A soft whumpf, followed by a not-so-soft exclamation, issued from the direction of the trainees' rooms. Ara Lars sighed. It was harder than ever to meditate in this house, since Luke had decided to expose his future Jedi knights to the harsh climate of Tatooine.
Luke should be grateful he's got a place to blow to smithereens, Ara thought. Funny that I should welcome this invasion. You'd think I would have had enough excitement to last the rest of my life.
Ara stood on a ridge outside her parent's moisture farm, watching the suns pour their crimson light over the sands.
Might be the last time I ever see this, she mused. Damn Barthan, and praise him for being so greedy. With the money from the sale, and Boba's cache, we have enough to get off planet and start new. Makes sense that Fett stay "dead" for awhile.
She'd rescued him from the Sarlaac pit. More precisely, she'd rescued him from the edge of the pit, before he could slip back in. He was nearly naked, armour melted by the creature's acids, the clothing beneath shredded. The thing had thrown him up, finding the armour indigestible. All that remained intact was his helm, which she'd tugged off as soon as she'd wrapped him in a cold sheet. Lines of pain were etched deep into his face, every breath a struggle. Ara dragged him into the skiff that had slipped free of Jabba's pleasure barge, then raced to the farm.
Though it had only been three days since her kidnapping by the Gamorrean guards, the emergency procedures she had instituted for the fighters in her employ had already taken place. The farm was deserted, hidden hoards of money and equipment taken. It didn't take long to learn that most of the fighters had left with Luke and his friends. The few that remained on Tatooine returned to the farm as soon as they found out Ara was home. With Fett concealed in her rooms, she quickly dismissed them, asking only that they leave a quantity of their precious medical supplies.
During the next four months, she alone tended to Boba Fett, with the help of the med-droids. She got the location of his hidden cache of money and extra armour, prowling the further reaches of the Dune Sea to retrieve it. As he grew stronger, he was able to work on putting together components salvaged from the old suit. He asked her only once why she had waited at the Pit.
"Surely you could not have known that I was still alive," he commented.
"We had a mental connection..." she said, "...granted, a weak one, but it was enough. I could feel you struggling inside that thing."
He'd nodded, satisfied with her explanation. Make no mistake, he did not love her, nor she him. They had a mutual respect of each other's talents, and sometimes a mutual desire for each other's bodies. That was all. She had no intention of "saving" him; he had no need for redemption. The way he saw it, he did the job he was paid for, just like anyone else. It was simply that he led a more, well, interesting life.
Ara shuddered. That oily voice could only belong to Barthan Amoy.
Greedy pig. Can't wait for tomorrow, huh?
"The suns-sets you will miss, yes?" he asked, slipping an arm about her shoulders.
"You'll be less an arm if you don't move it!" Ara glared, moving back a few steps.
Barthan spred his hands apart in apparent apology. His large, greasy face showed concern.
"Meant no disrespect, Mistress Lars," he bowed. "Just come tonight to make sure you understand the terms of our agreement."
"I understand, all right," Ara hissed, barely disguising her contempt for the man. "I'll be off my parent's land by nooning tomorrow. You needn't worry about that."
She deliberately turned her back on Barthan, noting that the suns were almost completely set, turning her world shades of black. Barthan sidled up to her, making her eyes tear with his stench.
Doesn't he ever bathe?!
"You know, I could make it so you stay here," he observed. "You marry me, farm stays in family, yes?"
"Damn it! Get away from me!" Ara yelled, pushing rather ineffectually at his bulk. "You stink worse than a Gamorrean!"
Barthan only laughed, grabbing her arms and crushing her against him. She felt his moist breath on her face, making her retch.
Jabba would have been more tolerable...
"You would be wise to let her go."
"Who the hell are you?" Barthan demanded, nearly wrenching one of Ara's arms out of its socket as he threw her behind him.
"Jazon Merel. Not that my name will matter to one who will soon be dead," Boba Fett said calmly, adjusting the heft of his laser rifle. He had heard Ara's cries, and had crept soundlessly up on his prey. A useful exercise, proving he still had some considerable skills.
For the second time that night, Barthan spread his hands in placation. Thoughtfully eyeing the stance of Merel, and noting where the rifle was pointed, he decided to take his leave.
"Mistress Lars... Mr. Merel," he nodded, backing away. "Until tomorrow, then."
Ara drew a deep breath, rubbing her arms.
They left at daybreak, Ara not wanting to see Barthan lording over her parent's land. It had been difficult enough, bargaining with such a monster. But they needed the extra money as a cushion against the lean times ahead. One of the disadvantages of Boba Fett being "dead" was that they couldn't draw on his considerable funds.
They had just enough to buy and supply a small cargo freighter in Mos Eisley, which Ara facetiously named Slave II. The next four years were spent establishing themselves as a bounty-hunting team, Ara using her mind tricks to their best advantage, while learning the skills from Jaster that would enable her to strike out on her own, if or when she chose.
Ara knew better than to tease him, especially when he was in this foul a mood. The freighter was giving out; collapsing around them like a house of cards. What wasn't held together with spit and a prayer was disintegrating faster than you could say "spice mines of Kessel". Instead of playing silly buggers, she decided to just give him her gift.
Ara had been soloing for about a year, leaving Jaster to manage on his own. True, there was a tense moment when she was almost in competition with him over a bounty, but it turned out the quarry was closer to him than her, anyway.
Her moment of triumph occurred when she caught up with Jossini, a canabalistic seductress. Seemed she'd eaten one of a high Imperial's cronies, and he was going to see that she had indigestion for a very long time. The bounty on Jossini was high enough that Ara was able to "rescue" Slave I from its hold on Tatooine. She debated using some of the weapons to send Barthan Amoy into an early grave, but decided she'd much rather have the fun of paying him back, and kicking him off the moisture farm.
Jaster was kneeling underneath the banged-up freighter, trying to coax a stubborn piece of the landing gear back into place. Though he had worked patiently for over two hours, it still refused to budge. He was considering cursing the thing until it melted, when he heard footsteps approaching. It either had to be a client or Ara, since they weren't making any effort to be particularly quiet. Not one for taking unnecessary chances, he retrieved a blaster from its place by his side.
Ara cocked an eyebrow at him, and without a word, placed the key control for Slave I in his hand. He stared at it a moment, then looked at her as she not-quite-leaned against the side of the freighter, a smile lighting her eyes. He put down the blaster, rising to his feet, and caught her round the waist with his free hand. It wouldn't have mattered a bit if the kiss they shared shattered the old ship's hulk, or made its metal run.
It took them the better part of the next nine months to get Slave I back into shape. With the return of his ship, and the bounties they had accumulated, Jaster let it be known that Boba Fett was alive and prospering. Ara's assets in mind control came even more to the fore, since it was (incorrectly) assumed that Fett was still working a single act.
On the Hutt controlled world of Nar Shaddaa, Ara narrowly escaped being identified by Han and Leia, as Fett went after his old enemy. Boba managed to shoot Chewbacca in the side, but the Wookiee tore off Fett's helm, and sent him hurtling through the roof of the chamber they had fought in. Ara and Boba pursued the Millenium Falcon, damaging Slave I nearly beyond repair when Han sent it spinning out of control into a gas cloud.
Not long after, while the necessary repairs were being made to Slave I, Boba Fett and Ara Lars parted company for the last time. Ara had enough credits to buy back her parent's farm, and then some. She also had new skills to draw upon, should any so unscrupulous as Barthan Amoy come calling again.
On the last night they were together, Jaster made her a special promise.
"I picked this up at Mos Eisley for you, Mistress Lars," the young trainee said respectfully.
"I trust there will be no more... interruptions today?" Ara asked, lifting an eyebrow as she took the box from him.
"Er... I don't think so, Lady," he muttered, looking a little shamefaced.
"Well, don't think; find out for certain," she said, smiling gently.
"As you wish." The young man turned on his heel in a remarkable imitation of a move she'd seen Luke make when he was that age.
She wondered what could be inside the carton. It was heavier than it looked, and took most of her waning strength to carry it to the small table she had in her rooms. Her quarters bore a strong resemblance to the one she had shared with Jaster in Jabba's palace, even to the waterfall shower she'd had installed. Oh, the farm certainly didn't look as it had in her youth, oh no. She'd taken great pleasure in bringing it up-to-date; only the finest for the Lars farm, which had garnered a reputation for being the best in the galaxy. Add to that the fact that Luke had chosen to bring his trainees here, and it was a wonder there was ever any silence.
The box seemed impossible to get into; it appeared to be seamless. Ara passed her hands twice around the thing before she felt the smallest depression on the top. A faint click sounded as she pressed her thumb into the imprint.
Both Luke and the trainees were surprised to see Ara at dinner that night; she usually took her evening meal alone, claiming that at least that way she could get a little peace from the constant clamor of voices.
Her conversation was a bit strained, but she seemed to be enjoying the company, so the trainees made an effort to be amusing and provocative. A soon as dinner was over, she left to make her way back to her room, stopping in the corridor when she heard Luke approaching.
"Are you all right?" he asked, laying a hand on her arm.
"Yes," she said, passing a hand over her eyes. "I just had some... interesting news, that's all."
"The package Aron brought you?"
"Mmm. From... an old friend."
Though Luke's curiosity was piqued, Ara would say no more. She gave him good night, and firmly shut the doors of her room.
Ara Lars lies sleeping, a faint smile upon her lips. She dreams of the exciting life she has lived, and the people she has known. She is old; near death. Still, she dreams lightly, happily. She slips from this life peacefully. And Boba Fett's helm sits on the table by her bed.
True to his word, Jaster Mereel awaits an arrival. He has not been here long, in this in-between land. And when she comes to his arms, neither one will ever have to wait again.