to get to him. Meantime, this woman knows how to use her body, if need be.
Small clicking and clanking sounds drew her attention outwards, and she listened intently to the noises from the other room. She realized he was removing his armour, and became curious as to what he really was. Soundlessly slipping from the bath, she quickly dried off and wrapped the robe about her. She gathered up the clothes she had shed, and put them in a heap in the corner of the bathing chamber. Drawing a deep breath, she went to stand in the doorway.
Jaster's back was towards her, and he was wearing a robe identical to the one he'd given her. The leg he'd been favouring was slightly bruised; evidently the armour had been strong enough to shield him from the worst of the blow. She could see he was strong; sleek, without being overly muscled. Short, blond hair.
Looks human, at least from the back.
She felt herself tremble, willing him to turn Ã¢Â€Â˜round.
He turned, slowly, extending a glass goblet, which held cold water. Her eyes widened slightly, fascinated by the moisture sliding from the outside of the goblet onto his hand.
When she looked into his face, he could see she was suspicious of the gesture, and he nodded, knowing he could have easily put a poison into the glass. He raised it to his lips, and took a drink.
"It is only water," he said, taking her hand and putting the glass into it.
Tatooine is a desert planet. Water is it's most precious resource, and Owen and Beru's moisture farm was one of the most respected in the district. To be able to drink cold water and to bathe in water is sometimes a great luxury.
Ara sipped the water cautiously, noting that he nodded his approval. She watched him from lowered lids, seeing that he was, after all, quite human. And quite handsome. That blond hair framed a face paled from time spent behind a mask. She would never forget how dangerous this man was, but oh, he was easy to look on! Brown eyes, the shade of cool earth. Eyes that could go dark with anger; or desire. And a mouth curved like a blade.
She wondered idly if he ever smiled.
As Ara was watching him, Jaster watched her.
The women made available to him had all be used previously by Jabba. Every one of them was fouled with drug or drink, trying to erase those horrible memories of being with the Hutt. Even the most depraved of the slaves had their spirits crushed, if not their bodies, just by being near their master. Jabba had never been particularly subtle in his attentions.
Jaster laughed, inwardly. What had begun as an insult by Jabba had actually turned out in his favour. This woman, at least, was untouched by His Foulness, and was human, to boot. Jaster found himself observing her a little more closely, noting the grace with which she held herself, despite the fatigue in her eyes. She didn't stink of Gamorrean anymore, either... a definite plus. Her hair was long and curled, a brown reminiscent of the turning leaves of his home planet, tinged with golds and reds.
He nearly gasped when she finally looked straight at him: her eyes were a crystal blue, clear as a summer lake.
Ara lowered her eyes, contemplating the remaining water in her glass. She sensed his interest, noting the look on his face when she finally had gotten up the nerve to stare at him fully.
I know he likes what he sees; from the feel of Jabba's mind when I touched it, the other slaves here have probably been broken to his will. I haven't been with the Hutt... yet. That may work in my favour, if Boba Fett likes a bit of spirit in his women. There seems to be a darkness in him not of his own make; if I could briefly touch his mind...
Ara recoiled from Jaster's proximity, the goblet dropping from her fingers and shattering on the floor. The water left in the glass stained the clay tiles the colour of old blood.
Jaster frowned as the woman backed away from him, fear in her eyes. He hadn't moved since he handed her the water; had only looked at her without even speaking.
"What makes you afraid now?" he demanded, his voice roughened by disuse.
He watched her bring herself under control, the trembling of her body calmed by the cool wall at her back.
"It's... your mind," she murmured, massaging her temples. "There's something dark; something like a cloud, put there by someone else."
"How did you..."
She raised a hand, interrupting his question. She looked around, seeking a place to sit, and chose to settle on his bed.
"I'm no Jedi," she began, lifting her head to gaze at him. "But I do have some of the smaller mind magics, including the ability to touch another's thoughts." She brushed back the hair that had fallen across her shoulders. "Have you been dreaming darkly?"
"What... How do you know?" he growled, putting one hand in her hair and pulling her up off the bed.
"Stop that! I can't help you if you keep hurting me," she said with annoyance. "It's distracting."
Throught sheer surprise, he let go of her. No one had spoken to him like that since... ever! He caught her arm, lowering her back to the bed when she swayed backwards from the abruptness of his release.
"I'll take that as a Ã¢Â€Â˜yes'," she acknowledged, smiling slightly. It was good to see that he could be put off-guard, that he was somewhat fallible.
"You can help me."
It was a statement, not a question. She could even see the light of a little hope in him, though he was trying not to show it. When she nodded, suddenly tired, he knelt before her and took her face in his hands.
"Tell me your price," he said. He knew that there was always a price.
She looked carefully into his face, attempting to see how much she could trust his word. Jabba had "given" her to Boba Fett as a joke, but once the Hutt knew she was the Tatooine resistance leader, he might still claim her for himself.
I need to persuade him to keep me away from Jabba as much as possible. Maybe "out of sight, out of mind" could apply. I get the feeling Boba is getting tired of being here... if I can get him to take me with him when he leaves, I can get back to my own work.
She nodded once, her decision made. Of the two "masters" here, she preferred taking her chances with Boba Fett.
Jaster could see that she'd made up her mind, and waited to here what her demands would be. He decided that if he took her to his bed, he wouldn't bother with a gag. He liked the sound of her voice.
"When you leave, I leave with you," she stated, in a tone that brooked no argument, again startling him. She shifted on the bed just enough to get him to stand up, then stood herself. She was about to take an enormous risk, and hoped there hadn't been a bounty placed on her head.
"I am Ara Lars, leader of the underground resistance." She noted the slight widening of his eyes, and a glimmer of respect. Good. She'd take every advantage she could get.
"Jabba meant to insult you today, throwing me at you. He thinks I'm nobody. That gives me a little breathing space, if you don't tell him what you know." She began to pace slowly, gathering her thoughts.
"How true are you to your word?" she asked, coming to a stop right in front of him.
"Once given, it is kept," he stated arrogantly.
Nice attitude. Nice voice, though.
"Then give me your word that you'll take me with you when you leave. Make Jabba understand that you're going to keep this gift."
Ara kept her eyes on him, seeking any sign of hesitation. "If you have to, smuggle me out. Once away from here, your obligation ends. I'll go back to my work, and you'll return to yours."
Otherwise, she thought, I may well ask you to kill me so I'll not be given to Jabba.
Now it was Jaster's turn to pace, considering what Ara had said.
Ara. It suits her. I could turn her over to Jabba; collect some sort of reward. Or, I could give my word and take her out of here.
"Here is my price," he said, facing her once more. "Rid me of the dark dream, and I give you my word. I will take you with me when I leave."
Ara drew in a little hiss of breath.
Better than I expected. I use you to stay alive, you use me to banish Vader's curse. Good enough.
Ara nodded, catching a glimpse of relief on his face. "I'll need to wait until you're asleep and begin dreaming to see what I'm up against," she warned.
"Very well. You may sleep there," he gestured, indicating the bed. "I will take the floor."
He stared at her uncomprehendingly as she burst into laughter.
The ludicrousness of the situation struck her all at once: here was the man she'd been "given" to, acting so gallant. She couldn't help it, she started to laugh, and the more she laughed, the harder it was to stop, though she could see he was getting a bit angry because he didn't understand why she was laughing.
"Think about it!" she gasped.
It took Jaster a moment to realize what she meant, and a moment later he joined in with a brief "ha!"
It had been so long since he had laughed in simple amusement, the sound was strange to his ears, and he immediately tried to cover his confusion with some semblance of dignity.
"That," he said, making a sweeping gesture to include the bed and both of them, "is not required of you." He turned away and made a makeshift bed of blankets on the floor. Not stopping to see how she had reacted to his statement, he turned out the lights and resigned himself to sleep. He heard her shift on the bed, finally lying quietly.
"Thank you," she simply said.
Just before she drifted off to sleep, she heard him mutter: "My name is Jaster Mereel."
The dream was wrapped around him again: Darkness. Despair. Anger. The struggle to wake.
He heard it dimly in his mind.
I am here. Come. This way.
He saw a blueness in the dream that had never been there before. He tried to walk towards it, but couldn't seem to reach it.
Try. You need to reach me.
There was a cool wind. It was tearing at the edges of the dark, shredding it into banners that fluttered around him. The dank smells he had always associated with the dream were dissipating along with the darkness. The wind was bringing in the scent of mountains covered in snow. He vaguely wondered how she knew what that smelled like, coming from a desert world, then realized she was tapping into a memory of his, bringing it to the fore to help cleanse his memory.
He'd almost reached the blue area of the dream when the tatters of black curled around him, dragging him backwards.
This was nothing like calming Luke's childhood nightmares. This thing was strong, pulling her in when she was supposed to be pulling him out. Just as she thought things were going well, the dark dream had yanked Jaster back in. It wasn't going to give up so easily. Well, neither was she.
Ara had already climbed out of bed, and was kneeling by Jaster's side. She tugged him into a sitting position, cursing his inability to cooperate, and leant his head against her shoulder. He spasmed, clutching at her and curling into her arms. She held him tightly, invoking as much mind-power as she could, hoping she could see them both safely through.
The cool breeze in his mind had turned into a whirlwind, sending streamers of the darkness flying in all directions. A loud thumping noise was in his ears, and it took a few moments to know that what he was hearing was Ara's heartbeat. He turned towards the dark, adding his will to hers to make it go away.
Yes. Defy it. It is not of you. Make it leave.
"Go!" he shouted aloud. "Leave me alone! Leave me..." And woke, pouring sweat and clinging fast to the woman that had been gifted him as a joke.
Jaster would have pulled himself from Ara's arms, but his feet were entangled in the blankets left on the floor. Resignedly, he lay back against her, letting the sound of her breath in his ear calm him. He closed his eyes, probing his mind as he would have probed a physical wound, testing to see if the darkness inside him was truly gone.
"Is it permanent?" he asked, not daring to hope.
"Should be," she answered wearily. She was trying to find a comfortable position, with Jaster's body pressing hers back against the bed. They were both dripping with sweat, the mental strength that they'd exerted taking its toll on their bodies.
All he wanted to do was sleep, but he felt Ara pushing on his back, urging him to get up. He unwrapped his feet from the "bed" he'd made on the floor, turning to extend her a hand. She staggered towards the bathroom, avoiding his offer of help, and for the second time that night he heard the soft sound of splashing.
He shrugged, moving to the table to pour himself a glass of water. Gulping it down, he noticed they hadn't cleaned up the shards from the broken goblet, so he gathered up the pieces. He considered walking into the bathroom now, to clean himself up, but a small thought of decorum eased itself into his mind. Well, he was grateful to her for ridding him of his nightmare... if the thing didn't return. Let her have her privacy; he'd go wash when she was through.
Ara stood under the bath's waterfall; it was another luxury in Jabba's palace: it recycled the water constantly, replacing what washed down the drain with fresh water. Leaning her head against the rock wall, she let its cascade pour over her head, and turned her face up to catch its coolness.
That's the hardest thing I've ever done. I hope he appreciates it. I hope he'll keep his word about taking me with him, when he leaves. I wonder... why he hasn't tried to use my body as well as my mind.
A brief lascivious thought raced across the surface of her mind, and she smiled into the dim light of the room.
When Ara finally strolled out of the bathing chamber, Jaster was more than ready to get cleaned up. Inside the armour he wore, a cooling pack kept him relatively dry and alert. He hated being drenched like this, and was just about to go in and toss Ara out when she came to the doorway. She just barely had time to step aside as he shouldered his way past.
Well, excuse me!
She realized how hungry she was, and grabbed a piece of fruit off a plate that Jaster had set on the bedside table. Odd that she hadn't noticed it before, but then she was occupied with something more important. Idly, she considered taking one of his weapons, but quickly discarded the thought. Even if she could kill him, she'd still have to contend with Jabba's guards. Better to stay here; at least she could have some food and water, and maybe even rest before whatever crisis came next.
Jaster Mereel. Why does that name sound familiar?
Ara frowned, nibbling at the edges of her flatfruit.
Ah, I remember! There were rumours that he was a Journeyman Protector who'd killed one of his superior officers. Didn't matter that the man was corrupt and on the take, they stripped Mereel of everything he owned and exiled him from his own planet. After that, he took the name Boba Fett and became one of the best bounty hunters in the galaxy.
So that's who I'll be sharing a bed with. Interesting.
Jaster finished his shower, returning to the sleeping room to find Ara already asleep. She'd shaken out his "nest" from the floor, and replaced the blankets on the bed. He figured he had two choices: either drag said blankets back onto the floor, and sleep there, or simply slide in beside her and be a little more comfortable.
If the camera in Boba Fett's quarters had still been working, it would have shown two people peacefully sharing his bed.
Odd, him being the comforter.
Ara had woken in the early morning hours, not knowing where she was and panicking to find herself in bed with a strange man. Jaster had drawn her into his arms, and made vague soothing noises while he stroked her hair. It was the first time in weeks that he'd been able to sleep without dreams. Much as he disliked being in debt to anyone, he realized he owed her. And started to plan his leave-taking of this place.
Ara woke alone next morning. Jaster had gotten more food and drink from one of Jabba's staff, and left it for her on the table she'd walked into last night. There was also a change of clothing, with a note stating that this was the best he could do on short notice. As she devoured her breakfast, she examined the clothes. A serviceable pair of pants and a long, belted overtunic was all he'd been able to provide, but she had her own underthings and shoes, which were still all of a piece.
After she luxuriated under the waterfall once more, she tried on the clothes. The tunic fell to well below her knees, lowering the neckline much more than she was comfortable with. Her own shirt had been fouled with Gamorrean blood, so this would have to do.
As she moved about to get the feel of her new garments, she heard the opening hiss of the door. Jaster Mereel was once more subsumed by Boba Fett, his armour drawing patches of darkness into the room.
"Jabba has some new guests," Fett announced, letting the door slide closed behind him. "Another bounty hunter has captured the wookiee Chewbacca."
Ara looked curiously at him. As Jaster or Boba Fett, this was the most words she'd heard him say all at once.
Once he'd removed his helmet, Ara could see that something was troubling him. He saw the look in her eyes and nodded.
"There's something not right about this. It is almost... too easy."
They ate their noon meal together in silence, each pondering the importance of both Jaster's news and last night's events. Ara could tell that he was calmer; quieter, from a decent sleep.
And just a little annoyed that he needed anyone's help to achieve that. So. I won't push him to leave here. Not yet.
He caught her staring at him and cocked an eyebrow, giving her a "what are you looking at" look. She, in turn, lifted a shoulder and tipped her head slightly, implying that she simply liked looking at him.
Gods. I'd never believed it of him; he actually blushed! Well, just a bit.
Jaster cleared his throat, discomfited that he'd let Ara "get" to him like that. Even though she'd lowered her head, continuing to eat, he saw the slight smile on her face.
As usual, he'd left the majority of his armour on, only removing the helm and throat guard. It wouldn't do to have to put all that back on if he was urgently summoned to Jabba's throne room. His Foulness slept the afternoons away, preferring the night to practice his debaucheries.
But not today.
A soft chime at the door was followed by the grunting of one of the Gamorrean guards. Jaster Mereel became Boba Fett again, closing the throat guard as Ara wordlessly handed him the helm and scrambled into bed, yanking the covers over her head. A hurried conversation between Fett and the guard revealed that there had been a trap set up for the bounty hunter who'd brought in Chewbacca.
Looks like Jabba doesn't trust him either, Ara thought, hoping the porcine creature wouldn't notice her. Boba Fett came to the bed and pulled the covers off her, hauling her to her feet. He indicated she was to accompany him, and shook his head slightly at her when she made to speak.
I wish I could talk in his mind... wait. Since I've been in there before with his permission, maybe I can. This would be easier if I didn't have to move, but...
She waited until the Gamorrean was well ahead of them in the corridor, then focused her thoughts on Jaster.
Don't stop. Keep walking.
What she was getting from him were more feelings than thoughts, and she could sense his distrust of the mind-link she was creating.
I give you my word. I won't hurt you. I still need you.
She felt, rather than heard, the snort of laughter from him. Good. He was willing to trust her. For now.
Once we're back in your quarters, I can strengthen this so you can actually talk to me.
Enough, now. We're here.
"Here" was Jabba's audience chamber, although part of it had been screened off by a large hanging. Ara shook her hair in front of her face, as an extra precaution against getting noticed too closely by the Hutt or his minions. There was a ringing sound, as if someone had bumped into the set of windchimes that were hanging by the room's entrance. Jabba motioned everyone to silence, his dark eyes sparkling in the gloom.
A heavy "clunk" came next; something large had been dropped to the floor. Ara saw Jaster get a tighter grip on his blaster, and she edged closer to him. There was a sudden heat from the other side of the curtain, and a smell of melting carbonite. Ara could hear a man's voice, answered by a woman's, when Jabba began to laugh.
As the curtain was drawn aside, she could see that the "bounty hunter" Boba Fett had seen this morning was none other than Leia Organa, the princess that Luke had rescued. She was supporting Han Solo, glaring defiantly at Jabba, who was still chuckling mightily. There was a flurry of activity while Han was being separated from Leia, presumably to be tossed in the same dungeon as his wookiee friend. Leia herself was picked up and held almost in Jabba's face. Though she continued her defiance, she turned a bit pale when the Hutt licked his lips, nearly caressing her face with his slimy tongue.
Ara stopped shaking only when she and Jaster had made it back to his rooms.
"I don't have to ask what he'll do to her," she muttered, gulping down some water. "I'm cursed with a vivid imagination." She looked over at Jaster.
"Thank you. At least I haven't had to go through that, yet."
Another summons came when they were getting ready for bed. Jabba wanted Boba Fett by his side immediately. Luke Skywalker had appeared, and had demanded the release of his friends. Or else.
Jaster found Ara wide-awake, huddled in his bed. He slowly removed his armour, thinking over everything that he'd witnessed.
"What happened?" she asked, offering to give him a hand.
"Skywalker killed the Rancor. Jabba is going to have him, Solo and the wookiee thrown into the Pit of Carkoon."
Ara sat down suddenly as the impact of his statement became clear. The Sarlaac lived in that pit; a terrible creature that digested it's living victims over the course of a thousand years. She only hoped that the rumours of Luke being a full Jedi knight were true, otherwise he and his friends would stand no chance against such an enemy.
Jaster brought her to her feet and made her face him.
"I can get you onto Jabba's sailing barge," he said, putting one hand in her hair. "I must be there, to help guard against Skywalker and his Jedi tricks. While he watches the execution, you can steal a sand skimmer and escape."
"I will leave as soon as we return from the pit. There will be nothing to hold me here."
When she took one step towards him, he brought his other arm around her waist, and meshed his mouth with hers in a kiss that melted the walls.
Ara was being as unobtrusive as possible, keeping to the thick of the crowd onboard Jabba's barge. Festive music was being played by the little band the Hutt kept close by, and though he had fed his former dancer Oola to the rancor, he now had a new toy in the form of a scantily clad princess Leia.
Chewbacca, Solo, and Luke were on the prison skiff ahead of them, swiftly being flown to dinner. The Sarlaac's dinner, that is. Leia had been chained to Jabba's flotation couch, now anchored to the floor of the barge. Ara edged a little closer to hear what he was saying.
"...you'll get used to me."
At least, that's what Ara thought she heard, and she and Leia made the same grimaces of disgust.
Boba Fett saw the look on Ara's face, and laughed silently to himself. After their kiss last night, he'd expected to see his rooms aflame from the heat. She touched his mind, though her thoughts became incoherent after a few moments; only a sandstorm of desires flowed through that opened channel. It had been as though he felt everything as she did; he wondered if it had been the same for her. They had no chance to talk the next morning; he'd smuggled her onto the barge and taken his place at Jabba's side.
Jabba irritably yanked on Leia's chain, pulling her closer to him. He motioned for Boba Fett to go up on the barge's deck, the better to watch over the execution proceedings. He never noticed a shadow detaching itself from the crowd and following Fett, nor did he notice that Leia had wrapped her hands around her chain in a rather peculiar manner.
After the fighting started, he didn't get a chance to notice anything else.
Boba Fett had hardly gotten onto the barge's deck when all hell broke loose. It seemed that Skywalker had hidden a lightsaber in the small Ã¢Â€Â˜droid he'd sent as a "gift" to Jabba. Fett nodded; it had been a good move. He didn't really care what happened to Luke or Chewbacca, or even the princess, but he felt he had to take care of Han. That was a matter of honor. He readied himself to jet from the barge to the prison skiff.
Ara had crept swiftly to the upper deck. She was busily unclasping one of the escape skiffs from it's moorings and did not hear the approach of one of the guards until she felt a blaster barrel against the back of her head.
He turned, hearing her clearly in his head, and she threw herself to the deck as she heard his answering shot.
Glancing at the prison skiff, he knew she'd be safer over there. He gathered her into his arms and activated his jet pack. He was just able to put her down when Solo slammed into him with a pike taken from one of the guards. The force of the blow jetted him, out of control, into the side of the barge, and sent him tumbling into the Sarlaac's open beak.
In his ears was the echo of both his and Ara's screams.
This is not the end
(Or: Han Solo is in a world of trouble!)
I was barely able to climb back out of the Sarlaac pit. My armour had been partially melted, leaving me scarred and bleeding. I would not have lasted a day in that wasteland, let alone an hour, but for the fact that she was there. She had jumped from the prison skiff, on the side away from the pit. She had run as fast as she could to get away from the explosion of Jabba's barge, then found shelter in one of it's larger pieces. She said she knew, somehow, that I would be coming back. She only had to wait a few hours. Why that monster found me indigestible is unknown, but she seemed glad of it. The escape skiff she had been trying to slip from its moorings had come loose enough, so that when the barge exploded, it had been thrown clear. There was a little food and water onboard, and we used it to get back to her parent's moisture farm. She shelters me here, now. Perhaps she will still come with me, when I leave.
Boba Fett is dead... so it thought. I will use that error to my advantage. And if Solo crosses my path again...
Jaster Mereel came out of the dream roaring with rage.
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